(Disclaimer: I’m a delinquent blogger – this is actually my notes from last week’s sermon – my life is one long story of playing catch up on something)
One of the most confusing lines in the Apostles’ Creed for many is this one – I believe in… the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints. In my recent friendly inquisition about my finding a home in Anglicanism, this one line was discussed between me and my inquisitive friend.
“Why do you say you believe in the holy catholic church? Is Anglicanism just part of the Catholic church?” was the question posed to me.
Now, here’s where I get to put on my teacher hat.
Big C – Catholic – Proper Noun – referring to a specific person, place, thing or idea.
Little c – catholic – common noun – referring to a more generic person, place, thing or idea.
(Yeah, we’re going over nouns in our homeschool.)
Many think of the word as meaning “universal” – or, as from the Greek roots – kata (with respect to) and holos (whole) or katholikos (universal). The word eventually found its way from Latin to French and to Middle English as catholic.
So, when I as an Anglican recite the Apostles’ Creed, when I refer to it as the essentials of my faith, I’m referring to the word catholic as was used for centuries in church history – The Church as a whole – the body of believers worldwide, God’s chosen vessel to bring the gospel to the world.
In Ephesians 4, Paul said:
Therefore I urge you who have been chosen by God to live up to the life to which God called you. 2 Always be humble, gentle, and patient, accepting each other in love. 3 You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, and God called you to have one hope. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, and one baptism. 6 There is one God and Father of everything. He rules everything and is everywhere and is in everything.
As my pastor spoke on these verses, I couldn’t help but think how much we’ve failed as The Church (ie, that catholic word again).
We’ve found ourselves in schism after schism throughout the history of Christianity. And in this modern age, the age of blogs and Twitter and Facebook, all you have to do is look for a few minutes and you see that we certainly aren’t humble, gentle, or patient, accepting each other in love. Instead we “Farewell” each other, writing blogs in a reactionary manner because some person has left evangelicalism for a mainline church or an organization has adopted a more progressive or a more conservative approach to ministering than our current value system approves of. Conservatives are attacked by Fundamentalists and Progressives are attacked Conservatives and Fundamentalists are attacked by Progressives.
Have we forgot that Paul says, “You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way?” Are we really, truly making every effort to do so? No, we are a squabbling little bunch, us Christians. We develop litmus tests to determine who is a real Christian and who is a counterfeit Christian.
When new churches are planted in an area where existing churches exist, why do some churches get all territorial, as if their holy space was being invaded? We are all called to the same mission, right?
That’s why the Creeds – the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed – are so important and should be taught throughout The Church, instead of just the traditional mainline churches. They show us the essentials to our faith. Coming together united in the beliefs expressed in those creeds, the church can celebrate it’s differences. One church, one communion of saints.
As The Church we are all called to one Hope (vs 4) and we as believers and as individual churches, we have all been gifted in different ways. Ephesians 4:11-12 says:
And Christ gave gifts to people—he made some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to go and tell the Good News, and some to have the work of caring for and teaching God’s people. 12 Christ gave those gifts to prepare God’s holy people for the work of serving, to make the body of Christ stronger.
So, we are called to the same hope, and with different gifts, we are called to one mission – to make the body of Christ stronger. Instead of “farewelling” each other in blogs and social media skirmishes, we as a body of believers need to be able to celebrate the unique differences. Instead of proclaiming there are no Bible believing churches in a given area because your particular denomination isn’t well represented, recognize that there are Christians of all types. We desperately need to remember we’re all the same team.
CS Lewis said in his work The Problem of Pain, “Why else were individuals created, but that God, loving all infinitely, should love each differently? If all experienced God in the same way and returned Him an identical worship, the song of the Church triumphant would have no symphony; it would be like an orchestra in which all the instruments played the same note.”
Rachel Held Evans in her latest book Searching for Sunday addressed our differences. She says, “I’m not convinced the pursuit of greater unity means rejecting denominationalism altogether… we might instead think of the various Christian traditions as different facets of a diamond refracting the same light… In other words, unity does not require uniformity.” She then goes on to paint a beautiful picture. Jesus said his Father’s house had many room, and she paints a beautiful picture of what each denomination would be doing in that house to make it welcome to all.So, what is our aim? Where do we go as one holy catholic church, one communion of saints? How do we move forward in our mission to proclaim the good news to the world? My pastor said last week that “We as the church have spent more time revealing the brokenness of society, instead of spending time revealing the One who was broken to redeem society.” How do we get back on track and reveal Christ?
Love. Jesus said, “All people will know that you are my followers if you love each other.” (John 13:35). Until we in The Church begin loving each other, we can’t expect to be able to go out and love others. Love is what binds us together. And if we could just love each other like Jesus commanded, our love could become contagious.
John Owen, a 17th century theologian said in his sermon Gospel Charity, “Love is the principal grace and duty that is required from, and expected from, the saints of God…This is why genuine gospel love has the ability to amaze and attract unbelievers. They should be astonished by the new and different type of love that believers display toward one another. Indeed, one of the first sayings of heathens that observed Christians together was ‘See how they love one another’ For them to see people of different sorts – different races, different personalities, different classes, different financial brackets – all knit together in love was astonishing to them. It was astonishing because of its unique nature.” (and seriously, go read that whole sermon – totally could be preached today)
Our mission as one Church and as a communion of believers should be simple – show the world the Hope of Christ through our love for one another. It’s time we get back on mission… together.
I write all of this to not only express what was preached at my church but because I suffer, too, from uncharitable thoughts toward other Christians. I find myself struggling constantly with living like I believe in the one holy catholic church, the communion of saints. I get judgy toward those I view as legalistic. A dozen times a day I start to type out a quip on Facebook or Twitter in response to those more narrow-minded than myself. And most of the time, but not always, I restrain myself as the Spirit convicts me that we’re all part of the same body. My snarky quip certainly won’t show an unbelieving world that I love other believers. It is probably why I struggle writing this blog. There is so much I want to rail against and yet, I want to make sure it’s done in a spirit of love.
Because we are one body. We are one holy catholic church. We are one communion of saints.