“Tell John to stop being so critical of the church.” is something like the comment in the background of a telephone conversation went. Now in all fairness I have yet to ascertain whether it was said in jest or in earnest, though I do suspect it was intended to wind me up.
But it did get me thinking is that how my writing is sometimes perceived? I found myself wanting to explode with self-justification “but I love the church!” And I do. But yet I do not love everything dished up as “church” or every idea, programme or experience put out by any local church anywhere.
I love the church much like I love my beloved Stormers. I cheer every try, conversion, drop-goal or penalty goal. I rejoice in a great line-break, a crunching tackle, deft handling skills, the speed of a winger, the fierce tackling of a loose-forward, the cheeky dart of the scrumhalf. I love it when we run the ball with a sublime mixture of speed, skill and vision. I love it when we grind out a close win with huge tackles, big kicks and sheer “guts”. I rejoice when we sign a Duane Vermeulen or a Jacque Fourie. My heart-sinks when a bright young talent signs with another province for more money or game time.
But yet I see the truth when we play poorly in yet another big game. When we throw away yet another season in a crucial play-off game. I lament it when our forward pack is once again shown to be not quite up for it. When our brilliant backs suddenly cannot hold on to the ball or execute a decent attacking manoeuvere at the business end of the season. I groan when we sign an AJ Venter or a Wylie Human. At the end of most seasons I find myself disappointed for “what could have been”…
And yet come the next season – there I am again. Cheering the elusive winger, roaring at the huge tackles – dreaming of what could be. Every season somehow my hope is renewed. This is the season when we will get it right – this is the season of beautiful rugby. This is the season we will not mess it up or throw it away. This is the season when the Stormers rugby is seen for the beautiful thing it is!
I’ve been around church long enough to see past the friendly exterior and the well-presented meeting to see the ugliness that lies beneath it. I see the loneliness, the apathy, the racism, the classism, the empty words, the power-plays and the shallow hype. I see the middle-class ambitions. I have raged at our bastard step-child the prosperity gospel. I’ve been hurt and disappointed by church and Christians more times than make it logical for me to not have walked away years ago.
And yet somehow I still believe the church is a beautiful thing. It is the image of our God, the radiant bride of Christ, the one new man. When I read the Scriptures I find a picture of the church far beyond my experience. I find a picture of the church that is made in the image of our God. A church that reflects the character and the mission of our God. The God who loves the unlovable. Who shows grace to the undeserving, mercy to the merciless, who sends rain on the just and the unjust. I read the story of the King who used his power not to crush us or serve his own ambitions but to rescue us, to restore us and to give us new life and new birth into a living hope.
No, the church is not perfect but we are right now a foretaste of what God is at work doing. His Kingdom has now broken in and is at work redeeming and building a people for himself – where the good and gracious reign of King Jesus can be seen. God is not finished his work in us (and so we are wretched and broken) but he is at work among us (so grace and mercy is at work in us and through us).
Somehow, at the beginning of every new “season” there I am cheering every act of kindness, every gift of mercy, every impulse of generosity, every time someone puts aside their rights to serve another, every moment of grace to the undeserving or broken.
Could this be the year that the church gets it right, that the church is seen to be the beautiful thing that God is at work creating? No, probably not…. but unlike the Stormers I know that one day the church will stand triumphant, glorious, beautiful, radiant – a true image of our majestic God.