Calvin says “there is no other way to enter life unless [the visible church acting as our mother] conceive us in her womb, give us birth, nourish us at her breast, and lastly unless she keeps us under her care and guidance”. Such is the importance of the visible church for Calvin that we cannot be saved apart from it.
I am conscious that Calvin’s comments may not be fully appreciated by all of my readers. We typically have a much lower view of the church in the twenty-first century than John Calvin did in the sixteenth. We tend to see the church as optional, salvation as private, and worship as personal and individualistic. If I’ve heard it once as a pastor, I’ve heard it a thousand times: “Why do I need to go to church? I can be a Christian without going to church. I can worship God on the golf course, in the deer stand, or by listening to podcasts.”
The Reformation had a far different view of the church than we tend to have today. It recognised the importance of the visible church — despite the fact that this church was imperfect in its decisions, its policies, and its stewardship of resources. These imperfections did not jade the Reformers or turn them off of the church. They realised that the church is the body of Christ and, as such, it is indispensable in God’s plan of salvation. The Reformers saw this clearly propounded in the Bible in passages such as Romans 12:5, Ephesians 1:22–23 and Colossians 1:18, 24. But perhaps the clearest and most helpful passage in demonstrating the necessity of the church is 1 Corinthians 12:12–27. Read the full article by Guy Richard.