I am as guilty as the next person for Church bashing. I look at the Church, know what she is suppose to be, see what we turned her into and am disappointed. I criticize her, point out the ugly bits and often forget to lift up the pretty parts. But I forget something; she does not stand separated from Jesus. Jesus has not abandoned her or stepped back from her. He is the head and when we criticize the Church for being less than what she was designed to be, we are attacking Jesus too.
Now let's be a bit more personal.
The Church is not some great temple somewhere. It is not an institution. The Church is people. The Church is people who have gone through and are still going through a great transformation. The Church is people who are a new creation and are still trying to get use to the newness of it all. When we criticize the Church we aren't pointing a finger at some nameless vague wispy thing; we are pointing a finger at Bob, who we may or may not know. We are pointing a finger at Mary, and Sue. We are pointing a finger at millions of people with names, faces, and a genuine love for Jesus. We are pointing a finger at ourself.
The beauty of God's grace is that it covers all the failings, blemishes, ugliness and then calls us blameless and innocent. If it does that for us as individuals then it has done that for the Church. The Bride may be far from perfect but Jesus has covered her with his garments, has called her beautiful and is pouring out his love on her. And we dare stand back and call her ugly?
We certainly need a grander vision of the Church, a greater understanding of who she is and knowledge of how we function in her. But the one thing we are desperate for is wisdom to honour the Bride of Christ with the reality of Jesus' place in her. He is the head:
And he is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18)
We love to keep Jesus in the manger. He looks so cute and innocent there. We love to see Mary and Joseph watching over him with adoration. We like to keep Jesus small, like a baby, then we can do what we want with the Church as if she is on her own. But Jesus isn't a baby. He is not stuck in a manger unable to defend his Bride. He has not left the Body without a head. He has not told the hand to govern her. He has not told the feet to do what they want. He has not given her over to the whims of the heart. Jesus is the groom and he will defend his Bride: Bob, Sue and Mary.
It means that as a pastor I cannot do whatever I want in the Church. It means that I don't get to shape her according to my will. It means that I am not in charge. It is not my church. I am only one small part of her, called to specific roles and responsibilities. It means my function is to be faithful in my role and to praise the Head.
As I celebrate Christmas this year I am not celebrating the baby but everything that came after that moment. It is great that God became Emmanuel but if that is all there had been it would have been worthless. This Christmas I celebrate Jesus, supreme above all things and the head of the Church. And I stand amazed at what he has done for the Bride.