It’s not one or the other—it’s both—all at the same time. The church is a mess AND the church is a miracle. It’s a strange combination. But after 40 years of Christian ministry, I’m convinced.
Yes, the church is a mess. You don’t need a Bible to prove this. Just check out almost any church, any day of the week. And speaking of the Bible, if you take an honest look at the New Testament, and observe the early church in action, you’ll find the church was a mess there too—from the very beginning.
Surprisingly, the Bible makes no effort to hide this fact. There is NO attempt in the Bible to gloss over the imperfections of the church. Instead, we find an open, honest assessment of both its strengths and weaknesses.
This is strangely comforting to me, because through the years, I’ve seen the naked truth of the church. I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen the church at its wonderful best and it at its horrible worst. I don’t have to convince you. You’ve seen it too.
When I open the pages of the Bible, I find stunning confirmation of my own experience. I see the community of Christ with so much potential, transforming lives and cities. Love, sacrifice, healing, hope, and salvation are all on display. It’s beautiful. But right there in the Bible I see something else. I see churches filled with bickering, jealousy, and self-focused people. I see personality conflicts, doctrinal debates, divisions, and a lack love. It’s a mess.
Welcome to church – the good, the bad, and the ugly – it’s been like this from the beginning.
If that was the end of the story, I’d have quit a long time ago. But there’s something else I believe. The church is a miracle.
When I use the word miracle, I want you to feel the full force of its meaning. I’m talking about A MIRACLE—something that only happens by the intervention of God. That’s the church, even with all its imperfections and failings. I can’t escape this truth.
A few years ago, I stood at the corner of the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem. Unexpectedly, I was overwhelmed by the miracle of the church. In my mind, I traveled back to the day Christ was crucified. I imagined a small group of his disciples huddled and hiding in a darkened upper room, panicked, in fear for their lives. There’s no possible way this group should have succeeded in this world. All the power of Rome was aligned against them. The religious hierarchy of Judaism was determined to stop them. But something happened. They did succeed. Explanation? A miracle. Jesus Christ, raised from the dead on the third day. And so, the church began. The birth of the church was a miracle. It’s the only explanation. Only the powerful intervention of God can account for the church. That’s as true today as it was on Easter Sunday morning.
Living with the Tension
Early in my Christian life, I made a choice to live with the tension of two realities: the church as a miracle and the church as a mess. I’m still living in the tension of that choice. It’s been one of the best choices of my life, even though it’s not always easy.
Having made that choice, I’m committed to both Christ and to His church. I’m willing to work in/with the mess of the church because I believe in the miracle of the church. In the process, I’ve seen some amazing things. I’ve seen God work through imperfect people who choose to do life and ministry together in Jesus name. I’m excited to see more. What about you? I invite you to join me in this messy, miraculous, community of Christ for the world.