Sometime ago, I wrote a post about my reluctance to join a new church. It was because of all the faults I could see in a local body. I also noted that many of the things I hate about the Bride are things that I also hate about me.
It’s a sobering thought when you realize that you are bound to the Bride not only by the work of Christ, who brought us all together, but also by our shared weaknesses.
Well, it’s been a couple of months since I wrote that. I’m preparing to start going to a church in Greenville, and I think it’s going to be good for me. I could feel my relationship with God being strained over the lack of community with my siblings. And while I knew that I couldn’t really walk with Christ but not his church, that still wasn’t enough to jolt me into going to church again. I can thankfully say that that attitude has left me.
What occurred to me today (Sunday) is that my departure, and the purposeful schism initiated by others, from the church is not only the wrong move, but it also has helped to perpetuate the very sins that caused us all to consider not going to church in the first place.
Here’s where I see this truth:
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
All of us have been gifted, through the grace of God in Christ, to help bring the church to full maturity–that is, so she fully reflects the image of Jesus. That type of maturity, it should be noted, would do away with everything we don’t like about churches today. Love would trump people’s desires to prove themselves right. Outsiders would be welcomed, regardless of who they are or what they believe. Think of anything you can’t stand about the church right now, and then imagine that vice being removed from her entirely. Maturity.
But the church is far from it, and I can think of at least one reason why–because people like me, and maybe you, left.
The passage I quoted above also says that we also have been gifted to help the church in its quest to become perfectly like Christ. But when people who have been gifted with Jesus’ gifts refuse to use those gifts on behalf of the church, then the church suffers. She misses opportunities to be fed by what God has given to you to offer to her. She doesn’t receive the grace you could impart, the wisdom you could share, the love that you could give.
She doesn’t receive those things because you left.
Departing from a church may seem like a good idea, a welcomed breath of fresh air from the sometimes poisonous culture that takes root in Christian settings. The truth is, the act of departing helps to perpetuate those vices because the people who hate them and want to see things changed are the same people who aren’t sticking around long enough to do so.
In Christ, you and I have been given gifts, not for our glory but for service. Who are we serving when we take our gifts with us away from the church? How can the church ever reach the maturity for which she longs when so many of the people who are supposed to be helping her mature are instead refusing to show up?
So once again, I find this principle to be true: the church is as imperfect as she is not just because of “them” but also because of “me”.