We've all heard the countless reasons Americans don't like the church. Bookstores are full of writings that critique the church and talk about why people have left the pews.
Basically the church has been taking a beating, as one Christian author says.
"There's really nothing out there that we could see that really affirmed the local church," Ted Kluck, a lay member of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Mich., told The Christian Post.
His pastor, Kevin DeYoung, has read the books and seen the reports and laments the growing movement of having God without the church.
"I see the church derided with mockery and scorn. I see critics exaggerating her weaknesses and incapable of affirming any of her strengths," DeYoung says. "I see many leaving the church instead of loving her for better or for worse. I see lots of my peers who have 20/20 vision for the church's failings, but are nearsighted to their own pride, self-importance, and mutual self-congratulation."
In a rare move, Kluck and DeYoung have put out a book that offers reasons why they love the church – church not as plural for Christian, as most people seem to define it, but as the institution.
As DeYoung writes in Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, "Increasingly, we hear glowing talk of a churchless Christianity. ...These days, spirituality is hot; religion is not. Community is hip, but the church is lame."
But while non-Christians are liking Jesus and not the church and Christians are being told they can do fine with God apart from the church, the authors are urging them to give church another chance.
"We don't want Christians to give up on the church," DeYoung says.
Considering most are familiar with why so many people are disillusioned with the church (i.e. they're tired of the church's failings; it's filled with hypocritical and judgmental people), we'll go straight into why the church is worth it and why it's even essential in a believer's life.
Firstly, Christ loves the church, DeYoung says in the beginning of the book. The church is the bride and also the body of Christ, as the Bible describes it.
"The church we love is as flawed and messed up as we are, but she's Christ's bride nonetheless," the Reformed pastor writes. "And I might as well have a basement without a house or a head without a body as despise the wife my Savior loves."
Another thing Christians must remember is that there will always be aspects of the church that are unpopular, including an objective moral order and a Gospel that is not only about love and grace but also judgment and repentance.
And too many times, churches have been too eager to be liked, DeYoung notes, whether it's lusting after academic recognition or cultural validation.
"Being disliked by teenagers and twentysomethings is not our biggest problem," he points out.
Kluck, who offers a lay person's perspective in the book, also notes that rejection is going to be a part of the lives of believers.
"Not everybody is going to like us, or our message," he says.
Still, Kluck wants people to go and experience church despite its unpalatable and sometimes imperfect packaging.
"There are some core things about churches that on the surface may not seem terribly entertaining, it may not have amazing coffee, the praise team might not be drop dead gorgeous and talented but as long as the preacher’s preaching passionate expositional sermons from the text, as long as the praise and worship is God-centered and authentic and real, as long as your church body is praying together, meeting one another’s needs, reaching out to the community, as long as those things are in place, those are signs of a great church," he commented to The Christian Post.
DeYoung describes the church as both organism and organization. It's a growing and living thing and at the same time, it is comprised of a certain order, with institutional norms, doctrinal standards and defined rituals. And Sunday morning worship, he notes, isn't about coming together for a few songs and an oration. It's an "exercise in covenant renewal, a weekly celebration of the resurrection, and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet to come."
Stating it bluntly, DeYoung stresses, "Christianity is not whatever we want it to be. It is, whether we like it or not, organized religion. And the church is what gives it its organization shape and definition."
And that's the main reason why many people don't like it.
"People don't like the church ... because the church has walls. It defines truth, shows us the way to live, and tells us the news we must believe if we are to be saved," the East Lansing pastor writes.
But it's those walls that Kluck seems to love and finds beauty in. Offering some practical reasons why he loves his church, Kluck lists: propositions (what his church believes and affirms), sincerity, small group, Regner (a filmmaker buddy), mentoring, structure, elders and deacons, lack of happy endings (believers don't always have the nice, utopian story where God makes everything better), community, and preaching.
"There are many people leaving the church, and supposedly finding God," Kluck writes. "But I found Him here, and by His grace, I'll keep finding Him here. I love my church."