Tag Archives: the holy catholic church

What are we for?

And this is God’s plan: Both Gentiles and Jews who believe the Good News share equally in the riches inherited by God’s children. Both are part of the same body, and both enjoy the promise of blessings because they belong to Christ Jesus…

God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen.

(Eph 3.6,10&11,20&21)

I wonder what answer you might give if someone asked what the church – not just your local congregation but the entire body of believers around the world and down through the ages – is for?

Humanly speaking, there may appear to be many different purposes, some more prominent at times than others – some purposes of which we are now ashamed such as the violent crusades of the Middle Ages, or the misguided propagation of western culture under the guise of mission. At times, the churches have wielded political power, or acted as the moral authority for a nation – enforcing certain patterns of behaviour regardless of belief or understanding. In the western world today, many regard the church as primarily an agent for social action, usually on the side of the oppressed and needy.

These are not necessarily bad things in themselves – to our deep shame and regret, there is more need than ever in our world for compassionate, radical change to transform lives blighted by poverty, war, starvation and oppression. But this is not the special calling of the church, the body of Jesus Christ in the world today. And I believe that without a clear vision of what we ARE for, there is a real danger of allowing ourselves to be squeezed into the socially acceptable pigeonhole of compassionate care, and campaigning for the weak. Those activities will not offend our secular society, they might even make us quite popular!

In the book of Proverbs(29.18), there is a verse which – in the old King James version reads as follows: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. Our modern translations give it this way: When people do not accept divine guidance, they run wild. But whoever obeys the law is joyful. 

What is the vision, which we need in order to avoid perishing; the divine guidance which we must accept in order to avoid running wild (and by implication, away from God’s care and salvation)? What is the church for?

Paul is stunningly clear, and absolutely emphatic in his letter to the Ephesians, that the church universal, through all time, exists in order to show every power which has ever existed just how amazing God’s love is; just how breath-taking his wisdom, in addressing the deepest need of humankind – to be united in fellowship with him.

Consider for a moment what this means for your congregation.. that particular gathering of people, whom you know to be imperfect, and whom you struggle to love at times (as perhaps they struggle to love you!). THAT congregation, has an amazing purpose in God’s great plan of redemption, to be a place where God reveals his power and wisdom, in transforming lives and bringing light, hope and new life to people who were as good as dead in their inability to save themselves. We..you and I …are part of a body of people who are designed to be a showcase for God to our world!

Our unity, as believers and children of God, is to be a demonstration of God’s loving wisdom, fulfilling his plan to create a people for himself whose diversity celebrates his infinitely rich character, while reflecting the loving harmony between Father, Son and Spirit. In the same way that God is glorified in Jesus – our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord – so also he is to be glorified in the church!

Since we remain in a fallen world, we confess how badly we fall short of this vision. How much bitterness, division, selfishness and coldness exists – within and between congregations and denominations. God forgive us; we rob him of his glory, and blind people to his beauty by our own ugliness.

Oh may our hearts and minds be increasingly filled with the vision of the glory of Christ, so that blind to all else, we love one another for his sake – seeing his image in one another and united in our desire to see others come to know and be transformed by his forgiveness and love. Then and only then, will we truly glorify God as we ought.

Being the bride?

The church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord:

She is his new creation by water and the word;

From heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride;

With his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died.

(SJ Stone, 1939-1900)

This old hymn, which we sang at a recent communion service, uses the image of a bride in describing the relationship between the church and the Lord Jesus Christ. As with so many old hymns, it is packed with ideas from the bible, truths which inform and give life to our faith and deepen and strengthen our relationship with God. I love to sing these songs, they go to my heart and head like a strong wine, filling me with joy and lifting my spirits no matter how much I am struggling. This is surely one of the main reasons why we are exhorted to sing and use our praise to recall all that God has done for us!

But what really touched me as I sang this time was the fact that the bride is one being, a single entity, not a multitude! It is so easy to lose sight of the truth that in God’s eyes, His people are one, across time and around the world. Our denominational tribes are not relevant, our preoccupation with defending purity of doctrine at the expense of fellowship and the sharing of the good news of Jesus is a source of sadness. The old creed, the statement of faith puts it quite simply…

……I believe in the Holy Ghost; the Holy Catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.   Amen!

In this context, the word ‘catholic’ has its proper meaning of “universal/relating to the entire body of Christians”, and what a glorious affirmation it is to make! I do believe that we are one in Christ, no matter how our traditions seem to divide us, or our expressions of praise and worship feel strange to one another.

It is our human weakness, our fearfulness and pride, which drive us into divisions, into putting up walls to make ourselves feel safer, better, holier, than those outside. What shame this brings to the name of Jesus, who prayed the night before he died that his people  might be one, might be known for their love for and unity with one another… But we can choose to sit lightly to those boundaries, to reach wherever possible out to those who worship Christ in spirit and in truth, wherever they come from. The reality is that what unites us is so great and glorious, that our differences should pale into insignificance by comparison.

There is a wry joke made by Christians that when we get to heaven we will be a little surprised to see who else is there – and they will be equally surprised to see us!! The point is being made that we none of us can claim to have all the answers, to be absolutely perfect in our interpretation of the bible and our practice of the faith. The important and overriding truth on which our salvation depends is the death of Jesus on the cross, and our trust in him alone.

We have been wooed, as a bride must be, drawn to love and commit ourselves to our beloved – the prophet Hosea speaks beautifully of how God does this:-

I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the Lord.

(Hosea 2.19&20)

It is the love of God, revealed in Jesus which entrances and captures our hearts, and it is his death and resurrection which are the source of our strength, joy and hope. It is as we grow in faith in him, serving the world in his name, loving one another as he commanded, that we become beautiful in his eyes, transformed and made ready for our future. It will be at the dawn of the new creation, when all believers finally stand together before the throne, united in praise, love and adoration of the saviour, that we will truly be dressed in our wedding clothes and fit to meet the Lord. Then all our struggles will be past, all barriers to fellowship will be removed, and in glory we will rest. Let this wonderful vision of our future bring us joy and strength now, and inspire us to reach out in love to all who call on the name of Jesus as their saviour.

I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

(Revelation 21. 2-4)