Images of the Church

This weekend I’m in beautiful Hawai’i to teach Romans at the Bible Institute of Hawaii.  I’m refreshed, as always, to have renewed fellowship with its director, Clive Cowell and Maya his wife.  Clive has been gracious enough to supply me with a second guest entry for this site (see his earlier entry in the April 2009 archive).  He touches on the New Testament imagery that helps us understand our relationship with God in Christ: read and enjoy! 


Images dominate our world these days, whether film or footage, broadcast or blog, Netflicks or news.  These images are many times as obtuse as they are overwhelming (well, except the Spreading Goodness blog). 


When it comes to images of the Church, however, the New Testament provides us six beautifully encouraging images that are certainly different, but have a wonderful thread running through them.  The Church is seen as:  1) the body of Christ; 2) His building or temple; 3) His household or family; 4) His flock; 5) a plant or vine; and finally 6) the bride of Christ.  Whichever image grabs your attention most, each speaks of a relationship:  us in Him with love central and circulating throughout. 


A closer look reveals some insights:


As members of one body, we are members one of another.  There is connection (Rom 12:4-5).


As His building or temple, we are joined together growing into a holy temple in the Lord.  There is a bond (Eph 2:21-22).


As his household or family, we are encouraged that even though we were strangers we are now fellow citizens with saints (Eph 2:19), and as servants we are now set free (John 8:35-36).


As His flock, we have the good Shepherd.  He cares for us so much He lays down His life for us (John 10:14-16).


As a plant or vine, through Him we can bear much good fruit.  We work alongside Him as we are connected to Him (John 15:1-8).


As the bride of Christ, we have a spiritual union with Him (Ephesians 5:30-32).



I purposefully placed them in a particular sequence.  I hope you see the progressing connections from individual block, to building, to household, to servanthood under loving authority, to fruitful connection, to final union.  However, one image compels us like none of the others do. 


See, it’s one thing to be a member of a group or part of a building, even part of a household, but quite another that Christ picks us out to be His bride.  This means we are more than sheep – even when we act like it – and more than grapes – even when we whine (pun intended).  We are His bride! 


The imagery concerning His church as found in the Bible is such that there is a very real sense of order and beauty, but if we take away the imagery of the Bride of Christ, we might find ourselves lacking something, or worse unwittingly autonomous. 


How so?  We could just be sitting in our household, even with friends, might even call it church, be eating from the fruits of our labor and even following the commands of a shepherd, and as much as all these are indeed connected in Christ, there is the distinct possibility of no real union. 


While it is also true that we can be as adulterous as the nation of OT Israel, our union is confidently sealed with His love.  Christ who has picked us out from all other imagery determines to proclaim His love to us.  I don’t want to be just a building block, although I am; rather I desire to be His bride.


Every Easter we are reminded that because Christ died for us we have new life.  As Paul said, “We are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones” (Eph 5:30), and because of this “shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh” (Eph 5:31). 


Why does he connect these two verses?  According to Paul, the parallels are profound.  “This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church” (Eph 5:32).


Paul is showing us that we have an attachment to Him and a strength of affection greater than any union that exists in earthly marriages, or indeed any response to the other images of the church. We are His bride, we are His church.  In a real sense, we are in a dress rehearsal here on earth for our eternal marriage with Him in heaven. I’m encouraged that so many are participating in this “rehearsal” even on the Spreading Goodness blog.


Here in my neck of the woods, one friend put it to me this way in a class I am teaching, “I got to see [scripture] as something so much more than a guidebook, a textbook, a manual… I now see it as God’s love letter to us all.”  What a great way to continue as we get ready for our relationship in heaven.


Let’s continue to participate together as we all grow in our understanding and relationship with Him.  I am convinced that as we respond more fully in our devotion to Christ and His ministry, we will be even more passionate about Him, his love letters and the our desire to share Him.   I trust you find that an outstanding image.


1 Comment

  1. Steve

    Thanks Ron and Clive.

    On a Monday morning when I feel more like a cog in a big machine or a door mat or … It’s great to instead look up and see how God sees me.

    I’ve had a day today where I have felt quite isolated and harrassed. It’s so encouraging to stop and say, no I am part of a body, living and breathing and working together, I am a member of God’s household and a member of his flock. And even his bride.

    I can lift my head and walk tall and hopefully those around me will see something of these promises reflected in my life today, rather than a mere human response to another tough Monday.


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