It’s the time of year for scary movies, haunted houses, and tribulation trails. It’s also a season where many actively avoid anything remotely frightening. But there’s one place where the dichotomies of good and evil meet, it happens year round, and it’s called the church. The local church is a place, more accurately it’s a group of God’s people who are in community together in order to worship Him, serve and love one another, and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Let’s call it a gathering of sheep, which alerts hungry wolves, and causes shepherds to be on guard. It’s a refuge of hope, yet a place where spiritual warfare rages. The church is not for the faint of heart, but is for the faint of heart. It’s where the weak become strong, because the Strong came to be weak. Some see it as scary, some see it as sacred, but can both be true?
House of Horrors
From the world’s point of view, the global church and the gospel are offensive, calling out sin is judgmental, and the world hates Christ, hates the true church, and sees the Bible and Christianity as a religion of fools. Likewise, there are governments who persecute the church out of fear and out of the desire to maintain control at all cost. And because of sin, the fall, and spiritual warfare, many people will only see and hear about the abuse of some churches, the damage caused by wolves in sheep’s clothing, the false teachers (as in the Book of Jude), the power hungry, money grabbers, the lord it over you leaders, and the politically motivated bandwagoners. For some believers, who have been burned by such abuse, the local church can be a terrifying place that has impacted them so negatively that when they hear the word “church” they immediately cringe. It’s a place they don’t want to go because of their bad experience. Other believers may go to church regularly, worship and find value in it, but are still reluctant to join, get involved, and serve others because of their past experiences. Then every believer, whether they attend church every time the door opens or not, will struggle with sin because we are prone to wander from the truth of God’s Word. Oh, and the Bible teaches that the shepherds, sinners too, will be held accountable for the sheep. From this view, the church is a scary place.
House of Healing
But God, in His infinite wisdom, established the church to make disciples and further His kingdom and told us not to avoid assembling together. When the local church is functioning effectively, that is Biblically, and correctly, it is a house of hope and healing – a healing that may take a long time for those who have experienced abuse. The true church is a beautiful mess of sinners saved by grace, still being sanctified, struggling, yet victoriously perfected positionally in Christ. Where else can you find reprieve from the world? Where else will fellow believers care for each other, provide meals, send a note of encouragement, pray for and cry with one another? Where else will believers sharpen each other like iron sharpens iron in preparation for battle? Where else is there a victory cry over sin because of what Christ has done? Where else can ultimate victory over sorrow and death be expressed at a funeral? Where else are we taught to overlook offenses, forgive seventy times seven, while still talking about the consequences of sin and holding each other accountable through church discipline? Where else can difficult questions be asked and answered, differences of opinion and theological disputes debated, sometimes agreeing to disagree out of love for Christ and one another?
Yes, the imperfect local church can be scary and beautifully hope-filled at the same time. If you’ve ever been hurt in or by the church, know there is healing in Christ and that healing is often manifested in how His love is carried out through a local body of believers. So, be discerning, persevere, and don’t cut yourself off from the church out of fear. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is victorious over all evil and His perfect love drives out fear. The same Jesus who drove the money changers out of the Temple will one day return, and the church will be made perfect, no longer stained by sin.
17 But you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. 18 They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers, following their own ungodly passions.” 19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life. 22 And have mercy on those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh (Jude 1:17-23).