The Church is made up of broken people.
That’s probably not a surprise to anyone. It shouldn’t be. The whole nature of Christianity hinges on the idea that people are broken. The whole reason for a crucified Messiah is because the depths of human brokenness prevented us from being able to connect with God on our own.
Christianity hinges on brokenness. Without acknowledgement of brokenness, there’s no Church.
Yet, despite the fact that a major aspect becoming a follower of Christ is admitting our imperfection and brokenness, I have surprisingly little tolerance for brokenness in the Church.
My post today is probably more confessional than anything else. Not that nobody else struggles with this. I’d be willing to bet most of us do. But I struggle with it a lot. I’m perfectly willing to accept the brokenness of the world around me, but I struggle to extend the same grace towards Christians. I am far more forgiving and gracious towards people outside of the Church than people inside the Church.
And that’s not okay.
Really, it’s arrogance. I don’t like admitting that it’s arrogance, but it is. My pride and arrogance assumes that if you were really a Christian, you ought to be a Christian in the same way that I am a Christian.
And that comes out int he way we talk to people about Christianity:
“Hey world, not all Christians are arrogant jerks!”
“Hey, just because some people don’t know what it means to follow Jesus doesn’t mean none of us do!”
“Thank you God, I’m not like those other people!”
I’m guilty of this. In my haste to show the world how accepting and loving I am, I become hateful of my brothers and sisters. In my sincere desire to reach out to people on the margins, I create new margins of people who were supposed to be on my team.
Jesus tells his disciples in John 13:35 “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Most of the time that I use this passage, I tend to focus on “If you love” and not as much on “one another.” It’s an important distinction. The whole New Testament testifies to the idea that Christians ought to be loving and accepting of the people in the world, but in this passage, Jesus isn’t talking about loving the world.
The world will know you are my disciples if you love one another.
And you know what isn’t loving? When I imply (or state outright) that Christians who don’t believe like me are jerks. When Christians go out of their way to love the world, but hate each other, we’re not accomplishing the mission of Christ.
What does it communicate to the world when we can’t even get along with each other? When I’m willing to befriend people of other faiths or no faith, but refuse to associate with people of the same faith who think a little differently?
Too often, I forget the broken nature of the Church. The people that need a savior are the people who recognize their brokenness, and yet my spiritual elitism refuses to be gracious to them when they act like the broken people they are.
I mean, brokenness is a prerequisite of faithfulness. Jesus himself said, “It’s not the healthy that need a doctor, but the sick.” So why am I so surprised when people in the Church reveal that sickness?
Perhaps more damning, why do I insist that they’re the ones that are sick and not me?
When I say, “At least I’m not like those Christians.” What I’m really saying is, “I’m not really that broken.” When I disparage Christians who believe differently than me (or when I claim they aren’t Christians), I disparage Christ who died for those people just as much as he died for me. When I love my Muslim neighbor, but avoid my fundamentalist neighbor, what I’m showing the world is that Christ’s love is conditional, and you’re more likely to receive it if you just stay out there.
If I can accept and love my alcoholic neighbor, but I can’t sit in church with my conservative neighbor, I’m not really practicing Grace.
If I can eat a meal with my Muslim neighbor, but won’t invite my Reformed neighbor over for supper, I’m missing out on what it means to love one another.
I think that, for myself, anyway, in my haste to be loving to the world, I’ve been hateful to the Church. And Jesus loves the Church. The Church is the bride of Christ. And as much as Christ wants us to love the people in the world, he also wants us to love each other. To build each other up. To encourage each other. To help each other in the journey to bring the Kingdom of God to Earth.
Jesus loves the Pharisee just as much as he loves the tax collector. He loves the grouchy, obstinate legalist as much as he loves the free-spirited, wishy-washy liberal. And neither of them are perfect.
And I’ve forgotten that.
Too often, I have set up this dichotomy between myself and “those Christians”. Sure, I may pay lip service to the idea of Grace for all, but I still have the audacity to believe that God’s grace for me is more authentic, because I (think I have) a better theology. I have the unbelievable pride to suggest that there are Jerk Christians who are screwing it up for the rest of us, without recognizing that I’m doing just as much to give the Church a bad name by rejecting the unity that Christ has called us to.
Christ may be the homeless guy on the side of the road, but Christ may also be the angry Christian blogger. And if I reject either one, I’m still rejecting Christ.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t critique or seek to correct the Church. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out when we see fellow believers moving in ways that are detrimental to the work of God in the world. We can still disagree theology and practice. We can even be firm and insistent about it. But we can’t create this us-vs-them mentality. The second our disagreement turns into rejection, we also reject Christ.
So instead, we need to approach each other with humility and love. I need to stop comparing my Christianity with other Christians. Because even though there might be ways I understand God better than other Christians, there are at least as many ways that I’ve misunderstood God and can learn from “those other Christians” that I’ve spoken poorly of in the past.
I hope that I will learn to be loving of all people – of those outside the church and those inside it. I hope that God will help me be more humble so that I can better appreciate those with whom I disagree. Because the mission of the Church could be much better lived out if we give each other the same kind of love, respect, and service that we try to give to the people in the world.
And maybe Jesus knew what he was talking about. Maybe by loving each other, we reveal Christ to the world around us.