I've mentioned (and quoted) Henri Nouwen many times here at Mr. Standfast. I subscribe to a daily email quotation from Nouwen, and lately these have been focused on the church. I also get something regularly from Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. It so happens that a recent email from RZIM was also about the church. This one was written by Jill Caratini. Here's an excerpt:
In the community of believers we are encouraged and admonished, uplifted and stretched (some of the reasons I suspect many of us try to avoid it). As the priests called out to the crowds in the book of Nehemiah, we are called to attention, called to remember together the one who unites us: "Stand up and praise the LORD your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting" (9:5). In community we are repeatedly shown that Christ has called us to die to ourselves and live in him.And, just for emphasis, here's yet another quotation from Nouwen:
Bonhoeffer reminds the cynical not to overlook the opportunity of Christian fellowship. "It is not simply to be taken for granted that the Christian has the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. At the end all his disciples deserted him. On the cross he was utterly alone."(2) Being in the presence of other believers is indeed a hopeful gift. In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus repeatedly cried out to his disciples that they stay awake and keep watch with him. While in prison, the apostle Paul called for Timothy, his "true child in the faith", to come visit.
I would add the following: God's church is not just some sort of mystical union of believers, but an earthly (and earthy) gathering together, in place and time, of fallen/chosen would-be followers of Jesus. Emerging from the haze of theological babble, a real people, walking out their disordered faith, chosen-ness and fallen-ness mixed up together in all the frustrating impurity that makes life together almost inconceivable . . . and yet, for the faithful, it's not inconceivable. That's because, whenever that-which-is-Christlike-in-me meets up with that-which-is-Christlike-in-you, we two immediately notice the family resemblance, and we rejoice together like long-parted brothers. Yes, and it can even happen on Sunday mornings!
To love the Church means to be willing to meet Jesus wherever we go in the Church. This love doesn't mean agreeing with or approving of everyone's ideas or behavior. On the contrary, it can call us to confront those who hide Christ from us. But whether we confront or affirm, criticize or praise, we can only become fruitful when our words and actions come from hearts that love the Church.
And as the preacher said with fervor, "GLO-ry to God!"