Doesn’t she look beautiful?
What's your view of the Church? Becky Roberts a student from Ipswich challenges us to look at the Church the way the Bible describes... what do you see?
This summer I will be going to three weddings. I absolutely love weddings – most people do, they’re inexplicably precious things to watch. I once saw a couple getting married in Central Park. I didn’t know them, I just walked past and stopped to watch as they said their vows, but I still cried watching it because of the joy on both of their faces. If someone had asked me to describe the bride, I would have described the smile on her face, and the way she looked at her husband, and how beautiful she looked in her dress. In the summer, I’m positive I will see three more stunning brides, and my only thought as I look at them is sure to be their joy, their beauty and their love for their soon to be husband.
The Bible paints a beautiful and irresistible picture of the bride of Christ, the church. It says Christ gave himself up for her, “so as to present the church to himself in splendour, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind- yes, so that she may be holy and without blemish”. We are the beautiful, unblemished bride of Christ, but what kind of bride do we look like from the outside?
Allow me to take this picture we get from the Bible a little further…
I wonder how people see this bride of Christ’s. Imagine if people were to say about a bride, “I don’t like her dress” or, “she doesn’t look that happy”, or “she once hurt me”, or “I don’t understand her”, or “I’ve never seen her before, isn’t she a bit old?” or, “she’s never spoken to me before” or “she never did explain what she saw in him”. What if someone went to a wedding and was so uninspired by the bride that they didn’t stay to take a look at the groom? What if they missed the love in the groom’s eyes because the bride had so tainted their picture of the wedding?
But what if someone looked at the bride and she was radiant. What if she walked down the aisle beaming? What if the ceremony was packed out with people trying to get a look at her to understand something of her joy? What if as they saw her, they suddenly were desperate for a glimpse of the groom, because they couldn’t understand what it was that made her glow? What if their first thought about the bride was “I can see she is greatly loved and greatly in love - I want to look like that!”?
A bride doesn’t dress down on her wedding day, even though she knows that her husband loves her regardless. She knows her groom is handsome and wonderful and people will love him when they meet him, yet she still goes to every effort to show her love for him before others. She celebrates her day by making herself look her best, and people are drawn to her outward appearance as well as the joy she shows is inside. It is not overly showy or distracting for her to wear a beautiful dress; it draws our eyes to her and in turn to where she looks- to her groom. She can’t take her eyes off the groom, but in a way that invites everyone else to look at him, rather than in a way that makes everyone else feel excluded from the scene. In her eyes, we understand something of the groom because we see the love that he has ignited in her.
There is a key difference between a normal wedding and what we, the church, have to offer. We are not showing people an example of a groom and provoking them to find someone who matches up. We are showing them the real thing, the exact same person who we ourselves have found and who they too can have. They do not have to remain observers, but we invite them to participate in this beautiful marriage. The church should be the best at reaching out, but it should also be the best at drawing in.
The point I’m trying the make it this: Do we, the church, draw the eyes of everyone onto us and in turn onto Jesus as a bride does on her wedding? Do people in Ipswich and across Britain not attend church for the reason that they do not believe that Jesus is who he says he is, or do we, the church, play a part in their disinterest? If a bride was told, “I don’t think I can get to know your groom because I don’t understand the way you talk about him”, wouldn’t she try to explain why she loved him in a way that that person would understand? What if they said, “The ceremony was so dull I can’t see how the man you’re so crazy about can be that exciting”? What if they even said, “You make me feel like you deserve this kind of love but I don’t”? What if the bride didn’t dress up and no one noticed her? Wouldn’t she want to do everything she could to show people her joy, inside and out?
I’ve often heard people say, “the church isn’t the building, it’s the people”. The statement is good in that it denies that churches are made up of four walls, but it’s still not quite there. Church in the New Testament literally mean gathering. Not just people, but people who come together and exist with purpose and intention. If the church is merely the people, then we are merely a body. The bride has legs and arms and a face, but what is she doing? Is she smiling? Is she beautiful? Does she have infectious joy? Can she explain her joy? Does she draw people into herself, or is she acting in a way which makes her exclusive and inaccessible?
How beautiful does the bride look from the outside? What can people look in on and be drawn to? What are our Sunday mornings like? What does our outreach look like? It’s important, because it could be the difference between someone being open to hearing the gospel. The Bible says that we are a “chosen people, royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession”; I think we sometimes stop there and allow church, particularly Sunday mornings, to become internal; exciting for those who are a part of it but not much to look at from the outside. But the verse goes on, saying “as a result, you can show others the goodness of God”. Our inclusion into the people of God must in turn show others, in any way possible and without barriers and hindrances, the goodness of God in a way that catches their attention as much as a bride on her wedding day. Paul says, “For we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
As the Bride of Christ, are we already doing everything we can to make sure people want to get to the groom? Have we made ourselves beautiful on the exterior, not to show off, but to catch the attention of those who have not yet encountered him? Are we an exceptional group of people to be amongst; do we leave people breathless at the love we have? Do we walk down the aisle towards the groom with our eyes fixed on him in a way that shuts people out, or does it invite more people to look up to the altar, and find the one we love for themselves?
Becky Roberts is a first year Biblical Studies and Theology student at the University of Nottingham. She grew up in Ipswich and attended St Matthews church, and recently has been very involved with The Forge in Debenham
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The views carried here are those of the author, not of Heart 4 Ipswich, and are intended to stimulate constructive debate between website users. We welcome your thoughts and comments, posted in the forum below, upon the ideas expressed here.