The follow was written for Chris Gallagher’s preacherspen.com site, as part of a series of guest blogs on the subject. Mine was published earlier in the month of August.
In my bedroom is a relic. Not a religious artifact, but a family heirloom of sorts. On a shelf sits a carved turkey caller that my grandfather made years ago with his own hands. It is precious to me not only because it was his, but because he made it, he carved it with his own hands.
My sentiments about that turkey caller echo in a terribly weak way my feelings and convictions about the church of God. I made a list of what I love about the church, but the points are but swirls around the center. I love the church because my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ created it, not merely with his own hands, but with his precious blood.
By whatever metaphor Scripture uses to describe it, construction or marriage or commerce or bodily function, the message is the same: Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, God among men, gave up his life and subjected himself to death to be raised by the Spirit and thereby gather to himself a people, precious in his eyes above all things and creatures.
Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders are both a warning and an encouragement:
“Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son” (Acts 20:28 NET).
If God obtained or purchased the church with the blood of his own Son, then it deserves the greatest attention and the deepest devotion.
I love the church because that is where I am connected to Christ. One of Paul’s favorite phrases is, “in Christ.” To be in the church is to be in Christ. And by that phrase he means, among other things, to be united with him, to know him. The church is that realm, like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, where we walk in the shade of the afternoon with God, where the emotional drapings that hide our fears and failings drop away and honesty and intimacy prevail.
The church is not a dispensable appendage that can be sought out when and where we want it, but part and parcel of the divine plan, the center of his threesomeness, the heart of his mission, the latitude and longitude of his activity to redeem mankind. If some have conflated the church to be the entire kingly reign of God, others have divorced it from the kingdom. It is the present, earthly manifestation of God’s kingdom where all his subjects submit to his sovereignty and serve at his pleasure. Outside of the church no one can do anything, none can do his will, none can hear his approval, none can find his forgiveness, none can harbor realistic hope of his eternal life.
That is what I love about the church. Not because I have identified great things, attractive features, programs that cater to my whims. But because God is in it, works through it, settles upon it, exalts it into the highest heaven for all time. And this he will do, whether I love it or not, whether I obey him or not, whether I submit to his calling or not.
How quick we are to point out the errors and failings of congregations! We take them for evidence that God’s church is no better than the denominations. We tout them as arguments that, since none is perfect, we are all in the same big, religious boat, whatever the title above the door. The covenant terms and specific pattern are jettisoned because we are not perfect. Ah, how the progressives miss the boat completely, for lack of understanding the mind of God!
And it is here what I love about the church. Because God’s plan is perfect and no man will successfully rout or twist it. Because the New Testament is God’s covenant for weak creatures — God knows us through and through — and he has made the church to be exactly that place for us and for all. But some think they can whisk it away and replace it with a denominational view. They will see, they will see!
Yes, what I love about the church is that God has seen it all, taken us into account for who we are, and has built the perfect conveyance for our needs and usefulness. Whatever departures, on the right or on the left, that occur are not evidence of God’s failure, but human choices that will still be folded into his plan and used for his purposes. So we’re right back to the church-as-kingdom, where God is sovereign and we need not seek to improve or reject the pattern he has given.
Because God is in it, because the Spirit enlivens it, because Christ created it and bought it with his own blood, what is there not to love?