“Mawwiage is wot bwings us togeva today”

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).

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?

5 responses

  1. Bec Jeffrey

    Firstly… I agree – Princess Bride really is one of the best movies ever made. Concur.
    I have been challenged by this concept of how I view the bride (aka the church) ever since I studied at bible college and was challenged to see her both as broken but beautiful.
    A good article and I love that you and your wife model acceptance of different views. My only wonder though is…
    Does it have to even matter?
    This question stems from some pretty serious personal experience where my whole framework was based on the bride. It was my life. Then I had a kinda personal crisis that meant the answers she gave didn’t add up. To be really honest, I couldn’t even see how God could exist in that box. When I couldn’t keep to the straight and narrow, I diverged. That’s when the bride got ugly and I kinda saw some truth. Or at least the truth as I experienced it. Which is, when a group of people believe they have the answers and regularly meet together to strengthen that world view, then start to view the ‘outsiders’ as lost, can they really have it all sewn up? And is that very practice one that actually in the end starts to limit God?
    So, while I too, am still a work in progress, I wonder if the church really does need to exist? I get it’s importance in the early days, when Christianity as a movement needed traction, but fast forward 2000 years and I wonder: with our ability to globally communicate, with all that humanity has survived and experienced, now that the masses, and not just the clergy can read, is there a place, on-mass to let God out of that box and to really free people to dig into truth? To find complete acceptance and love for others that is less about needing to conform to the bride and more about simply loving ourselves, those around us, our planet?

    Is the very basis of the church concept flawed?

    Can something other then Mawwage be wot bings us towether today?

    With peace…

    1. Great questions! Thanks Bec.
      I think part of it comes down to how we see, define, and experience “church”. I prefer not to use that term so much these days. “Church” has come to mean institution, building, place and a means of conformity. I think ‘bride’ can be a useful analogy / metaphor (depending on our view of marriage) – but like any metaphor, it’s not perfect. To me, it highlights that faith is about relationship. It’s a journey. There’s actually alot of uncertainty. There’s room for doubt. There’s room for grace. The word that is mostly used by Paul in the New Testament for what we call “church” is ecclesia. It means body. Again a useful metaphor. But I don’t think we can truly conceive of a perfect metaphor for relationship with the God who is love. To steal a line… it’s “inconceivable!’ 😉
      Does the world need the “church”, I don’t know. Looking around. Possibly not.
      But, does the world need Jesus who said “this is my command, that you would love one another as I have loved you”? Does the world need Jesus who said “blessed are the peacemakers”, who chose and modelled servant leadership, mercy and forgiveness? Who chose to lay down his life rather than lead a violent revolution? I think so, more than ever.
      And does the world need a community, a body of diverse people from all nations whose primary distinctive is that they are “known by their love”? Do the people fleeing war and torture need that? Do the people struggling with their identity in a society of binary concepts need that?
      Yes, I think so. When “church” starts to look more like Jesus, then I think we will find our purpose and role again.
      What do you think?
      Grace and peace.

      PS. When you say, “is there a place, on-mass to let God out of that box and to really free people to dig into truth? To find complete acceptance and love for others that is less about needing to conform to the bride and more about simply loving ourselves, those around us, our planet?”…
      I think you begin to describe what the body of Christ is supposed to look like.

      1. Bec Jeffrey

        Thanks for the quick response Aleem. I agree, the world absolutely needs community that is “known by their love”. I also get your distinction between church and Jesus but I suppose I wonder about that too. Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”. When Jesus is the only way to God, then doesn’t that immediately cause division?
        What about people of other faiths who walk with God, but see Jesus as simply a good and loving man? These are not new questions, and I am sure you have heard them all before. I myself would have opposed my current views in my earlier years, but I am really trying to grapple with this now. I want to have peace about these bigger questions, but they have to hold true in the blinding lights of my reality. Not just cause that’s what the bible says. How do we reconcile this? If there is only one way to God through Jesus, then how do we be inclusive? If the ultimate goal is to love one another, shouldn’t we be open to allowing others to relate to God apart from Jesus?
        I ask these questions with an openness to the answers. Honestly, I sometimes wish I could go back to seeing the world through my youthful, uncomplicated eyes. There is a part of me that wonders and even wishes that I could reconcile the tension of my reality with a simple faith in Jesus. I just can’t see how right now, which leads me to wonder… have I been asking the wrong questions? Maybe the question isn’t about the church or even Jesus. Maybe its about breaking it down beyond even that to what Jesus stood for: being unconditional love. But even as I write that, isn’t ‘Jesus being the only way’ a condition to having a loving relationship with God?
        The older I get the more questions I have.
        With peace…
        Thanks for your thoughts Aleem.

        1. More great questions!
          One of the statements that I made in a blog post, and have came under the most fiery critique for, was “I am increasingly being cured of my addiction to certainty.” A lot of people railed against this and accused me of all sorts of things. I think we often mistake faith for certainty and absolutism. And then we use our absolutes to determine who is in and who is out. To define who our tribe is. Jesus consistently challenged the absolutes of the religious leaders of his time.

          We have a central positioning statement in the faith community I am part of.
          We Make Room
          Jesus’ prayer was that His followers would be one and united in love. Though we are different, we seek to discover and understand each other’s unique stories and shared humanity, even when it’s difficult to do so. We build community through humility, service and embracing each other’s successes and struggles. We make room for what God is doing. We make room for each other. We make room for faith and doubt, beauty and mystery, conversation and forgiveness.

          I share all that to say… I don’t pretend to have the answers, but I’m, keen for the conversation. And we need more safe spaces for conversation.

          I believe that if we want to understand who God is and the nature of God, then we need only look to Jesus. But what does coming to God through Jesus look like? Does that mean we have to say a magic prayer? Does that mean we have to believe all the doctrines and tenets of the church? There are amazing stories that I have heard from Indigenous elders about missionaries coming to their communities and trying to ‘convert’ them. And when they understood the heart of what the missionaries were saying, their response was essentially – “oh yes, we have those stories, we understand redemptive love, we know your God…” They didn’t use the word Jesus, or have the same context. They didn’t understand metaphors about sheep – but they still had a clear faith. Sadly, that understanding and experience was forced into and reduced to a western context and understanding of faith. Rather than adding the richness of their stories and understanding they were reduced to ‘pagan beliefs’ and forced to submit to the ‘truth’.

          I am constantly challenged by Jesus’ narrative in Matthew 25 around “I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.” These people had no idea they were doing it ‘for Jesus’. Yet, they did it anyway. They embodied / incarnated Christ and they didn’t even know it… does that mean they didn’t have a loving relationship with God? No. God was especially evident in them. Jesus teaches me how to love and who to love. But it would appear, that some people find him without knowing it or even being able to name it.

          “If the ultimate goal is to love one another, shouldn’t we be open to allowing others to relate to God apart from Jesus?”

          More questions, less answers is great but unsettling. And I think it’s important that we find communities of people where it is safe to ask questions and to be loved throughout the journey. This sounds like what “church” should be like, to me.

  2. Bec Jeffrey

    “oh yes, we have those stories, we understand redemptive love, we know your God…”
    That is so good! It occurred to me as I read that, maybe when Jesus said: ‘I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”, he didn’t mean that in a, “I am the only way!” kinda deal, but more, ‘its impossible to come to the Father except through me, because I AM’. You know what I mean? In our western head space, we see that as a statement of absolutism or black and white like you say. And we interpret that to mean THE-ONLY-WAY. Maybe the motion behind that statement is more about there is no difference: God / Jesus – they are the same.
    With that understanding, then the first question I posed makes so much more sense. Does it even matter? No, it doesn’t. It is ultimately connection to God that matters. For some people, that connection will be Christ, for others, something else, but it all leads to God – who I do believe is love! It all leads to love! Do you think?
    If that is what your faith community is onto, then you I believe you are onto something 🙂 I love the concept of making room and curing ourselves of addiction to certainty. Not making room and needing to be certain of everything are maybe what has strangled life out of the bride? It’s certainly what strangled life out of me. Making room and letting go of certainty may be the things that allow genuine conversations like this one to shed light on otherwise confused spaces.

    Thanks for a little illumination 🙂

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