Posted September 16, 2009 By
No experience in my life has elicited greater heart-sickness than witnessing the AIDS orphans in South Africa…helpless, unclothed children, walking the dirty hillsides, wandering aimlessly, scrounging for food, living only to die. For the estimated 3.5 million such orphans in South Africa, there exists neither home nor hope.
To behold even a single of these fatherless and motherless children evokes an unspeakable anguish. “This is intolerable. It is wrong. It is insufferable!” our hearts bellow. In response, hundreds of people and organizations target the deserted, granting food for the hungry, homes for the homeless and surrogate families for the discarded. But the gruesome need is well beyond the anemic though kindly efforts.
Think with me for a moment. Why is it that we weep with such great sorrow? Why is it that we find our hearts virtually ripped out of our souls when witnessing the plight of the orphaned child? In large part it is because we know that a child needs a home. A child simply cannot survive, let alone thrive, without the support, provision, care and nurture of his mother. Children were not meant to live alone, to go at life alone or to fight alone for survival. This is simply wrong.
With equal and perhaps greater passion we must contend for the Church. No child of God can survive, let alone thrive, without the support, provision, care and nurture of his Mother. No son or daughter of God is meant to live alone, to go at the spiritual life alone or to fight alone for survival. This is simply wrong.
It ought not surprise us that John Calvin calls the visible church the “Mother of believers.” Nimbly avoiding the errors of Cyprian, Calvin unabashedly contends for the indispensability of this Mother, as the one who has conceived us, given us birth, nourished us at her breast and keeps us under her care for our entire lives (Institutes, IV.i.4). No child of God should live apart from his Mother, and as Calvin sees it, the orphaning of a Christian is gruesome and intolerable.
Living in a post-Enlightenment culture in which self is deified, too much of evangelical Christianity exalts the personal relationship with Jesus Christ in a manner that wreaks havoc with the corporate, familial tenor of the Bible. This version of the Gospel finds the Church as an afterthought, a convenience, a service for me to attend if I find it useful. What is most important is that ‘I love Jesus and He loves me, yes, this I know.’ But the rude individualism and self-sufficiency of such a personal salvation dash its little ones on the rocks of isolation. In Christ, we are adopted into a family of faith, and coming under the care of our Mother, we live in covenant kinship. Christianity is not first about ‘me and Jesus’ but about ‘we in Jesus.’
Fellow shepherds, let us forsake neither our Mother nor her children. When the temptation to give up overwhelms, it is our blessed duty to pursue the children of God who foolishly choose a solitary existence. Witnessing the foolish wandering and orphan-like habits of our Mother’s children, our hearts must bellow, “This is intolerable. It is wrong. It is insufferable!” And our lives must mimic the heart of the Great Shepherd, our Elder Brother, who said “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (Jn 14:18) This is simply right.