The Church that was and Is to be
The Church that Is and Is to Be (Ephesians 5:23-27)
The life of every church is sustained by the great Head of the church, the risen Lord Jesus Christ. In the past Christ so loved the church that He handed Himself over for the church, even to the cross. His purpose was to set apart a living organism—the church—that would be different from any other gathering in the world. Nothing will keep Him from doing just this thing. Although the church in this age will never be perfect, He will at the last great Day present to Himself a perfect church.
Paul moves easily from a discussion of the married life on earth into the most sublime truths about Christ and His church. All things were so sacred to him that he could move from the hearth and home to heaven and back again with ease.
Christ Sustains the Church that Is
Christ is the Head of the church. This is exclusively His function. No one other person is the Head. Not a pope or pastor, not a deacon or layperson. No collection of people is the head of the church. We sometimes call a Baptist church a democracy. This does not mean that the church determines itself. The church is a Christocracy or it dies. As the Head of the church Christ is both its Leader and its Life. He is the Head in terms of being Governor. But He is also Head in terms of the very life of the church. A decapitated life dies. Christ is not only Head of the universal church, He is the only Head of Travis Avenue Baptist Church.
The headship of Christ is always true, but at some times in the life of the church it is even more critically true. In days of transition this truth is even more critical than ever.
Christ loved the church. Jesus Christ loved the church before its existence (1:3-7). He loves the church in spite of its deficiencies, imperfections, or inadequacies. Christ loves the church that really is, not an imaginary perfect church. He loved the churches at Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, and Thessalonica, even though those churches had serious spiritual and ethical problems.
If our church is worthy of Christ's love, it is worthy of your love. Self-deluded people look for a church without a fault so they can love that church. The church as it is reflects the church that Christ loves. Your church needs your love now.
Christ's love acts for the church. He "gave himself up for her" (v. 25). Christ proved His love for Travis Avenue by the great giving over of Himself to the cross. His love is a verb; it acts. Your church does not need your emotion, sentiment or deep feeling in the days to come. It needs your presence, your gifts and your labor.
Christ's love for the church is purposeful. Christ loves the church for the purpose of separating the church and making it actually different from every other gathering. The way the church organizes, leads, reacts, and spends is on a different basis from other institutions. Christ has set the church apart to be different from homes, schools, banks, theaters, and everything else.
Christ has made the church different by cleansing the church through His Word: "cleansing her by the washing with water through the word" (v. 26). The church is the great lavatory of life, the laver of living. The church is the bathing place of the Word. In connection with the utterance of the gospel the church is made clean. For that reason the Word needs to be central in the church. For that reason you need to be present under the Word in the church.
The church is a gathering of people called out to be different, and kept that way only by bathing in the Word of God.
Christ Presents the Church that Is to Be
The church that is in this age is a church imperfect. That will not always be so. The great goal of the cross is a final presentation of the church in pristine perfection.
Christ will present the church at the end of the age. In the background of this passage is the thought of a bridegroom presenting his bride at his side. At the end of the age, Christ Himself will present the church to Himself. He will present the church for Himself as a perfect church. Christ will do that regardless of all obstacles; He cannot be stopped in that purpose.
Christ will present the church gloriously. In that great Day the church will be presented as it actually is, a thing of glory. There will be no labels or denominations, no controversies or division. He will present His church to Himself "arrayed in glory."
At that time the church will be "without stain." In this age the church is besmirched with stain, spot, blemish. As the church builds and battles in the world, stains splash upon the church. These stains come from without and from within. At that time the church will be "without . . . wrinkle" (v. 27). A wrinkle is the sign of age, decay, and death. Denominations and local churches may die in this age. In that age the church will be sustained ever new, always youthful, never showing a sign of decay or age.
It would be shocking at a wedding to see the bride enter with a badly stained wedding gown, her face deeply carved by ineffaceable wrinkles. To the outward observer the church appears that way. But another Day is coming. In that Day all we have aspired to be we shall be. He himself will present to Himself a glorious church.
This and this alone is the hope and goal of Travis Avenue. Some day all the pastors and people of the generations of this church shall stand in His presence. Then all we have hoped to be we shall in an instant be, not because of us but because of Him.