This is an excerpt adapted from The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress by Rob Bentz (May 2014).
A Troubling Narrative
The “I love Jesus, but I hate the church” narrative has become commonplace within the Christian culture today. Library shelves of books and articles have been written about the issue. Facebook posts and tweets touting this antichurch brand of Christianity are rampant. And for the most part, it has become increasingly accepted as a viable option on the smorgasbord of living out your Christian faith. “As long as you love Jesus,” many in our culture say, “You’re good!”
Really? This is biblical faith? This is a faith lived out according to the Scriptures?
The apostle Paul explained the heart of unity among believers when he wrote to the saints in Ephesus, “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4–6). The very foundation of the church is built upon the Trinitarian God we worship and serve. There is one Spirit. There is one Lord. There is one God and Father. And through faith in this Trinity—we are one. We are one body. We experience one baptism. And this Trinity is over all, through all, and in all. The Trinity cannot be separated.
Because of the oneness of God, and our being welcomed into communion with this Trinity, we enter into relationships with other members of this body covered in the grace of God. As we are in relationship with the Trinity—we are one. Period. How is it then that those of us who have faith and are welcomed into this body think that we can remove ourselves? How can a God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-T-shirt-wearing, ichthus-symbol-bearing Christ follower just take his Bible and go home? Good question, without a solid answer. It’s not right thinking; rather it’s wrong believing.
The Church of the Mirror
But who needs the local church when I can have my sermons, my music, and my community the way I want them? At the Church of the Mirror there is no conflict. No struggle. No disagreement. And no real need for unity. Why bother? I can have it all!
Jesse Rice captures the problem at the center of this thinking.
We’d rather be consumers of relationships—taking the parts we want and leaving out the parts we don’t—than face dealing with all of home’s demands (and benefits). And so, unfortunately, we scratch our heads and wonder why we can’t seem to find the kind of community experience we’re looking for, all the while remaining willfully adolescent in our relational habits. (Jesse Rice, The Church of Facebook: How the Hyperconnected Are Redefining Community [Colorado Springs: Cook, 2009], 179)
There is precious little humility in the Church of the Mirror. There is very little asking. Little listening. Little understanding. And even less forgiveness. When the church spins on the axis of me—my needs, wants, preferences, and all-important opinions—there is little room for anyone else. Especially someone who doesn’t agree with the views represented in my mirror—because those views are deeper than they appear.
Don’t Talk About My Bride That Way!
According to Scripture, the church is the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25–27; Revelation 19:7–9). When we speak poorly of the church, we’re speaking of Jesus’s bride. Think about that for a moment. Our condemning and hurtful comments directed at the church are addressed to the bride of our Savior. Do you suppose that Jesus is just fine with our angst? Do you believe he’s happy about the insults we so casually hurl at his bride? Do you think he says: “Go ahead, fire away! Whatever you say is probably true. She’s a loser. I never really loved her all that much anyway?” Any man that I know who has even a small amount of love, respect, care, or concern for his wife would be appalled!
The intriguing twist that I see in the “I love Jesus, but I hate the church” narrative is the two primary charges thrown at the bride of Christ—a judgmental spirit and a lack of forgiveness—are the very issues that lie at the heart of the angst people have with the church. First, a spirit of judgment toward what the church hasn’t been, hasn’t done, and ought to be doing. Next, a spirit that lacks forgiveness for the grievances the church has intentionally and unintentionally done to its people.
The Only Solution
The pent-up anger and frustration directed at the church often begins with one big offense or a series of smaller offenses, wounds, or attacks that go undisclosed and/or unforgiven. Over time, these offenses develop deep, twisted, tangled roots in the hearts and minds of the wounded. Bitterness has found a home. And it won’t easily go away.
But there is a solution—forgiveness.
Unity is the result of a great deal of heart-wrenching, God-seeking, others-forgiving effort. Jesus calls us to this immense personal and corporate challenge. Are you up for it? Will you see your brothers and sisters in faith as your priests? Will you do the hard heart-work? Will you practice forgiveness?
The church needs you. And so does the watching world.
Rob Bentz (MDiv, Reformed Theological Seminary) is the pastor of small groups and spiritual growth at Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Rob has written numerous articles for various ministry websites and is currently a featured blog writer at ChurchLeaders.com. He and his wife, Bonnie, have two children and live in Colorado Springs. He is the author of The Unfinished Church: God’s Broken and Redeemed Work-in-Progress (May 2014).