(Matthew 16:18) “[On] this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Dan Kimball’s much ballyhooed book “They Like Jesus But Not The Church: Insights From Emerging Generations” tries to answer the question “how will the Church respond to its rejection by spiritually hungry 21st Century seekers?” These young (and now many older) people are opting out of organized church. In our consumerstic society, it seems that what the Church has to offer is just not what today’s seekers are looking for.
This is not a new phenomenon. We’ve heard the same kinds of things for quite some time. Mahatma Gandhi was noted for saying that he would become a Christian only if he could find one to emulate. John Lennon of the Beatles said he liked Christ’s emphasis on spreading love and the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, but Lennon didn’t like Jesus’ followers: the Church. I read recently that a group of Latin American Christians have begun to call themselves Christianos Descolgados or “un-hooked Christians,” because they could not find a Christian fellowship that emphasized what they thought Bible taught as normative.
The question remains then, can you love Jesus without loving His Church? And the answer is unequivocally, no. The Church is Christ’s body. You cannot love the head and not the body. The Church is Holy, but not perfected – just like its members.
Some might say, however, that Christ came to usher in the Kingdom of Heaven, not the Church age. With that interpretation in hand these people believe they can work to advance God’s Kingdom outside of a community of faith we call the Church. But that is just not God’s plan. God has intended at all times to advance His Kingdom through His Church, by building His Church.
Before we begin looking at what the Bible says about Christ and the Church, what is this “thing” called the Church anyway? The Greek word that is commonly transliterated ekklesia, simply means “the people of God.” So the Church is made up of anyone who is a true believer in Jesus Christ, who by faith has appropriated His grace for salvation. Thus, the Church’s proper definition includes the reality of a community of people. The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible says that the New Testament ekklesia “is an assembly of persons which as been summoned for a particular purpose” (Vol. 1, p. 608). So to be in Christ, means that you have become part of His Body, the Church.
What does God’s Word say about the relationship between Christ and the Church? First, it is clear that Christ is the innovator and creator of the Church. He said that “He would “build His church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” The Church is built on the testimony of Jesus as Messiah and God, so the assembly of the people of God focuses its attention on this fact and reality. All church meetings should focus on Christ and what He has done in the world, and what He is calling us to do on His behalf (Matthew 28:18-20). We are called to be Great Commandment/Commission Christians. This purpose is so clear and present that the incredible power of hell cannot defeat the Church in redeeming the world through Christ (Romans 1:16).
But why should we love the Church, just as we love Jesus? This part is simple. Because (a) Jesus loves the Church; (b) Jesus died for the Church; (c) Jesus is making the Church holy; and (d) Jesus is feeding and caring for the Church just as anyone might feed and care for their own bodies (Ephesians 5:25-26, 29). We love the Church, because Jesus loves the Church, with all its blemishes and imperfections.
It is through the Church that “the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 3:10 NIV). The spiritual power and love of the Church is displaying to the angels in heaven and the rulers on earth God’s incredible wisdom of salvation through Jesus Christ.
The Church is a family. It is the family of God, and the assemblage of the faithful is God’s new temple or as St. Paul says, “God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” So, you cannot be an orphan in God’s family. And you cannot divorce your family. You cannot be a Christian and not be a part of the Church, and you can never logically say you love Jesus, but not the Church.