This is part four of a series discussing church planting, modern church movements and young people. See part 1 here
Or, Why I Believe in the Church Historic.
Question 62: What is the visible church?
Answer: The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.
Question 63: What are the special privileges of the visible church?
Answer: The visible church has the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, not withstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.
– The Westminster Greater Catechism
Question 54. What believest thou concerning the “holy catholic church” of Christ?
Answer: That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves to himself by his Spirit and word, out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith; and that I am and forever shall remain, a living member thereof.
– The Heidelberg Catechism
The Church is vast. It is old. It is full of beauty, art, music, tales of power and mystery. It is a history of goodness and grace, and weeping repentance and rejection. Struggle, doubt and triumph are not contradictions but the ebbs and flows of a great tide, the great tide of God’s grace poured out in his Spirit over his people (Acts 2:17).
Me? I am small. I’ve been on this earth 20 years. I’ve done nothing important. I’ve not saved anyone’s life. I’ve not started a grassroots movement to end local poverty. I’ve not stood before world leaders to counsel them and pray for them. I am insignificant.
And I think I need to know this more.
Our culture exalts the individual in the moment. I am important right now. What I am doing at this second counts for something. People should know about it, they should care and be impacted by it.
Yet when I look over the pages of Church history, do you know how many names of the members of local congregations are mentioned?
The work and witness of the Church are vastly more thorough and lasting than any one person, congregation, movement or stream.
And it is precisely that which I want to be part of.
It is a matter of discipleship in our present culture to submit the will to individuality to the Body of Christ, in the Church.
I don’t mean to say that a person should be swallowed up by the Church. Just that one ought to understand their own individuality and identity and the possibilities their position could afford them, and then willingly yield these things to the cause of Christ through his Church. In this way one’s life is joined with a vast whole.
There is a sacred death in joining the Church. This is why we practice Baptism (Col. 2:12)
Now, the discerning reader would have noticed that I have not yet clarified why I think this part of the Christian walk necessities old churches.
I’m not saying it does.
But I do believe, in our culture of new and now there is a powerful testimony in choosing to join something older and greater than ourselves. In one sense this is true of church planting, since the seed is the Gospel and therein is contained the whole wisdom of God that historic churches enjoy the fruits of.
To the outsider, the non-believer, church planting can look like a business start up. A reaction against something they didn’t like in existing churches. To an extent we have seen this in the comments on this series.
And so to submit oneself to the established church in it’s form as an institution of society is to walk in faith of what God has done and subsequently believing in the present working of God in a body older and vastly different than oneself.
For me, to be a member of my little old Baptist church is to say that I do not believe my faith or my witness begin with me, or that I am doing anything new or different than anyone else in God’s vast body. By my membership I am saying “I believe God has been working through his Church long before I got here”
It makes these core beliefs tangible to the non-believer.
It is heartening, to see the victories of the Gospel in Church history and be able to say “I’m part of that!”
It is humbling to accept the weight of mistakes and to join in the countless voices who have mourned and repented for how far short God’s Church really is.
It reminds me that I do not have the answers, that there have been Christians long before me and that there will be Christians long after I am gone. That my faith is not my preference but the shared story of God in Christ.
Are you part of and established church? Is it old? What does that say about your faith?