Over the last couple of years, I’ve heard or read about a number of people who want Jesus but aren’t interested in the church. They look up to Jesus, and they even want to follow him. However, when they look at the church they see a corrupt organization that doesn’t truly represent Jesus. They do not want to be encumbered by the shortcomings of the church, and so they become church-less Christians.
I can sympathize with their feelings. I’ve gone to church for most years in my life. I’ve worked in churches, and I’ve read lots and lots of books about the church. Both through personal experience and the anecdotes of others, I know that the church can at times be the farthest thing from Jesus-like. But if Jesus could worship in the Temple with 1st Century Jews, who had such a distorted view of God that they crucified him, then we should be able to find a way to worship with those in our local congregations. Furthermore, the church is God’s primary means of working in the world. I was reminded of all this when I came across this Henri Nouwen quote today while reading Dave Olson’s “The American Church in Crisis”:
Listen to the Church. I know that isn’t a popular bit of advice at a time and in a country where the Church is frequently seen more as an “obstacle” in the way rather than as the “way” to Jesus. Nevertheless, I’m profoundly convinced that the greatest spiritual danger for our times is the separation of Jesus from the Church. The Church is the body of the Lord. Without Jesus, there can be no Church; and without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has come closer to Jesus by forsaking the Church. To listen to the Church is to listen to the Lord of the Church.
I appreciate the conviction with which Nouwen speaks. The church can take many, many forms from Catholic mass in Mexico City to house churches in northern Michigan. The point is, being a Christian is something we do with others not alone. As Nouwen says, “without the Church, we cannot stay united with Jesus”