So many respond to the Church from a place of idealized fiction. They rebuke the Church’s inability to measure up to their fantasy, unwilling to recognize that the Church is full of broken people, broken leaders and broken promises.
The Church does not exist as an idealized oasis. It’s people, God and grace. God loves the Church as it is, not as we want it to be. God loves leaders as they are, not as we hope them to be. God loves His Bride as she is.
Yes, we aspire to beauty, truth, love and righteousness, but we do so knowing that grace covers our failure to live up to those aspirations. This is one of the great mysteries of the Church: we gather together to demonstrate the magnificent beauty of our loving God, yet in our gathering, we often fail to demonstrate God’s beauty. Instead of expressing beauty, we demonstrate our brokenness. Even so, in this brokenness we see a greater measure of God’s grace expressed in and through us. We recognize that there is only one who can be lifted up and praised; there is only one who can receive our glory. There is only one who knows us fully and can still fully love us. The fact that God works through this broken community is truly a testimony to His powerful love and redemptive grace.
The process of spiritual maturity demonstrates that salvation is needed both in our individual and collective expressions. We are personally saved because of God’s grace, forgiveness and unmerited favor. As we abide in community, we also come to realize that our community expressions need God’s grace and forgiveness. God rescues individuals and the community in which they abide. He saves both individuals and communities.
Sadly, some are willing to receive an individual grace that they are reluctant to give to the larger body of Christ. In trying to avoid hurt, they pull away from the larger gathered and broken community. In the fear of being harmed, they cut themselves off from experiencing the powerful working of the Holy Spirit within the larger body of Christ.
There are certainly unsafe communities, places and people we should not trust or gather with until they are willing to repent of their wicked ways. However, for every dangerous person, there are countless simply broken people. The simply broken people are like you and me. They are incomplete; they will fail you and they will fail me. They are not enough; they require grace to cover their existence as individuals in community. To put it simply, they are simply people. Every community will eventually become a room in need of God’s grace.
When we open ourselves up to abiding with simply broken people, we open ourselves to fully know the love of God. God loves the Church that is. God abides in the Church that is. God will reveal His beauty through his simply broken Bride.
There are many reasons to avoid the Church or any larger gathered community of Christians. There are many reasons, but Jesus is not one of them. Jesus is present with sinners, with the weak, with the vulnerable and the foolish. He fully abides with His Church and can be fully experienced in a gathered community of his flawed and perpetually failing followers. Just as individuals can experience the powerful restorative grace of God through their weaknesses, so can the gathered community. There is so much freedom when we let our idealized fiction of the Church die and an actual vision of the Church rise up in its place. God loves the Church, so we will do our best to do the same. In doing so, we will gain a clearer understanding of God’s immeasurable love and grace for individuals and communities.