“The church’s unity and catholicity do not a rise immanently within individual believers or a historical institution; they are gifts from the Father, in the Son, and by the Spirit. They are given because the triune God has elected, redeemed, and called us in Christ to belong to Him and to each other.
The church was chosen in Christ to be holy (Ephesians 1:4) and was sanctified by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection — applied by the Holy Spirit. The church’s apostolicity is grounded not in its orthodoxy or orthopraxy, but in the external Word, made fruitful in us by the Spirit.
As long as the church hears, receives, and proclaims this Word that it has been given, it is something other than a club, neighborhood association, theological school, or political action committee.
A church that, weary of its ambiguous location between the two ages, preaches another gospel or corrupts the sacraments is no longer holy, but is assimilated into the world– the age that is passing away– despite its outward forms (Galatians 1:6-9; 1 Corinthians 3:10-17).
We cannot deny that there will be those finally who hear these chilling words of Jesus Christ: ‘I never knew you; depart from me,’ although they protest that they performed wonders in His name (Matthew 7:22-23).
The candlestick of any particular church or group of churches can be removed when it ceases to bear illuminating witness to Christ in the world (Revelation 2:5). This tragic end may come upon a church not only for abandoning the doctrine of the gospel itself, but for failing to bear witness to it.
To deny that this eschatological judgment of one’s professing church is impossible by virtue of its inherent holiness and eminent history is itself a harbinger of apostasy, and it is a tendency to which all of our churches can easily succumb.
Yet we have Christ’s promise that He will build His church. Despite the church’s compromised, ambiguous, schismatic and sinful character, the covenant of redemption ensures that our unfaithfulness will not have the last word.”
–Michael Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 870.