In recent years, many writers and church leaders have loudly sounded the alarm for a dying church, about to pull its plug off life support, gasping at final painful breaths of life.
Can I state something not being said?
Last I checked, the Church is not dead yet! She is very much alive, filled with vibrant, gifted, faithful people who love both Jesus AND the Church. Each week, ordinary men and women, children and seasoned saints alike, gather in holy huddles to taste the stale coffee, sit in musty pews, sing verses from ancient hymns, and share warm smiles and hearty handshakes that vibrate one to the core. Out of this ordinariness comes something sacred.
Why bother with church anymore?
If a survey were taken of those who regularly attend worship, asking them the reasoning behind their commitment to keep coming, we would likely receive a wide array of response … to be spiritually fed, to heal past wounds, to discover God’s plan, to grow through a message or Bible study, to seek peace, to connect with our church family, to be drenched in the forgiving life-blood of Jesus. We mustn’t forget, the local church is the place God has chosen to bring us the gifts of His Word and Sacraments, that fill us with hope and a future in our walk with Christ (Jer 29:11).
Yet there is no way of escaping the dark truth: Church is filled with sinners. For much of the world this is the often cited reason expressed against the Church for the reason they want nothing to do with it. They preach it from the mountaintops that the church is filled with hypocrites. To be brutally honest – yes, yes it is (myself included). On behalf of the Church, if no one has said these words to you, I hope you hear them now: “I am deeply sorry for any pain I caused. I am sorry for the hypocrisy of the Church. I am sorry I did what I did, said what I said, thought what I thought. Rather than sharing Jesus’ love, I thought only of myself. My silence hurt our relationship. I know I can be better, and strive at every moment to do so, but I also know there is a sinner lurking inside me. I am broken, like you, desperately in need of Jesus. Also like you, I love Jesus, but I mess up even at that. I am sorry.” I pray you accept these words as a small token of the healing I hope can take place. At the end of the day, we are all just people, trying to make sense of the world around us. Truth is, because of the sinful world we live in, we get hurt and we inflict hurt on others. It happens, not through a lack of desire to do better and be better, but because of the sinful creatures that we are. Being sinful makes us human. We all fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23). Everyone. There is only one perfect person to have lived, Jesus Christ, and He is God. I will always fall short. There is good news: Daily we die to our sin, but in and through Jesus, daily we rise again.
As fellow faith travelers, we seek the same thing … Jesus. He crashes into our life story to make it HIStory! He endured the cross and its shame, suffering a painful, excruciating death to literally become “the” bridge that fills the chasm created by our sin (Heb 12:1-4). We know this chasm well, if you are like me, it is a regular stopping point. This brief pause, however, is not our final destination; Jesus made sure of that! Paul’s words ring clear into our hearts. He knew his sin, it was ever before him (Rom 7:14-25). It was a daily battle to kill the old Adam who wanted to come out and play (Rom 5:12-21). He looked with pained eyes at the Church he helped birth and cringed over her internal struggles with power, relational conflicts, and false teachings. His heart broke over the strained relationships he had with people and church leaders he poured himself into, only to see them drift from the Body altogether. He struggled with the daily task of taking up the cross and following Jesus, yet by God’s grace, he kept moving forward. His focus remained on Jesus, the author and perfector of faith (2 Tim 4:7-8; Heb 12:2).
Through it all, Paul found rest in a Savior who loved him, sin and all. I, your pastor, need to hear the forgiving words of Jesus again and again in our corporate worship. I need the words of God’s promise lavishly repeatedly poured over me through Word and Sacrament … because I forget. I go back to my sin, to the old Adam inside me who whispers, “You are lost, broken, no good, without hope.” Here we come to the heart of the matter … as I come to church, I am reminded of the Gospel’s bittersweet message: “Nathan, you are a broken, desperate sinner … but my precious child, this is not how your story ends. I love you too much for that! Because of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross and rising from the grave, your sins are taken away. Christ is risen! Go in peace, your sins are conquered once and for all! Live new!”
This is why church matters!
As the Body, we gather weekly to live and share in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! Church is the vessel God has chosen to meet with us, preparing us for the world to come. As we await meeting our Savior face-to-face, the Bible encourages us to meet together, worship together, pray together, break bread together, share life together (Hebrews 10:25; Acts 2:41-47). The Body is at its best when it does life together. Yes, we make mistakes, we are human after all. But by the grace of God, we are able to see beyond these mere blemishes and see the child of God our Lord carefully crafted with His very own hands.
Scripture describes the Church as Christ’s beautiful Bride (Rev 19:7-9; 21:2), the place we encounter a God who loves us and wants to share with us His most sacred gift: Jesus. It is a hospital for the wounded (Lk 5:31-32), the place we share life (koinonia) with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (Eph 3:8-11; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Cor 1:9). If one part hurts, the entire Body feels its pain, attending to its need (1 Cor 12:26). Yes, we will likely mess this up too. But thanks and praise be to God, our Lord’s perfect plan of salvation works despite anything we bring to the table.
We bring our sin. He brings bread and wine.
We bring fears, worries, and sorrows. He brings His body and blood given and shed for you.
We bring empty words of yesterday’s pain. He brings the promise of a new day.
A meal, a plan, a promise all wrapped up in simple bread and simple wine given and shed for you. His invitation to dine at His table is clear. As He invites us to join Him, it is at this place we discover what Church is truly all about.
The local church is not going anywhere … it is the hope of the world!
In Christ Jesus,