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In the spring of 1868, in Baltimore, Maryland, the opening sermon was delivered before the General Assembly of the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS) by Moderator Thomas Verner Moore. We have recently added this sermon, titled The Corporate Life of the Church, to Log College Press. It is a noteworthy sermon which, although not well-known today, speaks volumes to the fragmented and individualized state of the church in 21st century America.
In this sermon, Moore sketches out an important concept that is too-little understood today: the new birth of the believer, by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit, is only the beginning of the story. It is not only the life of the individual soul with which Christ in his saving work is concerned, but the life of his body, that is, the general assembly of believers, or the Church.
…as soon as this personal life begins, the individual Christian finds that there is another life into which he is introduced by the same act of regeneration. Christ is revealed in Scripture, not only as the Saviour of the collective Church, His body, of which individual Christians are members in particular. “For as the body is one and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ;” and this image is elaborated to great length by the Apostle in the 12th chapter of 1st Corinthians, as well as in other Epistles.
Moore shows us that the Scripture emphasize the corporate nature of the Christian community in a variety of ways: the church is described as a city, a kingdom, a building, a temple, and a body or a family with many members.
This great idea of corporate life is an essential element of New Testament Christianity. Men are not converted and saved merely as isolated units, but as members of Christ’s family, into which they are born by the new birth, and from which they cannot rightfully segregate themselves.
Moore acknowledges the danger of hierarchical corporate power which can lead to tyrannical abuse, but is focused here on addressing what we might today know as “lone wolf Christianity,” with its low regard for organized, connected religion.
It is true that this element of corporate power may be developed in a corrupt Church to a spiritual despotism, in which the individual life shall be smothered, but it may also be kept so much in abeyance as to lose its legitimate force and give an exaggerated development of the principle of individualism, tending to schism, contention, and paralysis of this power of corporate action. And it is probably true, that this is the real danger in much of our modern Protestantism, and the cause of much of our unsuccessful activity. “the eye saith to the hand, I have no need of thee, and the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” And the very evils which existed among the Corinthian Christians exist among us, and need to be corrected to restore our efficiency. If then we can revive this corporate life, without weakening the individual life, and bring it to bear on our daily work and warfare, as parts of the Sacramental host, citizens of the city that hath foundations, members of the household of faith, portions of the body of Christ, we shall remedy an undoubted defect in our modern piety, and give an added energy to every operation of our beloved Church.
As Moore continues, he examines how the early Church in most cases demonstrated this corporate vitality by the concern showed by disciples in striving to assist those with financial aids, those suffering under persecution, and doing such things, not only locally, but for the saints separated by great distances, wherever there was a need, and all motivated by the principle of love. It was this corporate vitality, in fact, that enabled the early Church to grow and flourish under difficult circumstances. The love of the saints for one another made them a sum that was strong than its individual parts.
And so Moore reminds us that the labor of Christianity is not merely assigned to church officers, but to all members of Christ’s body. And the love that characterized the early Church must also be reflected in our modern day.
Love, the life blood of this body corporate, must flow rich and warm, love to Jesus, love to souls, love to one another. This will give us in such a Church, one large, loving family, clinging to one another, caring for each other’s welfare, good name and general interests, just as members of the same household do; each seeking, not his own, but the things of another; in honour preferring one another; and so fulfilling the traditional words of the last, loving apostle, whose aged lips were wont to say, when he could utter no other exhortation, “Little children, love one another.”
Moore says that this principle of love, exemplified in our day, makes the work of the Church easy, its worship services and catechetical activities a delight, and causes the flame which attracts others to burn the brighter.
Having demonstrated the importance of recognizing the corporate life of the Church, Moore surveys the post-War landscape around him and reminds his hearers that just as when days were dark during the Killing Times for Scotland’s Covenanters, yet God did great things for them, so may we look for God to do a great work in the present day, most especially when we fix our eyes upon Christ, and when we love his Body, the Church. This sermon has great application to our day, and the reader is encouraged to download it for thoughtful consideration. We need this message from T.V. Moore today, just as it was needed in 1868.