Have you ever heard someone say, “I love Jesus, but I hate his church?” Let’s be honest, the church has done some hurtful things to the world in the name of Jesus. Maybe you have been hurt, either in word or deed, by someone at church? You have painful memories of something that was said at church and for that reason it is easier to quit church than ever step foot inside one again. The truth is, the church is made up of sinners who have been forgiven by the grace of God. Sinners hurt other people with their sin, even Christian sinners.
Recently, I read the book The Unfinished Church by Rob Bentz. In the book he reminds the reader that God is building his church and the church is unfinished. Because it is not yet finished, the church is not perfect. Bentz says, “Few believers truly understand the significance of God’s church, what God is doing in and through his people.” We live in a fast paced world, only focusing on what is happening in the world around us. Many times we cannot see the forest for the trees. Sadly, if we d understand that the church is a group of sinners that are being redeemed for God’s purpose, we can easily reject the need for the church. Yet, if we do understand that God is at work in the lives of sinful people, it will cause us to grow in our love for God’s people and give him glory!
In light of the book The Unfinished Church there are four things that we can do to help the church grow in the process of sanctification.
1) We must forgive one another. When we realize that the church is a group of sinners, we know that forgiveness has to be a part of the equation. Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV). Forgiveness is hard sometimes, but it is essential. Forgiveness is not enabling another person to keep sinning; it is simply loving another like Jesus knowing that they are unfinished as well. Who do you need to forgive this week?
2) We must encourage one another. Encouragement could be used as a synonym for discipleship. If we are all works in progress, then we are all at different stages in our sanctification process. There are people in front of us that can encourage us to keep going, and there are people behind us that we can encourage. The writer of Hebrews put it this way, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (12:1, ESV). Encouragement is not about us, it is about spurring a fellow disciple to be more like Jesus. As Bentz puts it, “Encouragement is gospel-centered.” Who do you need to encourage this week?
3) We must realize that we are all different. Not everyone is like you. Did you know that? Everyone has been created in the image of God, but we are all different. For this reason we should seek unity and not division. Instead of gravitating towards others that look more like us, we should celebrate the diversity in God’s kingdom. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul refers to the church as a body. Just as a body has different parts that function for the betterment of the whole, the same is true for the church. When we gravitate towards people like us, we miss out on the blessing of creativity within the body of Christ. Paul goes on to say in Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I thank God for that!
4) We must serve one another. The church is the family of God and as family we need each other! As the old saying goes, “blood is thicker than water.” I’ve never really understood that quote, but I’ll go with it for a moment. It is true that, for the most part, family members take care of each other. When you are in a bind, you know that someone in your family will take care of you. The same is true for family of God. However, we are bound together by something deeper than genetic blood; we are bound together by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35, ESV). As disciples of Jesus, we have family that needs us, both in our neighborhood and around the world. Who do you need to serve this week?
Personal Reflection: I must say that Rob Bentz challenged me as I read The Unfinished Church. Like many others I, too, have been hurt by the church. I have been bitter towards the church, and have fought against the desire to leave the church and “do church on my own.” However, the Lord has brought me to realize that the church is His bride for whom he gave his life. For this reason, The Unfinished Church has caused me to realize that I need forgive people who have sinned against me and seek reconciliation with those who I have sinned against. It has also challenged me to seek out those whom I can encourage and disciple in the faith. We are all a work in progress, but when we see the big picture we realize that Jesus is really has great plans for his bride!
(I received this book through the Crossway Review program “Beyond the Page” in exchange for an honest review of the book.)