We live in a time when it may seem like the Church of Jesus Christ is not highly valued by many. In fact, we live in a time when the value of many institutions is held in question. Stuart Briscoe once wrote, "Some regard the church as an article of belief; some regard it as an obstacle to belief." Many people feel that they can have a good relationship with God without the Church. We have come a long way from the day when Cyprian of Carthage said, "He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother."
Who loves the Church? If we are to honestly answer that question, we must admit that many people do not; some even hate the Church.
However, there is at least one person left who does love the Church. His name is Jesus. The Church, amazingly, was his idea. If the New Testament is correct, then the Church is Jesus' body and Jesus' bride. Jesus laid down his life for the Church and promised to build the Church. Keeping this in mind, we must admit that if we are to believe in Jesus, then we must also believe in his Church. We must love what Jesus loves. As Alister McGrath has written, "To believe in Jesus Christ is to believe in and belong to a dynamic community that spans the centuries."
But what is the Church? What is this entity that Jesus calls us to love as he has loved? There is a simple answer given to that question in the article of The Apostles' Creed that we are beginning to look at today. In the Creed we confess that we believe in "the holy, catholic church, the communion of saints". All of these descriptions of the Church's identity are summed up in one verse of Scripture (among many). In 1 Corinthians 1:2 Paul writes: "To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours."
Tomorrow we will begin to look at this Scripture, and others, in greater depth, to see if we can come to a deeper understanding of what the Church is all about, and what God wants our relationship to the Church to be. But for now, allow me to leave you with these words of C. S. Lewis to chew on....
No Christian and, indeed, no historian could accept the epigram which defines religion as "what a man does with his solitude." It was one of the Wesleys, I think, who said that the New Testament knows nothing of solitary religion. We are forbidden to neglect the assembling of ourselves together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of its documents. The Church is the Bride of Christ. We are members of one another. (C. S. Lewis, "Membership," The Weight of Glory, New York: Macmillan, 1980, p. 106)