Spring of Hope or Winter of Despair?

I believe in…
The holy Christian church.

-The Apostles’ Creed

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness; it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity; it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness; it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair; we had everything before us, we had nothing before us; we were all going directly to Heaven, we were all going the other way.

-A Tale of Two Cities

To be in the church you must be in a church.

To not be in a church is to excommunicate yourself from the church.

But to be in a church is to become aware of the many warts and blemishes of the church.

Welcome to reality.

Things always work better in theory than in reality.

Memory is selective and the good old days weren’t always that good.

And to criticize from theory what is being done in reality is an exercise more commonly known as “armchair quarterbacking.”

Anyone can do it.

And so it’s easy to critique the church (and easier still to critique a church.)

It’s kind of popular today. Many a tome inscribed upon the topic.

What’s wrong with the church?

Ha! Where to start!

But before delving into your premature post-postmortem analysis of the church, let me ask just one question…

When has the church ever been any better?


The Apostolic Era…like what, the church in Corinth?

The Patristic Era…wracked with more heresies and false prophets than you can fathom?

The Constantine Era…I now pronounce you church and state?

The Reformation Era…meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

The Evangelical Era…the Enlightenment influenced, formalistic era we’re all giddy to be get beyond?

The Charismatic Era…pardon me while I fall down laughing (literally!)?

Here’s the truth: The church has always been, to paraphrase Chris Berman, a bumblin’, stumblin’, fumblin’ proposition.

The church has always bumbled along.
The church has always been a dismal failure.
The gates of hell are always prevailing.

Except that the church does get along and somehow it isn’t a total failure and the gates of hell don’t prevail.

We’re like Inspector Clouseau.

Clouseau, the incredibly incompetent detective who nevertheless always cracks the case, is a study in grace.

So is the church.

In the middle of the mess there are more transformed lives than the casual observer might realize. To God be the glory.

Of course we must do our best to adjust along the way. That’s all we can do.

The only ones in favor of scrapping it all and starting from scratch are the ones who don’t have anything to scrap in the first place.

I can agree with all the critical assessments. But what is to be done? The best we can…that is what is to be done.

Of course those that aren’t doing anything will advocate that more be done, but, that’s easy for them to say.

I read a lot of theology these days — theology from all kinds of different angles. But I really don’t read any ecclesiology unless it’s written by people who are actually doing it. I went through all that years ago…reading armchair church theorists. Now things have changed, and seminary profs, coffeehouse thinkers and church cranks don’t register with me on this topic…they have to actually being doing something church-wise for me to pay them any attention. Not that what they’re saying isn’t right, but what’s the point? People have to produce legitimately reproducible models (churches!) for me to pay them much mind.

I had a conversation with an evangelist not long ago. I was dismayed with the fact that, although he was happy to preach in local churches (for a love offering, of course), he didn’t actually belong to any church. When I asked him why, he simply said, “There aren’t any good ones.”


I told him in that case he had two choices:

1. Get in a bad church and make it better.
2. Get in a bad church and make it worse.

But he didn’t have the choice to shun the church.

Yep, I believe in the holy Christian church. Warts and all.

It’s the best of times and worst of times.

The church is a wreck on the train track…and it’s never been better.

Attitude is almost everything and in the end you’ll find what you’re looking for.

So is it the spring of hope or the winter of despair?

It depends on your attitude. Me, I’m going with spring.

The honest truth is, I’m quite encouraged about the church. Yes, I think there really is a fresh breeze blowing. But the other thing is I’ve also been around long enough to let go of romantic idealism and realize how the grace of God can work in the midst of the mess.

Here’s the thing. When Jesus decided to build his church, he chose to do the craziest thing — he chose to build his church with, get this…


What was he thinking?

I think he was thinking, “they’re worth it.”

Thank God that’s what he thought!

Anyway, I’ve made up my mind: I’m sticking with Jesus and I’m sticking with the church.

It’s the only game in town.

And here’s some sage advice for making it in the church:

Be harder on yourself and easier on others.

They’re just people…don’t try to make them more than that.

People to be loved and saved and served, and people, who whether you believe it or not, are going to be conformed to the image of Christ. I’ll bet my bottom dollar on that. Stick around long enough and you’ll see it happen.

This is the glory of God: A life full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

But that’s another blog.

One more word:

I believe in the church…and I believe in you.

Press on.



Here are some additional thoughts from my favorite blogger.

One more thing: 4 8 15 16 23 42

If you know what that means…Yeah, baby!…if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry about it, it’s not important.