Written by: Will Dickerson
These days, one hears all too many discouraging reports emanating from the Church. For example, we now know a number of high-profile leaders are scoundrels. Moreover, news of abuse, misappropriation of funds, and various forms of malfeasance within the Church are far more common than they should be.
We have also witnessed certain elements of the Church cozying up to unsavory politicians in different parts of the world and forging very unholy alliances in the hopes of wielding power and influence in the secular realm. In doing so, these elements have often given approval to behavior that our Lord would have condemned. It is not surprising, therefore, that those born since 1980 have grown increasingly skeptical of the Church.
As a result, we have seen a mass exodus from the pews — not just in the USA, but in many places around the world. A growing number of people now identify themselves as religious independents, and they are choosing to practice their beliefs privately without the support of organized religion. So, it is time to ask, “What good is the Church anyway?” Is it really necessary?
This is not always an easy question to answer for all the reasons mentioned above. Perhaps it would help, however, to remember the last thing Jesus told His followers before He ascended to heaven. He said, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And know that I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).
This is the mission Jesus gave to all those who would claim to be His followers. This is what He has commanded us to do — help the people who are living in spiritual darkness find and meet God and then become His disciples. This leads to the question, “How are we supposed to accomplish this?”
In 1 John 4:12, the apostle John tells us that the world sees God through us when we love one another. Love, however, is not simply a theory. It is not like some abstract mathematical formula. It is something that can only be seen when it is put into practice, and it cannot be put into practice in isolation.
This is a very important point, so let me repeat it. Love cannot be put into practice and demonstrated in isolation! Do you understand the implications of this truth? We cannot fulfill the mission our Master has given us if we remain isolated from the Body of Christ. As followers of Christ, we don't come together in order to perform old rituals or to cheer on the pastor; we come together so that the world can see God dwelling within us.
I once read about a church in a small alpine village in Germany that had no internal source of light: no lamps, no chandeliers, not even any windows. I have forgotten the name of the village, but I remember that the expectation in this community was that each member of the congregation would bring a candle or lamp whenever the people gathered together to worship or pray, or for a common meal.
When most of the members came and brought some source of light, the hall was brightly lit. The opposite was also true: if too many people stayed away, or if not, enough people contributed any light, the congregation produced very little in the way of heat or illumination.
Some will argue that the reason they do not join a local congregation is because the Church is full of hypocrites. They also say that their faith is a personal matter between themselves and God. To be honest, both of these statements have much truth in them.
The Christian life begins with a personal relationship with God. However, if we are in a right relationship with God, we will also recognize that we are part of His Body. This body is not perfect by any means. It is made up of fallen individuals such as you and me. A wise person once told me not to waste my time looking for the perfect congregation, because it does not exist. And even if it did exist, I would just ruin it if I were to join.
Yet, John tells us that the world gets a glimpse of God when it sees His love in evidence among us. John also tells us that God is love and that we were created in His image. We need to love and to be loved. However, this cannot happen in isolation. We need each other. God knows that the Church is imperfect.
I am sure that much of what is done and said in His name causes Him grief. Nevertheless, He has called us to represent Him here on Earth. We are His Body. In certain very real ways, we serve as His hands, His feet and His mouth. Moreover, when we come together and act like His Body, we learn to love. We learn to love when we choose to put the needs and desires of our brothers and sisters before our own — even when we do not want to. And as we learn to love, we begin to give the world evidence that God is real and that He is love.
Meet, Will Dickerson
Will Dickerson earned an M.Div. from Princeton, a Ph.D. in medieval history from Cornell, and an M.Ed.
Will is well known for his book, The Fingerprint of God, Reflections on Love and its Practice.
You can learn more about Will's book over at The Fingerprint of God- Wipf and Stock Publishers