One of my favourite movies of all time is The Princess Bride. I’m not sure what that says about me, but there it is.
One of the classic scenes in the movie (and there are many!) is the forced wedding between Prince Humperdinck (bad guy) and Princess Buttercup (leading lady). Buttercup has no desire to marry Humperdinck but agrees to do so to save the life of her true love, Wesley. The wedding scene, like the rest of the movie, is highly amusing and features a cameo performance from Peter Cook as the Priest.
Again, I’m not sure what this says about me, but I have often found this scene to be indicative of some of the struggles within the broader Church. Competing interests. Tense relationships. Hidden agendas. And people on the outside looking in must think ‘what a joke and what a mess’.
The Apostle Paul in his letters to the Ephesian and Corinthian churches describes the church as a bride and Jesus as the bridegroom. He also describes the church as a body of which Jesus is the head. What this speaks to is a relationship of unity, partnership and love. However, what we often see within the ‘bride’ and the ‘body’ is vastly different.
My wife and I are both Christians. We are both followers of Jesus. We worship together but we also worship separately. I am a Pastor of a pentecostal church. My wife is an active member of a local Catholic church.
If you need some time to process that, maybe go and make yourself a cup of tea and come back. I’m happy to wait.[brief interlude]
Ready to keep reading? Ok, let’s go.
A decade ago, possibly even now, some Christians (from either denomination) would view this as an unholy union. Some would see it as oppositional and unworkable. At the very least, most people find it strange.
“When is she going to submit to your spiritual authority, get saved and worship exclusively at your church?” “When is he going to come to a revelation of the one true church and convert?”
We’ve heard it all. We’ve endured pressure and even condemnation.
On occasion we’ve succumbed. And when we have succumbed to various pressures it has always been to the detriment of our marriage and what we believe God has called us to model.
Jesus’ prayer for the church is that we would be one and brought to complete unity.
“Well doesn’t that mean you and your wife should be united and only worship at one church?” No, not necessarily. Unity does not equal homogeneity.
Paul’s metaphor for the church is that of a human body not a gelatinous mass. There are distinct parts. Distinct traditions. Distinct roles. Distinct means of worship. Where we go wrong is when the hand decides that the foot should cease to be a foot and become a hand. Where we go wrong is when the foot decides it should no longer be a foot, but an ear.
Where we go wrong is when we ignore the headship and authority of Jesus and decide we can be a body all on our lonesome.
My experience is that the body of Christ has often looked and operated more like a dismembered body than a unified one. There can be hands and toes and ears and various other parts running around with no reference to, and in isolation of, the other parts. But all of these parts make up the bride of Christ and Jesus loves all of His bride.
Thankfully, the bride, the body, the church is changing. Thankfully, we are listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing Him to bring us together in partnership.
Thankfully we are having more conversations about what we have in common, who we have in common, and arguing less about doctrinal differences. Thankfully, We are coming to understand that unity does not equal homogeneity and we can celebrate the unique role each of us have to play in the body of Christ. Thankfully we are beginning to work out Jesus’ command to love one another and to lay down our lives. Thankfully, we are beginning to model this love to our neighbours, our communities, and our world.
My wife and I have a great marriage, we work together in loving partnership. But we also have a long way to go. Similarly the body of Christ is increasingly working together in loving partnership but has a long way to go.
Jesus’ prayer and invitation is to unity. That’s the cry of his heart. For when we are brought to complete unity it is then that the world will know that Jesus was sent to redeem, restore and renew the world and that they are loved. (John 17:23)
When we can lay down our own agendas, lay down our lives for the love and cause of Christ – then the Church will be seen less as a curious, entertaining mess and more as God’s plan for the restoration of the world (as He intended it).
OVER TO YOU
Do you hold prejudices against other churches or denominations of the church?
Do you speak poorly about aspects of Jesus’ bride?
If love invites us to unity under the authority of Jesus how can you begin to break down some of the barriers that exist within the body of Christ?
What’s your part to play in bringing unity rather than division?