If you spent any time in church as a child, you probably learned this rhyme: “Here’s the church. Here’s the steeple. Open the doors. Here’s all the people.” It was usually accompanied by hands held together (the church) with index fingers pointed heavenward (the steeple) and thumbs forming the doors. The rest of the fingers interlocked on the inside to form the people. It was kind of like Sunday School gang signs or something.
When we look at the Bible, we understand that the church is not a building or a steeple. It’s people. People who are indeed interlocked together in Christ. And, because the church is people, church can often be messy. It’s never as neat and as ideal as we’d like it to be. We’d like things to run in perfect harmony, but they seldom do. Despite the clear teaching of Scripture and the empowering work of the Holy Spirit, church is sometimes…often times less than ideal. As fallen people, we say and do things that often hurt instead of help. We become embittered, angry, and unforgiving. Feelings get bruised, egos get hurt, and by the time we’re done we’re left with one big mess. And then, we look around for someone to blame.
Sadly, we learn that Satan relishes these messy times (sometimes, he may even be the instigator behind them). The evil one has a way of making our messes even bigger. He pokes and prods and stirs things up in the lives of people…in the life of the church until our little messes are big, and our big messes are enormous. We understand that as believers, we are far too prone to give in to the old nature and sin on our own. We don’t always need any pushing or goading. We usually do a fine job of sinning by ourselves. So, understand that this isn’t a treatise simply saying that the “devil made me do it.” He didn’t. He does, however, have a way of working when we are the most vulnerable. He may be at his most aggressive after a great victory in our lives or during a season of great struggle. Regardless of the context, we can all attest to the fact that Satan has a way of cashing in on his opportunities.
Paul reminds us that our struggle is not with flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12). While the struggles we face may have names and faces and personalities, there is often a spiritual dimension involved that we do not see. Satan is indeed working within the walls and behind the doors of the church to break up those interlocking people. He desires to break them apart and thus weaken the testimony and the ministry of the church. Simply stated, he works to derail and distract the people of God from being the church.
So, what are we to do in the midst of our mess? For one, we must look to God in prayer (Ephesians 6:18). We cannot overcome a spiritual struggle with physical strength. Prayer is essential in times like these. We must also strive clean things up as quickly as we can. Gossip doesn’t help. Nor does speculation. Taking sides just makes things worse. In the messes we make, there are no real winners and losers. Instead, by God’s grace, we love and we forgive our way through these things. We confess and ask God to help us clean up and move forward the best that we can. We hold to the truth of Scripture and work diligently to live it out daily. Finally, we affirm our unity. We’re together in this thing called church…even when’s it’s messy. Especially when it’s messy. We’re interlocked. We’re together. We’re one.
At the end of the day, the church (building) and the steeple and the doors don’t matter. The people…the real church does. We’re the ones redeemed by the grace of God to live lives that bear witness to Him. And they can, even in the messes we make.