Perhaps you have already tried church and found it nothing like the kind of community I have been describing over the last couple of weeks. Your church might have felt small-minded, dysfunctional, or dull.
A bestselling author caused a stir ten years ago when she made this statement on her Facebook page: “Today I quit being a Christian. I’m out.” Anne Rice was fed up with some of the public positions taken by her church. Later she tried to explain that she still considered herself a follower of Christ but that she wanted nothing to do with the institutional church, which she saw as un-Christlike and unloving.
It’s true that the church throughout its history has often stumbled, sometimes terribly. But that is not the whole story. Over its long history, the church has also lifted up the poor and brought healing to the sick and redemption to the lost. Where there has been great darkness, it has often brought great light. Whether Rice was offering a needed corrective to the church or simply letting her political convictions override all is open to question. But to act as though one can still be a Christian while “quitting Christianity” seems disingenuous. Like it or not, the church is comprised of imperfect human beings. We are not yet who Jesus calls us to be. That is as true of the person who rejects the church as it is of the person who embraces it. That’s why God invented forgiveness. That’s why he thinks mercy is such a good idea.
In his classic book Life Together, Dietrich Bonheoffer pointed out that we are called to pray for each other. When you pray for someone, he said, you can no longer condemn them no matter how much you dislike them. Why? Because Christ is at work as you pray, transforming an intolerable person into someone for whom he has died. Prayer for others helps us to see the face of a forgiven sinner—and we are all forgiven sinners.
Perhaps you have been badly hurt by someone at church. Maybe you have been offended by Christians who seem more concerned about political correctness than the gospel. Or you may have encountered people who are intolerant of anyone who thinks differently than they do. No matter who in the church is offending you, try praying for them.
As Bonhoeffer said,
“Even when sin and misunderstanding burden the communal life, is not the sinning brother still a brother, with whom I, too, stand under the Word of Christ? Will not his sin be a constant occasion for me to give thanks that both of us may live in the forgiving love of God in Jesus Christ? Thus the very hour of disillusionment with my brother becomes incomparably salutary, because it so thoroughly teaches me that neither of us can ever live by our own words and deed, but only by that one Word and Deed which really binds us together—the forgiveness of sins in Jesus Christ.”1
Bonhoeffer went on to say that the Christian “must bear the burden of a brother. He must suffer and endure the brother. It is only when he is a burden that another person is really a brother.”2
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, translated by John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1990), 28.
- Bonhoeffer, Life Together, 101