Every Sunday pews are filled with people. Many of them are sitting stoically, void of emotion. They don their Sunday best. Ties around necks in Windsor knots, dresses are modestly worn, children being corralled and shushed by their parents to ensure that the façade remains. The pastor, wearing his collar and vestments, hiding his imperfections and struggles. He didn’t want to wake up for church that morning either, but there he stands trying his best to fake enthusiasm. No matter what is worn, a three-piece suit, a stunning dress, when you enter into the presence of the Most High, nothing covers the mess. No Italian suit can cover the man trying his best to hide his fourth hangover this week. The lipstick doesn’t negate the slanderous words that came from her mouth. No hair gel can cover the teenager’s porn addiction, and no amount of makeup can hide the disdain she has for her parents. Everyone comes into that church with their mess, hiding beneath their church clothes, trying to turn their mess into something beautiful.
Look around, whether it be on the television, social media, or even just a conversation at the local bar. A lot of people have a poor view of the church. Whether it is because of wolves in sheep’s clothing, like Joel Osteen or Kenneth Copeland, or celebrity pastors who care about their name more than the name of Christ, or because the church has hurt them badly through abuse both spiritual and physical. These stories are all over various channels of media, and if you spend a lot of time there, you might start to think that the church is ugly, messy, and maybe even downright evil. It seems that the church is constantly being ridiculed, accused, and lambasted by people inside and out. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are a lot of people who have been hurt by the church, more than we can know. Yet, while the church is messy, and at times seems like it is just another corrupt institution, it is otherworldly.
The church is called to hold a different standard than the rest of this godless world. The church lives differently as people who are transformed by the power of the Gospel. Yet the worst part about the church is that it is lead and filled with sinners. But, the church is far more beautiful than any other institution in the world, for it is the bride of Christ, and He loves her. This is the reality of the church. It is a beautiful mess. It is filled with people who hide and cover the disturbing sin that lurks inside of them, sin that may never be spoken of or discovered. Messy people, with messy lives, and no one is as perfect as their clothing on Sunday morning. If we all wore our souls, we would look like a drunken, haggard person who hasn’t showered wearing last night’s makeup. The reality is we come before the Father naked and exposed, there’s no photoshop to alter our imperfections and it isn’t pretty. Until it is. Until that naked sinner comes and receives the gifts of Christ and is clothed in Him, dawning that white robe that covers and removes all imperfections, and makes them new again.
It is a beautiful mess, the church. For every pastor who abuses his sheep, there are far more faithful pastors loving and caring for their flock. For every egocentric celebrity pastor worried about their brand, there are far more faithful pastors quietly going about their work. For all the stories about churches that are cliquey, there are far more congregations that are welcoming, loving, and caring. See, what isn’t shown on social media and the news is the group of little old ladies sewing blankets together for new mothers, some men are helping the newly widowed tidy up her garage, there are young Christians out doing yard work for the disabled, there are families providing meals for those who are recovering from surgery. What isn’t seen is the body of Christ being ready to pray, serve, and forgive at a moment’s notice because we are all messy beneath our painted faces. Believe it or not, Christians often actually act like Christians. No, the church isn’t perfect. It is messy, and nothing about us makes it look any better. But because of Christ, it is beautiful. It’s a beautiful mess because the church is Christ’s bride, and He died for this mess. In His death and resurrection He has made this messy church into something beautiful.