Prioritizing the Church is Counter-Cultural
“I love your Kingdom, Lord/ The house where you reside/ The people purchased with your blood/ When on the cross you died.// I love your bride, O Lord/ For she is your delight/ No stain of sin remains on her/ You’ve dressed her all in white.// For your church my tears shall fall/ For her my prayers ascend/ To her my cares and toils be given/ Until my life shall end.// I love your church, O God/ Wherever she may be/ For what is dear to you, O Lord/ Is also dear to me.// I love your church, O Lord/ The saints you’ve given me/ To live with and to humbly serve/ And pray for faithfully.” -Timothy Dwight, I Love Your Kingdom Lord
Now let me ask: Does that hymn seems strange to you? Unusual? When you think about singing it in a few minutes, how does that make you feel? Awkward at all? Think about the words. When was the last time I shed tears over God’s church? Do my prayers ascend on her behalf? Is she the object of my care? Do I toil for her? Do I love the church? We just aren’t use to those kinds of expressions of affection for and priority of the church, are we? Singing this song and believing that it should be sung with authenticity, that is, believing that the church should be a top priority in our life and that it should be utmost in our affections, that immediately puts us in a position where we are swimming against the stream, not only of our culture in general, but against the stream of much of the wider Christian culture.
The church is often seen simply as an optional and voluntary society. If that works for you, fine--for you. But really, spirituality is all the rage, but organized religion is mostly out. Community is hip, but the organized church is lame, oppressive, irrelevant. Who needs clergy and authority structures and liturgies and sermons and polity and pre-planned worship services? Well, according to the Bible, I do.
We don’t follow the trend here. Why? Because we follow Jesus. That’s what it means to be a Christian: to follow him and to be like him. And to follow Jesus is to swim against the cultural stream. Here’s what we know about Jesus: he loves the church, his church. And it is his priority. How much does Christ love the church? Ephesians 5:25 is how much: “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” He loves the church so much that he gave his all for the church and died to bear the penalty of our sins so that we could be the church. And then he rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. And what happened next? Ephesians 1:22 happened: “And he (God the Father) put all things under his (Jesus’) feet and gave him as head over all things to the church.” He’s the head of the church. It’s his priority. And what’s he doing as the head of the church? Well, he told us when he was on earth and made this promise, Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Christ is, as our head, building and protecting the church he loves. It’s what he does. He loves the church and so it is his priority. And isn’t it true that as followers of Jesus, lovers of Christ, committed to becoming more like him, shouldn’t we love what Christ loves? And shouldn’t our priorities match his? When you love someone, you just instinctively care about what they care about. And so if we love Christ, first and foremost like we should, we will, for his sake, love what he loves. And what he loves most deeply is his church. Do you? Do I? Can we sing with integrity and authenticity: I love your church, O Lord?
*Adapted from Together: Prioritizing, a sermon orginally preached by Rick Gamache on September 11, 2016*
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