Most Christians have a negative view of churches. Maybe they don’t have a negative view of their own churches, but usually they have heard enough stories to know that churches are full of hypocritical, divisive people. Legalism abounds. Favoritism is everywhere. Arrogant and power-hungry church leaders seem to outnumber humble ones. All of you probably someone who was treated unfairly by their congregation. Sometimes you are that person.
I love the church I am currently at, but I tend to share these broadly negative views of churches “out there”. My cynicism is so great that I often think that churches can be divided into two groups:
- Churches who are legalistic and Spirit-quenching.
- Churches who are more concerned with being flashy and fun than following Jesus.
A cynical division, huh?
Earlier, while thinking about these issues, I realized I have focused on the wrong aspect of the church. The Scriptures have a lofty view of the church. (See Ephesians 3:10, for instance.) Sure, the church is full of people who are struggling with sin. But we are God’s chosen people (Ephesians 1:4). We are His fellow workers in this world (1 Corinthians 3:9). The church has been raised in Christ and, in Him, has ascended to the heavens (Ephesians 2:6).
God is working wonderfully in the church. The Scriptures are unequivocal about that.
Yet I rarely hear this stressed in sermons or in conversations between Christians. Instead we stress how the church has fallen short of holiness and glory; we stress that the church does not act like God’s chosen people.
This is what shapes our image and view of the church.
Here’s my main point: when we focus on the shortcomings in the church, we are focusing on Satan’s work in the church. When our view of the church are determined by these things, then our views of the church are based on what Satan is doing.
But isn’t something seriously wrong with that? Shouldn’t our focus be on the glorious work of God in the church? Shouldn’t that determine our view of the church?
I’m not saying that we should ignore sins and shortcomings. We should address those shortcomings. But we should let the lofty image of the church dominate. We address sin in the church, but we address it on the basis of what God is doing in the church. Addressing sin in our churches should be motivated by the high calling of the church, not out of cynicism about churches.
If our image of the church continues to be molded by Satan’s activities, people will become more cynical and leave the church. The young people–teens and college students–are often the ones who will become the most cynical. They will see the problems of the church, rail against “organized religion,” and leave the church. Many will never return. That means most of them will never get to see what God is doing among his people. All they heard about was the rottenness of the church, never the glory of the church.
And that is a shame. It should be reversed.
Join other dedicated readers of Thinking and Believing and subscribe to the email list. You'll receive every new post in your inbox, so you never have to worry about missing a post. Click here to subscribe.