The Church Isn't ...

May 8, 2019

Dear Friends,

I have been re-reading John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, focusing on the section of that loooooooooooooooooooooooong exploration of systematic theology where Calvin speaks of the Church and the important role it plays in the life of faith.  One sentence struck me as being crucial to our understanding of the importance of the Church.  Calvin writes, “Not only does the Lord through forgiveness of sins receive and adopt us once for all into the church, but through the same means he preserves and protects us there.”

The Church isn’t a building.

The Church isn’t a gathering of people who sing songs and listen to a speaker.

The Church isn’t a social organization or club.

The Church isn’t even, no matter how good they are, a local distributor of cookies.

The Church is a gathered group of sinful people who believe in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and follow him wherever he leads.  The Church is marked by the right preaching of the Word of God, the joyful celebration of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper and the faithful spurring on of one another in righteousness and holiness.

All of this means that we can’t follow Jesus apart from the Church.  As Calvin writes, we are “preserved and protected” in the Church.  We are sinners, and somehow by the grace and mercy of God we are sustained together.  It’s always a temptation for the Church to point to itself as the way, the truth and the life instead of pointing to Jesus.  It’s a temptation because we are committed to him and we come to so closely identify ourselves with him that we think if people will just follow us – the Church – they’ll be fine.

We don’t want to give in to that temptation.  We want people to follow Jesus and Jesus alone.  The Church then is this gathering of sinners that points to him as they are on his way.  And yet, the Church provides shelter and safety to its members so that we continue to receive the great gift of forgiveness of our sins.  The longer we follow Jesus, the more we are aware of the depth of our sin and the even greater depth of his mercy.  The Church offers us safe harbor amidst the storms of this world and the storms of life, for as we discover again how far we have fallen short of the glory of God, we hear the Good News proclaimed: “In Jesus Christ your sins are forgiven!”

The Church alone offers the Good News not only to those who’ve never heard it before but also to those who’ve heard and responded to it over and over again.  In this way the Church – that community of people with whom we follow Jesus – is indispensable.

Following Him with You,





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