For as long as I can remember, I have loved the Church. I didn’t mind that she wasn’t perfect. To be honest, I didn’t even notice many of her flaws, partially because “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8) and partially out of pure ignorance!
Nearing adulthood, I felt the urge to give my life to the Church. I began to study her, to notice the nuances of Christian fellowship. I learned more about the inner workings of church structure and leadership and listened to the passionate pleas of friends and ministers regarding all kinds of reform.
During those years, I watched one colleague after another give up on the church. I watched burnout and moral failure decapitate her leadership. I watched as warm hearts turned cold in the face of ongoing change and disappointment. I watched faith turn to fear in the rising sensation of irrelevance.
All the while, I wondered, Who is she really? Who is this Bride of Christ called the Church? Were we wrong to believe in her? Were we ignorant to imagine her as the hope of the world?
My heart has always, and will always love the Church. I cannot love my Beloved Bridegroom, and not cherish the one He has chosen. Still, I came to realize the dichotomy of her nature, that there are two very real versions of this chosen one, this Bride of Christ. On the one hand, she is the most stunningly beautiful creation of all time, the ultimate expression of God’s nature, His goodness, and oneness in relationship with Him. But on the other hand, she is filled with turmoil. She’s infected, diseased, full of evil and inner darkness. And she continually rejects the One who chose her, whose love makes her whole.
The Christian church and every believer within exist on two plains. Both realities are real. On the one hand, she is born of God, exists in God, and is returning to God. She is of heaven, and therefore the ultimate expression of God’s “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). She is the hope of this world because she is the one in whom the Living God dwells. The incarnate Christ exists within reach because of her. He is still available on earth to heal, reveal, resurrect, and restore because of her.
These powerful truths are not representing some abstract entity, but most important of all, we must understand that the Church, the Bride, is me!
She is me.
Therefore, I am born of God, exist in God, and am returning to God. I am of heaven, and therefore the ultimate expression of God’s “kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). I am the hope of this world because I am the one in whom the Living God dwells. The incarnate Christ exists within reach because of me. He is still available on earth to heal, reveal, resurrect, and restore because of me.
Even so, the Church is more than me. She is a host of me’s gathered together as one in the shared faith and Spirit that makes us His.
So more than me, she is we.
Still, she is not yet.
SHE IS NOT YET.
In the words of my former university president Dr. Steven Lennox, the Church is like a “half-baked cake.” How true this is! She is (we are) still in the oven! We are in the heat of life, being challenged and stirred, gathered in unity but divided in passion. Toxicity is being purged in the fire, and irreverence is beaten out…
Every circumstance, trial, and suffering we encounter in this life is marvelously utilized for our own process of “baking.” The chemical interaction of the heat with the ingredients in a pressurized context… It’s making something happen. It’s making the Church into who she is. It’s making us into who we are.
Our world thinks that we can become great, happy, successful, kind, and loving people by tolerating differences, living for our own happiness, pursuing our desires, and being generally kind and thoughtful to others. Essentially, they think the cake can bake outside of the oven :).
But part of being the Church is recognizing our own dichotomy, and carefully stewarding God’s vision for humanity. We see the gap between sinful human beings and a full-baked potential. And we understand the Narrow Gate that takes us from one side of that journey to the other.
Friends, I invite you to join me in a new blog series that explores who we are as the Church, dreams about our potential in Christ, and looks longingly into a bright future with a new generation arising who share God’s heart for His beloved.