I'm thrilled to present this guest post by my friend Caleb Neff. Part of the fun of being a Baby Boomer is being schooled by guys in their mid-twenties, like Caleb. He's the real deal.
I like The Bachelor. I know it’s shallow and awful, but I can’t stop. I even went on Hulu last week to catch part of an episode I missed. Now that I confessed it, can I throw someone under the bus? I started watching the Bachelor because my wife likes it. At first I would pretend to be reading or playing guitar, but eventually I just gave in.
When you love someone, you grow to love what they love. Ephesians 5:25 says: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
We often make a big deal about how Jesus loves individuals, which is really important and true. But in the Bible, those individuals are called together as His church, the bride he died for and is coming back for. Jesus deeply loves the church. He is passionately committed to the church. When Jesus talks about the church his voice goes up a notch, his pulse beats faster and there are tears and fire in his eyes--just like when you are sharing about whatever is closest to your heart.
This is why my brain misfires a bit when someone says to me, “I love Jesus, I just don’t care for the church.” They launch into all their issues and frustrations, which are all really valid, but I sit there thinking, “How could I truly love my wife, and at the same time be totally against and actually filled with disgust for the thing that she loves the most?” That would be some kind of dysfunctional relationship.
Sunday after our last service ended I stood at the front of the building surveying “the wreckage:” people still getting prayer over here, people laughing over there, kids running around, people in our welcome center getting connected in groups, new friendships being made, one person who had just made a first time commitment to Christ received her first Bible. My eyes started to well up with tears. I just couldn’t stop thinking, “Jesus loves this stuff.” Really. Not just in the cliché way that we think about him loving kitty-cats. I think he chest-bumps angels when someone gets over their fear and walks through the doors for the first time, or when someone nervously signs up for their first small group.
I’ll be the first to tell you that the church has weaknesses. We have some awful flaws. But when I think of Augustine’s quote, “the church is a whore, and it is my mother,” I think many, many people only see the whore. They look at this whore/church and feel the justification to do what the religious leaders in John 8 would’ve wanted to do to the woman caught in adultery: judge her, stone her, and then (feeling very righteous indeed) wipe the dust of their feet on her dead body. All of this in front of an adoring public. These same people want to create a “real” church, one “filled with the grace and love of God.”
It reminds me of that movie The Village, where some really intelligent people think they are going to escape the brokenness of modern society by setting up an autonomous collective in the woods and living without technology. The problem is, evil doesn’t come from “out there.” Evil comes from within our hearts. As they say in AA: “wherever you go, there you are.” You can’t slam the door quickly enough or run far or fast enough to get away from your own heart. G.K. Chesterton once wrote an award-winning essay in response to the prompt, “What’s wrong with the world today?” He simply responded, “I am.”
That’s the lesson the people in The Village had to learn, and it’s the lesson many Christians need to learn: stop throwing stones. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. We’re all equally broken. If by some miracle you found the perfect church out there, you’d ruin it by attending. Stop trying to create The Village of an emerging church, a house church, or whatever the next hot trend will be.
I mean to say this as lovingly as I can: grow up. Look in the mirror. You have flaws too, and they’re hideous. Most of us have no problem with the fact that God keeps loving us, even though we are big arrogant jerks that keep making the same mistakes, but if the church we attend screws up once, we’re out of there.
I’m not advocating staying in a church that is manipulative and off track, but there are actually very few of those. Mostly what you’ll find is groups of people that love Jesus passionately but are weak, broken hypocrites (like you). Find a church like that and dive in headfirst. A big part of the reason that you keep looking for an awesomely hip church is that you are insecure, like a high school kid looking for a cool group of people to associate with, to help you feel cool.
I’m not saying the church isn’t a whore. I’m saying we should start by asking Jesus how He feels about her. We should follow that up by looking in the mirror and asking if the problem isn’t that the same things that annoy us most about others isn’t the same things we ourselves struggle with. Finally, I’m suggesting that if you stop beating on the church for a minute and start serving her, if you kneel down in a moment of humility and wipe off her bloody, broken face, you might see your mom.
Caleb Neff is an associate pastor, worship leader, and mistake maker at the Vineyard Community Church in Cape Coral, Florida. www.capevineyard.com