Yesterday was Mother’s Day; did you visit your mother? If you are a Christian I hope you did. I’m speaking of Mother Kirk, of course. Who is she? Kirk is the old Scottish or northern English name for church. Mother Kirk is the character from C.S. Lewis’ novel The Pilgrim’s Regress, the one of whom he says it is best to find from infancy and to grow up in. As Christians we have both a Father and a mother. Being justified by faith and having a new relationship to God we have been adopted as sons and daughters of the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But as the church father Cyprian said so many years ago “He cannot have God as Father who does not have the church as mother.” I understand this may sound “too Catholic” for many evangelicals, but bear with me for a moment.
For all of those ordained to eternal life (Acts 13:48) ,God intends that they come to eternal life through His church. There are of course, exceptions to the rule. The thief on the cross is the usual example of an exception or perhaps the Ethiopian eunuch of Acts chapter eight, but as is often said, the exception proves the rule. The general rule is that those who are being saved are added to the church (Acts 2:47). Scripture is clear that those who profess Christ should belong to a church and thus assumes this to be so throughout the New Testament. This is why the Westminster Divines in chapter XXV of the Confession of Faith write that outside of the church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.” Salvation, to the divines as well as in Scripture is much more than conversion; it also includes sanctification and glorification. We should not be so presumptive as to think that we may approach eternal life apart from the means of grace (the preached word, Lord’s Supper, and baptism) that God has ordained for us in his church. It is within the church that we are born into this kingdom, that we hear the law and gospel of our King proclaimed, that we are strengthened and nourished in our faith by his sacraments, and that his law is administered through church discipline by the officers given to the church by her Lord. This is where we are born, where we grow, and where we are protected and disciplined. Like a nurturing mother, the church cares for us throughout our lives.
These are all practical reasons for calling the church our mother as Christians, but more importantly, Scripture teaches this truth as well. The woman of Revelation 12 who gives birth to the Christ child is not Mary, but the collective people of God. She cannot be the nation of Israel alone, for her lineage can be traced back before Abraham to Noah, Seth, and to Eve – thus fulfilling the promise of Genesis 3:15 of the seed of the woman who was to crush the head of the seed of the serpent. She also has other offspring; “those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus” (Rev. 12:17). So as Christians we are the offspring of this mother. This is a strange relationship that we have. The church is made up of our brothers and sisters but is yet our mother. The church, this city of God where God has come to dwell in the midst of his people, gives birth to further children. We have come to (Heb. 12:22) and are apart of this city. “The Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother” (Galatians 4:26).