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Monday, January 7, 2013

This Imperfect Body

Yesterday my brother joined First Baptist Church.  My family has been visiting this church since August, and while the rest of us are still praying and considering what God would have us do regarding church membership there or elsewhere, Adam decided Friday that he was ready to join the family at First.  He has been looking for a church for about three years, and I've watched him struggle with the decision and think through a lot of issues.  It was very satisfying to see him shaking hands with people and already talking about serving on the youth group staff.

To be honest, about five months ago I would have been panicking a little bit about his decision.  First Baptist isn't the type of church we grew up in.  There are a lot of things that happen there that I'm not personally thrilled about.  I could make a list of several things that are concerns and two of those things are a pretty big deal to me.  But there is one thing that First is very clear on. They don't compromise on the gospel and when it comes to Jesus, they aren't ashamed to talk about who He really is.  After researching probably 50 churches online and visiting several, I know that that quality is rare even here in the Bible belt of the South.  So, my brother has decided that he can know God better and serve Him more through the imperfect ministry of First Baptist.  He has committed.  He is ready to serve and grow.  And I think it's going to be great.  Already I've seen him grow again after several years of frustration and stagnation, so I'm truly excited for him.

Actually, it was soon after we started visiting First Baptist that the Lord broke me of some very serious pride regarding church.  I came home from the service one day and spent the next 30 minutes detailing my objections to my parents.  They were not impressed.  My Bible college prowess was completely lost on them as my arrogance shielded them from any constructive suggestions I might have had.  It wasn't long after their rebuke that I began to realize how critical I was about churches in general.

My view of "how church should be" was (and still is sometimes) not only narrow, but skewed.  I have the added blessing of having traveled to three other continents and participated in church services in different languages and cultures.  That should have taught me something about the diversity allowable in conducting church services according to Scripture.  Instead, I usually let those experiences make me frustrated with American churches.  My irritation came pouring out in broad brushed statements like, "American churches are so...." add an adjective.

Cold.  Formal.  Ritualistic.  Flippant.  Showy.  Unengaged.  Dutiful.  Habitual.  Compulsory.  Obligatory.  Passive.  Indifferent.  Pompous.  Opulent.  Wasteful.  Self-indulgent.  Distracted.  Etc.

It's a long list.  And some of it isn't too far off base for many churches in America.  But it's unfair to toss them all in a box and write it all off as worthless.  (The church international has it's own problems...I conveniently forget about those...) One thing the bride of Christ is NOT....worthless.  Something that I forgot in the heat of my pride.  That very church...the cold American church with the passive people and the opulent and unnecessary building.  Jesus died to claim them.  And that little African house church with the passionate believers who have all kinds of marital problems and smoking addictions....Jesus shed His blood because He wanted to redeem them.  The conservative church in Brazil who lose men to the world because ministry is hard...and the tiny church in France that fights for distinction from Catholicism and atheism....that's part of the Body that Jesus gave Himself to save.  There's also this girl who has a lot of pride, a lot to learn, a massive hole in her understanding of who God is, a constant need for grace, and a perpetual propensity for failing to be faithful to Christ.  And Jesus died for her too.  (Me...actually.)

When it comes to church membership there's something to be said for committing to a struggling, joyful group of believers and staying.  You don't give up on the Body until Jesus does...and He isn't going to.  

There were so many churches we visited as a family.  One of them had a great community and deep Bible study discipleship classes.  You know what else they had? Young adults who weren't serious about walking with God, and a missions philosophy that encouraged fear instead of boldness, and preaching that drew from popular psychology as well as from the Word of God.  Red flags?  Of course.  Is God working there?  Yes.  People are coming to Christ.  They are seeking Him.  I don't have to approve of all the methods they are using.  It's not a perfect church.

One of my irritations with other churches we've been visiting is the emphasis on programs.  Children's programs and missions programs and young adult programs and Bible study programs.  And committees and organizations and funds.  (Then I'd start my rant about the opulence and rigidity of the American church.)  Does God work outside of programs?  Yes.  Without a doubt yes.  Does He work in them too?  Sure.  I prefer the little mission churches where they don't feel the need for all those committees and business meetings and what have you.  But that doesn't make those things wrong.  Once again..I don't have to approve.  Because church isn't about me.  It's about Christ.  And as the members of the body put aside themselves to love and serve each other, they stop yelling at each other about the music style and the outreach fund.  Instead they seek to glorify Christ together and the beauty of unity is seen without compromising Truth.

What have I learned as we have visited churches and prayerfully considered our decisions?  It's a Body.  An imperfect body with all kinds of problems.  The Lord is working in His church still and He isn't done.  There is hope for us!  For me!  Because of the gospel.
I'm still learning to see things this way.  I'm still learning to trust God to be God in spite of how things look to me.  Yes, I'm that conceited sometimes.  God help me.

When the Bride comes down the aisle, nobody notices the blemish on her skin or the limp in her step or the scar on her arm.  They only see the beauty.  One day, this imperfect Body will be the spotless Bride of Christ.  He will get the glory for redeeming, saving, crowning her.  His scars will tell the story of His love for her.  And our only response will be worship.

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