Almost every day I see a social media post about what’s wrong with the church. College students are leaving by the thousands. Young adults say the church has damaged them forever. People are hurt, they’re never coming back, and they want everyone within their social media circles to leave with them. I hear you. I feel what you feel. I’ve lived some of the stories you’ve lived. But I will never leave the church. And neither should you. As kindly as possible, I have one thing to say:
Stop bashing the church.
I’ve been a Christian for more than 30 years. I’ve attended large churches, small churches, and medium-sized churches. My husband and I have been members, lay leaders, and staff.
Between the two of us, we’ve served in every volunteer position imaginable, from janitor to Sunday school teacher, nursery worker to youth minister. We’ve scrubbed toilets, tables, and toddlers, and prayed, played, and paid.
We’ve invested our time, money, and energy into this thing called the church, and we love it. We believe in it, and we plan to serve it until we die.
Here are five good reasons why:
1. Because Jesus Christ loved the church and gave himself for it (Eph. 5:25). He didn't love online communities, parachurch organizations, or social clubs. He loved the church—so much that He died for it. In my opinion, that's reason enough to stop bashing it.
2. Because churches are made up of imperfect people like you and me. Immature, selfish, inconsiderate, and sometimes rude. Loving, caring, sacrificial, and sometimes beautiful. We are flawed and frail, but little by little, God is changing us and making us more like Jesus.
You wouldn’t leave a hospital because there were sick people in it, and you shouldn’t leave the church because there are sinners in it. Sick people go to a hospital because they’re sick, and sinners go to a church because they’re sinful. The transforming power of Jesus is the only hope we have for change, and Jesus does his best work through the church.
3. You cannot separate Jesus from the church. When Jesus left the earth, he told his disciples to remain in Jerusalem until he sent the Holy Spirit. Then he instructed his apostles to evangelize and plant churches in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the earth. Through divine inspiration he gave them instructions for church government, discipline, and worship so they could do everything “decently and in order” (1 Cor. 14:40). The book of Acts is a glorious testimony of how Christ sent disciples everywhere to establish local congregations of believers, complete with leadership and governments.
4. People have died for the privilege of meeting together to worship God. Our forefathers dedicated their lives to birth a nation that granted its citizens the freedom to attend church. Generations of brave men and women have died on foreign battlefields to defend our religious freedoms and protect our country from godless attacks. Believers in China, Saudi Arabia, India, and North Korea risk their lives daily to meet together to worship and study the Scriptures. To forsake the free exercise of our right to assemble as a church is a slap in the face to those who long for and died for this privilege.
5. The church was God’s idea. Jesus told Peter, “... you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church” (Mat. 16:18). He promised to sustain and protect it, “and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Through salvation Christ initiated believers into a universal church, but he also placed them in local churches. As in the book of Acts, he continues to grow the church. “And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47).
I know atrocities have been committed through the ages in the name of God and the church. Some churches have strayed from the tenets of Scripture and morphed into cultic caricatures as far from the true church as cardboard façades are to marble mansions. Ministers and churches have neglected their duties, betrayed their members’ trust, and abused their power. Congregants have wounded their sisters and brothers with cruel actions diametrically opposed to the teachings of Scripture.
Much wrong has been done in and through the church, but thousands of good, pure, sacrificial, and lovely acts have also been done. These actions trump and triumph over Satan’s pitiful attempts to misuse, malign, and misrepresent the Bride of Christ.
We need the church (Acts. 12:5, Heb. 10:24-25). Now more than ever, in a culture increasingly hostile to people of faith, we need each other. Persecution is coming, and like the unsuspecting lamb is vulnerable to a wolf’s attack when it wanders from the flock, so are we dangerously unprotected from Satan’s schemes when we forsake our flock and go it alone.
The church is vital to help us grow in our faith, hold us accountable, pray for us, and help us in our time of need. If you've ever experienced the love of a local church during a time of tragedy, sickness, or loss, you know there is no greater expression of God's care on earth than that of a body of believers rallying around its own.
In our 30+ years as believers, local churches have support us when my husband lost his job, counseled us when our family struggled, and comforted when we experienced the deaths of two sisters, a brother, and a grandmother, all in the same year.
But not only do we need the church, the church needs us (1 Cor. 12:28). God could easily do his work on earth by himself, but he chooses to let us be part of it. By serving others through a local church, we participate in the work he's doing in the world. As we spend our time, money, and energy serving others, God blesses us in ways we could never imagine. Best of all, we become the hands and feet of Jesus.
Is there a lot wrong with the church? Yup. But there’s also a lot wrong with us. Until we reach perfection (which won’t happen on this earth), can we legitimately hold a body of similarly imperfect believers to a standard we can never hope to attain?
If you attend a local church that loves God deeply, serves God sacrificially, and shares God liberally, rejoice. If you attend a church that falls short of Christ’s plan for his body, extend grace, forgive as you’ve been forgiven, and look for ways to make it better. And if you honestly feel there’s too much wrong in your local congregation to redeem, find another place to worship. God’s people are everywhere, and they’ll be glad to welcome you in.
But whether you choose to stay or choose to go,
please, stop bashing the church.
This article first appeared on Crosswalk.com, June 1, 2016.