When I say “American Church”, what comes to mind? Materialistic? Afraid to suffer? Intellectual? Luke-warm? Unfortunately, you’re probably thinking something negative. Perhaps it’s just me, but I’ve noticed it’s in vogue for Christians to criticize the American church as a means of spurring it on to greater holiness. Although this prophetic voice is not without fair cause, I’m uncomfortable with it (even though I’ve been guilty of it). The church, after all, is the bride of Christ, precious to him. We may be rife with cultural influences and weaknesses (as is the church in every nation), but how can you paint a broad-stroke label over a church with millions of members?
I had a realization the other night, surrounded by beautiful women who love Jesus (in other words, they are part of the flawed American Church). After discussing the person and work of the Holy Spirit, we started sharing testimonies of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. One lady heard the Spirit’s voice clearly when she was four-years old, a warning, “Stop” as she was about to unknowingly do something dangerous. Another woman experienced the guidance of the Holy Spirit in making some difficult decisions. And yet another woman nearly avoided a car crash thanks to the overcoming need to worship. As we spoke, the palpable presence of the Spirit began to stir amongst us. Such a sweet and real peace settled in our hearts.
This is the American Church, I thought. It’s alive with people who want to follow Jesus with every fiber of their beings, who have ears open to the Spirit, who are committed to doing the will of the Father. When we look up close at the individuals who comprise this American Church, we see there are many faithful, repentant, seeking followers of Jesus.
I write this to encourage you. It’s tempting to focus on denominational issues that question the Lordship of Jesus Christ, or on church splits, or media stories highlighting the failures of Christians. As we ponder exactly who is this American church, it’s essential to remember Calvin’s distinction between the visible and invisible church. The visible church is the church that we see – memberships, church attendance, people who profess Christianity. The invisible church is the church that God sees – the committed hearts, the faithful service, the Christ-honoring souls. The point is that God judges the hearts of men, and knows who his people are. We exercise discernment as we “judge a tree by its fruit.” And as I look up close at those Christians around me, I see a lot of good fruit.
Let’s choose our words carefully the next time we talk about the church, remembering that the church is God’s beloved Gospel-bearing vessel.