The church remains in the world, but is not of the world. It cannot ignore the world, but neither may it surrender to it. This perspective on the universality of the church will help us deal with the “culture wars.” The church universal must be aware of the worship of the church around the world. Until the last century, Roman Catholic worship required the Mass in Latin. Now the same form of worship is followed in the vernacular. Should the universal church aspire to one form of worship in every culture? Certainly the Lord has revealed to us that prayer, preaching of the Word, and the singing of praise are to be part of our worship, as well as the observance of the sacraments. There are, however, what the Westminster Confession of Faith calls “circumstances” of worship. These are elements common to our culture—the music that is used in singing, for example. Understanding the vast cultural variety of the church universal will warn us against rejecting cultural forms unfamiliar to us. At the same time, the glory of the heavenly sanctuary that lifts our hearts in worship will draw us to employ cultural forms that have been transformed by the simplicity and power of faith.
What the church is as the colony of heaven also provides the calling of the church to service. The fellowship on earth not only worships in heaven, it carries the Lord’s commission to serve together in reaching the world with the Gospel. Paul says, “I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:4b–5, NIV). Paul, in chains, had the Philippians in his heart. They knew how the Gospel had come to them. Paul and Silas, their backs beaten and their feet in stocks, had prayed and sung praise to God in the prison. An earthquake brought the jailer to them; they brought the Gospel to his house.
The story of the spread of the Gospel is the story of partners. Jesus sent the disciples out as partners. The early missionaries went in the same way. In the mouth of two witnesses, the Word would be confirmed. They also could be a help to one another. It was not good for Adam to be alone; he needed a helper. Even so, all creatures in God’s image need help, and are called to be helpers. Given the truth of the Gospel, we are called to help others, to interpret for them what life means because of God’s grace.
As the church universal, the people of God are set apart for service. The claim of Jesus Christ sets us apart as citizens of heaven, but we who worship with the angels have a task that archangels desire. Angels sang in the fields at Christ’s birth, but the shepherds went to the manger and praised God in the streets of Bethlehem.
The church universal is bonded in service as well as worship, for Jesus is with us in both. Paul longed for his partners in Philippi. Do you pray for your partners in the Lord’s business—in your home, your work, or your school? What about your retirement? Enjoy the partnership—in a mission trip, an inner-city project, your home Bible study, or a Ligonier conference.
The church universal draws you to Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant, and to His blood. Here we drink the cup of the new covenant with the church on earth, but we get a foretaste of the heavenly wine we will share with all God’s people when we will drink to victory in His heavenly hall.