How the Church Helps Us
We are told that it is our duty to unite with the Church. Christ requires of his followers that they confess him before men. We can scarcely do this in a satisfactory way, without identifying ourselves with the company of Christ's friends. There is no word in our Lord's teaching which commends secret discipleship. It seems very clear that all who receive Christ as their Savior owe it to their new Master to take their place at once in the Church.
But apart from the duty of thus confessing Christ, there is immeasurable help for the Christian in the Church, if he puts himself in right relations to it. It is this devotional side of church life that we are now considering — what is the Church meant to do for our spiritual life. And how may we get from it the help it has for us?
The ordinances of religion are only "means of grace." That is, they are channels through which grace flows into the life of those who enjoy them. All grace comes from Christ. There is no blessing in the ordinances themselves. One's thirst cannot be quenched merely by the pipes which are adjusted to bring water from the fountain. These may be pipes of gold — but they have nothing to give to those who put their lips to them unless they are attached to the fountain and filled from it.
In like manner, the most beautiful Church services have nothing in themselves to bless us — except as they bring Christ into our life. There is no grace in the mere act of praying, however fitting the words of the petition may be; it is only as we actually draw near to God, coming into living fellowship with him, that we get help in praying. There is nothing uplifting or inspiring in a hymn, however noble its sentiments and however musically it may be rendered — except as it kindles love, homage, and faith in our heart, and its words bear our soul, as on wings, nearer to Christ. Even in the Lord's Supper, the most sacred of all the ordinances of the Church, there is no efficacy except as we are brought by it into closer relation with Christ himself.
It is important, therefore, that we keep ever in mind the precise intention of the services of the Church, that they are only channels through which we may receive the good things which Christ wishes to give to us. In Heaven, where they see him face to face, the worshipers do not need forms of devotion. But while we are in this world, we are saved only by hope, and need ordinances and forms of worship to bridge over, the chasm between flesh and spirit. But we must guard against dependence upon the forms, and use them only as means of communication between our spirit and the divine Spirit.
What are some phases of the help we may get from the Church?
One is instruction. The Church is a school. We are not full-grown Christians when we receive Christ — we are only beginners, with everything yet to learn. Jesus says, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me." Matthew 11:29
The course of instruction is long, and the lessons are many. The learning is not merely intellectual, but essentially practical. It is not enough to know what a Christian life should be — what qualities and virtues go to make up Christlikeness. We are to learn to live the things which are Christly! We are not merely to know what self-denial, patience, unselfishness, thoughtfulness, and kindness are — but we are to get these qualities wrought into our own disposition and character. "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them!" John 13:17
In the Church we have the lessons set for us; then we are to go out and learn them, practicing them until they have become part of our new life.
Another phase of the help which the Church has for us is renewal of strength. Life in the world exhausts us. Its struggles, its tasks, its cares, its frets, its disappointments — drain our spiritual resources. We need to come often to God for a new supply of grace. We do this in our daily spiritual devotions — we need a new supply for every day — for yesterday's grace will not carry us through today's experiences. But one purpose of meeting together, is to give us a larger opportunity for waiting upon the Lord in the services of the Church, to get afresh in our heart the thought of God and of our duty, and to receive new supplies of power from Christ. This we do as we hear God speak to us in his word, as we bow before him in prayer, as we sing the hymns of praise and are lifted up on their strains, and as we touch other lives and get encouragement and inspiration from Christian fellowship. The church services should fit us for the week of toil and duty.
There is great help also in the Christian activities to which the Church introduces us. Work is the best means of grace. There is no other way in which we can grow so wholesomely, as in work. The way to develop our talents, is by trading with them. The Church sets tasks and duties for us. It calls us to a ministry of helpfulness. It sends us out to be good Samaritans to relieve distress. It sets us down before a class as a teacher. It asks us for our money to be used in carrying on the work of Christ. It inspires us to all manner of service in behalf of others. Thus it provides for us opportunities for the development of our powers, so that our two talents of capacity increase to four.
These are suggestions of the meaning of the Church as a helper in our spiritual life, and of the way we may get from it the blessings it has for us.