We live in a culture that prizes materialism and autonomy. And, while we love to speak about how Christianity is counter cultural, the truth is our churches often reflect these cultural realities more than we care to admit or even recognize. When materialism is controlling our behavior, we treat the church kind of like we treat shopping for blue jeans. When we shop, we look for the best looking store, that offers us the most comfortable fit and asks of us the smallest price.
So, too, when it comes to the church.
We view the pastors and worship leaders as religious professionals who are responsible for dispensing religious goods and services to us. We are the consumers who fill the pews each week, expecting to be fed. Even in the most conservative Christian circles, we judge the value of a church by how well it feeds us. We leave a worship service measuring its effectiveness by asking questions like, “What did that do for me today?”
The irony of this view of the church (and worship) is that, while it is intended to display a commitment to biblical teaching, it contradicts a biblical view of worship by making the worshipper the primary object of the worship experience. It makes getting, instead of giving, the primary function of worship. It portrays a utilitarian, consumeristic, and definitively autonomous view of the church. It makes the church valuable because of what it can do for us, and I am convinced that the church is lovely for entirely different reasons.
In fact, I think your sanctification depends on you getting this definition of the church right. I would like to propose 5 biblical reasons why you should love the church, and I want to help you see that your sanctification is dependent upon not just the church, but your love for it as well.
We love the church because Jesus loves the church.
Sanctification is often defined as the process of being made holy. More specifically, for the Christian, sanctification is the process by which we are remade into the image of Jesus. Romans 8:29 reminds us that, from before time began, God’s plan for his children is that they would be conformed into the image of Jesus. In other words, Romans 8:29 is a promise to every believer that we would increasingly be made like Jesus. To be made like Jesus means we will love the things that Jesus loves. And Jesus loves the church.
"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word. He did this to present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless." Ephesians 5:25-28
Some have said, “I love Jesus, but I don’t love the church.” As a follower of Jesus, we simply cannot make that claim. To do so betrays our immaturity. Sure, some specific churches may have moments that involve hurt, but to make this kind of claim would be similar to you saying to me, “Micah, I love you, but I don’t like your wife.” You’re free to make that claim, but I’m also free to not like you or to not be friends with you. To follow Jesus means to love like Jesus, and Jesus loves the church.
We love the church because Jesus purchased the church with his blood.
Not only does Jesus love the church, but his love is displayed in his sacrifice on her behalf. We are told in John 15:13 that the greatest form of love is the love that one offers in sacrifice for his friends. This is the way in which Jesus loves the church.
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28
That Jesus would love the church and give himself for her - spilling his own blood for her - helps us vividly understand how serious his love for her is. The ramifications, of course, are significant for us. First, we should love the church because Jesus loves the church this much. Secondly, we should be willing to sacrifice for the church as we are increasingly made to be more like Jesus.
We love the church because the church is Jesus’ bride.
The reason why Jesus loves the church and is willing to spill his own blood on behalf of the church is the church is the bride of Jesus. In other words, the church is, in many ways, the object of Jesus’ affection.
Then I heard something like the voice of a vast multitude, like the sound of cascading waters, and like the rumbling of loud thunder, saying, Hallelujah, because our Lord God, the Almighty, reigns! Let us be glad, rejoice, and give him glory, because the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has prepared herself. She was given fine linen to wear, bright and pure. For the fine linen represents the righteous acts of the saints. Revelation 19:6-9
The culmination of all of human history, according to this passage in Revelation, will reach its pinnacle with a wedding and a wedding banquet. The entire arc of human history is bending toward the marriage of Jesus and the church. As we become more like Jesus, we must love the church because our place in the church, and the church's marriage to Jesus, is every Christian’s eternal destiny.
We love the church because the church is God’s means to make us like Jesus.
In an autonomous culture, we often view the Bible as if it’s written to each of us as individuals, and we forget that nearly the entirety of Scripture was written to churches. What’s more, we individualize spiritual growth to the point we prioritize individual approaches to sanctification - like a quiet time - as the primary means of spiritual growth. While personal time in prayer and God’s word should obviously be a priority, it is clear throughout Scripture that the local church is God’s primary means to shape us into the image of Jesus. In other words, Jesus didn’t give the bible to and for me nearly as much as he gave the Bible for us.
Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. And let us watch out for one another to provoke love and good works, not neglecting to gather together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day approaching. Hebrews 10:23-25
We should love the church - yes - but our sanctification should increasingly cause us to love and commit ourselves to it more. Conversely, as we increasingly love and commit to the church, we will find ourselves being pushed more toward the likeness of Jesus.
We love the church because the church is God’s means to reach the world.
Our love for the church should be growing, particularly as we are committed to fulfilling the Great Commission. It’s no surprise that, as we look across the New Testament, we see individuals fulfilling the Great Commission. But, in nearly every case, we see them specifically sent out by a local church.
This grace was given to me—the least of all the saints—to proclaim to the Gentiles the incalculable riches of Christ, and to shed light for all about the administration of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things. This is so that God’s multifaceted wisdom may now be made known through the church to the rulers and authorities in the heavens. This is according to his eternal purpose accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:8-11
David Platt has rightly said, “The local church is God’s Plan A and there is no Plan B.” God, in his wisdom, has ordained the local church to be the vehicle he uses to see that those who are apart from Jesus have the opportunity to hear the gospel, believe, and be discipled into his image. We cannot be a Jesus-loving, Great Commission-obeying people and fail to love the church.
This is clearly not an exhaustive list, but I find it to be a compelling one. It simply is incompatible with biblical Christianity to claim allegiance to Jesus and not love his church. Beyond that, love for the church is a product of the sanctifying process and, in turn, is a necessary means sanctification. We need the church and, beyond that, we need to love the church.