Disappointment with the church is something I regularly hear expressed by non-Christians and Christians alike. This is to be expected from non-Christians, and from Christians too, although it is hard to find out that we think so much like the world. Often, though Christians and non-Christians come from different perspectives, their conclusion is the same: somehow, the church was not what it claimed to be. Somehow, the church let them down, and they don’t want to be a part of it.
I do not deny that the church, being comprised of flawed individuals, has tectonic faults. The wealth of prophecy in the Bible not only confirms this but shows that the church’s biggest critic has always been God. However insightful we are when it comes to the church’s shortcomings, it has all been said before. The difference is that God doesn’t have the luxury of leaving. He made vows, vows in His own blood, to love and to cherish those He has called.
Ephesians 5:25 says, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” This is what the church needs. Unless the Lord continues to love her and give Himself up for her, she will never be what she is called to be. And how does the Head carry on this ministry to His body? How does my head care for my body? Through its members. Church, then, is a context in which the Lord can love His bride and give Himself up for her through individual members. “From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16).
Unfortunately, many Christians do not view injury as an opportunity to love and give themselves up for the church in the image of Jesus. Instead of suffering wrong, instead of letting death work in us that life may work in others, we come feeling entitled to a good experience and are offended if things don’t turn out (1 Cor. 6:7, 8; 2 Cor. 4:12). But are we above our Master who was crucified by His own people? Have we not understood Stephen’s speech in Acts 7? Jesus’s death crowned a history of God’s people persecuting their own—Joseph sold into slavery by his brothers, Moses rejected by those he was sent to deliver, and many others that Stephen doesn’t mention. If we took these things to heart, the things we suffer would not only make more sense but would have value (1 Peter 4:12).
Let’s take responsibility. It is our illusions of the church, and not the church itself, that have actually failed us. Perhaps…but this level of honesty is hard to come by. As victims, we are granted immunity from the hard questions, especially when it comes to asking the hard questions of ourselves. After all, we were injured, how could any fault lie with us? But we must ask ourselves the hard questions, and move from only receiving God’s love to being His love poured out for others.
“And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves
but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).