Many Members One Church

"Worship Wars." That was thrown around a lot all through my theological education. Everyone was fighting about what style of music was most "sacred" sounding. Good grief. Today it continues, though it sounds a bit different. Younger, more progressive churches are clashing with older, more traditional churches and most of the time there's far too little humility in both groups. To be honest I have found myself in both camps at different times, usually holding on to the same attitude - and let's just say it wasn't the attitude of Christ (Phil. 2). At Grace we take theology seriously. Being Reformed in theology and operating within our understanding of a "regulative principle" that governs how we worship, we believe that "church" and what church does should always be discussed and sometimes even debated. In the end some churches reflect a more biblical picture than others, and to say otherwise is to be dishonest.

Yet, because no one church is without defect in faith or practice charity toward one another is necessary. And because no church stands alone, but is meant to walk along side other communities of faith, humility is needed as we work together. This is especially true in our Convention. All this is on my mind after reading something one of my former professors wrote in a BP Article. Then this weekend I came across J.C. Ryle's words in his classic, Holiness. His words are good for all churches to consider as we approach the Southern Baptist Convention with the aim of encouraging discussion of church, culture and cooperation. For Ryle (and for me), all of what he says below presumes that visible churches maintain basic, orthodoxy - and is a true church. His words do not eliminate the need for theological discussion, nor is he soft on doctrinal issues (just read the book!). Writing of the church Christ builds and preserves forever, Bishop Ryle explains that this universal church is made up of different members.

The members of this church do not all worship God in the same way, or use the same form of government. Some of them are governed by bishops, and some of them by elders. Some of them use a prayer book when they meet for public worship, and some of them use none. ...But the members of this church all come to one throne of grace. They all worship with one heart. They are all led by one Spirit. They are all really and truly holy. They can all say, "Alleluia," and they can all reply, "Amen."

This is that church, to which all visible churches on earth are servants and handmaidens. Whether they are Episcopalian, Independent, or Presbyterian [or traditional or emerging], they all serve the interests of the one true church. They are the scaffolding, behind which the great building is carried on. They are the husk, under which the living kernal grows. They have their varied degrees of usefulness. The best and worthiest of them is that which trains up most members for Christ's true church. But no visible church has any right to say, "We are the only true church. We are the men, and wisdom shall die with us." No visible church should ever dare say, "We shall stand for ever. The gates of hell shall not prevail against me." Holiness, pg. 221