Much attention has been given in recent years to addressing abuse scandals within the church. There was a time when Protestants mockingly considered abuse to be a peculiarly Catholic problem but, with recent high-profile scandals rocking evangelical churches, it has become apparent that this is not a problem exclusive to the Catholic tradition.
As good as it has been to see sin taken seriously in the broader church, it has also invited another problem. Too often, while critiquing the church, Christians have fallen into the trap of criticising the church. Too many professing Christians have used sin in the church to condescendingly mock the church. They claim to want a relationship with Christ but not with his people. The church is full of hypocrites, they say, and they want nothing to do with it. They seem to take great delight in finding fault with the church and in using that fault to justify their rejection of Christ’s bride.
Peter was not blind to the church’s faults but he refused to allow those faults to taint his view of the beauty of the bride. We see this clearly in 1 Peter 2:1–10.
He opens by exhorting his readers to “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” and to, instead, crave the pure faith as an infant craves its mother’s milk. Far from whitewashing the sins of the church, he sternly rebukes sin and gives instruction for the church to be done with these godless behaviours, actions, and attitudes. He would have been at the forefront of combatting abuse in the church.
But far from dwelling on the church’s faults, he launches into a treatise on the church’s beauty. The church may be “rejected by men,” but it is “chosen and precious,” “a spiritual house,” and “a holy priesthood.” Scripture underscores the beauty of the church and Peter reminds his readers that they were handpicked to be God’s people, having received God’s mercy. What a glorious vision of a people plagued by malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander, and who needed to “abstain from the passions of the flesh” (v. 11).
There is a lesson here for us, which we do well to heed in a social media age, in which it is all too easy for keyboard warriors to take potshots at Christ’s bride. The Lord Jesus, loved the church, gave himself for it, and is committed to purifying it. We should be careful of insulting that to which he is committed. Our attempts to destroy the church will be met by divine resistance. “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:17).
Despite its evident flaws, Peter’s view of the church was of a people “chosen and precious.” It was an institution of “honour” that was far greater than any of its members could ever dream. Little girls who dream of being princesses should know that to be part of the church is to be royalty (v. 9). Those bogged down in their sin should rejoice that to be part of the church is to be a holy people (v. 9). Those who feel dispossessed in this world must recognise that to be part of the church is to be God’s own possession (v. 9). How can we possibly stand in harsh criticism of such awe-inspiring community?
Peter’s suffering readers were in desperate need of hope. He knew that hope would never be found in isolation from the church. Hope was to be found in community. Isolation breeds consumerism. To critically isolate yourself from the body does not invite meaningful discipleship. As Carey Nieuwhof observes, “Disconnecting yourself from community is actually less faithful than connecting yourself to a flawed community.”
While we should long and work for sin in the church to be corrected, we must be careful of criticising the bride to whom Christ is so fiercely committed. Rather than criticising, speak well of the church. Rather than entertaining criticism, defend the church. Rather than isolating, identify with the church. Let others hear you speaking of “my church” and “our church.” Rather than being embarrassed, invite your friends to join you at church. Rather than distancing yourself, invite your fellow church members into your home and life.
Brothers and sisters, the church is flawed, but it is the most beautiful institution this world knows. In some ways, its flaws serve to magnify God’s grace. Yes, the church is messy, but God has particularly chosen this messy community as his vehicle for communicating his glory to the world. He didn’t have to, but he chose the church for that purpose.
As you reflect on 1 Peter 2:1–10 this morning, thank God for the church. Thank God for your church. Even as you recognise its faults, and even as you commit to helping it overcome those faults, speak well of this holy and precious people for whom Christ died.