by Fr. Peter Gillquist
One day years ago I was handed a tract entitled, “Which Church Saves?” I recall immediately disliking it, just by the cover. It looked like a con-job treatment of an incredibly serious topic. In today’s terms, it was hype. But I went ahead and read it anyway.
Predictably, the author took a poke at many of the various denominations in Christendom, particularly at those with strong historical roots. Then, he went on to tell his readers that when all is said and done, the Church really never was all that crucial to our salvation in the first place. All you need is Jesus.
I remember thinking to myself,
“Jesus is central to salvation. But, if all you need is Jesus, then why did Jesus tell his disciples that through them, ‘I will build my Church’? And why did the disciples call Christ the head of the Church, and go out building Churches?”
Interestingly, at that point in my life, I was no great proponent of the Church myself. I was a Christian, in that I had committed my life as fully as I knew to Jesus Christ and had been baptized. But I felt I had been let down by the Church. She seemed dull and drab, often lifeless. In fact, I honestly shared many of the same anger spots as the person who wrote that tract.
And for some fair reasons too. For, several years earlier, at a point in my life prior to my commitment to Christ when I was still searching for answers and looking for God, someone had presented a different gospel to me. A minister tried to soothe my eager questions with an answer equally simplistic to that of the tract: “All you need is Church.”
And of course the Church and the Kingdom of God are important elements in a good presentation of the gospel. But you do need to know Jesus! You can participate in all the forms and functions of Church life and government without ever coming to grips with Christ and the salvation He so mercifully offers to us.
Honestly, sometimes I get so frustrated at all of these “half-way” gospel presentations, I can hardly see straight. Why do we keep separating Christ from His Church? The choice is neither a Churchless Christ nor a Christless Church! Instead, we are called by God the Father, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to come to know and love the Lord Jesus Christ in His Church.
How is it we enter into this saving faith? The Scripture is crystal clear as to how salvation is granted. After the first Christian sermon ever preached by an apostle, people in the crowd asked,
“What shall we do?”
In other words, “How can we enter into the salvation which Jesus Christ offers?” The answer God gave through Peter on that day has been consistently echoed by the Church over the past 2000 years:
“Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sin; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Let us consider these instructions point by point. First, the command to repent. To repent simply means to change direction, to turn around. We denounce our sin as evil, we leave behind the ways in which we have served the devil, and we turn to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. This can be both a personal decision and a commitment made before one ordained by God in the Church. If we have called to God in faith, He has heard and answered our prayers. His mercy is on all of us who repent and come to Him in faith.
Second, the call to be baptized. God calls us to holy baptism, where we are given the grace to die, be buried, and be raised to a new life in Christ. Here our union with Christ is sealed and our citizenship in the Kingdom of God is ratified.
Third, the promise of the gift of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus at His baptism, so we receive the Holy Spirit as the hands of the priest are placed on our heads at baptism.
It is precisely at these last two points that we begin to see the reason Christ established His Church. It is we who repent and believe in Jesus Christ; it is the Church which administers to us our union with Christ through baptism and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
The religious tract I was given suggested that salvation is through a Churchless Christ. The minister I spoke with presented the gospel of the Christless Church. Both presentation were incomplete.
The apostle Peter, on the other hand, preached salvation through Christ in the Church –a complete gospel. Of course we must repent and have personal faith in Christ; but it is the Church which administers to us the sacrament of baptism and the laying on of hands so that we might receive the Holy Spirit. We cannot separate a personal faith in Christ from life in His Church.
We preach an incomplete gospel when we preach Christ without His Church.