And he is the head of the body, the church. (Colossians 1:18 ESV)
Few social structures, much less spiritual ones, have undergone such internal divergences as the Christian Church. To be sure, these schisms are at the instigation of her adherents, and can be as potent and damaging today as some were hundreds of years ago (and some more recent) when forming early denominations.
I refuse to believe I’d be any less inclined than our early fathers to arrive at diverging conclusions in doctrine and dogma, save only that I’m afforded a greater perspective living today than what I may have had living then. Which is to say, the very nature of their error in the past has clarified my perception of the present. It’s like a boy who doesn’t know he shouldn’t break his mother’s China, who becomes a man and knows he shouldn’t break his wife’s China. Previous experience informs future behavior.
The arrival at true ecumenical embrace, however, doesn’t so much come from agreement as it does from understanding. If agreement is the cause for sustaining deep relationship, then I don’t know how a single marriage lasts for more than a year. But for two people to understand one another, and further, for them to understand themselves in light of an exterior influence, this is more beneficial than ever being able to agree on something.
This matter of understanding, therefore, stems chiefly from one all-encompassing fact, one that I’ve been studying for quite some time. The further I delve into it, hearing what great orators and thinkers have to say, the more I feel and know and perceive that it’s true. Namely, that Jesus Christ is the head of the Church.
This statement, and more so, Jesus’ supreme position, is so cleverly obvious that we often overlook the details of his position when making some of our more common comments about his Church. As Christians, critiquing, accusing and judging the Church seems to fair game, even when it’s out of season. The rub, of course, is that it’s been out of season for a long time, which means we’re harassing something else entirely.
We ridicule the Person when we revile the product.
Our error isn’t so much condemning the Church as it is condescending to the very Person we’ve pledged our lives to. In the Army, no soldier criticizes his commanding officer without casting blame on someone further up the chain of command that put that commanding officer in charge. Ultimately, it’s the person at the top who is responsible for the entire entity. It doesn’t much matter if the inference is understated or openly critical. The point is still there: you can not criticize the Church without criticizing the Head of the Church.
In attacking the Church, saying something to the affect that she is “broken” or “a mess,” there are only two logical conclusions that present themselves when all others have been ruled non-certatim. The first is that the head of the Church is a poor leader. This is to say, Jesus Christ is inherently broken, uncertain, and needs addressing. Such a heretical statement doesn’t need my assessment to qualify its delusional premise.
The second is that the Church itself is made up of broken people who are, by some divine allowance, permitted to represent the very God who sanctified them. It is this conclusion that becomes our basis for criticism, if there is to be any at all. And if we are to pass judgement on our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, by what authority do we do so? Do we have some insight into doctrine or theology that Jesus forgot to illuminate the rest of the Church world with? Do we ourselves have less error than they do, having so easily exchanged our plank for a speck?
The truth is, when critiquing the Bride, I must do so knowing that my words and thoughts pass through the throne room of God. And then, if deemed worthy of passing, speak of people who are precious to him in ways far beyond anything I can possibly comprehend.
My estimation, therefore, is that we measure varying degrees of maturity and perspective within the Bride, not a sense of right or wrong, broken or whole. Since we are all unpunishable sons and daughters in the Kingdom, for me to gauge anything other than these two components is either attacking the Head of the Church, or else his blood-bought possessions, ones he considers holy.
Such a state is incredibly freeing. It relieves me of “always having to be right,” and, further, always comparing myself to every other Christian and denominations, which is downright exhausting—a waste of energy and time. But what’s more, it leaves the job of examining and informing the Church up to someone far more qualified: Jesus Christ, the head of all things.
With such a view, I’m able to see the values hidden within orthodoxy and modernism alike. I’m able to celebrate with Baptists, Episcopals and Lutherans as easily as I am with Catholics, Pentecostals and Anglicans. Surely, my natural mind will find plenty I don’t resonate with, and some I flat out disagree with. But to paraphrase the late E. Stanley Jones, our faith does not center on baptisms, bishops or benchmarks, but on Jesus Christ. If I can find Jesus, God in the flesh, then I can look past all other mitigating issues and see the Bride, no matter how dismissive. For who or what is truly admissible other than perfection itself? No matter how close I may come, proximity to perfection doesn’t net any awards. Only Christ Himself.
If in our agreeing (or disagreeing, as it may be) we position a sub-servant aspect of doctrine or dogma to an elevation beyond categories of maturity or perspective, esteeming it as superior to the divinity of Jesus and his heading of the Church, we have in fact created an idol. And an idol is an idol no matter how innocent its motive. We should not and must not rally around anything more central as Christians and leaders than the person of Jesus Christ.
If I can find God the Son, then I can celebrate the Bride, no matter what form she takes. After all, she’s his Bride, not mine, and I’ve never been one to irrationally irritate a prospective husband over my treatment of his fiancé.
Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.
(Colossians 3:11 ESV)