March 22, 2013

What Does It Mean To Love The Church?

On October 31 1517, Martin Luther purportedly nailed a letter to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenburg Germany.  His letter was titled "Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences."  You and I now know it today as the Ninety-Five Theses.  

The Ninety-Five Theses of Martin Luther were literally world changing.  In the vernacular oftoday, we would say "it was earth-shattering!"  And it was.  What Martin Luther did with his letter protesting the sale of indulgences was to effectively change the practice of Christian worship as well as change the socio-economic structure of Europe and ended unmitigated Papal rule throughout the world.  

But here's the question:  Why did Luther challenge the Catholic Church?  If he was unhappy with it, why didn't he just walk away?  

The answer is:  Because he loved it.

Martin Luther understood that the Church is the Bride of Christ.  He understood that it is more than a group of like-minded people.  He understood that it was more than an institution.  He understood that the Church was not a set of rules, traditions, and beliefs.  It is the living, yearning, called-out Bride of the Christ.  As such, it is cherished by its groom, its King, and its Savior.  And he, Martin Luther, loved that Church.

Martin Luther never meant to leave the Catholic Church or create something separate from the Catholic Church, he simply wanted to challenge what he saw as corruption within.  Even so, to do what he did in his day was an unimaginable bold move.  

He was cursed by many, some tried to kill him, and he was even excommunicated from the Church he once belonged to.  People who called themselves his brothers and sisters condemned him and manifested all sorts of hatred and enmity against him.  Luther wasn't alone either.  since Luther wrote his famous letter, hundreds of men and women all over the world have given  their reputation and sometimes their lives for what has mistakenly been labeled a love for God's Word.  While these men and women love God's Word, it is because of their love for His Bride that they risk so much to share their love for His Word with them through truth, love, and reformation.

So here's my question for us:  What does it mean to love Christ's Church?  And then for application, How do I love Christ's Church?

Truthfully, I don't hear many people saying today, "I love Christ's Church".  I hear, "I love Jesus," or "I love God's Word,"  or "I love my church", meaning the place they worship and/or the people they worship with (but, sadly, not always both).  Usually, when I do hear it, it is being said by theologians.  So what does it mean?

Let me answer that by looking at what it doesn't mean.

Loving Christ's Church does not mean loving the experience of worship on Sunday morning.  
Jeremiah 17 says:  
9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?

I Corinthians 13:1-2 says: 
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

The human heart is fickle and wicked, and it can betray and mislead even us if we don't know how to discern it.  I think we as humans often confuse emotional highs or intellectual stimulants as love for something.  It happens in sports, thrill-seeking, the pursuit of money, or even a hobby can provide an emotional high or an intellectual stimulant that causes us to enjoy a particular experience. The same thing happens for many people in Church worship either through music or Biblical teaching.  They enjoy the experience of worship or instruction in church, but that doesn't necessarily mean they love Christ's Church.  The heart is wicked and fickle.  To look at a response to an experience is a dangerous judge of whether I love Christ's Church.  It is based on feeling, not necessarily truth.  I have had to repent of this.

Loving Christ's Church does not mean loving to serve.
In Matthew 7, Jesus says:
21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

And Again, I Corinthians 13 says:
3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.

What is interesting about the verses from Matthew is that they come immediately after Jesus says "You will know them by their fruit," (v. 20).  Not everyone who serves, even in the most "valuable" ministries will produce fruit in their lives keeping with the will of God.  This is where the saying " The road to Hell is paved with good intentions," is inserted.  Men can fall in love with doing, performing, and being needed, and never know the heart of God.  It can be a love of power, position, or purpose.  Loving to minister or serve or sacrifice is not the same as loving the Church.  Likewise, it can be a poor judge of whether I love the Church.  It can be based on pride or guilt, not necessarily on truth.

Loving Christ's Church does not mean loving to fellowship in Christian Community.
In Matthew 7:9 Jesus says:
“You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!"  In order to put this in context you need to read 7:1-13.

And in Matthew 26:40 we read:
Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter.

"What do these verses have to do with Christian Fellowship?" you ask.  Well, it is hard to put a verse on the idea of Christian fellowship as we have it today.  Typically, when we think of Christian fellowship, we think of small groups hanging out or studying together; we think of Sunday morning worship and conversations; we consider the activities of youth groups and modern internet enabled interactions.  But here's what I want you to think about in relation to these two texts.  The Bible is replete with instruction about guarding our behavior and our words.  I find that many of the experiences I have had in "Christian Fellowship" are just Christian versions of worldly behaviors.  Here's a few of the things that come to mind:
gossip, inappropriate jokes or conversations about inappropriate content among redeemed individuals, celebration of activities that should have no place in the communal gathering of redeemed Image Bearers, such as certain movies, video games, or pass-times.
I fear that too often, we have taken a very privileged and holy thing and turned it into nothing more than a worldly fraternity with the name "Christian" stamped onto it.  
As the first verse says, we can ignore the motives and agendas of Gods heart and do things for our pleasure and zeal, while actually replacing His instruction with our rationale.  
The point of me using the second verse is to show that we can be in the presence of Jesus, but miss the point of being with Jesus.  Fellowship is more than getting together.  It is about our identity.  If our identity is in Christ, how can our fellowship not be?  A love for fellowship is not a good judge of my love for Christ's Church.  It can be based on human nature, not necessarily on truth.  

So what does it mean?  I believe God wants us to love His Church.  Jesus wants us to love His Bride.  To Him it is more than those things above.  It is definitely more than a place or an event that happens once or twice a week.  Christ's Church is the Great Image Bearer of Christ.  It is His hands and feet.  It is His body of which He is the Head.  It is His already, not yet Kingdom of which He is the King.  It is the redeemed agent by which and through which He brings peace, hope, joy, healing, and salvation to a disobedient and broken world.  It is the heart of flesh that hears His voice and responds to it in a world of deaf, blind, and calloused hearts.

I believe to love the Church means to desire the fullness of Christ's Sovereignty in this life to the praise of His glory, for the sake of His Creation.

To love the Church means to see his rule in the hearts and minds of people; to see His name lifted higher; and to see His redemption in living motion.

How do I do it?  How do I love the Church?
That sounds great, but practically how do I discern what loving the Church looks like?
I can think of several things.
1)  I submit to the accountability of others as they use the authority of the Word of God to minister into my life.  IT's not about them.  It's not about me.  It's about God's glory being manifested through my transformation.  Romans 12:2  If I love the Church of Christ, I will love being affected by the Spirits use of fellowship.  I will crave accountability and mentorship as well as being used to do the same.  The danger is when I love being the second without the first.
2)  I am actively involved in supporting the direction of the Churches vision and purpose.  I am not talking about my local churches mission statement.  I am talking about the biblical standards given to the Church to fly in there advancing Battle against the gates of Hell.  Lest we forget, the Gates of Hell will not be able to stand against US, not vice-versa.  We have a good work to do which God has prepared for us since the foundation of the World.  I believe the bible sums it up in three areas.  Guard the faith, Exhort one-another, and teach sound doctrine.  Evangelism comes under those, it is a mandate, not a purpose!  
3)  I get planted for the purpose of being used by Him to bear Fruit for Him.  What I am talking about here is the difference between attending Church because I am a sheep wanting to be used by my Shepherd, or attending Church because I want what I think is most important for me.  People get planted into Churches for selfish reasons.  They shop for years and place themselves as judge and jury over the hearts and minds of entire congregations or the leadership therein.  When they finally plant, it is not for the reason of being used of God, but using themselves for God.  The difference is monumental and harkens back to Matthew 7 and I Corinthians 13.  When we plant, it should be for the purpose of being used by Him to blossom for Him and by Him.
Granted, there are Churches that we should run from, especially if they resist the rightly divided Word of God in their leadership.  Desiring peace in the absence of obedience to God is not Biblical peace.  Placing allegiance to leadership or loyalty to a group of people over right fellowship with God and stewardship of His resources is clearly not a place responding to His sovereignty.  Staying there after following biblical accountability has not meant with Biblical response to His Sovereignty is to be party with fools scripture says.  Worship under such circumstances is a mask that is not pleasing to the Lord, because it does not come from a pure heart or Holy hands which serve Him in every other area of life - and it does not respond to His Sovereignty in those areas of life likewise.
But that is very different than saying, I don't like this music, or his way of teaching, or their boring children care...let's find another place.

There are probably more ways of loving the Church practically that you can think of.  If you would like to share them I would love to see a comment.  May God truly bless you as you love His Bride this week.

With you for His glory