My wife and I house/dog-sat for my parents last week. I grew up with Ella, their dog, and have a deep fondness for her. My wife loves her but didn’t grow up with her. The history and love I have for Ella turned out to make a profound difference in our experiences.
Any German Shepherd mix that lives until 12 has its problems. In Ella’s case, her bladder doesn’t last and she needs to go out at 5:00 a.m. every morning, her flatulence has increased in terms of frequency and odor, and she’s developed this distinct “old dog” smell. If you’ve never had the pleasure of this unique scent, imagine a giant, barking stale Frito that has been outside too long and likes to pant dead fish breath right in your face. She can be annoying.
This is all much easier for me to endure than for my wife to endure, for which I don’t fault her. She doesn’t have the depth and history I have with Ella and didn’t know her as a puppy like I did. This is my dog, she’s family to me, and I love her for who she is deep down as a (pardon the expression) person. I have a connection and a love for the dog that goes deeper than my immediate unpleasant sensory experience of her.
I’m aware that the metaphor is a bit hairy (couldn’t resist), but it is a roundabout way of discussing devotion to the Church. I’ve seen it time and time again: if a local church member is committed to the truest sense of the Church, then they are willing to forgive the weaknesses inherent in humans and infrastructure.
For example, a local church’s worship services might be good, but the best services in the world are missing something profound if nobody in the congregation has any real tie to the place. It’s further missing the mark if the people love that church for the sensory experience it provides rather than for its deepest spiritual reality.
A devoted follower of Jesus must love His Church for her deepest universal and spiritual reality, her mission, and her true essence: the people. This doesn’t mean ignoring or not addressing a local church’s flaws; it means that a focus on the transcendent splendor of Christ and His bride will cause these flaws to be less central.
This leads me to the following speculation: maybe a church loses its people to consumerism when it focuses too much on providing an immediate physical experience. Perhaps the answer is to imbue the members and disciples in our church with a more robust doctrine of the Church, an awe and a love for Christ’s bride in her deepest sense. It’s impossible not to love the Church when we see her in the glory of who she really is, “spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity.” 1
What do you think? What raises your affections for Christ and His Church?
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1 Lewis, Clive S. “The Screwtape Letters ; with, Screwtape Proposes a Toast.” The Screwtape Letters ; with, Screwtape Proposes a Toast, Harper San Francisco, 2004, p. 5.