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The Church Is Full Of Messed Up People -- And We Should Love It

Have you ever wondered if the perfect church is out there?

Maybe you’ve tried a few different ones looking for it. Like a beautiful mythical creature, somewhere hides this unicorn church that always does everything right, believes everything right, and all the people are friendly, holy, and happy. Maybe you think you’ve found it. If you think you have, just wait; you simply haven't been there long enough — like more than five minutes.

Because the truth is, there is no perfect church. The church is a people. And as long as people sin, people make a mess of things — including the gathering together of the body of Christ. Some churches are better at loving and serving people. Some are better at putting together a well-ordered worship service. Some are better at singing or preaching or serving their community — but no church is perfect because people are not perfect.

The poster-child for messed-up churches is the church in Corinth. Reading though the Apostle Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians reveals that their church was riddled with division, sexual immorality, lawsuits against each other, idolatry, false teaching, and all kinds of sin.

And yet, in 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul describes the church as “those sanctified in Christ Jesus.” Despite all their sin and every vile thing they were doing, Paul addressed them as a people made holy—set apart—in Christ. He affirmed that as the church, they were “called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus.” They were saints, too, along with the Galatians, the Colossians, and even the Philippians, Paul’s favorite church. The Corinthian church, with all its problems, was identified with all other believers in the Lord, and in no way was it seen as inferior or second-rate because of the many issues in the church. Paul rebuked them for many of the things they were doing, and he had strong words for them — but he also boasted about them (2 Cor 9:2) and wrote to them, “I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls” (2 Cor 12:15). 

As far as the east is from the west, the Corinthians were from the perfect church — but they were saints. They were sanctified in Christ, and Paul loved them dearly. Today the Church (and every local church that comprises it) is no different. Division. Immorality. False teaching. Idolatry. No church is perfect. In fact, most churches are just plain messed up — and still, we should love it.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church.

We don't love the sin. We don't love the heartache and the strife and the brokenness. But we love the church. Because the church is a people. We love the church because Jesus loves the church. He died for the church and one day he’ll return for the church. It’s a great mystery but the church is the body of Christ, so don't ever believe anyone if they tell you they love Jesus, but not the church. If you think that’s possible, try it out sometime. Tell someone close to you that you love them as a person, but you don't love their body. See what kind of response you get. Hint: it won’t be pretty.

And while often the church is not pretty either, still we’re encouraged to love our brothers and sisters through their mess because Jesus loves the church. He gave himself up for her (Eph 5:25). Paul loved the church, and if he could have great pride even in the church at Corinth (2 Cor 7:4), we can have pride in the Church as well, flawed and imperfect as it may be. So stop looking for a perfect church. Let’s look at a perfect Christ, roll up our sleeves, and love the imperfect church.

 

REFLECTION

Why do we lament and stress about messiness in our churches? We know everyone sins—including ourselves. Why are we surprised by it?

The sin of the Corinthian church is well-documented. Considering all their sin, how can Paul speak so highly of them at times?

What comfort is there in reading of Paul’s affection for such a messed up church as the one in Corinth? What comfort is there in Paul’s calling them sanctified, and saints together with other believers?

What is one practical way to “love the church”? (Remember, church is a people.)

For further reflection, read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9.

It's Slippery Out There Sinning For The Greater Good

What happens when trying to be a good Christian makes you a bad Conservative? 

Whoa. One sentence in, and some of you may already be scratching your heads. I know there are some who think those two words are synonymous--but it is possible to be good at one and bad at the other. Maybe this is just one of those tensions we have to accept, like trying to reconcile God's sovereignty and man's responsibility. Or the Trinity; how can God be three and one at the same time? It's like that. How can a person be a good Christian and not be incensed at the Grand Jury's decision to indict David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt? 

I don't share my political views often; in fact, I almost never talk politics--on purpose. It suffices to say that you'd spot me if you look a little right. Which is where I find myself questioning the way I'm supposed to respond to the news that a Houston Grand Jury indicted the videographers who exposed Planned Parenthood last year.

For a short version of the most commonly asked questions about the news, this is a great summary. And for some great cultural analysis from a Christian viewpoint, take a listen to the first ten minutes of yesterday's episode of Al Mohler's excellent podcast, The Briefing. I agree with Mohler; we are living in a world turned upside down. And it's appalling that Planned Parenthood will continue (at least for now) to get away with their atrocities, especially in light of the videos. That part of me is as red as it gets. Don't misread me: Abortion is evil, murder, and an abomination. In other words, it's sin.

But so is lying.

So is breaking the law by falsifying government documents. So what if all reporters do it to get the story.

We’ve moved into a bigger, more theoretical (dare I say age-old) question of whether it’s okay to commit a little sin for the “greater good.”

See my dilemma? I'm supposed to join my Facebook timeline in raging about the "injustice" done these two videographers who busted Planned Parenthood, thus making me a good Conservative. But I'm having a hard time saying it's okay for them to sin because the other people are bigger sinners. I'm having a hard time justifying their sin for some kind of greater good; I don't think I can do that and be a good Christian. Because that's what this has turned into. "It's okay they lied because the other people are killing." The line to get on the slippery slope is long, but it's moving pretty fast.

With the conservative outrage over the Grand Jury's decision on Monday, we've moved beyond the question of Planned Parenthood's evil. We've moved into a bigger, more theoretical (dare I say age-old) question of whether it's okay to commit a little sin for the "greater good." And where's the line? Which sins are small enough to be okay? Is it okay to bomb an abortion clinic? If falsifying government documents will bring down Planned Parenthood, is that okay? Bombing, I'm guessing we all agree, no. But lying? It seems my fairly conservative Facebook feed agrees, yes.

But then my Bible still says, no.

Sin is sin is sin. Falsifying government records sent Jesus to the cross. Killing babies sent Jesus to the cross. Neither is beyond the reach of the gospel--but neither honors the Lord, either. One may be more or less heinous to me and you, but they both assault the sovereignty and glory of God. They are both cosmic treason to a Being infinite in his justice and holiness.

So I find myself not outraged at the Grand Jury in Houston, but a little let down by David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt. I wish they'd done things the right way, maybe done a little more research, maybe gone the extra mile to make sure the bases were covered. Because my stomach turned at the videos they released. I want their work to mean something. But I can't be a good Christian if I expect the system to hold Planned Parenthood accountable for breaking laws, without holding these two accountable for breaking laws.

Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, "My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose," calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. Isaiah 46.8-11

I can be a good Christian, though, by remembering and trusting that God is sovereign, that his purposes can't be thwarted, and that he allows and works through our sin to accomplish his purposes. He used the sin of Joseph's brothers to save many people (Genesis 50.20). He used the sin of the Pharisees and the Jewish crowd to save his people through the murder of Jesus (Acts 2.22-24). 

And he can still use the sins of a couple of videographers to expose the sins of a nationwide abortion provider. So let's stop acting like these two didn't deserve their indictments, like they were martyred--but let's not stop praying that their work might yet succeed in its aim to expose greater evils.

When Your Tongue Lets You Down

For several months now, it's been my habit in the morning to tweet a poignant, usually spiritual, quote. They come from all over; sometimes they're from something I'm reading. Other times they're just copy-and-pasted from another twitter account doing the same thing. My purpose has been simply to encourage (or convict) others with a quote that's encouraged (or convicted) me. I've accumulated quite a few quotes from which I choose every morning, and--in an unexpected way--it's been a great tool for me since I read many of them over and over for days or weeks before they get sent out to the interwebs.

Once they're out there, they normally get a couple of Facebook likes and maybe a retweet or two. I hope they're hitting home with others like they are for me. But every now and then, you put one out there and figure out you've really struck a chord. It happened yesterday.

When our tongues let us down, it is because we have not first watched over our hearts and thoughts. -Alistair Begg

I posted this quote yesterday because it was relevant for me. Reading through Matthew, I'd just been meditating on 15.11: "it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person." So I sent it out--and almost immediately started getting notifications that it had been liked or retweeted--and they continued all day. Until they stopped at 11 retweets and 26 likes on Twitter, and 5 likes on Facebook. Now, those are not astronomical numbers, but it's certainly a bigger response than I'm accustomed to on my daily, obscure Christian quotes. I normally have to post pictures of my kids to get a response like that. 

Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. Matthew 15.17-19

So why this quote? Why did this one resonate with people so much? I think because we all know it to be true. This is an experience--a biblical truth--with which we're all too familiar. We've all said something or thought something we regret. Some of us do it every day. Or every hour. The words we say, the thoughts we think, reveal who we are deep down. If it's in my heart, eventually it'll make its way out of my mouth. And the same goes for you.

The things that are outside of us may influence us, and they may be harmful. Music, movies, friends, conversation, art, food, drinks, there are a million things outside of us that may influence us negatively. They may feed, highlight, or encourage the darkness in our hearts, the darkness just waiting to escape by the mouth. But those things are not what defile us. Sin defiles us--and my sin starts in my heart. Words. Thoughts. Actions. Those are all just ways to let it out.

So do you say things you wish you could take back? Look at your heart.
Do you think things you're glad no one knows about? Look at your heart.

As you look, though, remember--"good in, good out" or "bad in, bad out" is a simple enough philosophy. There's some truth in that, but there's one easier. Just because you put Christian music and Christian movies and Christian books and Christian other things in, doesn't guarantee you'll get Christian things out. Try this one instead: gospel in, good out.

A heart fixed on the gospel, on the grace, mercy, and kindness of God, is the heart that brings forth good words, thoughts, and actions. A heart fixed on the good news that, in Christ, there's nothing you can do to make God love you more, and there's nothing you can do to make God love you less, is a heart that's been "watched over."

And if that's where your heart is, your tongue won't let you down.