The Credibility of the Church

THE CREDIBILITY OF THE CHURCH

WD Jonker

MISSIONALIA, vol vii(3), October 1979, 114-127

Prof Jonker, an ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, teaches Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch.

Part 1

When we speak about the credibility of the church, we have in mind the trustworthiness, the indubitable integrity of the church as messenger of the Kingdom of God.

This credibility is of the utmost importance. It is true that the coming of the Kingdom is not brought about by the church itself. The salvation of men and the redemption of the world is the gracious work of God through his Word and Spirit. It is only the Holy Spirit who can kindle faith in the hearts of men. Faith is called forth by the living Word of the living God, but even so the church is the instrument of his redemptive activity. It proclaims the Word and bears witness to the truth of the gospel. And this is when its credibility becomes important.

One could argue that the gospel is something objective, a truth that can be proclaimed and believed quite apart from those who proclaim it. In that case the credibility of the messenger would have no real importance for those who are called to faith. But that would be fallacious. I would not presume to say that it is impossible for God to do this. He could use the testimony of a man without any real faith in the gospel to save somebody else. But that is not the way God usually works. As a rule the Spirit uses not only the words of the gospel, but also the personal evidence of the quality of the messenger to persuade men to believe.

The gospel comes to us through the normal process of communication. In this process the credibility of the communicator is of the utmost importance. In preaching the gospel we do not communicate objective truths in an abstract way, but testify to the saving power of the gospel in our own lives. Something of the communicator is conveyed along with the message. The message functions within the situation in which it is proclaimed, one where the credibility of the messenger cannot be ignored. Although one cannot contend that the truth of the gospel depends on the trustworthiness of the preacher, this may be a factor in the contact between the listener and the Word. In the same way the preacher’s lack of credibility may obstruct the gospel by creating an unnecessary stumbling block to the acceptance of the Word of God.

This is the reason why the New Testament warns explicitly against the danger of placing an obstacle in the way of anyone’s faith in the gospel (cf. 2 Corinthians 6:3). Paul urges the Corinthians not to be a cause of stumbling either to Jews or to Gentiles (1 Corinthians 10:32). He takes great pains to clear himself of false accusations because he is convinced that there should be no doubt about his good faith among the churches. Especially in his second letter to the Corinthians he defends his credibility at length. He knows all too well that he has a duty to live up to his high calling and not to allow anything to cast a shadow of doubt on his sincerity and integrity.

Paul knows what harm the Pharisees did to the cause of God by their lack of credibility. He knows all too well the danger of paying lip service to the law of God while at the same time trampling its commandments underfoot. In the second chapter of his letter to the Romans he hits out at the Jews: “You call yourself a Jew; you depend on the Law and boast about God; you know what God wants you to do, and you have learnt from the Law to choose what is right; you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor for the foolish, and a teacher of the ignorant … You teach others — why don’t you teach yourself? … You boast about having God’s law — but do you bring shame on God by breaking his law? The Scripture says, ‘Because of you Jews the Gentiles speak evil of God’ ” (vs 17–24). The “tragic” aspect of all this is that a lack of credibility in those who regard themselves as teachers of the Law has results directly opposite to their intentions. They think that they are persuading outsiders to see the glory of their God and the magnificence of his law, but they have a terrible effect: the Name of God is derided by the Gentiles because of what they observe in the lives of the Jews.

In the same way Christ himself reproached the Pharisees, saying that they kept the key to the door of the house of knowledge but they themselves would not go in, and so they prevented others from entering (Luke. 11:52). Clearly it is not enough to teach the law in an objective sense. One cannot tell others the way but refuse to follow it yourself. What you say about the way may be perfectly true, but it will have no persuasive power if you lack credibility. That is why Christ chastised the teachers of the Law for putting heavy loads on people’s backs while they would not lift a finger to carry these loads themselves (Luke. 11:46). They did not practice what they preached (Matthew 23:3). They taught others but did not teach themselves. No wonder that their preaching had so little impact, and what effect it had was questionable: “How terrible for you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees! You hypocrites! You sail the seas and cross whole countries to win one convert; and when you succeed, you make him twice as deserving of going to hell as you yourself are!” (Matthew 23:15.)

It would be very naive to imagine that these warnings of Scripture have no message for the church of our day. If we look back on the history of the church no one can deny that a tremendous labour was accomplished in evangelizing the world. But we may never know the reverse side: how many people have been kept away from Christ by the church, exactly because it did not manage to present a credible witness to the saving power of the gospel. The church may do well to heed the bitter attack on Christianity by a man like Sören Kierkegaard, who pointed out clearly how far the official religion of the churches had departed from the original faith, thereby destroying their credibility. But it is not even necessary to read his journals written in the 19th century to convince ourselves of the urgent need for a more credible church. We need only take note of the sentiments of the younger churches in the Third World and especially in our own country. To many members of the established churches it is a severe shock to learn what a poor image they have among the younger churches. They feel offended and betrayed when they are accused of lacking credibility. They tend to see these critical remarks as ingratitude for what they had done for the younger churches. But they should ask themselves how this impression of poor credibility had arisen. And they should do some soul-searching to ascertain whether they do not, perhaps unwittingly, create this impression themselves.

The matter is serious, especially at this critical stage of our history. Africa is in the throes of a fierce struggle for a new identity. New ideologies and religions are competing for the heart of the Africa of the future. There is no doubt that the Christian faith is a major factor in this struggle and that Christianity is spreading rapidly in Africa. But it is a matter of grave concern that at this crucial time the churches in this country, some of whom have spent much energy and effort on spreading the gospel, should obstruct the message of Christ because of their lack of credibility. We may miss the boat. We may find ourselves disqualified from the contest, as the apostle Paul feared could happen even to him should he fail to live up to the demands of his calling (1 Corinthians 9:27).

 

Part 2

The question is what the church should do to gain credibility. Surely it cannot depend on its acceptability to everybody and specifically to the unbelieving world. If so, it would have to sacrifice its identity, become untrue to the gospel and conform to the convictions and ways of natural man. Some people fear that this is implied in the demand for credibility. But that is manifestly not so. On the contrary, the church is bound to lose credibility if it confuses this with acceptability to the world, for as soon as the church becomes no more than a rubber stamp endorsing the opinions of the world it has nothing to offer and will not be taken seriously. Not even the world to which it is conforming will have any respect for it.

The credibility of the church is irrevocably linked with its faithfulness to its nature as the body of Christ and the herald of his Kingdom. Consequently, its credibility cannot be divorced from its very willingness to be a stumbling block to many, to be out of step with general trends in the world, to give offence and to go against the grain of natural man. In one sense the church always will be and should be unacceptable to the world. In as much as it is true to its nature as the body of Christ it shares Christ’s relationship with the world. If Christ was not acceptable to the world, if he offended it and provoked its anger and hatred, the true church will do the same. The gospel is not a human creation and will always be a stumbling block to the flesh (Galatians 1:11). Those who are dominated by the flesh cannot grasp the things of `the Spirit (Romans 8:5–7). Without the Spirit of God man cannot understand the message of the gospel and must be repelled by it because its value can be judged only in spiritual terms (1 Corinthians 2:14).

Hence it is paradoxically true that the credibility of the church goes hand in hand with its unacceptability to the world. At the same time, it is true that even the unconverted world is acutely sensitive to any lack of credibility in the church. Perhaps it is because the world is naturally disinclined towards the message of the church that it can detect its lack of credibility almost unerringly. As long as the church retains its credibility, even the world will know that it is confronted with something worthwhile, although it may reject the actual message. But when the world gets the impression that the church is not trustworthy, it triumphantly scorns the church and its message. It is better if the church provokes the hatred and persecution of the world because it feels itself threatened by the church in some way, than to be despised and ridiculed for its lack of credibility.

It is true that this credibility is not discernible to the unbeliever in the same way as it is to the believer who is convinced by the Holy Spirit of the truth of the gospel and is therefore able to measure credibility by these standards. There is no neutral, obvious criterion for the credibility of the church that can be used by believers and unbelievers alike, just as there are no neutral, rational criteria to determine the truth of the gospel. The Holy Spirit persuades us of the latter and of the credibility of the church when the church is obviously true to the gospel it proclaims. But even then the unbelieving world cannot remain untouched by the true credibility of the church. Wherever it exists, the world will have to take heed of it even if only because of the church’s obstinacy in adhering to its convictions and its irritating way of taking its message seriously. Although few things repel the world more than this very persistence it instils a secret respect even among those to whom the church is a stench of death (2 Corinthians 2:15–16). This may further a change of heart wherever it pleases the Holy Spirit to effect it.

It follows, then, that the church need not do anything special to gain credibility. It should merely remain faithful to itself and promote its own cause. This reminds me of Karl Barth’s reaction to events in Germany in 1933, when many of his friends and students expected him to take a public stand on the burning issues of the day. Of course, he took a stand, but without doing anything extraordinary or sensational. In his famous work, Theologische Existenz Heute, he stated clearly that the church’s best response to contemporary events was to stick to its cause and not forsake its theological identity. The church need do nothing spectacular to prove its credibility. It should simply be itself, preach the gospel as lucidly as possible and concentrate on its allotted task. I think there can be no doubt that the Nazi regime feared Barth more than others who adopted a different stance. When the church preaches the gospel fearlessly and fulfils its prophetic and theological mission, it is more dangerous to the ungodly than when it tries to combat the chaos in other ways.

The reverse is equally true. The church should not try to win the sympathy of the world by bending over backwards to obtain credibility, doing and saying things to placate the world. Sometimes the words of Paul are quoted in this regard. He says that he has made himself everybody’s slave to win as many people as possible. That is why he became a Jew to the Jews, etc. (1 Corinthians 9). However, it would be wrong to infer that Paul tampered with the gospel to make it acceptable to as many people as possible. He merely states that he put himself in the place of those to whom he had to preach in order to communicate the gospel to them in the clearest possible way. That is necessary, of course. The gospel cannot be credible to people if it is not brought to them pertinently in a way that is relevant to their need. But it is something quite different to adapt the gospel to the tastes of men.

In his Journals Kierkegaard says that the modern minister is skilful, active and alert, someone who finds it perfectly easy, by his agreeable conversation and bearing, to introduce a little Christianity — but as little as possible. He continues: “In the New Testament, Christianity is the deepest wound which can be inflicted on a man, calculated by the most terrible standards to bring him into conflict with everything. And now a parson is perfected in the skill of introducing Christianity in such a way that it means nothing. And when he can do it perfectly, he is a model. It is disgusting” (The last years, Journals 1853–1855, ed. R. G. Smith, 1965, p. 47). Indeed, it is disgusting when the church preaches a gospel that does not inflict any wounds on anybody. Such a church cannot possess any credibility.

 

Part 3

In a general sense we can say that the church is credible when she corresponds to, or at least strives to correspond to the image of Christ as he is proclaimed. It is necessary, however, to stress a few specific aspects of this image in order to get a clearer picture of what the New Testament itself teaches in this respect. I would like to single out three aspects because of their relevance to our own situation. These are: the alien character of the church in the world, its veracity and its love.

First of all, the alien character of the church. The New Testament is very clear on the point that the church is in the world, but not of it (John 17:14–18). Christians are citizens of heaven and do not belong to this world (Philippians 3:20). There is no permanent city for them on earth, they are looking for the city which is to come (Hebrews 13:14). Especially the first letter of Peter stresses the fact that Christians are strangers and fugitives in the world (1 Peter 2:11). They are not ordinary citizens. They have no vested rights. Therefore they should not be surprised at the persecution they are suffering, as though it were something strange, for they are merely sharing the sufferings of Christ (1 Peter 4:12–13). If the world hated Christ and crucified him, it is only logical that it will hate and persecute true Christians, for the servant is not greater than his master (John 15:20). Theologically, the church is eschatological, being a new creation, the first fruits of the New Age to come (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17; James 1:18; Galatians 6:15; Ephesians 2:10, 15; 5:24). It follows that it will always be treated as an alien body by the world – that is to say, as long as it remains true to its nature. If this does not happen, then either the whole world has been converted – which is impossible – or the church has made some compromise with the world.

The worst that can happen to the church is not persecution, but accommodation to the world. Since the days of Constantine this has been the greatest danger, namely that it should shed its alien character and become part of a society professing to be Christian while at heart it is no less hostile to the Christian message than the imperial Caesars in the days of persecution. It was a beautiful ideal to construct a corpus Christianum in which a Christian church and a Christian state worked in perfect harmony – the church promoting the order and stability of the state, the state protecting and furthering the cause of the church. In practice this ideal was seldom if ever realized. More often than not, it ended with the church becoming bourgeois and tame. The institution of a state church as developed in European countries, and the whole concept of specific national churches serving the moral and religious needs of the people meant a constant danger that the church would lose its identity as the body of Christ. Such a church becomes identified with the national interests and the national culture. It needs very little for it to find its raison d’étre in promoting the overall interests of the people, especially their political and cultural interests. It easily becomes the vehicle of a “political religion” in Moltmann’s sense of the term. It gets so involved in the secular welfare of the nation that it loses its universal, catholic character. At times it seems as if its first concern is not with the Kingdom of God but with that of the people with whom it identifies so completely. Through a peculiar lack of self-insight, it fails to recognize that something is amiss. It believes that the interests of God’s Kingdom are so closely interwoven with those of the people that in promoting the latter it is at the same time furthering the Kingdom. If it persists on this course, it will eventually lose all credibility.

One manifestation of this lack of credibility is an inability to judge according to the standards of God’s Word. Credibility, trustworthiness and loyalty do not mean what these concepts would mean if the church’s primary concern was for the Kingdom of God. The standard is no longer the credibility of Jesus and the apostles. Instead, a man is called credible and trustworthy if he is loyal to the national interests and can be relied upon never to betray the national cause. He must say and do nothing that might embarrass the leaders of church and state, or that may play into the hands of the enemies of the state. He should not criticize either church or state too harshly since this may be detrimental to the common cause.

Once a church starts moving in this direction it is no longer able to preserve the proper distance between itself and the world. It foregoes its foreign character. It cannot remain objective towards the truth, nor impartial in the sense of judging the problems that confront it in the light of God’s Word. Its credibility is at stake. The church must never identify with any earthly cause to the extent that it loses its power of being faithful to the Word in all circumstances.

The temptation of a respectable place in society, of honour and security, must not be underestimated, but the price seems to be that the church will have to compromise at least some of its convictions. I do not know of any historical examples of churches that were able to withstand this temptation in ordinary circumstances. Let us not be so naive as to expect any better from those who pour scorn on the church for its weakness in this respect and demand a new political theology. If I understand the proponents of such a theology correctly they occupy much the same position. They merely settle for the other alternative by siding with the revolutionary powers instead of the establishment and by identifying with new national or class interests (cf. Ben Engelbrecht, God en die politiek, 1978). Of course, they substantiate their case with biblical arguments and much of what they say may well be true. But the same can be said of the champions of the old political religion. The crux of the matter is that either way the eschatological nature of the church is betrayed. The church can as easily become the pawn of the left as of the right and in either event, loses its credibility.

I do not agree with an assertion often made in our times, viz. that a true church would be partisan in that it should choose the side of the oppressed, the under-privileged or the poor. It is said to have been the choice of Christ, but this may be a subtle shift in the emphasis laid on Jesus’ compassion with the under-privileged in the New Testament. He did not regard them as a distinct class with which he sided in opposition to the oppressors and the rich. His compassion embraced the rich as well. He came to save all men and free them from evil, not to become involved in a class struggle. If the church chooses to do so, it will remain in the same basic position occupied by the state and national churches of the present dispensation. This might give it a measure of credibility with the particular group it supports, but in the long run it will pay the price.

 

Part 4

The second aspect to consider is the veracity of the church. Hans Küng has written a beautiful booklet on the subject entitled Wahrhaftigkeit. Zur Zukunft der Kirche (1968) in which he points out that veracity is more than just honesty or sincerity. It is downright truthfulness on the part of an individual or community whose whole attitude, words and deeds are perspicuous to the core. It is the inward integrity of men willing to be honest in their dealings with themselves, with others and especially with God. Hence it implies willingness to submit to scrutiny by self and by others, an avowed intention to acknowledge mistakes, the will to pursue nothing but the truth and the rejection of any form of compromise. Obviously this concept of veracity is closely linked with credibility. The opposite would be manipulation of truth, acting a part, refusing to be frank and open.

Küng comments on the biblical use of the word hypocrisy, a term commonly used in Greek theatrical jargon. It denoted playing a part which meant pretending to be something other than one really is, wearing a mask to hide one’s real identity. This is precisely what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing. He censured their lack of veracity in their religious life, their interpretation of the Law and their double standards (Matthew 6:1–4; 5–8; 16–18; Mark 2:27; 3:4; Matthew 23, etc.). In fact they were playing at religion while serving their own interests only (cf. Paul’s accusation of Judaists whose religion could only serve to satisfy the flesh – Colossians 2:20 et seq.).

Hypocrites do not necessarily mean to be dishonest. Often we do the Pharisees an injustice when we think that they flagrantly and deliberately pretended to be religious in the full knowledge that they were not. This is unlikely. They were men of good repute. They would themselves have condemned hypocrisy and never suspected that they could be accused of it. Subjectively they were convinced that they were honest, upright men and religious people seeking only to do what was right. Objectively they were none the less hypocritical because in their heart of hearts, where decisions are made, they were governed by prejudice and self-love. This evil was so deeply implanted, perhaps beneath the conscious surface of their minds, that it controlled their thoughts, judgment, arguments — even their conscience. Superficially they could deceive one another and even themselves, using rational arguments to demonstrate that they were right and Jesus was wrong. But deep down in their hearts they had secret motives, ones that they would not admit even to themselves, but which prevented them from seeing the truth and repenting. It would have cost them too much. These secret motives compelled their arguments and their logic.

And so they were hypocrites, unwittingly feigning religion in perfectly good faith. Of course the same can happen to the church. The leaders of the church are seldom bad people. They are refined, friendly, educated men of repute, with great capabilities and high moral standards. But if they have hidden motives due to the fact that they treasure other things besides the kingdom of God they lose their credibility, because in their heart of hearts they are not honest. They may be clever at finding the kind of argument to please the masses and at the same time appear theologically sound. They may even manage to convince themselves of the soundness of their arguments. But somehow they miss veracity. They may become more orthodox and strict in some respects; they may take great pains to defend the formal authority of Scripture and to expose the theological misconceptions of others. Yet one senses a skeleton in the cupboard. They cannot regain credibility, because they miss veracity. In the final event they will always create the impression that they are playing at Christianity, as Kierkegaard said in his bitter attack on the leaders of the Danish state church.

The church can only be truly credible if it bears the image of Christ, or if it at least strives to do so honestly and openly. In his doctoral thesis, Het agogisch moment in het pastoraal optreden, Firet points out that the credibility of the pastor is linked very closely with how obvious it is from his words and deeds that he is personally convinced of the message he proclaims. It must be obvious that he is himself walking with God, wrestling with the truth, willing to admit his own shortcomings and weakness, but earnestly seeking to become what he professes to be (pp. 310–313). The same sentiments were expressed by Thielicke in his well-known book, Leiden an der Kirche. The church should be open and honest, without pretensions or a facade of infallibility. Nothing can be more disastrous to the credibility of the church than self-centredness and triumphant self-glorification in a church that is always on the defensive, trying to persuade others that it is faultless. Why do churches find it so extremely difficult to admit that they may have erred, while part of their message is that it is human to err? Why are they so sensitive to criticism? One is often baffled by the way in which they seem to be preoccupied with themselves. They appear not to realise that they are only preliminary structures pointing to the kingdom of God and that their greatness is manifested in their sincere humility. The credibility of the church is at stake if it creates the impression of being itself unregenerate.

 

Part 5

The last aspect that I want to mention is the love of the church. Perhaps more than anything else, the credibility of the church hinges on the quality of its love. There is a remarkable word of Christ in the gospel of John 13:34–35: “And now I give you a new commandment: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. If you have love for one another, then everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

It is strange that Christ speaks about a new commandment in this connection. The commandment to love one’s neighbour was well known in the Old Testament and Christ himself summarised the whole Law in the twofold commandment of love (Matthew 22). But what is at stake here is not just general neighbourly love, but specifically brotherly love. When a Jew read in Leviticus 19:18 that he should love his neighbour as himself, he might have thought only of his fellow-Jews. That mistake was corrected by Christ in the Sermon on the Mount when he stated that one should love also one’s enemies (Matthew. 5:43–48). This is further illustrated in the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25 et seq.). Anyone who crosses one’s path is included in this commandment. The church should therefore regard all men with love and compassion and should demonstrate this in word and deed. But when we read in John 13:34 about the new commandment of love, this is obviously not just a repetition of the general command to love one’s neighbour. It is a new command, because it is given with a view to the new situation of the church. The church is a new creation, a totally different and unique community unlike any other community on earth. It is the body of Christ, the foretaste of the promised renewal of all things. In this new community the love of God should be reflected. The church is the new creation of the Spirit of God. And the Spirit is the bond of love between the Eternal Father and the Eternal Son, shed abroad in our hearts to unite all members of the body of Christ in the love of God. By the Spirit of God they are united to God in love, but they are also united to each other by that same divine love.

Perhaps there is nothing more fundamental that can be said about the church. The true mark of the church of Christ is his love manifested in the brotherly love between its members. We are used to saying that the marks of the true church are its faithful preaching of the gospel, proper administration of the sacraments and maintenance of church discipline. In itself that is quite correct. But we should not forget that all these are meaningless without love (1 Corinthians 13). It is remarkable that Article 29 of the Confessio Belgica, after enumerating these familiar external signs of the church, continues to talk about the characteristics of the true members of the church, such as faith and love, willingness to crucify the flesh, etc. The message of the church will continue to lack credibility if it is not manifestly filled with the love of God. If the church is saved by the message of love, it should reflect that same love in its daily life as a brotherhood. Christ said: “Everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another.” The missionary witness of the church depends not only on what the church says, but also on what it is. The mutual love of the members of the body of Christ is a powerful testimony to the saving power of the gospel.

Hence it is not surprising that the New Testament constantly stresses the unity of the church. This is a unity of love because it derives from the Spirit. It should transcend all the barriers that normally divide people. In Christ there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, between slaves and free men, between men and women, because all are one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28). In his second letter to the Corinthians Paul points out that if a man is in Christ he is a new being. Within the church of Christ, where we are concerned not with the old man but with the new, we do not judge according to human standards (2 Corinthians 5:16–17). The reconciliation brought about by Christ does not mean only that we are changed from being God’s enemies to become His friends; it also implies that men of all kinds are welded together in friendship. Christ included men of the most divergent background in his small body of apostles. Zealots and tax collectors could be brought together in a new bond of love. Something of the New Age of peace prevailed wherever Jesus was. And the same holds true of the church. The Spirit of God frees men from hatred and prejudice and fills them with love and peace. In a divided, strife-torn world in which everybody seeks his own benefit and where hatred and envy are tearing men apart, the church should present a sign of the great renewal that is to come.

Perhaps nothing can do more harm to the church’s credibility in the world than its lack of love and unity. The church should be a messenger of reconciliation in word and deed, but in reality it is divided against itself, unwilling to accept fellow-Christians as brothers in Christ and to practise the communion of saints. If the church were filled with the Spirit of God, it would be able to deal with existing differences in a new way. Mere external bonds of unity are meaningless. There is a worldly unity that has nothing in common with the true unity of the Spirit. Such unity will never convince the world of the reality of the message of the church that God can really change men and make them willing to accept one another in unselfish love. But that is not the unity we are talking about. We are talking about a unity of love that is a fruit of the Spirit. The credibility of the church is at stake if it does not strive for such unity.

One of the worst frustrations of our time is the way some people oppose the idea of a meaningful manifestation of church unity by arguing that it is only a unity of love, and therefore invisible. But they are evading the real issue, which is that spiritual unity, the unity of love, should manifest itself in visible relationships, in the communion of saints, in mutual acceptance as brothers and sisters in Christ in such a way that the world may see that the prejudices of natural man no longer dictate our way of life. To say that such visible unity also demands worldly unity, or that is it prompted by political rather than spiritual motives is to miss the point completely. It is the Spirit who urges us to find a deeper level of unity than the bonds of kinship and culture, in order to experience that the true unity of the church is much more than a human fabrication. It is the unity of love that manifests itself spontaneously and visibly in new relationships, mutual understanding and mutual service, creating the organisational structures that are necessary to protect it.

This type of unity can only come about through the Spirit of God. But as long as we do not seek such a spiritual unity of love, the church will lack credibility. Perhaps we will never achieve the full unity of the church in this world, which is after all a fallen one. But we should at least strive to be filled more and more by the fruits of the Spirit. We should not be content with our attainments. What is more, we should not try to invent theories explaining why we should not have more of the power of the Spirit who alone can move men to accept the message of reconciliation in all its implications. The worst we could do would be to show no discomfiture at the present situation. A church that does not bemoan its lack of credibility, is a fair example of what this lack means. But if we would allow the Spirit of God to take full possession of us we may – please God – be made anew.

[1] Prof. Jonker, an ordained minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, teaches Systematic Theology at the University of Stellenbosch.