Mention the word “church” in a group of people of differing backgrounds and one is likely to find several conflicting perspectives on the exact meaning of the word. As near as we can tell, The Church is all followers of Christ throughout all time, or the entire body of Christ throughout history. Though, the majority of people probably think The Church refers to the brick and mortar building they went to as a child that caused them significant agony or healing depending on the type of church they attended.
Our Catholic friends believe The Church is limited only to those believers who are Roman Catholic, excluding all other denominations. They also believe The Church is infallible and not capable of making mistakes. Ironically, the infallible Church recently apologized for a mistake made during the crusades of the middle ages.
At any rate when Christians refer to “The Church” it can be a bit of a mystery what meaning they are intending, for the church can be a building, such as “my church,” or it can mean the institution of Catholicism, or it can mean the entire body of Christ excluding those parts of the body not believed by most in mainstream Christianity to be part of the body of Christ such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.
In all reality, Christians are by and large confused on the proper identity of the Church, yet they desire to be a part of it and want more than anything to convince their friends and neighbors to be a part of it as well.
The Bride of Christ
In the New Testament, The Church is referred to as “The Bride of Christ.” This illustration when properly understood clears up some of the confusion. The illustration goes that the bride is somewhat of a whore. She is unfaithful, she is filthy and whenever the Groom’s (that would be Christ’s) back is turned, she has gone out and found some other lover to with whom to share a bed.
The Groom however is willing to overlook this and is in fact willing to sacrifice everything for His bride, including His dignity and His life if it means the bride will be rescued and purified. The Groom is eternally faithful and the bride is forever unfaithful. If you have ever been a member of a church or hung out around members of the Church for an extended period of time, you know this to be the case. The hypocrisy and unfaithfulness of those identifying themselves as the body of Christ is well documented not just in our own era, but throughout the history of the Church.
So, if one understands the identity of the Church as the unfaithful and whorish bride of Christ, one can better understand the actions of Christians and the confusion they seem to have over their own identity.