How to Love a Blemished Bride, Part 2
In Part 1 of this series, we looked at the inclination of many Christians to feel a kind of schism with the flawed church at large. As we saw from Scripture, even though the Church does have serious problems, believers can’t disengage because we are all one body, the blemished but beloved Bride of Christ. We can’t disconnect from the body of Christ any more than we can disconnect from our own selves, no matter how much we might want to at times.
For me personally, I experienced something similar during a dark battle in my life years ago. As I saw new depths of my own sin during this time, something strange happened: I started to feel removed from myself. I remember literally looking in the mirror and thinking, “Who is that person? That’s not who I am. That’s not me.”
But of course, it was me. I was seeing how evil I can be because sin still dwells in me. And trying to escape from myself did nothing to address my problems. Instead, it allowed both my self-loathing and my sins to grow, causing my own self-destruction. This same thing can happen when believers try to disavow the church, and it can be devastating (Gal. 5:15).
So how do you move on in constructive, edifying ways when you recognize so many serious problems? Here are some of the things that I learned during my personal crisis; they may prove helpful here as well.
1. Engage with Purpose
Ignoring legitimate problems for the sake of “unity” or “peace” causes dysfunction to thrive. In my life, the cure for my self-rejection wasn’t blind acceptance of my sins. Instead, I had to engage with them on a new level, dragging hidden, dark things into the light. This involved having hard conversations, removing toxic influences from my life, and even seeking outside help.
There’s no universal template for dealing with problems in the Church, but similar steps might be necessary. I don’t say that this work is easy, but that it’s necessary, like chemotherapy for cancer or a recovery program for addiction. It’s not a process that can be rushed, and the inherent self-sacrifice involved must be balanced with appropriate self-protection. Belonging to the global Body of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean that every local church is a healthy place for you. And it must be noted that not every person who claims to be a Christian actually is. But there will be genuine fellow believers whose actions and viewpoints challenge you greatly. Recognizing your connection to the Body compels you to seek a healthy home church and engage in the hard work of healing. This comes by addressing problems so that real unity and peace can occur.
2. Serve in Love
Confronting problems is often necessary. But other times, what you think is the problem…isn’t. For example, when I started appreciating and nurturing the imperfect things God had given me, I found I didn’t need a bigger apartment, a better body, a different marriage. I didn’t need a change in my circumstances or the ability to escape myself. What I really needed was for the Spirit of God to change my own heart towards these things. As the Spirit led me to cultivate instead of neglect, he did change my heart, long before those flaws improved—and even where they haven’t yet improved.
Similarly, when seeing faults in the Church, it’s tempting to set others straight from an elevated position of prideful superiority. But if you instead choose to love the lowly in service and humility, you may be stunned to find swelling gratitude and affection replace disgust and anger.
3. Trust in Sanctification
And yet, despite every effort, we’ll still have issues, and so will the Church. Your work will only bear fruit if it comes from faith in the transformative gospel of Jesus.
For example, I pray about and work on my procrastination, my sometimes-ugly temper, and my selfishness. I’ve seen God’s work there, and I trust him to finish what he’s started (Phil. 1:6). But let me tell you, I’m not there yet. If I give up on myself in disgust, am I not expressing distrust in the ability of Christ to sanctify me? God is sanctifying me, and he’s sanctifying his church as well. The work isn’t done yet, but it will be done by his faithful Word.
Hope for One and All
As believers, we put our hope, not just in what the gospel means to us and those we love, but in how the gospel can redeem and transform people who are hard to love. The redemptive work of Jesus unifies us, not just with God, but with each other (Eph. 2:14-16, Jn. 17:20-26). Hoping in the gospel in this way produces a unity that testifies to the world who Christ is and what he’s done through his life, death, and resurrection, which redeems and purifies a sinful, hopeless people.
The Church herself isn’t worthy of your hope, but the work of Christ in her most definitely is (Titus 3:4-7). Scripture promises that one day, by the work of the Holy Spirit, the Bride will be perfected, without blemish or wrinkle (Eph. 5:25-27, Rev. 19:7-8). And on that day, you’ll be a part of her, forever with Jesus, the Bridegroom who made her that way.