If You Can't Have the One You Love...

Despite all of the caterwauling to the contrary it's possible that we are in the middle of an actual honest to God revival in the church of America. The reason you may not believe me is because we're often very prone to see only the end result of God's reviving work and not all of the ground work that goes into it. In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul speaks of Christian ministry and says there are some who sow, some who water, and some who harvest. We are, naturally obsessed with the harvest. That's the goal of the farmer who plants his seed in the dirt months earlier. The point of everything He does is to have something to show for his work. Like any decent farmer, we want to be able to point to crops to prove we are being effective. Yet, a farmer is being effective when he sows just as much as when he reaps. The revival (I much prefer the term "gospel renewal") we want, where we see great harvests and great results, will only come after we put in the hard work we often want to avoid. The revival we're after will probably come in the next generation after the seeds of truth are planted deep in the soil of men's hearts. As I see it, that is happening. 

There is a revival of thinking about what makes a healthy church, there is a broader exposure to truth that is almost unparalleled in the history of the church, and people seem hungry for something different than what they've always had. Granted, this hunger can lead people to satisfy their appetites in all kinds of Jesus junk food but it's also leading many people back to the solid foundations of orthodox Christian thought. With this desire for truth also comes a desire for truth expressed in purity. This had led, in the past decade or so, to much more thought about what makes a healthy church as opposed to what makes a growing church.  

This is a good thing in many ways but it also has a dangerous consequence in that it leads many people to fall in love with their idea of a perfect church more than they love any particular church. They want a church with perfect theology, pure methodology, and a worship tailored to whatever their particular tastes are. So, because they're in this search for a pure and healthy church, they never actually commit to a real messy one.

Sometimes, our quest for a perfect church is like a man's quest for the perfect woman. He may be balding, overweight, unemployed, and totally incapable of carrying on a conversation with a real woman while fully expecting a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model to like his profile on Farmers Only, so that he spends all of his time refreshing his browser instead of going into the real world where the real women are.  So too, many Christians are so infatuated with their ideal church that is a perfect "10" that they never will get involved with the good solid  "6" right down the road. Is it possible that you sacrifice a real relationship with the church on the altar of the perfect church?

When this happens they day dream about what it would be like to sit under the solid teaching of a John MacArthur every week while not being able to settle for a normal local pastor. They imagine living life in the context of a rich gospel-centered community and they can't get out of bed for Sunday School. They hear their church members sing about "Amazing Grace" while their mind wanders back to the slick over-produced worship of the last conference they attended so instead of worshipping around the grace of God they lament that sister so-and-so is slightly off key and the piano is out of tune. We sing about grace taking us all the way home while wondering why no one bothered to water the flowers on the communion table.

Ironically, when people do this, they actually display the same kind of selfish attitude about church life they rail against. They may write long blogs denouncing the consumerism in church all the while holding out for just the place they've been looking for. They are waiting for the church with the perfect pastor who preaches just like the mega-star celebrity pastor that they heard at such and such conference a few years ago while never actually submitting to the authority of an actual man of God who could help them topple the idols in their own heart. They are on the fence about committing to the hard work of loving normal Christians with all of their flaws because they're searching for Calvin's Geneva in their backyard so that they never enjoy the wonderful privilege of serving brothers and sisters in Christ's church who could benefit from their own spiritual gifts. These people are uniquely wired with the gift of discernment and the vice of cowardice. Cowards may be the most observant people on the battlefield, but they're also the least involved in the victory. If you're struggling to commit to a church because they all have much more "ordinary", and not enough "radical", or because they only possess 7 of the 9 Marks, or because six weeks ago they sang a Hillsong number, then maybe the problem isn't merely in the church, but the problem is that you have the same consumer mind set towards the church that you pronounce woes upon. The only difference might be that you have more refined tastes.

Church life is hard. It is messy. It can be frustrating. But over and over again in scripture we're reminded that no church is perfect, the apostles labored faithfully among those who were struggling, and most of all, the gospels tell us that Jesus Himself loved His church to the point of death. Church life is life and death.  The church in Corinth was immoral in the most Jerry Springer sense of the word. The church in Galatia was drifting from the gospel. The church in Philippi had women who couldn't get along. Yet we only know that because Paul loved these churches enough to help them. He was thankful for these churches and he served them for their good.

Those of us who prize theology need to remember that the church is not just a chapter in a dusty old theology text book. It is the beloved bride of Christ. It is God's particular treasure. It is the body of Christ, knitted together to continue God's mission of saving the world through His Son. You may look at the church as it is, compare it to your expectations, and only see what you're missing because it isn't perfect, but you need to look at the church through God's eyes and see what you're missing by not being a part of it.

Perhaps you need to live out the theology of the church you espouse. Commit to the church today in light of the eschatological hope of what she will be, don't let the occasional wart of blemish keep you from seeing her as the spotless bride she will be. After all, one day those flaws will become testimony to the power of Her perfect lover to overcome her ugliness. Invest in the lives of the people in your congregation, not because their worship is perfect, but because one day they will be gathered around the throne of God singing praise to Jesus. Purpose in your heart to hear and follow a real pastor, and not merely a favorite podcast, because you actually believe that God manifests His word through preaching. Involve yourself in whatever small group ministry they have so that you can help lay the foundations for the kind of gospel-formed community you're longing for. 

The church needs people with a high view of the church. The church needs people with a healthy view of the church. But people with a lofty scriptural informed ecclesiology also need to learn love, patience, and service in normal churches.