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).
Each Wednesday we share some recent links that we found informative, insightful, or helpful. These are often related to Crossway books, Bibles, or authors—but not always. We hope this list is an interesting and encouraging break for the middle of your week.
So very quickly informal arrangements are not enough. Acts 4:34-35 says: ‘There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.’ This looks like a more formal arrangement. You can imagine people saying, ‘It wasn’t like the old days when we just hung out together.’ But now caring for everyone’s needs required some kind of central fund. But by chapter 6 even this is not enough and people are being overlooked.
There is some dispute among scholars about the timeline–even competing timelines. How do treat that in the book?
In the beginning of the book, we provide a detailed chart showing when everything took place in chronological order, with Scripture references. But we don’t get too bogged down in internal debates about the precise details, in part because this book is meant to be accessible, not an academic resource. Our book mainly builds on the general evangelical consensus regarding the chronology and timing. We do, however, strongly favor a date of April 3, AD 33 for the exact date of the crucifixion, though many scholars opt for the date of AD 30.
As David Mathis and Jonathan Parnell point out in How to Stay Christian [in Seminary], the intellectual activities of seminary can turn a heart away from intimacy with God if academic achievement becomes more important than knowing God. Much of the great learning is going to be inadequate as he walks into that hospital room where a young couple has learned their newborn baby has lifelong disabilities. Sure, that dad might once have been impressed at the ability to read a passage in the original Greek, but in that moment he’ll need to know if his pastor trusts the God he has preached from Scripture. And if pastors neglect these affections for God in ministry training, they won’t just magically appear after the degree is finished.
The human soul was created — “wired” we would call it today — to glory in what is greater. We love to exult in that which is grand, glorious, and beyond us. And David is saying here, simply, that he has found what is most grand and most glorious and most soul-filling. And so he wants to go and stay in that place where he is least distracted and bask in the glory of the best.
“To glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” we have learned, is our chief end and created goal. As Augustine so famously reminded us, God has made us for himself, and we cannot rest save as we rest in him. This is the great glory for which we were created — to know and enjoy God.
In this video series, Dr. David Wells reflects on the message of his newest book, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-Love of God Reorients Our World. Be sure to download an excerpt from the book, review the free study guide, or read our interview with Wells.
In this video, David Wells explains how our culture threatens to distort our view of God and his “holy-love.”
God in the Whirlwind: Understanding the Holy-Love of God from Crossway on Vimeo.
David F. Wells (PhD, University of Manchester) is the Distinguished Senior Research Professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. In addition to serving as academic dean of its Charlotte campus, Wells has also been a member of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization and is involved in ministry in Africa. Wells has written numerous articles and books, including a series that was initiated by a Pew grant exploring the nature of Christian faith in the contemporary, modernized world. He is the author of God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World.
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By Todd A. Wilson
Paul’s letter to the Galatians provides key insights into salvation and the nature of grace. Drawing on years of pastoral ministry, Wilson leads readers through the book’s major themes with exegetical clarity and theological care.
“Todd Wilson’s exposition of Galatians admirably meets the goals of the Preaching the Word series. Wilson knows all the issues in this letter and treats them with remarkable fairness, always making clear just what the text is communicating to God’s people today.”
By R. Kent Hughes
This commentary on Ephesians, redesigned with a new cover and updated ESV Scripture references, celebrates our full redemption in Christ and explores the mystery of the church.
“The Preaching the Word commentary series is one of my favorites. The focus upon explaining a text with preaching it as the goal makes the series resonate with the priorities of the pulpit. No academic aloofness here, but down-to-earth, preacher-to-preacher meat for God’s people.”
By R. Kent Hughes
Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon cover a wide range of topics, from unjust suffering to Christian unity. This newly updated commentary will help readers understand, apply, and preach God’s Word.
“For this outstanding series of expository commentaries, Kent Hughes has assembled a team of unusually gifted scholar-preachers. The series will be widely used and much sought after.”
By R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell
There are substantial reasons to be energized about studying the Pastoral Letters of Paul. Between them they teach the proper ordering of the church (1 Timothy), they present a developed challenge to all Christians (2 Timothy), and they suggest God’s priorities for mature ministry (Titus).
Experienced pastors R. Kent Hughes and Bryan Chapell have done their homework—applying sound principles in interpreting the texts so that we can understand what Paul was really saying.
By R. Kent Hughes
This commentary explores Paul’s message in his second letter to the Corinthians and challenges us to likewise live counterculturally, depending on God’s power in the midst of our weakness.
“It is a pleasure to commend this series of homiletical commentaries. They fill an enormous vacuum that exists between the practical needs of the pastor/teacher and the critical exegetical depth of most commentaries.”
“His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
When he first revealed himself to his brothers, Joseph said three times that it was most ultimately God who had sent him on to Egypt, not his brothers (Gen. 45:5-8). Now Joseph returns to this truth and articulates explicitly what has been implicit all through the Joseph narrative and indeed all through Genesis: all things, including the evil actions of godless men, are under the wise, governing hand of a gracious God who intends final good for his people (Gen.50:20).
The historical climax of this profound truth is the cross of Christ—here, if anywhere, is an act of evil: the crucifixion of the one person who ever lived a life undeserving of punishment of any kind. Yet even this, the book of Acts tells us, was under God’s good hand. Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God” (Acts 2:23; cf. Acts 4:27-28). This does not exonerate the wicked actions that carry out such evil, but it does give us the broadest vision for what is happening at any given point of history, even when evil seems to triumph most horrifically. God is there. He is with his people. He is working out his redemptive purposes.
In these closing words of Joseph and of Genesis, we are reminded once more of the heart of the gospel. Responding to his brothers’ fear that Joseph will punish them now that their father Jacob has died, Joseph responds, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God?” (Gen. 50:19). The answer to that question had to be no, for Joseph knew that he, a man, could not rule or judge in the place of God. To seek to do so remains the supreme folly. We dare not seek to share in judgment that belongs only to a holy God. Yet at the culmination of redemptive history God became a man and put himself under judgment in the place of sinful man. This is supreme mercy. He dared to share in what only, to that point, had belonged to sinful man—yet he did so without sinning—to provide everlasting good from what we humans intended for evil.
This series of posts pairs a brief passage of Scripture with associated study notes drawn from the Gospel Transformation Bible. For more information about the Gospel Transformation Bible, please visit GospelTransformationBible.org.