The Church: A Cow, a Goat or a Bride?
Every now and then the words in a hymn the church of my childhood used to sing pops in my head: “From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride.” The bride is the church of the Lord Jesus and the hymn is “The Church’s One Foundation.”
You may have heard the term “bride” applied to the church. If you are male and it seems weird to think you are associated with a bride, don’t leave me yet. You can still be a bride and not give up your “man card.”
The bride metaphor in the New Testament describes our relationship with Jesus in the cultural context of marriage. In Jesus’ day, future husbands selected a future bride, then went to their father’s home to prepare a dwelling. This betrothal period allowed the bride to prepare for her future life in her father’s house while the groom prepared for his in his father’s house. This is the basis for Jesus’ words to His disciples in John 14 where He told them He was going to prepare a place for them.
One day Jesus will come back for His bride and there will be a victorious marriage feast in heaven. The bride metaphor helps us understand Jesus love for His church, His willingness to sacrifice for her and His jealous nature toward anyone who would mistreat her.
Which brings me to my topic: bride abuse.
No, I am not talking about physical abuse in a third-world country, although some people do physically abuse the Lord’s church. Rather, I am thinking of some abusive ways people view and use the church for their own purposes.
Since the church is Jesus’ bride, we should take this abuse seriously. Jesus doesn’t like it when people mess with His bride. I wouldn’t. Would you?
Some people treat the church like a cow. How would you like it if someone called your bride a cow? Ok, so people may not call the church a cow, but they view her as a “cash-cow”. She is a place where people have resources that can be used for personal gain. Over the years I have seen Christian organizations and parachurch ministries leverage their influence to take resources from the Lord’s bride. Many churches choose to share what God has given them with those who are serving in different ways or in different places. We find this taking place in the Bible when the Apostle Paul promoted a fund for the struggling church in Jerusalem. Sharing the church’s resources with others is wonderful. The Lord wants His bride to be generous. Yet, some manipulate local churches through criticism, the use of confidential member information and false promises. They are quick to belittle the value of things taking place in the local church, but show up to ask for money to support their vision.
Some people treat the church like a goat. Before I make my point here, I want to acknowledge the church is imperfect. Christ’s bride has been made clean by His blood, but redeemed people don’t always represent the church as they should. However, collectively, there is no greater force on earth than the Lord’s church, where people empowered by the Holy Spirit shower grace on a lost and broken world. Still, there are those who like to blame the church for more than her fair share of problems. She is the perfect scape-goat. In fact, even the Lord’s people habitually beat up the bride when they either don’t get their way or aren’t happy with the way their lives are going. For some, it is always the church’s fault they haven’t experienced the spiritual success they desire. It never occurs to them, if they are in Christ, they “are” the church. We all have a personal responsibility for our own growth process, and if we see things the church needs to do, God might be calling us to meet the need instead of criticizing others for their failure to do so.
The bottom line is, Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. Do you know anyone who has proposed to the love of his life and is preparing for a wedding day? Can you imagine taking advantage of his bride or slapping her around in his presence? What do you suppose would happen?
I feel pretty sure Jesus feels just as strongly about His bride, the church.
Fair warning. Be careful how you treat her. Some day you will come face to face with her Husband. I understand He has quite a powerful left jab.