Third, we learn that Jesus’ goal for the church is her beautification in glory (v. 27). This is His commitment to her, from which He will not depart. We should also be committed to the beautification of Christ’s bride, and we should not abandon her because she at present lacks the beauty of holiness. Like our Lord, we should stay committed to her and labor for her growth in grace, despite her many spots and wrinkles. Every church is a mixture of purity and impurity. Every church is in process. The Westminster Confession of Faith summarizes this teaching of Scripture:
This catholic [i.e., universal] church hath been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them. The purest churches under heaven are subject both to mixture and error. (25.4–5)
We learn in Ephesians 5:27 that Jesus will one day complete the process. He will finish what He has started. It is certain. Jesus will not abandon the beautification of His bride. In Philippians 1:6, the Apostle Paul says to the church, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
Now, it may be that some churches so degenerate from the truth of the gospel that they cease to be true churches at all. The Westminster Confession states: “Some have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan. Nevertheless, there shall be always a church on earth, to worship God according to his will” (25.5). All true churches are in the middle ground—that is, in process; not perfect, but not devoid of the sanctifying work of the Spirit either. Jesus is perfecting His church, but that work is far from complete. As in personal sanctification, the work is completed only at the return of Christ in glory.
Thus, we need to take a long-term view of the progress of the church’s growth and maturation in holiness. If it is a process that will continue throughout this life, then we must be patient with the church when we see flaws in it. Fatal flaws may warrant leaving to find a true church that preaches the Word, administers the sacraments, and practices discipline. But most flaws in the bride of Christ are not fatal flaws. Loving patience and a lifelong commitment to Christ’s bride are needed. Do we love the bride of Christ? If we love Christ, we must also love His bride and lovingly and patiently long for and labor for her beautification.