The church is still the bride of Christ

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Imagine turning up at a wedding, heading towards the groom and telling him he was a great mate, a general all round good guy and your favourite friend. Then after a short pause you tell him “but your bride is a hideous troll isn’t she. Can’t stand her mate.”  A few minutes later you find yourself ejected out of the wedding, not sure what has gone wrong. You don’t understand why your mate responded the way he did. After all, you had told him how much you liked him.

When it comes to Christ and his bride, you cannot claim to love Christ whilst hating his bride.  This is so important to say in the context of the recent horrific stories about abuse in the church. It’s important for two reasons. First of all, this needs to be said to those who claim to be believers in Jesus Christ and to speak for him but who have participated in abuse.  You cannot claim to love Christ then seek to harm his bride.

 You seek to harm his bride when:

  • You feed her poison or junk food in the form of unhealthy or even heretical teaching
  • You cause physical or emotional harm by singling people out for bullying, sexual abuse or emotional torment.
  • You join with Satan as an accuser of the Brethren by bringing, entertaining or gossiping false accusations against other believers.

This is how Paul refers to Christ and the Church in Ephesians 5:

“… Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.[b] 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault.”[1]

It is also important for us to hear those words again as we respond to the horrendous abuse stories that we’ve heard about over the past few weeks. Whether you are simply hearing the stories or you’ve been a victim, it would be very tempting to give up on the Church right now. I want to encourage you, plead with you even not to. 

I write as someone who has challenged the assumption that we are dealing with just a couple of rotten apples. I’ve argued persistently that these  high profile cases betray a culture in desperate need of reformation that is as deep and extensive as the reformation of our doctrine 500 years ago.  However, it is important that even, and especially as we challenge, that we see the church as Christ sees it.  It is his body, his bride and Christ loves the church.

First of all, we are reminded here that Christ loved the church. This is a past tense love. His ongoing love for his people is rooted in what he has already done.  Christ died for his church, he died for you and me. This means that we are already forgiven, reconciled and restored.

Secondly, we see Christ’s purpose for the church. His aim is to present her spotless and without blemish.  Of course, this does not describe her as she is today.  We look forward to that day when Christ returns and his bride is ready.  However, at the moment, we are a work in progress. Love for the church will give a keener sight and a greater concern for those stains and blemishes not to point them out to show up and shame but out of a concern to see them removed so the bride will be completely beautiful.

It is right also to talk about Christ’s present love for the church. The Church right now is far from perfect but it is still His bride, it is still His church. We still have the presence of his Spirit with us. So, right now, there may be plenty of discouragements.  There may be plenty of things that need challenging and reforming. I’ve mentioned several of them on this blog. Yet at the same time, we must not lose sight of what God is doing with and through his church at this present time. 

Look again and you’ll see around the globe, so many brothers and sisters drawn into Christ’s family who love their saviour and are hungry for his word.  You’ll see people passionate about sharing the good news and you’ll meet people who truly love one another, often sacrificially. It’s a church that includes people who have persevered through suffering, opposition and persecution. It’s a church where grace, mercy and compassion are offered each day.

There is so much to grieve us at the moment. But once again, don’t give up on the church. E love our saviour and so we love his bride.

[1] Ephesians 5:25-27

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