Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Church Softball and Church Membership, Part II: What Jesus Thinks About the Church

When we talk about the nature of the Church and what it means to be a member of it, any real discussion must be done under the BIG umbrella of what Jesus thinks about the church. In seeking to talk about the nature of marriage, Paul spoke of the intimate relationship that Christ has with his church. Being that Christians are a Christ/Word-centered people (meaning our theology and thoughts about how to become and live as Christians is driven by what the Bible teaches us), any understanding of church membership must be completely informed by Jesus' view of the church from the Word.

In Ephesians 5, Paul states:

"25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ LOVED the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP for her, 26 that he might SANCTIFY her, having CLEANSED her by the washing of water with the word, 27 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. 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but NOURISHES and CHERISHES it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband." (Emphasis added)

In this passages, Paul tells of both the obvious attitude that Jesus displays about the church and what he does on behalf of the church. I have added emphasis by capitilizing some key words to point it out.

-Christ LOVES the church.
Jesus has a profound compassion for the collection of believers that make up his bride. An earthly husband seeks a one-flesh relationship with his bride as Christ has sought this ultimate oneness with his own bride.

-Christ GAVE HIMSELF UP for the church.

The divine love of Christ is revealed in his sacrifice of himself for his bride. This is necessary because he is holy and she is sinful. Her sin deserves wrath and punishment. In his love and mercy, he takes punishment upon himself in order that there might be forgiveness and oneness (i.e. relationship). This is the expression of Jesus' "agape" (Greek for "self-sacrificing love) love for his bride.

-Christ SANCTIFIES the church.
-Christ CLEANSED the church.
He washes his bride in the power of his word in order that he might bring her into relationship with himself. He continues to mold and change and make her into the image that pleases himself and brings great honor to their relationship.

-Christ PRESENTS the church-holy and without blemish-to himself in splendor.
It is because of Christ's sacrifice that the church is able to be made holy. One day, this relationship will come to complete and perfect consummation as the savior husband shall return to judge the wolrd and receive his bride to himself for all eternity. There shall be perfect oneness and unity in the future.

-Christ NOURISHES the church.
Christ works on behalf of his bride to give her exactly what she needs. His presence. His counsel. His correction. His encouragement. His intercession before the Father. His nourishing feeds his bride to help her to walk more earnestly in holiness. His nourishing helps the bride love him more.

-Christ CHERISHES the church.
Jesus prizes and protects his bride. He defends her in the face of her enemies. She is precious to him. He has given much to have her.

These realities should have a profound effect on how followers of Christ think and live in light of the special relationship we have with Jesus and with one another. Something should be deeply stirred in our spirit's when we think of all the Christ has done for his bride. We should feel the honor and privilege of being loved by Jesus. We should be moved to treat the bride of Christ--the Church--with supreme honor and admiration. Our membership as part of Christ's bride should be seen as a profound privilege.

We are to love Christ. We are to love the church because Christ loves the Church. We should give ourselves to the church fully as Christ our Savior and leader has done. We should seek, as led and empowered by the Spirit, to nourish and cherish the church in our roles as part of the body. We are to participate in our relationship with our savior and with one another as members of the church. We watch what we say about the church and how we say things, just as we would carefully watch what we say about any man's wife. We want to care for the church just as Christ.

For the Christian, the first and most precious relationship is with Christ. However, the relationship with Christ's bride is not secondary. It is very much a vital and essential part of the primary relationship. Just as we love Christ, we love the church.

A revival in loving the bride of Christ (we do not worship the church but love it!) is essential to the local church recovering what is primary to being a member of the body. It is essential in order for us to rightly participate in the life and ministry of the church.

So here's the question: how does the local church teach its members to rightly know the biblical nature of the church? How does the church teach right congregational participation in light of Christ's attitude about his bride, the church?

No comments: