I suppose we are all looking for heaven on earth. Of course, as a faith that had its beginnings rooted in the eschatological, that is, the unveiling of God’s Kingdom of perfect peace and justice, we Christians either look forward to or are working toward the establishment of utopia. Since we naturally assume that God is perfect and that heaven is perfect, it isn’t such a leap to assume that everything related to God and heaven should also be perfect. The problem is that such a mindset sets us up for disappointment. I am often told by many people that “church politics” are the worst kind of politics. With the recent display of blatantly misleading ads from candidates of both parties on television, I’m not so sure. Nevertheless, I wonder if it isn’t that “church politics” are worse than any other “politics” but that “church politics” are so counter to what we expect to be in the “church.” Shouldn’t church be a place where we all just get along, each working for the proclamation of the Gospel? Recently, a friend of mine who is a Regional Minister remarked that it is the pastor’s call to remind the “church” what is and what is not the Gospel; wise words from one of our “bishops.” However, such a charge can be difficult to do faithfully, especially in our contemporary politicized and polarized culture.
More and more I am seeing and hearing manifestations of personal and community problems as a result of victimization, abuse, a host of “isms,” (sexism, racism, etc.) or “phobias” (homophobia, gynophobia, etc.). It may be, what some term, my odd fascination with the past and tradition, but whatever happened to the word and concept of sin?
The church, as every other organization on this side of the Eschaton (the Return of Christ), is composed of humans who are by nature, sinful. Even when I am at my earthly best, I have still fallen way short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Sin is not something from which I can be healed, only redeemed. The results of the grace of God given through Jesus Christ, does not wisk me away from the context of a fallen world. God’s grace urges me on to holiness. It begins the process of my work toward perfection even as God is perfect (Matthew 5:48), but it does not make me God. The church is, in part, the community of Christians who worship and praise God. The church is not God. It is, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ that continues the work of Christ until he comes again. That does not mean that Christians or those who claim the title “church” fully embody Christ’s perfection in all things and at all times. Where the body acts justly and with peace, it serves as a glimpse of the Kingdom.
However, the church is what Christ established to continue his work of teaching, healing, convicting, and calling the world to God’s self. To abandon the church is to abandon Christ’s plan for his followers. To give up on the church is to give up on the means that Christ established himself as the vessel through which his grace is made known. Perhaps the problem is not that the church so often falls short of God’s glory, but that our perspective has been skewed and our expectations are unrealistic. Human experience is messy, difficult and at times, painful. The pervasiveness of human sin will always be with us. The effects of sin, sickness, disease, anger, hatred, are always looking for opportunities to exploit humanity to its own dark ends. Christ has given us not an easier path on which to travel, but a companion for the journey. Mountains must be crossed and rivers must be forged and these challenges are inescapable. However, it is easier for a group to conquer these challenges than it is for an individual. Even our failure to be in worship or to be active in the church not only sets us on a journey of failure when we arrive at these challenges alone, but it says to the rest of those on this journey, “I won’t help you either.” Only when we travel together, knowing that at times the darkness of human sin will seek to extinguish the light of Christ, will we stand together on the mountaintop and get another glimpse of the Kingdom soon to come. “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.”