“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…”
(Ephesians 5:25 ESV)
“Christ proclaimed the kingdom, what he got was the church.” This quote comes not from some bitter and burned out pastor. It is not from some “Free-Believer” or “Emergent-church” mantra meant to pull you away from your local congregation. No, unfortunately, this is a quote from one of my Church History professors in seminary. Not only is this unbiblical (see Matthew 16:18), it lowers the esteem of the church.
While it is true that the church in its visible existence, is a fractured, divided, and human organization, the true church of God – which we confess to be one, holy, and catholic (universal in time and place) – is truly a beautiful thing. I love the church which God valued so highly that He would send His Son to establish it, the church that Jesus has purchased with his own blood, the church that has been called out of sin and called to proclaim the Gospel to a broken world.
I love the church. I don’t love a denomination; those, I am learning, I can do without. I love the church. I love the congregation that I serve, but my love for the church goes beyond this local expression. The church I love is that true fellowship of believers that transcends time and space. I come to church (locally), knowing that we are an imperfect community; but I love the church because in this community I catch a glimpse of what God has intended life to look like in His Son.
Because I am a guy who really likes lists, here’s a list of reasons why I love the church:
Jesus loves the Church – If Jesus loved the church so much that he would give himself up for her, should I not also love his church? The purpose of the Christian life is to be “like Christ,” to think like Christ, to live like Christ, to love like Christ. If Christ loved His church so much that he would lay down His life for her, that He might keep the church holy and without blemish, how can I have contempt for His bride? Jesus died so that he could gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad (John 11:52).
The Church is the body of Christ – “For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body – Jews or Greeks, slaves or free – and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (I Cor 12:12-13). If you have confessed Jesus Christ as your savior, it is by the power of the Holy Spirit (I Cor 12:3); and if the power of Spirit has brought you to make confession, then you are part of the body of Christ. As part of the body, all believers have different gifts and abilities, but all are necessary. The Christian needs another Christian to speak God’s word to him. The visible expression of that body may seem dysfunctional, but there can be no genuine expression of faith outside the body of Christ.
Kevin DeYoung writes in his study on the Heidelberg Catechism, “There is no New Testament evidence of churchless Christians. New converts in the early church were baptized in Christ and into a body. Acts tells us the Lord added daily to their number those who were being saved (2:47). The Lord wasn’t saving random people into individual saving relationships. He was adding people to the already visible, identifiable body of Christ.”
The Church disciplines me – For some, this may be the reason why they don’t like being part of a local church. For others, they may have never experience church discipline, because their church leaders lack the courage to admonish sin in the truth and grace of the Lord. But the church’s discipline is necessary for our walk with the Lord. I need to be told when I have strayed from Christ into sin; when my foolish pride triumphs over my humble submission to God; I need to be reminded, often of my absolute dependence on the grace. When a church is faithfully preaching and teaching the Word of God, and when the body is faithfully listening, we will find teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness (II Tim. 3:16).
The Church restores me – If all I received in the church was discipline and correction, either I would learn to completely hate myself because I am a miserable failure, or I would find a different church that maybe took it a little easier on me. The Church, in addition to exercising discipline, should also be a place of gracious forgiveness and restoration. The Church is the hospital for the sin-sick soul, the place where healing and mercy reigns. When sin has been confessed, when wrongs have been exposed, the church is the one place in the world where grace and forgiveness fall like rain.
The Church strengthens me – I have found that by the time Sunday comes around, I need the Church as much as the Church needs me. Worshiping with other believers, drawing together with brothers and sisters in Christ, listening to and studying the word of God together, invigorates, encourages, and strengthens me. Bonhoeffer said, “The physical presence of other Christians is a source of incomparable joy and strength to the believer.”
Be sure to thank God today for the Church, the Body and presence of Christ in your life. Thank God for the Church that you attend, and if you don’t attend, find someplace to call home, so that you can encourage and be encouraged by your brothers and sisters in Christ.
Grace and peace,