On more than one occasion I have heard or read someone proclaiming that they love their church. I have seen t-shirts worn and banners displayed proclaiming “Love Our Church Sunday” or “If Loving Jackson Faith First Community Hope Church is wrong I don’t want to be right!” Even pastors and church leaders carefully pour out a heavy dose of affection towards their local body because of what they have done or are doing with programs or on the platform. Even para-church organizations and church resource businesses are capitalizing on this popular slogan as they push products and partnerships with congregations. I have to tell you that I don’t think loving your church is Biblical, but it sure seems prevalent in evangelical circles all across the land.
I am not saying that loving the pastor or the people of your church is wrong or sinful or evil. Love is what the church is about and should be the most common trait from congregation to congregation. However, loving a building, an institution, a tradition, or a legacy is not in any way a disciple’s call of God. In fact, a true disciple is so in love with Christ that the details of earthy affiliation are only recognized in the distant background of the 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 to be about. Instead of loving “your” or “my” or even “our” church, let’s love “THE” church. This mindset points our attention and affection towards every expression of Christian community that we see, hear of, or dream about.
We only love the church 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 or community that is loyal, supportive, and convinced of the greatness of one church over another, then loving Christ is optional at best and irrelevant at worst. This is not the church of the first century, or the Reformation, or the Great Awakening. It is the church of today, and it is unhealthy.
If you want a view of the church that is Biblical, let me tell you that it is painful for the average American pastor or lay leader to hear. It 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 or subject to our rhyme.
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 that 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)