Swirling in our culture in recent years is the phrase, “I am down with Jesus, but not the church.” As a pastor this phrase is a bit unsettling. It’s probably no surprise that as a pastor I would react in such a way to this phrase as the church is my work. It’s my vocation. But what’s disconcerting is not the fact that this phrase is said by those outside the church, rather, it’s most disconcerting when it’s said by those inside the church.
One of the more high-profile examples of this was back in the summer of 2010 when author Anne Rice came out on her facebook page saying,
“For those who care, and I understand if you don’t: Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out. I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being ‘Christian’ or to being part of Christianity. It’s simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I’ve tried. I’ve failed. I’m an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
Now, I am not interested in making judgments about Anne Rice, her decision or any one else who has made similar statements or decisions. And I am very well aware that over the centuries the church has not always done the best job of extending the grace, mercy and love of Christ to the world. Believe me, there have been scenarios in which I have seen it first hand. But further more, I am equally not interested in throwing the church under the bus and “paying it out” (that’s a phrase my Australian friends introduced to me). And lastly, I don’t feel as though I have to defend the church to justify why it should exist when we are rapidly moving into (or maybe already have) what is being called a post-christian world. None of these things are my aim.
What does interest me is what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesian church. He writes, “Although I am less than the least of all God’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms (3v8-10, italics mine).”
Paul is saying that prior to his time in history and his ministry there was something of God that was hidden, but now it’s being disclosed. And when you go back to Ephesians chapter 2, it seems that Paul’s big point is that now, in Christ, the gentiles are included in and have access to the family of God. The TNIV says that in Christ, God is making “one new humanity (Eph 2v15).”
Even though the Jew/Gentile distinction doesn’t seem to be all that relevant today, what is relevant is the fact that God is still in the business of including people into his family who never thought they had a chance to be included. The drop-outs, the failures, the losers, the nobodies, the prostitutes, the convicts, the addicts, the outsiders. Through the person of Christ they all have access to this ‘one new humanity’ that God is bringing together.
And here is the most amazing thing about it, God is using the church to do it! Even though the church doesn’t always have its act together, even though it seems at times the church is moving backwards instead of moving forward, even though it appears that the church has lost its place of prominence in our culture, the “manifold wisdom of God” is being made known through the church to the entire heavenly realm. And of course, some won’t get it. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1, the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world. In all honesty, there are days I’m not even sure that I get it. But what I do know, is that even though the church has its issues and its flaws, when it gets it right, and there are definitely times it does, there is something so amazing and beautiful about the body of Christ in action that it can barely be put into words. So…..
May we seek to find the places that God is moving in the church today.
May we believe that God still has significant plans for his church.
May we ultimately come to see that the church still matters.