Surveying the crowd that spread out in all directions before him, as the multi-colored lights of the arena revealed the slight beading of sweat dotting his forehead, the preacher lifted his hands and with great conviction declared, “we are the Body of Christ, the Church of the living God!” Upon hearing these words, those in attendance began to rise to their feet and, with a resounding wave of unity, began to clap and articulate statements of affirmation.
These words: “we are the Body of Christ”, we have all heard before. Many of us, like those in the illustration above, have lifted our voice, noised our affirmation, and articulated the firm, resolute acceptance of the idea such a phrase posits. Caught up in the energy of the moment and the familiar conviction of the gathered numbers around us, we have felt the bursting pride of what it is to be the Bride of Christ. But, before I go any further I feel it necessary to say what this treatise seeks to express: God doesn’t have a girlfriend.
Have you ever sought to answer the question, “who qualifies as the Bride of Christ?” Think about it. Somewhere in those momentous occasions, surrounded by men and women of like precious faith there is bound to be some church, person, or group that we have clearly erected lines of demarcation around. In fact, we don’t really know where to place them. It’s the conundrum of the hour. Who’s who in Pentecost? So, in effect we have created a cataloged system of classification to help us identify groups within a group.
In sociology and social psychology this concept is given the terms ingroup and outgroup. It is very simple. An ingroup is a social group a person psychologically identifies as being a member of. On the other hand, an outgroup is a social group that a person does not identify with. These two classifications, ingroup and outgroup, are present from the moment one is brought into the world as a newborn baby.
Race, socio-economic status, and a plethora of other conditions and ideologies have long categorized people into isolated groups and sub-groups within groups. Think about your past experience, especially if you attended a publicly-funded academic institution. There were the rich-preppy kids. There were the awkward, intelligent, nerdy kids. There were the boisterous (often obnoxious) sporty kids we called the jocks and, don’t forget, the skaters, posers, and just plain weirdoes! Of course, there were always the cross-cultural individuals that seemed to blend with everyone.
Now, turning back to the religious arena, surrounded by people of like precious faith a form of categorical classification is present. Ingroups and outgroups dominate our religious world. While we don’t call them jocks, preps, hippies, or skaters, we call them liberal (some ultra), conservative (some ultra), or, the new byword; balanced. But wait! Don’t forget the sinners whom we classify as unsaved people who have yet to receive the Holy Ghost or the backsliders, who are sinners as well, but their prodigal status seems to need more emphasis than their sin status.
Suffice it to say, as individuals we are comfortable with the presence of the outgroups as long as we feel a majority of ingroup. In fact, we can tolerate the use and participation of those we deem to be within outgroup categories as long as they operate within the venue of our majority in-group. Change the venue, where the once ingroup becomes the out-group and we/they are suddenly uncomfortable. Its the way of life! It’s the nature of self-preservation! Society has been built upon these fundamental classifications (ingroups and outgroups).
Now, think back to that statement the preacher threw out to those within his congregational in-group: we are the Bride of Christ! Where does that place the outgroups? Think on this with me. Let’s take this on a digressed course for a moment. Perhaps you are reading this and you are of the Baptist persuasion. Maybe Methodist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or some other religious affiliation? Your present affiliation (it’s ministry base and theological base) is deemed to be the Bride of Christ. Where does this place your outgroups? Againt, I must make it clear…God does not have a girlfriend!
According to the Apostle Paul:
There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (Eph. 4:4-6).
Paul was writing, and no theologian would argue otherwise, to THE church. He was writing to THE Bride of Christ! So, without sounding or being confrontational, if you attend or support a religious movement that allows for many ways but one destination you are NOT espoused to a true system based upon an unchanging Biblical standard. Why? God does not have a girlfriend!
This becomes the conundrum of the day. We will fellowship the sinner and we will even fellowship the groups we consider lost in false doctrine yet we have clear lines of demarcation around various outgroups within our own world of religious ideology. We have no problem worshipping with the charismatic, as long as, it is at a venue clearly called a concert. But, God forbid, we are caught at the venue of one of our own ideological outgroups! Stay with me here! I’m just trying to make a point! God does not have a girlfriend!
God is not a polygamist! He has not married to multiple brides. The same detailed devotion mandated out of Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is the devotion of God to His bride! Monogamy is like monotheism…there is a oneness in both affection and devotion. It is a covenant between two parties that become one flesh- Hence, the one-bodied Bride of Christ, which is the Church! This then begs a question:
I wonder if God shares the same opinion so many of us may have as it relates to various churches or groups. Have we declared “Ichabod” while the Glory still remains?
It is not my intention to isolate subjective issues and beliefs across the broad spectrum of Pentecost, for they are indeed diverse. In many good-natured conversations I have had with good, God-feraring men, I have posed the question when does one cease to be a part of the Bride? Is this a tough question to answer? To some degree yes! However, the vast majority of the answer rests upon subjective or objective truth.
When expressing our opinion as it relates to fellowship we often use the words, core values. By this we mean, those things which we hold to be objective truths. These are unchanging, non-debatable positions that are clearly and resolutely formulated by the Word of God, not the traditions of men. These core values are typically the benchmark of what we consider to be the Bride of Christ. Within the realm of core values, there is absolutely ZERO tolerance for subjective interpretations. For most of us, this would include, but is not limited to, our essential systematic theology. Where things begin to get dicey is when we delve into topics we wouldn’t necessarily classify as core values related to issues of salvific nature. These peripheral things, which predominantly are considered minors that we major on, couldn’t necessarily be classified as heaven or hell issues. That being said, these issues are typically the dividing lines of demarcation. These are often the deciding factors that make ideological ingroups and outgroups within our religious framework of fellowship. Now, let me follow this with a question:
At what point does one cease to exist as the Bride?
The world is not exclusive, nor is Satan. However, the Bride is exclusive and so is God. Scripture defines, time and again, the covenantal nature of marriage between Christ and the Church (His Bride). Without question, there are serious expectations that Christ has for His bride! There is a point at which fellowship must cease and lines be drawn, yet with civility! Jesus knows exactly what He wants and has specified what He wants! Just because God is LOVE doesn’t mean God always LIKES! Remember that! However, knowing that the church is exclusive, with an inclusive reach, let me ask this next question.
Is it possible to marginalize specific members of the Body of Christ (the church) and attempt to ignore them so that we must never actually have to answer the question, are they still a part of the Bride? Do NOT run with this and claim that I am advocating compromise or the like-I am not. However, I am once again advocating that God does not have a girlfriend! Have we isolated people and those we categorized in our outgroups solely based upon subjective convictions alone?
I recognize that fellowship will always reflect what an individual feels aligns with their own personal belief system. There is nothing wrong with this nor am I arguing against this. A man must stand with those whose conversation and lifestyles promote, support, and often times, challenge one to a higher moral and ethical degree. I believe in a carefully balanced standard that strives to lift man away from the sinful propensities of the human flesh! However, as a side note, we must never confuse standards for strength. One must never assume that guardrails ensure good drivers! Caution! That being said, it still doesn’t negate the wisdom of erecting guardrails!
The Body of Christ
So, where then does this leave us? When does one cease to be a part of the Bride of Christ? Because, in all reality, if one is of the Bride then they remain a part of the body and thus, a member in particular. Perhaps that member of the body is weak or perhaps that member is strong? Who knows! However if one is of the Body of Christ then that member is my brother and/or sister in Christ! Therefore, it really does matter how I treat them! It matters, for the sake of clarity, how I treat anyone!
Can we notice that individuals or groups within our ideological circle are “going off track?” Sure! Can we notice certain trends that may reveal the potential for future Christ-Member covenant violation? Sure! However, does one simply (in a moment) cease from being a part of the Body of Christ? Is the transition out of the Body reflected in the events of the nation of Israel where they slowly tapered off into vain ritual and motions of service, without affection and relationship, until God eventually removed His glory from among them and wrote a bill of divorce?
And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce… (Jer. 3:8)
Consider with me some of the “hot topics” that are being thrown around the spectrum of the church. Of course we will not name those issues! That is not my intention. However, one doesn’t have to have 20/20 vision to recognize that we have created, good or bad, lines of demarcation around various groups and sub-groups. However, we haven’t merely drawn lines of what we are comfortable with in fellowship, but instead, we have made it clear that each group or sub-group is either inferior, or unworthy to be recognized. We are branding one another as acceptable or unacceptable.
Please understand that as a parent I will seek to control the other influences my children will fellowship. Influence, personality, and personal standards will govern my decisions as to what things and environments are allowed into my children’s lives. With that in mind though, the last thing that I will do (for the sake of those children I am concerned about being around my children) is draw visible lines of demarcation (except in the extreme cases) that cause my children to demean or turn their nose upwards against other children. I will also ensure that, as a parent, I am doing everything I can to develop a maturity and strength in my own children that can survive without marginalizing or severing everyone or everything that may have weaknesses of character and judgment. Welcome to humanity!
What are we doing in this crucial hour within the Body of Christ? Do we somehow feel it pleases God when we marginalize, ignore, diminish, or reject members of His own body? Do we somehow believe it pleases God to promote an acronym at the cost of Christlike character? Has the Word of God somehow changed? Does one man’s subjective convictions give the right of declaring Ichabod in those individuals or groups that do not share their convictions? Again, nobody can fellowship everybody, but God does not have a girlfriend!
I think it behooves us all to think twice before we open our mouths and speak ill of one another. A lot of us have become character witnesses against men and women we simply do not know! If we are to pray for our enemy I think it would behoove us to pray for our brother! It would certainly behoove us to exhibit scriptures relentless pursuit of reconciliation, restoration, building up, and brother love! Certainly we should heed scriptural advice to be slow to speak (James 1:19).
That man down the road that doesn’t share your acronym is MOST LIKLEY your brother in the same Body of Christ! Does this mean brotherly love overrides the paternal instincts of wisdom that may dictate the strength of allegiance and alignment on a local level? No! Be careful thou priest and levite that walks atop the thin veneer of ones proclaimed kingdom work, neglecting to reach your own neighbor and, God forbid, your own brother! We should not lament a divided nation when we promote a divided Body.