The Church of Jesus Christ is never a static, unmoving entity. Even as she lives in the present, she is tied to the past as she waits in hope for what the future will bring. Often, conversations about the Church—what she is, what she should do, how she should look—revolve around various points of time: this is what my congregation used to look like; or, these are the problems here and now; or, this is how she should be in the future. Because the Church is an historical entity, those aspects are all worthy of consideration. But we can never privilege one point of time over another. The Church was not better or purer the closer it was to Jesus and the Apostles; the Church is not smarter or more significant because we’ve had two thousand years to get it right; the Church is not heading toward a utopian future in this creation.
Behind all of the disputes and controversies that have disturbed the Church internally is a failure to hold close to the second phrase of the Third Article of the Creed: “I believe…in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Just as we cannot look around at the world, or into the circumstances of our own lives, in order to discover what God is doing, neither can we look at what we can see of the Church in order to discover her source, sustenance, or goal. As with Christian faith generally, the only One in whom we can know for certain what God is doing is His Son, Jesus. Just as Jesus’ death and resurrection tell us what the outcome of this world will be for His saints, so they also tell us the truth about the Church’s existence in this world. Jesus is the source and beginning of the Church’s life in the water and blood of His pierced side, He is the ongoing food and drink to sustain the Church’s life in the midst of this world, and He is the goal to which the Church is headed, “until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesisans 4:13).