By Canonreflex (Own work) [CC BY 3.0
(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, His body, of which He is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church--for we are members of His body.
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh." This is a profound mystery--but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
--Ephesians 5:21-33 (NIV)
I, and many other ministers, use the above passage for premarital and marital counseling (and we should). However, I believe that this passage of Scripture is key to the current dilemma that we are facing within the church and culture today.
To properly dissect this passage, we have to keep to its original meaning and extrapolate from there. Paul makes it very clear that this was written to represent the profound mystery of the relationship between Christ and the church that is mirrored in marriage, not the other way around (v.32).
Beginning with Christ
Christ's role was to love the Church, as His bride, by making her holy (set apart from the world) and blameless through giving Himself up for her (by His death), the washing of water (baptism) and through the Word.
The Church's responsibility is to submit to Him in everything because of His great love for us demonstrated on the cross. We hear those same commands echoed by Jesus in His command to make disciples in the Great Commission found at the end of Matthew.
Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age."
--Matthew 28:18-20 (NIV)
We make disciples by going and telling about Christ's sacrifice, baptizing those who confess His name and teaching them to be obedient to everything He commanded. This is our primary responsibility as followers in Christ.
However, over time, we have been slowly lulled into the idea that Christ's mission for us to be disciples and make disciples is something we do, if we have time for it. I used to have an old T-shirt with a saying on it that summed up this mentality well: "When all else fails, read the instructions" with a picture of a Bible underneath. So we treat our sports teams, our education, our hobbies, our entertainment, our relationships with unbelievers, our careers, our politics and our families as primary importance forgetting that we are supposed to start with Christ so that He may put all of these relationships in their proper place and perspective.
The Authority of the Church
The Church's role in its relationship with Christ is one of loving obedience in everything. We obey because we love Christ, not to earn His love. And yet, according to Jesus Himself, we will only obey if we love Him and our disobedience is proof that we truly don't love Him (see John 14:15-24).
While we will never be perfected in this lifetime as we struggle with sin, God has called us together into community. This community is bound together by their commitment to Christ above all. Each has their unique gifting to be worked out among the brethren (see 1 Cor. 12 & Rom. 12). However, it is through this brotherhood of believers where God has ordained us to grow into maturity (see Eph. 4). For those who endure, it is a messy process to be sure. I've certainly made my fair share of the messes that needed to be cleaned up by Jesus and endured by my fellow Christ-followers. However, according to His Word, it is the only way for us to grow into a vibrant maturing faith.
Within the church Jesus has established, He has placed a role of hierarchy for the sake of His people's pursuit of Him. We are taught obedience to our spiritual leaders (Heb. 13:17) and encouraged to respect the discipline given by them so long as it is in accordance with the Word of God and the testimony of Christ (see Mat. 18:15-17; Hebrews 12:1-11; Acts 4:19-20; 1 John 4:1-6).
While this may seem like Bible 101, it is at this very point that the critical error of our church culture has taken place. Remember, according to the passage in Ephesians, the Scripture is written about Christ and His Church first...and then the reflection of marriage and the family.
Think about this for a minute. The authority of the Church was considered so great that it naturally strengthened the institutions God created, but it also never lost sight of the main objective of beginning with Christ in all things. This is how Paul could counsel the people of Corinth to separate from their spouses, if the unbelieving partner wished to leave (1 Cor. 7:14-15) and how he demanded orderliness in a leader's household, if he wanted to lead the Church of God (1 Tim. 3:1-7).
So great was our bond and commitment to God and one another supposed to be that when the world looked at us, they would know that we are His disciples by our love for one another, despite all of our issues (see John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 13).
However, in the Christian culture today in America, it has become commonplace to ignore the authority the Church is supposed to have. As a matter of fact, the whole gathering together of believers has become optional to a whole generation of Christians who have seen the shortcomings and faults of those in every area of the Church and simply assumed that the hypocrisy that they saw or thought they saw was enough reason to be disobedient to Christ in this one area and somehow come out better in all the others this one area touched (Heb. 10:24-25).
There was a time where pastors and ministers were thought of highly and their opinion and direction was sought in every area of life before decisions were made. Now pastors and ministers are lucky if people come in before everything falls apart. Instead of being sought after first, the Church is often a place of last resort. Paul considered those who ministered via preaching and teaching worthy of double honor (1 Tim. 5:17). But there has been an erosion of that respect by a culture that wishes to frame all Biblical counsel that does not affirm whatever lifestyle choice they are making as worthy of being dismissed out of hand and the counselor intolerant. Now a mere offense from the pulpit or a youth ministry or children's church not flashy enough has people proclaiming the name of Christ running for the exit doors in hopes to find another church to fill their need. Many others simply treat the counsel and teaching as a buffet meal, picking and choosing that which they wish to listen to and discarding whatever doesn't suit them at the moment.
Something tells me that this isn't what Jesus intended.
There is a connection between the regard one has for Christ and His Church and the relationships that He has established. According to the Ephesians passage above, our marriage relationship is based on Christ's relationship to His Bride, the Church...not the other way around. So when we as a Christian culture have so abused this sacred relationship between Christ and His Church, we will see the fallout in the relationships created by God to mirror it.
Only when we bring back the proper placement of the respect and obedience of Christ's commands and a true love for His Church and the authority He established it to possess, will we begin to see the effects of this fallout start to fade.
I pray it happens soon.