August 30, 2010
When the Church Isn't Lovable
Crosswalk.com News & Culture Editor
"By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
John 13:35"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ." This soundbite attributed to Ghandi provides the classic rejoinder for anyone tempted to leave a church. Churches are comprised of human beings who have yet to shake their sin nature, after all. We hurt each other. We get legalistic. We don't enforce tough love when called for, leaving the defenseless to fend for themselves. We're often a bunch of gross caricatures rather than true reflections of our Christ.
Former vampire novelist Anne Rice recently lashed out at this habit, saying she "quit being a Christian" because of, well, Christians. She said,
"I'm out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being "Christian" or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to "belong" to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider… In the name of Christ, I quit Christianity and being Christian. Amen."
Hearing Rice's experience saddens me, because I'm sure her descriptions are accurate. We've all seen - and at times, been - the stereotype. No wonder the term "Christian" has fallen out of favor.
What I think Rice misses, however, is that the church has always been this way. A quick perusal of Paul's epistles and the other New Testament books shows that the young church was full of personal quarrels, insipid disagreements, and misguided focus. In their ministry with Jesus, the disciples would rather have called down fire from heaven on an unwelcoming town rather than simply shake it off and move on (Luke 9:54). Peter worried about what food he ate before worrying about the Gospel. Christ knew full well that these people were imperfect. He showed them perfect love anyway.
I think the mark of a mature Christian is whether she loves the Church even when it's unlovable. That means loving the individual parts, too. We can't love the universal church without loving the particular church, despite its flaws. Christ committed himself to imperfect people, and we can't claim to be following his example without doing the same. And - news flash - we better hope that others are willing to do the same, for the times we trip over our own sin. I am a Christian among other Christians in the name of Christ - thanks be to God for his mercy!
Intersecting Faith & Life: My husband and I joined a church plant last year, and we've seen firsthand how easy it is to let little things fester. We've also seen firsthand how grace, love, and commitment to a faith community can bless you a thousand times over what you invest in it. True, being part of the body will hurt sometimes. But, detached, we just wither away. Are you committed to a particular group of Christians, willing to love whatever the circumstances? What's stopping you?
1 John 4:7