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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The Church My Service Provider?

The Asian Assembly of God theologian, Simon Chan, has written an excellent book, "Liturgical Theology: The Church as Worshiping Community". Early on as he writes about the importance of Ecclesiology, he comments on Cyprian's dictum: "He who has not the Church as his mother, has not God for his father." Chan states:

"We are not saved as individuals first & then incoporated into the church; rather, to be a Christian is to be incorporated into the church by baptism & nourished with the spiritual food of the body & blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Failure to understand this fact has led to a reduction of the church's role to a largely sociological one of a service provider catering to individual believers' spiritual needs" (24).

This reductionistic trend is one that Philip Lee, in Against the Protestant Gnostics, pictured when he described the modern Protestant congregation as 'the church of & for the individual.'

Lest one think that Chan's statement is outside classic Protestantism, it is important to remember Calvin's own strong Ecclesiological leanings:

"But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels, (Matth. 22: 30.). For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.) To their testimony Ezekiel subscribes, when he declares, "They shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel," (Ezek. 13: 9;) as, on the other hand, those who turn to the cultivation of true piety are said to inscribe their names among the citizens of Jerusalem. For which reason it is said in the psalm, "Remember me, O Lord, with the favour that thou bearest unto thy people: O visit me with thy salvation; that I may see the good of thy chosen, that I may rejoice in the gladness of thy nation, that I may glory with thine inheritance," (Ps. 106: 4, 6.) By these words the paternal favour of God and the special evidence of spiritual life are confined to his peculiar people, and hence the abandonment of the Church is always fatal" (Institutes IV.1.4).

The church my service provider? No! The church my mother, outside of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (Westminster Confession of Faith 25.2)!

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