News and Views
Recently I was asked about the statement of belief in "one holy catholic church" as part of a traditional creed used in a Protestant church service. The word being questioned was "catholic" which simply means "world wide, universal" when spelled with a small "c". This was a good reminder that the church is Christ's Body on earth, and that He has only one Body on earth, a Body which is made up of all who live in relationship with God through Jesus Christ, without regard as to the particular institutionalized part of the body with which they identify. In every congregation, in every denomination, and even outside of the organized church, there are individuals who are part of Christ's One Body on earth. His Body is made up of all those who truly know Him.
In another place and another time, I did a series of articles on the origin and history of the churches in that community, churches which represented all the major denominations and many of the smaller ones. In doing so, I discovered that within the Christian church, almost no one has ever set out with the intent of starting a new church or denomination. Rather, there has been a repeated pattern of the church becoming lethargic and set in its ways and carrying on in the form but not the spirit of the faith, much like the Pharisees of Jesus' time. From within this inert institutionalized setting, a leader would appear, one who truly knew God and was filled with the Holy Spirit, one who naturally drew others to himself through his enthusiasm and love for God and others, one who tried to wake up the organization and bring it back to its first love for God, one who tried to bring the institution back to the strengths of the true early church of the New Testament. However, the institutionalized church rejected the challenge of renewal and rejected the leader and his followers and forced them out. This very spiritually alive leader and his followers were forced to leave their former church and begin their own, which over a few generations became institutionalized, set in its ways and following the form rather than the spirit of its faith. Each time such a new leader arose, some aspect of early church belief or practice would be rediscovered or emphasized, or some different interpretation of scripture would be adopted so that there would be definite differences from the parent body. The differences were used to differentiate between the groups, but are not significant in terms of whether or not the individuals within the different groups are going to spend eternity in heaven with Jesus.
Martin Luther and John Calvin were both Roman Catholic priests who wanted the recognition and correction of corrupt practices within the Roman Catholic Church and restoration to a more Biblical understanding of faith. They were excommunicated. John and Charles Wesley were Church of England clergy who wanted to restore greater spiritual life to the church, but were forced out and founded the Methodist Church. William Booth was a Methodist minister who had a passion for helping the very poor in the slums of East London, but his converts were not welcome in the stylish Methodist Churches, so he ended up founding the Salvation Army. The list could go on and on.
I found that the history and relationships of the churches could be quite easily diagrammed and the result looked like a tree with branches coming out from the trunk and from each other. This diagram reminds me of Jesus' words in John 15, especially verse five, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." (NIV) Like the sap flowing through a vine or a tree and nourishing the leaves and the fruit, God the Holy Spirit flows through His people and through the churches in which they dwell, connecting all who truly know God to each other as well as to God, Father and Son and Holy Spirit. Is the diagram of the tree of the churches the diagram of the movement of the Holy Spirit through the ages?
Another way of looking at the organizational development of the churches is through the statement, "God has no grandchildren." Every Christian is directly adopted as a child of God through repentance and regeneration through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. It is a direct, personal relationship. However, over and over again, after a few generations, the church begins to think and function as though children born into Christian homes and raised in Christian homes and the church are automatically Christians, or are automatically grandchildren of God. But God has no grandchildren. Everyone, including those raised in Christian home and church, must turn to Jesus for that first-hand redemption which makes them a child of God. Time and again, the Holy Spirit has come and found an individual who would shake up an organization of "God's grandchildren" and bring fresh spiritual life to a church, only to be pushed out.
So the "holy catholic church" is the world-wide or universal church and is the Body of Christ on earth. Every Christian, every person who is a genuine first-generation child of God, every believer who truly knows God, is a member of Christ's body now and will dwell with Him in heaven. God looks on the heart, and only He knows exactly who belong to Him.
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