If we love Jesus, then we will love what he loves. Or at least we will commit ourselves to grow in love towards what Jesus loves.
What does he love? Jesus loves the church.
Biblical writers are fond of playing with the groom/bride metaphor in describing Jesus and the church. Jesus loves the church, like a groom loves his bride. I struggle with this metaphor as a man, because it is difficult to think of myself as a bride. (Not to mention the sexual overtones when talking about brides & grooms!) Nevertheless, I see the point of the metaphor. Jesus loves the church and Jesus desires the church. He has committed himself to the church in a never-ending covenant. He pledges, as it were, to love us in sickness and in health for richer or for poorer. He chooses us (or did his Father arrange this marriage as the Calvinists say). We are the object of his desire.
If Jesus loves the church, then shouldn’t we?
The church is not an institution; the church is made up of fellow followers of Jesus. Buildings and organizations are important, but they are not the true church. From Primal Credo, Chapter 9:
The North American landscape is peppered with chapels, cathedrals, and storefronts—a variety of places of worship where Jesus is worshiped as God and Savior. We call these places “churches” and rightly so. Gathering with other followers of Jesus in a special place, a sacred place set aside for nothing else but the worship of God, plays an extremely important role in our spiritual growth. We need not reject the central role of a church as a physical structure in the lives of both the worshiping community and the civic community. Places of worship, regardless of their size or shape, stand as a visible reminder that life is not only for business, consumption, shopping, entertaining, eating, and drinking. Our creator designed life to be built around worship. As important as the building is, it can become a distraction, pulling our focus away from the true church, which is not made of wood, steel, brick, and mortar but of breathing, flesh-and-blood human beings with all of our messiness and idiosyncrasies.
I am thankful for the five churches I have been a part of over these twenty plus years including: Frederick Blvd. Baptist Church (St. Joseph), Word of Life Church (St. Joseph), Church on the Move (Tulsa), Believers Church (Tulsa), and Cornerstone Church (Americus). I love these churches and I am thankful for how I have grown through my participation in each of these local expressions of the body of Christ, especially Cornerstone. I have been a part of Cornerstone for nearly 12 years, longer than any other church. I have served as the Youth Minster and now Pastor. Sadly our time is coming to a close. I have only two Sundays left, before my family and I are sent out from the church back to St. Joe, where I will join the staff at Word of Life. I cannot say thank you enough to the members of Cornerstone Church for the years of love, encouragement, prayers, support, and doing life together…let me say it loud:
THANK YOU CORNERSTONE CHURCH. I LOVE YOU.
Cornerstone Church is an example of a church that has become “a colony of heaven in the country of death.” Again from Chapter 9:
The Holy Spirit empowers the church by establishing the rhythms of the kingdom of God within her midst, rhythms of humility, kindness, meekness, mercy, purity, and peace. With the absence of the Spirit’s presence, the local church is quiet, still, lifeless. “So why church?” asks Eugene Peterson. “The short answer is because the Holy Spirit formed it to be a colony of heaven in the country of death.” In light of the prevalence of death, the Spirit establishes these rhythms in the most unique and unpredictable ways. His work in one generation of the church may look vastly different than his work in another generation. The rhythms of grace, peace, mercy, and forgiveness remain the same, but the shape of our individual local churches may take on different forms. Moreover, local churches must change or die. As the culture around us shifts and changes, we must change in order to stay the same. We must change in order to stay faithful to Jesus, to his message, and his story. This includes changing our style, our vocabulary, and our emphasis, so that our old, worn-out ways do not become a hindrance to the gospel.