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A few months ago, I was talking with someone who was interested in our church and she asked me if we had a website that she could look at. I sent her the link and a while later, she came back to me with the response, I see you are affiliated with the Catholic Church, I never knew that about Baptists. I didn’t either, I told her. I can only assume that she made this connection because on our website, under, What We Believe, we have the Apostle’s Creed up. And we have the line that we are looking at this morning I Believe in the holy catholic Church and the communion of saints. So, this morning, we’re going to look at just how Catholic we are.
We tend to use the word catholic as synonymous with the Roman Catholic Church, as opposed to the Orthodox Church or the Protestant Church. The word catholic simply means universal. When we say that we believe in the holy catholic Church we are saying that we believe God’s chosen instrument to spread his love and do his work on earth is the Church. The holy catholic Church is the visible sign of the presence of the Spirit in the world. As we affirm our belief in the holy catholic Church, we are saying that Christ’s work in the world isn’t only being done by Blythwood Road Baptist Church, or by the Canadian Baptists of Ontario and Quebec, or by Protestants. We are recognizing that the Church has many different expressions. The universal Church is defined by those who adhere to the primary beliefs that are outlined in the Apostles’ Creed – You have to believe in God the Father, Son and Spirit, in the virgin birth and crucifixion and resurrection, the holy Catholic Church and the communion of Saints, in forgiveness and the resurrection of the body and in life everlasting. A body of people who believe in these truths, can call themselves part of the Church. From there, they can go on to have theological differences in what you might call, secondary theological issues, on things like how to baptize people and who can participate in communion. We recognize that there is room for differing beliefs in the body of Christ but that these differences shouldn’t detract from our purpose or from our unity.
We also recognize that part of being a Christian is belonging to a body of believers. Cyprian of Carthage who is a Christian writer from the third century, wrote “No one can have God as his father who does not have the church for his mother”. The Church is not just the expression of God redemption of Earth, it is how God has chosen to encourage, equip and edify his people. The Church is not just for people who are out there, it’s for the people who are in here too. This morning we’re going to look at what it means to believe in a holy catholic church and in the communion of the saints.
The Church is One
In stating that we believe in the holy catholic Church, we are making three statements about the Church – it is holy, it is universal, and it is One. This last statement might be the hardest one to wrap our heads around – that the Church is One. All you have to do is take a walk over to Yonge St. and you will see several different churches, barely a stone’s throw away from each other. It’s hard to say how many Protestant denominations exist today. I heard once that the Protestant reflex is to split when there is a disagreement – sometimes that has been a good thing but not always. The unity of the One catholic Church is a spiritual unity and not an institutional one. There was a time when I was in Seminary would have told you that I was non-denominational believing of course, that that was the most holy way to be. I saw denominations as divisive. I had grown up in a congregational church which ended up splitting due to theological differences. I then attended a Presbyterian church throughout high school, a Pentecostal church throughout university and landed in a Fellowship Baptist Church while I attended seminary. I remember speaking with my roommate at the time about my non-commitment to any one denomination. She was a pastor and her response was one I had never heard before. She said that seeing all of these different denominations showed her that there is diversity within God and that she saw it as something beautiful. What a gift of God that we can hold our convictions deeply and have the freedom to do so while still maintain our unity.
These divisions didn’t always happen peacefully of course. When the Protestant church was breaking off from the Roman Catholic Church, there was a lot of blood from both sides. That’s one of the reasons Baptists formed as a denomination because they believed that people should be free to choose what they believe and to choose how they worship. So, I now say that I am a Baptist realizing that is as holy as it gets. Before we get to holiness though, it is important to note that despite all the ways we find to disagree with each other, we are still bound together by the Holy Spirit. The Spirit that gives us unity beyond what we can create on our own. You’ll notice in the text though that verse three says we are to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit. Even though it is given to us, this unity is something we have to work at. We have to nurture it and cultivate it and struggle for it. This is how the Church remains as One.
The Church is Universal
Not only does the word catholic mean that the Church is one, but it also means the Church is universal. The Church exists for all people in all places in all times, it is the work of the church to gather people into the fold. Because of this mandate, the Church should be the most inclusive community that exists. It is the only community that consists of members that are both living and dead. But it is also the only place where the most significant part of our identity is not who are but whose we are. There is no place for divisions in the family of God we should be doing everything we can to bring about unity.
I spent some time in the southern States in 2018 and saw firsthand the segregation that exists in the Church there. It was evident in terms of where people lived, but it was also evident in the churches there. Later, I was reading an article about it in which a prominent Christian leader offered that these segregated churches needed to have an exchange of members and give their best to each other. This struck me as a rather odd thing to say, to talk about the transaction of people, but I think what this person was getting at is that addressing divisions the Church might require us to leave what is familiar and comfortable to step into unknown territory. The Church doesn’t belong to one group of people. The point of the gospel is that it is for all people and we saw in Acts the spread of the gospel to different races and nationalities and to the ends of the earth. We aren’t just members of our own congregation; we are members of the global Church just like our friends at Faith Bible Chapel in Misstissini are part of the global Church and our friends at Villa Galindo in Bolivia are part of the global Church. The Church is a diverse and an inclusive community and if we don’t see that at the local level, then we are doing something wrong.
Diversity and inclusion are two things that require deliberate attention and cultivation. And this might be a place where the Church needs to play some catch up. It’s not enough to say that we welcome everyone and wait with open doors because often it’s the unspoken language of a culture that presents a barrier to those outside of it. That barrier might be the way people dress or the language they use or the way a service is structured. If you’ve ever been to a church service in a different language or if you’ve ever lived with a disability, then you know that barriers to worship can often be invisible ones. It’s important that every church asks themselves if they have visible representation from the community in which they serve and if the answer is no, then the next question should be, how can we change that? We need diversity in the Church, because god calls diverse people to do his work. Looking at the Bible, we see that God calls men, women, children, Jews, Gentiles, married, single, eunuchs, princes, shepherds, midwives, queens, fishermen and fabric dealers. By calling people of all kinds and colours, God reveals himself to us because the human experience is deep and wide and only when we put these pieces together do have a fuller and more authentic picture of the image of God. Only when we have all the different parts of the body, are we functioning as we should be, as the holy bride of Christ.
The Church is Holy
Which brings us the other descriptor the Creed gives us of the Church. Holy. The Church is Holy because she has been set apart specifically for God’s purposes. God has chosen his bride to be his representative on earth. I find that people often have trouble taking ownership of this word holy. It’s important that we don’t think of the word “holy” as synonymous with “perfect”. The Church isn’t called to be perfect, we are called to be holy. In Ephesians we are instructed to live a life worthy of our calling. We are to be humble and gentle and patient with each others’ faults. That’s is holiness. When we say that believers are holy, we are not making a statement about morality. We should definitely see a higher standard of morality in the Church, but we are not holy because we are moral, rather we are moral because we are holy. We act in a certain way because we have been called out of darkness into the marvelous light of Christ.
When I think of being set apart, I think about my shoes. Not just any shoes, but my pointe shoes. These shoes mean a lot to me. I have many different pairs of shoes and even other pairs of dance shoes, but these shoes are set apart for a specific purpose. These were created specifically so that I can dance up on my toes or on pointe. Because of that, I don’t wear them to buy groceries or to go for a walk, I wear them for dancing. There is no other shoe that was created both to connect me to the ground and at the same time to lift me up off of it. When I bought them, they were beautiful, but as I started to use them, that beauty became worn. You pretty much start beating up pointe shoes the moment they are yours. You pierce the silk by sew ribbons into it. You bend the shank so it forms to the arch of your foot. You might even take razors to the end of the shoe to get more friction. I like to take mine and hit them against a concrete floor or wall to soften the canvas block. I don’t treat any of my other shoes like they but that’s because none of them serve the same purpose. My pointe shoes have known suffering and sweat and maybe even a little blood. And while the beauty of the shoe may fade the more it is used, that beauty is transferred upward, into the dancer and into the dance. These shoes are made not for their own beauty, but because they reveal the beauty of the dancer.
We are set apart to reveal the beauty of God. He is making us into his bride; trading beauty for ashes, freeing us of all our guilt and ridding us of our shame so that we can reflect the holiness of God. And that holiness isn’t about us, but it’s about showing the world who God is and what he has done and what he is doing.
Communion of the Saints
We’ve been talking about the universal Church and now we’re going to spend a few moments looking at the people who make up the Church. If you have trouble with the word holy then I know you are going to have trouble with the word saint, but that is how the Bible describes us, as saints. A saint is someone who is called out to be holy. A saint is someone who is part of the Church. Here at Blythwood we have our little saints, we have saints who have gone on to glory, we have saints who run the slides on a Sunday morning, saints who play on the worship team, saints who make food and clean up after events, we have all sorts of saints here. Maybe you’re thinking I’m no saint. Would it make you feel better if I told you that you being a saint has very little to do with you and a lot to do with Christ? In Ephesians 4:11-12, we read about the gifts that Christ gives to his people; some are apostles, some are prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers. These gifts are given to equip us, the saints, for the work of ministry and for building up the body of Christ. Maybe you’ve heard it said before that God doesn’t call the equipped, he equips the called. That means that God, by his Spirit, gives us what we need to build up the body of Christ. We don’t have to come to the table fully prepared. We just have to come with a humble heart and a commitment to speak the truth and to love.
It is very much a part of Church theology and practice to set people apart for a specific task or ministry. In a few moments, we’re going to be commissioning our deacons. We are going to set them apart for the ministry of serving this fellowship of saints that we call Blythwood Road Baptist Church. They are committing to care for you and lead you and to be good stewards of the resources that we have been given. And you are committing to trust them and to pray for them and to help them in whatever way you can. We are committing to each other, not knowing what they future holds, but trusting that God will equip our leaders for the tasks ahead. They stand in a long line of saints who have stepped out in faith to serve the body of Christ. Commissioning is an act of worship as we recognize our part in God’s redemptive purpose and say yes to his will. They stand in a long line of saints who have stepped out in faith to serve the body of the Christ. As they are commissioned may we all be reminded that we are set apart to reveal the beauty of God and to participate in his redemptive work.