“The church is a flawed and human institution, for whom I always have hope.” —Stephen Colbert
No matter how much the church needs to be challenged, my challenge is to keep believing in the church. Not because she’s perfect (not even close) but because she belongs to Him (and I’m part of her).
After my year of death and resurrection (more on that mess here) I began to be aware. My eyes were open to both the beauty and the hypocrisy of modern church life. My heart was like a sponge that could absorb the healing that the family of God provided as much as the madness it inflicted on others. I was shocked at how bipolar my emotions were every Sunday morning, yet after a season of pain and transformation, I began to love the body of Christ again.
But I was still awake.
It was necessary before my breakdown to sustain the illusion. This was the machine that gave me a platform. Whatever the church did and said I agreed with because it was paying the bills. Now, I see all around me a revolutionary tension in the church that is both prophetic and necessary…but the only way for it to stay prophetic and useful, is the way of love.
That is our distinctive.
Religion, spirituality, and theology tend to be destructive when they’re not drenched in humility and honor. And I know this as a fact, Jesus loves His own body. He is very comfortable in His own skin, He is not self-conscious about His physique, and unlike me (after three months of winter-bingeing), He looks in the mirror and honors every part of Himself.
You and I are the body of Christ, and somehow He loves every wrinkle, bruise, and flabby bit. Yes, Jesus really loves the church, even when you and I don’t.
The Bible says that “You are the body of Christ and individually members of it.” That means that together we are His body, but in it, there is still room to be individuals. Paul made this distinction clear; some are eyes, some are legs, some are elbows (and hopefully no one is the appendix).
I think the apostle really understood this concept because the very first thing Jesus said to him was, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Paul, who was Saul before this encounter, must have been confused at the moment, because he had never actually interacted with the man Jesus Christ. He knew of Him, he rejected His teachings and murdered His people, but the actual man Jesus he had never met. However, in the blinding light on the road to Damascus, he heard the divine voice and understood, if I persecute the church, I persecute the Lord (and vice versa).
It has been more than fifteen years of full-time church ministry for me. During that time, I have been a youth pastor, a worship pastor, a lead pastor, and a whatever-you-need-me-to-be pastor. I have worked in the media department, drama club, sound booth, welcome team, security, counseling, and casting out demons crew. I have done things I did not like, things I did not agree with, and things I felt manipulated into doing. And I loved most of it. I have cleaned toilets by myself, preached to thousands at a time, traveled to more than thirty nations with the gospel, and hated about 246 church members.
Yet, every one of those brothers and sisters (who felt like ugly distant cousins at the time) became the glorious invitation to walk as my Savior walks.
I can say that there have been moments when I have felt disgusted with the politics, the stupidity, and the falsehood of church, yet every single time (and I mean every single time), Jesus has shared His thoughts about His body through this one question,
“Carlos, why are you persecuting Me?”
When you love God but hate the church, you have to understand that God loves you and He loves the church…just as much. I know that there are scenarios in which the church has earned the right to be hated, but Jesus is still the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Now let me warn you, the church might provide a sustainable community for a while, but I guarantee that if you stick around long enough, that community will fail you. Church might also provide enough spiritual activity to satisfy your religious hunger, but I can guarantee that eventually you will get bored and complacent. Church might even provide a sense of growth, change, and improvement, but eventually you will fail again, sin again, hurt again, and I can guarantee, someone in the church will reject you for your failures.
So don’t come for the community, the spiritual activity, or the self-improvement, come to carry your cross. Embrace your role in the body and destroy the selfish-proud-self-centered-you. Focus on the Servant, King, and resurrected Jesus Christ…who loves you and me and all those 246.
Saying to Jesus, “I hate the church” is like telling my wife that she is fat and ugly. I might be “right” according to my very “wrong” standards of beauty and vanity, but I am obviously and terribly wrong (and dumb) for saying it.
Value in the kingdom has never been about what we see; it’s always been about what God says. And He says that we are “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.”
I know you have legitimate reasons to disagree with me. The church has hurt many hearts, it has broken good families, and it has produced way too much cheese. But (and it is a very big but) it has been, and still is, His body—together, individually, united, God’s family.
Yes! Change must come. Reformation is due. Revival is imperative.
And we’re not in the business of maintaining false unity and non-transformative peace. We will resist the strongholds that sustain ungodly systems of racism and sexism inside the family of God. We will never be okay with manipulation and control; it is not the way of the kingdom and it will not be our way.
But I want us to be part of the generation that is a natural autoimmune system for the body, and not a generation that acts as the poison of chemotherapy attacking from the outside.
Both want healing.
One is healthy.
“If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” This is 1 John 4:20 and it is required material for our hearts and their judgmental inclinations.
“What unites the church is infinitely more important than what divides us.”
There’s no need to box this conversation. It can be big, it can be small, it can be old-school, or it can be hipster-relevant…but choose. Find the ideal part of the body where you can serve. The gathering where you and I can join regularly to say, Jesus is alive! And despite our differences, that is worth celebrating together. Who cares if it’s ten thousand people in a stadium or just three souls gathering in a home, what matters is that you are there (because Lord knows, the body of Christ needs you there). We need your story and your pain, your talents and your convictions, your tensions and your sharpening iron.
I used to preach this kind of message as a pastor because I wanted more people in my seats, so there would be more heads to count, a bigger attendance number. Every week I used to invite others into this revelation because I wanted people to get involved and help build my own little pathetic kingdom, but I am now convicted to preach it (and live it) for the sake of His.