by Phil Andrews
These immortal words appeared on the front cover of a recent Church newsletter. They were unqualified, not conspicuously pertaining to any article or inclusion therein. Thus I assumed the slogan to be a space filler, something inserted to occupy a large, empty void which might otherwise have left the reader with the impression that we had run out of things to say – or at least things worthy of the front cover.
But at times less can be more, as the saying goes. Especially when the absence of an explanation inspires us to think one up for ourselves. So we now know that the author of the phrase loves his Church, but do we love it also? Indeed should we love our Church, and if so why?
In John’s Gospel we are told of the demonstration that Jesus gave of His love to his disciples, prior to the Passover festival which preceded His betrayal and His Crucifixion (John xiii, 1-20). Individually, He washed their feet, before imploring them to do likewise to one another. By allowing Him to wash their feet they were in fellowship with Him, and likewise when they washed each other’s feet they were in fellowship with each other.
Mutual foot-washing would be considered an eccentric, and dare I say socially unacceptable way for members of our modern day congregation to demonstrate their fellowship. Nevertheless, it is important that we remind ourselves of the bonds that we share as members of the Church, which should override any differences that may exist between us.
A collection of individuals, united in Christ
We are oft reminded that our Church is a collection of individuals, united in Christ, rather than merely a building at the junction of two busy streets in the heart of Isleworth. The building is simply a place where those individuals meet. Notwithstanding its obvious suitability as a place of worship and its sympathetic architecture, without a congregation using it as a base for worship and for Christian fellowship it would be but a building.
We could, as a congregation, meet at a venue which on the surface of it was very un-Church-like, and still conduct Christian worship (our Zoom meetings during lockdown could be considered a case in point). We could still sing hymns, listen to sermons, study the Bible and attend meetings to discuss our business. Many churches do. Conversely, our building could find itself being used for temporal activities of almost any conceivable kind. Out in the world, this sometimes happens too.
So whilst it is not wrong to look upon our Church building with fondness and affection, it is the activity which it hosts that truly makes it a Church.
More that unites us than divides us
This means that when we speak of our love for the Church, it is the love we share as a fellowship to which we are referring. This doesn’t require always agreeing with each other, neither does it dictate that we should forever spurn the company of others outside the Church in favour of some perpetual enforced togetherness between members of the congregation who may have little in common beyond their faith.
But we should also acknowledge that the unifying power of our faith is greater than any other shared interest – be it music, football teams, soap opera or even real opera. Or to put it another way, when we do come together we do so in the service of something far greater and more beautiful than anything which may unite us with others outside the Church, in whatever context.
As members of our Christian fellowship there is by definition more that unites us than divides us. My love for Jesus requires me to love my Church. It isn’t optional.
POSTSCRIPT – It has been pointed out to me by Antony, whose insertion into the newsletter the phrase in question was, that it was not a space filler at all but related to a notice about the anniversary of Isleworth Congregational Church which was located right beside it on the front page!
Apologies are due, and offered in full. Nevertheless, the slogan itself provided me with the material both for this article and for a sermon at morning service, both of which I hope some will have found useful. PA.