Love Jesus, Love His Church
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” (Ephesians 5:25-27, ESV)
If you insult my wife, you are no friend of mine. If you loudly and publicly proclaim your loyal friendship to me, but you can’t stand to be around my beloved bride, then your boastful claims to loyalty and friendship are hollow, empty, and meaningless to me. Any husband who loves and cherishes his bride would say the same thing.
Yet, ironically, there seems to exist today a whole host of individuals who think they can be loyal friends to a particular husband while at the same time despising his bride. These individuals are “Christians” who think they can be loyal friends, followers and lovers of Jesus Christ while at the same time despising Christ’s Bride; and that Bride is the church. Christ is the Head and Husband of His church, and we who are His church are His Bride. Passages such as the one from Ephesians quoted above show this to be the case. But these particular individuals think that, while Jesus is cool, the church is lame at best.
“But, I don’t hate or despise the ‘invisible’ church – the church as a living organism consisting of all true believers! It is only the visible, institutional church that I can’t stand.” But the main problem with this kind of excuse is that the only church we can experience in this present age is the visible, institutional church — that is, formal local assemblies of believers covenanted together in responsible membership who gather together in worship around the ministry of the word and sacraments, and who are held accountable by the church’s loving discipline and counsel. The “invisible church” (i.e., the elect, true believers in Christ) ordinarily manifests itself within the context of the “visible church”, which includes all who profess faith in the gospel and their covenant children, and which is marked by the faithful preaching and teaching of God’s Word, the right administration of the sacraments, and the faithful exercise of biblical church discipline (i.e., genuine accountability). Wherever you find an institutional church which manifests these three marks of a true church (however imperfectly it may do so), there you have a true church of Jesus Christ, and there is where you will find members of the “invisible church.”
Certainly there is much about the visible, instutional church which may legitimately be criticized. As the popular hymn “The Church’s One Foundation” rightly states, the church in this present age is “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed”. It is easy to point to many deficiencies, problems, and sins in today’s church, as it has been the case throughout the church’s history. The truth is that in this present age there will always be problems, issues, shortcomings and sins in the church, for Jesus has not yet returned in glory, and the church is still in the process of being gradually sanctified over time. I don’t say this as an excuse for the sins and faults of the church. Certainly when sins and faults and shortcomings are detected in the visible church, we who are members therein ought to do what we can to work for the church’s renewal and reformation. There have been numerous times in the church’s history when God has graciously granted great periods of reformation, renewal and purification to His visible church on earth, and believers would do well to pray earnestly for God to send new “showers of blessing” from on high.
But the point here is this: It is easy to criticize the church from the outside. That is the lazy man’s way. It is much more difficult to become part of the solution by being a responsible member of a flawed yet glorious church.
Jesus loves His church — including His “visible”, institutional church! He gave His life for His elect church. Yes, the church is flawed. But Christ has not abandoned His church, and He is still working within her to prepare her for glory. The bottom line is this: If you think you can love Jesus but despise His church, you are either ignorant of what the Bible teaches about Christ’s church, or you don’t really love Jesus. You can’t love the Divine Husband (Jesus) if you despise His blood-bought Bride (His church).
Over at “Worldview Everlasting” confessional Lutheran pastor Jonathan Fisk addresses this matter in a thought-provoking video, “Freestylin: Jesus = Religion”. Check it out here: http://www.worldvieweverlasting.com/2012/01/13/freestylin-jesus-religion/