Salvation, sacraments, and Sunday sports


I wrote yesterday about how churches need to consider contemporary realities in the way we schedule our programs. In other words: the time, energy, and gifts and resources of families has changed significantly over the last twenty years. If churches fail to take these shifting realities seriously then our ministry will become less effective.

It might sound like I’m advocating that churches accommodate and adjust to the preferences of attenders like any business might. I don’t think that such an approach is either biblical or prudent.

No, there are certain things that churches ought to be able to expect of their members. Of course, the truth is that you cannot expect something from someone unless you first instruct them. We sometimes assume that people intuitively know what it means to become a Christian and to become a church member. That is a fatal assumption.

In a post-Christian culture people intuitively know very little about the faith, its content, its practice, and about the significance of church membership in the life of faith. People have a cultural category for, say, joining a Country Club or a Swim Club; for joining a gym or the YMCA. They carry that notion over into the life of the church, which, after all, is (in the eyes of many) another service organization rather than the very Bride of Christ.

Instruction is part of the solution to this cultural challenge, but only part.

Teaching elders, ruling elders, deacons, and other ministry leaders need to become very clear on the importance of church membership to the life of faith. 

As a Calvinist, I have a very definitive answer to why join and attend church. Those reasons come variously from the Bible, the Westminster Standards, and the great theologians of our tradition. Chief among those theologians is John Calvin, whose view of the church is significantly “higher” than many people realize.

In The Institutes of the Christian Religion. John Calvin’s approvingly uses the metaphor of mother to describe the church. The church is, according to the head of the chapter, “mother of all the Godly.”

In doing this Calvin mirrors an earlier writer, Cyprian of Carthage, who affirmed in De catholicae ecclesiae unitate, “He can no longer have God for his Father, who has not the church for his mother.”

As children cannot become fully-formed, healthy, functioning adults without the assistance of a mother and a father, so Christians cannot come to spiritual maturity in Christ absent the ministry of the church.

Calvin refers to the ministry of pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11) as helps provided by God for the nurturance and practice of true faith. These pastors and teachers are placed within an authority structure—the visible church—that is a means by which God sustains and develops Christians.

Calvin then turns to biblical examples of marriage and motherhood as analogs to the church. God has joined us to himself through the church, therefore “let not man separate” the one from the other.

So, why go to church?

If you want to be a Christian, you must be joined to the church which is itself united to Christ and draws its sustenance from him. Unless we can communicate this important element of church to ourselves, and to our people we will be lacking the foundation that undergirds all of the ways that we think and act about the church.


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