Good questions have a way of making you think about them for a long time after you answered them. So, here’s a question I was asked recently, that I’ve been muddling on ever since:
Which do you love more, your local church or the ideal Church?
I answered by saying that I love my church to the degree that it conforms to the ideal church. Well, I didn’t actually say it that smoothly. It took me a minute or two to get there.
Augustine makes this very point in Book 14, Chapter 6 of his work City of God. His famous dictum, so often misconstrued “…he should hate the sin but love the sinner” was written in the context of his discussion of man’s nature, the importance of the will and its act of love.
This question really challenged me, because by saying that you love the ideal Church more than your church, you will find yourself forever frustrated by the local church. The truth is we’re still on our way to where we are supposed to be, but we haven’t arrived yet. The truth is that we in the Church will let you down. We’ll lie to you. We’ll gossip about you behind your back. We’ll be unforgiving. We’ll misjudge you. We’ll cut you down and betray you. Sadly, we are as broken and corrupt humans just like the rest of humanity.
The difference that “salvation” makes is in our Hope. What awaits us is the complete renewal of our corrupt an imperfect humanity into incorruptible and perfect humanity.
Okay, so that’s the theology behind the idea. The point is that we should love what is good. It is right for us to appreciate it and praise it and love it. The rub is that everything on this side of “salvation” is corrupted.
Let’s take as an example my love for my wife. No matter how hard I try to overcome it, my love for her is corrupted and inwardly bent. Even though I am saved and I am being transformed, that transformation has not fully (or even mostly) happened yet. So, I am not fully “loveable” yet. In fact, there are still a good number of things about me that she cannot…and should not love. She can only truly love that which is good in me. That which is evil she must hate.
The same is true for the church. She is not fully “loveable” yet, but she will be someday.
posted by: caleb