It has become popular for Christians to bash the church. Especially by well-educated, well-off individuals in the West. Maybe it is because I live in the immediate context of a seminary and Christian university, maybe its because I am a research student and so many of the things that I read (even online) are written by other professionally trained theologian types, but it seems to me that I see far more criticism than praise lately. And I am beginning to question why this is so.
There can be no doubt that many of the criticisms I see have a good dose of truth to them. Especially in America, we are plagued with examples of privatized, Jesus is my boyfriend and wants to give me presents sort of Chriastian-ese. Sometimes, we have leaders who go off the deep end and create a following of people who look less like Christ and more like a cult.
Often, even in you average, small, local church we get things terribly wrong. We forget to tell people about the Good News of Jesus Christ. We forget to love other people as God first loved us. We forget to offer a huge helping of grace in place of judgment. And we too often turn inward, forgetting that we are to be the light of the world, not hiding under a basket, but shining from the hilltops.
But the trend of criticism I have seen of late would suggest a much darker picture than this. That the church is completely broken. That there are only tiny glimmers of light and hope that just occasionally peak through the darkness. That we are all getting it wrong, and that we are all (Americans anyway, so it would seem) a bunch of self-seeking, self-serving gluttons using our privilege and power to either a) create a version of Christianity that places no demands on us or b) oppress our people with endless fundamentalist mandates and suck the fun out of their lives.
I have leveled my fair share of criticism where I felt criticism was due. And let’s face it, criticism should come from within the church. We must continually look at ourselves and seek out those places that we have not yet surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
But there is more to the church than brokenness and failure. When I look at the church, with all of its problems, all of its worries, all of its helplessness, all of its messed up, wonderful people, I also see its beauty.
Here are 3 reasons why we should remember and talk about the beauty of the church. There are many other reasons to consider, but with all the negative things being highlighted, maybe it would do us well to just start with these.
1. The church is the bride of Christ
A bride on her wedding day is cherished and loved. She is worthy of the groom’s dedication, because he sees no faults in her. She is beautiful in his eyes, and he honors her for her purity, her grace, and the love she returns to him. Likewise, the church is the bride of Christ. Though our sins are many, he has forgiven us and knitted us together into one body. When we approach the throne of grace in worship, we come before him as an unblemished bride, not because we are sinless, but because his blood has covered over all our sins. The church us worthy, because Jesus is worthy. The bride is beautiful, because Jesus died to make her so.
2. The church has been the single greatest agent of good in the world throughout history
Detractors, especially Atheists with a revisionist history, love to point out that Christians are responsible for such atrocities as the Crusades, and are therefore just as evil as anyone else. Anything done in the name of God that does not convey his character is tragic and evil and a false teaching. The Crusades and other terrible acts committed by the church are the results of sinful men and women living out that brokenness. They are not the work of the church, Christ’s body. And they are not the dominant activity tied to the name Christian.
In fact, throughout the history of the Christianity, the church has been the greatest agent of good throughout the world. The church and her extension ministries have been responsible for bringing to many parts of the world such things as education, hospitals, orphanages, and organizations to help those in need. Many of the modern versions of these things started as Christian initiatives.
For the last two-thousand years, the church has clothed the naked, fed the hungry, visited prisoners, healed the sick, protected the weak, and loved the unloved.
If you question the positive impact the church has had in the world, go read a book on world history. I’ve read several, and they all say the same thing.
3. The church is God’s chosen vehicle for spreading the good news of salvation
Just before he ascended into heaven, Jesus gave this command to his disciples, the church.
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
This command is still being answered all over the world today. It is happening in America, Korea, and the UK, in Swaziland, in India, in Iraq and Afghanistan. Across every continent and in every nation the church is faithfully preaching the good news and making disciples of Jesus Christ.
Christians who live in places where they are persecuted for their faith are willing to (and often do) die for their membership in the church. In many parts of the world, people will walk miles, endure untold hardships, and give up everything to be called God’s church. If you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, then you too are a part of this body. Scripture tells us that when one member of the body suffers, we all suffer. But do you not also see that when one lost sheep is found, we all rejoice?
God is still using his church to find lost sheep and bring them into the fold. He is ever working within and through the church to call us to himself and send us out in the name of his Son Jesus to set the captives free in him, and to bring reconciliation to a world that has rejected him.
When the church follows God where he is leading, she becomes a light shining on a hill for all to see. She is the bride of Christ. She is a picture of beauty that draws all eyes to the one who has made her beautiful.
Remember. We are the church.
Remember. We are the bride of Christ.
Remember. Christ loves his church, and so should we.