“I love the Lord. I just don’t love the church.”
- Have you ever heard someone say this?
- Is it possible to love the Lord without loving the Church?
I think I understand why someone might feel this way. Relationships are challenging and sometimes our expectations for undisturbed Church life are unrealistic.
Everyday in a family is not a good day. And Jesus pictured the Church as a family by using familial terms for his followers like “brother.” Further, Jesus taught us to anticipate disturbances in family life when he gave instructions about offenses and reconciliation.
If my brother has something against me
Jesus spoke of the priority of reconciled relationships in the family by describing someone who is in the act of worshiping God and remembers “that your brother or sister has something against you.” What should this family member do? Stop worshipping and “First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
If my brother sins against me
“If another believer (brother) sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back” (Matthew 18:15).
It starts with you
Did you notice that in both cases, we have the responsibility to prioritize the pursuit of reconciliation? We are not given the option of saying, “That’s his problem, let him come to me!” or “After what he did, I don’t want anything to do with him.”
Based on the teaching of Jesus in the two passages above, the Church covenant where I fellowship has a line where we agree to “be slow to take an offense and always ready for reconciliation, mindful of the rules of our savior to secure it without delay.”
It gets messy
There’s a little poem that says, “To live above with saints we love will certainly be glory. To live below with saints we know, that’s another story.”
Life in the family gets messy sometimes. In this world, our goal should not be the removal of all conflict. We will only experience this in heaven. Instead, we must cultivate a deep and passionate love for reconciliation. We also must teach and enforce the priority of reconciled relationships required by our Lord.
The key to unity is not the removal of all conflict but the commitment of the hearts of God’s people to the priority of reconciliation.
I realize that reconciliation can be complicated and I’ve written extensively about the process it might involve (see here and here). But to remove yourself from active participation in a local Church is not an option the Lord permits.
The person who loves God will cultivate a deep love for the Church, not in the abstract, but in real life relationships. Consider some compelling reasons why we should love the Church and why we cannot claim to love the Lord if we do not love the Church.
Start with Jesus
The truths learned in Ephesians 5:22-30 should be more than adequate to compel us to love the Church
- Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23)
- The Church is the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23).
- Christ is the Savior of the Church (Ephesians 5:23)
- Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25).
- Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (Ephesians 5:29).
Loving those loved by God (at great sacrifice)
- Ephesians 5:25 – “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”
- Acts 20:28 – “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”
Loving God and loving His people
- 1 John 5:1 – “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has become a child of God. And everyone who loves the Father loves his children, too.”
- Hebrews 6:10 – “For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.” (See Matthew 25:34-40).
I’ll offer more reasons for loving the Church in a future post but the ones above are deeply compelling. And, although these are references to the entire body of Christ, we cannot claim to love the Church as an invisible global body of believers if we are not loving a specific Church with all the challenges involved.
Just like earthly families, the Church is a family that has ups and downs; good days and bad. We learn many things and our love grows deeper when we work through the challenges of life and relationships.
Please don’t misunderstand me as suggesting that there are not good reasons for leaving a Church. But we can say with confidence that there are not good reasons for remaining disconnected from a visible body of believers.
Our priority should be to seek a Church fellowship that is committed to God’s plan for His Church. We must not work at cross-purpose with the Master builder who said, “I will build my Church” (Matthew 16:18).
Perhaps this would be a good time to remind ourselves of God’s plan (see here).