About Jesus Steve Sweetman
The Perfect Church Loses Her Creativity
Paul, in Eph. 5:25-27 says, "husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing of water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless".
There's been much thought given to this verse over the years by many. Some have given this verse a futuristic interpretation. By this I mean that many believe that some day the church will be blameless because it has been made blameless and holy over her life span. That is to say, the church is not yet without blemish, but someday it will be. Some suggest the church's perfection will occur at the return of Christ. Others say there will be a gradual perfecting to such an extent that Christ will have no other choice than to return for His bride because she has made herself ready for Him.
Yet, does this particular Scripture suggest that this perfection is something that will happen in a future time? There is another way that you might want to look at this verse, and it is not futuristic. It is historical; looking back to a past event.
First of all, according to this verse, Christ is the one who makes the church pure and holy. It is not the church herself that does this. I know that there are other Scriptures suggesting that the church makes herself "ready" for Christ's return, but this verse doesn't say that. Making herself ready should not be equated with perfection. According to this verse Christ cleanses His church through the washing of the Word. I think this point is important for restorationists who believe the church will grow into perfection because she makes herself ready.
Second of all, I believe this is more historical than futuristic because it says that "Christ gave Himself for the church". The word "gave" is past tense and refers back to the incarnation of Christ, resulting in His ultimate giving, the sacrifice of His earthly body on the cross.
When viewing this verse from this perspective, we are already pure, perfect, and holy in the eyes of Jesus. His great sacrifice of love has made us as individual believers holy in His sight. It then only makes sense that the whole church is holy and perfect in God's eyes if all the individuals in the church are holy and perfect. This is the crux of the gospel that Paul so clearly defines for us in his letter to the Romans. We, who are far from righteous are now considered righteous by God, even as He Himself is righteous. We can easily understand how God Himself is perfect and righteous, but to know that God considers us just as perfect as He Himself is, well that's hard to understand, but it is the truth.
There is a problem in making this verse futuristic that goes beyond the mere contextual interpretation problem. The problem arises when we believe the church is not already perfect in God's eyes. If this is the case, how does the church become perfect? Also, by whose standard of perfection is the church to be rated?
The result of such thinking is a humanistic view of how the church grows towards perfection. This thinking more often than not is demonstrated in an unhealthy submission to authority, and the doctrine or ideal that the authority sets forth as truth. By this I mean, church leaders decide what perfection looks like and therefore church members must bow to this ideal. In the process of bowing to a man-made ideal one begins to lose the individual priesthood of the believer. We are all priests before God. We can come to Him with boldness on our own. We do not need a human being as a middle man. Without elaborating further, by saying this, I am not suggesting that leadership doesn't have its place in the church. It certainly does. The proper rule of leadership is a topic for another discussion.
This unhealthy submission to human authority and the ideals that it proclaims molds us all into the same form. If the church is to be perfect, and this is what perfection looks like, then we all have to look like this particular view of perfection. In reality though, we are all to be different, yet part of the same body. Also, who is to say that one mold is the perfect mold to imitate. Is our church's mold the one to follow? Maybe another church's mold is the model for perfection? So we find parts of the church throughout history coming up with a more perfect way to become perfect, yet never attaining it.
When we are all forced into a predetermined mold, we lose our individual flavour. We lose our individuality that should be expressed in the role we play in the Body of Christ. But most of all we lose our creativity because we are forced to be, and to do something that is not natural to us. We are forced to be someone else. We are all forced to copy the model set forth and to be the same as others.
The God in whose image we were created is a very creative God. If we are indeed made in His image, then He has made us to be creative as He is creative. He has made us with individual flavours to express within the Body of Christ.
For example, we are not all guitar players. We are not all piano players. Maybe even the odd one of us may be banjo player (emphasis on the word odd). God forbid that this could be possible, that is, that some of us could be a banjo player. Sorry to inform you, but it is true. The point is that you don't have to like the banjo, but you need to allow for the banjo to have its appropriate place of expression. By the way, that doesn't mean the banjo is relegated to camp fires on warm summer nights. I am only using the banjo as a humorous example of what I am talking about since on limited occasions I have had opportunity to play it.
Some of us like jazz. Some of us like folk, rock, classical or country music. And some of us actually like blues (by blues I mean style of music, not necessarily lyrical content). Should a Christian actually be allowed to play a style of music called the blues? If that's your flavour, excel in it, and be creative and express it in the body in which you have been placed. The problem is that this style would not fit into most church's mold of perfection. Once again, I am using musical tastes as an example only.
When the mold is so clearly defined many are unable to fit into that mold, and it is not always due to a rebellious spirit. We are simply not created to all be alike. This results in someone not being able to be creative as God made them. In many cases this ends in discouragement and a tendency to fall away, which is far from the standard of perfection the mold was meant to attain.
Why don't we consider viewing the church as already perfect in God's sight, and be happy that He views us in this way, because we certainly don't deserve it, and we certainly don't act it. We as humans can never put forth a mold that will bring us to perfection. The more we try, the more bound we become and the less creative we will be. The end result is a legalistic approach to church life that ends in death.
This is what 1 Cor. 12 is all about. It is about all sorts of different parts of the body being able to bring their gift to the table and being able to be creative in how that gift is expressed. The more this can happen, the more glorious our church will become. It could be compared to entering into a picturesque flower garden where there are hundreds of varying plants, with a variety of different colours, shapes and sizes. The variety is what gives the garden its glorious appearance and makes it attractive to the one strolling through its paths. If every plant was the same, we'd take one trip through the garden, never to return. But with the variety that our God has created for us to be planted in a garden, we'd never see everything in one trip. We'd come back time after time, to see what we have missed, to see what has changed, to view the new blossoms that were only buds the last time we strolled the paths.
This is what church should be all about. We should be like a well watered garden exploding with variety and colour, something for everyone to appreciate, don't you think?
With a futuristic view of Eph. 5:25-27, and a strong mandated mold to make this work, we will never see the church perfect as our mold would suggest. This has already been tried in many different formats over the centuries. It just does not work. Why do we keep trying? Yet if we are thankful that God views us as perfect already, just as He Himself is perfect, this will cause a spirit of creativity to arise within us to produce something that is glorious, something attractive, for all to see and appreciate.