Most Christians are familiar with the Latin tag semper reformanda, which is literally translated ‘always to be reformed’. It’s often understood as ‘always reforming’, and interpreted as ‘constantly seeking to improve’. The grammatical force of the Latin, however, is rather ‘always requiring to be reformed’, ie always broken, always in need of repair. Or, as a friend put it the other day, ‘Of course the church is broken. It’s the body of Christ—what else could it be but broken?’

I live in a diocese that went through a bitter split four years ago, and most of its members have tales to tell of painful episodes; and ever since then diocesan conversation has been dominated by a perceived ‘need for healing’. I have been really tired of this for some time, but castigated myself for being hard-hearted and unsympathetic, and continued to do my best to look sympathetic whenever the familiar refrain was sung. But my friend’s remark put it in perspective for me: all this moaning and weeping really is out of place. Not that I’m not hard-hearted and unsympathetic—I am, believe me. But in this case, if no other, my ‘get a grip on yourself and snap out of it’ response happens to be the right one.

There is no example in either the New Testament or in Church History of a church that wasn’t broken by sin, usually coming in more shapes and sizes than anyone can keep track of. What my diocese has gone through is not just normal, but inevitable. Yes, there have been some unusual features about our recent experience, but they are merely curiosities; they make absolutely no difference to the basic situation: we are a broken church. We always have been, and always will be. Nothing will change this until Christ comes again in glory—neither the passage of time, nor a new way of being church, nor recovering lost property, nor getting a new bishop who will be soft-hearted and sympathetic. All those things may be desirable, but not for the reasons most of us want them, and they may even further complicate the situation if we get them without a more realistic view of our present self-absorption.

The Great Commission was given to a broken church. It was a broken church that spread Christianity into every corner of the globe. Being a broken church is no reason not to get on with the work of proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus Christ to a world that is as broken as we are. And the sooner we stop whingeing about what we’ve suffered, the sooner we can get on with the work we’ve been given to do.

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