The deepest revelation comes in the context of conflict, because it involves sharing in the sufferings of Christ (Heb 10:32).
Such enlightenment however does not come automatically but through willing submission to God’s profoundly exacting purposes.
The intimate bonds of marriage make it a particularly powerful arena for these sorts of eternal insights.
So when Donna and I had an unusually intense and prolonged disagreement about some features of our relationship recently I was not surprised when I sensed the Lord speaking about core issues of identity, especially the feminine nature of the Church. This has nothing to do with the recent alien cultural “feminisation” of the Western Church but is about the Church as Bride who receives her identity from her Head and Bridegroom, Jesus (Eph 5:23).
Where the Church as Woman and God as motherly have often been neglected the Spirit recently was drawing me to passages with this emphasis. The “Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”; Jesus compares himself to a mother hen, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings…” and God is like a woman who throws a party when her lost coin is found (Luke 13:34; 15:8-10; Gal 4:26).
The implications of the mother-like presence of the Lord are vast and probably cannot be accepted until we recognise that as Church we are a SHE (Isa 49:15). So that our biases do not overcome us the place to begin this connection is NOT with women/men, mothers/fathers or husbands/wives but with God’s own inner life.
Despite all earthly appearances the priority of the Father does not mean he possesses more glory than the Son; v.22 “The Father…has given all judgment to the Son, v.23 that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father.” (John 5:22-23; 1 Cor 8:6; Phil 2:9-11).
If anything less than the fullness of the glory of the Father was mediated through Jesus then our salvation would be infinitely incomplete. Though from our perspective the Father and Jesus appear radically distinct there can be no degrees of glory in the Godhead.
Earthly images cannot assist us at this point; since only God can reveal God the Spirit alone can show us “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 3:18; 4:6).
This Trinitarian insight means that women and men as created in God’s image share an equal glory (Gen 1:26-28; Isa 43:6-7). Paul’s reflection; ““man…is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” does not mean the creation of Adam prior to Eve gives the male greater glory than a woman, but that Adam’s call was to completely communicate all the glory he had directly from God to his wife (1 Cor 11:7).
The gendered ordering of creation in Genesis ultimately speaks about our Lordly Husband imparting to us as his Bride all of his exalted glory (Eph 3:20-21; 5:32). Despite all appearances, the Church is the glory of Christ (2 Cor 8:23).
For biblically literate Christians the above teaching should be uncontroversial, but it is hugely difficult to live out. The tension I recently had with Donna did however open up a previously more hidden area of my hypocrisy in our marriage.
In the world of earthly appearances my ministry of the Word might appear to give me a greater position of honour than that possessed by my school teacher wife. Donnas’ recent protestations that I have at times acted as if my ministry was more important than hers could not be refuted.
The truth is however that my vocation as a prophet-teacher exists to empower marketplace people like Donna for their ministry in the everyday world of work (Eph 4:10-12). I have long professed these things but now the Spirit is calling me to more consistently image Christ to my wife as an image of His Church (Eph 5:32).
Within my personal circumstances can be found some keys as to why the Church today is not looking anywhere near as “radiant” with the glory of God as she is called to be (Eph 5:27; Rev 21:9-11).
The Church as we know Her in Australia is not behaving as a confident Woman who has been pledged the inheritance of “all things” in Christ (1 Cor 3:22).
Her issues with pastoral dominance, centralised control, disempowerment of marketplace Christians, prayerlessness, biblical illiteracy and an obsession with numerical growth point to a Bride that has lost intimacy with her Groom. Jesus taught us that if we abide in Him as our single great desire all other things will come to us (Luke 10:41-42; John 15:5ff.).
But where does one find a congregation living in such marital closeness?
A terrible thing has taken place in the nuptial relationship between Bride and Groom, Christ’s Woman has so fallen in love with herself that SHE has lost the ability to be taken by her Lord. “Taken” in the sense that a wife was always meant to be taken by her husband in overwhelming rapturous love (Gen 24:67; SoS).
But why would SHE, the Church, step away from such an intense union?
There is but one answer, to avoid submission to Her Head (Eph 5:23-24).
Submit to Death
To submit to Jesus means to share in his obedient submission to the Father all the way to the cross (Phil 2:7).
Our Husband promised, “‘If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours.’” (John 15:15).
The current discipleship crisis across the Church, whereby people are not keeping Her teaching, is a sign that we as His Woman have not obeyed His word about persecution. The fact is that the more the Church is persecuted and vilified for Christ’s sake the more SHE grows in confidence and authority in the Word of Her Lord (1 Pet 2:23; 3:16).
Since Jesus proclaimed, ““Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”” we must understand that the radiance of the Church in her true identity will only come forth as SHE is despised as a useless irrelevant relic from the past (Matt 5:11; Luke 24:26; 1 Cor 1:28). The mystery of the glory of the Father and Son shining through the Bride of Jesus can only be revealed through costly submission (1 Cor 2:7, 13).
The Lord is working to transition His Church into a true understanding about who SHE is in Her true greatness in Him.
This has nothing to do with the dominant gendered ideologies of our time.
The idolatries of patriarchal defensiveness and feminist aggression are equally avoidances of the painful submission that alone brings heavenly revelation. To step out of these idolatries will lead us into new insights and expressions of the equal glory of Father and Son in the power of the Spirit.
I believe a new confidence and authority is coming for the obedient Bride.
Where the Western Church has skilfully avoided persecution by long flirting with popular culture a coming time of open rejection will reveal to Her just how much SHE has been loved by her Bridegroom of blood (SoS 4:9ff.). When such tribulations come to a submissive Woman SHE will desire with great desire to be taken by Her Lord. This is our true identity.