Being part of a local church can be deeply frustrating can’t it? Churches aren’t perfect and the people who come aren’t perfect. That can lead to all sorts of problems.Even those of us involved in church leadership an easily become frustrated and negative when things don’t seem to be going as we want them to or when people don’t seem to change. The risk is this, that instead of seeing a church as having problems, we begin to see it as the problem.
I think the problem has been exacerbated in recent years by two other issues.
- The growth of individualism. This does two things. First of all, I tend to think in terms of my own personal walk with God, discovering my gifts, fulfilling my potential, pursuing my calling. The local church is simply either a vehicle and context or even obstacle to this. Secondly, it encourages a consumer mentality. I look at the church to see what I can get out of it.
- The growth of the parachurch movement. Throughout the last century, we saw a huge growth in parachurch organisations and events. Most of these had good aims and often do very well at fulfilling them. Under this umbrella, I’d include mission organisations, charities, Christian festivals and conferences such as Keswick, Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor etc and even some of the denominational structures. To repeat, I’m not criticising the existence and work of these organisations nor denying the good that they do. However, I want to gently suggest that the temptation has been to see the arena of activity and excitement as being somewhere else other than the church. I got to church on Sunday out of duty but it’s elsewhere that mission and evangelism happen, it’s elsewhere that I go for spiritual refreshment and feeding.
You may remember the film “Dirty Dancing” and the infamous line “Nobody leaves baby in the corner” as Patrick Swayze’s character returns for the final dance and ensures that his sweetheart takes centre stage. What if we’ve left the church in the corner?
Ephesians 5:25 says:
“25 For husbands, this (submitting to one another) means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her”
The context is Paul’s instruction to submit to one another as a consequence of being filled with the Holy Spirit. He instructs wives to submit to their husbands who are the head, or spiritual leader in the home. However, the submission is meant to be mutual. The husband isn’t to lord it over his wife. His submission is expressed through sacrificial love.
My aim here is not to talk about marriage and husbands but to pick up on that phrase “as Christ loved the church.”
I have become increasingly challenged by this. Christ loves his church. He loved her by giving his life for her. He has called her to be his bride. The book of Revelation moves to its climax by bringing the spotlight on this wonderful relationship between Christ and his bride.
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.”
“Praise the Lord! For the Lord our God,[b] the Almighty, reigns. 7 Let us be glad and rejoice, For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,and his bride has prepared herself. 8 She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.” For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.
Wow isn’t that incredible. Despite our sin and shame, God loved us, rescued us and bought us through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Today, we may see The Church weak, embattled, often divided but from God’s eternal perspective, she is Christ’s beloved bride and one day she will be arrayed in her wedding day finest, beautiful, reflecting His glory.
Do we see the church like that? Now, at this point it’s worth noting two things. First of all, the eschatological reality does not deny or take away from the present reality. We are not asked to look at things with rose tinted glasses on. Sin needs to be challenged.
Secondly, we are talking about the whole church here, worldwide and historical. However, I do think it is right to apply what we say about the whole world wide church to individual local churches as part of that church not least because throughout the New Testament, we see that the focus is on the local church. It’s local churches that are witnesses to their communities, local churches where people gather for worship, teaching and mutual encouragement, local churches where leaders are appointed and local churches where the members gather to make important decisions such as church discipline.
So the local church matters. Christ loves the local church. If he loves the church, then we too should love it and learn to see it as he sees it. We cannot afford to go through life treating the church badly, harbouring bitterness against it or acting as though it is an imposition on our time.
This is important. We can go through life, loving the Gospel, loving Jesus, being very busy in ministry but if we don’t love his bride and capture his vision for her then, we may have missed out on something vital. Have we really loved him?
With that in mind, I sat down the other night and started to jot down a list of ways that I personally and we corporately can love the local church. Here’s what I came up with. You may want to add to it, so feel free to email in with your suggestions.
By praying for it
By showing hospitality
By open and generous giving without pre-conditions
By giving time
By not judging others
By not speaking harshly to church members
By making the local church the centre and vehicle of mission
By not creating unnecessary disputes and divisions
By seeing myself as part of it
By being willing to challenge and properly rebuke sin
By wanting to see it grow and even change
By being willing to use my gifts to build up others
By sometimes being willing to forgo a perceived gift or calling for the sake of the wider body’s mission/ calling
By being willing to do things we don’t see as our gift or calling but filling a need
By making sure that membership is made up of genuine believers and decision making is in submission to Christ
By not quenching the Spirit
By not silencing The Word
By creating an environment where church feels like home and family
By not making decisions together that feel right for the short term but will hinder/ put at risk the future church’s ministry
By not making comparisons between churches
By not ‘dating the church.’ Instead, getting stuck in, being faithful
By not looking down on others in the church
By not allowing hierarchies, cliques or “us and them” attitudes to creep in
By sharing with the church what I believe God is saying to it
By forgiving others and not holding onto bitterness
By valuing the church’s history and traditions but not grasping onto them and living in the past.
By not putting the church before Christ making it into an idol. Instead, we should always be pointing to Christ and seeking His glory.
Now, that final one is vital. We love the bride by honouring the bridegroom. He alone is the true hope of the world. He is the one who saves and sanctifies him. Without Christ, his church is meaningless.
 Ephesians 5:21.
 Ephesians 5:22.
 For more on this see Dave Williams, Marriage at Work (Unpublished MTh Dissertation, Oak Hill Theological College London: 2010), 43-44.
 Revelation 21: 1-2.
 Revelation 19: 6-7