I don’t know what you thought when you read that question. Maybe your answer was a clear “Yes!”. Maybe you thought about an old, cold building and your warm bed on a Sunday morning. Or you thought about church leaders that do more or less sensible things. Maybe you thought about old traditions or modern worship with a light show. Maybe you have no idea what that question even means – no problem, I’ll explain!
If you had asked me a couple of months ago “Tine, do you love the Church?” I probably would have though about it and then subtly changed the subject, so I won’t have to say “No” (because that is wrong as a Christian), but also would not have to make myself say “Yes” (because, let’s be honest, there are a lot of things in the Church that are not lovable at all). Today, my answer is a different one: Yes, I love the Church, even if it’s hard sometimes.
I grew up in a small town where there was hardly a choice of churches: the main Protestant Church, the YMCA, another small congregation of the main church and some other small churches (which were not relevant for me as a teenager). I didn’t have to make a choice, because of my parents I was a protestant and a member of the YMCA, which is an association and not a church, so that was fine.
Grown-ups mean well with their kids and teens and so they caution against all kinds of things so nothing goes wrong – and in christian circles they warn about all kinds of “dangerous congregations” that are somehow really strange and people should stay away from them. They don’t want people to adapt to weird practices, so they warn about “Charismatics”, “Pentecostals”, “Baptists” and what not, because they practice things like speaking in tongues and baptism of the Spirit and nobody knows what in the world that even means anyway. And because I didn’t have those kinds of churches in my town anyway and didn’t want to drive to the next city to find them, I was okay with staying at the YMCA. It was awesome there and I learned to love Jesus and develop my faith.
After High School I went to bibleschool with the Torchbearers for half a year and most of the students came from the US and Canada. So this stereotyped thinking I knew from home didn’t work anymore, because those countries have other church structures. Of course there are different churches, but a lot are just “evangelical” even if they are completely different to one another. For the first time, “Church” was not only a building for me, but a bunch of people who love Jesus Christ, no matter which church they belong to or what they experienced in life.
Since I decided to stay in the city where I go to university, I found a church there. First time I went to a service I observed everything very closely, because this should become a place where I am drawn to Jesus and not away from him. Apparently a church can get you away from Jesus, at least that’s what they told me growing up. So it was better to be too careful and not play with my eternity in heaven!
As always, God showed me that he is not finished with me yet and I have a lot to learn. The last couple of months were perfect for this, because I am trying to figure out what comes next in my life anyway and where God wants me. So he might as well throw out some old judgments concerning his church.
I learned a lot. Especially that everyone expresses their faith in a different way and I don’t have any right at all to judge them for it. I am still at this church I looked at and got to know a lot of awesome people – and some of them even close their eyes and lift their hands in worship! I really have to be on guard to not have my 15-year-old-self come back and see everything in a negative way.
Instead I focus on how I like to worship. I think, God doesn’t care how we worship him, as long as we have an honest heart and give him glory. Some people can do this in old buildings with old hymns, other in modern rooms with a band, some sitting and some standing. And by the way: you can’t just worship God with music and singing, there is so much more…
The other day I listened to a sermon by Rick Warren, author and pastor of Saddleback Church. He had some great points to make:
- I have to love the Church, because it’s the bride of Christ. He meant that the people in the Church are my family, regardless of the church as long as the Bible is the foundation. Even those who have a completely different way to worship. Even those who are really hard to love. I can’t say “I love Jesus but not his Church” because that would be like telling someone “I like you but don’t like your husband/wife” – those two belong together. I can’t love Jesus and not love the people that belong to him as I do and love his as well.
- The most important thing for Christians is to love others. That’s what church is for: practice to love. Nobody said it would be easy, but it’s necessary. Why? Because:
- The Church is the only thing that is eternal. In eternity there won’t be jobs, money, sports teams, political parties or even church congregations. Only the community of Christians will make it to eternity – and some will be surprised who else will be there. Catholics, Protestants, Baptists, Evangelicals and much more: everybody who loves Jesus, no matter how they expressed their love. Who can’t deal with that should think about if this is the place for him to spend forever. And who knows this should think about how this diversity can be lived and appreciated now instead of judging it.
Really important: To love the Church (and other Christians) does not mean to be okay with everything that’s going on. These are still imperfect people who make mistakes. A lot of forgiveness and love is needed, but also discussion and improvement. The goal is still to become more like Christ and we can’t lose that sight because of love.
So again the question is: Do you love the Church?
If No: What can you do to change that? Let God work on you!
If Yes: Awesome! How do you show this?