The Church as Mother

As Mother’s Day approaches, and as we think about what gifts to get our mothers and wives, who are mothers, let’s pause to reflect on the Church as Mother, with the help of John Calvin:

The heavenly Jerusalem, which derives its origin from heaven and dwells above by faith, is the mother of believers. For she has the incorruptible seed of life deposited in her by which she forms us, cherishes us in her womb and brings us to light. She has the milk and the food by which she continually nourishes her offspring. This is why the Church is called the mother of believers. And certainly, he who refuses to be a son of the Church desires in vain to have God as his Father. For it is only through the ministry of the Church that God begets sons for Himself and brings them up until they pass through adolescence and reach manhood. This is a title of wonderful and the highest honor.” (Calvin’s New Testament Commentaries: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, and Colossians (Eerdmans, 1974), 87-8).

Now let’s parse all this: (1) it is within the womb of the church God’s people are conceived through the Spirit and the Word.  (2) it is within the church context that God’s people are birthed to new life through the Holy Spirit.  (3) it is within the church that God’s people receive spiritual nourishment.  And (4), it is within the church God’s people receive care and guidance.

Church as mother is a fitting metaphor indeed.  Perhaps it will go a long way to helping us develop a more healthy and robust ecclesiology.  So no need to go on rejecting Cyprian of Carthage, “You cannot have God for your Father if you do not have the Church for your mother.”

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