One of the hymns we sing from time to time is Timothy Dwight's classic, "I Love Thy Kingdom Lord." The second and third stanzas are very moving.
I love thy church. O God; her walls before me stand,
dear as the apple of thine eye, and graven on thy hand.
For her my tears shall fall, for her my prayers ascend;
to her my cares and toils be giv'n till toils and care shall end.
The Church, the Bride of the Lamb, the Body of Christ, the Temple of God, the Household of Faith is God's precious blood-bought people. Is it any wonder Dwight used words which soared with emotion, extolling the glory of the Church and duties owed her? And yet what we frequently find today is not a love for the church, a sense of duty to the church, but rather the church is put under the ever-scrutinizing eye of the consumer and the critic.
The consumer looks at the church in terms of "what's in it for me?" They approach the Church of Christ as if it were a strip mall, wondering if the right shopping options will be through the doors. The critic appears to be more serious however, than the consumer. He has established himself as the ecclesiastical judicatory, testing the leadership, the worship, the sermons, the friendliness of the people. The critic is the first to boycott the precious Body as soon as he feels slighted. No church is worth the consumer's or the critic's tears or prayers. The church is only worth their own carnal evaluations.
Despite the consumer and the critic, there is much to love about the church. The characteristics of the church which should draw out our love are:
- The church is the pillar and support of the Truth (1 Tim. 3:15). The church is that place that stands on the Word and holds forth the Word of Truth. Her task is to proclaim the Truth and build the lives of the saints up in that Truth.
- The church is the place where the glory of Christ is most magnificently revealed (Eph. 3:20). The glory of God shines forth in creation (Psa. 19:1). But there is a unique glory in the church, it is the glory of grace in Christ, the glory of redemption in Christ, the glory of the love of Christ. No amount of gazing at Mount Hood will ever reveal this glory. It is found only in the church.
- The church is the appointed place where biblical worship happens (1 Pet. 2:9-10). Private worship and family worship are vital in the life of the Christian. However, it is in the corporate setting that our worship reaches its God-appointed climax. No matter how wonderful our quiet times may be, they do not compare with the magnificence of corporate worship, which foreshadows heaven itself (Rev. 4-5).
- The church is that special place where fellowship, edification and encouragement takes place (Heb. 10:23-25). The body, when it assembles, functions in concert for the good of each member (1 Cor. 12). This kind of koinonia cannot exist anywhere else on earth other than in a local assembly of Christ's people.
There is most certainly a duty to find a church where these biblical convictions are believed and acted upon. When one finds that church, then there is a duty to join oneself to such a assembly. That church is then worthy of our love, our loyalty, our support, our defense, our tears, our prayers, our toils and our labors. It is an unspeakable privilege to belong to the Bride of Christ. Let us revel in the privilege and zealously take up our duties. May we be able to sing "I love Thy Church, O God" from a sincere heart. May we adopt the attitude of our Heavenly Father who said, "he who touches you, touches the apple of My eye" (Zech. 2:8).
Brian Borgman (D.Min., Westminster Seminary) is founding pastor of Grace Community Church in Minden, Nevada. Dr. Borgman is the author of My Heart For Thy Cause: Albert N. Martin’s Theology of Preaching (2002) and the forthcoming Feelings and Faith: Cultivating Godly Emotions in the Christian Life (April 2009).
Pastor Brian is husband to Ariel and father to three wonderful children: Ashley, Zachary and Alex.