The most recent article discussed the value of the church to Christ, with the Lord describing the church as His holy and unblemished bride (Eph. 5:27). But in that metaphor, how are holiness and being unblemished measured?
There can only be one way. So long as holiness means set apart,” then the church can only be holy so long as it is set apart from the world. To be unblemished can only be understood as having a complexion or appearance that is without unsightly marring. Therefore, the church can only be unblemished in the sight of the Lord if it is not marred by worldly values. Additionally, this metaphor only works so long as we understand that the church desires for itself that holiness and that it strives to remain unblemished. The church will consciously avoid worldliness and anything of the world that harms its appearance.
To carry the metaphor even further, we have to think about the desires of a young bride. She wants to maintain those things about herself that first attracted her husband to her; so she takes the time necessary to look into the mirror, and she knows all the things necessary to keep up her appearance. The church ought to be equally as careful about itself! It should know the Lord’s pleasure so well that it is never in doubt as to what it should do.
Yet so often the church is uninterested in those things. Paul said that the church itself is the glory of God in all generations (Eph. 3:21). However, that glory is not just because the church exists. It is because the church bears much fruit! We’ve often lost sight of that truth. We focus on things like buildings and programs that enhance our fellowship (both of which are needed) to the point that they consume all of our energy and finances. We have meetings, endlessly so, to address these concerns and forego opportunities to focus on what truly brings glory to God.
The holy and unblemished church is not just a congregation that conscientiously abstains from denominational practices; it is a church that is equally focused on bearing fruit to the glory of God. How does it bear that fruit? It does so through its divinely appointed works of evangelism, edification, and relief.
The church is evangelistic only if it is consciously working to reach he lost. First-century churches were always encouraged to reach out to others in their locations (Acts 5:42; 1 Thess. 1:8). Never was a local church told that it overemphasized and exerted a disproportional amount of its energy and resources in evangelism. The church is focused on edification if it pays close attention to the Scriptures (1 Tim. 4:13,16; Heb. 2:1). What the church paid attention to in terms of doctrine was a constant subject of apostolic writing. Finally, the church is carrying out its work if it is meeting those needs of its members that might weaken their faith. In fact, the faith of the local church was said to be a dead faith if it did not meet those needs (James 2:15-17).
To keep the church focused on those works that keep it holy and without blemish, the Lord gave it elders and charged them to engage in those works. The local church is to esteem them highly because of their work (I Thess. 5:12,13; 1 Tim. 5:17). The local church needs to desire holiness, and it needs to make every effort to be unblemished. It needs elders who understand what it takes to be holy and unblemished, and the congregation needs to support their efforts. In those cases where the elders’ focus is elsewhere, the congregation needs to encourage them to help it remain holy and unblemished by concentrating on those things.
Keep studying and keep serving! DC Brown ©2016