AS I ARRIVED AT OUR COFFEE SHOP one Tuesday morning I noticed a couple who were standing at the foot of the steps which lead up to the front door. Clearly they were debating about whether or not they should be going in. On seeing me, they asked if they could go inside our church. Once inside, they explained how they were from the Netherlands attending a conference in Harrogate. Sadly, their commitment to the conference prevented them from attending the funeral of a close friend in their home town. I invited them to spend time sitting in the quiet of our church and have a time of prayer – something they were only too pleased to be able to do.
After they had been in church – incidentally the man was called Jack and his wife was Hetty – they asked me about the history of our church and also wanted to know what we were doing nowadays. In return, I was able to learn about their church which was out in the Northern countryside. Though in a rural setting, it had a large congregation meeting there each week. It was, too, a very traditional style of worship which was in keeping with an old building.
It is good for us to get a glimpse of the wider horizons. Christ’s church extends beyond the four walls of a church building and we need to be reminded about the work being carried out around the town and district. In fact, we need to keep in our thoughts the sobering fact that the church is the only institution in the world which has in it members of every nation and country under the sun.
People may dream of world government in the political sense of the term but the only place in which that comes anywhere near to realisation is the Church. It is not the possession of a nation or a country or a colour; the Church is as wide as the world, and even the tiniest congregation in the smallest village or hamlet in the most remote place imaginable is part of something which has gone out to the ends of the earth. With that I would couple a further fact related to the history of the Church. It is a simple truth that the Church existed long before most of the nations which exist today.
Each month we gather at the Lord’s Table to share bread and wine in a ceremony that has been observed somewhere every single day for almost two thousand years. There is nothing else in the world which has known such continuity like that. Keep in mind also; we are more than just in touch with Christians across our planet, we are also in touch with eternity. We are surrounded not simply by the greatness of time and space; we are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who have nurtured Christianity and been called into that glorious number of saints. Look at how John Oxenham wrote about the extent of the Church in his well-known hymn:
In Christ there is no East or West,In Him no South or North;But one great fellowship of loveThroughout the whole wide earth.
I am writing this letter during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity – but there is no reason to restrict Christian Unity to one week! May I urge you to make it a regular part of your prayer life, pressing on with joy in glorious hope that one day we will be able to say, “all Christlike souls are one in him, throughout the whole wide earth”.
Your Minister and friend,