The Church Beautiful

Condensed from an address delivered at the 1975 Good News Convocation by Paul Morell, Pastor, Tyler Street United Methodist Church, Dallas, Texas
Chairman of the Good News Board, 1974-75 

I have some particular ideas that I want to share with you concerning the Church. The Church is meant to be a community of faith and fellowship. It is a service center, not a cultural center. It is meant to be a place of prayer and praise and power —not— a  place where there is deadness in formal worship, or where there is informality in worship to the point of anarchy. And, the Church is not a place where our moral laxity is excused or OK’d!

The Bible teaches that the Church is the Bride of Christ. We are to be the Church beautiful while He is to be the Bridegroom (John 3:29). The beautiful Bride (Church) belongs to Him. In Matthew 9:15 Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom; His Bride is the Church.

In Matthew 25 there is that story of five foolish and five wise virgins. This entire parable is built around the Bridegroom’s expected arrival. Those who have come to attend the wedding have really only one purpose: to be ready when the Bridegroom arrives. To share with Him in His happiness is life. Not to be ready means that you shalI not share life with the Bridegroom … instead, you shall be left outside when the doors shall be shut.

The Church is lifted up as Christ’s Bride in chapters 21 and 22 of Revelation. Here we see an angel coming to take John the Elder and lifting him to a high place where he can see the New Jerusalem coming down out of Heaven as a bride adorned for her husband. From this vantage point with the angel, John gives a description of the New Jerusalem, Heaven, the City Foursquare, the City that is perfect, the City that is the dream and the fulfillment of the people of God who believe and who care. The angel describes this new and holy City of Jerusalem to be the Bride of the Lamb. We of the Church are meant to be the Bride, individually and collectively, of the Bridegroom who is Jesus Christ.

What does it mean to be a Bride?

The Bride is to be pure. The Bride is to be beautiful. The Bride is to be faithful. And the Bride is to keep alive her first love as she gives her total self to the Bridegroom. All things are centered in Him and for Him. The Bride’s purpose is the Bridegroom. She desires to be His delight and His joy. This includes the experience of worship, the experience of praise, the times of prayer, the times of service to mankind and to one another within the Church. In all the Church does we are endeavoring to be His happiness … His delight. For the Bride (all of us) Christ is the fulfillment of our dream … and we are here to be the fulfillment of Christ’s dream.

We are the Bride of Christ, and at this point we are feminine. We are married to Him in order to ultimately produce fruit; God expects us to be fruit, and that becomes beautiful. Beautiful indeed!

We must also see the Church as the Body of Christ. In Romans the 12th Chapter, St. Paul writes that there is only one Body though there may be many members.

First Corinthians 12, verse 14 in particular, also talks about one Body, many members. On either end of this passage are suggestions as to how gifts of the Spirit enable the Body to be alive and vital. Our purpose is to be united in the Spirit of Christ and so we are enabled, in the power of God, to be His Body.

The whole epistle to the Ephesians concerns the Body of Christ. In the fourth chapter we find a listing of the gifts of the Spirit of the Church. And of course they’re not just to the Church, they are given to individuals in behalf of what the Body must become. We are even told that Christ is to be the Head of the Body, that He is its Savior Himself.

Colossians 1:18 also lifts up the Body of Christ. Here it is driven home, We are the Body of Christ!

And the work of the Body is really to make people in the world beautiful through the power that God supplies. We’re supposed to gather together for inspiration and encouragement. And then, our souls marching under divine orders, we are supposed to go out and do the will and the work of God as the Body of Jesus Christ. We are to become God’s Word, enfleshed for our generation.

The Church beautiful is the Church that is willing to minister in the Name of Jesus Christ, without apology and without shame. But here I want to say a word of warning. As we begin to march out into the various types of ministries, we must make sure that whatever we are doing in outreach does not sap the time and the energy needed for the vital work of evangelism, and Christian nurture and growth. One difficulty of our age is that so much of what we’re doing in ministry is, frankly, sapping the strength away from the work of conversion … lessening our time to be involved in quality growth as Christ’s disciples.

Our church in Dallas sponsors a home for the elderly, located in the same block as our church building. Not too long ago an 85-year-old lady told me she wanted to belong to our congregation. She was a Baptist, she had been born Baptist, dipped Baptist, and had always believed Baptist.

I said to this dear lady, “Why do you want to join this United Methodist Church?”

Her answer was a simple one. She said, “You have provided a home for me. You are giving me spiritual nourishment. The least that I can do is belong and participate in the fellowship that cares like this.”

I said, “Amen.” We received her into the fellowship.

There was a Baptist church right across the street from where she was living, but she chose to respond to ministry that mattered.

Why did we build this home for the elderly? We are interested in increasing the number who believed and who would serve, who would praise and honor God.

I believe in making disciples. That is what the Church beautiful is all about. A few years ago, I went to a little church in eastern New Mexico. It had only 18 members, but we had a full-fledged, four-day revival. No one came into the fellowship or made a decision for Christ the first day, nor the first night. or the second day. Nor the second night. or the third day, third night, nor the fourth morning.

But on the final evening, the mantle of God’s Spirit fell upon the congregation. Two persons accepted Christ, and the congregation wept. They jumped around, dancing, they were so happy. For here was evidence that the Church was alive; that the church spire yet had purpose! Two people in their 20’s had accepted the Lord! A new generation would yet live in Christ and the church would continue the ministry for which it had been created back in 1912.

Why could they get so excited moving from 18 to 20 members? In the Church beautiful, we need to get excited about God redeeming and changing lives. The Church beautiful is the Church in which the Spirit flows. One of the things wrong with United Methodism in recent decades is that we have not had the Spirit flowing through us as we should. He must flow through us! He must cleanse us!

Do you know what is the initial two-fold ministry of Jesus? It’s in the first chapter of Joh n’s Gospel. Verse 29 records the words of John the Baptist, “Behold, the Lamb of God, he takes away the sins of the whole world!”

Yes, Jesus takes away your sins. That is first. Second, Jesus gives to you the Holy Spirit (John 1:33).

If you do not have the two-fold ministry of Jesus in your life, I doubt if Jesus has really come. If you are a Christian, the Spirit is within you. And if the Spirit of God is within you, then the power of the Spirit is there. This means that you are empowered to become a different individual, a new creation, a new creature in Christ. As there is color in a sunbeam, so there is power in the Christian because the Spirit dwells within.

Why does Jesus want the Church beautiful, and the people beautiful, to have His Holy Spirit?

Because we’re here to glorify God. The 15th chapter of John’s Gospel tells us this very clearly: without Christ we can do nothing. Since Christ has gone up to the Father, “even greater things shall ye do because I go unto the Father.” You have a Counsellor’ You have a Comforter’ You have an Eternal Presence with you’ And it is only in this Eternal Empowering Presence that we can move forward in the work of being the Body of Christ.

What about gifts?

By “the gifts of the Holy Spirit ” we mean the various ways by which the power of God works through the life of the believer.

By “the fruit of the Spirit” we mean the character and the nature of Jesus Christ shining through the life and the action of the believer. To have the Spirit is to be Christlike. And to be Christ-like is to have God’s Spirit. Oh, this is the joy of it! We need the gifts and we need the fruit. We need love, joy, peace and self-control. And we need the gifts as they are listed in I Corinthians, the 12th chapter.

This experience of gift and fruit is what makes the Church beautiful … the Spirit enabling … the Spirit making us lovely. And it is beautiful when we are willing to be the Bride of Christ. The beautiful Church is where the Spirit is able to flow among us.

Finally, the Church is beautiful when it is willing to pay the price required to be triumphant. The first Christian martyr, Stephen, paid that price. As he fell under the load of stones, he looked up and the door of Heaven opened. The clouds rolled away and he saw Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, at the right hand of the Father. That was his dying testimony as a member of the Church beautiful. The Church triumphant.

One day I went to see an Indian mission in my home state of Oklahoma. In the days of the five Indian nations, Presbyterians had opened the work there. I visited two graves on a little knoll in a persimmon grove. A hundred years or more had passed, but you could still see the names. One was the wife of the Presbyterian missionary. She had died in childbirth and the little baby was buried there too.

I didn’t have a hat on, but I sort of took it off anyway. I was kneeling in my heart as I thought of the price they paid to take the Gospel to the whole world.

My father has been gone six years now. Like many Methodists he went to church regularly. He used to walk across the frozen fields of northern Oklahoma in order to sing in a little country church.

My father wasn’t the religious type, though he was a church member. But my dad was a man of principle and of faith, and I know, a man of Christ.

Six years ago he came toward his final illness. He was in a Baptist Hospital in Oklahoma City. In the bed next to him was an elderly Baptist missionary pastor who had served Christ many years, and was in his last hours. Suddenly Dad’s roommate sat up in bed and said, “Lord Jesus, you’ve come for me.”

This scared my father! He wasn’t used to that kind of religion.

Then the Baptist minister lifted up both of his arms because Christ had come for him. Looking up with radiance in that sick face, he said, “Wait a minute, Lord Jesus. I’ve got someone I’ve got to pray for.” Then he fell back in bed. His hands came together, clasped in prayer. His lips moved. Then his eyes opened and the smile came back. He looked that look of love that can be looked only when perfect love is present.

“Thank you for waiting,” he said to Jesus. “I’ve prayed for him. Let’s go.” With that his arms fell to his side and he was gone.

I’m not positive what my father’s theology was about the triumphant ·church before then. But I know very well what my father believed in his last days, before he joined that great caravan of faith. He had seen the Church triumphant and it was beautiful!

What about you? Our fellow United Methodists? Our pastors? Our bishops? Are we really willing to be the Bride of Christ? To bear Him fruit and children of faith? Are we ready, as God’s people, to really be the Body of Christ? To minister as Jesus would today? Are we the Church which is willing to let the natural power of God flow through our lives? Do we welcome the living Spirit who cleanses and washes and challenges and lifts and empowers? Do we really believe in the Church triumphant? And do you and I, though our days may be few or many, and though we may be on the top or the bottom of social or material success … do we believe that all shall be made right when we are at His feet?

Dear people, pray for me. I pray for you, that together we may be God’s beautiful people. I pray that United Methodism may be the Church beautiful.


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