“Oh come to the church in the wildwood, come to the church in the dale. No spot is so dear to my childhood as the little brown church in the vale.” –Church in the Wildwood by William S. Pitts
There’s a lot of concern these days about the state of the church. Is it dying? Will it last? Can it adapt to the changing culture to remain relevant? Or should it adapt? Church attendance numbers are dwindling. Churches are closing. Church leaders everywhere are beginning to get worried about the church. But I’m not worried. Here’s why.
Jesus loves the church
“On this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” –Matthew 16:18
There’s a lot of criticism about the church. Some from outside Christianity, looking in. Some criticism comes from within Christianity. Of course, the church is made up of humans. There are definitely going to be flaws. Each generation seems to have their own blind spot where the sins of the church hurt people. It’s easy to look at our parents’ and grandparents’ era with condemnation. How did the church ever think that was okay? But, if we look closely at our own generation, we’ll see our own flaws and shortcomings. The sins of the church vary from culture to culture and denomination to denomination.
I’m not saying we should forget these flaws. It’s important that we acknowledge them, and deal with them. The church needs to be first at pointing out its own sins and first to seek change through the Holy Spirit. But when calling out sins becomes condemnation of the church, we have a problem. Like, I said, it’s east to condemn the church. And some Christians will gladly do just that. But Jesus loves the church. She is his bride. Instead of condemning her for her flaws, Jesus cleanses her of them.
Ephesians 5:25-26 “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.”
It has become popular to talk about loving Jesus but not church. You can find popular authors talking about how they don’t like church (I know it’s dated, but here’s one from Donald Miller). You can find people at your workplace or in your neighborhood who think they can connect with God in nature or alone at home better than they could at a church. You’ll find those Christians who want to love Jesus and condemn the church. But the church is Jesus’ wife. They are a package deal. You can’t love one and not the other.
I’m not worried about the church. Jesus loves her and she’s not going to die as long as he’s around.
You need the church
You can’t be a Christian alone. God designed us to live in community. The very first thing that is not good in the Creation narrative is a single human alone. Genesis 2:18 “The Lord God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’”
We see in the metanarrative of Scripture that God created humanity in community, that sin brought a curse that infected every area of life. Humanity immediately began struggling with community. Hatred, violence, and murder became part of humanity when the bonds of community were broken. The Old Testament gives us a picture of a downward spiral of sin, violence, and broken relationships with God and with each other. When Jesus appears, his death and resurrection begin the process of breaking the curse of sin. The curse will not be fully removed from earth until the Second Coming of Jesus when the earth is restored and our eternity in Heaven begins, but the breaking of the curse began immediately. Relationships that were broken by sin, are restored in Christ. And that’s where the church is born, right in the place of restored relationships.
You need the church. You need the community of believers to encourage and teach you. You need the elders of the church to lovingly redirect you when you go astray. You need the youth to give your life to, to pour yourself into and disciple.
Paul points out the intergenerational beauty of the church in his letter to Titus, a young pastor that he was mentoring: “Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love, and in endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live…Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children…similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good.” Titus 2:3-4, 6-7
In the church, we find a place where everyone is valued, everyone has something to give, and everyone has something to learn.
I’m not worried about the church because as long as there are believers in Christ, the church will exist because the believers need it.
The church showcases the vast diversity of the faith
Just as we’ve seen that the church is a place for all age groups—it’s also a place for many other diverse groups of people. The church is filled with people from all over the world, in every culture, in every economic level, in every political and philosophical leaning.
Sometimes, when we’re concerned about the church, it’s because we’re focusing on a narrow demographic. Just because church attendance numbers in middle class America are dropping, doesn’t mean the church in India is in trouble.
In response to a listener question about the necessity of church, Homebrewed Christianity podcast hosts Bo and Tripp recently discussed church on their podcast Theology Nerd Throwdown. Bo emphasized that you can’t be a Christian alone, you need people beyond you, behind you, and beside you in terms of spiritual maturity.
Then Tripp made this statement about the church:
The church is a huge, diverse place. At different times in your life you’ll have different spiritual disciplines, different relationships to different communities, and different traditions within the church. It’s the activity of being grateful for the existence that God’s given you, sharing in your brokenness, and receiving forgiveness of sins, with people you’d never hang out with otherwise. Isn’t there something cool that Republicans and Democrats and Green Party members call all be at the same place. That people from different classes and races and education levels can gather together. If you get so postmodern that that’s not cool to you, then you aren’t postmodern at all. Postmodern should be the celebration of difference and there are very few places where that much difference comes up. I think it’s cool finding a community where you’re with a group of people and all you’re doing is giving permission for something to happen that blesses someone else, then you get to the part that blesses you. But you’re doing it together because it matters that you’re in this community.
The church is where you can be broken, where you can be real, and where you can be loved in the midst of that brokenness. The job of the body of believers is to build up one another.
I’m not worried about the church because it’s bigger than what you think and it’s deeper than what you think. It’s not in danger of dying out.
What do you think? Is the church in decline? Or incline? Or standing strong?