Imagine if a woman approached me one day and said, “Pastor Mike, I think you’re awesome. I enjoy your company, and I’d love to be friends. There’s just one thing — I don’t like your wife, Kelly. Do you think we could be friends without bringing her into things?”
Not only would I say “absolutely not,” the very notion would offend me for one simple reason: I love my wife. In fact, I love her so much, I’ve entered into a covenant with her, in which sense, we are one. To reject her is to reject me.
No one’s ever had such a conversation with me, but there are many Christians who approach Jesus this way. They wonder if they can have a relationship with Jesus without bringing His bride — the church — into the equation. They say things like, “I love Jesus; I just don’t like church.”
Over the next several months, as we discuss How to Live a Worthy Life from the book of Ephesians, we’ll debunk this mentality by focusing on a central theme: The church is the center of the Christian’s life, and Jesus is the center of the church.
Now, you may be thinking, “Easy for you to say — you’re a pastor!” But let me explain what this statement does not mean. It does not mean you shouldn’t hold a secular job, volunteer at your kids’ school, or have friends outside of your local church. Rather, like ancient creeds, it’s aimed at rejecting the prominent mistruths of our day, specifically that a commitment to the church is of little consequence in a believer’s life.
People sometimes think the famous creeds of Christianity were designed to be a representation of the Christian faith in its totality, but that’s not actually the case. They were purposed to combat specific heresies within the church at the time. For instance, in 325 A.D., the First Council of Nicaea convened to address Arianism, a heresy introduced by Arius of Alexandria who believed Jesus was not actually divine. Arius taught that Jesus was the highest created being of God, worthy of honor, but not equal with God. To refute Arianism, the council established the Nicene Creed, which unequivocally emphasizes the deity of Christ: “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God.”
On the other hand, the Apostles Creed refutes the exact opposite heresy, that of docetism, which taught that Jesus was only divine and not physically human. It emphasizes the humanity of Christ by focusing on His physical actions: “Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.”
Interestingly, these two creeds highlight opposite but equally important truths. They’re a testament to the power of language for affirming and preserving sound doctrine.
Similarly, at Grace we like to repeat simple sayings to push back against cultural mistruths. We say things like, “When we show up, God shows up,” to refute the fatalistic mindset that everything is predetermined, therefore we have no responsibility to be proactive in our faith. We say “good is ahead” to reject the hopelessness of believing this life is all that exists. And we say, “the church is the center of the Christian’s life, and Jesus is the center of the church,” to counter the present temptation to view church as extraneous, as just another option in a sea of choices — something to do on Sunday when there isn’t something better to do.
It may seem innocuous because it’s so common, but a lukewarm regard for the Church is dangerous. Consistently, history reveals that when churches disappear, Christianity disappears. France and England used to be the most Christian nations on the planet. France was heavily Catholic and England was Protestant, so they were constantly in conflict, but still they remained nations highly populated by professing Christians. Today, one half of 1% of people in France are Christians. Visit either country and you’ll see massive cathedrals that are completely empty. You can tour them like museums — ancient relics, now obsolete.
May it not be so for us. It’s my prayer that through our study of Ephesians, we would come to center our lives on Christ, and in so doing, to regard with commitment and passion the church for whom He laid down His life (Ephesians 5:25). Can you be a Christian apart from the church? Yes. Loving the church is not part and parcel to salvation. But can you be a whole-hearted disciple of Jesus with no regard for His bride? No. Not anymore than you could be a true friend of mine with no regard for my wife.
In the weeks to come, we’ll talk about practical ways to center your life around Christ and His church, but for now — at the onset of this series — take a moment to ready yourself before God. Ask Him to “open the eyes of your heart” (Ephesians 1:18). Listen expectantly. Welcome whatever work He wants to do in your life, trusting that He is good, and He is able to do “immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).