Christ's church receives a lot of slack in our day and time. - both from within and from without. In all honesty, these are somewhat dark times in which we live and some of the slack is self-inflicted.
Many times there doesn't seem to be much difference between the church and the world. Sin reigns unchecked in many congregations. Gossip, promiscuity, family abuse, adultery, drunkenness, and unethical work practices are often ignored rather than being dealt with because "we might run someone off." Church discipline is rarely talked about and much less practiced.
At times churches hold forth the call of the gospel of Christ with a condescending arrogance rather than with a humble boldness - I've had the gospel literally screamed at me in my own town by those who say I'm not a real Christian because of the translation of the Scripture that I use. When seeking to engage them in conversation they have been unwilling and have written me off as an apostate. Pride and arrogance are antithetical to the gospel message. Christ came and spoke as One with all authority but He was not a jerk. Our message may be offensive but we as its messengers ought not to be.
Some churches seem willing to try anything - other than the simple means of grace - to grow, attract, and evangelize. Cloggers for Christ, Clowns for Christ, Cartwheels for Christ, Cool Cars for Christ, and Coffee for Christ. There are growth gimmics galore. (Admittedly many of these are done with the most genuine of motives.)
Sermons are often little topical talks rather than soul searching and heart piercing explanations and applications of the Word of God in an expositional context. Many have fled from the whole counsel of God to a cut and paste version of the Bible and the affects are noticeable. I have been in both types of churches and nothing has compared to the work of sanctification God has done in my heart through the church being committed to faithful preaching, fervent prayer, full fellowship, and loving discipline.
No doubt, there is much we could complain about, much that should break our hearts, and much that should drive us to prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. However, the church - with all of her blemishes and failures - is still the Bride of Christ and "the gates of hell shall not prevail against her."
This morning's section of Isaiah 33 reminded me of that and has burdened me, once again, to pray for the church in this world while I anxiously await the heavenly Jerusalem of the next. Here are the words of Isaiah 33:20 and Matthew Henry's thoughts on them:
"Look up Zion, the city of our appointed feasts; your eyes shall see Jerusalem as an undisturbed habitation, a tent which shall not be folded. Its stakes shall never be pulled up, nor any of its cords be torn apart."
"Jerusalem is indeed but a tabernacle in comparison with the new Jerusalem. God's church on earth is a tabernacle which though it may be shifted from one place to another, shall not be taken down while the world stands. The promises of the covenant are its stakes and the ordinances and institutions of the gospel are its cords, which shall never be broken."
How thankful I am for my particular church and how prayerful I must be for the universal church. God's covenant with her is everlasting and His Word and sacraments held forth through her shall never be torn apart. May He grant our churches and their leaders to stand boldly and yet with all humility on the foundation which He Himself has laid.
Praying for the Church,