Christians who rail against the Church have a real problem. They may claim to try their very best to love as Jesus loves, but they are missing one very salient point.
Know what Jesus loves above all else? (Well, with the exception of the Father, of course!) THE CHURCH!
Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. – Ephesians 5:22-33 (emphasis mine)
There are endless discussions about this passage as it relates to husbands and wives. We can get so distracted by that aspect that we totally miss what Paul is saying about Christ and the Church. (In case you are wondering, I capitalize the “c” to indicate the universal church, rather than individual denominations or gatherings.)
Yes, Jesus recognizes and loves each of us as individuals. Of course He does! But His love is not limited to individuals, and it certainly is not limited to any one individual. “Jesus and me” is true, but it is not complete…it is not the end of the story. In an effort to help others understand that Jesus died for their sin, I think our evangelical subculture has created a class of believers who are so consumed with how much Jesus loves me that we can easily dismiss the fact that Jesus died to save THE CHURCH, as Paul clearly states in Ephesians 5:23 above. Yes, He died for me personally, but that in no way invites me to dismiss the larger reality that Christ gave Himself up for the Church.
You may be forming an argument that the Church is made up of individuals. It most certainly is. And, you may be thinking, each individual is of undeniable worth to Christ. Absolutely true. But Christ has a much more holistic view than we do! He loves the Church as a whole, as one body. That means all of us together, as well as separately. In fact, our togetherness is more important than our separateness.
This is born out in the scriptures again and again. For instance, how many of the letters included in the New Testament are written to individuals? My temptation may be to read them as though they were written exclusively to little ol’ me, but the fact remains that they were written to groups of people gathered together into churches.
So the next time the temptation rises up to bash the church–to decry its imperfections and shun participation in it–let’s remember that it is our individual flaws that make her what she is, and that Christ died to save her. Only in our togetherness can we become the holy and unblemished Bride of Christ, whom Christ loves above all else.