A Personal Apology for the Local Church

This is my apology for (argument in favor of) the local church.

There is a lot of post-evangelical angst directed toward the church for its myriad of failures. Those experiences are real and those churches (or at least people within those churches) need to repent of what they did. But there’s a difference between acknowledging the sins of one local church and universalizing a personal experience of church-caused pain into the modus operandi of all local churches everywhere. It grieves me that you’ve been hurt. It breaks my heart that a place of comfort, encouragement, and worship brings back memories of heartache and misery. And some of this agony is beyond what I could ever understand! But I hope you can hear me: not all churches are like that.

I’ve been hurt by churches. I could regale you with stories of how local churches have failed me, oppressed me, charged me falsely, etc. I could make you feel bad for me and deepen your disdain for the totally-unconnected-to-my-experience local church down the street from where you’re reading this.

But I won’t. I refuse.

You see, for as much pain as I have experienced in the local church, I love her. Yes, I love the local church.

Because I have also seen the local church surround a grieving family (120 people in a room made for 80) on a Tuesday night just to show love and support.

Because I have seen the local church pick up a broken marriage and create space for it to be built back into something beautiful.

Because I have seen the local church feed scores of hungry people through food pantries.

Because I have seen the local church show up on a Saturday morning to count shoes or sort crayons for poor children in Guatemala and Burundi.

Because I have seen the local church reach into a Brazilian favela with the hope of the gospel and transform lives.

Because I have seen the local church provide resources for young mothers with nowhere else to turn.

Because I have seen the local church stand faithfully in cultural storms that threaten its existence.

Because I have seen the local church lift up the marginalized and comfort the broken.

Because I have seen the local church stand for justice in the face of oppression.

Because I have seen the local church love up close.

And so I ask you not to abandon the local church. Don’t leave her and try to do Christianity on your own. Maybe the pain is to great for you in one particular church. Try another. But don’t give up on the primary organism that God has put in this world to bring the hope of the Gospel in both word and deed! Don’t turn your back on the imperfect, broken, in-need-of-just-as-much-grace-as-you local church. She needs you. She loves you.

And if you’re honest with yourself, you know that you need her. The Christian life wasn’t designed to be lived alone. You weren’t saved to be a lone ranger in the wilderness of the world. No, you were saved into a community, a body of believers that spans the globe and shatters every national, ethnic, and economic barrier that you could imagine. You were saved into a body where we build one another up with our spiritual gifts and encourage each other to bear the likeness of Jesus Christ more and more. It is in the local church that you will find comfort when you’re broken, peace when wars rage around you, and encouragement to grow when you get tired on the journey. It is where we are called out for our sins and restored into right fellowship with God. It is where the Word of God is preached and his gracious sacraments are given.

The local church is an imperfect place, I know. And it’s a place with people who are desperately in need of grace just like you. Only you know what you need to do to come back. Maybe you need to be forgiven. Maybe you need to forgive. Maybe you need a little time for healing, or maybe you need to recognize you’re broken. Please, don’t leave the local church. And if you’ve already left, come back! She needs you! And you need her.

Marcos Ortega

Marcos Ortega (MDiv, Westminster Theological Seminary) is an Assistant Pastor at Goodwill Church (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) and lives in the Hudson River Valley in New York with his wife and two daughters.

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