Is it just me or has the latest trend for Christians become criticizing the Church? Whether it’s the way the Church is responding to a certain issue or neglecting a certain need, one can’t seem to escape the cynicism about what the Body of Christ is doing wrong.

But in airing our grievances, even with the best of intentions, has the next generation of believers forgotten about the beautiful gifts God has given to us in Christian community? Have we become critics instead of family? Despite all our differences and shortcomings, the Church is the closest picture of heaven that we have on earth. It is a blessing, one we’re probably taking for granted.

THE CHURCH ENCOMPASSES EVERYONE.

The Church is not held together by today’s labels of “Evangelical” or “Christian” but is a priesthood of believers bound together by the presence of the Holy Spirit. It is not confined to a church building, limited by age or race or bound by time. Christ followers do not profess the whim of the day but continue in the work and doctrine of the brothers and sisters of our rich spiritual heritage.

One doesn’t have to look any further than Hebrews 11 to marvel at the great legacy we’ve inherited from the fathers of the faith, but they are more than just heroes for us to emulate. Hebrews 11:40 says, “God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” The work of the Church today is essential to finishing and perfecting the work and prayers of believers who have come before us.

THE CHURCH IS EVERYWHERE.

From an underground church in China to a prison cell in Iran to a chapel in Kansas, the Spirit is working in the world by inhabiting His people. God is not confined by space and time and neither is the Church. Across language barriers and geographic borders, our fellowship with other believers has no boundaries. When one meets another brother or sister from a different culture, he or she finds deep communion and a joint eternal perspective not always shared by members of one’s own culture.

The Great Commission ensures that Christ Himself foresaw and blessed this unity by telling His apostles to go unto all nations to make disciples. It is not only to the benefit of unbelievers that they come to know Christ but to the benefit of other Church members as well, in order that we may encourage and build up each other to an even greater degree.

WHERE THE CHURCH IS, THERE THE SPIRIT RESIDES.

While sin and isolation alienate us from God, confession and community through the Spirit draw us closer to Him and His children. At times when we lack faith, seeing the work of the Spirit in others reminds us of His work in us. It leaves us encouraged.

The Church must continue in the practice of considering “how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) Christ did not leave us alone to fend for ourselves, we gain strength as we seek Christ with other believers as we remind one another of the great work He has done.

TOGETHER WE CAN DO WHAT WE CAN’T DO ALONE.

In the Body of Christ, the diversity of talents and gifts is empowering! When one lacks a skill, a fellow brother or sister can flourish in meeting that need. As iron sharpens iron, so one Church member sharpens another. While the Spirit is our ultimate teacher, the way He works in our friends can teach us as well. Christians are bound together by faith. God can use our brothers and sisters to answer our prayers because the Spirit also resides in them.

The Church has a common pursuit but each body member advances it in a different way. Romans says we each “belong to each other” because as our functions differ, we need one another to excel in the work God has called us to. When one member is weak, another has an opportunity to use his or her gifts to honor God.

THE CHURCH POINTS US TO HOME.

While traveling through this life, it’s easy to get discouraged, cynical and feel alone, but as Christians, we have the only permanent community this side of eternity. The Church is not meant for the here and now, but for the now and forever, so despite its faults, we must learn to love it. The Church, properly carried out, is a reflection of Christ and a picture of eternity. Walking alongside brothers and sisters and seeking a deeper understanding of the One who ties us all together is an aim of creation being fulfilled (Genesis 2:18). It is life rooted in Christ and lived out in the Church that the deepest sense of belonging and fulfillment is found.

As Bonhoeffer writes in his exemplary profession on Christian community, Life Together:

If we do not give thanks daily for the Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith and difficulty; if we keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Christ Jesus.

May our critiques come out of love for the Church and not out of bitterness. The Church has never been perfect and it never will be but we have the responsibility to address our mistakes and continually reassess how we can grow in the image of Christ on this side of heaven.