June brings us an uplifting and challenging post that comes to us courtesy of NazToo-er MB Boesch, who says of herself, “I am currently serving as the Associate Pastor of New Hope Community Church of the Nazarene in Chandler, AZ. I have a passion for my call to preach, and I have been searching for a lead pastorate for the past year. I also work for an inner-city ministry in Phoenix, AZ, and I am a full time seminary student at NTS. My husband, James, and I live with our dog, Dobby, and our cats, Yzma and Kuzco.”
Over the past ten years, I have lost count of how many times I have said to myself, “I am done with the Church.”
I was done at the first church that I called “home” when I realized that the only form of discipleship I ever saw there consisted of a scare tactic that convinced everyone to seek God in obedience more out of a fear of going to hell than anything else. I was done when a rumor that was spread about me made its way to church leadership and I was told that I was no longer welcomed at this particular church. I was done when I became just another face in the crowd on a Sunday morning. I was done when I received rejection after rejection from churches as I attempted to find some sort of ministerial position.
I’ve been done when I have seen the hurtful ways that Scripture has been taken out of context and used as a reason not to love others. I’ve been done when I have seen the Church fail to welcome the LGBTQ community. I’ve been done when I have witnessed firsthand just how much power there is in the idolatry of patriotism. I’ve been done when over and over again, I have listened to churches list off everything that they are against instead of showing and telling what the Kingdom is for. It seems that the longer I have been with the Church, the more consistently I have found myself in tears over the damage she has caused.
I’ve been done with the distorted, perverted portrayal of Christ and the Kingdom of God that the Church seems to have become.
Even so, here I stand. No matter how many times the Church has hurt me personally and deeply; no matter how many hours I have spent trying to comfort my loved ones after they have been deeply hurt as well; no matter how many times I have helplessly witnessed the Church hurt people I have never even met, here I continue to stand. Sometimes I stand broken and bruised, but I remain with the Church. Sometimes I stand weeping for what she has done and who she has become, but I remain with the Church. Sometimes the hurt is so deep and powerful that I cannot even remain standing and must instead fall to my knees in lament and prayer, but I remain with the Church.
The majority of my friends are either non-Christians or non-churchgoing-Christians, and I oftentimes find myself in conversation with these friends where they are asking me why I continue to stay with the Church. Recently, a dear friend of mine who identifies as an Agnostic said to me, “Your faith is strong enough that I don’t think you need the Church.” When I graduated from college, my husband and I actually went through a period of months where we began to ask ourselves if we even wanted to continue the search for a church to call home. We had many conversations about whether or not we even wanted to stay with the Church.
Honestly, the Church has hurt me and the people that I have loved often enough and deeply enough that I have had more than enough reason to have left at this point. Even so, I remain with the Church. Why?
Because I do need the Church. I am homeless without the Church. And ultimately, I do not believe that I have the right to criticize the Church unless I am a part of it – nor can I hope to personally witness and participate in the reform of the Church unless I am a part of it.
Before I go on, allow me to clarify and explain that the Church I am referring to is not the broken institution that takes Scripture out of context to attack others. The Church I am referring to is not the institution that is better known for what it is against than what it stands for. It is not the Church that is controlled by the powers and principalities of this world.
No; the Church that I need – the Church that is my home – is the Church that cannot be established, maintained, or reformed without the work of the Holy Spirit. In his commentary on First Corinthians, Richard Hays says, “The Church is not merely a human organization; rather, it is brought into being by the power of the Holy Spirit, which binds believers into a living union with the crucified and risen Lord.” This is the Church that I think we all so desperately need.
The Church that I need is the community of people who really have no business being together, but somehow, by the grace of God, we belong together. It is the community where, only by the grace of God, all things are made new. It is the community where regardless of our individual identities, we are all given the same identity by the power of the Holy Spirit through our baptism. It is where we all come together to feast at the same Table regardless of our backgrounds, status, age, jobs, appearance, or anything else. I need this community. I need this Church. And so do you.
The church that so many of us have abandoned at this point is in the business of condemnation and harm, but the Church of the Holy Spirit is in the business of healing and reconciliation. The church that we have abandoned is interested in using the Gospel as a means of exclusion, but the Church of the Holy Spirit uses the Gospel as an invitation to the inclusivity of the Kingdom of God. The church that we have abandoned divides its members into categories of “us” and “them”, but in the Church of the Holy Spirit, there is only us.
I desperately need this Church. I desperately need this community of accountability, prayer, and encouragement. I need to know that I have a home, and by the grace of God, I find that home in the Church.
This is why I am so thankful that no matter how many times I have been done with the church, the Church has never been done with me. It is why I continue to remain with the Church. I believe that the Spirit is already actively involved in the reformation of the Church even if we do not immediately see the results. For some of us, we may never see the results of reformation; but as long as the Church cannot exist without the Spirit, the powers and principalities will never prevail against the Church. That is good news.