FEBRUARY 26, 2018 BY KAREN MAINS
The wedding guests have gathered in great anticipation; the ceremony to be performed today has been long awaited. The orchestra begins to play an anthem, and the choir rises in proper precision. The bridegroom and his attendants gather in front of the chancel. One little saint, her flowered hat bobbing, leans to her companion and whispers, “Isn’t he handsome?” The response is agreement, “My yes. The handsomest.”
One by one, the bridesmaids, heralds of the nuptials, begin to stride in measured patterns. Several flower girls sow rose petals upon the white, unmarked aisle cloth. The sound of the organ rises, a joyous announcement that the bride is coming. Everyone stands and strains to get a proper glimpse of the beauty—then a horrible gasp explodes from the congregation. This is a bride like no other.
In she stumbles—something terrible has happened! One leg is twisted; she limps pronouncedly. The wedding garment is tattered and muddy; great rents in the dress leave her scarcely modest. Black bruises can be seen welting her bare arms; the bride’s nose is bloody. An eye is swollen, yellow and purple in its discoloration. Patches of hair look as if they had actually been pulled from her scalp.
Fumbling over the keys, the organist begins again after his shocked pause. The attendants cast down their eyes. The congregation mourns silently. Surely the Bridegroom deserved better than this! That handsome Prince who has kept himself faithful to his love should find consummation with the most beautiful of women—not this. His bride, the Church, had been fighting again.
Bride waits for her groom - Karen Mains - Gospel for Asia
Karen Mains writes for Gospel for Asia about the Bride of Christ brawling again and again.
I wrote this story, shamelessly copying my husband’s sermon idea, and used it in a book I wrote on forgiveness. Last week, a friend asked me in which book I had used this illustration.
“Key to a Loving Heart,” I informed her.
“That’s such a powerful picture,” she replied.
So I looked it up, and it is a powerful allegory. Here, I give proper credit to my creative husband (since I didn’t give him credit for the story in the book!)
I am a child of the American church. My early memories are intertwined with Sunday school teachers, morning worship services, fellowship hours, youth groups, choir practices, evening evangelistic efforts, midweek prayer meetings, summer Bible camps. I was raised in the church, and much of adult life has been spent serving the church. I am all too aware of church splits, minor fracases, non-amicable partings, ecclesiastical skirmishes. In fact, last Sunday after church, someone mentioned an acquaintance who had dropped his attendance.
“Church hurt somewhere in the past,” was the diagnosis.
The Church corporate, that household of the living God, has too often formed itself into a series of the fortified camps, entrenched not against the enemy without but against the enemy within. Cold, silent wars or outright major offensives—it doesn’t matter which, hostilities are occurring. Word bombardments are being unleashed. Slaughter is havocking the board meeting. Bloodshed is launched in the women’s ministries. The Bride is brawling again.
Why? Why are so many of our churches filled with this bitterness? Why is it impossible to love those members of our own church families? Here in the States and in churches across the world, the potential for household fisticuffs seems all too eminent.
“Defending the doctrine!” we respond. “Keeping the faith pure! Protecting the truth against liberalism! Guarding the traditions against parochialism!”
No matter the rationalizations we feebly offer, I think the underlying reason for our warring has been succinctly defined by the apostle James. He writes an exposition that could practically be entitled, “On Brawling Brides:”
“What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? You desire but do not have, so you kill. You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. You adulterous people!” —James 4:1-4a
The reason for our church disputes is the raging passion of our own hearts. If we really loved one another, we would find the grace to agree to disagree.
“Now, James,” I hear some of us amending, “things are not really so bad. We have never actually killed a church member.” We might, at this point, remind ourselves of Christ’s discussion on the sixth commandment:
“You have heard that it was said to the people of old, ‘You shall not murder; and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” —Matthew 5:22–24
Whoa! this is an extraordinary warning. In other words, if you are battering the Bride, if you are tearing her garments, if you are pulling out her hair, if you are kicking her in the knees, you are in danger of what? Divine judgment. Correction and approbation by leadership councils. Hell fire. Wow! Can we possibly surmise that Christ used this extreme language of caution because it was of paramount importance to Him? Yes, I think we can.
All through Church history, there have been self-appointed heresy hunters. They do extraordinary damage to the church. We have personal experience with them as our own ministry has come under attack by some folk of this ilk. My response has always been to be open to their criticism, but to always go to the Holy Spirit and to ask Him to teach me where I am in the wrong. Generally, a loving God, now that He has my attention through these unkind critiques, will say, “No. No, Karen. That’s not what you have to worry about. I’m only using this slander to draw your attention to this.” “This” is always a truth about my own behavior that I’ve been avoiding.
What I’ve learned about the self-appointed heresy hunters throughout the years is that, without exception, they violate this Matthew 5 passage. They pass judgment, they are angry against their brothers and sisters, they verbally insult others they dislike, they write incriminating half-truths—now they use the Internet to “kill.” And they do great damage. And they are going to have to face a Bridegroom one day, standing blazing and beautiful and bold, asking, “Why have you beaten and tortured and raped my Bride?” Sometimes I feel terror in my heart for these accusers. Particularly, I feel terror for their offspring. One of the men in our past, the head of a media ministry that he leveraged to beat up other Christians—my husband and myself included—died of cancer, totally alienated from his children and grandchildren. God have mercy.
“Why have you beaten and tortured and raped my Bride?”
It behooves all of us to watch our attitude toward our Christian brothers and sisters. Some of us need to read the Matthew passage from chapter 5 every day and pray that Christ’s caution will take root in our souls. We can do this.
One day the Bride will walk that long aisle into eternity where she will meet her Bridegroom, King Jesus. I am certain she will move in dignity, unblemished, limping no longer, shod in slippers of satin. Her hair will flow, silky from brushing, healthy and shining in the sun. Perhaps she will be adorned in white robes of righteousness, in sacred vestments, in costly garments. For certain, one day, she will be present to the One who loves her, beautiful and adored, unspotted in her innocence. She will be a fitting love for the Bridegroom whose name is Faithful and True.
Let us make certain that we all are on the wedding guest list.