THE CHURCH AS CHRISTÂ’S BRIDE
“Do you love Me?”, is the great question Christ asks His church. The answer “Yes” will show whether faith, the foundation of love, has been laid. That answer will also be proved true or false by a life of obedience.
“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband . . .
Wilt thou obey him and serve him . . ?”
It has become popular to drop the words “obey” and “serve” from the bride’s vows. It is seen as demeaning to women to promise obedience to a man, or to cast doubt on the sincerity of the bride’s love. Whatever the reason, there is definitely a resistance to the words and often total refusal and rejection of them. This “spirit of the world” is found among Christians too, and more pertinent to our theme, it is, I fear, found in the very Bride of Christ, with whole churches submitting more to traditions, fads and fancy than to Christ.
Of course Christians and churches would profess they are serving Christ, but busy service is not the same as obeying Christ. Jesus warns that many will protest, “Lord, Lord, have we not done this, have we not done that in thy service,” but they will be disowned by the Lord, (Matt. 7.23). We must not confuse doing things for Christ with obedience to Christ. Even a loving heart may do lots of things for someone, with the best of intentions, and yet be doing the wrong thing. Remember Eve, it was not malice towards Adam that spurred her to offer him the forbidden fruit. She sincerely felt it would be best for him. How much safer if her love for him had been checked at that point by a promise to obey.
It is not enough for the church to promise love to Christ. We need to be bound by His gracious wisdom. We must therefore pledge our obedience as well as our love.
The apostle Paul says “the church is subject to Christ” (Eph. 5.24).
How does Christ exercise authority over His Bride? How does the church submit to Christ?
Before looking at these questions let us remember firstly, it is not a rule of terror, but a reign of love, by which Christ cares for His church. As a church we are called to submit to a loving Husband. Secondly, we must recognise there are difficulties, but they do not come from the Husband’s side. They come from us. Paul tells us it is a battle to make the marriage work. By means of spiritual weaponry we must subdue every line of reasoning, every wandering thought that is contrary to our Husband’s. We must be ready to punish our every disobedience (2 Cor. 10.4-6). Thirdly, it is church submission to Christ that we are talking about.
Of course each individual Christian must submit to Him, and that submission involves making church membership a priority. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God” our Lord said. The kingdom of God is the Church. Therefore everyone who would obey Christ must earnestly seek membership and real involvement in a local church, a local expression of the Kingdom of God: then together in that local enclave of the Kingdom serve the wishes of the King.
Returning to the questions, “How does Christ exercise authority over His Bride?” and “How does the church submit to Him?” He exercises authority by His Word and Spirit. The church submits to Christ by bowing to His Word and Spirit.
John the Baptist beautifully describes the bond between Christ and His church. It was the “voice” of the bridegroom that won the heart and following of the bride (John 3.29-36). When many were deserting Christ, Peter spoke for the church when he said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life.” (John 6.68). The flock are called out and led on by the “voice” of the Shepherd (John 10.27). It is by receiving the word of Christ that we are cleansed (15.3), and obeying His word is the test of our love (14.15;
15.14). Christ, the Living Word, has given us the Word of God as the means of our sanctification from the world and unification in Him (17.14,17,20 and 21). The church has received the commission from Christ to teach, by precept and example, obedience to His every word (Matt. 28.19f).
It is clear from the Gospels that it is not simply the word that people who believe respond to, it is the Spirit working through the Word, (John 3.8-11, 6.63). Paul’s preaching at Corinth was in “demonstration of the Spirit” (1 Cor. 2.4), at Thessalonica it was “not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost… ye… received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1.5-6). Peter states the same in 1 Peter 1.12, preaching “with
the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” John is the same, “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith . . .” (Rev. 2.7,11,17, etc.).
The life of Christ’s Bride is to be governed by a Holy Spirit-given grasp of the word of Christ. Every member has a duty to be filled with the Spirit, to let the word of Christ dwell in them (Eph. 5.18, Col. 3.18). Every member has a duty to submit to the Christ-given, Holy Spirit-granted understanding of the Word, which other members have (Eph. 5.18-21). Our concern must always be submission to Christ, to His will. His mind. His purpose, His pleasure. We must avoid submitting simply to the wills of others, their thoughts, purpose, and pleasure. We must resist imposing our will, thoughts, and desires on others. All our wills, our minds, our hearts must come to submit to the one will, heart, and mind of Christ. The Church as one body, as the bride “is subject unto Christ” with one heart, will, and mind, serving Him. In practice we must hunger for His Word and His Spirit. Also, we must each submit to the “mind of Christ” expressed by the gathered Church (Matt. 18.17.1Cor. 2.12-16).
Although Christ gives every member an understanding of His Word by His Spirit, and would have us all encourage each other spiritually by His Word, He also gives to the Church ministers of His Word. These are men gifted by the Spirit to preach the Word. The Church’s submission to Christ involves submission to those ministers whom He has gifted and given to the Church. When Jesus sent out the seventy as ministers of peace, those who rejected their ministry were warned of judgment for despising the servants of the King of kings (Luke 10.10-12). Jesus said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that receiveth whomsoever I send receiveth me; and he that receiveth me receiveth him that sent me” (John 13.20).
Christ gives to the church. He “sends” to the churches, “Pastors and teachers”, “overseers”, “elders that rule”, men who have “the oversight” of the flock, who are under-shepherds for the Chief Shepherd. To these the Church should submit, NOT as they mouth their opinions and points of view, or plug their pet theme. The Church only submits to these Christ-given, Spirit-enabled ministers of the Word, in their ministry of the Word. They are servants of the Word. They are to “give themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word”, “to labour in the word and doctrine”, to “preach the word . . . reprove, rebuke . . . with all longsuffering and doctrine.”
While Christians submit to each other’s Spirit-given grasp of truth, and so submit to Christ, they are particularly commanded to submit to the pastors whom Christ has set over them. “We beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and esteem them very highly in
love for their work’s sake” (1 Thess. 5.12f). “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God . . . Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.” (Heb. 13.7, 17). Do not think for one moment I am pleading for “pastoral power”. May God forbid I should ever do that, or, that you should misunderstand me as meaning that. I am pleading for Church submission to Christ. Not to a man, however strong his character or pleasant his personality. Not to a denominational tradition or independent tradition. Submission! Not to pragmatism, not to what “seems” reasonable, not to whoever shouts loudest or argues the best, but submission to Christ, to His Word, and His Spirit. May I therefore close with this plea:
Dear Christian, please pray daily to be filled with the Spirit, to have “each thought and each temper beneath His control”, to be guided into a true understanding and application of the Word of God. Pray especially for ministers of the Word. That the Spirit will guide them in the work of study and anoint them in the preaching of he Word. Pray that Christ might be exalted through us as His disciples.