It seems we only hear about the church in the news during a new scandal or some moral failing. These are certainly problems that need to be addressed, but let us not forget there is much beauty within the body of Christ that doesn’t make headlines. The church is a unique institution set up by God himself for his specific purposes, thus there is nothing else like it. Where else do members meet together weekly for singing and teaching? Where else is there a bond that isn’t based on social status, race, or poverty levels but rather our redemption in Christ? Where else is there an expectation of love for neighbor and self-sacrifice for the sake of others? Where else do men and women consider themselves part of an eternal family?
Charles Spurgeon states:
If I had never joined a church till I had found one that was perfect, I should never have joined one at all; and the moment I did join it, if I had found one, I should have spoiled it, for it would not have been a perfect church after I had become a member of it. Still, imperfect as it is, it is the dearest place on earth to us.
With all we’ve seen and heard, the church doesn’t always feel like the dearest place. Our depravity reveals its ugly head even in a God-given institution, often in hurtful ways. However, the Lord continues to sanctify his bride and wash her with the word “that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Eph. 5:27). Some blemishes remain for now, but I see glimpses of the great work the Lord is doing through his bride.
God has uniquely called and equipped the church to declare his greatness and the good news of the gospel. I see the glory of God on display through his church when:
- A 96-year-old tells me, with tears in her eyes, how much she’s learning from Bible study each week. She never picked up a Bible until the Lord saved her at 80 years old and now she hungers for the word.
- Two people who were at odds work through their differences and forgive one another so they can take the Lord’s Supper together.
- The power of the gospel changes the life of someone who had been drunk every single day for 40 straight years.
- A Sunday school teacher labors over the lesson fully aware of her own inadequacies, yet trusts that God can powerfully work through her.
- My three-year-old randomly blurts out passages of Scripture he memorized in Sunday school that I wasn’t aware he knew.
- A pastor believes in the power of God’s Word and the promise that God will use it to build His church, so he continues to preach God’s word regardless of the consequences.
- A family with young children leaves behind a well-paying job and the comfort of living in the U.S. to take the gospel to the nations.
- A group of men love their friend enough to confront him about a sin issue that he is blinded to. They are willing to risk being called judgmental or unloving for the sake of rescuing their brother from the devastating effects of sin.
Just before his crucifixion, Jesus assumed a position nobody else wanted: a servant. He knelt down and washed the disciples’ filthy feet. He then commanded them (and us) to go and do likewise. The church displays the beauty of our master’s servant heart when:
- A group of ladies crochets hats and give them to kids in our local schools in need of winter clothing.
- A deacon spends his day off removing a fallen tree from a widow’s yard.
- Someone sacrificially plans and prepares an entire meal for a family grieving the loss of a loved one.
- A senior adult spends Saturday morning attending a service for the homeless. She labors to provide enough bagged lunches so that everyone leaves with a meal.
- A retired man spends over 10 hours a week doing odd jobs around the church without any compensation.
- Adults give up precious summer hours to dress in first-century garb and sing and dance with children at VBS.
Time would fail me to tell of the many other wondrous ways the church shines the light of Christ and impacts the local community. I marvel at the church’s beauty as I play dominos with a white man in his 80s and two black ladies in their 70s. Each time we score, we slam the domino down and engage in friendly banter as if there were no such thing as racial or generational barriers. I could share of marriages that have been restored in spite of betrayal and adultery. Each week, God’s people gather together bloody and bruised from the difficulties of life to refocus our hearts and minds on the good news of the gospel and the hope we have in Christ. Precious saints, the Lord has blessed us with the local church so let us rejoice and give thanks for such a sweet gift!
Are there problems in the church? Of course. Is the church always a perfect depiction of Christ? Not in this life. Nonetheless, catching a glimpse of the beauty of the church and the many ways the Lord is at work reminds me that in spite of her imperfections, the church truly is the dearest place on earth.