If you were to go up to a handful of people in a coffee shop anywhere around the world, you would undoubtedly get different definitions of the Church from nearly every person you spoke with. You would hear from people about their experiences with the Church, how the Church has hurt them, how it is full of hypocrites, and many other things. This is unfortunate but true, because the church is filled with people who are, as Martin Luther maintained, both saints and sinners (simul iustus et peccator).
The Beauty of Christ and the Church
The Church, it’s been said, is a hospital for sinners. It’s also been said that the Church is plan A in the mind of God and not plan B or C. In his latest book, The Loveliest Place: The Beauty and Glory of the Church, Dr. Dustin Benge takes readers by the hand and helps Christians of various levels of maturity, experience, and engagement in the Church understand Christ and the Church better. He writes:
“This book is about the beauty and loveliness of the church. It’s for all those who sometimes struggle to see those qualities in her. If you tirelessly serve within her ministries while dismayed by her apparently failures, or have rare, unstainable glimpses of her beauty, this book is for you. The singular goal is to awaken your affections. Not affections for form, methodology, structure, organization, or programs, but affections for who she is and why she exists” (14).
Some will reply to this claim, “Well, that is a big goal to set for the book, and it will be hard to attain.” As a devoted churchman, theologian, and one who trains future pastors, Benge understands the issues involved in attaining this goal because he’s on the frontlines training men for the ministry day in and day out as a seminary professor.
I would also submit that what he argues in his book is critical in the hour we are in today. We need to behold the beauty of Christ and understand the relationship between Christ and the Church. We need our affections awakened to the true glories of Christ and how glorious the Lord has made the Church. As Benge remarks, “To capture her beauty and loveliness, the church must be defined not by what we do but by who we are” (15).
The Relationship Between Christ and the Beauty of the Church
In Ephesians 5:25-27, Paul describes this beauty and glory when he says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,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.”
Benge describes this reality in chapter one. Then in chapter two, he elaborates on Paul’s teaching on the household of God and what it means for Christians to be members of the people of God. Chapters three through five take readers on a guided journey through each Person of the Trinity, describing how the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit help the Christian grow in Christ in the Church and outside it. Chapters six through fourteen helpfully consider our unity in Christ, relationships with one another, pastoral ministry, the Lord’s Supper, and persecution.
A Helpful Exploration into the Beauty of Christ and the Church
We all need books that remind us of who we are and who we belong to in Christ. The Loveliest Place is a timely reminder in our day when questions abound about the nature and purpose of the Church. Benge is trying to get readers to understand the beauty of Christ so that whatever issues they may have with the Church and its members, they will look to Christ and see Him as He has revealed Himself in Scripture.
If we are honest, whether we are church members or church officers, we all need the reminder Benge offers. From endless debates on social media to issues in our local churches, the challenges of ministry, and more, it is easy to get beat down and bogged down and forget about the glory of Christ.
Christ is beautiful. Christ is building His Church. We know these realities as brothers and sisters in Christ united to Him by faith in His name. And yet, we need to be reminded. Weariness sets in. Conflict arises. Hurt feelings and fractured relationships have a way of minimizing our gaze and clouding our vision of Christ. So, pick up The Loveliest Place and sit at the feet of a fellow churchman who understands the frailties and foibles of the Church. And as you do, my prayer is that the Lord will renew your vision for the glory of Christ, stirring your affections by the biblical realities so clearly set forth in this book.
Dave Jenkins (MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the executive editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. He is also the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What to Do About It (House to House Press, 2021). You can follow him on Twitter at @davejjenkins, find him on Facebook at Dave Jenkins SOG, Instagram, or read more of his writing at Servants of Grace.