Ill-related (or is it?):
A pastor's wife recently told me that "the doors to the Church should be no narrower than the requirements of entering the Kingdom of God." And she's absolutely correct. To fail to see this is to fail to see that the Church is the place where our King Jesus reigns - that is to say, the Church is God's Kingdom. Those outside of the dominion of our Lord cannot legitimately claim to be in "the shadow of the wings" of Yahweh. (Psalm 17) And that is why there is no hope outside of it. To be outside the Church is to be outside of the care of our god and king - and as there is no salvation outside of God, there is likewise no salvation outside of his reign: his Church.
Of course, this brings to the fore the ever-pressing question, who then consists of God's Church? That is, Who are his people? For only for them may we expect redemption and forgiveness of sins. And we all desire redemption and forgiveness of sins, don't we?
And so it begins, the quest for the True Church. We may begin with a process of elimination, wisely excising the heretics from the orthodox, chopping off first the Gnostics, then the Arians, later the Donatists... and eventually we become aware of the monophysites, and even the franciscans and the liberals. And once we have found the one Church faithful to the apostolic witness, we aim to take refuge in its doors alone, leaving behind the various apostates as so much dross and a sad collection of sadder stories.
That is one way, at least. Myself, I can't stomach the method.
I can't stomach it because it's, to my mind, so plainly disinterested in our Lord Christ and his Gospel. Were I to be in search of which church to repair to (Indeed, I am!) I would start with the right question: Rather than "Where are those who are faithful to Christ?" I would ask "Where is Christ?"
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [John x, 27]In my more introspective days, I used to struggle (rather deeply!) with whether or not I was really, really, really one of His sheep. At some point I realized, however, that this question wasn't for me to discern. Belief that oneself is truly one of the Redeemed is just as much an article of faith as the Incarnation or the Resurrection or the Real Presence - implicit in Christian belief is the belief that one is in fact, just that, a Christian. (This isn't really that novel - it's implied by the first word of the Nicene Creed: credo. HT:Berek)
Having given up trying to peer into the depths of my own heart (Jeremiah xvii, 9), I've taken instead the path of greater faith, taking Christ at his word (or at least attempting to), and setting aside the entire question of Who are truly of the Faith?, trusting that Christ himself will sort all that out at the End. Instead, I've decided instead to make the Son of Man my food and drink (or at least try to) (John vi, 50-59). This is the sum of the entire Christian calling and as such it is the sum of the calling of the Church. And the Church, our mother (Galatians iv, 26), has a single calling:
His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” [John ii, 5]Her calling is to call us, her baptized children, to do the will of the Father which is to feast with our whole being upon the Son in the (de)light of the Spirit.
The Church is our mother and she is ours if we have been united to the Christ whom she serves. Her service to Christ is to serve (offer) Christ, his body and and blood, before our tired and parched and hungry souls, that we may take and eat in faith. But with the visible Church always being a mixture of purity and impurity, from time to time, she acts harshly.
It's a fact that there are a number of Christian sectarians (and this is where Rome, the Orthodox, and the Luderans come up), who will openly confess that those outside their doors are truly united to Christ, whilst (especially in the the case of Rome and the East) confessing to be the single body in full continuity with that "one holy, catholic, and apostolic Church" we all confess. The end of result of this is that I, personally, am told that while I am not outside of Christ, I'm forbidden from his Table. While it's true that I've been united to Christ, that's not sufficient for allowing me to share in Christ's life - or at least this is what I'm being told. Union with Christ isn't sufficient - something more is required. (Mere faith is insufficient, we must also be circumcised and keep Torah if we want full privileges of fellowship.) (Galatians iv, 17)
It's here that I commend the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, and the Evangelicals for their fairly Christian approach to communion, properly guarding the Eucharist from those outside of Christ, while not requiring more for than baptized participation in the Gospel to eat the bread and drink the wine as True Brethren.
While Communion proceeds from Union, Union is sustained by Communion. Therefore, preaching Union whilst forbidding Communion is to preach a damned Union, which is to preach damnation, which is to preach no gospel at all.