As I sit here in a local cafe on a semi-misty, not too cold Wednesday afternoon, I am listening to the conversation behind me. A conversation between what seems to be two old friends – two elderly women. And they are having an all too familiar conversation: evaluating the pros and cons of different churches, their theology and their community/lack thereof. Two women, with a lifetime of wisdom, not using their wisdom to build one another up, to see the beauty in the congregations they find themselves in, but choosing intentionally to judge, and to break apart.
Unfortunately, all I seem to hear everywhere is how the Church is doing something wrong, and how everyone is so hurt/disillusioned. Of course they are: fallible human beings pastoring fallible human beings. Have we lost the guidance of the Holy Spirit when it comes to our pastoring? Is it the constant inundation of knowledge, leadership books and messages that have led us into striving to love, striving to have compassion, striving to pastor, and not recognising the Spirit’s leading in these areas?
The reality is, I don’t know. But you know what, all I can think of in this moment is that the Church is the Bride of Christ. Of course the Church is flawed, of course it is still being transformed and stretched and grown into the image of what it is intended to be. We are a product of a fallen humanity. Yet when we are invited to a wedding, do we begin to criticise the bride on her appearance, on her character flaws, on her past failures? Or do we admire the beauty of bride and bridegroom coming together in the image of unity? Do we celebrate the purity of covenant or pick apart the past moments of corruption? I think we know the answers to these questions.
The bride does not strive to be a ‘bride’ – she is a bride purely and simply because she is wholly loved and wholly pursued by her groom. She is romanced by the one who loves her, and in that process is prepared to be wed. There is a recognition of the growth yet to come, there is clear communication about what may need to change. I cannot help but think it is the same with us. Of course there is necessity for the growth. Of course there is to be honest and clear communication about the necessities that must be fulfilled in order to become that beautiful bride that Christ will return for. But you know what, we do not need to bring down or defame or criticise for the sake of criticism.
“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
I am taking this and holding onto it in the coming season. My prayer is for the image of a beautiful Bride once again to be restored. The Lord is not coming for a Bride that is divided, one that criticises the other parts of itself – but a whole, prepared Bride. Diverse and unique and intricately woven together – romanced and utterly in love with the Bridegroom.
My prayer is that conversations around the Church (regardless of ‘name’, denomination or size) will once again be restored to ones of truth, nobility, righteousness, purity, and all things lovely and admirable. That we would maybe begin to look inwardly at the work of the Spirit in and through us to be transformed ever into the image of Christ. Once we can say that the small yet significant portion of the body taken up by our immediate circles mirror His nature fully – once we have taken personal responsibility for our part in the Church – only then will we ever have even a fraction of authority to begin to question the other parts.
Take this, shake it, rumble with it (ha)… read it with a whole tablespoon of salt and all of the Holy Spirit. But I earnestly and eagerly wait for the day where I can confidently (with no hidden motives or opinions) see a body saying they FULLY LOVE the Church. LOVE the Bride. A body that is not complacent when it comes to growth or needing to address the parts of itself that do not glorify the Lord, but a body that can really and truly step back and gaze upon the beauty of a bride romanced and treasured by their Lover.
Amen? Amen x