“I love Jesus, but I hate the church.” This statement (and others similar to it) are common refrains today from an emerging generation of Christ-followers. The intended meaning behind this statement revolves around people who are tired of the “organized church’s” perceived hypocrisy, politics, and stuffiness. Embedded in this statement is the notion that if we could just “save the Lord from His followers” and separate His people from His purpose, we would find a purer form of Christianity. Based on these assumptions, it would appear that this “grass roots” spirituality is Christianity in its purest form and a higher spiritual calling. While I am sympathetic to the heart behind this statement, I actually think that the statement itself is somewhat heretical.
What do I mean? Let’s think about it for a moment.
In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked “What is the greatest commandment?” Jesus answers by citing not one, but two commandments. The first command is to love the Lord your God with all you’ve got. Jesus then says that the second command is “like” the first. The second command is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. I think that Jesus commentary here is very interesting. It raises a very important interpretive question: In what way is loving our neighbor LIKE loving the Lord with all we’ve got? While the Lord may have several things in mind here, I think one way in which the second commandment is like the first is that it is impossible to truly love the Father without also loving His children.
For example, imagine you had a friend whose spouse had passed away, leaving them widowed raising six children on their own. Imagine that after some time, your friend meets someone who they want to marry, but who wants NOTHING to do with your friend’s children. They say they totally love and accept your friend, but they want to ignore your friend’s kids. If your friend came to you seeking advice, what would you tell them? Should they marry such a person? Of course not! How can it be said that someone truly loves another if they want to segregate off of that person their own flesh and blood? In a similar way, the church is made up of God’s children. It is absolutely crazy to try to love God apart from loving His children who He sent His Son to bleed and die for.
The Apostle Paul writes in Romans 8 that absolutely nothing can separate us from our heavenly Father. Since this connection is so tight between God and His children, loving Him leads to loving His. Think about that the next time you are tempted to divorce Christ from His Body by the way we think and talk about His church. It is a deficient theology that believes we can pursue Christ more intimately apart from His church.
Of course, the church should always be evaluating itself on the basis of its faithfulness to Christ’s design, and be humble enough to make corrections when it is indulging in too much hypocrisy, politics, or stuffiness . . . but in the end, we are the people of God. For better or worse, we live the Christian life together. As we collectively cling to Christ, we will find that He is building His Church, and nothing will ever prevail against it. Because He loves the church, because He cares for the church, because He is building the church, because it is His church . . . I love Jesus AND I love the church.