I got permission to take five prisoners out to church today. Not just random ones, but guys who have faithfully attended the services in the jail and in whom I had "confidence". I hadn't been to the church we went to before but had been recommended it and I'm glad we were. It was a really good service (thank you, Rev. Karen!), and the prisoners were so appreciative of being able to attend.
Non-Christians look away now. The rant which follows is for Christians.
I've been feeling the urge recently to put my fingers in my ears to stop listening to some of the spoiled me-me-me whining of the cynics who moan about the church. I don't mean non-Christians, whose moaning is only natural since they think we are misguided/deluded. I'm talking about Christians here. Yes, of course the church is imperfect. It's an institution made up of human beings so "doh"! Amongst the members of the police, the teaching profession, the staff in a hospital or a factory, the members of the rugby club or the bowling club, whatever, it will also be possible to spot flawed people and imperfections. Why would the church be any different? It's comprised of people from the police, the teaching profession, hospital staff, etc etc.. Human beings.
I get tired of listening to the incessant superior cynical whining of those who are disillusioned with the church because it doesn't meet all their needs. In our own case we have over two hundred people coming to our church on a Sunday. How could we, unless able to operate in parallel universes, possibly tailor church to the individual tastes of all 200? We do our best to hit the mark of course as widely as we can, but surely the art of being a good church member lies partly in recognising above all that it's not all about ME.
I go to church not always because I'm in the mood to go. Moods aren't reliable. I don't have a bath or clean my teeth just when I'm in the mood. I have made up my mind to do these things on a regular basis (more often than I attend church, btw).
I get angry with fake church charlatans as seen on some of the God channels. Put them in jail. That's fraud.
But as far as the genuine church is concerned? I think it's fine to come up with positive criticism in church to get things improved or updated. I think it's good to look at ourselves as prophetically as possible. But from the inside. You don't need to stop going, to opt out, to do that. If the church you're currently going to is dire (and I'm not denying the existence of dire churches) find the best one you can and stoop humbly to fit through the door if it's not just you to a "t".
The bottom line, I think, is that whether it comes naturally or not, we have to make ourselves love the church, because Jesus loves the church. The Bible calls the church his bride. When we slag it off, he says, "Oi, shut up, that's my wife".
This rant isn't entirely caused by caffeine deprivation. I've been feeling this frustration for a while, but it did hit home powerfully this morning as I observed just how grateful these prisoners were to be able to attend church. It made me realise just how much we ungrateful westerners are able to take what is a priceless privlege for granted.