Is the Church the church, or does it contain the church?
Is the true history Christianity told only on the margins? Where is the ‘spotless bride’ to be found?
We need to be transformed into the likeness of Jesus, in order to reflect the Lord’s glory. So, it stands to reason that those Christians who have been the most open to this divine transformation should be the ones that God has used the most. That should be the mark of a Christian. So we comb our Church history books and read the testimonies of those great men and women of faith, who sought to emulate Jesus, rather than the World.
Francis of Assisi may have been high-born, but he gained his following from preaching on the streets with the beggars and living the simple life. Similarly, Mother Theresa of Calcutta (or Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu to her friends) left home at eighteen to be a missionary and dedicated the rest of her life to working among the poorest among the poor. William Wilberforce may have worked in the murky world of politics, but his faith in Jesus shone in his work to abolish slavery, despite failing health and robust opposition. Corrie Ten Boom, the middle aged Dutch Christian, put her own life in constant danger by rescuing many Jews during Nazi occupation, earning her a spell in a concentration camp.
There are, of course, many other examples, most unrecorded and unknown to us this side of heaven. Yet we have to say that they all worked on the margins of Christian society, the exceptions rather than the rule. Francis of Assisi founded his religious order with the blessing of Pope Innocent III, the very same man who insisted that all Jews wear the yellow badge, as an example of “a people rejected by God”. While Mother Theresa ministered to the poor in Calcutta, just down the road the well-heeled Anglicans of the Raj enjoyed sumptuous meals after their weekly Church services. William Wilberforce may have belonged to a parliament that required a Christian oath for membership, but his fight for the abolition of slavery was largely opposed by the Christian establishment, including the Royal family and Lord Nelson! Corrie Ten Boom was one of just a handful of righteous gentiles in the Dutch Church, who stood by the Jews in their hour of need.
Any reading of the history of Christianity in the Western World would tell a similar story; those who stood up for true Biblical faith and the actions inspired by it, were vilified, mocked, persecuted, even martyred, including John Wycliffe, who had the cheek to produce an English translation of the Bible, the first that could be read by the common person!
This all beggars belief and the depths to which the State Church had fallen since those heady exciting days described in the Book of Acts must make God weep. This whole sorry story is told in many of my other books, notably How the Church Lost the Truth, which describes the role played by pagan Greek philosophy in this decline.
But God has always supplied a remnant of true believers, either as localised movements (as in the case of the Waldenses and the Moravians), or with faith-filled individuals, such as those already described, who lived extraordinary lives despite the hostility that surrounded them from the “official” Church.
And what of today? Does the Church still persecute its own? Where can we see Jesus’ likeness? What is the real state of the Church today? Are we truly the spotless bride we are meant to be, when Jesus returns for us?
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for herto make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. (Ephesians 5:25-27)
Cynical old me, as I ponder, thank goodness he didn’t return during the Dark Ages, or during the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Holocaust. What on earth would he have found then, masquerading as the Church? Would he have been like Prince Charming, roaming the earth, ignoring whole bands of ugly sisters, looking for Cinderella Church, to that which the slipper fits?
Is it still Cinderella Church that Jesus searches for? That without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, that which is holy and blameless. Or are the stubborn stains of Greece too hard to remove? Is it too late to iron out those ancient wrinkles of pagan philosophy? Where is the Church without blemish?
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