I experienced through pain and joy that the church is not a country club where you come dressed in Sunday best, but a place—a home—where rags are welcomed.
I grew up in a church that preached legalism. Later I attended congregations where revealed sin was met with judgment and alienation. As time passed, I got in the habit of leaving, retreating from community the moment it became uncomfortable. I focused on each church’s flaws—lack of discipline, hypocrisy, poor leadership—in an attempt to shift blame from myself. When I came to Metro Pres, I didn’t expect anything to be different. I was looking for a church community while I was in Philadelphia, but thought I would soon be leaving the city. It was just a short-term commitment. But as the weeks went by, I found myself drawn into the community. I had always taken pride in my independence, shying away from commitment and vulnerability because I saw myself as strong. Yet I still craved a sense of stability, and now thought I had found that stability at Metro Pres. Slowly, though, I began to learn otherwise. As I immersed myself into the lives of others at church, I found that they are as broken and sinful as me. I experienced through pain and joy that the church is not a country club where you come dressed in Sunday best, but a place—a home—where rags are welcomed.
The famous London preacher Charles Spurgeon exposited 2 Corinthians 8:5 by saying, “The church is not an institution for perfect people, but a sanctuary for sinners saved by grace—who, though they are saved, are still sinners and need all the help they can derive from the sympathy and guidance of their fellow believers. The church is the nursery for God’s weak children where they are nourished and grow strong. It is the fold for Christ’s sheep—the home for Christ’s family.” Christ’s death for His church is the beauty of the gospel. Jesus knew that His twelve disciples, His closest companions, would all betray Him (Matthew 26:31) when He walked towards the cross. Yet while knowing these things in advance, He still served them, washed their feet (John 13:1-11), and lovingly rebuked them with the truth (John 13:21). He calls us as well as them to “love one another just as I have loved you” (John 13:24)—encouraging us to do this because He has loved us first. Living with sinners is far from easy, but living with sinners who are united through Christ in the body of the church ultimately leads to inexplicable joy. Even in the Old Testament, the Israelites were far from perfect. They fought, complained and sinned just like we do today. But the good news of the Gospel is that God fulfills His promise. We see the story of the Israelites come to fruition through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As a church, a body of believers, our God calls us to be united through the death of His Son who joyfully endured the cross on our behalf.
Looking back, I can see that God always drew me back to church. Why did I want to keep coming over all those years? Because God, Who Himself is love, is in the midst of this community. I am encouraged knowing that though sin causes pain and suffering, His mercies are new every morning (Lamentations 3:23). Spurgeon called the church “the dearest place on earth.” Oh, what a joy it is to be a part of the family of Christ! May the lyrics of this hymn by Isaac Watts be true in our hearts: My soul shall pray for Zion still, While life or breath remains; There my best friends, my kindred dwell, There God my Savior reigns. — Heidi currently attends Metro Presbyterian Church and is a member of the Leadership Team.