How to Love a Church You Don't Even Like
Christians can argue like family but do we love like it, too?
I’m very grateful for my family. Growing up without my dad in the home, the rest of us became deeply close. We were all we had. Just the four of us. We clung to one another for strength. We cried in one another’s arms and on each other’s pillows. We didn’t have much, but we learned to enjoy the simple gift of each other’s presence. No, not every day was a mid-afternoon sitcom, but we loved each other. We were committed to one another. We fought for one another. And over the years, we have grown together.
When it comes to family, grace and mercy are constants and forgiveness is a must. You learn to interact through different seasons and ever-changing circumstances. At 31, I can honestly say that each member of my family is a dear friend of mine. But that didn’t come easily.
Instead, it came through hard battles and tough conversations. It came through the conduit of sincere vulnerability and great patience. It came through pressing through life trauma. Living with our families can be tiresome and sometimes feel like an endless walk with an energized dog; pulled and yanked in all sorts of directions without a moment to even breathe. But even in the midst of storms, we defend our families and fight for them. We’re eager to stand in the gap for a hurting family member or shower them with grace in a time of confusion. This is what we do for the people we love.
We do all this because this is what you do for family.
If this the way we act with our earthly family, why is it we refuse to extend this level of patience and perseverance to our eternal family, the Church, when the time comes? The Church has flaws. We know them intimately, it seems. In fact, it might seem that we seek those faults and failures out with great purpose. We seem to be all too familiar with what is wrong about the body of Christ, as if her mistakes outnumber and outweigh her beauties. We lack forgiveness. We lack a listening ear. We lack support.
Our spiritual family is no different than our earthly family, yet why do we give up, hang our head in disappointment and walk the other way at the first sighting of flaws and inadequacies? We send out a tweet, post a picture or compose a rant belittling and berating aspects of Christ’s Body but defend our earthly siblings without question. We may use the titles of brother and sister within the church on Sunday, but our behavior toward them and commitment to them during the week surely doesn’t follow in line.
Jesus’ example is the standard.
How Jesus acted and the way he carried himself used to be a morality litmus test when we found ourselves in a frustrating situation.
What would Jesus do?
The question was canonized on bumper stickers and bracelets to the point of becoming cliche. But when it comes to the nature of the Church body and its internal, familial relations, we need to ask the question now more than ever. How are we treating one another? How do we talk about one another? Are we giving grace? Are we showing mercy? Are we seeking reconciliation? Do we care about familial restoration? Is there any one of our family members in need?
In the Gospel of Matthew, we get a glimpse into Jesus’ commitment to family. When directed toward His mother and brothers, Jesus acknowledged His disciples in front of Him as His new family. Jesus looks to the disciples and identifies them, as well as anyone who does the will of the Father, as His true relatives. On other occasions Jesus insisted that following Him meant laying down your life and forsaking all else, even your parents and your siblings. So does Jesus not care about His family? He surely does. Don’t think that Jesus came to destroy families. Not at all. Instead, Jesus came to inaugurate a new bloodline of relatives, a family connected by the means of His sacrificial death and life-restoring resurrection on our behalf. If you’re a follower of Christ, that’s you. That’s me. This is us, we are the Church and we are family.
How would Jesus treat His family?
When we look at the Church do we see a family or do we see an enemy? When we look across the room during the sermon or out in the lobby or through the computer screen on Facebook, do we see brothers and sisters or do we see strangers? Where is our allegiance? Are we loyal to our own body and family’s name more than we are Christ’s body and Christ’s name?
It’s no secret that the Church argues like true family members sitting across the dinner table from one another. But why do we argue better than we encourage? Sometimes it feels we draw lines of division better than we draw circles of inclusion. If the Church is truly family, we must fight for our own and come to the aid of our eternal siblings more and more. We must love others the way that Jesus loves us. And when we see the church as family, it immediately transforms our level of compassion and the extent of our forgiveness. When we truly view each other as brothers and sisters we will be so anxious to grant mercy and offer support of one another even through times of hard discipline and uncomfortable tension.
This radical view allows the Spirit to work in us to love Jesus’ Bride the way He did and the way He still does. This means we go to enormous lengths and at unbelievable costs to care for her and love her. When the Church becomes our family, we lay down our pride and raise up the cross of Christ in order to grant patience and forgiveness to those we’re angry with, disagree with or even dislike, knowing that’s exactly what Christ did for each one of us. We love the Church like family when we see the extent to which God came to save our own souls. The cross of Jesus is the greatest dose of medicine for those lacking empathy, compassion, gentleness and grace. Looking to the cross is the greatest antidote to heal broken family ties and restore eternal brothers and sisters back together.
We’ve learned to forgive our family for their faults and their failures and to love them through all of their messiness. It’s time we do this within the family of God. If we as the church are to stand together as one under the shadow of Calvary, we need to look out over Christ’s Bride and echo His heart: These are my brothers and my sisters. We need to shout with one voice, “This is our family.” The Church is our family. Let’s act like one.