We can sometimes get dismayed as we think about the church. We can sometimes get frustrated or even embittered. And sometimes our dismay is fair, for the church is made up of people who, though they love the Lord, still sin against God and still harm one another. Though it is a blessing to belong to the church, it can also be a challenge and even a trial.
Yet in God’s eyes, the church is beautiful. It is lovely. It is precious. The unique wonder of the church is the subject of Dustin Benge’s book The Loveliest Place. “This book is about the beauty and loveliness of the church,” he says. “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 apparent failures, or have rare, unsustainable 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.”
At a time when many people are perplexed by the nature or definition of the church, and at a time when many are considering walking away from the church altogether, this book means “to set before you a thoroughly biblical portrait of the church that derives its life from the sweet fellowship of the Father, Son, and Spirit, creating a community of love, worship, fellowship, and mission, all animated by the gospel and empowered by the word of God.” It means to show that the church is not just a lovely place, but the loveliest place of all.
Through fourteen relatively brief chapters Benge highlights different aspects of the church as we read of them in Scripture. Beginning with Song of Solomon he shows the church to be beautiful in the eyes of God—Christ’s very own bride. “We consider what the church can give us and do for us, how she can serve us, and even what’s in it for us, but rarely do we enjoy the eye-opening and soul-stirring truth that she is beautiful and lovely in just being who she is.”
He looks to the church as the household of God, then shows how the Trinity relates to the church: God as Father and friend, Christ as Savior and head, Spirit as helper and beautifier. He considers the church as the pillar and buttress of the truth, he looks at the need for shepherding and feeding the flock, he describes the church’s responsibility to evangelize, and he tells how the church ought to expect to face persecution. “Every faithful believer must expect persecution. Not that every believer will be tortured, imprisoned, asked to recant, or even burned at a stake—but you will experience, at one point or another, opposition from the world. What does this mean for the church? It means that the church is composed of those whom the world despises. There may be a facade of friendliness and desire for cooperation, but in the recesses of the heart of the ungodly, there is a vehement hatred for the things of God and the good news of the gospel.”
He wraps up with an examination of the oneness of the church—the unity that we share and the unity that serves as a powerful testimony of the gospel. ”The church’s growing oneness is what defines the church as having an otherness. Why would the world be supernaturally drawn to an institution filled with conflict, cliques, hostility, fighting, and division?” It’s a valid question and a very good reason to pursue actually the unity God says we have positionally.
At a time—and maybe it is always such a time—when even Christians seem intent on disparaging the church, we need a reminder of the beauty, the loveliness, and the sheer wonder of what God has done in setting his love on a people who are his own. To that end, The Loveliest Place will help you marvel at the church, love the church, and further commit yourself to it. For you will deepen your convictions that “the church isn’t just about organization, leadership, function, and vision. There’s something much more beautiful and lovely to recognize. The church is about people being rescued, redeemed, and renewed. The church is about savoring, rejoicing, and service. The church is about proclaiming, enduring, and walking. The church is about being the bride adorned, beautiful, and lovely.”
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