Catholicity of the Church

We believe in the catholic church.

This is what we confess on a regular basis in our worship services when we read together the historic creeds, such as the Nicene and Apostolic. Perhaps you’ve never thought that much about those words; or, maybe, you’ve recited the words but with a bewilderment or confusion, “…but aren’t we presbyterian? Shouldn’t it be, ‘I believe in the one, true orthodox presbyterian church?’”

Admittedly, the language can be confusing because of how we tend to use the term ‘catholic’. When we were in Rhode Island, we saw plenty of Catholic churches in the sense that they belonged to the church which is organized beneath the oversight of the Pope in Rome. This body of churches claims 1.3 billion adherents globally. It was in part because of grave doctrinal deviations in this church that the Reformation happened in the 16th century.

Our confession of the catholic church does not have to do with this organization; rather, rooted in the meaning of the word—catholic meaning ‘universal’—we are confessing that the church of Jesus Christ is not some provincial entity. The church does not belong to any one country or people group.

We make this confession a matter of faith because we cannot see it. Not in its full sense at least. But I wonder if you have ever tasted the catholicity of the church? I mean, gotten a glimpse or an experience of the reality that the people whom God is gathering to himself is bigger and more wonderful than your little corner of the world?

This was one source of encouragement to me and Suzanne while we were on sabbatical. Though Providence had previously been noted as one of the most godless cities in America, we were able to attend four Bible-believing churches. The churches were different ages and different denominations. Their worship services, though similar in a lot of ways, were also different in many others (one, for example, only sang psalms).

We also had the chance to meet with other believers outside of the Sunday gathering. One evening I spent at a local restaurant with a dozen men in their 20’s, many of whom had come to a saving faith in Christ in the last five years through local ministries. We were invited to several believers’ homes for dinner and would exchange stories about how God had made us followers of His Son. We had people pray for us and for you—our church family back in Grand Rapids.

Throughout my life, God has given me the chance to spend extended periods of time in a variety of places, and I have marveled in each place how in the church of Jesus Christ we are never truly strangers to one another. Not in the deepest, most meaningful sense. In Providence, we were able to meet other Christians and though we knew nothing else about them we could stand in the pew shoulder-to-shoulder and confess together our one Lord whom we have come to know through the same Holy Spirit. We shared a bond in the waters of baptism. We shared one bread and one cup in the Lord’s Supper. We belonged to the one household of God, the church. In that sense, we knew the most profound and fundamental thing about another: that together we belonged to our elder brother, Jesus.

It’s an awesome reality to experience! And it’s a good reminder to us as we approach Sunday, that we are participants in a story that is much larger and grander than our corner of the world. From every corner of the earth, God, in His Son and by the Spirit, is constructing a beautiful edifice, a household, in which He has said His glory shall dwell (1 Timothy 3:15; 2 Corinthians 6:15-7:1)! Come, be reminded of that on Sunday as God gathers us as his people, and marvel!



What I’ve Read Recently

From Adam and Israel to the Church: A Biblical Theology of the People of God by Gladd, Benjamin L.

Speaking of the church, Benjamin Gladd’s book--the first of this series—was a helpful, introductory resource looking at the themes of the image of God and the people of God in Scripture. Gladd (a former dispensationalist) and he shows in a clear way the unity of God’s plan from Genesis to Revelation to gather one people for Himself. You can also see him interviewed here.

Bunker Hill: A City, A Siege, A Revolution by Philbrick, Nathaniel

I picked this book up on sabbatical in anticipation of visiting Boston to learn more about the city and its role in the American Revolution.

Lord Edgware Dies and Death in the Skies by Christie, Agatha

Both books were light, easy reads that were good to read over the summer. 

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