Friday, September 23, 2011

The True Church Behind the Curtain

Recently I completed a series that sought to explore what I called a "Unitive Vision for Christendom." In that series, I talked about what it means to seek unity in the Church but also to value particular distinctives as a church body as well. Kuyper gets us to think about how the Church Universal is first and foremost connected in this way: as a group of sojourners, who are seeking to be made whole once again with the "True Church Behind the Curtain." The image of those reigning with Christ, also those who serve as "witnesses" (Heb. 12) comprise the heavenly Church as its powers are given to the Church, all who confess Christ, here on earth. We seek to be a part of that "real Church" as we sojourn forward as God's Beloved. Kuyper writes:

The Westminster Confession beautifully sets forth this heavenly all-embracing nature of the Church, when it says: “The Catholic or Universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect that have been, are or shall be, gathered into one, under Christ the Head, thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all.” Only thus was the dogma of the invisible church religiously consecrated and apprehended in its cosmological and enduring significance. For, of course, the reality and fullness of the Church of Christ cannot exist on earth. Here is found, at most, one generation of believers at a time, in the portal of the Temple,- all previous generations, from the beginning and foundation of the world, had left this earth, and had gone up on high. Therefore, those who remained here, were, eo ipso pilgrims, meaning thereby that they were marching from the portal unto the Sanctuary itself, no possibility of salvation after death remaining for those who had not been united to Christ during this present life. No room could be left for masses for the dead, nor for a call to repentance on the other side of the grave as German Theologians are now advocating. For all such processional and gradual transitions were regarded by Calvin as destroying the absolute contrast between the essence of the Church in Heaven, and its imperfect form, here on earth. The Church on earth does not send up its light to heaven, but the Church in heaven must send its light down to the Church on earth. There is now, as it were, a curtain stretched before the eye, which hinders it from penetrating while on earth into the real essence of the Church. Therefore, all that remains possible to us on earth is first a mystical communion with that real Church, by means of the Spirit, and in the second place, the enjoyment of the shadows which are displaying themselves on the transparent curtain before us. Accordingly, no child of God should imagine that the real Church is here on earth, and that behind the curtain there is only an ideal product of our imagination; but, on the contrary, he has to confess that Christ in human form, in our flesh, has entered into the invisible, behind the curtain; and that, with Him, around Him, and in Him, our Head, is the real Church, the real and essential sanctuary of our salvation. Lectures on Calvinism, pp. 61-2

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