This article on Ted Haggard made me very sad. I deliberately try to avoid current controversies on this blog and have no desire to debate and/or discuss Ted Haggard as an individual. I think our response to him as a larger Body of Christ is simply to love him and his family in ways that are consistent with I Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 4. Part of that is that we who do not know him or his family keep our mouths shut about his situation.
But he said something in this article that struck me on a deeper level that has little to do with him personally. He mentioned his estrangement from the church where he had pastored for years, and though he can see it from the windows of his house, he and his family now don’t attend church anywhere. And that is just plain sad.
The Haggard family is just one of many families who have similar stories. Some might say this is his former church’s fault. Some might say it’s the Haggard’s fault. It’s definitely the church’s fault. But who is the church? It’s not church membership or denominational status. It’s not the building or the programs. When the Apostle Paul presents the church in Ephesians, he is simply talking about all those who are IN CHRIST as he has described in Ephesians 1-3. The church is the people—not the building, the programs, the denominational bylaws, or the membership roles.
There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. Eph. 4: 4-6
Here it is the great summary of why we all must eagerly pursue unity (Ephesians 4:1-3) with other believers despite all the dysfunction most of us have witnessed in our church experience—because there is only ONE Body. Paul is talking about the Body of Christ, which is made up of all those Christ has reconciled to Himself—i. e. the Church. You and I have an obligation that extends well beyond the boundaries of our particular “church”. We have an organic union to all those who are in Christ no matter where or when they lived. All believers, past, present, and future make up one Body. And the ramifications of Paul’s point here are extensive.
The church is a whore. That’s a bold statement, and yet the Scriptures teach this pretty clearly. Consider the book of Hosea. By God’s own order, Hosea marries the harlot Gomer and has a child with her. She then has two other children with different men. Hosea receives her and her children despite her adultery. Eventually Gomer leaves him again, returns to harlotry, and eventually becomes a slave. Hosea buys her back in public auction and brings her back home, not as his slave, but again as his wife. And God uses Hosea’s life story as a picture of his pursuit of his own people.
God’s people have broken their covenant with him throughout history. But God has relentlessly pursued his church (both individually and corporately), not because of her beauty or worthiness, but for His own glory. As Paul said in Ephesians 1, God has lavished his love on us to the praise of his glorious grace. He is sanctifying the church, rooting out her sin and transforming her into the beautiful bride that he will present to Jesus at the marriage supper of the lamb in Revelations.
God is doing a beautiful thing in and through his people. The church will one day be presented spotless before God. But she’s certainly not there yet. The church is a mess. This should make sense to us since She’s made up completely of individuals who are all messes. The problem with the church is that you and I are in it! Each of us in Jesus’ Body were by nature children deserving of God’s wrath (Ephesians 2). Each of us has no righteousness to offer God on our own. Each of us was saved by God’s grace and not our good works which Isaiah likened to filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). It’s really important that we have a Biblically informed understanding of just who exactly the Body of Christ, the Church, is. If we don’t, we are going to be disappointed and disillusioned by Her, likely to the point that we give up on the whole idea altogether.
However, if we understand the Church, both the good and the bad, as Scripture presents her, then when she fails us, we understand that this is just her nature. And we fight for unity in her anyway, because we know she is Jesus’ Body. There’s a great line from a song by Derek Webb in which he sings as Christ would about his church. “You can not live for me with no regard for her. If you love me you will love my church.”
It’s his Body. You can’t say to Jesus, “I like your Head, but your Body I can’t handle.” It’s his BODY bought with His own blood! God chose this picture to communicate to us something deep and beautiful about his people. We are one with each other and one with Christ. Therefore, we HAVE to deal with the Church. We cannot cut ourselves off from her and expect a healthy relationship with Christ. It’s all one glorious, supernatural entity. To believe the gospel means that we are in Christ. And to be in Christ means that we are supernaturally connected to his Body. Therefore, to reflect well on the gospel, we must diligently pursue unity with his Body for we are ONE.
But having that core conviction (which I do) and figuring out what it looks like in practice is hard. I think this must start with reconciliation and restoration among individuals in the Church before it ever moves to the corporate structure. So I am meditating on how to diligently pursue unity one on one first. Paul gives us a nice outline in Ephesians 4:1-3. I’ll write on that another time.
I hope that the Haggards are able to find community in the church, in the purest sense of the term.