I do not intend to debate Donald Miller on this issue here. Indeed, I do not know Donald Miller and have never read a word he wrote – outside of his “I don’t need the church” blog. Frankly, I have never bought into the whole “Blue Like Jazz” thing. I put it in the same category as the writings of Rob Bell and other “cooler-than-you-are-because-I-ask-questions-instead-of-give-answers” types. But, I digress.
I've had my fair share of bad experiences in a church. I've been part of nearly every kind of church you can imagine. I was once a part of a church that was so legalistic that I listened to REM’s “Losing My Religion” after church every Sunday. Literally. Of course, the pastor didn't know….if he had I would've been in big trouble. Later, I was part of a small country church where the biggest issue was whether the pastor would cut the grass at the church. No joke. And, then, I was once part of a church that was really modern and contemporary, but lacked the spiritual discernment to distinguish between Joyce Meyer and Kay Arthur. Seriously. In all of those experiences I had moments in which I made pointed and sharp criticisms of the church. But, that has changed. In light of Miller’s recent blog, and having reflected on it for the better part of a week, I thought I would share three reasons why I decided to quit bashing the church.
Jesus Died for the Church
The first reason I have quit bashing the church is because Jesus died for the church. That sounds so “churchy,” but it is true. In Acts 20:28 Paul reminds the leaders of the church at Ephesus: “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” Those six words stop me cold when I start to get critical of the church. Because what I am criticizing is the very thing that Jesus bought with his own blood. His blood. It is because of his blood that lost and sinful people can repent, experience forgiveness, be born again and, yes, made part of the church.
The church cost Jesus everything. Without Jesus giving his life, the church would not exist. While that does not mean the church is beyond correction or reproof, it does seem to me that it should be beyond my petty criticisms about the length of a sermon or whether the music was inspiring. When I critique the church because I “don’t get anything out of it,” perhaps I have forgotten what Jesus put into it: his blood. So, then, it occurs to me that maybe the church isn't all about me. Maybe the point of gathering isn't to impress me with musical skill or oratory magic. Maybe the point of gathering is to worship the One who gave it all so that I might live. And, you know, remarkably, as soon as I get my eyes off of myself and onto Christ, the church becomes far more important and my petty, narcissistic criticisms melt away.
The Church is Jesus’ Bride
If the fact that Jesus died for the Church is not sufficient to give you pause for criticism, perhaps the fact that the church is Jesus’ bride will. Can you imagine pulling your friend aside and telling him (or her), “You know, I really like you and value our friendship deeply. But, I can’t stand your spouse. In fact, I have no use for him (or her). He (or she) is really obnoxious, awkward, and annoying. Frankly, I don’t get much from my relationship with him (or her). But, I don’t want this to change our friendship.”
I don’t know, but my guess would be that friendship would not last long. I cannot imagine having a deep friendship with anyone who thought badly about my wife. I don’t mean that they have to think she is awesome. But, if they dislike her…well, I don’t have much of a place in my life for a relationship with someone who despises the one person I love most deeply. While I recognize the use of “bride of Christ” is an analogy in the Bible, and all analogies have limitations, I don’t think it too much to assume that the idea of love is present. I have no doubt that Jesus loves the church more deeply than I love my wife. If I won’t have a deep friendship with someone who despises my wife, why do we think Jesus will be nonchalant toward those who despise his bride?
The Church is Jesus’ Body
A final reason I decided to quit bashing the church is that the church is Jesus’ body. Let’s shift the analogy from above. As my wife and I have aged, our bodies have changed a bit. We don’t metabolize food quite like they used to. Ok, to be honest, mine doesn't. Hers is just fine. But, for the sake of thinking about this issue, let’s imagine that you get dressed for an evening out and you ask your spouse, “how do I look?” Imagine that they respond by saying, “Well, not bad, considering the shape you are in. I mean, you've really let yourself go and I am embarrassed by how you look.” I’m guessing that night is over!
In the NT, the church is called the “body of Christ.” We enjoy that analogy when we are talking about being Jesus’ hands and feet. But, we seem to forget the church is his body when we start complaining. It seems we have no reservations about telling Jesus just how flabby and out of shape his body is.
None of this is intended to suggest the church is perfect. It is not. It is filled with sinful people who are saved by God’s grace. We are in constant need of forgiveness and restoration to fellowship. But, the church is also a miracle of God’s grace. It brings together diverse people to live in community. It is the place where lions and lambs lie down together. The church provides us something bigger than ourselves that we are a part of. It provides us a constant reminder that life is not about us, but about serving the God who loves us and is everything for us in Christ. Considering the grace of God and the sacrifice of Christ, I believe I will think carefully before I relegate the church to the realm of the “unnecessary.”