Archive: Jesus, with Thy Church Abide

A meditation presented during the 1979 meeting of the Good News Board of Directors

by Robert D. Wood, Associate Editor
Associate Executive Secretary, Good News
Administrator, Evangelical Missions Council Task Force

I grew up in the Methodist Episcopal Church in a small village of Central Michigan, distinguished primarily for serving as the state capital for 24 hours in the 1830s. The church itself still stands, a faded yellow brick with a certain elegance. My pals and I took turns ringing the bell in the tower because its great weight was enough to give us a thrilling lift off the floor as we clung to the thick rope. Of the many memories stippled on my childish mind, most memorable of all was a lovely painting on the rear wall of the chancel (though we had no acquaintance with so highfalutin a word).

Fleecy and devoted sheep crowded around the red-and-white robed Good Shepherd. But He seemed to give all His attention to a wee lamb resting safely on His arm.

In His other hand He carried a crook, and His face reflected tenderness and love. Faithful Sunday school teachers taught me to love Him and to regard myself as one of the lambs whom Jesus seeks and for whom He died.

Perhaps these happy memories are why I feel a great emotional attachment to the church. I am still moved whenever I hear one say, “I was converted at a Methodist altar.” Yet I know, of course, that all is not well with the church.

Monroe Rosenfeld penned one of the sentimental ballads of the Gilded Age, the 1890s. It voices my attitude toward United Methodism:

With all her faults I love her still.
And even tho’ the world should scorn
No love like hers my soul can thrill.
Altho’ she made the heart forlorn,
Tho’ other hearts have now her love,
I bear for her no dreams of ill,
Her face to me still dear shall be.
With all her faults I love her still.

This being so, what am I to do? What are all of us to do who look with sadness yet affection upon what was once the most powerful religious and moral influence in the United States? What can we do but continue to remind the church of her divine origins? “Beloved, the Church is of God, and will be preserved to the end of time.” Besides, “The Church’s one foundation/Is Jesus Christ her Lord.”

And we must not let her forget this. Perhaps a pertinent text of Scripture is Jesus’ word to the Twelve, “But you, who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15) Today, He asks this of the church that flounders in the outback of theological barrenness: “But you, United Methodism, who do you say I am?”

The nature of the Church’s foundation is our only reason for hope. Nevertheless, I still get dismayed with its continuing drift. The whole thing seems like a lost cause sometimes, and I want to run away and forget it.

But friend Paul jerks me up short when I recall an incredible remark he made to the Corinthians. He refers to himself as a servant of the New Covenant and reminds the Church it was God, after all, who called him. “God in His mercy has given us this work to do, and so we do not become discouraged.” (II Corinthians 4:1, TEV) God stands behind us. “And so.” This makes the difference in all Paul did—and today also, in all we ourselves are called by Him to do. Our problem is that we lose that vision, and our sights are riveted, instead, to all that is wrong with the church. Paul has a corrective for that, too, when he indicates that the “trouble we suffer” is actually “small and temporary.” (v.17) Perspective makes the difference: “For we fix our attention … on things that are unseen.” (v.18)

So it is a matter of seeing beyond boards and agencies that often loom large as destroyers of the church and fixing our attention on Him who is its foundation and Lord, the Unseen, and that truly makes the difference.

Let me take a tack from the letter to the Hebrews, where we are told that Moses fashioned the wilderness tabernacle after a pattern of the heavenly one revealed to him by God (Hebrews 8:5b). We look to the Lord, then, because we believe He has ideas and solutions to the problems in the church. We are not looking for angels’ wings to escape these prison walls, nor for blinders so we won’t have to take note of evil and unpleasantness.

Robert Browning wrote about Karshish, who, on a tour of ancient Palestine, heard about a man who had died and been restored to life by a prophet who had lived 30 or more years earlier. So he sought out the old gentleman. In a report to his teacher, Abib, Karshish wrote, “The man had something in the look of him.” What was it? What did Karshish see in Lazarus that distinguished him from all others living in Palestine at that time?

… oft the man’s soul springs into his face
As if he saw again and heard again
His sage that bade him “Rise” and he did rise.
Something, a word, a tick o’the blood within
Admonishes. …(“An Epistle”).

That’s the way it is with me sometimes. Jesus bursts into my consciousness occasionally when I am most discouraged. I hear His voice in the midst of life and the struggle for the Church:

You did not choose me; I chose you to go and bear much fruit. You are the salt for all mankind. You are the light for the whole world. Feed my sheep.

And I hear the apostles add:

Fight on for this faith which once and for all God has given to His people. The one thing required of a servant is that he be faithful to his master. Be faithful unto death.

That is a summons to radical dedication, like a willingness to give up our lives.

One program of the radio series “Toscanini, the Man Behind the Legend,” told how in 1953 the great maestro was preparing for his last season before retiring at 86. He called for his recording expert to re-play a 1940 performance of a composition he intended to do again. He listened with the total absorption for which he was famous. When the last notes died away, he murmured more or less to himself, “The soloist is good. The orchestra is good. And I am good. But I am afraid; this piece is so difficult.” Exclaiming, “I must study,” he scooped up the music and fled up the steps to his studio.

Toscanini, more than any other conductor, and above all things else, retains the reputation of giving all his energies to ascertain and interpret with exactness the intention of the composer. Pouring over the score with fierce singleness of purpose, he identified with both the composer and the music.

Jesus has given us the score. It speaks of a God who so loved the world that He sent His Son to die for it and to establish His Church. He has chosen us to interpret the score to our age, a world still waiting to hear the song. Let us be faithful to sing it well.


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