Mother’s Day having just been celebrated, it seems coincidental that EP pastors and leaders gathered on-site at True Way Presbyterian Church for the first time in almost two years to listen to a talk - 'Church as Mother - What John Calvin and the Westminster Standards Say about Church Belonging and Commitment'. We had Rev Dr Edmund Fong initiate a group discussion on the sense of belongingness and commitment of members of our individual churches. The sharing revealed elderly members who weren’t happy with their church, yet chose to stay (or belong) because they had invested time and money in the church. There are some who aren’t members but the years they clocked in the church made them belong. Then there are those who are committed in their own small church group though they may not always participate in (commit to) the activities of the wider church.
Rev Fong summarised for us Calvin’s thoughts of the Church:
(1) Church is not optional for our Christian faith and growth. After partaking salvation, God uses the Church as our “outward help” and needed “aid” to “beget and increase faith within us”. It is in the Church where God deposited the treasure of the preaching of the Gospel through pastors and teachers so as to teach His children. It is in the Church where sacraments are received to aid and foster and strengthen our faith. Since we are nourished by the Church in our faith, the Church provides us motherly care until we mature. “Those to whom [God] is Father, the Church may also be Mother”.
(2) We must be concerned with the visible local church, and not the invisible. Calvin recognized the distinction between the invisible and the visible church. The former includes the departed elect from the beginning of the world and the present living. The latter comprise the present visible saints but mingled with hypocrites who are associated with Christ only through outward appearance.
(3) The two marks of the genuine visible Church: preaching and sacraments. Calvin says that a church of God exists in places where the Word of God is purely preached and heard, and sacraments are administered according to Christ’s instruction. Without these, what exists is a sham church.
(4) The visible local church will never be perfect. Because the visible local church is inhabited by both believers and pseudo-believers, the Church will experience scandals within her. This shouldn’t cause us to leave the visible church, but persevere and stay for as long as the Gospel is preached and heard and sacraments administered.
(5) Church is the body of Christ of which we are members. An individual believer cannot constitute the body of Christ. We are joined and knit together into one body to live together in one faith, hope, and love in God’s Spirit.
He left us to ponder about the present consumeristic mindset believers may have towards the visible church.
Overall, the session provided us an opportunity to think through the contemporary challenges we face with church belongingness and commitment by referring us back to the ancient wisdom of our Presbyterian forbearers.