The boy was horribly disfigured by birth defects. It was difficult to look at his misshapen face. His mother’s heart had been broken repeatedly by the looks of horror and the unkind words. The host of the TV show asked her, “When you look at your son, what do you see?” Tears running down her face, she replied, “I see a beautiful boy.” She was not blind to his defects, but defiantly chose to look past her son’s deformity. She chose to see him with eyes of love.
In recent days I have heard harsh criticisms of the church. Many churches are horribly divided, hopelessly impotent and haplessly adrift. A retired pastor is angry at the church, seeing every modern innovation as aberrant and destructive. A young man, who claims to walk with Jesus, disdains the church as irrelevant, hypocritical, even silly. We who blog can often be brutal in our diagnosis of the faults of our churches.
My problem is that I have to agree with many of the criticisms. It is hard to argue that today’s American church is not misshapen, deformed, and disfigured. The Body of Christ, destined to be His pure and radiant bride, is often weak and sick.
Look at the evidence.
- So many churches today are torn apart by divisive power struggles. A truly unified church is shamefully rare.
- Too many Christians live in ignorance of the teachings of God’s Word. Because the Bible is ignored, the church drifts on a raging sea of deception, a ship without rudder or anchor.
- The Body of Christ is too often unclean, as well. Immorality, perversion and all forms of darkness are evident in the lives of far too many of those who compose the Bride of Christ. There is little that distinguishes the lives of many of the redeemed from the lost world around us.
- Many churches have lost sight of their purpose. We are called to be salt and light in a decaying, darkened world, to make disciples of those who live in it. But we often get distracted and the church of Jesus Christ becomes more a social club than an evangelistic army.
- I haven’t even mentioned materialism, racism, and other serious issues. There is no denying that the church of Jesus Christ gives its critics way too much ammunition.
But there is something the critics forget that we must not. No matter how disfigured the church is, it is still the church of Jesus Christ. It is His body, redeemed by His blood, built by His hands and upheld by His power. And Jesus looks on his church with the eyes of love. Yes, the church universal and in each of its local iterations may be diseased and dysfunctional, but Jesus loves it – with all his heart.
It is always too soon to give up on the church of Jesus Christ. It has weathered 2000 years of false teachers, hostile despots, internal carnality and waywardness. Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” He never changes his mind and he never fails in His purposes.
Jesus looks at us with eyes of love, as the mother above did. But there is a key difference. The mother loved her child but could do nothing about his condition. Jesus has all power. He works to purify the Body, strengthen it, heal it, empower it. He never quits, never tires of the work; He never abandons his sovereign purpose.
We are the body of Christ – Christ’s hands, his feet, his voice. For reasons that go beyond my understanding, God chose to work in this world through the church. We are his plan A. He has no plan B.
So, let us acknowledge that the church is not what it should be, or could be. But we must never disdain the church of the Living God. He loves His church. He will never give up on it. He sees the beautiful Bride it will one day be, regardless of the current state of affairs. Let us ask God to give us the eyes of Christ as we look on his church. We may notice the faults, the disease, the dysfunction, but we must look beyond them with the eyes of faith. The glorious good news is that we are not defined by our past or even our present. We are defined by the destiny marked out for us by God.
For the church, that destiny is beautiful, radiant and pure. Can you see it? Can you see the beauty of the church, in spite of its deformity? It is too soon to give up on the church of Jesus Christ. Jesus is at work and will complete the job; he will make the church all He desires it to be.
In the imperfect present, let us never forget the glorious future of the radiant Bride of Christ!