I must be completely honest as I write about my thankfulness for the church. In recent years I have become increasingly cynical of the local church. I frequently question the way in which we "go about" our Sunday morning services, our ministries, our song services, etc. In so many ways I feel we have become so immersed in our culture that we are no longer a boat in the water (the world) reaching out to those who are drowning; but instead a boat in the water that has tiny holes letting the water in slowly. So much so that we don't even realize that we are no longer effectively reaching out to the lost, but we are also drowning ourselves. I often wonder what the first century church really looked like and what those christians would say to us if they could see us now. I know this is a very broad generalization and I can't speak for every church. I am just sharing my feelings based on the churches and christians I have known over the last several years... and I include myself in this generalization.
However, this purpose of this post is not to go on and on about what might be wrong with the church, but instead to take a minute and reflect on how grateful I am for the church despite the ways in which we might be falling. And maybe more than I am grateful for the local church, I am grateful for the global church that is stretched out around the world and that has persisted throughout history and incredible persecution.
The Bible says that the church is the body of Christ -
" Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many."
1 Corinthians 12:12-14
"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
1 Corinthians 12:27
My gratitude for the church is not based on buildings, or "cool" programs, or upbeat songs, or special conferences, because it isn't these things that have allowed the church to persevere; but I am grateful for the group of ragamuffin misfits that have been rescued by our Savior that make up the church. We are sinners, we mess up, we lose our way, we get distracted, we judge, we trip and fall - but the beauty is that its not about who or what we are but who God is and what He is doing in and through us.
"I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me." Galatians 2:20
Because of this, I am grateful to be a part of something bigger than myself. I am part of a group of people who have realized that there is a Creator and that because of sin we were separated from the Creator. We realize that even if we tried our very best to be "good and clean" in order to come before this Creator - the One True God - we wouldn't be good or clean enough and that we would still deserve to die because of our sin. We are a group of people that believe that Christ died in our place and that if we give our hearts to Him we can be restored to our God and be with Him in eternity after our earthly bodies pass away. It is this belief, this hope, that binds the church together throughout history and gives us a common goal and unity that flows from one generation to the next.
I am grateful that God planned for christians to be joined together as one body, that He wants us to be in community with one another to encourage and teach and keep each other accountable. He knew we would need one another.
"Therefore encourage one another and build each other up,
just as in fact you are doing."
1 Thessalonians 5:11
We may be failing in many ways, but there are few things I love more than when the body of Christ gets things right. I am grateful for the Body because we bear each others burdens, take care of widows and orphans, pray for one another, forgive one another, give water to those who are thirsty, and clothe those who are naked. Because when this happens, God is on our side, and nothing can stop us. The bonding agent of Christ's blood is stronger than anything the evil one tries to use to divide us.
I am grateful for the church because despite all the ways we mess up. God has promised that she will stand - she will prevail.
Even thought I struggle with a cynical attitude at times, I know I need to focus on being more grateful for the church, globally and locally. Globally - for those that have gone before me and those working right now under harsh and life threatening conditions to point others towards God. And Locally - those that are even now reaching out to the community and even pouring in to my own life. The church is God's plan for believers to come together. God desires for his people to be in unity with each other and with Him. I am thankful that He adopted me into his family and that I am a part of His people.