Thursday, February 12, 2015

Why He Didn’t Give Up On The Church

“One woman at church said something critical and rude to me…I will never go back to a church again.”

“I knew too many of those guys, and I knew some of them were complete hypocrites.  If that’s what Christians are, I don’t want anything to do with it.  You won’t see me in a church ever again.”

“I used to go to church.  I watched a church split over personality issues.  It was the biggest mess you’ve ever seen; people yelling, gossiping, lying.  I promised myself I would never set foot in a church again.”

 You’ve heard stories like this, haven’t you? 

From Barna Group's 2014 Book Churchless
There are at least 2 reasons stories like this are so common:
  1. First, the church is made up of people.  People will eventually fail us, because they are all sinful.  So if you are in church long enough, you will see people do things that are against the spirit of Christianity.  They will disappoint you, and you will be tempted to give up on church altogether.
2. Second, we hear these stories so often because 1 in 3 Americans are now “de-churched,” according to a Barna Research study released in November 2014 (see graphic on right).  For every 3 people you pass in the grocery aisle, 1 of them used to be actively involved in church before deciding to just stop going.  Something happened, and they quit church.  If that survey is right, there are well over 100 million “de-churched” people in America.  No wonder we all know people who tell these types of “why I quit the church” stories. 

If Anyone Should’ve Quit Church…

But if anyone had a reason to hate the church, it was Paul.  He could’ve told his own stories:

“When I went to church in Jerusalem, no one would even talk to me.  They all whispered behind my back that they didn’t believe I was a real Christian.  All they could talk about was my past.”  
(Acts 9:26)

“I helped start the church in Corinth.  Now all they do is criticize me when I’m not around.  I’m just trying to follow Jesus and help others, but they keep badmouthing me.  They say I’m weak.  They criticize my speaking ability.  They say I’m not trustworthy, and that I’m not even a real apostle.”  
(2 Cor. 10:1,10)

If Paul were like most people, he would’ve followed those stories by saying: “so I will never go back to church again.” 

But instead, do you know who absolutely loved the church?  Same guy.  Paul.  How?

If you look in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, you see Paul speaking about the church in majestic terms.  The church is the body of Christ (Eph. 1:22-23).  The church is the place where God lives (Eph. 2:19-22).  The church is God’s voice in the world to proclaim His wisdom (Eph. 3:10).  The church is the bride of Christ, who Jesus was willing to die for (Eph. 5:25-27,32). 

And in those descriptions we find the secret to Paul’s love for the church…

The Connection That We Often Miss

Image from:
In all of those passages, Paul connects his high view of the church to his high view of Jesus Christ.  He doesn’t say he loves the church because the people are always polite and the preacher is always excellent and the worship is an entertaining experience.  It’s not human perfection that made the church special.

Paul loved the church because he loved Jesus Christ.  And since Jesus Christ loved the church, Paul wasn’t going to quit on it, in spite of the imperfect – and sometimes downright mean – people he found there. 

It reminds me of what Jesus said to Peter.  In John 21:15-17, the resurrected Jesus is getting Peter back to the mission of being an apostle.  Jesus asks 3 times if Peter loves Him.  All 3 times Peter says yes.  And all 3 times Jesus replies: then feed My sheep.  Who are His sheep?  His people.  His church. 

Notice the train of thought: Peter, if you love Me, then join My mission to help My church. 

“But Jesus, they were hypocrites!” we might say.   “Yes, but you’ve been a hypocrite at times also, and I still love you.  If you love Me, feed My sheep.”

“But Jesus, didn’t you hear what they said to me?!”  “Yes, but I’ve heard you say some pretty mean things too, and I still love you.  If you love Me, feed My sheep.” 

A Deeper Foundation for Loving the Church

If you and I truly love Jesus, we will look at the church differently.  Loving the church because of the people will only go so far.  We must go deeper than that. 

If we love Jesus, we will feed His sheep.  We will join Jesus in pouring out our lives to help make His church a little more like the majestic bride He wants it to be. 

Christ’s church needs you.  It needs you not to give up on its failures.  It needs you to show others what it means to love Jesus.  It needs you to help it serve and grow.  Paul believed in that mission, because his Savior believed in that mission.

Do you love Jesus?  If so, don’t ignore what He calls us to do: let’s keep loving His church. 

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