Hate the Church?
It has long grieved me...very deeply...that "church" has become almost an ugly word in our culture. Several years ago, a local "church" put out signs all over our area that read, "Love God but Hate Church? So Do We!" It almost made me physically ill every time I saw one (which was every time I went anywhere...they were everywhere!)
I wanted to scream...HOW do you love God and hate His church??
I'm sure I know where they were coming from. I know that there are people who have had bad experiences with churches. I know that there are organizations that call themselves churches that are not, in any way, shape, or form doing the work of Christ. I know that no church is perfect, and I know that sometimes people in the church who don't act like Christ followers can cause pain and confusion.
I also know that I have been incredibly blessed to have been in good, solid, Bible-believing churches all my life. I know that in some areas those are few and far between, and I hurt for people who long for a true church family and have trouble finding one.
But variances from one end of the spectrum to another aside, how can one possibly say they love God but hate His church?
What is the Church?
The church, as we know, is not a building. The church is not an organization. The church is people...people who have been chosen by God according to His purpose and who have accepted His free gift of eternal life. The church is Christ followers who together make up the body of Christ, both globally (all Christians around the world) and locally (individual local groups of believers). (For more information on the global church and the local church, listen to the Fundamentals of the Faith podcast linked below.)
Aside from the fact that churches are made up of people, and therefore churches aren't perfect because people...even saved people...aren't perfect, there are two other things that factor in to problems in the church:
First, there are organizations who call themselves "churches" that have nothing to do with the Biblical meaning of "church". One example of this would be the notorious "Westboro Baptist Church". There is nothing "Baptist" or "Church" about Westboro. Just because an organization calls itself a church (and perhaps meets the legal definition of a church) does not mean it is a true Biblical church.
Second, there are people within solid, Bible-teaching churches who are not true Christ-followers. There are all kinds of statistics on this...in a quick web search I've seen anywhere from 50% to 90%, based on all sorts of factors that may or may not be accurate. However, the fact remains that whatever the percentage, there are people in the church who have walked an aisle and been listed on the church rolls who have never truly accepted Christ's gift of salvation. The Bible itself tells us that there will be people in the church who profess to know Christ but don't.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.Not everyone who says to me, "Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?" And then will I declare to them, "I never knew you;depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." ~ Matthew 7:15-23
So Why Love the Church?
Since the church is filled with sinners (and sometimes lost people), and there are people and organzations masquerading as churches that truly aren't, why love the church?
Because Jesus does. And we love Jesus. The church is precious to Him; therefore, it should be precious to us.
Josh Harris says," We love the church because we love the Savior who redeemed the church." (Josh's article "Wrong Reasons to Love the Church" points out why people often have trouble loving the church...because they are loving it for the wrong reasons.)
Christ's love for the church is pointed out as an example of the way men ought to love their wives:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. ~ Ephesians 5:25-27
He gave Himself up for the church, to make her holy, and He will present her to Himself as a radiant, perfect, holy church. Those words indicate that the church is a treasure to Christ...and therefore, as His followers, it should be a treasure to us.
Christ Himself established the church, and guaranteed that it will remain standing when all else falls:
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ~ Matthew 16:18
I love this video by David Platt! He says: "A radical commitment to Christ inevitably results in a radical commitment to the church...There is no question that if we are surrendered to Christ, that will automatically mean that we are in love with the church and we want to be a part of it, joining together in churches that are spreading the good news of Christ to the ends of the earth."
Here are some excellent resources on what the Bible says about the Church:
Fundamentals of the Faith: The Church ~ Podcast by our former pastor, Bro. Kent Sweatman. This is long but excellent.
The Church - A Display of God's Glory ~ Article by Mark Dever in SBC Life on displaying God's glory by being a Biblically sound church.
Wrong Reasons to Love the Church ~ Article by Josh Harris on the wrong...and right...reasons to love the church (and how the wrong ones get us into trouble!)
And I really appreciated this short and simple but thought-provoking post by fellow Everything Launch Team member Julie Sanders: How Dirty Is This Word to You?