The church is a messy place. All of the dysfunctions that are present in "the world" are present in one degree or another in the church. It is no use denying this. In fact, denying the flawed realities of the church is counterproductive to the work of advancing the Gospel. Too often people have been invited to 'get saved' and join the church because Jesus will repair their marriage, fix their kids, banish their depression, and give them better self-esteem. They bite on that shiny lure only to discover that they've been pulled into a reality that seems to be just as messy but less honest about it.
This is not to deny the reality of sanctification. God forbid (Rom 6:1)! But sanctification is often times maddeningly slow (Yours, of course, not mine). This means that you and I will have to worship with, serve with, learn with, and labor with people who are at least as sinful as we are. But of course this is by design. The Gospel is best proclaimed by men and women who are still as dependent upon the redeeming grace of Jesus as they were the moment they were converted. The radical justice and mercy of the cross is best displayed in the lives of saved sinners, a reality Luther referred to as simul iustice et pecator (simultaneously just and sinner). It is in the lives of the broken yet redeemed that grace still retains its beautiful aroma.
If the church was made up of fully sanctified people then how would the reality of the Gospel be put on display? No one would need to be forgiven and no one would need to forgive. If everything in the church were peachy then no one would need mercy or be required to show mercy. In the non-messy church there would be no need for patience, willing inconvenience, or sacrifice.
Gabriel Fluhrer over at Ref21 has written a helpful post on the reality of the church this side of heaven.
[The] church is made up of people like us: sinful, slow to do good, quick to speak and gossip, full of envy, strife, jealous and hatred. That is what we are apart from Christ.Read the entire post HERE.
However, we have been redeemed. We are united with Christ. And now, we can, by God's grace, begin to see the effects of this union in our daily lives. But we still sin and this shows up, perhaps most pointedly, at church.
Added to this great problem of our own personal sin is the fact that we live in an anti-church age. I passed a church here in Philadelphia the other day with these words on its sign: "Barely organized." Of course, that is hip these days. We don't want "organized religion" - we don't want "our daddy's church." When I saw the sign, I couldn't help but wonder, "How many of us would go to a doctor's office with the same words on its sign? "
But the church is the place where God has called us to have our souls doctored - hearing the Word preached, serving our fellow saints and speaking and doing good to those without. However, the church is not only God's means of Gospel proclamation, but a place where souls are restored. It is the place where we can find healing, perhaps in unexpected ways - like learning to get along with the people there who are not like us.
This is one reason I am very allergic to the burgeoning "house church" movement here in the U.S. Having the privilege of knowing suffering saints in actual house churches that meet in countries where saints are persecuted mercilessly, I find it almost laughable that we have such things here in the land of the free and home of the brave. It is indicative of the anti-church age in which we live, however.
I wonder, of ten, why are people, particularly young college students, drawn to these mysterious entities called house churches here in the U.S.? Not because of persecution. Rather, I think, it is because they are dissatisfied with the church. And I am sympathetic to them - barely. The church is a place where you can get hurt. It is full of people who are insensitive, unloving at times, insecure and socially awkward.
Here's the rub though: you are one of those people. The problem with the church is not the institution itself, for God has ordained it and sent his Son to die for her. No, we're the problem. So before you go running to a house church here in the free West, ask yourself: am I running to Jesus or running from sinners? You can only run to Jesus as you run with fellow sinners. If you run away from them, you'll be running in circles, not to Christ.