I like an illustration that Philip Yancey uses to explore what God might think of the church (with all its imperfections):
The composer Igor Stravinsky once wrote a new piece that contained a difficult violin passage. After several weeks of rehearsal the solo violinist came to Stravinksy and said that he could not play it. He had given it his best effort but found the passage too difficult, even unplayable. Stravinsky replied, “I understand that. What I am after is the sound of someone trying to play it.” Perhaps something similar is what God had in mind with the church.
I remember hearing a similar illustration from Earl Palmer, a pastor who was defending the church against critics who dismissed it for its hypocrisy, its failures, its inability to measure up to the New Testament’s high standards. Palmer, a Californian at the time, deliberately chose a community known for its cultural unsophistication.
‘When the Milpitas High School orchestra attempts Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the result is appalling.” said Palmer. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the performance made old Ludwig roll over in his grave despite his deafness. You might ask, “Why bother?” Why inflict on those poor kids the terrible burden of trying to render what the immortal Beethoven had in mind? Not even the great Chicago Symphony Orchestra can attain that perfection.
‘My answer is this: The Milpitas High School orchestra will give some people in that audience their only encounter with Beethoven’s great Ninth Symphony. Far from perfection, it is nevertheless the only way they will hear Beethoven’s message.’
I remind myself of Earl Palmer’s analogy whenever I start squirming in a church service. Although we may never achieve what the composer had in mind, there is no other way for those sounds to be heard on earth.
99, Yancey, Church – Why Bother?