She is my Father’s house, she is a den of thieves, she is Christ’s Bride, she is corrupt enterprise, she’s built on the rock, she’s fractured by heresies, in her is Light, in her is Darkness, it is the age of information, it is the age of ignorance, it is the era of connection, it is the era of dissidence, it is the summer of evangelization, it is the winter of apostasy, we have everything before us, we have nothing before us—in short, the Church is more Picasso than van Gogh.
Pedophiles parade as priests. False teachers masquerade as preachers. Pastors auctioneer salvation at altar calls. Christians re-package daytime TV as Gospel. Leaders demand a loyalty that teeters on idolatry. Polity weakens and accountability softens. Autonomy intensifies and egos inflate.
Such a portrait of the Church is less-than-flattering. It always has been. Within decades of her founding, the Church is already described as both reprehensible and beautiful. In the first chapters of John’s revelation, we see churches serving diligently, but out of tradition more than devotion to Christ [Rev 2.2-4]. Churches endure and love well, but they also tolerate false teachings and sexual sin [2.14, 19-20].
Her portrait has changed little through the centuries. In the Middle Ages, Roman Catholics used religion to pry open the anxious souls and bony fingers of pre-illiterate paupers and collect the funds for “Holy” Wars that aligned them with global powers. Corrupt power replaced the power of the cross, which is always carved by sacrifice and aimed at love. Similarly, many modern evangelical leaders align with corrupt powers than biblical truths. Their bait includes just enough Scripture to get the biblically-illiterate to bite.
These false “fishers of men” lull naïve Christians into a false sense of safety. These impressionable ones bite, purchasing podcasts and filling stadiums – ultimately funding the lavish lifestyles of the leaders. It’s a corrupt enterprise conducted by fish-oil salesmen/CEO types.
But, blame also rests on the fish. German churches coalesced with Nazism. British and American churches condoned slavery. Countless churches coalesce with false doctrines and sinful leadership, and have for centuries. Just read 2 Peter 2 and Jude. Rather than opposing corrupt power, they fully yield to it. Loyalty to the pack over living in Truth. Sadly, many Christians operate like low-information voters. They attend the church of a charismatic, attractive, rhetorician. They ignore the distorted theology or disturbing character flaws of the leader or the leaders’ exchanging their prophetic voice to cozy up to power. Rather than digging deeper into Truth, they want their ears “tickled.” Peace and safety over compassion for the displaced. These congregants vote with their tithes and attendance, keeping corrupt leaders in office.
Such a portrait disturbs me. #youToo? And yet, my heartache for a Church that’s pure must become reconciled with faith in Jesus, who promises to make her just that. Again, I look to Revelation. When the apostle John encounters the risen and glorified Christ in a vision, the disciple says,
“Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning, I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands, one like a son of man…in his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength.” [Rev 1.12-13, 16]
The Light of the World gives his Light to the Church through the lamp of his Gospel. And, though he resides in heaven, Jesus walks among churches – the “lampstands.” He honors his promise to be with believers “always, to the very end of the age” [Mt 28.20].
Even when churches abuse and misuse and confuse people? Yes, even then. His Word is a sharp and double-edged sword that wounds and heals as it strikes down Sin. Even when churches insolently promote sin? Yes, even then. His grace calls the wayward from wandering. “Those whom I love,” says Jesus, “I rebuke and discipline” [3.19]. Some churches heed his cautions and repent. Others don’t, and the Lord removes their ability to bear witness for him. In his authoritative power, Jesus removes their lampstand; in his sovereign timing, the flame dies out [2.5]. His power also keeps the seven stars – the pastors of the churches – in his righteous right hand.
Even pastors abusing and misusing and confusing people? Even leaders who seem to be unsaved? Therein lies more tension. We see and experience injustice in the natural and rightly long for justice. But, how do we reconcile the longing for justice with faith that Jesus acts justly? Once again we look to his Word. Jesus sees the evil and confronts evildoers, saying “Therefore, repent! If not, I will come against you quickly and make war against those people [those promoting immorality and skewed theology] with the sword of my mouth” [2.16]. And, we “do justice,” allowing ourselves to be accused of having a Gospel with social ramifications [Mal 6.8].
And, we look again to his grace. God delays Christ’s return so that more people – even pastors in pulpits – can experience salvation [2 Pe 3.9]. In this delay I wrestle to reconcile my longings for justice with belief that Jesus acts justly. I wrestle to reconcile my feelings and faith, the visible with the invisible. Herein lies the tension: we live in the already-not-yet. But one day soon we will declare,
She was shameful, she is spotless, she was vengeful, she is blameless, she was fractured, she is mended, it is the age of Millennium, it is the age of restoration, it is the era of revelation, it is the era of amazement, it is the eternity of shalom, it is the flash of faith-as-sight, we have everything before us, we have nothing separating us – in short, the Church is fully redeemed in Christ. We await that day by and with faith.
 In this article, references to the global and historical church are made with a capital letter. All other references are to local gatherings. The distinction is a geographical and historical one, rather than a salvific one.