The Hope of the World
The world has no hope -- none whatsoever -- unless there is a God. Only God can preserve a person, a family, a group of people, a nation or any part of civilization, Without God, no one, no nation, no family, no group of people, no nation, no civilization could survive. Left to itself, culture always self-destructs. That's the bad news.
The good news is that God loves the world and keeps it from killing itself. Through the overwhelming gift of his Son, Jesus, God extends his love. And before Jesus left planet Earth, he launched one of God's best ideas: The Church.
For reasons only he could know, God has chosen to accomplish his purposes through the Church. Bill Hybels has said, "The local church is the hope of the world." You might think that's an overstatement, but there's at least some truth to it. For 2,000 years now, the Church has preserved and passed on the gospel, praying that people would open their hearts to receive it and their minds to contemplate the implications of it.
It seems vogue now and again to tear down the Church. Now seems to be one such time. More and more people are identifying as "spiritual but not religious" -- the now-infamous category of "nones" (those who check the box labeled "none" under "religious affiliation" on surveys) is growing rapidly. People distrust organized religion. Christians in America seem to be undergoing a kind of identity crisis, seeking to understand anew what constitutes a church and how so many of these bodies have gotten off-track from pursuing the mission of God in our world.
It is an indisputable fact that the Church is far from perfect -- so far one might be tempted to say it is the opposite of perfect. The Church is weak and dirty and cantankerous. In many parts of the world it may appear to be no more than a country club, a place to gather with like-minded people to have your beliefs affirmed on a consistent basis. Rather than welcoming those marginalized by society, churches often exacerbate the problem by relegating certain categories of people to a sort of permanent Junior Varsity status.
The Church might be a lot like New York City, which has been famously described as a catastrophe -- but a magnificent catastrophe. Yes, we get into squabbles over the color of the carpet. Yes, we tend to shoot our own wounded. Still, with all of its problems (and they are legion), the Church is still at work, still helping build orphanages and drill wells so people can have fresh water to drink, still teaching people to read, still rescuing people from slavery. We are a catastrophe, but we are a magnificent catastrophe.
This magnificent catastrophe has a magnificent story, but, sadly, few of us know it. It's equal parts comedy and drama, and I am going to write about it here in the coming weeks and months. Hopefully, as we are informed of the past, we will gain courage for the future.
For now, a question: Why do you think it's become so popular for Christians to speak negatively about the Church?