Still not convinced about the nature of the relationship of the Christ and his Church. St. Paul sets it out yet again. So far, the entire letter had had this theme running underneath the surface. In chapter 1, Paul wrote that the Church is Christ’s body, “the fullness of him who is all in all”. In Chapter 2, he said that we are being built into one holy temple. In Chapter 3, he said that the Church will teach the Angels.
In Chapter 4, he focused on the one faith of the Church. Today he says this:
25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
Paul says that Christ loved the church and GAVE HIMSELF UP FOR HER.
This is a good place to make a side point – something that comes up repeatedly that we should address. Paul is saying that Christ died for the Church but we also know that Christ died for other things. He died for each and every one of us individually. He died for the forgiveness of our sins. He died to redeem all of humanity. He died for the elect. He died to redeem creation, to beget the new heavens and the new earth. Each of these things is true. One does not exclude the other. Trying to distill it down into one phrase can be helpful to understand one aspect of Christ’s work but it also comes with a corresponding danger, that you might them limit your understanding by rejecting a different articulation. When we glen truth from the Bible we can say that “Premise A is true”. That does not mean that “Premise B” is not true. Premise B may also be true. If Premise A and B appear to be inconsistent that we must work to reconcile them in a manner that does justice to them both.
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Notice, that Paul says that Jesus will, “present the church TO HIMSELF in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that SHE MIGHT BE HOLY and without blemish.” Here Paul is speaking about the end of the world, when Jesus comes again in glory and the Church is fully sanctified and glorified. From this we can see one of the four great marks of the Church, she is Holy. This makes sense, since at Pentecost Jesus breathed on the assembled Apostles and imbued the Church with the Holy Spirit. This does not mean that the Church is perfected now. Jesus himself said to the Apostles that the weeds would grow up with the wheat and the he would separate it when the time comes. However, it does mean that Church has a fundamental holiness. In essence, it is the ability to access the Holy Spirit when needed.
But what Paul writes next is the clearest articulation of the relationship between Christ and the Church.
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, BUT NOURISHES AND CHERISHES IT, just as Christ DOES THE CHURCH, 30 because we are members of his body.
31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.”
32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Notice what Paul does. He stops, he comes out of regular writing mode to specifically address a potential misunderstanding. This is NOT a metaphor. Paul says the profound mystery that the two shall become one flesh refers specifically to Christ and the Church.
This makes sense of and clarifies all of what Paul has written before. The Church is the Body of Christ, the FULLNESS of him in this world. As there is one Christ there is one Church. If you understand this, that the two become one flesh, you will understand why if ask a knowledgeable Catholic about the Church they will tell you the love the Church. I love the Catholic Church, not because of the buildings, or the incense, or the paintings or the organ music but because Christ and the Church are inseparable.
We must now reference the side point we made earlier. While it is true that Christ and Church are inseparable that does not mean that someone who is outside the bounds of the Catholic Church is doesn’t have a relationship with Jesus, is lost, is going to hell or anything like that. It just means that their relationship is incomplete; they lack the fullness of the potential relationship with Jesus. A crude analogy might be that they have a “long distance” relationship as opposed to living in the same home.
As Paul says this is a profound mystery. It is not easily understood or articulated or accepted. Paul has spent five chapters in this letter to the Ephesians getting at it from different ways and he still felt he had to step out of natural writing and declare that he was not making a metaphorical comparison. With things like this all we can do is pray that God opens are hearts and minds to the truth. All such prayers are always answered.