The latest religious trend seems to go like this.
Step 1 - Have a negative experience or experiences with a person or a group of people who happen to be Christian.
Step 2 - Universalize that experience.
Step 3 - Create a definition of “church” that depends only on that universalized negative experience.
Step 4 - Mercilessly attack the definition of church that you just created.
Step 5 - Construct a new (and groovier) definition of church that you are okay with.
Step 6 - Never, ever call that new definition “church” or anything sounding even remotely religious.
Step 7 - Post it online.
Hypocrisy, greed, selfishness, prejudice, hatefulness, anti-intellectualism, and all the rest of the things that comprise “step 1” in this process are bad things, and rightly to be criticized. I have done my fair share of leveling criticism against these things, inside the church as well as out. Judeo-Christian history is replete with prophetic voices who call people of faith to repent and reform.
But to “hate the church” as a result? Sorry, but we wouldn’t even know who Jesus is except for the church. There is no organization in the world that has done as much good in as many places as the church. It is through the church that God’s love has been offered, grace extended, justice sought, forgiveness invited, and so on and so on … for generation upon generation, hundreds and hundreds of years before our time.
There are people within the church who are hypocrites. Indeed. There are people within the church who are suspicious of science. Yep. And selfish ones and homophobic ones and greedy ones and hateful ones and all the rest.
And you know what? There always have been. History is also replete with people such as these. And more than likely, there always will be. Our unwritten future history will be, alas, similarly imperfect.
Call for reform. Point out the hypocrisy. Confront the hatred. By all means speak up in the presence of injustice, oppression, and hatred. Name it, point to it, and do what you can to make sure it never happens again.
The church has a word for those things: “sin.”
The church also has a message to deliver in response to those things: “grace.”
As it turns out, the church also has a command to guide what happens next: “Go and sin no more.”
And the guy who said that originally, the one whose body in the world today is called the “church,” that guy Jesus, God incarnate, you know the one? Well I happen to love that guy a whole lot. And I happen to love the church, too - fallible, messy, ugly, beautiful, complicated, perfect, flawed, chaotic, diverse, one, holy, universal, apostolic - the church.
I do not begrudge anyone a new expression of church. Actually, I love new expressions of church! Always reforming, always contextualized, always adapting, always creating; the church has been expressing herself in new and wonderful ways for a couple thousand years now and that’s great. So that’s not my point.
My point is this: Please don’t condemn such a broad and diverse group because you have had bad experiences with some people within that group. Do your thing. Love Jesus in the way that makes sense to you. Create your church, by all means. But don’t insult the rest of us by saying that what you are doing isn’t church. Of course it is. It’s just your expression of it.
I love Jesus. I love the church. And I hope that you do, too.