by Sam McKeen
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. In the same way, husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. – Ephesians 5:25-30
Perhaps you have heard someone make a statement to the effect of, “I love Jesus, but I can’t stand the church.” Maybe you have said or thought this very thing. However, the truth of the matter is that it is impossible to love Jesus Christ and not love His church.
I get it. Having been a part of local churches my entire life, I know well the issues and problems that plague the church. The church is full of broken, hurting, and messy people. More than once I have wanted to walk away from the church. However, I was always reminded that I too am a part of the church and that I am a sinner. Jesus has not given up on me. He has not given up on his bride, the church.
This is a tough issue especially if you have been hurt by the church. In order to help us do better at loving the church, let us consider the following points:
1. Understand What The Church Is
The term “church” as it is often used today is vastly different than how it is used in the New Testament. Jesus Christ died for the church. The church is His bride, His body, His family. It is not a building, a man-made organization, or a worship service that people attend.
According to the New Testament, the church (ekklesia) is the collective people of God, a kingdom community, the bride of Christ. Jesus Christ is fully united with his bride. Thus, you can’t love Christ and hate His bride.
2. The Importance Of Knowing Christ
If someone truly wants to know Jesus Christ, it will eventually lead them to the place where they desire to be a part of a local church. Knowing Christ will cause them to seek out the practical expression of the bride of Christ. They will want to connect in person with other Christ followers and be a part of the Kingdom community that is the church. Knowing Christ is to know His church, of which He is the head, and to function as part of it. The idea that someone can be an obedient Christ follower and not be engaging in a local church is a fallacy.
3. It Is Not About Attending A Service
Many have a wrong view of what it means to be a part of a church. It is far more than attending a worship service. Hebrews 10:24-25 is often used to guilt people into attending a Sunday worship service. The thinking is that if you don’t “attend” a church service, then you are neglecting meeting together. Let us review what that passage actually communicates:
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. – Hebrews 10:24-25
Notice the phrases, “stir up one another” and “encouraging one another.” This is referring to God’s people gathering together to mutually minister to one another. Yes, aspects of this can take place on a Sunday morning but it also should be happening throughout the week. It is awfully hard to function the way this passage communicates if the way we “do church” is to just attend a worship service once a week. This passage is saying that if you are a follower of Christ and functioning as part of His church, you should be connecting with your church family regularly, ministering to them, and allowing them to minister to you. When we understand this, it changes our view of church and we recognize the value of connecting with other fellow believers in the context of everyday life.
Unfortunately, many see their involvement as part of a church from primarily a consumeristic point of view. In fact, often the reasons for selecting a church are based on selfish reasons. Do they have programs, events, and activities that I like or want to be involved in? Do I like the way the Pastor teaches? Are the people welcoming, etc.? The focus is on how the church serves them and not the other way around. This results in a culture where people have much higher expectations of the church and those in the church than they do of themselves. It is no wonder that it is easy for people to leave a church. They were never really connected and functioning as a part of the body that is the church. We need to examine our hearts and ask ourselves if we view the church with a New Testament mindset or from a consumer mindset.
If you have been hurt by the church or are displeased with your church, let me urge you to not slander or disparage it. The church is the bride of Christ. How would you like it if someone was going around and saying hurtful things about your spouse? Not only does it hurt the church it also hurts God’s reputation. No church is perfect. Every church is full of sinful broken people who are hopefully, learning and growing in their obedience. We ought to consider first how we personally are negatively impacting the church and what God would have us do to help our church better reflect the image of God. Perhaps you need to make peace with someone in your current or previous church. I would encourage you to not put it off any longer. Remember our head, Christ, and His great love and grace. We need to demonstrate that same love and grace to one another as the bride of Christ. After all, we cannot love Jesus Christ and hate His church. They are inseparable.