I love the church. I love Langhorne Presbyterian Church and I love the holy catholic church. And probably more than most people I know what the church is like. I have seen, heard, or experienced the racism, sexism, homophobia, elitism, and judgmentalism of the church. I have seen, heard, or experienced the gossip mongers, character assassins, anxiety provokers, and peace disrupters who fill the church. I have seen, heard, and experienced a thousand ways that the church betrays her Lord. I have seen, heard, and experienced the guilty church and I am part of her and share her guilt.
Still, I love the church.
Liking Jesus, but not the church has become a cottage industry in the past decade or so. Books and study guides have been written, raps performed, memes displayed, blogs posted. And that’s just among and for the Christians.
Almost everything the “like Jesus but not the church” folks confess in their creeds is true. If they ever needed to hire a consultant to tell them more, add more data to their bitter indictment, they could hire me. I know how bad it is.
Still, I love the church.
The other day I came across a description of the church that jumped off the page I was reading. I paused for a moment and re-read the sentence. It made good sense to me. “The Church is not so much a cleanly separate society of well-formed persons as a messy set of unfinished and half-successful negotiations,” the author wrote. (The sentence is in the middle of a book review that you may find here.)
I think a lot of people dislike the church when it is not “a cleanly separate society of well-formed persons,” as it either falsely claimed to be or as some of the dislikers desperately want it to be. We really want the church to be what it’s not and are angry that it isn’t. I understand the anger and the despair of the dislikers, but in the end it gets them nowhere. Bitter people never make the world a better place.
One of the main reasons I love the church is because I have come to know it, after some disappointment and bitterness I have come to know it, as a “messy set of unfinished and half-successful negotiations.” In fact, I think, a messy set of unfinished and half-successful people. Unfinished and half-successful, perhaps that is why I fit in so well.
I love the church.
I love the church in and because of its unfinished and half-successful negotiations; it’s broken people. I love a church like Langhorne Presbyterian. From my corner of the church, just this week, I have seen our unfinished and half-successful people celebrate a new job for a chronically unemployed friend for whom they have prayed and with whom they have stood for long months.
I have seen them welcome a new-born, and gather at the bedside of a dying saint.
I have seen the church embrace a stranger and help her navigate the troubled waters of her hard life. I have seen unfinished and half-successful people who the world would take to be nearly complete and fully successful volunteer to spend a day sorting old and dirty shoes, salvaging the best to take to rural Guatemalans, for whom a decent pair of shoes will not only ease the pain of aching feet put possibly pave the way to just a little bit of success. I have seen members of the church gather significant talents and gifts to make the work of educating poor kids in North Philadelphia a little easier.
I have the seen the church, this community of the unfinished and half-successful, gather at the waters of baptism and make promises that will take a lifetime to fulfill, and they mean to keep those promises. I have seen these same unfinished and half-successful folks come modestly but joyfully to the Table of grace to be fed by the Lord of the feast. I have heard them raise their voices singing of God’s great faithfulness even when last week may not have gone so well.
I have been a part of a group of half-finished unsuccessful men who filled a room early one weekday morning this past week, just to gather around God’s word. You would have thought they had better things to do.
To those who say they like Jesus but not the church, I’d say close your Facebook page and rather than posting another meme, why don’t you come to church. Oh, we’re mostly half-finished and unsuccessful, and things can get messy, even ugly, around the church. I probably ought to apologize ahead of time. But Jesus who you like is going to love you through his church.
I love the church because I love her Lord. And lest I ever forget, we love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).
See you Sunday – unsuccessful and half-finished people always welcome!