Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the Word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. (Ephesians 5:25–27—NKJV)

The church will shortly be celebrating its two thousandth birthday. That is a long enough time for “the good, the bad, and the ugly” to make their respective marks on the reputation of the only specifically approved instrument for accomplishing God’s work on earth. He will utilize the church until He raptures it from the earth and once again turns His redemptive focus upon Israel, His chosen people (Romans chapters 9 through 11). Until the event of the rapture, the local church is still the agency ordained of God and it is still the rule for this age of grace. Because the sublime has often been mixed with error, many have run from Christ’s vision for the local church toward something that is of their own making and to their own liking. Before we “throw the baby out with the bathwater,” let’s revisit the controlling documentation for every corporate fellowship of believers banded together as an assembly of the saints.

When we think of the church, we generally think of the Great Commission as coming directly from the Lord. All else seems to be something that we can dream up on our own to fit the fashion of the day and the felt needs of the audience. We create mission statements and plan our assembly, but let us be careful to keep sight of our unchanging controlling documents.

“Controlling documentation” for each local assembly usually entails such things as a constitution, covenant, by-laws, policies, and doctrinal statements out of pure necessity, human nature, and the confusion of the times. Each of these documents must be founded upon Scripture and references ought to be peppered throughout. The reason for such careful study is the fact that the church has in Jesus Christ the Great Cornerstone (1 Corinthians 3:11, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Peter 2:4–5). The cornerstone is the first one laid in a building, and from it every other stone derives its meaning, purpose, permanence, and place. In a similar vein, Jesus Christ is also the Great Captain of every church since He is the Head of the church as found in the context of our verses (Ephesians 1:22, 5:23). It is He who paid the Great Cost that our text identifies as “He gave Himself” in that He paid His precious blood that we might live (Acts 20:28, Hebrews 9:12, 1 Corinthians 6:12)!

It is Jesus Christ who gave the Church, and every local church, its Great Commission to go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all His commandments (Matthew 28:18–20). It is this commission that began with the birthday of the church on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:27, 5:14, 11:24) at the beginning of the Great Collecting of the church age saints and will end at the Great Completion of the church at the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13–18, Revelation 19:7–8).

The church, both universal and local, finds its Great Calling to stability as the pillar and ground of truth; it is not a kingdom for any individual nor a social club for experimentation and accommodation (1 Timothy 3:15). Jesus Christ gifted the church with the Great Collaboration of church officers and church body serving together to do the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:11–16).

The equipping of the Master is accomplished through the Great Cooperation of believers enabled by unity in doctrine (John 17:16–21—separating, purifying truth in the “whole counsel of God”) and unity in the vision of Christ toward spiritual maturity. The Bible even gives the church a Great Covenant (Hebrews 10:22–25) by which believers ought to be sharpening one another and ought to, in love, serve one another, as seen in the Great Compassion (Colossians 3:12–17) for one another.

Anything any church does must be accomplished with a view to future glory. The Great Confidence that motivates godliness and goodness in the “here and now” is the blessed hope of seeing Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11–14). Our text teaches a Great Comparison by comparing the love of Christ for His Bride, the church, and the love of a husband for his wife. Revelation 19:7–8 reads, “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.” Christ has not given up on the primacy of the local church, so don’t you give up. Pray and serve. Trust and obey.