Church. We hear that word and have an instant reaction: good, bad or in between. Many Christians have experienced the pain of a legalistic, judgmental or cruel church body. It makes you never want to return to the church again. In a gathering made up of imperfect people, all of whom should be striving for holiness and love for the Lord, there will undoubtedly be wounds. The question is…what do we do after the wounding?
Scripture is clear that we are not to forsake gathering with other believers. This is because Christianity has always been and always will be communal; it cannot be walked out in isolation. The Old and New Testaments show us how important community is to God, because it is in community that our faith is lived out! The greatest two commandments God gave were to love HIM and to love others (Matthew 22:36). We can’t love others, which Jesus commanded, if we refuse to put ourselves in His church.
But if we’ve been hurt, going back to community is hard. We have to obey the Lord, but we also need healthy boundaries. Can we learn to love the church again?
First, God never calls you to something He won’t equip you to do. He may not be asking you to go back to the church that hurt you, but He IS expecting you to go to a new church community where you can go. As a Christ-follower, you are a member of the church family whether you like it or not! And Jesus loves the church—so much so, He died for her. The men and women in church buildings around you are YOUR brothers and sisters. They have been wounded just like you. They have been looked down upon and rejected. You will be in good company.
Second, God’s heart is unity, and He will accomplish this if you let Him. Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus: “Built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:20-22) Put faith in that promise. God is going to build you up together with other imperfect people, making you a unified structure that brings glory to God and victory to your own life.
My third point relates to the Enemy’s role. See, the Enemy wants division in the church body. There is nothing that He desires more than to rip apart Christians one from another, keeping them from effective ministry. He wants to see us captive to anger, bitterness and judgment. He wants those who have been judged by Christians in the past to turn around and judge everyone else. That is his plan. We beat him at his own game when we REJECT bitterness and choose to love the church anyway. We beat him when we trust that Jesus knows better, and that if HE loves the church, we can too.
This doesn’t mean we return to unhealthy churches, or that we don’t set up boundaries with people who continually abuse us (including spiritually). Boundaries are healthy and should be in place. But we’re also expected, by God, to be in community. We are expected to be taught biblical truths. We are expected to live out those truths around and for others. You might have to try a few different churches before you find one that’s a good fit, which is great! The diversity of the body of Christ is one of the many blessings we find within it.
In my own walk through church hurt, I found freedom in this remembrance: I was hurt by imperfect people, but I am also an imperfect person. I hurt people too. God has shown me grace for growth, and I need to do the same.