The Holy Catholic Church

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, October 7, 2018 0 comments

by Logan Ames

If you’re familiar with the movie The Land Before Time, you may remember a scene in which the young dinosaur character Littlefoot wants to play with another young dinosaur named Cera. The problem is that Littlefoot is a “longneck” and Cera is a “three-horn." Ignorance is bliss for Littlefoot and all he cares about is having fun with a new friend. Cera seems okay with it at first, until her father, Daddy Topps, says, “Come, Cera; three-horns never play with longnecks." Cera then sides with her father and repeats what he said. Littlefoot is confused, so his mom grabs him and separates him from the three-horns. As they walk away, he questions the segregation, and his mom tells him they all just “keep to themselves." The more Littlefoot keeps questioning, the more his mom just tells him not to worry about it.

The interesting thing about that scene is that it almost perfectly portrays what happens in the Church. I’ve had several times in my life when I told someone I was a Christian and their response was, “Well, what are you?” They saw the confusion on my face and then clarified, “Like, Methodist or Lutheran or something else?” If you grew up with a very specific religious tradition that was ingrained in you, you might be used to identifying yourself as such. Stop and think about how many times you’ve had an opportunity to befriend those from other faith traditions; it’s probably a small number. I have personally founded and coached softball teams at two previous churches where I worshiped, and one of the motivating factors for me was that I realized those local church leagues were just about the only avenues for Christians from a number of different faith traditions in those towns to interact with one another.

Christians can be some of the most opinionated people, especially when it comes to faith traditions that are not their own. If we find it difficult to play, work, worship, or even exist in the same space as others who are not like us, we’re struggling with something that Jesus prayed for shortly before he was arrested to begin his suffering and sacrifice on our behalf. In John 17:20-21, Jesus prays that all of his followers would be “one” in him so that the world would know that he was indeed sent by the Father. He goes on to pray that all of his followers would be “brought to complete unity” (v. 23). If Christians are divided and segregated as much as the rest of the world is, how does the world have any reason to believe Jesus is real?

In the Apostles’ Creed, we find the statement that we believe in “the holy catholic Church." The first time we hear or see that, we might instantly feel the need to point out that we are not Catholics. However, if you look at the statement from the actual creed, you can see that only one of those three words is capitalized, and it’s NOT “catholic." We have to first understand that when we use the word Catholic in most circles today, we are generally referring to the Roman Catholic tradition, who, while often claiming to be the one true church instituted by Jesus and Peter, is still only one tradition. The word “catholic” in the creed has nothing to do with Roman Catholicism. The word actually means “including a wide variety of things; all-embracing." When I searched for synonyms, Google tells me they include “universal, diverse, wide, broad, and latitudinarian." The last one is my favorite. Think about what “latitudinarian” means. When you were a child, you likely learned about lines of latitude and longitude. Lines of longitude are vertical while lines of latitude are horizontal. That means that for something that describes a group of people (the Church) to be “latitudinarian," we can say that everyone in the group is on the same horizontal line. We are universally looking UP at the glory of Jesus.

Our belief that we are part of the universal Church means that the faith tradition is irrelevant. The Roman Catholic is not above the Pentecostal. The Lutheran is not above the Baptist. The Methodist is not above the non-denominational. All are sinners who fall short of God’s glory and are freely justified by Christ’s sacrifice (Romans 3:23-24). This sums up what it means to be part of the universal (catholic) Church. We recognize that we fall short, we accept that Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for us, and we receive his grace. Nowhere in the Bible are we told that we must belong to a specific faith tradition. So, when you hear that at a local church, you can be sure that it didn’t come from Scripture.

We can be sure that not everyone who claims to be part of the Church truly is. It’s not based on tradition, but on our faith in Jesus as that sacrifice that we desperately needed. In 1 Peter 2:4-10, we see that Peter refers to the Church as a group of “living stones who are being built into a spiritual house” and also a “holy nation." This is a true sense of “one nation under God” and it has nothing to do with America. It is a “nation” of people from all over the world - past, present, and future - who were chosen by God and have received Christ’s sacrifice. The ONLY thing that separates people in God’s eyes is Jesus. Those who come to him through Christ universally make up a holy nation, and those who don’t are separate. The rest of the separating that’s been done within that holy nation has been done by us.

In the days of the New Testament, the two groups of believers were basically grouped into Jews and Gentiles. They had been raised by traditions that taught them to dislike one another. The Apostle Paul knew this, but he also knew he was sent to preach to both and maybe even bring unity between them through Christ. In Ephesians 2:11-16, he spells out for both of them that even Gentiles, who “once were far away," have been reconciled to Christ. He also says that Christ is “our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility," then later declares that Christ used the cross to “put to death their hostility." So anytime Christians are still hostile toward one another, they’re actually working AGAINST Christ.

Most of us would say we aren’t hostile toward other believers, and we certainly don’t have issues with Jews or Gentiles. But, in what ways do we still allow division and even hostility? Do you complain about the music in church because there are either not enough hymns or too many hymns? Do you come to church and try to stay away from people who either annoy you or who you don’t know? These are subtle and not volatile, but they are still ways the enemy divides us. I think the biggest division tactic he uses nowadays is politics. The church should be no place for it, yet many of you who are strict conservatives believe that liberals cannot be Christians simply because they have incorrect views in your OPINION and they relate to Jesus differently than you do. Likewise, many of you who are strict liberals hold the same OPINION of conservative Christians. Is it possible that you all worship the same God and just see the world differently? So you think the other side is “wrong." So, what? Being wrong about how we view things in the world doesn’t keep us from being part of that holy nation of believers.

If you are part of the universal, holy, catholic Church and there are still other Christians who you have completely written off as unfaithful because they don’t fit into the box you’ve created for them, I encourage you to let those walls be broken down. Welcome the brother or sister who is different than you into the holy nation. Look around at the diversity God has built into his Church and be amazed.

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