Friday, January 20, 2012

I Love the Church and the True Religion that Forms It

With all the word floating around the Internet about the video "Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus," I thought I would repost an article I wrote a while ago expressing why I love the Church. Now, do not get me wrong, as I said in the post previous to this one, there is a lot to like about Mr. Bethke's video. I also do not want to beat this subject to death, but those of you who know me know that I am a master of that (it is one of my many sins). When we start to emphasize the things we dislike about contradiction in the Church (one of the main reasons people say, "I hate religion"), we miss out on what the Church is, the true religion that formed it, and the many things to love about it. Below is why I love the Church reposted (and slightly updated):

Every Sunday, right before we take communion at my church, we repeat the words of the Apostle’s Creed. I must confess, sometimes I drone through them without really considering what they mean. However, many times lately the words "I believe in… the holy catholic Church…" have stuck in my mind. Believing that the catholic Church (i.e. the invisible, universal Church) is holy is tough, especially when those in the Church hurt me, hurt those I love, or embarrass me; but they are Jesus’ bride and my people, the "holy catholic Church".

Ronald Rolheiser, in his book The Holy Longing, wrote that "to be connected to the church is to be associated with scoundrels, warmongers, fakes, child-molesters, murderers, adulterers, and hypocrites of every description. It also, at the same time, identifies you with saints and the finest persons of heroic soul within every time, country, race, and gender…because the church always looks exactly as it looked at the original crucifixion, God hung among thieves." Most days I am one of those thieves and no one in their right mind would want to confess me as one of their own. There are other days, only by the grace of God, where I show a glimpse of the "heroic soul" that Mr. Rolheiser wrote about and someone might dare to claim me. Jesus, however, claims me and loves me on all those days, which means I need to do the same for the rest of His Church, His bride.

Loving the Church is hard sometimes. All of us know what it is like to be embarrassed or ticked off by someone in our family but they are our family and we love them. Well, the Church is my spiritual family (whom I will spend eternity with) and there are a lot more of them than in a normal family. There are millions, which means many more opportunities to be embarrassed or ticked off. I heard about a Christian congressman in Florida who wanted to make some law that would force all the science books to be rewritten to say that the earth is the center of the solar system. He claimed that the heliocentric model was all a sham and he tried to prove it from a gross misuse of the Bible. That really burns me up, but Jesus claims him as part of His bride so I cannot disown him. Every time I look at Joel Osteen I want to smack that stupid smile off his face and staple his lips shut, but (this may sound radical but I think it is true) he belongs to Jesus so he belongs to me. John Wesley used to really get under my skin (even though he has been dead for more than 200 years) until I started to read his journals and found things like, "Everybody who belongs to Jesus belongs to everybody who belongs to Jesus." He is right.

Being connected to the millions of the Church also means many more opportunities to be pleased and encouraged by "heroic souls." I could mention the hundreds of Christian organizations that fight hunger, sex trafficking, and all other sorts of injustice but that would be too obvious. I would rather write about my professor's fourteen-year-old daughters who love to sit and talk with the elderly at their church because his daughters "like to hear them talk about Jesus." That makes me proud. I would rather talk about how my church loves on the marginalized in our city—the men on the street, the addicts, and transgendered, to name a few. That makes me proud. I would rather talk about my hero, Steve Brown, who runs two ministries that could easily take up all his time and yet he still takes the time to mentor young seminarians like me. He gets a lot of flak from many Christians (some in my denomination) because of his radical teaching on grace but he does not retaliate (no matter how much he may want to) and practices what he preaches by giving them grace. He makes me proud. I have several missionary friends preaching the gospel in countries where there is civil unrest or it is a capital crime. They make me proud. At our PCA General Assembly last year I met a Palestinian Reformed Christian and a Messianic Jew who were working together to spread the gospel in Palestine. In a group meeting one of them said this when asked how the gospel makes Jews and Arabs relate differently:
I believe that in Christ we have a common ground so Jews and Arabs, yes, but the common ground is the gospel and is our Lord, our Savior Jesus Christ. Me as a Palestinian I have to choose day after day, if not moment by moment that I want to reconcile with my brothers, my Jewish brothers, because the challenge is an instant challenge, endless challenge. It is in my home. It is affecting me day after day. Therefore, I say that we have to be committed to each other. So it’s not just an emotional reaction. It’s not just that I love and pray for my brother, but I am committed through Christ who brings us into a new creation to be together, to be supportive to each other, to love each other, and to embrace each other…. So as a sum up for all this, I believe from all my heart, that we, Palestinian Christians, together with Messianic believers have a message that politicians have never delivered. It’s Christ, the Prince of Peace that makes us peace-makers and through that we can love and live a life that is worthy, a Kingdom life.
That makes me really proud and I feel honored to have known these men, men of whom the world is not worthy.

Entering into a covenant relationship with Jesus means being a part of His bride, the "holy catholic Church." He is a lot more accepting than I would be if I were Him, but that is why He is God and I am not. I may not always like her but the Church is His bride, so I must love her. She is an ugly bride, no doubt, but she is loved dearly by Him and will one day be fully conformed to His likeness. Until then, she is still my people and I can never forget that.

By His Grace,

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