I was reflecting recently on a contemporary worship song that referred to the church as having “broken wings.” Describing the church this way really bothered me.
My consternation is fed in part by the habit some have of viewing the universal church through the filter of one’s own personal or narrow local church experience and in terms of what we witness in North America. We see and focus on problems and failures and then conclude, “The church is broken. It is struggling to feebly stand against the onslaught of the world, the flesh, and the Devil on every side. The Lord better hurry and deliver us soon!” This fortress mentality is not only defeatist and paralyzing—it is unscriptural.
As Jesus prepared His disciples for His departure from this earth He laid out His battle plan. “…I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it“ (Matthew 16:18). In contrast to the “broken wings” image is that of the resurrected, victorious Christ leading His church and the charge against the kingdom of darkness and setting the captives free. The “powers of hell” cannot conquer or succeed; they cannot stand against Christ and His church as he liberates souls.
Only one of three things is true.
- Jesus lied
- He’s doing a poor job of building His church
- He’s doing what He said He would do
Personally, I like and believe the third option. Christ is building His church, He is setting the captives free, and the powers of hell cannot conquer it.
If Jesus is doing what He said, why do we bash ourselves—His bride, His church? Why do we sing songs, write books, and preach sermons that attack His beloved and then think He is pleased that we do so? I know I wouldn’t be pleased if someone slandered my fiancé.
Is the church perfect? No! Should we ignore problems? No! I am the first to admit that local churches and the believers comprising them are far from perfect. All I have to do is look at my own life and experience! We are fallible human beings and we fall short in many ways.
Much of the New Testament was written to correct personal and corporate problems in local churches and to encourage and admonish Christians to press on from their imperfections. The whole process of becoming more holy and like Christ presupposes that we are unholy and unlike Christ in our thoughts, words, and deeds.
We do need to correct the errors in belief and behaviour. That is the point of teaching, preaching, and admonishing one another. But just as in raising children, growth and health occur better in a positive nurturing environment rather than a continuously critical, negative one.
We also need to remember our local churches and their difficulties are not “the church universal” and the sum total of what the Lord is doing. Attend a missions conference or listen to someone with a global perspective telling of the tremendous things the Lord is doing around the world in the building of His church. You will gain a different and, I believe, truer perception.
Why does all this matter? Because as someone once said, “Perceptions are reality.” Each of us believes the way we personally perceive things is the way they actually are. Furthermore, one’s perceptions about oneself tend to be self-fulfilling. As we think we are, we are.
Constantly telling churches and believers about how broken and ineffective they are is not the key to health and victory. Being negatively focused on what’s wrong with them and not what’s right with them only weakens and discourages! Satan is called, “the accuser of the brethren” (Revelation 12:10). By pointing out our failures and shortcomings he seeks to demoralize and defeat us. And he keeps doing it because it works.
Our adversary also uses our statements about how awful the church is to alienate those who are outside the church and confirm in their minds the idea that the church is for losers and should be avoided.
Conversely, one biblical key to personal and corporate victory is to remind us constantly of the truth about our great position of victory in Christ and of the great work Christ is doing building His church worldwide. Keeping this in mind while we tackle our local and personal issues will help us stay balanced.
Accept that the church is not perfect but don’t dwell on it or berate Christians for it. A change in our perception will go a long way toward a change in our performance.