As I’ve hopscotched around the internet the last month I’ve come across a G. K. Chesterton quote that offers some wisdom in how we relate to the church. He is speaking of his love for England, but the love he shows for England here is a terrific example of the love we can and should have for the church. This is from an article by Joseph Sobran:
G.K. Chesterton, with his usual gentle audacity, once criticized Rudyard Kipling for his “lack of patriotism.” Since Kipling was renowned for glorifying the British Empire, this might have seemed one of Chesterton’s “paradoxes”; but it was no such thing, except in the sense that it denied what most readers thought was obvious and incontrovertible.
Chesterton, himself a “Little Englander” and opponent of empire, explained what was wrong with Kipling’s view: “He admires England, but he does not love her; for we admire things with reasons, but love them without reason. He admires England because she is strong, not because she is English.” Which implies there would be nothing to love her for if she were weak.
The analogy I am making here is probably pretty obvious - substitute the church for England. In our current climate few admire the church, but many claim to love the church. Yet I wonder if most of those who claim to love the church aren’t like Chesterton’s Kipling - trying to find reasons to love an institution they can’t admire.
The church’s critics today are legion, sadly I have been one. These days I’ve come more to see my obligation to simply be a faithful son of the church and not it’s critic. Most of us would, at least in some vague theoretical sense, acknowledge that if the church is Christ’s bride then she is our mother. But does anyone criticize their earthly mothers the way professing Christians criticize the church?
Well, I suppose I know the answer that last question and it’s a legitimate one - the church as Christ’s bride and the Christian’s mother is only one metaphor for it, there are plenty of other metaphors and descriptions of the church that give us grounds for critical engagement. Where there is sin in the church, it’s most faithful sons must be willing to confront that sin. Still, it ought to be sin that we confront. Much of the criticism we level at the church isn’t because she is obviously sinning, it’s because she isn’t living up to those worldly standards her children have adopted.
Lately I find myself asking “what if the church never gets better?” I mean this for the local church I pastor and for local churches everywhere and for the universal church in general. What if the church never gets better? Will God’s love for her diminish? Will the efficacy of Christ’s shed blood be diminished? If God loves the church why can’t we? Or, to put it another way, what grounds do we have for rejecting what God loves?
And please understand here that I am not speaking of those churches that obviously have forsaken the true preaching of the Word and administration of the sacraments. What if your average old run of the mill local church that gives you the Word and sacraments, never gets better, whatever “better” means? Will you still love her and be faithful to her, even if she appears so “weak” that there seems no good reason to continue loving her?