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THE CHURCH OUR MOTHER

June 24, 2015 fatherfoos Comments Off

In his letter to the Galatians, in chapter four, St. Paul says that the “Jerusalem which is above is free; which is the mother of us all” (26). And, at the beginning of chapter five, he says, “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free….” We are children of the free woman, says St. Paul, and therefore, we ought to stand in that liberty with which we have been made free by the atoning work of Christ. But do you see the connection?  The whole passage is devoted to the saving work of Christ through His chosen means—the Church. We can no more do without the Church than we can without Christ, for God has chosen to use the Church to bring the salvation of Christ to the world. John Wesley noted the connection between Church and believer: 

But the other covenant is derived from Jerusalem that is above, which is free—Like Sarah from all inward and outward bondage, and is the mother of us all—That is, all who believe in Christ, are free citizens of the New Jerusalem.

All who are Christ’s are the free citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, “the mother of us all.” So you see where the term mother for reference to the Church comes from–not from Wesley, of course, but from St. Paul!  It is not some Romish invention from the Middle Ages. Wesley continues:

Now we—Who believe, whether Jews or Gentiles, are children of the promise—Not born in a natural way, but by the supernatural power of God. And as such we are heirs of the promise made to believing Abraham.  (John Wesley’s Notes, Gal. 4, emphasis mine)

Wesley is referencing, of course, this passage where St. Paul says, “…we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.…We are not the children of the bond-woman, but of the free” (Gal. 4:28). We are children.  We are born.  St. Chrysostom takes note of the comparison between our birth and our mother and Sarah, who is referenced by St. Paul as the type of the barren woman who will rejoice because of God’s promise:

It is not merely that the Church was barren like Sarah, or became a mother of many children like her, but she bore them in the way Sarah did. As it was not nature but the promise of God which rendered Sarah a mother, …so also in our regeneration it is not nature, but the Words of God spoken by the Priest which in the Bath of water as in a sort of womb, form and regenerate him who is baptized.  (St John Chrysostom, Commentary on Galatians, Vol XIII, NPNF (1st), emphasis mine)

We are part and parcel our mother, the Church, if we are part and parcel of Christ at all.  Lest we still need some Protestant encouragement to rid us of the notion that a high view of the Church is only a Roman invention, let us turn to that great Reformed mind, John Calvin. On the passage in question, Mr. Calvin says this:

The Jerusalem which [St. Paul] calls above, or heavenly, is not contained in heaven; nor are we to seek for it out of this world; for the Church is spread over the whole world, and is a “stranger and pilgrim on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13).

Why then is it said to be from heaven? Because it originates in heavenly grace; for the sons of God are  “born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man” (John 1:13), but by the power of the Holy Spirit. The heavenly Jerusalem, which derives its origin from heaven, and dwells above by faith, is the mother of believers.

Calvin then makes the same connection that St. Chrysostom makes regarding the new birth:

To the Church, under God, we owe it that we are born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible,” (1 Peter 1:23) and from her we obtain the milk and the food by which we are afterwards nourished. 

Not only are we born of an incorruptible seed by the power of God through His chosen means of the Church, but we are fed by our mother, the Church as we grow; moving, as St. Paul said we ought, from the milk of babes to the solid food of children and then adults. Calvin continues,

{Certainly], he who refuses to be a son of the Church in vain desires to have God as his Father; for it is only through the instrumentality of the Church that we are “born of God” (1 John 3:9), and brought up through the various stages of childhood and youth, till we arrive at manhood. This designation, “the mother of us all,” reflects the highest credit and the highest honor on the Church (Calvin, Commentary, Galatians, Volume XXI).

As we stand firmly in the liberty, the freedom which Christ has given us, we must understand ourselves to be standing firmly in the middle of and on the strong foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ.  For there is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved other than that of Christ Jesus (Acts 4:12), and there is no other institution in the world that is called the “pillar and the ground of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15) other than our mother, the Church.

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