As Derek Webb’s song (“The Church”) points out, to love Christ without the church is like loving a man and loathing his wife. Such inconsistency isn’t socially acceptable. Neither is it spiritually permissible. Those who have been born again are joined to God’s family (1 Tim 3:15) and are called to submit themselves to a local church (Heb 10:24–25; 13:17).
The opposite problem is also possible. It is very possible to love the church more than Christ. Now, when this sort of thing happens, Christ is never denied, only demoted. And typically, it doesn’t happen by conscious choice or designed effort. There is never an advertising campaign to elevate the church above Christ. It happens the way that gravity causes bodies to sag—time and spiritual lethargy work together to pull the heart away from Christ.
Leaving our first love, as Revelation 2:4 puts it, doesn’t come through a traumatic event. Instead, it is what happens when members and pastors of a church focus their energy and conversation on church business, church budgets, church activities, church methods, and church growth.
Church, church, church. If all attention is given to the bride, the bridegroom will be lost.
Even when believers champion orthodox belief and defend biblical practices, men and women will still fall in love with a church more than Christ. Because our hearts are deceitful and naturally unbelieving (Jer 17:9; Heb 3:13), even the most committed churchmen are susceptible to loving the church more than Christ. In fact, the ones most committed to church are the ones most likely to love the church more than Christ.
Enter the Lord’s Supper
When the members of the church spend all their time at church, working for church, thinking about church passion for Christ is easily lost. Evangelistic zeal is stifled, because the church overshadows the lost. Success is judged by money totals and class sizes, not disciple-making and corporate holiness. Personal preferences assert themselves over fasting and prayer. Doctrinal differences take center stage. And the grand the story of the gospel is eclipsed.
What can be done?
Enter the Lord’s Supper.
The Lord’s Supper not only calls individuals to repent of their personal sins. It also calls churches to repent of their over-attention to themselves. Every church is susceptible of this. Since the bride of Christ is worthy of our lives, it feels noble to give our lives for the church. However, because we are idolaters to the core, such attention to the church unless checked by the gospel of Jesus Christ will itself manifest itself in church-centered activity, rather than Christ-centered devotion.
The Lord’s Supper puts the gospel back at the center. It says what ultimately matters is Christ and Christ alone—not the size of the budget, the style of the music, the number of petals on your TULIP, or the preferred method of evangelism. While all of these things have their place in the life of the church, they must never eclipse the main thing—the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.
Truly, this is one reason why Christ gave the Lord’s Supper to the church, so that in the menagerie of church life we remember first and foremost the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is our blessed hope and the solution to the tensions we feel with those who are “ruining my church.” It is Christ’s church, and we must again esteem his Lordship over the church he bought with his blood.
When we do that, the idols we make of church lose their power. They are seen for what they really are: created things that may or may not stand the test of time and fiery judgment to come. Only Christ is worthy of our worship, and the Lord’s Supper gives us the chance to make that declaration once again and to repent of making the church more important than Christ.
As you prepare to take the Lord’s Supper this Sunday, let it liberate you from your idolatrous obsession with church. Yes, we must love the church, but only after and because we love Christ.
In the church, it is Christ that is beautiful and glorious. The church that embraces him will issue an aroma of godliness that smells sweeter than the richest wine (or Welch’s grape juice my Baptist friends). But the church who loves themselves on equal footing with Christ will soon lose their sweet aroma and begin to stink—whether they know it or not.
How do we avoid such an unpleasant odor in the nostrils of God? We come to the table of the Lord with repentant hearts and open hands. We receive afresh his grace, the message of the gospel proclaimed with broken bread and blood-red wine.
Let us do that this Sunday, pleading for God’s mercy to heard, seen, felt, and tasted as we pass the bread and drink the cup.
Soli Deo Gloria, dss