Church: Love It, Don’t Leave It

By Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck Here’s what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won’t tell you: Jesus … Continued

By Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck

Here’s what Bono, Oprah, and the guru speakers on PBS won’t tell you: Jesus believed in organized religion and he founded an institution. Of course, Jesus had no patience for religious hacks and self-righteous wannabes, but he was still Jewish. And as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah. He did not start a movement of latte-drinking disciples who excelled in spiritual conversations. He founded the church (Matt. 16:18) and commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel’s Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36).

For almost two millennia, it was axiomatic that Christians, like, actually went to church (or at least told other Christians they did). From Cyprian to Calvin it was believed that for those to whom God “is Father the church may also be Mother.” But increasingly Christians are trying to get more spiritual by getting less church.

Take a spin through the religion section at your local bookstore. What you’ll find there is revealing – there are “revolutionary” books for stay at home moms, teenagers, and Christian businessmen. There are lots of manifestos. And most of the books about church are about people leaving the church to “find God.” There are lots of Kerouacian “journey” stories, and at least one book about the gospel according to Starbucks. It used to be you had to overthrow a country to be considered a revolutionary, and now, it seems, you just have to quit church and go pray in the woods.

We’ve been in the church our whole lives and are not blind to its failings. Churches can be boring, hypocritical, hurtful, and inept. The church is full of sinners. Which is kind of the point. Christians are worse than you think. Our Savior is better than you imagine.
But the church is not all about oppression and drudgery. Almost every church we know of visits old people, brings meals to new moms, supports disaster relief, and does something for the poor. We love the local church, in spite of its problems, because it’s where we go to meet God. It’s not a glorified social/country club you attend to be around people who talk and look just you do. It’s a place to hear God’s word spoken, taught and affirmed. It’s a place to sing praises to God, and a place to serve others. It’s a place to be challenged.

The church is more than plural for Christian. It is both organism and organization, a living thing comprised of a certain order, regular worship services, with doctrinal standards, institutional norms, and defined rituals. Without the institution of the church nurturing the flock and protecting the faith for two thousand years, there would be no Christianity. If Gen Xers (like us) and their friends want to be against something, start a revolution. If you want to conserve truth and grace for twenty centuries, plant a church.

We love the church because Christ loved the church. She is his bride–a harlot at times, but his bride nonetheless, being washed clean by the word of God (Eph. 5:25-26). If you are into Jesus, don’t rail on his bride. Jesus died for the church, so don’t be bothered by a little dying to self for the church’s sake. If you keep in mind that everyone there is a sinner (including yourself) and that Jesus Christ is the point and not you, your dreams, or your kids, your church experience might not be as lame as you fear.

Perhaps Christians are leaving the church because it isn’t tolerant and open-minded. But perhaps the church-leavers have their own intolerance too–intolerant of tradition, intolerant of authority, intolerant of imperfection except their own. Are you open-minded enough to give the church a chance–a chance for the church to be the church, not a coffee shop, not a mall, not a variety show, not Chuck E. Cheese, not a U2 concert, not a nature walk, but a wonderfully ordinary, blood-bought, Spirit-driven church with pastors, sermons, budgets, hymns, bad carpet and worse coffee?

The Church, because it is Christ’s church, will outlive American Idol, the NFL, and all of our grandkids. We won’t last, but the Church will. So when it comes to church, be like Jesus: love it, don’t leave it. As Saint Calloway once prophesied to the Brothers of Blues, “Jake, you get wise, you get to church.”

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. He serves on the executive team of RCA Integrity, a renewal group within the Reformed Church of America. Ted Kluck’s work has appeared in ESPN the Magazine, Sports Spectrum Magazine, ESPN.com Page2, and several small literary journals.

They are the authors of the new book Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion.

  • dingus5

    Great word, guys. Love it.

  • cshepherd1

    Kevin and Ted,

  • mike_fitz

    As a 53 year old baby Christian, born again in March, I’d like to thank you guys for a great article. A church should feed new and old Christians with the love of Jesus Christ so they can bring more lost souls to him. You wrote “It’s a place to hear God’s word spoken, taught and affirmed. It’s a place to sing praises to God, and a place to serve others. It’s a place to be challenged.” Amen for that.Mike Fitzherbert

  • ukba

    You tell us that Jesus “as Jew, he read the Holy Book, worshiped in the synagogue, and kept Torah” and then you continue by telling us that “he commissioned the apostles to proclaim the good news that Israel’s Messiah had come and the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross (Matt. 28:18-20; Acts 2:14-36).”The references you provided prove nothing of the sort. Jesus never at any time told anyone that “the sins of the world could be forgiven through his death on the cross.” Those words are not found on the lips of Jesus anywhere in the Christian bible, except for a vague and inconclusive reference to it in Matthew’s account of the last supper. It is only an interpolation told by another commentator, Saul of Tarsus, years after Jesus’ death who wanted to make sense of Jesus supposed ‘resurrection.’ As a Jewish Rabi, Jesus would never concede to a doctrine that is contradictory to the Jewish notion of God and man’s responsibilities toward God. The doctrine of original sin and the depravity of man are foreign to Jewish thinking and Jewish scriptures. To be right with God, Micah tells us: “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on High? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8)It is obvious that to be reconciled to God sacrifices of any kind are not necessary even one’s first born sacrifice is not acceptable; all God desires instead form an individual is “justice, loving kindness and to walk humbly with God.” It is a reasonable approach. However, to insist that Jesus’ death is somehow necessary for God to forgive sin goes counter to reason, ethics, scriptures, and the teaching of Jesus himself. The doctrine of Jesus’ sin atonement is as reliable as Paul’s visions and his personal views on man’s relationship to God; it has nothing to do with what Jesus taught and it stands in complete contradiction to what is found in the Jewish scriptures. Your assertion “Perhaps Christians are leaving the church because it isn’t tolerant and open-minded” may not be the whole truth; it could be that people are finding Christianity confusing and its creeds more wanting.

  • dotherightthing3

    It’s interesting to read that some readers are really worked up over this article and take an opposing stance. How sad! It seems that every time Christianity is written about, someone wants to bash it or mock it. Other religions are not bashed in the media like this. Even the authors of this article write about Christianity in an almost apologetic manner. Do writers of other religions write like this?

  • ThomasBaum

    ukbaYou wrote, “Your assertion “Perhaps Christians are leaving the church because it isn’t tolerant and open-minded” may not be the whole truth; it could be that people are finding Christianity confusing and its creeds more wanting.”And Jesus asked, “Who do you say that I AM”?This question is just as valid for all of us today as it was back then.It doesn’t matter if “Christians” leave the Church, what matters is that Jesus Is God-Incarnate. God becoming One of us is just part of God’s Plan which God has had since before creation and is unfolding before our very eyes and God’s Plan will come to Fruition.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • lepidopteryx

    I love my church, but it isn’t where I “go to meet God.”

  • Nosmanic

    I feel the problem is that people find that what Jesus taught contradicts with what is taught in churches. The problem is not the student but religious lessons. First I find that many times all or at least a lot of the responsibility of the teaching is put on the student, students of religion don’t need any pressure if they are real because it’s there soul on the line.Second when exploring the morality of an issue I find that people really just looking to support the position that they already have. Instead of starting fresh and finding a real answer.What I want to find is a church that I can be proud to say that I am a part of. Not a perfect one.

  • christianesk

    Fellas, I think that not a few folks feel that they end up being marginalized because of the boring manner in which so many church services are delivered. A number of people that I have spoken with expressed the feeling that Sundays are all about being “talked at,” rather than allowing for discussion and fellowship. I like what y’all are saying, because I reckon I can “sense your hearts.” Right on – the answer is not to ditch going to Church meetings. Perhaps the solution is to find more ways to involve the members of the body in such a way that they aren’t so bored. To the point Sunday sermons that look more like parables, maybe? More time for uncontrived fellowship perhaps? I know that Jesus was accused of being a winebibber. I believe that that was because our Lord is a convivial sort. Jesus loves fellowship around the table, and when we get around together more often and share our common faith, I think people come alive. Bless you guys. I’m for ya! I really enjoyed your book about not being emergent. Incidentally, may I be cheeky and invite you and other readers to visit my new blog?

  • EBurkeDisciple

    UKBA – perhaps you missed Jesus say “I am the way, the truth and the life. No man comes to the father except by me”Jn 14:6 You can argue that Christianity is wrong but you cannot redefine it. Jesus’ was the lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of His children, taking their punishment into himself to provide forgiveness to them and giving them His perfect righteous life so that they could stand before God perfect in and with Him.The point here is that church isn’t there to entertain. We are called there to worship the King (not that we cannot worship continually but we must not neglect the assembly of God’s people), we go to be prepared to serve and to grow. When we fail to go, to assemble in worship together, we disobey, most importantly, and we miss a blessing, not incidentally. 2 Timothy 4:3

  • kimber2

    Leaders of the churches need to be the ones to die out to self.