You’ll hear people argue that when Jesus called people to follow him, he had something else in mind other than Church. Something spiritual and pure. Non-corporate. Non-institutional. Lofty. Divine. Not of this earth. The Church, as we experience her today, is not what Jesus intended. Christ’s salvation and transformation work is happening somewhere other than at Church.
No. Jesus is a flesh and blood person and his Church is a flesh and blood people.
That’s the beauty and the glory of our salvation: our God didn’t just come to us, he became one of us! That’s God’s salvation plan, that he would put on our flesh and blood. And when Jesus comes, it’s the messy flesh and blood part of it that’s so compelling.
As you read the Gospels, you can almost taste the dust. You can smell the animals. You can hear the people arguing. Jesus is not so much about inspiring concepts and uplifting ideals, he’s about fishing nets and mustard seeds and lost coins and lepers. Our Lord is more about tears and frustration and spit mixed with dirt and sheep and synagogues and sermons and suppers than he is about theological abstracts and disembodied ideas. Jesus is all about weddings and funerals, betrayal and forgiveness, thunderstorms and olive trees. The flesh and blood reality of Jesus as a real human person is in your face in the Bible.
And it’s beautiful! It’s magnificent! We praise God because he became one of us in Jesus Christ. Our eternal salvation is grounded in the fact that Jesus is a flesh and blood person, that he experienced everything you experience, that he knows you intimately and understands completely what you’re going through because he went through it, too. It’s awesome and mysterious and wonderfully glorious! What other God would do that?
Jesus the Christ, the Holy One of God, is a flesh and blood person. So, of course, his Church is a flesh and blood people.
I think churches long to throw off their flesh and blood nature and soar like Superman. Or supersaints. But that’s not going to happen. We’re a body. When people complain about the Church being too preoccupied with money or buildings or doctrine or prestige, when people gripe about the Church being closed-minded or boring, what they’re telling you is that they don’t like that the Church is a body. Bodies sweat. They get sick and require maintenance. Bodies produce weird smells.
But the Church is the Body of Christ. This is the flesh and blood form our risen and reigning Lord has chosen to be present in the world. It never fully meets our expectations; we can become disappointed in Church, or even embarrassed. But this is exactly how our God intends it.
Church is not another civic club or social organization, it’s not a non-profit charity or a spiritual retreat. We are a chosen people, a holy nation, chosen by a holy God to be the Body of Christ. Sometimes it may feel irrelevant or past its prime, but we are the very Body of Christ. This is how our God works for the sake of the world.