(55) the holy catholic church

Many will probably turn away from the church because of me and my Christian friends, for sometimes we don’t seem much like the “body of Christ.” If I had been there when Jesus’ dead, bruised, and broken body came down from the cross, I wouldn’t have expected anything much from it. Yet that body, because it was Christ’s, was transformed by God into the very means of rescuing all men from death. God can also do great things with Christ’s new body, his church.

I believe in the church because it belongs to the Lord. The church is composed of Jesus Christ and all those people in whom his word and Spirit are at work, together with their children, their property, and all of their influence in the world. No one but God can say for sure who or what is in or out of his church. “The Lord knoweth them that are his.” But those who welcome Christ’s word, who yield to his Spirit and show some of the fruits of his truth and love, recognize one another the world over. They belong together because they belong to the Christ who is in each of them. He draws them together with his own mysterious attraction. The church grows up around Christ and because of Christ. The church did not arise because some people with good intentions banded themselves together to promote what they considered to be a “good cause.” Various clubs and associations may start that way. But the church originated in the eternal purpose of God, and it came into being because the Son of God came to this world and joined himself forever to as many as received his word and Spirit. No other society in the world has ever known the church’s unique kind of togetherness. There is nothing in any of the world’s religions that is the same kind of thing as the Christian church.

The church continues Christ’s work. The church is that community of people in whom something of Jesus Christ still lives and moves on this earth, speaking his words and working his works. It is his new body by which the Lord continues to enter human history, touching men’s lives wherever Christians go. He is glad when other religions, heretical groups, governments, and humanitarian organizations also take up his work of healing and feeding, helping and teaching. Even though they don’t give Christ the credit which they owe him, at least his work is being done.

Churchmen must make Christ’s word relevant to their times. His truth and love have got to get through to men, even though the church may have to change some of its old ways of saying and doing things. Christ has given abundant gifts to the members of his church, and he expects proper arrangements to be made so that those gifts will be available for those who need them. There will therefore always be some kind of church government, organization, and order. But the organization must never come to exist for its own sake, or lord it over all men, or presume to tell the Lord what he may or may not do. If the church ever comes to serve purposes that are merely humanly “useful,” it begins at that point to fall short of Christ’s purpose for it. It is Christ’s church. It is not the tool of parents, communities, nations, or systems. The church must always insist on being free enough to serve Christ’s purposes.