I Believe in the Holy Catholic Church!

I BELIEVE IN THE HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH

THE APOSTLES CREED

  • I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth;
  • I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, Who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, Born of the Virgin Mary, Suffered under Pontius Pilate, Was crucified, died, and was buried; He descended to the dead. On the third day He rose again; He ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father, and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
  • I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic [universal] church, the Communion of Saints, the Forgiveness of Sins, the Resurrection of the Body, and the Life Everlasting.

Preparing for a great celebration of Easter – by reviewing our core beliefs.  How is my faith in Jesus guiding and empowering my life – and giving me confidence in a future home in heaven?

Looked at – God the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.  Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord.  The Holy Spirit – God reminding us 17,280 times a day with every breath we take that God is with us.  Today we are going to dig in to our beliefs about the Church?

What is the Church?  Why did God create the Church?  How can the church help us to work together as Christ followers to bring out the best in each other and share the light of Jesus with the world?

It’s important to figure out what the Church is supposed to be – because a lot of people are very disappointed or unimpressed with the church.  Church attendance has been declining dramatically in the United States for the past 50 years.  People like to say that they are spiritual, but not religious.  They want to find meaning and purpose for their lives from God – but they don’t believe that organized religion is going to help them find it.  People say they are very impressed with Jesus – and they are very unimpressed with churches that claim to be Jesus’ representatives in the world.

So we need to figure out – what is God’s plan for the church?  And how can we work with God and each other – to help the church grow into all that God wants it to be?

The first issue that I want to invite you to think about – is what do we mean when we say that we believe the church is Holy?

Holy = Set Apart For God

When you hear the word Holy – what kind of pictures come into your mind?  Something that is perfect.  Wonderful.  Glowing.  Awesome.  Greater than anything you normally encounter in life.

Those are good pictures and they are some of the definitions for the word Holy in the Bible.  There is also another definition for Holy – that the Bible emphasizes to describe the church.  It comes from the Greek word Hagios – which the Bible uses to describe the church.  Hagios does mean Holy – and the picture of Holiness that it gives us is something being set apart for God.  Dedicated to God’s use and purposes.

When you think about places that are set apart for a special purpose – we can see lots of examples.  Pizza Hut is set apart for making pizzas and providing people with meals.  The YMCA is set apart to help people exercise and improve their health.  Schools are set apart to help children and adults study, learn, and develop their skills.

Sometimes people think that the church is a building – like our building at 100 North Main Street.  Other times people think the church is a denomination – you have the United Methodist Church, Roman Catholic Church, Baptist Church, Lutheran Church…

Building and denominations are partial ways to understand the church – but they are not the most important way to understand the Church.  The Bible emphasizes that the church is God’s people who have been set apart from the world to help each other grow in our faith and bring out all of the potential that Jesus has placed within us.

1 Corinthians 1:2 (NLT)    I am   writing to God’s church… to the people who have been called by God to be His own holy people.

It’s good for us to listen to criticisms about the church – and see how much we need to keep growing.  But it is much more important to celebrate – the great opportunities that we have to come together to help each other grow into the Holy People God wants to help us become.

It is obvious that the church is not perfect.  And in some ways that can be a real positive.  Because if you had to be perfect to come to church – I know that I would not qualify.  I am glad that the church is a school for sinners rather than a museum to display perfect saints.

I believe that God wants to help us to look at the church in a similar way that we look at schools. We don’t expect children to be fully educated and perfect to come to school.  We encourage all children to come to school – whatever the abilities and learning might be – so that we can help them to develop.  God teaches us that the church is holy – because it is a place that is set apart to welcome all people, all of us sinners to come together and help each other grow into all that God wants us to be.

God also wants us to see that His plan for the church is for it be catholic in the original sense of the word – not meaning Roman Catholic – but instead universal, a way to describe the gathering of Christians anywhere in the world.

Catholic = Universal

As Jesus was preparing to go back to heaven – He prayed for Christians to be united and growing together in one heart and one mind.

John 17:20-21 (NLT/MSG)    Jesus said, I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in Me through their witness for Me.  I pray that they will all be united and grow in one heart and one mind

We can obviously see that Christians have a lot of different viewpoints and disagreements.  Yet, John Wesley encouraged Methodists to focus on 2 things to try to build unity among Christians.  First, John Wesley emphasized that every good Methodist is always a good Christian first.  Jesus comes first, denominations come second.

John Wesley also tried to get Christians to work together by encouraging them to work through disagreements as constructively as possible“In essentials, unity.  In non-essentials, liberty.  And in all things, charity [love].

We all know that figuring out how to work together as Christians is not easy.  So I want to take a minute and ask, What do people mean when they say the catholic church?  Most people assume that you are talking about the Roman Catholic denomination.  But that is not what the Bible means when it teaches us about the catholic church.

The word catholic actually comes from 2 words in Greek: Kata Holos = exists everywhere.  The original idea was that the catholic church – is the gathering of Christians everywhere.  That idea worked for about 1,000 years.

But about 1,000 years after the Bible was written the word Catholic was taken over as what I would call a “brand name” in the year 1054.  In that big dividing year, the Western Christian leaders decided they were going to call themselves the Catholic Church, claiming they were the only real universal church.  In the East – Christian leaders decided to call themselves the Orthodox church – with the clear idea that everyone else was unorthodox.

Figuring out how the church is supposed to be catholic – universal, got even more complicated about 500 years later – when Martin Luther launched the Protestant Reformation by posting his 95 theses, points of debate on the door of the Wittenberg church on October, 31 1517.  Martin Luther was sure that once everyone could read the Bible for themselves in their own language – that common sense would prevail and Christians would understand each other, agree with each other, and come back together.  Martin Luther had a lot of good ideas – but he completely missed it on being able to bring Christians back together in one universal church.  500 years after Martin Luther, there are now over 32,000 protestant denominations.

But the Bible doesn’t give up hope.  Even though we may wrestle with lots of denominations.  The Bible reminds us that there is one key principle that should help to figure out if a church is really part of the catholic, universal church that Jesus prayed for – by asking Do they emphasize that they are God’s servants working together with the same purpose – to do our best to share the Good News of Jesus? 

1 Corinthians 3:4-8 (NLT/MSG)    When one of you says, “I am a follower of Paul,” and another says, “I follow Apollos,” you are dividing the church.  After all, who is Apollos?  Who is Paul?  We aren’t here to cause divisions or quarrels.  We are God’s servants working together with the same purpose – to do our best to share the Good News of Jesus 

God wants to help you understand that the church is called to be holy – not because we are perfect – but because this is a gathering of people that is set apart to help people learn about Jesus and help them to grow into the potential that Jesus has for them.  The church is catholic – universal – when it focuses on building the unity of love Jesus wants and that it sees itself as a gathering of God’s servants who are working together to do their best to share the Good News of Jesus.  God also wants to help us see that the church is the ecclesia – a gathering of people who are called out of the darkness into the light of Jesus.

Church =  ECCLESIA  =  CALLED  OUT

In the 21st century – we are facing a lot of darkness, problems – aren’t we?  School Shootings, Drug Crisis, Racism, Terrorism.  We definitely have a lot of darkness or problems to deal with.  We need to face the problems of our day and to remember that every generation has had serious problems or battles with darkness.  When the Bible was written they had problems with Roman Oppression – the Romans didn’t hesitate to put Jesus or thousands of other people on crosses to make sure they never forgot who was in charge, Slavery, Sexual Immorality, never ending wars.

The Bible wants us to remember that the church exists to help people of every generation find a way out of the darkness of their problems into the light of God’s solutions.

1 Peter 2:9-10 (NLT/LB)    You are a chosen people.  …God called you out of the darkness into His wonderful light — so that you could share the light of Jesus with others.  Once you did not belong; now you are all members of God’s family. 

For me, it has been very exciting to see our church growing in its vision for being God’s partners in helping people to come out of the darkness into God’s wonderful light.  We are finding new ways to help people see that God wants to lead them out of their problems and into His family.  It is great to see our church reaching out through the Evangelism team to share Jesus’ love at Community Dinners serving over 1,000 people, going to the Jail to lead Bible studies, offering Recovery and Caring ministries to help people rebuild their lives.  To see the Missions Team – leading us in working with Canandaigua Churches in Action, sponsoring children in Nicaragua who would otherwise not have gotten an education.  To see our Worship Team work on ministries like the Live Nativity and Living Last Supper.  The list goes on a lot longer of ways that our church has been growing in its vision to be God’s partners in calling people out of the darkness into the light of Jesus’ love and making it clear that everyone is welcome in God’s family.

One of the most important ways I think we have been growing in helping to call people out of the darkness into the light of God’s family – is by also growing in our understanding that the Church is called to be the Body of Christ.  Which means that we look beyond our surface judgments of other people – and understand that we really do need each other.

The  BODY  of  CHRIST

The Bible has an incredibly powerful picture to help us figure out how God wants us to value each person in God’s family – by reminding us that just as every part of our bodies is important, so every person in the church is important.

We all have parts of our bodies that we like more than others.  For myself, I will admit to you that I am not a great fan of my nose.  My nose is bigger than I would like for it to be and it clogs up all the time from allergies.  However, even though my nose isn’t my favorite part of my body – I’m not going to cut it off.  I realize that I need my nose – so I keep working with it to make it the best I can.

The same thing is true in the church.  We all have people that we like more than others.  However, that doesn’t excuse us to cut people off from the church that we don’t like.  Even though it is easy for us to make a list of people we don’t like.  God challenges us to throw away our list – and focus on God’s truth that we need to concentrate on figuring out how to work together.  Even though we may not be able to see it – God says we need each other.

Romans 12:4-5 (MSG/NLT)    The Body of Christ is like the various parts of a human body.  …Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of the body.  We know that a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe wouldn’t amount to much.  Healthy bodies need each part to work together.  So it is with Christ’s body.  We are many parts of one body and we all need each other! 

Every person who God brings into our church is important.  From the youngest to the oldest.  From the poorest to the richest.  From the strongest to the weakest.  We don’t have to always like each other – just like I don’t always like my nose.  But we do always have to remember that like it or not – we need each other and to stay healthy we have to concentrate on finding God’s grace to work together.

The last picture of the church we are going to study this morning from the Apostles’ Creed – is the Communion of Saints.

The  COMMUNION  of  SAINTS

The Communion of Saints – means the coming together as God’s community.  It encourages us to think about why is it important to take time to come together to study and help each other to grow in love and doing good.

We all know that church attendance has been declining dramatically over the last 50 years.  There are lots of reasons why people have stopped coming to church – probably the biggest one is that they don’t think there is enough value there.  People go to places where they think they will find the most value.

But is the judgment of society right?  Have people found greater value by sleeping in, going to sports activities, or just relaxing?  As you evaluate where to find the best value for your time – which both I and the Bible highly recommend – consider carefully what has happened to Marriages, to Families, to Society as a whole as church attendance has declined?  Are marriages stronger?  Families happier?  Society safer and healthier?

Going to church does require time and effort – and the Bible shows us that it is worth it for us and our society – to help each other grow in love and doing good.

Hebrews 10:24-25 (NCV)    Let us pray for each other and help each other to grow in love and doing good.  We should not avoid church meetings, as some are doing, but you should encourage and strengthen each other.

I know that I have given you a lot of pictures to think about – to try to help you understand what God’s plan is for the Church to be Holy and Catholic.  I don’t want to overwhelm you, but there is one last picture I would like to share with you to help you contemplate how big the Communion of Saints really is by looking at the Bible’s picture that the Communion of Saints includes all of the Christians who have gone before us and are now praying for us in heaven.

Hebrews 12:1-2 (TLB)    We have a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith watching over us and praying for us in heaven.  So let us run with patience and perseverance the race God has set before us — by keeping our eyes on Jesus!  

God wants to help you see in your mind some of the Christians you know who have gone before you and are now in heaven.  I think about my grandparents and all of the love and encouragement that they gave me while they were here on earth.  And now God wants me and you to be able to see that those saints who loved you are now in heaven watching over you and praying for you.

The ultimate goal of the church – is to work together – to help everyone run the race God has for us and to reach the finish line as winners by helping each other to keep our eyes on Jesus. 

 

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