What’s your understanding of the church?


The Bible uses various images to describe the church, to help us understand its many facets. When I came across this meme a few years back, it stayed with me, because it helped me better understand the church as a type of ‘spiritual gym’ which I am a part of, because it’s a space where I can receive God and other people’s help, to keep working on my many dysfunctions and become healthier over time. It also helps overcome false images of the church – like the understanding that it is an exclusive club for those who claim to be perfect or morally superior than others.

Now admittedly some Christians in our dysfunction might make this latter claim – in which case the charge of ‘hypocrisy’ is justified, when we don’t live up to who we claim to be. But that is certainly not the teaching of the Catholic Church. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time. Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ’s salvation but still on the way to holiness” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #827)

The church will always be a mixed bag – a work in progress. The reference to ‘the wheat and weeds’ in the quote above, in fact refers to a parable that Jesus taught about the church or ‘his kingdom on earth’ that he came to establish. We find that in the Bible in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 13, verses 24-30. You can also find it online if you don’t have a Bible. In fact, that is also a good image of each of our hearts, who are disciples of Jesus. I am a mixture of wheat and weeds. The good news is that Jesus, working through the power of the Holy Spirit can transform more of those weeds into wheat in time, as we submit to his work in our hearts and lives.

I’ve been a part of the Catholic Church for most of my life, but really began my own journey of following Jesus as his disciple when I was 20. Till then, I didn’t have a clear understanding of my own need for freedom from slavery and addiction, of the gift of healing and freedom that Jesus was offering me, and how to receive that gift. This, in spite of growing up in two Catholic parishes. Which brings me to my next point. Which is – the culture of Catholic parishes in various places and times can be very different from one another. And that depends a lot on who’s leading and how they lead the parish community. I’ve experienced a whole range of cultures in Catholic parishes over my lifetime: from ones which are very dysfunctional, legalistic, judgmental and corrupt, to those which are spaces where we easily encounter the mercy, healing and love of God.

But here’s a key point and my encouragement and invitation to you. If you’ve experienced Catholic parishes with a bad culture, don’t give up on the church. Instead ask around and look for one, where there is a life-giving culture, and people are thriving. You’ll never find one which is perfect, just like you won’t find a Christian who is perfect. We’re all a work in progress. But what’s key is that we’re seeking to grow and become healthier. We’re honest about our failings and weaknesses and are growing in asking forgiveness and forgiving one another. We’re learning how to open ourselves to the transforming work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. We’re learning to love one another, as Jesus loves us.

The temptation which some have fallen into is one of reductionism. Where they use their bad experiences with certain Christians or certain church cultures which they’ve experienced, to ‘tar everyone with the same brush’. They reduce all Christians and churches to the level of their bad experience, and present this as a reason – really an excuse – to justify rejection of the church and the Christian faith as a whole. But that – as the meme suggests – is to shoot oneself in the foot. It’s denying yourself the opportunity to experience the gift of healing, freedom, newness, integrity and transformation that Jesus offers you in the church, that will allow you to flourish in your own life.

Don’t listen to the ‘scoffers’ and ‘mockers’ of the church, who delight to ridicule the church and Christians, by pointing exclusively to all the ‘weeds’ in the church and the lives of Christians and seek to reduce us to that alone. ‘Scoffers’ and ‘mockers’ are not unlike bullies. Bullies are often insecure and feel a need to ‘prove’ that they are superior to others. So they find people who are physically weaker than them and ‘beat them up’ or are otherwise ‘violent’ towards them, in order to try and get what their heart needs. Mockers use their intellect to build a straw man /caricature of a person or a group, and then tear them down, using a warped sense of humour. They are not willing to seriously engage with what the other believes or the reason for their beliefs, and to ‘strong man’ their argument. They are not interested in discovering what is true, but only in making themselves look good and others look bad and ‘proving’ their point in this way.

If you want to see the true identity of the church, look at the saints – the holy men and women of God up and down the ages and in our own times. Look at the communities, movements and religious orders who have laid down their lives to serve others out of love and done so much good in our world.
Most of all, ask around and seek to find Christians and churches who can support you in your personal growth and to flourish, so you can become the best version of yourself.
Happy to help you in that process, if you wish! Please message me privately.

Explore More

Growing in a Relationship of Mercy as couples

Through experiencing my wife’s love when I fail /least deserve it, has made me more grateful for our relationship, because it has taken away the fear of being punished /rejected for my failures. I also feel closer to her as a result. And it has helped me to become more merciful myself.

Witnesses of Jesus’ Resurrection

The theme of ‘witnesses’ – people who’ve experienced something – speaks to something that is really distinctive to the Christian faith. Christianity is not a philosophy – though it can incorporate philosophy; it’s not primarily a mysticism – though it can incorporate mysticism; it’s not a religion that comes welling up out of natural experience – though it can accommodate that. Christianity is about something that happened; and there were witnesses of it. Without that, Christianity falls apart.

Evidence of the Resurrection

What is the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead? I want to focus on just one feature that John the Apostle especially draws attention to in his gospel account – namely, the burial cloths left behind in the tomb.