To this John replied, “A man can receive only what is given him from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him. The bride belongs to the bridegroom.—John 3: 27-29a
I enjoy weddings. Weddings are fun. Love glows on the faces of the bride and groom. When the moment finally arrives that they are in the church, standing before a minister, they are so hopeful and so happy. Could you ever imagine walking up to the groom and saying, “Your bride sure is ugly! She’s just about the ugliest woman I have ever seen!” What sort of reaction do you think you would receive? No one would ever say such a thing because, no matter how unattractive someone may personally find a bride, to the groom that bride is wonderful, she’s radiant and she’s beautiful. To say such a thing is worse than bad manners; it’s plain mean.
Believe it or not, I have met Christians who think their greatest talent to offer the church is their gift of criticism. (It is a talent that needs to be buried.) They will criticize decisions made by the leadership of a church. They will speak unkindly about a song the choir offered on a Sunday morning. They are quick to share their thoughts about the weaknesses of a pastor’s sermon, or how the liturgist fumbled through a prayer, or the quality of a lesson shared by a Sunday School teacher. Never once do they stop to consider that every time they criticize the church they are telling Jesus that his bride is ugly?
No church is perfect, but we’re working on it, and so is our loving God. In the meantime, let me tell you why God says we are so beautiful, despite our warts and failings. God’s church is beautiful because we are devoted to one another and give preference to one another (Romans 12: 10). God’s church is beautiful because we love one another (Romans 13: 8). We are beautiful because we refrain from judging one another (Romans 14: 13) and because we instruct one another (Romans 15: 14) and serve one another (Galatians 5: 13). The beauty of the church, the bride of Christ, shines through when we carry one another’s burdens (Galatians 6: 2) and are patient with each other (Ephesians 4: 2) and are kind and forgiving toward one another (Ephesians 4: 32). God’s church is beautiful because we willingly, even eagerly, stimulate each other to do good works (Hebrews 10: 24) and refuse to slander one another (James 4: 11). God’s church is beautiful because we extend hospitality to all who walk through our doors and to all we meet when we walk out our doors (1 Peter 4:9). How beautiful is God’s church, the bride of Christ! (Now, read this paragraph again beginning each sentence with, “Aldersgate is beautiful because…”)
Taking pen in hand, an anonymous author wrote, “This is my church. It is composed of people just like me. It will be friendly if I am. It will do a great work if I work. It will make generous gifts to many causes if I am generous. It will bring others into its fellowship if I bring them. Its seats will be filled if I fill them. It will be a church of loyalty and love, of faith and service, if I, who make it what it is, am filled with these. Therefore, with God’s help, I dedicate myself to the task of being all these things I want my church to be.”
Aldersgate, thank you for being all these things you want your church to be.