Who Does the Church Belong to?
Updated: Apr 12
Dave was into politics. He loved it. He tweeted it. He talked about it. He bored his friends about it. As time went on, he realized he wasn’t really furthering his cause and wandered how he might bring people round to his way of thinking. He had many friends in his own party. Perhaps he could join full time. But he feared that if he worked there his voice might be missed.
Instead, he thought, “I’ll join the opposition. I can say the words – although I’ll understand different things when I affirm them! – and I’ll work from within to bring my agenda forward. Perhaps I can move the opposition over to my side.”
The plan was effective. Dave was able to reinterpret the language of the opposition. He was able to bring people along. His own goals were being furthered from the inside. The plan was effective. But was the plan honest?
This year (2023) was the one hundredth anniversary of J. Gresham Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism (p.143). The story just told depends on that work. Machen asks, “the fact that the Church is more than a political club does not mean that in ecclesiastical affairs there is any abrogation of the homely principles of honesty. The Church may possibly be more honest, but certainly it ought not to be less honest, than a political club.” (p.143)
Who does the Church belong to? Who gets to define the Church? Is everyone who calls themselves a Christian, in fact, a Christian? If not, how do we define it?
Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21). Not everyone who says they’re a Christian is a Christian.
Article XIX defines the Church in this way, “The Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly administered according to Christ’s ordinance, in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same. As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred, so also the church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of ceremonies, but also in matters of faith.”
A congregation of faithful men. Faithful to what? To themselves? To their own truth? No. Knowledge of self is drawn only from Scripture as the self revelation of the Living God. “As drink is pleasant to to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry; so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture, to them that be desirous to know God, or themselves, and to do his will.” (p. 1)
The Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, and Rome all erred. They all called themselves Christians but without allowing God’s self revelation in Scripture to define them they became unworthy of the name.
I have very deliberately shown from Scripture, the Articles, and the Homilies that the Church is defined not by men but by God. The question is, doesn’t simple honesty call those who wish to redefine the church to leave to form their own institution which they can shape on any principles they wish? Or is it possible honestly to commit onseself to the historic formularies whilst ignoring them? Isn’t it time we had a revival of simple honesty?
Benjamin Lucas trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and has an MA in Theology with the University of Wales. He is married to Emily and they have three children. He is a currently a curate at St Margaret's Angmering.