Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion

I agree with J. I. Packer. When I read Why We Love the Church, I wanted to stand up and cheer. I have been reading so many books and blogs from people who do not speak a love language regarding the church or organized religion. Granted, there are blemishes and spots and things that need correcting regarding the church but as the bride of Christ, whom he loves, we too must love the church, and you cannot separate the organism aspect of the church from the organized as many are trying to do. You may have already read an earlier book by these two authors, one a teaching elder and the other a ruling elder. That book, Why We’re Not Emergent, was a good book but this one tops it. Both are great reads but if you have to chose, this one is the winner.

They unwrap the idea that the North American church is suffering from a crisis in ecclesiology. They conclude the lack of love for the church is one of the reasons why there is a glaring lack of any ecclesiology, even among those who profess to be Christians, who talk much about community, and who throw stones at what they think the church is without understanding what they are doing. Beating up on the church is no way to treat the bride of Christ. As the authors point out, many who do talk about the church do so in a minimalist way that reflects no understanding
of what they are talking about. Again that doesn’t mean that the church is perfect or above evaluation and criticism but we need to know what we are doing, and proceed carefully, when we do speak critically of the church: after all it is the heart of God’s kingdom. The church should always look differently from the world because it is through the church that the world is supposed to see the kingdom of God. And, it isn’t about numbers.

One very revealing comment by the authors underscore the message, “Many of these passionate, well-intentioned youngish church leavers have a vision for the world that is so unlike anything promised this side of heaven that they can’t help but feel disappointed and angry with the church for not getting the world where they think it can go.”

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They caution about the danger of polling and trend watching which tends to cause us to forever be doomed to chase relevance, manage people’s perceptions of the church, and catch up on the cutting edge. By the way, they say this is generally done at the expense of not dealing with sin which causes the problems in the first place. With a good reminder they caution about reading people like George Barna when they either beat up on the church or bemoan its falling apart. which as they refer to Barna, always requires doing church differently or not doing church at all.

I read trends and think we can learn some things from them. I agree with DeYoung and Gluck that doing so too seriously can lead the church away from its mission under the guise of making it more effective. It uses the wrong standards to measure its effectiveness in ministry and mission. The days of the church are not over. We must not read the eulogy over that which will not perish. They say, “It is easy to blast the church for all its failures…but we could do better with using a little less complaining and a little more gratitude.” DeYoung and Gluck are in their “thirtysomethings” and are neither out of touch with their generation nor the others as well. They say that their generation is prone to radicalism without follow-through, not proving themselves to be faithful in much of anything including jobs, parenting, and real change. Do we in fact need more spirituality and less religion? More social justice or political correctness?

The authors remind us there is a place and need for change, at times more than others, however the problem is that we do not always know how to change things for the better and we end up complicating the problem and making things worse and then turning the blame from ourselves. “Is it possible our boredom and restlessness have less to do with the church and its doctrines and more to do with a growing coldness toward the love of God displayed in the sacrifice of his son for our sins?”

So what do we do? We realize as they emphasize that the gospel is not about what we need from God, but about what God has done for us. It is not dressed up moralism, gospel activism, and rest for the weary, nor as I would add to that a legalistic “work your way to heaven” message.

Their plea is not to give up on the church because the Bible knows nothing about a churchless Christianity. “Find a good local church, get involved, become a member, stay there for the long haul…Worship God in spirit and truth, be patent with your leaders, and rejoice when the gospel is faithfully proclaimed, bear with those who hurt you, and give people the benefit of the doubt.” They further remind us that the church is not an incidental part of God’s plan. I was thrilled to read this statement, “I still believe the church is the hope of the world-not because she gets it all right, but because she is a body with Christ for her Head.” I hope my brief comments on this book make you aware that I believe it is one of the most important books for church leaders and members to read today regarding the church. If the church doesn’t function and carry out its mission of making kingdom disciples, she will not serve God’s purpose to this generation and we cannot do that by turning our backs on that most central and essential institution and organization for making kingdom disciples.

Charles Dunahoo pastored churches in Georgia and Alabama before being called to his present position as Coordinator for the PCA of Christian Education and Publications (CEP).

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