The Foursquare Character of the Church

To illustrate its fourfold character, one may liken the church to a square, as in Revelation 21, where the Holy City "lieth foursquare." It is one and the same church, only functioning in a fourfold capacity. Each side of the square represents an equally important and essential aspect.

L.E.F. is editor of the Ministry. 

To illustrate its fourfold character, one may liken the church to a square, as in Revelation 21, where the Holy City "lieth foursquare." It is one and the same church, only functioning in a fourfold capacity. Each side of the square represents an equally important and essential aspect. One and the same church, it is simply operating in different functions and relationships. Those four sides may well stand for the church (I) at worship, (2) in training, (3) at study, and (4) at wit­ness. Or, to phrase it differently, united wor­ship, united missionary activity, united study, and united evangelistic endeavor.

These aspects do not form separate compart­ments, unrelated and antagonistic. They are re­ciprocal, and blend and merge more or less in their mutual operations. It is failure to hold all four sides in balance, understanding, and ap­preciation that results in overemphasis of one aspect, often to the neglect or depreciation of one or more of the other sides. There are those who can see only the worship side. Some envi­sion chiefly the missionary aspect, or perhaps the study side ; still others are wholly immersed in the evangelistic aspect. Difficulty always fol­lows such an imbalance'. Let us therefore sur­vey briefly the mutual relationships of this foursquare character of the church.

UNITED ASSEMBLY OF WORSHIPERS.—First of all, the church is a unified assembly of wor­shipers pouring forth its adoration and praise to God, and giving expression to fidelity and devotion to Him in prayer and hymns of praise, and in consecration and testimony. Here, at worship, the church listens to the message of God through the reading of His Word and its exposition. It studies the multiple aspects of truth, life, and service. It celebrates the ordi­nances. It sustains the cause for which it stands, and builds the spiritual life and con­cepts of its members.

Such worship gatherings of the church call for reverence, decorum, and quiet dignity in church assembly, appropriate to the worship of God. This means that the entire service should be worshipful, with nothing of the commercial, propaganda, or sales feature, or other objec­tionable nature, to mar or neutralize the serv­ice of spiritual worship to God. It naturally in­cludes music, which should be appropriate to those objectives, and not largely composed of songs of activity, or those of lighter vein and different emphasis. The greater danger is that the worship service may become formal, cold, ritualistic, and impersonal. Instead, it should be warm, glowing, simple, direct, and intensely spiritual. This worship phase is the heart of the church, the essence of Christianity.

THE CHURCH IN TRAINING.—A second side of church life is the church in training. In this capacity the church meets to inspire and train its members, to lift the morale, to care for the needy, and to lay aggressive plans, for the members need to be taught how to work for others in missionary lines through literature distribution, personal work, Bible studies, and the like. This is all preparatory to leading the church into service as an army for assault on the battlements of sin and unbelief, as a cru­sade to rescue the perishing, and as an evange­listic company to carry the message to others. This is the church at work ; this is applied Christianity. The music of such occasions is naturally of the inspirational, stimulative type, encouraging mutual endeavor. It is militant rather than worshipful. Such songs as "On­ward, Christian Soldiers," "Work for the Night Is Coming," and "O Men of God Arise" are the most natural and effective type as a musical counterpart.

THE CHURCH AT STUDY.—The third side is the church at study, first of the Word and then of the world field and of our believers evety­where, and the support of our great mission enterprise. Here the children and youth of the church, who are not yet actual church mem­bers, form a vital part of the picture and par­ticipate actively. Here an intimate informality and a spirit of earnest good fellowship prevails. The music is of a more spirited and inspiring nature. Sabbath school orchestras in which youth participate add zest and interest. Lay­men are the leaders. The upbuilding of the spiritual life of the church and its potential members is the object. It is the church in uni­fied study.

Closely related thereto in this side of church life are the special meetings for youth. They are led by youth of character and ability, and are participated in chiefly by youth. Inspira­tional, informative, educational, and attractive, their purpose is to develop Christian character and to train and lead our youth in service for God. Its music is largely of the joyous type to inspire and hold youth. M.V. orchestras, choirs, and various forms of vocal and instrumental music are normal vehicles of expression, blended, of course, with hymns that are appro­priate and akin in spirit. Thfs is a specialized phase of the church for one of its major groups.

UN ITED EVANGELISTIC ENDEAVOR.—Finally, the same church enters into her great, united evangelistic ;ndeavors, seeking the lost, re­claiming the 'backsliders, and aggressively win­ning souls for God and for the church. This type of meeting is neither the church at wor­ship nor the church at study ; nor is it even the church laying activity plans. It is the church in direct, intensive, soul-winning endeavor. These meetings are different, and usually the meeting place is different. The preaching is different. The approach is different. The objec­tive is different. The topics are different, and the music is different. Here, especially in the preparatory song service, wholesome gospel songs of a superior type are used to attract, to arouse interest and participation and to unify a heterogeneous audience and bring it into a receptive mood for the message. Songs with a message from God to men, songs of heart appeal, of Bible instruction, and songs of witness or testimony—distinctly evangelistic songs—are here blended with hymns of wor­ship. The audience must be brought into the semblance of a congregation, and made ready for the evangelistic exposition of the Word.

The music in each instance har­monizes with the particular phase of the four­square activities and objectives of the church: Is there justifiable antagonism among these four aspects : (I) as a group at worship, (2) as a group at study, (3) as an organized and functioning missionary body, and (4) as an outright evangelistic force in operation for the winning of those not of our faith to the mes­sage? No; these are simply four phases, or four sides, of one organization. These are four sides to the square, but the body is one and indivisible, with one great objective—to for­ward the kingdom of God. Whichever side forms the base of the square at the time, it is simply one aspect or expression of the church operation in relation to the whole. The ob­jectives differ, the techniques differ, the imme­diate emphasis differs, the types of meeting differ, and the music differs. But they are all inseparably related to one another. They all support one another. They are mutually co­operative and essentially one.


Why, then, does conflict sometimes come in? It is when one side is pressed or exalted to the disparagement of another. It is when someone says that there is place and propriety only for the church hymn of direct ascription of praise to God, or on the contrary, rules out the old hymns of worship, declaring that what we need is not the old staid hymns but songs of experience. The fact is that the church needs all types of music. We need songs of appeal, songs of witness, instruction, and admonition, as well as hymns of praise to God, just as the messages men bear differ according to the group to whom they speak.

It is regrettable that some, failing to recog­nize the difference here set forth, will choose songs of Christian activity, taken perhaps from the Sabbath-school section of the Hymnal, and use them most of the time for the church at worship. That is not their purpose. Others put the frown, or ban, on evangelistic songs. Let us seek for harmony, balance, unity, understand­ing, and the closest cooperation in all four as­pects of our church life. Let us banish rivalries, misunderstanding, and sniping at other aspects which are equally important and vital to the life and functioning of the church in their related place.                                                  

L. E. F.

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L.E.F. is editor of the Ministry. 

May 1949

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