Why I love the Church
This week I find myself at my denomination's general assembly (GA). I am a teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), which means that I am a presbyterian pastor. I have been ordained as a pastor for about two and a half years. In many ways this has been some of the best and hardest years of my life. I am constantly finding myself in situations that I not only think, but know are above my head. It is in the midst of that weakness that I learn to rest and rely on Christ alone.
These last few days I have been reminded of my love for the church. It was Cyprian who said, "You cannot have God as your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” Though this can be misunderstood, Cyprian is not saying that one can only be saved as a member in the church. However, he is saying something quite provocative and strange for our modern church culture. He is saying that the ministry of Word and sacrament are crucial for the Christian life, and the Lord Jesus entrusted these to no other institution but the church. The Westminster Assembly would pick up on this language and say that there is “no normal salvation outside the Church of Christ”. The transformation of Cyprian's language was to make plain that the church is important, but also to give space to the mysterious work of the Holy Spirit.
You see, I love the church because it is the one institution that Jesus founded for the redemption of his people. It is the place where I am fed and I grow. Calvin put it this way:
But because it is now our intention to discuss the visible church, let us learn even from the simple title of "mother" how useful, indeed how necessary, it is that we should know her. For there is no other way to enter into life unless this mother conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly, unless she keep us under her care and guidance, until, putting off mortal flesh, we become like the angels in heaven (Matt. 22:30). Our weakness does not allow us to be dismissed from her school until we have been pupils all our lives.
Calvin is making the point that the church needs to be central to us. We never outgrow the church. We will always need to be fed, cared for, and guided by her. Being in the church is not optional but necessary for the Christian. For as Bavinck put it, "The church is not just an arbitrary association of people who wish to worship together but something instituted by the Lord, the pillar and ground of the truth."
As I sit here at the GA of the PCA, I am reminded that I love the church. She is a mess at times, but it is a glorious mess. A mess that the Lord is redeeming and purifying. She will one day be presented as the spotless bride to her bridegroom. I yearn for that day, but even before that, I know that I love the church.