I’ll be the first to tell you that the church has weaknesses. We have some awful flaws. But when I think of Augustine’s quote “the church is a whore, and it is my mother,” I think many, many people only see the whore. They look at this whore/church and feel the justification to do what the religious leaders in John 8 would’ve wanted to do to the woman caught in adultery: judge her, stone her, and then (feeling very righteous indeed) wipe the dust of their feet on her dead body. All of this in front of an adoring public. These same people want to create a “real” church, one “filled with the grace and love of God.” Christ loved the church.
It reminds me of that movie The Village, where some really intelligent people think they are going to escape the brokenness of modern society by setting up an autonomous collective in the woods and living without technology. The problem is, evil doesn’t come from “out there.” Evil comes from within our hearts. As they say in AA: “Wherever you go, there you are.” You can’t slam the door quickly enough or run far or fast enough to get away from your own heart. G.K. Chesterton once wrote an award-winning essay in response to the prompt “What’s wrong with the world today?” He simply responded, “I am.”
That’s the lesson the people in The Village had to learn, and it’s the lesson many Christians need to learn: Stop throwing stones. You’re the problem. I’m the problem. We’re all equally broken. If by some miracle you found the perfect church out there, you’d ruin it by attending. Stop trying to create The Village of an emerging church, a house church, or whatever the next hot trend will be.
I mean to say this as lovingly as I can: Grow up. Look in the mirror. You have flaws too, and they’re hideous. Most of us have no problem with the fact that God keeps loving us, even though we are big arrogant jerks that keep making the same mistakes, but if the church we attend screws up once, we’re out of there.
I’m not advocating staying in a church that is manipulative and off track, but there are actually very few of those. Mostly what you’ll find is groups of people that love Jesus passionately but are weak, broken hypocrites (like you). Find a church like that and dive in headfirst. A big part of the reason that you keep looking for an awesomely hip church is that you are insecure, like a high school kid looking for a cool group of people to associate with, to help you feel cool.
I’m not saying the church isn’t flawed. I’m saying we should start by asking Jesus how He feels about her. Christ loved the church. We should follow that up by looking in the mirror and asking if the problem isn’t that the same things that annoy us most about others isn’t the same things we ourselves struggle with. Finally, I’m suggesting that if you stop beating on the church for a minute and start serving her, if you kneel down in a moment of humility and wipe off her bloody, broken face, you might see your mom.
Caleb Neff loves the church, too. His “ministry” these days is helping people record their music at Juniper Studios.