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Church bashing seems to be a favorite pastime these days, both for those outside the Church and those inside. Why? I’m not sure. My best guess is that those outside do so hoping the Church will hear them and change for the better, and those inside do so to let outsiders know they’re heard, so they’ll give the Church another chance and/or stay open to the Gospel message. I sure hope I’m right!

Both are positive goals, but the ends do not justify the means. In fact, they are counterproductive.

Jesus loves the Church. He died for Her. If you are a member of the Church, He expects you to love Her like He does (John 13:34-35). If you’re not a member of the Church, He still expects you to treat Her with respect (Matt 10:11-14).

Not feeling it? It doesn’t really matter. In matters of obedience, God’s will trumps personal perference every time.

For those of you who may be struggling to act your way into feeling right now, here are a few tips to help you on your way:

Consider Her a collective whole. According to Scripture, “we who are many are one body in Christ and individually members of one another” (Rom 12:4-5). That Christian you don’t particularly like? Assuming he/she is actually a follower of Christ and hasn’t just hijacked the name like so many do these days, he/she is just as much a part of the Church as that Christian you naturally love. They are not mutually exclusive.

To hate the Church is to hate them both. To love the Church is to love them both. To discuss/address the Church is to discuss/address them both, so choose your words carefully, both those you speak to others and those you speak to yourself. Don’t use the word Church unless you mean every single member, or you might unintentionally wound someone you love, incriminate an innocent, and/or talk yourself or someone else into believing something that’s just not true. Be as selective and specific as possible.

Don’t confuse Her with Jesus. Jesus alone is perfect (Heb 4:15). The rest of us are working on it with the Holy Spirit’s help (2 Cor 3:18), but we aren’t there yet. We don’t claim to be the Way of salvation, only to know the Way. If you hold us up against Jesus and expect from us what you yourself cannot deliver, you’ll be disappointed every time. We are His ambassadors, after all, not His substitutes (2 Cor 5:20).

Expect Her to make mistakes.The (Church) body is one and has many parts” (1 Cor 12:12). As none of those parts will be made perfect until they are reunited with Christ (Phil 1:6), they’re going to act up from time to time—to different degrees and with different motives, granted—but members of the Church are never unanimously guilty of the sin you discern in the few, or even the many. If they were, God would likely go ahead and snatch the Church home rather than have His name disgraced.

Remember, even as some members are failing and offending, others are doing their dead level best to love and serve with the Holy Spirit’s help. Let that encourage you. Of course, Christians shouldn’t act up, and they know better, but that’s how it goes when you’re wrestling with that sin nature we all share (Rom 7:24-25).

Understand, regeneration of those who put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation may be instantaneous (2 Cor 5:17), but transformation into the image of Jesus Christ takes a lifetime. Rather than being disillusioned by the inevitable, choose instead to be encouraged by the grace and mercy God has shown toward helpless sinners like us. We are proof there’s hope for everyone.

Rebuke Her properly. Don’t drag the Bride of Christ into the public square and stone Her. If you have a problem with something that one, several, or many of her members have done, go to whatever lengths necessary to handle the conflict discreetly and in person as the Bible requires (Matt 18:15-20).

When private rebuke is not possible, take time to calm yourself so your anger doesn’t lead you to sin (Eph 4:26), consider whether or not you’re the right person to address the issue (Matt 7:3-5), and choose your words carefully, being as specific as possible and seasoning your words with salt (Col 4:6) to preserve life through the power of the Holy Spirit.

After all, should your words bring sorrow or remorse, you want it to be the kind that leads to repentance, not the kind that leads to discouragement and death (2 Cor 7:10). The consequences, should you cause anyone inside or outside the Church to stumble, are not worth any temporary satisfaction delivering a public ‘zinger,’ growing a fan base, or earning likes/shares might bring you (Luke 17:1-2).

Forgive Her. Emotions aside, release the Church of any debt you feel She owes you so you can move ahead in your own relationship with God (Matt 6:15). It’s really not as hard as we make it sometimes. Simply extend to Her the same grace and mercy God has extended to you out of gratitude and love for Him, treating Her better than She deserves and showing restraint in your response to Her. Your emotions will follow.

Serve Her. Where your treasure lies, there your heart will be also” (Matt 6:21). Want to like/love the Church? Invest in her and see if you don’t start taking a personal interest in Her health and well-being. Besides, if you’re the one who knows what’s what and you walk away, where does that leave the rest of us? At that point, you have no right to complain.

Pray for Her. Pray that She will live up to God’s expectations, not yours, and you’ll get results (1 John 5:14-15), assuming, of course, that you are living up to God’s expectations as well (Jas 5:16). Over time, your faith-filled prayers will align your will with God’s and you’ll become a co-laborer with the Church instead of Her enemy, able to discern the necessary changes your prayers have helped bring about.

Bottom line? Whether you are a member of the Church or not, you must tread lightly. Bashing Her is serious business. She is the Bride of Christ, after all, and Her Bridegroom isn’t someone you want to mess with.