(54) the holy catholic church

I couldn’t have become a Christian without the church. The word of Christ had to come to me through churchmen. How much I owe to my wonderful church friends! The New Testament was written and translated for me by churchmen. Even the prayer our Lord taught us is cast in the plural: Our Father, give us this day our daily bread; forgive us; deliver us. Christ’s command to preach points to a gathering of listeners. Baptism and the Lord’s Supper involve the church family. Without the others I cannot fulfill Christ’s command to love and take responsibility for others. I may be individually accountable to God. But as a member of God’s family I will certainly have to give account of my relationship with the rest of his family. I can’t be a Christian writer and yet bypass entirely what the church’s great thinkers, councils, creeds, and confessions of faith have said. I couldn’t be a Christian without the church anymore than I could be a soldier without an army, or a brother without a family.

I believe in the church, even though it is sometimes hard to distinguish from the rest of the world. My fellow Christians are undoubtedly an ordinary, even “ornery,” lot of people. They have some of my human failings plus some of their own. Each congregation usually has its quota of tedious old men, fussy old women, distracted parents, rebellious young people, and thoughtless children. Any resemblance between what they are in church and what they are during the rest of the week is often purely coincidental. They seem to be forever struggling with problems and with one another. One group of them lives and worships in one style, while others do it differently. Where, in all the ordinariness, contrariness, and division, can I find God’s church? Yet I believe it is there. The Holy Spirit is working in these people as well as in me. Something in me holds out its arms to something in them and also to Christ. Tarnished silver is still silver. These earthen vessels do contain the precious treasure of God. Christ came to join himself to problem people. He had to die for me, too, so I belong with the rest of those whom he has claimed for his own. In a way I’m glad the church isn’t perfect yet. I would feel so out of place in a perfect church. They mightn’t want to have me! But since there are already some hypocrites in the church, they are ready to take me in with the rest. Everybody in this world is a bit of a hypocrite anyway! Some of us admit it and come together at church to seek the Lord’s mercy and renewal.

I believe in the church because I believe that God can finish what he began in Jesus’ work. The church has not yet become what it will be. Church people have not yet arrived at their goal. But they are definitely on their way toward what the Lord would have them become. The meaning of their present condition will only be seen clearly when they reach the fulfillment that lies ahead of them. The church is by no means yet a showcase of polished specimens or a parade of crack troops shining in moral goodness. It is more like a hospital where people seek help. Thank you, Lord, for the help.