When Christians criticize the Church
A few weeks ago, a neighbor (who I will call “Jan”) came by our house and began chatting with my wife, Brianna. They hit it off over coffee and by the end of the day, were laughing hysterically over simple commonalities. Brianna, an avid physical trainer who loved helping others, was paired with Jan, who thoroughly enjoyed the outdoors; it was a potential canvas for friendship. In fact, I watched their relationship coalesce, then soar. It culminated in a season where Jan was a normal part of our meal times. Unfortunately, things changed by mid-summer. Jan grew distant, moody, and increasingly meticulous. Brushing this off as a necessary ingredient to a committed friendship, Brianna made little fuss over the mounting personality change with Jan. During one of their lunch parties, Jan actually stood up in mid-conversation with Brianna to argue over an infinitesimal point regarding rental prices; on another occasion, she stormed out of our house leaving behind her a pile of dirty dishes. This was only the beginning of a nagging discontentment we saw surfacing in a woman who we both esteemed. Brianna worked tirelessly to appease her, but the mood swings only gave way to an incessantly critical attitude towards everything, with most of these attacks directed towards my wife. Jan was simply never happy; in her mind, she was the victim, and was justified in blaming Brianna as the brunt of all her problems. One day, in a furry of irreversible words, Jan lashed out in in anger, leaving my wife in tears. And that’s when I lost control. We never saw Jan again.
By the way, I made all of that up. Unfortunately, it parallels a story that happens every day, when Christians bad mouth the Church of Jesus. It often comes in the form of a complain that is hardly mild, and rarely meaningful, e.g., why doesn’t the church do something about homelessness? Or it can appear as a well intentioned rebuke, e.g., we’re nothing like the Early Church, we need to go back to the Early Church, blah blah blah, the Early Church was so awesome, blah blah blah. The worst are the ones who, like a grumpy neighbor, exist only to point out flaw after flaw after flaw, because no matter what changes, the church will never be as perfect as they would like her to be. In this, there is often a sense of condemnation attached to our words, regardless of how helpful we intend to be.
The Church is made up of broken people who are less than perfect. Yet even this doesn’t matter since the Scriptures portray Christ gathering them into a supernatural union with himself, as his eternally spotless bride, awaiting a future wedding of divine proportions. It’s not the judgements of the unbeliever that bother me, for they are sometimes well-deserved, but I have a waning intolerance for Christians who complain much about the church. For it is the bride of Christ, won by the dowry of his own blood, that we rail against.
How dare we ridicule his lover. Let God have mercy on us.
“We should approach criticism of the church as we’d approach needing to confront a loved one: with extreme care, gentleness, brokenheartedness, and humility.” – Kevin Deutsch (on Facebook)