What I learned from Urbana

background: Urbana is a major missions conference in St. Louis run by Intervaristy, a Christian Organization, to encourage evangelism and missionary activities among today’s university students. It was attended by approximately 16,000 people

Credo in . . . sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam

“I believe . . . in the holy catholic church”

These lines were spoken, much as they have been for centuries, during communion on the final day of the Urbana conference, a missions conference for university students dedicated to showing how to spread the gospel to the world. This lesson of the nature of the church, however, is for me the most poignant lesson that I have taken home from Urbana, and a truth that I have before not appreciated enough. Christianity has an estimated 2 billion adherents, and yes, while not all of them are devoted disciples of Christ, if even a quarter are (and joined with the saints that have passed), this is still 500 million people – more people than the whole of the united states – that will one day be singing praises to God. The Church is majestic and Urbana has only started to help me fully realize this fact.

Today’s church is ugly. Many denominations are shedding followers left and right, the church has divided into numerous streams of thought, many venturing far away from the realm of orthodoxy as historically defined in Protestantism (and even Catholicism and E. Orthrodoxy), some denominations have scandalous clergy, and the church (especially in America) has forgotten its role in caring for the poor and needy, sometimes within churches themselves. Yes the church is ugly, I will be the first to admit that but I also love the Church, the whole body of Christ. I have a deep passion for seeing to its wellbeing and seeing the members of the body increase in the knowledge of Christ and draw closer to him. Yes, the church is ugly, but it is also beautiful.

What then is it that I learned at Urbana? I learned that 16,000 people worshipping together is a foretaste of heaven. Urbana’s focus was missions and to that end the organizers and praise team sang songs in multiple languages. It’s fully hard and difficult to express my utter awe at hearing 16,000 voices (so many that there was a resounding echo from the difference in the front and back) singing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come [1].” Truly it’s but a foretaste of heaven when we can finally hear that “great multitude from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne . . . crying out” [2]. Additionally, those that came to Urbana came from all areas of America with some other nations in attendance (like Canadians, I came with a Canadian group). Urbana was thus also a symbol of Christian unity, where many, regardless of specific denominational differences, came together for the cause of Christ and the furthering of his Gospel.

The Apostle’s Creed covers two of the attributes of the Church: holy and catholic. Certainly, as I have said before, the church is quite unholy and an ill representative of Christ as a whole to the world around it. Nonetheless, Christ manages to work through the Church to further his Gospel. Now the Church is holy because it consists of all those that have been set apart by Christ to salvation. It consists of a group of people so separated from God that they required the effective work of the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ to raise life from death and reconcile us with the firstborn from the dead. And the Church is catholic in that it is universal: there is only one body of believers reconciled to Christ. One Bride, One Body, One Church, the catholic Church[3].

It is this singular vision of a church that has so enraptured me, the vision of uncountable people shouting “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty.” The vision of uncountable people fully immersing themselves in the communion with God we have in Jesus Christ to bring more glory to his name. I want to share this same joy of intimacy with God and the Body of Christ to all my friends, for it increasingly pains me to know that I have friends that may never appreciate this, the most glorious of all relationships, the relationship with have with God. I want to see all people turn to God and shout praise to his name, from every hill and valley, from every city and nationality, and in every language – all for the greater glory of God.

How amazing is it then when you can see an individual commit to Christ, whether for the first time or for a rededication of life. Indeed the angels rejoice when a sinner repents [4]. At Urbana I saw over 90 people commit to Christ for the first time and many more recommitting to Christ. After increasingly realizing the beauty and majesty of our future vision of the body of Christ, how could I not rejoice at seeing this? I honestly believe that we, as a church, have forgotten the joy of salvation, for if we remembered we would have a much larger response to those that accept Christ. I know that prior to Urbana I didn’t express much joy at hearing testimonies or seeing people accept Christ, but through Urbana I have begun to appreciate and rejoice over these increasingly. This is all an ongoing realization, but it has also driven me to begin to reconsider how I treat my friends, and question my convictions of what I believe if I honestly don’t want to see them come to Christ with any measure of conviction. We –must—be convicted to reach out to those that we care for. There is no other response possible, if we firmly believe the Gospel and the truth of Christ, we can do nothing else but earnestly pray for and hope that all our friends will come to the truth in Jesus Christ.

Urbana was an immense learning experience for me and I cannot ever describe the increase in awe I have of the Church and of a renewed joy over those that I see coming to Christ. Through Urbana I have gained a greater appreciation of just what it means to be in the body of Christ, and a new desire to see people come to Christ and a greater joy when they do. I suppose I came to Urbana to learn about how the church at large is doing, but I have taken far more than that away, I have taken away a vision for the church that I want to see accomplished (though probably never will in my life time), a vision of all tribes and peoples worshipping the one, holy God that is infinitely worthy of all our praise and adoration being worshipped. I hope to be a more effective witness, and a greater defender and spreader of our faith.

Ad majorem Dei gloriam. Soli deo gloria

[1] Revelation song, taken from Revelation 4.8

[2] Revelation 7.9

[3] Please note my explicit use of capitalization

[4] Lk 15.10

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One thought on “What I learned from Urbana

  1. Thanks for allowing us to see and hear Urbana through your eyes. I too remember the awe of worshipping together with thousands of other brothers and sisters from all nations and peoples. Breathtaking….

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