Part two in my week long series of honoring things I esteem. Yesterday I posted about the gospel. Today it is the church.
It is a temptation to look at the squabbling and weak doctrine of the western church and say something like “I love Jesus, but I can do without the church.” The problem is two fold: 1) if we love Jesus, we are the church and 2) if we love Jesus we will love the things He loves, and He loves the church!
On the big picture, the longer I am a Christian, the more encouraged I am to be a part of a worldwide and historical “crowd of witnesses” who have been redeemed by Christ and emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit. To know that I stand in the same spiritual company as individuals like Augustine, Jan Hus, John Wycliffe, and groups of Christians like the Hugenots, the Lollards, the Puritans is both humbling and inspiring. Looking at scripture, and knowing that the covenant promises made to Abraham were made with me in mind (as Rich Mullins puts it, “one star he saw had been lit for me”) is an awesome thing on days when I feel like I’m floating through life by the skin of my teeth and the seat of my kids’ pants. If being a Christian was just about trying harder all by myself I’d be in big trouble, but it’s not.
This Sunday, as I listened to our St. Louis pastor welcome us to the worship service I heard an echo of Mitch, our Georgia pastor, and realized that I am so blessed to have two local church bodies to cherish and love. On paper our two churches look very different. If someone in an office somewhere was putting together a collection of pastors from similar churches to attend a discussion or workshop or class, our two pastors would never end up in the same room. Three weeks ago, while preaching on Matthew 13:44-46, our St. Louis pastor remarked that whatever you might think is wrong with your church isn’t. It’s all a treasure problem. Again, I heard the echo of Mitch in a discussion about what the cause of some minor controversy was that the real problem was that we didn’t love Jesus enough.
This too boils down to a love of the gospel. You see, while not perfect, both of these churches are being transformed by the power of the gospel about which I wrote yesterday. Rather than preaching messages and teaching classes that boil down to “get up and try harder,” they are proclaiming the power of the cross and the consuming love of Christ. In Georgia the bulletin reads “A Community of Grace,” and here it says “Grace Changes Everything.” In neither places is it a catch phrase. The same power that transformed Augustine, emboldened the Lollards and enlightened the Puritans is at work in these local bodies and alive in their pulpits. This gospel breeds humility, hospitality and community, and both churches are alive with all three.
So as I look at the church triumphant throughout history and the local bodies with which our spirits are knit, I say to you: “This is the bride of Christ, who was bought with His blood and robed in His righteousness. Isn’t she beautiful?”