The thorniest question in the Christian Faith is not “Why do good people suffer?” That’s a tough one, but most of us can imagine one or two obvious reasons why decent people endure agonizing moments. I think this is the killer question: “If faith is so powerful, why is the Church such a mess?” We know the Church is the bride of Christ, but what does he see in her? If you haven’t been offended by a church at some point in your life, you probably know someone who has been. Churches are notorious for snarky business meetings, petty turf wars, abused ministers, unkind remarks, and a pathological unwillingness to change anything but the pastor.
Many young people today don’t believe church is a relevant part of the faith anymore. Lots of young seminary graduates are so suspicious of churches that they prefer to risk everything trying to plant a new church in a pioneer area rather than facing the pain and disillusionment of serving an existing church and seeing their hopes dashed! I’ve actually had conversations with budding ministers who have asked in amazement, “How can you be so excited about ministry after all these years?” The clause left unspoken is “after all these years working with churches?”
I still believe in the Church because God does. Being disappointed by local churches is not a recent phenomenon. Only two decades into the Christian experience, the Church at Corinth was rocked by quarreling and competition, gross immorality, and an unwillingness to share food with each other. The Church at Galatia twisted the Gospel so badly that Paul began to wonder if they were even saved! Even the Apostles occasionally behaved like hypocrites. God took it all in stride and continued to trust the Church as the chief agency for his mission.
The explanation is found is 1 Corinthians 1:27. “But God chose what is foolish in the world, to shame the wise. God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God chosen what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” When struggling, unsophisticated churches get it right, God gets all the glory because it’s apparent these people are not strategic geniuses! When churches organize to do disaster relief in a neighboring state, God gets the glory because these don’t appear to be the sharpest tools in the shed. “It would take a miracle for these people to change the world!” Exactly!
Churches have disappointed me too. You have to be tough to spend your life in a local church. And that’s the point. God never set out to cultivate hot house holiness that wilts when the heat gets turned up! He has never been concerned about our fragile self esteem! Heck, the Church has been air dropped behind the lines onto life’s great battlefield. God needs warrior saints, people who are not thin-skinned or easily discouraged. You gotta keeping advancing under fire. And that’s why God assigns his chosen people to churches where it’s certain they will be tested, not coddled; bruised, not babied. There is too much at stake in this generation. The church builds battlefield faith. If you were hoping for uninterrupted bliss, that can wait till we reach Heaven.
Lift up the Cross!