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Home > 2013 > August Web Exclusives > The Church Is a Harlot, But I Love Her

Husbands, imagine this: A friend comes to your house for dinner. You enjoy a delicious meal that your wife has made, and catch up on life. Halfway through the meal, your friend does something unbelievable. He starts listing things that your wife could have done better.

"The chicken is too tough," he says. "You should have marinated it longer. And the broccoli is overcooked, mushy and bland. My 12-year-old daughter could cook a better meal." But it only gets worse. He starts to criticize her character, even ridicule her. "She's not the woman you thought she was, is she?"

I'm guessing his visit would be cut short. And you'd probably send him away with a few choice words. Even if he was right about certain things, you simply wouldn't tolerate someone openly and caustically criticizing your wife. You love her, and because you do, you look past her quirks and shortcomings.

But we tolerate this mean-spirited criticism all the time when it's directed at the church. If we're not careful, it's easy for us to look at the church and her leaders, and say, "The church should have done ____." Or, "I wish they hadn't ____." Or, "She's not what we hoped for."

You fill in the blanks.

A culture of critique

We hear these sorts of critiques constantly. We see them on social media, in blogs, and in articles. I work in Christian publishing, so I see the constant stream of opinion pieces voicing frustrations with the church. The sad truth is, negativity sells.

Take for example the recent discussion on "why Millennials are leaving the church." This topic has been in heavy rotation on social media the past couple weeks, and writers like Rachel Held Evans have generated heated discussion. In her recent CNN article, Evans said, "We're not leaving the church because we don't find the cool factor there; we're leaving the church because we don't find Jesus there" (my emphasis).

Rachel is not the first person to explore this issue, nor is she the first to make bold statements like "we don't find Jesus there." She's voicing frustrations shared by many 20- and 30-somethings. Evans argues that "the church"—really just a subset of American evangelicalism—is "too political, too exclusive, old-fashioned, unconcerned with social justice and hostile to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people."

To be sure, I hold some things in common with critics like Evans. Along with my Millennial brothers and sisters, I long for substance. I want to live in a faith community that is connected to the historic church, animated by God's Spirit, steeped in Scripture and theology, and committed to embodying the gospel. So in that regard, I am like Evans and others who see the need for continual reformation.

But I don't think Evans and other Millennials are leaving the church because they don't find Jesus. My suspicion is they're wagging their fingers at the church because they don't find the Jesus they want. Evangelicalism certainly isn't flawless. However, I think Evans' claim that Jesus is absent from "the church" is absurd. Not only is it theologically false, it's a slap in the face to Christ's bride, a purely rhetorical statement that simply provokes controversy rather than fostering Christian unity.

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Posted: August 5, 2013

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Displaying 1–5 of 14 comments

DenTine Miranda

August 15, 2013  2:45pm

At first this was hard for me to read, but I quickly realized that there was some truth being told because ashamedly I was often the one who pointed out all of the church's faults because of my own insecurities. I also desired my own version of the church in my mind without giving consideration to or compassion for the realistic church in front of me. I'm glad you said for us to find a church we can tolerate and be patient with, and to stick it out. That is what I believe we may be lacking in some of our own lives - endurance. We are an impatient bunch sometimes in this microwave generation, always looking for the next big and better thing. I am guilty of that and am sorry for having bashed the beautiful bride of Christ many times before. Today I am determined even more to support and defend her vice tearing her down and leaving her for another. Thank you for printing this article. Semper Fi & God Bless, Dennis

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Christopher DeLaney

August 14, 2013  9:49am

I found this article to be rather disappointing and shallow. Using Emmert's illustration, millennials are telling the wife that the chicken is RAW, and it is being received as a personal attack on her cooking. This is not mean-spirited or overt criticism, this is emergency-status self awareness that must be communicated and heard by all in the church. The issues in question are systemic and foundational, not trite preferences or dissatisfactions. Millennials come to the church looking for the Jesus of the Gospels and they find plastic Jesus, suburban Jesus, pro-war Jesus, pro-empire Jesus, affluent Caucasian Jesus, and the list goes on. Where is the servant-leader Jesus that has the power to subversively turn the world upside down? Why has the narrow road been replaced with a twelve-lane highway? Sure, the church does good things, but that does not address the core issues of theology and practice in our system or structure that are antithetical to the Jesus of the Gospels.

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sarah farrar

August 13, 2013  12:34pm

Thinking back on what led ME to Jesus---back in the Seventies----was the message of repentance and forgiveness and cleansing of my sins. I knew before I became a Christian that by doing so that I was committing myself to living an entirely different lifestyle----forever. There was no going back. I am so thankful that the friends who "prayed me in" took their time and patiently waited for me to understand that Jesus is not some Sugar Daddy in the sky who died to give us a bunch of stuff or that the price He paid for our sins was cheap. Free, yes. Cheap, no.

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Ian Ridgway

August 08, 2013  11:39pm

Kevin, it's unfortunate though that you and many Christians don't make a distinction between the institutional, congregational structured church and the Body and Bride of Christ. By overly focussing on the former you imply that the fullness of Church of Christ should be restricted to our various institutional church structures. I'm not decrying these by the way but they are not the full meaning of Christ's Body. Like everything else in this present age, we all suffer from the effects of the Fall while also being renewed by the Spirit in anticipation of a still greater renewal at the end of the age.

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August 08, 2013  5:13pm

Kevin didn't give Rachel Evans a fair hearing. Evans isn't church bashing, but is reflecting on the all too common reality found in our local churches. Hers is as much a plea for integrity and substance as much as Kevin's is a plea for tolerance and acceptance.

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