In the September issue of De Heraut, H. V., writing on “Hot Ambt Aller Geloovigen” uses a figure which only too conspicuously describes the Church-life in many of our churches today. H. V. is agitating against the corrupt conception many people entertain in respect to the Church and its function in this world.
Here is the figure, an illustration applicable enough to be of value to us and our churches.
Says H. V. many church members consider the church a train traveling toward heaven. In that train one may see a variety of passengers. One passenger is taking a nap, the second is looking out through the window, while a third is off in a corner reading a book. In the train there are a few that are active, such as the machinist and the conductor, but all the rest are lounging, idly riding along to heaven.
And thus: “riders-along.”
I often wonder if by and large we are not addicted to that view. The pastor, the elders and the deacons, a few assistants together with a few that happen to have to serve on committees. . . .they have something to do in the Church. But the rest of us idly ride along, with nothing more to do than look out through the window together with making an occasional remark about the attractiveness or unattractiveness of the scenery. The “riders along” can safely leave it to the few active ones to do what is to be done. And in the practice of many a church it works out exactly that way. In a train this works out alright. But the Church is not a train.
Scripture certainly does not call the Church a train which is here only to serve the purpose of taking us to heaven. If that were true it would have served its purpose and could cease functioning when finally this world has come to its end. And just the opposite is true, for Scripture everywhere shows us the Church triumphant as busy functioning.
The Church in Scripture is not for man but for God. It is not here first of all for you and me but for God. It is not meant to serve me first, but God. It is the Body of Christ Jesus. The Church is God’s servant. Even as the human body is the tool through which the soul operates, so the Church is the instrument through which the Spirit of Christ Jesus operates. And thus she is the servant of God. She serves to tell God’s praises. She is the servant through whom God glorifies Himself, through whom God crushes the head of the serpent, puts to shame the proud and wise of this world, casts down the thrones and principalities, through whom God gathers His elect from everywhere. Not a train therefore, but an active and willing servant of the living God through the Spirit of Christ that is in her.
Neither does the Scripture allow riders-along.
Are you a Christian?
Indeed, you say.
Well, then the Heidelberg Catechism asserts that you are an officebearer in the Church. The Church member is an officebearer, never a rider-along. He is to be engaged in active service. Just because he is not an elder or a deacon, that does not mean that he is nothing and therefore has no office and no duty. We confess in respect to the Church “that I am and forever shall remain a living member thereof”. It says a LIVING member. To be a living member certainly includes that we, each and everyone of us, is to be activated to service by the Spirit of the risen Lord now operating in the Church. And our service, the service of all of us is the office of all believers. All having the unction and all sharing in that life of the Spirit, there cannot be in the Church those “riders-along”. There are perhaps that ride along but they cannot rightly call themselves Christians.
The Church not only is a body, but also lives and functions as a body. The work I do is not done by anyone of my members in exclusion of all the rest, but I do that work only through collaboration of all the members of my body. Suppose you are a factory worker and you use chiefly your hands. . . .would you say that the feet have no service in your life? All the members of your body must so labor together that you can perform your task. If your eyes fail, no matter how willing your hands, they too will fail; if your stomach fails, your hands will be idle soon enough. Not only does each member play its part but all members must collaborate to make it possible for your hands to do the work expected of you. So it is also in respect to God’s Church. It has the high calling of God to obey, it must function, not a member here or there, but the Body must function, and each member in his or her own appointed place.
It remains therefore for each of us to know or to find the place which God has assigned to us in the Body of Christ, and there function as faithfully and as willingly as do the angels in heaven.
No riders-along, but Christians. . . .that is what the Church needs.