So, I started going to Church as early as in my childhood as I can remember. I bet by the time I was three months, I had attended my first service. In Kenya, this is the case for many young people. Whoever you may be, the Church has played a role in your life- whether encouraging or discouraging. Let us talk of the discouraging bit that many have as a narrative of the Church- the Church ‘failed me’.
In the News, we have seen stories that should not be making headlines with the Church as the culprit. From pastors or priests who raped young, unsuspecting girls or molesting young boys in filthy homo-sexual acts, to scandals of adulteries and monetary misappropriations. These and many more are things that we know as the Church flops throughout the ages. What is the problem? Another scenario is Churches spending horrendous figures for perishables and neglecting the mandate to care for the widows and orphans among them. What is your story? In what ways has the Church made you feel terrible and failed? As we point fingers where we need to, we must answer the critical questions in regards to this name ‘CHURCH’.
What is the meaning of the word ‘Church’?
We mostly define the Church as a building used for public worship. However, many people refer to a church as an organization. Examples are the Catholic Church, the Church of England, and the Southern Baptist Church amongst many others. The word church in the Bible comes from the Greek word ecclesia, which means a called-out company or assembly. Wherever the usage in the Bible, it refers to people. It can be a mob (Acts 19:30-41), the children of Israel (Acts 7:38), and the body of Christ (Ephesians 1:22; Ephesians 5:25, 32).
Therefore we have three ways of looking at: First, as the body of Christ, the Church is often defined as a local assembly or group of believers (1 Corinthians 1:2; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1-2). Secondly, it is the body of individual living believers (1 Corinthians 15:9; Galatians 1:13). Finally, it is the universal group of all people who have trusted Christ through the ages (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 5:23-27).
From the above definitions, we do not see any reference to a building or denomination as is the norm in our thinking. When we say the Church failed us, we need to be keen to answer the question ‘who?’ in regards to our complaints. Instead of blanketing the whole squad, we must be eager to establish the matter at hand as something done either as the local assembly, individual believer or universal group of believers in Christ. Of importance is the reality that the Church comprises of people who had made mistakes before the Lord saved them. Be that as it may, we cannot take that as an opportunity to condone evils done by men and women with authority to protect and serve others. Sin is sin, no matter who does it. Our status or titles do not whiten or lessen the intensity of the wrong done.
We have instances where legitimately, we can say the Church- whether individual, local gathering or the global fellowship- has failed us in some ways. Does that give us the leeway to walk away from the fellowship completely? No. Why? Because the Church is not an individual. The same way we have stones put together to build a whole house, and we cannot say that one building stone is the house, the same way we cannot conclude that the mistake of one member of the Church is now the mistake of every member. For instance; if we have a youth struggling to obey a parent in a specific issue, we cannot conclude that the young people of that particular Church are disobedient to parents. 1Peter 2:5 “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” When there is a crack on one stone in the building, there is a danger for the whole structure. Nevertheless, we do not go on destroying the entire structure because of one stone. It is wiser to rectify the issue with one stone than to bring down an entire building.
Allowing the builder to sort the building and the stones
Jesus said in Matthew 16:18, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus was not talking about a building. In history, we have no citation of Jesus doing some significant constructions. He was talking about people- the disciples/ apostles. Peter denied Jesus and the disciples fled from Him at some point. The Savior had a bunch of weak, fearful and problematic band of people whom he vowed to build up. At times we may see as if Jesus is slow in showing discipline and curbing out some issues in his Church. In our impatience, we want to fix things the way we see fit. How is it that we forget how the master builder has also cared for our cracks and leaks?
Jesus does no shoddy work. He will finish His construction work eventually. In the meantime, He is sorting out the broken stones one by one. The reality is that, as believers, we have also messed up many times in our lives. There are things we have done and people we have offended as well. Some of them have the liberty of walking away from our lives, but they have not. We are all deserving of the ‘Island’ status from the Godhead because of our filth, vulgar, idolatries, adulteries and shameful acts. No exemption by merit but all are under the gentle work of the master builder. If that is how he has handled us, then we must learn the same treatment and extend it to others.
God did not fail me
God builds the Church; however, God is not the Church. Whereas pastors and deacons and Church leaders have failed in many ways, God never did. He points us to his faithfulness in the order of creation and how he sustains all things with the power of His word (Hebrews 1:3). He is the one who made us and designed our birth (Psalm 139). The (what?) and solar system and the galactic world are all in check because of his faithfulness (Jeremiah 31:35-36). He is their source and sustainer. He never fails. His servants have failed over the centuries in enormous ways. The case is the same in our day. Nevertheless, the LORD has never failed anyone who came to Him for help. The greatest challenge for us as we face an otherwise weak and faulty congregation is to realize it is made up of individuals first before it is a whole unit. And, yes, when the unit fails, the entire body fails. Members of the Church may have let us down many times, but never really the Church when we look at it objectively. Denominations have failed such that, they were unable to stand against national or societal injustices, but God never failed.
If you had issues with the fellowship you attend, ask yourself; at what level is the matter condoned? If it is individual, then go to them directly instead of shutting out the whole fellowship from which you have your spiritual sanity and safety. If it is a local congregation, I am sure some structures can help mitigate a repeat of issues. Follow them instead of shutting out a whole God-given channel of growth and purpose. God has never failed anyone, but we have failed Him and others around us. For, when the Church fails me, I need to see their journey and run to the builder, God.
The Church is the body of Christ with different parts. If one part of the body is ailing, you take it for treatment to serve others well. Getting rid of the entire body just because the leg has injury doesn’t make any sense. Other parts of the body cannot disown their own; instead, they share the pain. Similarly, disowning your family just because you don’t agree with your sibling is a sign of immaturity. Therefore, one has no reason to renounce Christ on the grounds of other people’s failures. It is foolish to make decisions in life based on those who fail other than those who have succeeded. The Church has never failed, and God has never abandoned his people. Individuals are work in progress. Purpose to be among the heroes of faith, not those who gave up on the way.