Sunday, 13 April 2014

A Dysfunctional Church: Where’s the Hope in That?

Today is Palm Sunday and, like billions all around the world, we spent our morning gathered with the church in fellowship. Many who don’t normally go to church will have been, or soon will be, invited to join with us in celebration of the great good news that Easter brings us.

There will be those, however, who will look on the church with some degree of cynicism and question the integrity of its claims, not so much for Jesus perhaps, whom they might admire, but for the church itself.

One correspondent this week frankly commented, “I have concluded that the Church is the largest disfunctional (sic) family that has ever existed.” He ended with, “Hopefully I may get a reply. However, I am not holding my breath!”

Well, he got his reply and I thought I might share it here.

Lets start with the idea of dysfunctionality. I see where you are coming from but suggest the problem is even greater. The largest dysfunctional family that has ever existed is the human race. No wonder, then, that the church faithfully reflects that dysfunctionality among its members since they are drawn from humanity itself. Two things stand out about the church that might be worth considering in this respect.

1. The difficulties of the church seem greater because they reflect the fact that the church is a particular refuge for people who want to flee this dysfunctional world and all its problems and they find refuge in the church. It is the church that a) is prepared to have them when often no one else will and b) offers any real hope for change.

2. The lives of countless Christians bear testimony to the fact that those who are seeking something better find real hope and consolation in the church, something usually overlooked in the rush to judge an imperfect church.

I acknowledge that the church is not perfect but then it is made up of people and people are not perfect. Indeed, the old adage stands, that if you find a perfect church don’t join it because you will only spoil it. With respect, this is true of you as much as it is true of me.

As to the “true church” [something we are discussing] I can only give you my own considered view on the subject. The best definition I have ever heard is “the people of God, gathered around the word of God, ready to do the will of God.”

This makes the church all faithful saints, or followers of the Way, in all ages, living or dead, past present and future who look to Jesus and trust his promises found in the Bible. This is not…a position arrived at by chance, or default but by reason, thought and careful investigation.

If you think you see otherwise I would draw your attention to Jesus’ parable of the wheat and the weeds.

Jesus told them another parable:

"The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man sowed good seed in his field.
One night, when everyone was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. When the plants grew and the heads of grain began to form, then the weeds showed up.
The man's servants came to him and said, 'Sir, it was good seed you sowed in your field; where did the weeds come from?'  'It was some enemy who did this,' he answered. 'Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?' they asked him. 
'No,' he answered, 'because as you gather the weeds you might pull up some of the wheat along with them.  Let the wheat and the weeds both grow together until harvest. Then I will tell the harvest workers to pull up the weeds first, tie them in bundles and burn them, and then to gather in the wheat and put it in my barn.' "

The “weeds” referred to here is a particular kind of weed called darnel, false grain, a member of the rye grass family and is only identified when the plants have sprung up and the differences are clearly seen. By this time it is too late because the weed winds its roots around the roots of the wheat, making it impossible to pull the weeds without pulling the wheat. I suggest sometimes we think we are looking at Christians when we are actually looking at darnel. The parable stands strong as a picture of God’s church.

Does this mean “true Christians” are perfect? Of course not but, while the “weeds” are usurpers with no productive purpose true Christians have life that has been imparted to them by grace through faith in Christ, the life-giver. These, whatever their dysfunctional background, will eventually grow to be Christ-like and it is this hope we hold onto as we celebrate the good news of Easter.

Unlike the weeds in the field, of course, these ‘cultural Christians,’ those who follow the ritual without really knowing the life, can come to know that life for and in themselves. For this we pray as we do all we can in Christ’s strength to be an example of saving faith. It is well to remember that Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph.5:25) We love what he loves and so, by his grace, we walk with the patience he shows, even to those who appear to the world to be dysfunctional.

Easter is good news indeed and I hope this coming Easter will find you meeting with the church where you are. Happy Easter…


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