Imagine yourself sitting at a wedding. The processional begins, the attendants take their places, the music cues and the here comes the bride, down the aisle heading toward her groom. In the middle of this beautiful scene, someone stands up and begins hurling insults at her, declaring that the bride is tarnished, broken, and unfaithful; that she is deceptive, unworthy, and manipulative. At that moment, the groom had better step up and do some violence to that person, and his groomsmen and ushers had better back him up. I don’t mean he needs to pull out a Glock 9mm and put holes in them, but they had better be escorted outside and it made clear they are not welcome back inside.
We would not tolerate someone berating or degrading the bride of our friends or family, so why do we tolerate it…and even chime in, when someone does it to the Bride of Christ? The church is beautiful: chosen by God (John 15:16), washed by the blood of Jesus (Ephesians 5:26), and glorified by her union with him (Romans 8:28-30, Ephesians 3:20-21). The Bride of Christ is radiant, diverse, and beloved by God, yet it seems that we spend more time criticizing the church than we do encouraging and celebrating it.
Part of the problem is the crusade against “organized religion.” We seem to think that religion is an evil and something that we need to break away from. We say that the church is all about relationship and not about religion, but really, that isn’t true. Yes, the heart of the gospel is relationship. But religion is not contrary to relationship, nor is it exclusive to spirituality. We are religious about our exercise regiment (for those that actually have one). We are religious about our diet. We are religious in regard to our vocation and fulfilling the requirements of our job. Religion is simply a collection of habits that help us express our devotion to a belief or ideal and every church fellowship has them without exception. These habits are good and help us express our love for God, and facilitate the growth of our relationship with him. It seems that most of the noise in opposition to “religion” is really just a campaign to promote personal preference in regard to religious expression.
Religion is not an evil. God is a God of order and has even given us a structure for church life. Organized religion is not only not evil, but necessary. Ephesians 4, 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, and the books of Titus and Timothy all directly address things like the need for order, boundaries, and, yes, hierarchy. These things are God-given and beautiful when implemented by people who love God. Yes, these things can be used, abused, or simply misplaced, and that’s where a lot of the resentment comes from. Just as the love of money is the root of all evil, so is the love of power and influence. It’s not a problem of religion or tradition. It is a human problem.
People have been dividing the Bride of Christ a lot lately. It’s like an autopsy on a living person and it’s making both a spectacle and a mess. We separate ourselves from other believers based on our minor differences (and they most often are minor), rather than rejoicing together in what we have in common and viewing those minor differences and part of the amazing unified diversity of the Body of Christ. Yes, there are essential issues of faith that cannot be compromised, however, most of the differences among believers and traditions have nothing to do with those. Form and style are never addressed in scripture. Ever. At all. Yet issues of form and style seem to be the most common points of tension and division among the church. It’s tragic.
We need to change our view of Christ’s bride. We need to see the beauty in the subtle differences rather than using those differences as ammunition to take shots at each other. Correction and even rebuke are necessary at times, but even in those times these must be done with humility and respect. The way that we love one another is our witness to the world that we are Christ’s disciples. If we cannot speak well of his bride, what does that say about our relationship with Jesus? Let us be more careful in how we talk about the Bride of Christ. In fact, let us encourage her. In eternity, she is whole. In time, God is preparing his bride. To degrade his bride is to defile the work of God, proving ourselves to still be enemies of God. He will make all the necessary alterations and transformations. We must trust him, and applaud his handiwork…His masterpiece.