Friday, February 24, 2012

Precious by Proxy ... Or Why I Love the Church

'Big vase, Fiera Antiquaria di Arezzo' photo (c) 2010, Monica Arellano-Ongpin - license:“What Christians offer is an understanding that the world is not ours, that we are not the ones that give things value.” - Wendell Berry

I am the altogether wrong demographic. But there's a mysterious allure about Antiques Roadshow that draws me right in. It's just everyday people like you and me, presenting their vase or clock or etching to someone who is uniquely qualified to appraise its value.

From the intricate and beautiful to the downright bizarre, every kind of dusty attic artifact and flea market find has appeared on Antiques Roadshow at one time or another.

With palpable uneasiness, the owner of the antique sits and listens, while the appraiser divulges its entire history. The owners are understandably nervous. After all, this could be the conversation that changes everything. This family heirloom could become their family fortune, right before their very eyes.

My favorite moments are when the appraiser almost breaks into song about the exquisiteness of a particularly dilapidated piece, or how it's perhaps the only one left in the world, or how Abraham Lincoln probably sat on it ... you get the idea.

As the appraiser's crescendo of praise builds, you can watch the once anxious owner's shoulders rise. She smiles, looking down at her dusty old ugly something-or-other again, and again. By the end of the spiel, her tentative posture melts away, and celebration ensues. She falls in love with its ugliness all over again because of what someone with authority says about it.

Something great happens in our hearts when an objective, outside authority declares an item of unknown value to be one of uncommonly high value. It may be cracked, stained, faded and full of holes. But that doesn't matter, because the basis for its value shifts from the appearance of the object to the authority of the observer.

If I'm not careful, I can start to see the church—the body of Christ—as a dim, dusty, dilapidated old antique. Voices around me downplay it, claiming it doesn't fit with our more sophisticated society. It's the digital age. Individualism is alive and well. A connected collection of diverse people who come together for the love of worship and the Word is simply obsolete. It's a sign of weakness.

Besides, people are messy, and they get their moth ball smell all over you. Pieces of them fall off on you. They're brittle, and we like new things. Instant things. Shiny things. Strong things. Convenient things. Customized things. Personalized things.

But the authority to "appraise" the church's value in the world does not belong to me. I look to Christ, who has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. I listen to Him—like that antique owner listens to her appraiser—hanging on His every word. Christ alone is crowned to make that "appraisal" (if you will).

Even as a church-loving Christian, my view of the church can be superficial, sentimental, subjective—and at times, sour. And sooner or later, it may even fail me, hurt me—or just plain frustrate me. I need to lean on an Objective, Outside Authority who declares it impenetrably precious, and thus fall in love with it all over again.

More than merely speaking highly of the church, Christ bought the church. He called her His bride. He obtained her with His own blood (Acts 20:28). He loved her, and gave Himself up for her (Ephesians 5:25). He nourishes and cherishes her (Ephesians 5:29). This is far more than any mere appraisal. This is an act of unparalleled devotion that leaves me in stunned silence. It dazzles the mind.

Despite the decades of ministry-inflicted scars I bear, Christ's bride remains deeply and timelessly precious to HIM.

My growth in grace is a process whereby what is precious to Him gradually becomes more and more precious to me. As I love Jesus more, I will grow to want to serve and love His people more. What was once precious by proxy blossoms into being precious to me personally.

I will never give up on the church because Christ gave Himself up for her. When I stop and consider that He sees her as precious—even when I may momentarily not—it changes everything.

That's what brings me back to loving the church—over and over again.


  1. Absolutely great. Thank you

  2. This is beautiful, and true in my life as well. People have made a field day of poking fun at the church lately, especially Christians. And while the criticism is sometimes deserved, I very much appreciate you bringing something more constructive to the table.

  3. Scott, this is beautiful. It reminds me to hold church precious regardless of how it is appraised by others. In some ways, it is a blessing in disguise to have it appraised as a worthless antique...then I'm not tempted to sell it off for a fortune, but keep it's ugliness on as a family heirloom instead. I really enjoyed this piece this Sunday morning, as I we head off to our "relic" of an old, 200 year historical church that many might say has no place in our current culture.