Where is “THE” Church? The Quest of a Naive Cynic
Devotional Thought of the Day:
15 Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. 18 Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. 19 And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”
Matthew 16:15-19 (NLT)
40 Learn this article, then, as clearly as possible. If you are asked, What do you mean by the words, “I believe in the Holy Spirit”? you can answer, “I believe that the Holy Spirit makes me holy, as his name implies.”
41 How does he do this? By what means? Answer: “Through the Christian church, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.”
42 In the first place, he has a unique community in the world. It is the mother that begets and bears every Christian through the Word of God. The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it, he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
Catholic theology must state more clearly than ever before that, along with the actual presence of the word outside her boundaries, “Church” is also present there in one form or another; that, furthermore, the boundaries of the efficacy of the Holy Spirit are not congruent with those of the visible Church. For, on the one hand, the Spirit, the grace, on whose action the Church depends for her very existence, can be wanting even to those within the Church; on the other hand, it can be efficacious in those outside the Church. To borrow Congar’s cogent phrase, it would be both foolish and perverse to identify the efficacy of the Holy Spirit with the work of the ecclesial apparatus.
Yesterday was the day that many of God’s people celebrated what is called the Confession of St. Peter. The celebration that God the Father revealed to Peter that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Father. Like Pentecost, it is one of the formative days of the Church, for it is that day when the church received it’s first “creed”.
A creed is simply a statement that describes what you depend upon in life. It is not a complete statement of doctrine, of that which people intellectually know. For while a “belief statement” or “doctrinal statement” expresses what is contained in our mind, a Creed adds to that what is in our heart, our soul, and is the source of our strength. It is what we depend upon, the truth we believe we can base our entire life upon. It is what distinguishes the church from every other group.
And so, like Pentecost, yesterday was a celebration of the church, and what it is built upon.
Christ, the Son of the living God.
With that being understood, I must confess a different problem, which is caused in part by both my naivete and my cynicism. Naivete because I expect the church to be the church. And I expect its leaders to strive to limit the politics and power struggles. I naively expect them (and myself) to live according to this truth we hold dear, this Man, who was the Messiah, the one Anointed to save us. My mind tells me logically; there must be that church, led by those striving to be like Christ, who’ve set aside everything and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and focus on Christ, the author, and perfecter of our faith.
Can’t there be such a thing, a group of people who are gathered into one Body who live and breathe based on what they believe in?
My cynicism says, “Uhm, no.”
Yes, we can find congregations where this is a focus and priority. Or a Bible Study. But there doesn’t seem to be a denomination out there where this is true. I have to admit a lot of frustration in this, because why can’t it be so? I can look at one denomination, where the leadership is struggling to help people live like Christ, yet their doctrine gets in the way. I look at another where the doctrine is as good as it can be, and yet the power struggles are so blatant, so extreme that it sickens me. I’ve seen too many crushed by it while seeing others rejoice over the pain caused to their “enemies.”
Is it foolish and perverse to want to identify an “ecclesiastical apparatus” with the efficacy of the Holy Spirit? My naivete calls for such a church; my cynicism wants to find a cave and lock myself into it. The option is not to spout that I want a relationship but not a religion and head for the beach. If ti were, Christ is a liar. He said nothing couldn’t prevail against His church. He died for her, so she must exist!
Both Luther and Benedict point to such a church, a church that is focused on what Peter confesses, a church where the Holy Spirit is working, sometimes clearly within the structure of the denominations, but often not. A church some theologians would label the “invisible church”, but because the Holy Spirit is working, it is visible, you know when you are there. A church based primarily on doctrine, not primary on the organization and structure, but gathered by the Holy Spirit. Where the Holy Spirit is using the word, is connecting people to Jesus and then to the Father.
This is what Pope Benedict wrote of, “the Spirit, the grace, on whose action the Church depends for her very existence,” and Luther reveals why, “The Holy Spirit reveals and preaches that Word, and by it he illumines and kindles hearts so that they grasp and accept it, cling to it, and persevere in it.
As I see this, it comforts by shattered naivete, you see the church does exist! We see Her as we see the Holy Spirit working; as the Spirit reconciles people to God and each other, as the spirit heals the broken hearted, and sets free the those bound by sin. It also shatters my cynicism, for the miracle of the Holy Spirit at work just denies the idea that there is no church. For what else could explain what happens when Christ crucified is preached. For then, the church is no longer invisible but is becomes an intact mosaic, one that is not bound within the lines drawn by man, but rather drawn together in Christ.
The church, broken, yet healing, is a glorious thing, as this occurs, St Paul described it well. “All of us, then, reflect the glory of the Lord with uncovered faces; and that same glory, coming from the Lord, who is the Spirit, transforms us into his likeness in an ever greater degree of glory.” 2 Corinthians 3:18 (TEV)
May we be patient and determined, as the Holy Spirit works, pointing us to Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God. AMEN!
(1) Tappert, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (p. 416). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.
(2) Ratzinger, J. (1992). Co-Workers of the Truth: Meditations for Every Day of the Year. (I. Grassl, Ed., M. F. McCarthy & L. Krauth, Trans.) (p. 29). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.
Posted on January 19, 2016, in Augsburg and Trent, Devotions and tagged Abiding in Christ, Benedict XVI, Christ Crucified, grace, Holy Spirit, Invisible Church, Luther, Visible church. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.