Are there times when church ceases to be Church?
When the local body becomes so corrupt
that it simply ceases being a part of the Body of Christ?
Should these diseased cells riddled with infection
simply be removed before the contagion of sin metastasizes?
At what point do we cut our brothers and sisters off—
divorcing them from the family for their waywardness?
Surely, anyone who has ever attended a self-serving church
or walked past Christians holding up hateful picket signs
or watched in frustration as pastors made questionable political endorsements
has wondered this.
How can we be Church when we behave this way?
In the book of Hosea, God has the titular prophet marry a notoriously wayward woman,
and together, they have three children:
named for a famous massacre where Israel courted God’s wrath,
a foreboding prediction of the departure of God’s love from God’s people
a crisis of covenant: God declaring you are not My people.
Befitting her reputation, Hosea’s wife again commits adultery,
yet God commands Hosea to pursue her,
to reunite with her,
to love her all the more.
This is God’s relationship with Israel,
but it is also God’s relationship with the Church and with all the rest of humanity:
though we may wander,
though we may disobey,
though we may flee to the temporary comforts of sin and selfishness,
God pursues and loves.
His compassion is roused,
and the fierce anger we deserve is set aside.
We are forgiven.
So it is with the church.
Though it may be self-centered and disobedient and harmful,
it is part of Something greater,
and She is the Bride of Christ,
tarnished and adulterous,
but a Bride nonetheless,
and when She at last beholds her Bridegroom there at the Altar at the end of all things,
that love will be fully realized,
those old desires wiped away and replaced with something beautiful.
Until then, we live in the in-between,
where humanity’s fallenness infects even the church,
but the Church will always be in God’s heart,
and that is a Love that cannot be broken by our waywardness.
So no, a church never ceases to be part of The Church,
for the Family of God cannot be broken even by sin and death.
Rather, we are always called back
to the One who is always faithful.
A quick housekeeping matter:
This week’s Theology Thursday continues the theme from last week, and I’ve committed to reflecting on the concept of “The Bride of Christ” for a few more weeks still. Like everyone else on social media, I have many thoughts on the election, but they’re still finding their wording. Those posts will come in the next few weeks too.
Regarding last week’s post on the Bride of Christ, commenter Matt S. on Facebook made an outstanding point that the word “betrothed” would be a better description than “fiancee” because the former carries a deeper meaning of covenant. Betrothal is a deeper level of commitment with larger ramifications than modern engagement. We agreed that betrothed has a more archaic feel to it though, so to sidestep this issue, I’ve reverted back to the more familiar “Bride of Christ” terminology. Thanks, Matt!