Marriage is often far more interesting to look at through the intensely romantic lens of first loves and the wedding day. And Hollywood recognises this all too well. That’s why only a few of them lean into the reality so often papered over by rom-coms: that the true test of a marriage is in whether it can survive real life. The truth is: the Big Day is only the beginning — for marriage is lived out in the mundane: in sickness and health, in 9-5 jobs, in raising kids, and scrubbing floors.
This sort of expectation versus reality plays out in the pages of Scripture, too. We’re told that Christian marriage is an image of Christ and the Church. And the portrait of a Christian marriage in Scripture is deeply moving — a loving, sacrificial, life-giving, beautiful covenant. But it’s sometimes tough to see this playing out in the difficult and often dull realities of two imperfect people trying to navigate real life together. Just ask any married couple!
In this contrast, however, there is another interesting parallel between human marriage and the Church.
Scripture gives us a magnificent portrait of the Church. We see Her as the beautiful bride of Christ; as an army of every tribe and nation, stretching throughout history; as a unified body that supports and uplifts every member.
A marriage may begin with the splendour of a wedding day, but its true test is in the daily realities of normal life. The same is true of the Church
And yet, these beautiful, awe-inspiring visions of the ideal Church often brush uncomfortably against the reality of a group of flawed human beings trying to function as one body. Church relationships are messy, sermons aren’t always great, and services run overtime. Sometimes you just don’t get along with the people you’re supposed to claim as brothers and sisters. Petty church politics cause rifts and even destroy churches. And that doesn’t even begin to touch the truly devastating stories of abuse, corruption, and scandal that have left so many disenchanted with the body of Christ. Even the New Testament epistles paint a beautiful vision of the Church, but then have to address everything from petty bickering to toxic false doctrine.
In C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the titular demon advises his nephew that the mundane reality of the church can be an intense source of discouragement for believers. He draws a contrast between “the Church… spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity” and the local church, housed in a “ half-finished, sham Gothic” building, populated with “oily-faced” neighbours and filled with old pews and shabby hymn books. “Make [a Christian’s] mind flit to and fro between an expression like ‘the body of Christ’ and the actual faces in the next pew,” Screwtape writes.
Expectation, meet reality.
It isn’t always easy to reconcile the Bible’s vision of the Church to the Church. Your own church experience may have left you disillusioned, tired, and frustrated. But Christ, who “loved the Church and gave Himself up for Her” calls us to love the Church as He did. Our lives as Christians are inseparable from the body of Christ. In the midst of the mundane, “life-stuff”, remembering the reality of the Church as Christ’s bride can be the encouragement we need to persevere in “stirring up one another to love and good works” (Hebrews 10:24).
A marriage may begin with the splendour of a wedding day, but its true test is in the day-to-day realities of normal life. The same is true of the Church. Christ, amazingly, uses the flawed, messy, seemingly dull reality of His church to demonstrate His glory. And when the Church withstands persecution, lives out the gospel, and functions as a unified body, it is all the more reason to glorify God alone for the work He accomplishes through imperfect people.
In the kingdom of heaven, the foolish things of the world shame the wise. Christ’s love sanctifies and perfects a divided, imperfect, bickering, and fallen group of human beings into His Church, His people, His bride, and His body. If our current reality were any less flawed, perhaps this transformation would not be so glorious.
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