Monday, September 26, 2011

Here Comes The Bride?

It may come as a shock to many of you, but there are many Christians today who flatly deny that the Bride of Christ is the Church. Some of them argue that the Bride of Christ is Israel (which to them are the Jews rather the Church), and still others outright admit that they're not sure who the Bride is, only that it simply cannot be the Church. (And they have their reasons).

I first came across this unusual objection to the idea of the Bride of Christ being the church about a year ago when I published an article here called "A Profound Mystery" which elaborated on the identity of the Church as the Bride, the Body and the Temple. A friend responded to that email and challenged the idea that the Bride was the Church. We went back and forth via email for about a week and in the end neither of us had convinced the other, and so we agreed to disagree and let it go.

But today on Twitter I posted something about the Church being the Bride and here again someone else chimed in and challenged this idea that the Bride of Christ is the Church. I was flabbergasted. Until today, I had assumed that only a few isolated people doubted this teaching, but now I realize that it's quite pervasive, and so I'd like to address this idea here. Comments are more than welcome.

First, let me lay a case for the Bride of Christ being the Church before I attempt to refute the naysayers.

Throughout the Scriptures, beginning in the Old Testament, the idea of the Bride is one of the most common terms used by God to describe His people. These references are largely found in the Song of Solomon, Hosea, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and 2 Samuel.

Of course, this practice continues into the New Testament as well.

I'll start with one of the lesser known arguments for the Church as the Bride of Christ before I move on to the more common scriptures that are usually debated.

In Galatians, Paul uses the illustration of Hagar and Sarah as two types of mothers; one a slave and one free. In Gal.4:26 Paul says,

"But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother."

Notice here that Paul refers to "the Jerusalem above" and says that she is "our mother." By this he means to imply that we are children of the free woman and the heirs of Abraham's promise.

Now, let's look at what the author of Hebrews has to say on this subject.

"But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly (ekklesia) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven..." -Hebrews 12:22-23

Here, we see that "Mount Zion," "the city of the living God," and "the heavenly Jerusalem" are equated with "the assembly (ekklesia) of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven." The Church is equated with Mount Zion, the city of the living God and the Heavenly Jerusalem. Got it? Now, let's read Revelation 21:

"And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband." Revelation 21:2

"Then came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls full of the seven last plagues and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God," - Revelation 21:9-10

So, according to the Scriptures, we (the Church) are children of the Jerusalem above, and that Jerusalem above is the city of the living God, the assembly (ekklesia) of the firtborn, and that city is the Bride of the Lamb.

Now, most of you already know about Ephesians 5:25-33. Here, Paul uses an illustration from marriage to teach us something astounding about Jesus and about our identity as the Bride of Christ. I've edited the text to highlight the main thoughts:

"...just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to 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." - Eph 5:25-27

"'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.' This is a profound mystery — but I am talking about Christ and the church." - Eph 5:31-32

Because this passage is so often used to counsel men and women in regards to the marriage relationship, I have removed those references so that we can see what Paul says he is actually talking about: "Christ and the church".

Let me admit here that those who deny the Bride of Christ as Church doctrine really hate this passage most of all. Many say that this is only meant as a metaphor, and therefore we shouldn't use this to teach people that the Church IS the Bride of Christ. Of course, one could argue that if Paul didn't want us to be confused about the identity of the Bride he probably shouldn't have used such an explicit metaphor - and he also probably shouldn't have applied this metaphor as a basis for the way husbands and wives should love one another and become "one flesh" in the same way that the Church is "one flesh" with Christ.

Paul also quotes from Genesis chapter 2 in this passage and this reminds us of how God put Adam to sleep and made a woman for him because "God saw that it was not good for man to be alone". Notice it was God's idea, not Adam's, for man to have a wife. Somehow this reference points to God's plan for the Church. As Paul reminds us - "For this reason" the man is to "leave his father and mother and be united with his wife and the two will become one flesh". This is where Paul pauses and remarks that "this is a profound mystery". Why? Because he is not talking about Adam and Eve now. He's not talking about Christian marriage between a man and a woman. No, he is talking about Jesus and the Church "becoming one flesh".

If we are not "one flesh" with Christ in the same way that a husband and wife are "one flesh", then why use this metaphor of marriage? Why refer to Genesis 2?


I've found several arguments against the idea of the Church as the Bride and I'll try to address some (but not all) here.

"Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready." - Revelation 19:7

Some who disagree with this doctrine try to say that the Church cannot be the Bride because, in this verse, the Bride must "make herself ready" and since Christians are all saved by Grace this cannot be talking about the Church.

To quote one source:

This requires "works" to be done by the Christian to get ready. The word says that we are already made righteous, and are already sanctified. So then, the church, in God's eyes, is already ready. Rev 19:7 can't be refering to the church. It has to be something else.

Really? Is there some other class of people who WILL be saved by "making themselves ready"? Or maybe you're misreading this passage?

First of all, the passage says that the Bride has made herself ready but does that mean that the Bride has made herself righteous? Is it possible to "make (yourself) ready" by simply obeying all that Christ has commanded in humble obedience? Is it possible to be "made ready" by receiving the free gift of God's saving grace? I would argue that this passage is not about salvation, it's about the Bridegroom coming to take his Bride.

Another argument against the Bridehood of the Church is:

"A bride can only become a member of a famly by the law. Christians are made members of the body of Christ by grace through faith (a gift) and not made a member of the household of faith through the law (works)."

Taking this same logic, one could easily argue that the Church cannot be a son of God because a son cannot be "one flesh" with his father. (That would be gross, and illegal in 49 States). But these illustrations are not meant to be encompass all facets of the analogy. They are limited in some respects, but true in others.

It's also wrong-headed to say that because the Church is a Temple, it cannot embody the qualities of a Son; and if the Church is a Body, it cannot share the same qualities found in a temple of living stones. Pointing out the differences in these terms does not qualify as refuting them.

Some have argued that the Church cannot be the Bride because the Bride is a city and Jesus can't marry a city. Really? What about Isaiah 62?

You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
and your land shall no more be termed Desolate,
but you shall be called My Delight Is in Her,
and your land Married;
for the LORD delights in you,
and your land shall be married.
(Isaiah 62:4 ESV)

Apparently, God has no problem with the idea of marrying a city or a land. In fact, it's something He told us He would do a long time ago.

I've got more to say on this topic but let's save some of this for another post, or perhaps any comments or questions.


1 comment:

Lustus said...

“Some of them argue that the Bride of Christ is Israel (which to them are the Jews rather the Church), and still others outright admit that they're not sure who the Bride is, only that it simply cannot be the Church. (And they have their reasons).”

Perhaps it would be useful to point out to "others" that the term "church" refers to the assembly of the called out ones. The nation Israel is a type or foreshadowing of the Church. There is no distinction made between true Israel (those of the faith of Abraham) and the Church as regards to Christ's taking her for a wife. Together they are one body with one Lord.

And He came and preached the glad tidings of peace to you who were afar off and [peace] to those who were near.

For it is through Him that we both [whether far off or near] now have an introduction (access) by one [Holy] Spirit to the Father [so that we are able to approach Him].

Therefore you are no longer outsiders (exiles, migrants, and aliens, excluded from the rights of citizens), but you now share citizenship with the saints (God's own people, consecrated and set apart for Himself); and you belong to God's [own] household.
~ Ephesians 2:17-19 (Amplified Bible)