What do we do when we’re disillusioned with the Church? Growing up, my parents were nominal Christians at best. I became the first committed Christian in my immediate family. My abuela (Grandma) was a devout Roman Catholic who loved Jesus Christ. I remember watching her read her Bible out loud (she only had a third grade education) everyday. Her behavior had a profound influence on me. So did the influence of uncle Craig who was mentally unstable but a peach of a man who loved Jesus. I remember him telling me that I had to “fear God.” At ten years-old I thought that meant being scared of God. It’d be years before I learned exactly what that meant. I had simple Jesus followers (Abuela and uncle Craig) demonstrate by their lives what it meant to follow him. So, when I arrived at Christian college, where I thought everyone would be passionately following Christ, I became disillusioned by the sheer amount of God-talk coupled with God-less lives. It took me a while to recover. Then of course, working in the church gave me a lot of insight. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful people/things and some of the ugliest people/things imaginable (even more ugly because of their claim to follow Christ).
I can understand why many refuse to believe in Christ. Perhaps they wonder, “How powerful and how worth following can Jesus be if his own disciples look and act nothing like him?” The thing about grace (in the gift of salvation) is that none of us deserve it. We can’t earn this gift through moral uprightness. That is why the church is full of broken, ugly people. However, even though we can’t earn it, if we are following Jesus, there will be changes in us. We should be moving toward wholeness–toward holiness and away from death and destruction. Remember David? He had a motley crew following him in the wilderness, a band of outlaws and castaways. Jesus too has a band of outlaws and castaways following him. He has a lot of work to do in sanctifying even just one us, but he is at work in the Church and in the world. We’re not very pretty, although in following him we become more like him.
There are a mix of believers and unbelievers in the visible church. Many who think they’re following Christ look and act nothing like him. Perhaps they are trusting themselves, or haven’t been taught, or are self-deceived. There are a variety of reasons why someone who isn’t following Jesus claims to be part of the Church, a Jesus follower. At 32 years old, I can now see that the Church has a mix of darkness and light–and so does my soul. The Church throughout history has done much good. And of course, I cannot deny the evil that it has done.
But for those of us that are or have been disillusioned with the Church, the question is: have we examined the claims of Jesus? Have we tasted of the real Jesus, not a fraud? Have we met people that exhibit the Christ life? Do we or could we see God at work in us and in the world? There are millions of people throughout history that have– the simple and those who are every bit as intelligent or more brilliant than you and me. I can witness to God’s work in my life, in the lives of others, and throughout the world.
I think one of the ways to avoid disillusionment is to come to understand that within the church there are true sons and daughters and imposters. Jesus says in Matthew 25 that at the end of the age, he will judge between the two. He will indicate who is a true follower and who is not. Until then, those of us who follow him must ask for daily grace to obey him and grace not to bring shame on his name.
We don’t want to give unbelievers, or even other believers, a reason to become disillusioned with the Church, his body.
One of my worst fears is that I will bring shame on his name. May that not be.
God, have mercy on me, a sinner!