Monday, May 19, 2014

Bigger Inside than Out

G. K. Chesterton is said to have remarked once that the Church is bigger on the inside than it appears from the outside. Saints come in all kinds and sizes and from all manner of origins to become the baptized people of God.  On the outside the Church appears monolithic, homogenized, and narrow.  From the inside, we see the marvel of many members (organs) of the body, so very different and yet functioning together as one by God's grace and design.

The critics see "the Church" as one voice, very often a hard, uncaring, judgmental, dogmatic, and aloof voice.  That once voice is, in reality, many voices speaking and singing and acting together (like the voices that become one in the creed or the liturgy or in hymnody).  The hardness looks very different to sinners who expected condemnation and found the surprise of grace that forgives.  That uncaring appearance seems unbelievable to those inside who cast their cares upon the God who has cared for them even to death on the cross.  That judgmental attitude looks very different from the inside when the hierarchy of sins is less significant than any sin for they all have the same consequence (death) and they have all been redeemed by the same blood.  Dogma from the inside is the voice of truth in a world too full of lies, the voice of unchanging truth in a world where nothing remains the same, and the voice of the truth that delivers what it promises and does what is says.  Aloof from the inside is hard to accept when the Church is found always in the company of sinners, among the sick, with the broken, and beside the dying.

There are those who think that diversity should be reflected in the Church through many opinions, many truths, and many preferences.  This kind of diversity separates and destroys.  We are all diverse and different yet united in common need and in common deference to the love that has redeemed us each and all.  This is what we see inside.  I am not sure that it is possible to turn the picture around.  For the only way you see the inside is by faith.  The expansive nature of the Church is hidden to the world but to those who are being saved, it is joyfully obvious.  The Bride of Christ stands in regal splendor -- not because of her own holiness but because of the righteousness of Christ that covers her and all her members.  We are not the holy who are recognized by God as good but the sinner, the dying, the broken, and wicked whom He has forgiven, enlivened, healed, and made holy.  This is what you see from the inside.

Some people lament the imperfections of the Church and her members and claim this is an impediment to the evangelization of the world.  I beg to differ.  The world will not be convinced by the perfection of the Church but by the work of the Spirit who works where the Church (God's people) speak the Christ in word and action.  The fact that God works through imperfect people and flawed structures is not an impediment to the faith -- for if we were holier and more effective we would need grace less!  No, indeed, that God works through sinful and wicked people whom He has forgiven and made new and that He has established His Church in and through these same flawed and failed people is the surest mark of His grace and mercy!

Maybe the Church does appear small from the outside but that is not how she looks from the inside.

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