Magazine article The Christian Century

Brides of Christ

Magazine article The Christian Century

Brides of Christ

Article excerpt

IF THE CHURCH is the bride of Christ, then Jesus is married to both Rachel and Leah--to the church he wants and to the church he has to take. Rachel is the wife he loves and thought he was getting, but he can't have her without taking Leah, whom he doesn't love and didn't think he was marrying.

This metaphor from Jacob's two wives in the Old Testament has obvious limitations for the contemporary context. But it can't be dismissed just because we're offended by the notion of two wives. Metaphorically speaking, every married person has two spouses. There's the person you thought you were marrying and the stranger who came with that person. It's a great description of how Jesus receives the church.

Paul was pretty clear about what Jesus expects of his bride. He's looking for a church that will keep doing "whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable" (Phil. 4:8). There are times when this is exactly what the church does. Every time the church throws itself into binding the wounds of the poor, taking risky steps toward justice, and proclaiming the grace of God, Jesus smiles like an old lover who remembers being smitten by the spouse of his dreams.

There are also times when the church disappoints Jesus-when we flirt with those in power and wealth, or turn in on ourselves with hurt and accusations. There's no need to list the familiar and manifold sins of the church. Every time I sit next to someone on an airplane who, after discovering my vocation, wants to tell me about the problems of the church, I always respond by saying, "Trust me, you don't know the half of it."

After he spent three years with his disciples, I think Jesus was clear about the vulnerabilities of his plans for the salvation of the world through the church. Being disappointed is hardly news to Jesus. Spouses are always disappointed at some point in each other. This is just another reason why serious relationships live out of commitments and vows.

But there are other times when the church doesn't disappoint Jesus by its sins as much as it confuses him by its preoccupations. As the story goes, there wasn't anything wrong with Leah. She just wasn't the wife Jacob expected.

The Leah church today is the one preoccupied with its crumbling denominational structures--bishops, general assemblies, synods, dioceses, presbyteries, councils, and sessions. …

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