Loving the Church This Side of Heaven

Recently, I've been working at editing a forthcoming book from last year's Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology.  The material is so good that I will be sharing some of it here over the next few weeks, hopefully whetting your appetite for the book itself! 

Dr. Ligon Duncan, president of the Alliance, gave an address entitled, "The Eternal Glory," which deals with the hope we have of heavenly glory.  A penetrating question I had to ask myself, both when I heard Dr. Duncan speak and now as I edit the address, was this: Do I really hope for glory? Let me ask you: today, as you go about your day, do you think about the fact that you will be in the presence of the Triune God - forever?  Thinking about this stunning truth is one reason why, I think, Dr. Duncan said, "Unless you are heavenly minded, you won't be any earthly good."

But I want to briefly focus on how this works out practically, perhaps in a way that is extraordinarily easy to overlook.  Very simply put, I think most of us do not let our theology of heaven influence how we view the church.  Surely, one of the main reasons for this is the fact that the church is made up of people like us: sinful, slow to do good, quick to speak and gossip, full of envy, strife, jealousy and hatred.  That is what we are apart from Christ. 

However, we have been redeemed.  We are united with Christ.  And now, we can, by God's grace, begin to see the effects of this union in our daily lives.  But we still sin and this shows up, perhaps most pointedly, at church. 
Added to this great problem of our own personal sin is the fact that we live in an anti-church age. I passed a church here in Philadelphia the other day with these words on its sign: "Barely organized." Of course, that is hip these days.  We don't want "organized religion" - we don't want "our daddy's church."  When I saw the sign, I couldn't help but wonder, "How many of us would go to a doctor's office with the same words on its sign? "

But the church is the place where God has called us to have our souls doctored - hearing the Word preached, serving our fellow saints and speaking and doing good to those without.  However, the church is not only God's means of Gospel proclamation, but a place where souls are restored.  It is the place where we can find healing, perhaps in unexpected ways -  like learning to get along with the people there who are not like us. 

This is one reason I am very allergic to the burgeoning "house church" movement here in the U.S.  Having the privilege of knowing suffering saints in actual house churches that meet in countries where saints are persecuted mercilessly, I find it almost laughable that we have such things here in the land of the free and home of the brave.  It is indicative of the anti-church age in which we live, however.

I wonder, often, why are people, particularly young college students, drawn to these mysterious entities called house churches here in the U.S.? Not because of persecution.  Rather, I think, it is because they are dissatisfied with the church.  And I am sympathetic to them  - barely.  The church is a place where you can get hurt.  It is full of people who are insensitive, unloving at times, insecure and socially awkward. 

Here's the rub though: you are one of those people.  The problem with the church is not the institution itself, for God has ordained it and sent his Son to die for her.  No, we're the problem.  So before you go running to a house church here in the free West, ask yourself: am I running to Jesus or running from sinners?  You can only run to Jesus as you run with fellow sinners.  If you run away from them, you'll be running in circles, not to Christ. 

To encourage you in this, read Dr. Duncan's words.  Better yet, after reading them, read the last two chapters of the Bible.  There you will see the glorious destiny of an entity that looks very inglorious now.  You will see a bride prepared, her soiled garments of sin and impurity removed, clothed with the raiment of righteousness, provided by her husband himself.  As you think about this, remember it when you go to worship this Lord's Day.  Remind yourself of the fact that you are a difficult person in someone's life at church, just like you take them to be in yours.  And, instead of getting upset or angry or being tempted to gossip, look past your sin and the person's, to the glorious hope you have in Christ.  Love the church. 

Here's Dr. Ducan's words:
"The church is glorious to Christ.  You may not see what's glorious about the church to God but he is going to show you.  My friends, this is why it is so important for us to love the church now - with all her imperfections, all her weakness, all her failures and all her stumblings.  One day, God is going to unveil her and she is going to take your breath away."


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