In recent years it seems that there has been a movement to try to separate the Christian faith from “the church,” as if they were two mutually exclusive concepts. More and more people in our country are seeking to follow Christ without being a part of what they see as the religious institution. I can’t say that I don’t understand the sentiment. There are certainly times when I would like to turn my back on the whole mess and retire to a cabin in the mountains. As a pastor I have a unique perspective and I don’t always like what I see, but there are some serious theological problems with the idea of the solitary Christian.
Christ desired that we gather together as believers. He tells Peter, “on this rock I will build My church.” The word that we translate as “church” actually indicates an assembly or group. Scripture also tells us that Christ is the “head of the church,” (Col 1:18) and we are also told that he gave his life for the church (Eph 5:25). If the church is that important to Jesus, then it would seem to me that it should be that important to those of us who seek to follow Him.
Are there problems with the church today? Absolutely. Is the church missing the mark? No doubt. In my opinion the most serious offense of which the church is guilty is baptizing lost people into the family of God. The church has become so “numbers conscious” that literally hundreds of thousands of people who have no relationship with Christ call themselves Christians (however is a rant for a different day). My point is that the church is flawed and is probably guilty of many of the charges leveled against it. But we should expect nothing different. The body of Christ (that is the church) is made up of flawed, fallen people. We are all sinners, saved by grace. We all fall short of the glory of God – daily.
Despite our failures the church endures. After 2000 years of abuse, heresy and infighting, Christ’s church still stands and sometimes manages to fulfill its mission. When things are at their worst, the church is often at its best. Over the years I have performed more funerals that I care to count. I have had the opportunity to minster to families during long protracted illnesses and after unforeseen tragedies – neither is easy. It is however, during these times that the church truly shines the love of Christ. All of those things that cause conflict and division disappear as God’s people seek to heal the hurting.
I’ve seen this at the national and international levels as well. After the attacks of 9/11 Christians from across the country converged on New York. The church provided relief after the tsunami of 2004, Katrina in 2005 and now after the earthquake in Haiti. Southern Baptists already have assessment teams on the ground and have purchased over 80 tons of rice for Haitian relief. The Florida Baptist children’s home is preparing to receive Haitian orphans and hundreds of relief workers are making preparations to go. There is no doubt that other denominations are doing the same. While government leaders argue over authority and who will get credit, Christians just seek to meet the need. These are not the efforts of unconnected individuals, but of Christians organized for the purpose of ministering in the name of Christ – the church.
Does the church have faults? Sure, but by the grace of God we still can manage to show the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. Christ called us and connected us as His followers. We need the fellowship of other believes, we need their encouragement to face the trials of this world and we need them to walk beside us as we all seek to serve our Savior. While it is certainly easy to cast dispersion on the church, just remember – it is still “the bride of Christ,” and Jesus does love His bride.