More than a decade ago, I was severely wounded by the church, nearly to the point of abandoning her altogether. It seems that too often hardly a week goes by that I don’t encounter a friend or colleague who has been profoundly wounded by the church.
I have often struggled to reconcile the unholy behavior of the church with the fact that the church is the body of Christ. One of the difficulties of this metaphor is the idea that church is the place that’s supposed to be a haven from the brokenness, woes and weals of the world. Instead, the church often appears to be a place where a concentrated distillate of the brokenness of the world exists. It is a place where petty squabbles can create chaos and where hatred and biases are often on full display.
Pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson notes that “There is not an honest pastor in the land who is not deeply aware of the slum conditions that exist in the congregation and, therefore, the unending task of clearing out the garbage, finding space for breathing, getting adequate nourishment, and venturing into the streets day after day, night after night, risking life and limb in acts of faith and love.”
Another metaphor identifies Christ as the bridegroom and the church as the bride of Christ. In describing the marital bond, Matthew’s gospel (19:6) notes that the “two become one flesh…they are no longer two but one flesh (ESV),” which Ephesians describes as a profound mystery that refers to Christ and the church (Eph 5:31-32, ESV).
Even in the oneness of the marital bond there is a distinction of the two. While the church IS the body of Christ, she is NOT Christ, perfect and holy in every way. This has been so from the beginning.
Paul urges the church in Philippi to help Euodia and Syntyche to mend their quarrels. While in Ephesus, Paul gets word that the church in Corinth is in a mess with quarrels breaking out everywhere. There is not one single congregation to whom Paul writes that there is not a problem of some sort. The church herself has never been a place of perfection. I’ve been asking myself if that obvious imperfection is really counterproductive to the identity of the church.
Writer Anne Lamott says the most powerful sermon in the world is two words, “me too.” When we stop insisting on the need to wear a mask of perfection for the “world outside” and acknowledge our own imperfection, the Church is the place where the work of the gospel becomes visible. When we can say to the broken, the hurting, the struggling, the sinner “me too” we become an open door through which others are invited into relationship with Christ.
I found it impossible to walk away from the Church because she is the bearer of the story of my own brokenness, redemption and rebirth - of the grace extended to me by Jesus Christ.
The Rev. Camille Josey is the pastor at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church.