Making the Invisible Church Visible

Church-You-Can-See-Through-9.
Many years ago, when I was a young intern pastor,
I remember my senior pastor telling me about all the member conflicts that were going on in the church. Understandably, he didn’t want me stepping into anything and making matters worse. And unfortunately, it seemed that nobody could agree on anything; the carpet, the paint color, the height the grass should be mowed, everything was a battle. Not knowing what to say, I made the remark that wouldn’t be nice if we had a church that resembled the church triumphant which we would find in heaven. Looking at me closely to see if I was pulling his leg, he suddenly chuckled and recited a poem that I will never forget.

When I think about the saints I love,
In the heaven above,
O, that will be Glory!
But when I think about the fellowship below
with the saints I know,
Well, that’s a different story!

Today, I got to fellowship with some wonderful sister saints, and felt a taste of what fellowship in heaven will feel like. No false pride, no pretense, just strong and honest support and comfort. You know, the kind that you can take with you and feel accepted and loved. And if they should happen to reprove you, then you know that they still love you and are pulling for you. That is how the church should feel like; supportive, comforting, healing and strengthening. I hope that is where each of us go in life, for that is how the presence of our lives should be; we should be rolling, moving, and healing churches. Because “church” is not a building, –it’s us, fellow believer. We are “living stones” Apostle Paul says, “growing together” unto the Lord. Many of the wonderful people I meet over the internet, I will probably never get a chance to meet in this world, but I can’t wait to meet them someday in the world to come. And I know that our excitement together comes in the building and establishing of the “Church Triumphant” here on earth. Thus, I believe, it is the work of Christians everywhere to make the “invisible church of God,” visible.

I am reminded of another Christian who felt the same way. He was a Christian missionary to Turkey, and he lived between 1811 and 1900, his name was Chris Hamlin.

One time a pious believer who had lived there for many years, called on Mr. Hamlin, during the time that he was preaching and teaching at Constantinople, this believer remarked that he was astonished to see how the people are waking up to the Gospel; how, even among the most uncultivated, some are seeking after it as for hid treasure. “Yes,” continued this old believer, “it is going forward; it will triumph; but, alas! I shall not live to see it. Alas, that I am born an age too soon!” “But,” said Mr. Hamlin, “do you remember what our Savior said, ‘There shall be joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents’? You may not live to see the truth triumphant in this empire, but once you reach the kingdom of heaven, your joy over your whole nation redeemed will be infinitely greater than it could be on earth.” He seemed surprised at this thought; but after examining the various passages to which pastor Hamlin referred him, he seemed to be perfectly enraptured at the thought that our interest in the Church of Christ and the progress of His kingdom on earth is something death cannot touch, and which, instead of ceasing with this life, will only be increased and perfected In another.

“O fool, and slow of heart,” said he, “to read the gospel so many times without perceiving such a glorious truth. If this be so, it matters not in what age a Christian is born, nor when he dies.”

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Meet the author and part of your Christian heritage: Chris Hamlin (January 5, 1811 – August 8, 1900) was an American Congregational missionary and educator, the father of A. D. F. Hamlin.

Hamlin was born in Waterford, Maine and grew up on his family’s farm estate. At sixteen, he entered an apprenticeship as a silversmith and jeweler in Portland, Maine before deciding to enter the ministry. He first attended Bridgton Academy before heading to college. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1834 and from Bangor Theological Seminary in 1837. The Hamlins were a prominent nineteenth-century Maine family which also produced a Vice President of the United States (Hannibal Hamlin) and at least two Civil War generals, one of whom was also named Cyrus Hamlin.

He promptly left the United States in 1838 as a missionary under the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, arriving in Turkey in January 1839. Hamlin helped found Bebek Seminary in 1840 as part of his outreach to Armenians. Hamlin established a workshop at Bebek to teach his students marketable trades, to help alleviate their severe poverty. From this workshop sprung a baking business, by which Hamlin became the primary provider of bread to the British Army hospital in Istanbul during the Crimean War. It was during this period that Hamlin became acquainted with Florence Nightingale. While the workshop and bakery were controversial to the American Board, the funds earned by Hamlin’s enterprises helped build thirteen Protestant Armenian churches in Turkey.

In 1860, he began the work of establishing Robert College in Istanbul, Ottoman Empire. After years of unsuccessfully lobbying the Turkish authorities for permission to build the school, Hamlin was eventually granted an imperial order granting permission for the school to be built and permitting it to be under American protection and fly the American flag. The school opened its doors on May 15, 1871. Hamlin served as its president until an unfortunate conflict in 1876, which forced his return to the United States where he later served as professor of dogmatic theology at Bangor Theological Seminary.

He was elected president of Middlebury College in Vermont in 1880. His term was short, lasting only until 1885. However, Hamlin’s guidance brought the College back from the brink of collapse and began a recovery process that would ultimately lead to unprecedented growth in the early years of the 20th Century. Hamlin resolved severe disciplinary issues inherited from his predecessor and personally contracted critical upgrades to the physical plant. However, the most significant event of Hamlin’s administration—one that would prove key in maintaining Middlebury’s stability later on—was the college’s decision to accept women in 1883. Hamlin was seventy-four by 1885 when he unsurprisingly retired.

He published Among the Turks (1878) and My Life and Times in Turkey (1893). Hamlin Hall at Boğaziçi University (formerly part of Robert College), as well as Hamlin Hall in Middlebury College’s Freeman International Center are named after him.

For many years, he lived in Lexington, Massachusetts. He is buried in Lexington’s Munroe Cemetery.

Biographical excerpts from Wikipedia