“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” Revelation 21:9
The church gets kicked around a lot these days. Certainly, from those who do not follow Jesus. That even makes sense. Why would they be warm to an institution that is antithetical to their way of living? But what hurts my heart is that there are many stone-throwers who attend church and say that they love Jesus; or used to attend church and often they are the most prolific rock-chuckers.
Often, they sit at home and watch their favorite preacher on T.V. (I’m not going to say much about this approach except to say: It is about as lazy as it gets) However, many are involved in para-church organizations which have taken the place of the church for lots of Christian leaders. Recovery groups, retreat centers, discipleship ministries, itinerant conferences, and denominational gatherings have become the preferred alternative to weekly and often mundane attendance full of sinners led by the chief of sinners—the preacher.
Every congregation is a congregation of sinners. As if that weren’t bad enough, they all have sinners for pastors. ~ Eugene Peterson
Then there are the elite followers of Jesus who decide that it is better to find a small gathering of like-minded believers who really “get it” and know how to live the Christian life on a more authentic, missional, and intentional way. They even take some pride in saying, “I don’t go to church, but I love Jesus.”
I have two problems with these neo-gnostic approaches to being a Christian. First, I don’t see a good example in the Bible of retreating from the messy living and loving of one another outside of the Body of Christ.
Where does one go to devote themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayers? Do these ministries administer the sacraments? Do they serve communion? (Some do) Do they Baptize? Do they perform marriages? Do they officiate funerals? Do they take casseroles to the bereaved? Do they visit the hospitals and minister in the nursing homes? Do they go to the jails and listen, love, and pray for broken humanity?
I reckon there are some that do, and I would say they are the exception that proves the rule.
The Biblical testimony and the witness of Christian history is that the Church is the last best hope for this dark world. The bride of Jesus; the body of Christ—these do not describe Young Life, Southern Baptist, or John Elderedge’s ministry. They describe the First Methobapterian church in your town.
These ministries are important and even essential to the edification of the Church, but make no mistake, they are NOT the Church.
But another reason I have a problem with kicking the church to the curb is more personal. I wrote in my journal this morning after doing my Lectio on 1 Timothy 3:14-16 what you see in the photo:
In the fall of 1999, I resigned my Church in Colorado and moved my young family to the Pacific Northwest. I had made sinful choices that led to this upheaval. Our destination was a little church in Sumner, Washington. My brother was the pastor of the church and they welcomed us with open arms in spite of my scarlet reputation.
They had a building fund they used to move us out to Sumner and provide funds for me to go to New Life Clinic in Los Angeles for a therapy intensive that lasted three weeks.
We were unemployed and homeless. The little church provided us a place to live next door in a house they had purchased and remodeled for Sunday School classes. They gave me a job of tearing down a condemned house next door to that house so that the lot could be used for parking. They paid for Lynette and me to go to marriage counseling sometimes twice a week for over a year. They helped pay the tuition for my oldest son to attend a private Christian school.
More importantly they loved us deeply; they loved us well. They didn’t smother us. They weren’t cloyingly sweet with their affection. Do you know what they did? They made space for us. It was like they were eating a lavish and wonderful meal at a long table and we were unexpected guests. They scrunched together, got more plates and silverware and made room for us at their table. That simple act began our healing.
After about a year, they asked me to teach a Sunday School class. Not long after that, my brother had to be out of town and he asked me to preach for him. It had been about a year and a half since I had preached. I remember standing in front of this little congregation, with tears streaking down my face, saying thank you to them for the honor of preaching to them. A man from the back of the church shouted, “We love you, Joe!”
To shorten this story, in about 3 years that church disbanded. They had exhausted themselves in giving to my family and had run out of everything to stay alive except love. Do you remember that hymn that was sung in the first church found in Philippians chapter two?
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself…
If ever there was a church that followed Jesus down into obscurity in the world’s eyes and greatness in God’s, it was Christ Church of Sumner.
They gave themselves away so that my family could stay together and find healing and restoration. Because of their kenosis and agape love, my oldest son met his future wife in that little church and we have four wonderful grandchildren; my other two sons grew up in that little church and made lasting friends. My wife and I just celebrated our thirty-sixth year of marriage. God has graciously allowed me to pastor again and has given my wife and I ministry to pastors and their families.
All that is to say that I don’t take it well when Christians neglect, throw rocks, and bad-mouth the bride of Jesus.
There’s nobody who doesn’t have problems with the church, because there’s sin in the church. But there’s no other place to be a Christian… Eugene Peterson
So, let me say this as loving as I can. Stop chunking rocks at my Lord’s bride or I’ll fight you in the church parking lot.