The church as we know her is a mixed bag of good, bad and quirky, comprising all kinds of denominations and independent churches of slightly or greatly varying beliefs and practices. Yet like the animals in Noah’s ark, many do co-exist in harmony, though some cannot get along, and most do not love each other. The church is marked historically by her failures to truly represent and obey her Lord; by her disagreements, division, and many other imperfections. The history of the church does not make for pleasant reading. Certain chapters can be disturbing.
The Church is Bought with Jesus’ Blood
Nevertheless, the church as we know it is the Beloved of God. It is deeply loved and greatly favoured by God. The reason for this is the finished work of Christ. The church is the people of God, past present and future, and they have been redeemed at a great price, the precious blood, the death of Christ our Lord. Acts 20:28 makes this crystal clear: “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood”. And apostle Peter echoes, “For you (the church) know that is was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (1 Peter 1:18-19). The ancient imagery used here is one of purchasing slaves from their owners in a slave market. Silver and gold was used to buy them over to new ownership. However this currency are inadequate for spiritual redemption. Only the blood of Christ – the finished work of Christ is sufficient. When such an infinite price is paid for redemption, what is redeemed must be infinitely valuable and loved by the new Lord. Despite the church’s imperfections, our Lord loves it with great length and breadth, depth and height.
The church was redeemed to be a blessing not a blunder, a gift not a gaffe that embarrasses her Creator. She was not a mistake but a masterpiece created in Christ Jesus for good. She may now seem old, frail, and failed, yet she is filled with divine possibilities and potential. In fact, she is ever partaking of the divine nature of the love and holiness of God. She fails, but thankfully, she fails forward. God is her patient and long-suffering Sanctifier and Lover. It is in this unwavering love of God that her faith is rooted, and her hope deeply anchored.
Adam’s Rib is the Church
An interesting biblical image of the formation of the church is that of God taking out a rib from Adam’s side to form Eve. St Jerome preached, “Adam’s rib fashioned into a woman signifies Christ and his Church”. Just as the woman was made from man, so the church has her origin in Christ. We can see the deep sleep of Adam as a foreshadowing of Christ’s death, from which God obtained the divine material with which the church was built. Do not forget it was precious blood shed by a pierced, suffering Christ that formed the church, even the church as we know it today, in all its imperfections. Always appreciate and give thanks for the church, God’s gift to mankind, formed at such a great cost.
Love the Church As Christ Loves Her
God loves the church, and so should we who are children of God. I love my church, not the church as an abstract idea, but the local church, the “extended family” that gathers at Lorong 27A, Geylang, with all its strengths and weaknesses, successes and failings, gifts and lack. This community has been my family, my bomb-shelter, my clinic, my friends, my help, my school, my sandpaper, my sharpener. This is God’s design: that the church, broken as it is, becomes the instrument and space that shapes and forms, wounds and heals us – and little by little (“from one degree of glory to another” 2 Cor 3:18) we are being transformed into the likeness of Christ.
Too many Christians make use of the church to draw benefits for themselves and their families instead of doing what Christ did: Christ loved the church and gave himself for her. We consume the services of the church; and complain like customers when the “products” and “services” are not up to our expectations. Sadly, many Christians have become consumers and not lovers. We who are followers of Christ will find ourselves loving the church and indeed giving ourselves to serve, encourage, and intercede for all the saints with all perseverance and supplication (Eph 6.18).
Father, help us to see we are not called to judge the church, but to love her and to give ourselves to her in intercession, encouragement and participation. May the church you love become a glorious church, ready as a Bride for the coming King. Amen.
(This is part 3 of a series: “A to Z of Christ’s Finished Work”)