I feel this weekend I want to remind myself and all of you blog readers of something: Christians believe in the Church. In the Apostles Creed, a short summation of the essentials of the Christian Faith, after we have confessed together, “We believe in God the Father Almighty….In Jesus Christ… in the Holy Spirit…” one of the other tenets of Apostolic faith we confess is , “We believe in the Holy Catholic (Universal) Church.”
In these days when even among Christians I often pick up a tone of cynicism about “church” I guess I just want each one of us to ask if we personally can say, “I believe in the Church,” or have you or I become the Church’s mocking and frustrated critic rather than her defender?
I think it was Henri Nouwen who imagined someone responding to the idea of believing in the church with a thought or a question like “How can I believe in something so obviously flawed?” It is a fair enough question. I would simply say the Church reminds me of two things:
Firstly, you meet some pretty awful behaviour in church and that reminds me that all of us are sinners and need to be saved – and I mean that in a non cynical way. I remember hearing Dr. Jack Deere say that church can be a mean place. That is so true. We sometimes have a very rosy picture of the early church. Actually Paul had to write some pretty amazing things to some churches. He had to tell believers to stop brawling and fighting, to stop lying to stop backstabbing, to stop using bad language and being dishonest, and to stop behaving immorally! I personally know a minister whose truthfulness I have no reason to doubt, who claimed another minister actually punched him after a Presbytery Meeting!! The Christian church and sadly often the leadership of the Christian church, has demonstrated all through history the sinfulness of human beings and how terribly evil and distorted and ugly religion can become.
Secondly, I have discovered the forgiving and encouraging love of the God who saves in the Church as well. I have been convinced of that love though the preaching of the Word I have heard in church through faithful ministers; through formal and informal celebration of the sacraments; through the psalms hymns and spiritual songs I have sung as part of a worshipping congregation. Alongside all of that I can genuinely say that through the ministry of the people of God ,who are the Church, I have caught glimpses and much more than glimpses of the merciful love of God in word, deed, forbearance, understanding and encouragement.
So amid a myriad of other things I could say, the church at its worst convinces me that men and women including myself need saved from ourselves and our sin, and at its best helps me to believe the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end. “It” or perhaps more lovingly and personally I should say, “She” helps me believe in the good news of One called Jesus.
Perhaps the prayer some of us need to bring as ministers, pastors, elders, leaders and people, is “Lord, help me to keep believing in the Church.” As some preacher somewhere quipped, “My mother has wrinkles but I still love her!” Remember any clever cynicism you direct towards church lands on Jesus, for the Church is His body. Mock His body, you hurt Him. Bless His body today or any day and you will bless Him.
So, just a thought for you to mull over as Sunday rolls around once more… “We believe in the Holy Catholic Church…”
P.S. – Remember there is only one Church. If you are tempted to look down on another denomination or congregation thinking their obvious sins and failings are not the sins and failings of your church or denomination or your non-denomination, remember we are part of the one holy catholic church. Jesus taught us to pray as his disciples,”Forgive us our sins.” Remember too that our persecuted brothers and sisters are part of that one church too…so…
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