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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.

Augsburg and Trent, A Journey Through Both…. but to what end?

Discussion Thought for the Day:The church, is always in the midst of a storm... but safe in Him

3  Do your best to preserve the unity which the Spirit gives by means of the peace that binds you together. 4  There is one body and one Spirit, just as there is one hope to which God has called you. 5  There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6  there is one God and Father of all people, who is Lord of all, works through all, and is in all. Ephesians 4:3-6 (TEV)

2 The desire was also expressed for deliberation on what might be done about the dissension concerning our holy faith and the Christian religion, and to this end it was proposed to employ all diligence amicably and charitably to hear, understand, and weigh the judgments, opinions, and beliefs of the several parties among us to unite the same in agreement on one Christian truth, 3 to put aside whatever may not have been rightly interpreted or treated by either side,1 4 to have all of us embrace and adhere to a single, true religion and live together in unity and in one fellowship and church, even as we are all enlisted under one Christ.  (1)

For, whereas we saw that there was need of peace to deliver and preserve the commonwealth from the many impending dangers, we found all things replete with enmities and dissensions; above all, the princes, to whom well-nigh the whole direction of matters has been intrusted by God, at enmity with each other. Whereas we deemed it necessary that there should be one fold and one shepherdc for the Lord’s flock, in order to confirm the integrity of the Christian religion, and the hope of heavenly things within us; the unity of the Christian name was well-nigh rent and torn asunder by schisms, dissensions, heresies. Whereas we could have wished the commonwealth safe and defended from the arms and insidious attacks of the unfaithful, yet, through our transgressions and the guilt of us all,—the wrath of God, forsooth, hanging over our sins,—Rhodes had been lost; Hungary harassed; war both by land and sea had been intended and planned against Italy, Austria, and Illyria; whilst our impious and ruthless enemy, the Turk, was never at rest, and deemed our own mutual enmities and dissensions his fitting opportunity for carrying out his designs with success  (2)

 

I was messing around with some changes in my Logos Software last week, and I came across a crazy idea.

You see, my Bible software can take any of the thousands of texts and break them up into chunks.  You can read them over a week, a month, 6 months a year or more.

So I figured I would use it, starting November 1st, to read through the Bible again in a year.  While I was at it, it updated some of my books, so I thought about adding the Book of Concord, and just reading a small section of it over the next year.  (Not academic reading, just a light survey.  And for some reason, I then decided to add another work.  Looking through the works, I saw various works of Luther, and Melancthon, of other works ranging from Martyn Lloyd Jones ( a famous British preacher) and Joseph Ratzinger (aka Pope Benedict XVI.)

For some reason, my mind kept coming back to The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent.

For those who are not theologians, putting the Book of Concord (which is the Lutheran accumulation of Doctrine in its early days) and the works Trent (which was somewhat written to counter the Lutherans, Calvinists and other early reformers) is like putting a Oklahoma and a Nebraska football fan in the same room.  Or a room with a Red Sox and a Yankee Fan…. or splitting an atom.  The two schools of thought are diametrically opposed to each other on many items (though on some they aren’t.)

They won’t match up, point against point, but this is not going to be an academic exercise,  I am thinking of it more as a devotional exercise, a way to go back 500 years and see the heart of men who professed to follow God, and struggled to put what that means in writing.  They were under pressure, both had an added incentive of trying to appease Kings so a war could be fought together against the Turks.  They both had stubborn folk involved. Like I said, these documents were written back when wars were waged, and people killed over differences in doctrine.

What will come of it?   I don’t know,   Probably a few dozen blogs, probably some shaking of heads at my silliness.  Maybe more confusion on my part.  Hopefully some great discussions….

So far, one of the things that amazed me was the desire for the church to be one, they both shared that in the quotes above.  I think they said it, hoping to convince by scripture and logic, and if not by force, the entire church to be one. Yet, that goal at least will be the same.  They see the unity of the church as the basis of the survival of life as they know it, the ability to stand together.

Five hundred years later.. we still stand divided.  I don’t commune with my friends who are Catholic priests, they don’t commune with me.  Some of peers rejoice in this, some of our peers, like us, weep that a church could be so broken. But rarely do we sit down and strive for unity, rejoicing in the Christ who died for us, who on the day of His return will unify those He has called His children.

Maybe I am a hopeless daydreamer to think anything will come of this… then again…we’ve been given a ministry of reconciliation, of healing brokenness as people are drawn to Christ Jesus. So a little time spent pondering our common doctrine, and our radical differences, may be beneficial, if not, it should be at least interesting.

I would ask people who read this, and if any follow, over the next three years, to pray for all the people of God, no matter the name of their denomination, brotherhood, synod, or even the name of their church sign.  Pray that we could find healing for our broken church in Christ and that brothers could eventually break bread together, or at least look forward to the day we can, as we stand before His throne, at the wedding feast of Jesus, and His Bride.

God speed,

and Lord, have mercy on us all…..
 

 

(1) Tapperrt, T. G. (Ed.). (1959). The Book of Concord the confessions of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. (pp. 24–25). Philadelphia: Mühlenberg Press.

(2)  Buckley, T. A. (1851). The Canons and Decrees of the Council of Trent (pp. 1–2). London: George Routledge and Co.

 

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