Let’s focus on what’s right with the church

Published 7:39 pm Monday, October 21, 2019

The late Helmut Thielicke, noted German theologian, shared that a few years ago he wanted to give one of his books a title.

He wanted to call it “Church and Public.” But his publisher objected. “The church,” his publisher stated, “doesn’t catch the public eye. Please choose another title. I’d rather not publish a flop.”

Honestly now, what do people think of when they think of the church? What do we think of when we think of the church? So many moderns, when they think of the church, think of just another competing activity. Others think of boring sermons, unfamiliar music, unprepared Sunday School lessons, religious fanatics, judgmental attitudes or general indifference.

I’ll be the first to admit that there is such a thing as bad church, but I’m not writing here to defend it. As one who deeply loves the church, I grieve about bad church, but I’m not writing to defend it. I believe a certain cleansing occurs in honest confession. Granted then, the church is all too human, much like you and me.

However, today, I want to focus on what is right with the church. There is so much right with the church to call forth out loyalty-yours and mine. So, what are we giving ourselves to, that we believe is ultimately right and everlastingly significant? I chose the church.

First, I chose the church because of its staying power. A minister friend tells of a former pastorate where the old church sanctuary was being demolished in order to make room for a larger one. A little boy passing by in the car with his family, stared in dismay at the partially-destroyed building and exclaimed, “Look! They’re going out of business.” Not so.

The amazing thing about the church is that it has survived at all. Throughout the centuries the Christian church has had numerous reasons to fail-the confusion of the disciples, the distortion of the Gospel on the part of many Jewish Christians, false teachers, the struggles with Rome and the Emperors. Needless to say, this opposition cause great pain and imprisonments for believers, yet the opposition could not stamp out the faith and the church survived.

All along the way, there has been tremendous opposition to and criticism of the church. Yet, the church has persisted.

But I would remind you that in spite of all its critics, both inside and outside, the church continues. It still holds together. It still remains through the ages the church of God. If it hadn’t been divine, it would have perished long ago.

Second, I chose the church because of its continuing deep investment in humankind. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me,” said Jesus.”

For all its failures and failings, the church has stood steadfastly for the Christian belief that every person, even the least and lowest, is sacred to God-one for which Christ gave his life. And as the late Dr. J. Wallace Hamilton, premier southern preacher, reminded us, “It is out of that basic conviction that has come a great amount of charity on the earth-thousands of institutions of mercy, compassion and social concern.”

At this point, I am only scratching the surface of the church’s continuing compassionate ministry to humankind.

Third, I chose the church because there is no such thing as “Lone Ranger” religion. The call of Jesus was not only to a new commitment; it was also to a new companionship, a new community established by conversion. Jesus said, “The gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” What? An individual? No! An exclusive group of people? No! The church-the community-the Body of Christ.

Christianity is not a solo performance. In the New Testament, Jesus is depicted as calling 12 disciples to correspond to the twelve tribes of Israel. A part from Jesus’ intention to form a community, the events of Acts are unintelligible. There, at Pentecost, the power of the Holy Spirit is given not to individuals, but to a community.

Fourth, I chose the church because its eyes are focused on Jesus. When Dietrich Bonhoeffer was in his Nazi prison cell, uncertain of what any day would bring forth, he wrote, “We do not know what to do but our eyes are on Him.”

No other institution in our society has its eyes fixed on Jesus like the church. So, what value is it to the world to have a redemptive possibility for all humankind, a love that crosses all barriers, a ministry that challenges and cares for the needs of others, a freedom that breaks ingrained chains, the promise of a “land that is brighter than day” and a hope that can change lives and societies from despair to promise. I chose the church.