We talk about what life is like in an increasingly secular age, but it’s difficult to look at anything in the news media, social media, web sites and other communications without finding constant references to religion of almost all kinds, but especially Christianity and Islam. We may live in an increasingly secular age, but you wouldn’t know it from what everyone is talking about, arguing about, expressing fears and concerns about, and thinking about. It can be as tiresome as it is repetitive; no one is convincing anyone except the people in their own echo chambers.
I find this even roiling into conversations of my fellow Christians, with mainliners pitted against evangelicals, traditionalists versus “seeker supporters,” people arguing for and against something called “relevance” in worship services. There’s some faith, little hope, and no love being shown; instead, we embrace our own righteous anger and use it like a weapon.
Author, speaker, historian, and Calvinist R.C. Sproul has been publishing a series entitled “Crucial Questions,” which actually might provide some relief. No. 17 in that series is What is the Church?, and Sproul takes us back to 325 A.D., the Council of Nicea, and the Nicene Creed that resulted.
Consider the context. For only a few years, Christianity had been a legal religion in the Roman Empire. It was engulfed in the Arian controversy, which concerned the divine nature of Jesus and his relationship to God the Father. It was threatening to tear the church apart. The Emperor Constantine called the council and presided over its beginning, although others presided over the discussion and debate. The council eventually beat back the Arian heresy and developed the Nicene Creed, which is still recited in churches around the world today. (The Council also did a number of other things, like determine which books comprised the Biblical canon.)
In his book, Sproul focuses on one element of the creed, which defines the church as one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. Taking each term in turn, he explores what the church is and what it is called to be. He doesn’t gloss over the divisions plaguing the church; in fact, he discusses the major ones.
He distinguishes between the visible and invisible church. He describes what it means for the church to be holy (and believers to be saints). He considers the church’s universality. And he explains what is means for the church to be founded on the apostles. He finishes the work by noting what it means to be a servant and what the true marks of church are.
Sproul is the author of numerous books, articles, sermons, and speeches on Christianity, church history, theology, Calvinism, and related topics. Sproul leads the teaching fellowship Ligonier Ministries, based in Sanford, Florida.
What is the Church?, published in 2013, is a reality check for any of us who describe ourselves as Christians. It is both refreshing and convicting.