By Don Ballard
People love to proclaim that they love their church.
T-shirts, bumper stickers, and banners declare “I Love My Church!” Pastors and church leaders pour out affection from the platform. Even parachurch organizations and church resource businesses join in.
Loving your church seems prevalent in evangelical circles all across the land. But it may not be biblical.
I am not saying that loving the pastor or the people of your church is wrong. Love is what the church is about. It should be the most common trait in every congregation.
However, loving a building, an institution, a tradition, or a legacy is not in any way a disciple’s call. In fact, a true disciple is so in love with Christ that the details of earthy affiliation are recognized only in the distant background of a life spent looking at our Lord.
Loving one church over another only adds to the already chronic individualism and consumerism within the body of Christ. Both of those “isms” are destructive of what God has in mind for the church.
Instead of loving “your” or “my” or even “our” church, let’s love “THE” church. This mindset points our attention and affection toward every expression of Christian community that we see, hear of, or dream about.
We love the church only as we learn to love Christ. If loving “a” church or “your” church becomes the focus of your love, then loving Christ may never be considered of value to you.
If a believing body is intent on garnering a crowd that is loyal, supportive, and convinced of the greatness of one church over another, then loving Christ may be optional—or even irrelevant. This is not the church of the first century, or the Reformation, or the Great Awakening.
A biblical view of the church is not about success, glory, scale, profit, or influence. It is about unity, diversity, submission, suffering, and a new identity that is not of this world.
In his letter to the New Testament church at Corinth—a church often compared to current American congregations—Paul writes that there is only one church, and it is not under our rule.
For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many…. God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it. (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 24b-27, NASB)
If we want to be Word-centered, Spirit-led, God-honoring congregations that change the culture, then we should…
Love THE church. Pray for THE church. Celebrate THE church. Evangelize the lost to come to THE church. Become communities of faith that look like THE church. Develop strategy that strengthens and advances THE church. Preach sermons and sing songs that stir our hearts to love THE church. Make disciples who are committed to THE church and not a church. Thank Jesus for giving us THE church to belong to and to build up to the best of our abilities and resources.
That kind of church love is biblical. And it is also helpful in this day of separation. It is, as Paul would say later in his love letter: “the most excellent way.” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV)
Don is the lead pastor at Newark Church of the Nazarene in Newark, Ohio. You can read more from Don at his site: Preaching to Me.
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