RECENTLY I RECOGNIZED A DECADES-LONG MISUNDERSTANDING I HAVE HELD REGARDING THE TERMS CHURCH AND BRIDE OF CHRIST.
I had always believed these two labels interchangeable. I am now convinced this has kept me at an intellectual, and thus spiritual and emotional, distance from God’s heart. Membership in a church does not automatically make me part of the Bride. This definition falls far short of the believer’s call to intimacy with Christ. Attending church does not equal intimacy. Instead, a proper understanding of our call as believers points us toward dual complementary realities—the Ecclesia and the Bride.
Ecclesia is a Greek term used to refer to a legislative assembly or an assembly of people called for a specific purpose. When Jesus told Peter He would build His church (see Matt. 16:18), He did not use the Greek word for synagogue or temple. He used Ecclesia. The church as Ecclesia infers a responsibility to be a witness to the world, to bring Heaven to earth as Christ’s ambassadors. Yet if this is our sole definition of what it means to be the Church, we are missing what Jesus called the “good part” (Luke 10:42 NKJV). Martha allowed her sense of duty to get in the way of her intimacy with Jesus, and she criticized Mary for making relationship her priority. Jesus’ response to Martha forever settles the matter.
Duty to the mission apart from intimacy is not God’s best for us. Too often, our focus as a Body has been less on our individual call to intimacy with our Bridegroom and more on our strategies for getting the guests off the streets and into the wedding feast. But there’s no wedding without a Bride, no matter how many guests we invite to the party.
Intimacy, the often-neglected side of the Christian reality, is found in the idea of the Bride of Christ. The relationship between a bride and her husband is the most intimate of human relationships, which is why God uses it as a picture of our relationship with Him. A secondary definition of bride is “a connection consisting of a thread or a number of threads for joining various solid parts of a design in needlepoint lace.” (Dictionary.com, s.v. “bride,” second definition.) If the Ecclesia is the intricate pattern of the Kingdom of God in the earth, then His Bride is the thread, or threads, that hold it all together. Without the Bride, the pattern is unraveled. Without the Bride, the lacework does not hold together. Without the Bride—the one who carries intimacy with her Bridegroom and represents Him with integrity in the earth—the Ecclesia—is just another assembly of people gathered together for a common purpose.
The Kingdom is a worthy cause, and it will have an impact on the earth. But the Kingdom cannot be revealed to the extent that God desires without the Bride and the intimacy she carries. I believe this may be the reason the Body of Christ is so fragmented today. We value strategy over intimacy, but we were always meant to live in both realities. We cannot walk out our call as the Ecclesia if we are not living a lifestyle of intimacy with Christ as His Bride. The Bride and the Ecclesia—our depth of intimacy with the Bridegroom and how we reflect His likeness here on earth—are two sides of the same coin. We cannot successfully do one without also including the other. We can try—but an Ecclesia without the attributes of a Bride is disempowered and lacks authority, and a Bride without the attributes of the Ecclesia is more akin to a fairytale princess, stuck in a tower, awaiting the heroic rescue of her suitor.
Jesus spent a lot of time teaching on relationships—both between God and people and between people and people. When the Pharisees asked Him what the greatest commandment was, He said, first, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and, second, to love your neighbor as yourself (see Matt. 22:37). This is Jesus’ model for the dynamic Christian life—lived out in the dual realities of the Bride (loving God) and the Ecclesia (loving the world).
As two sides of the same coin, the Bride and the Ecclesia should fit together seamlessly, but they are not interchangeable realities. The purpose of one complements the purpose of the other. The Father sent the Son into the world to find a Bride who would be wooed by the Holy Spirit. As we journey deeper into intimate relationship with the Godhead, we are empowered and encouraged to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
Without the intimacy we cultivate as the Bride, we have nothing to give to the world as His Ecclesia. We cannot effectively be one without also being the other. But when we embrace both realities, we begin to embody the full picture of how God loves the world—through His Bride and through His Ecclesia, united as one.
– Julie Appleyard