Only Christians Here
Only Christians Here (Apostles’ Creed #10)
We’ve been talking about the Apostles’ Creed for 10 weeks now... 2½ months of Sundays dedicated to taking a closer look at what we profess to believe.
And today, we come to the phrase: We believe in the holy catholic church, [and the] communion of saints.
Have you ever lived in a dorm room or... maybe barracks? Or some other space where you had to share a bathroom with many other people... shared sleeping space... and living space with others? Communal living, as it’s often termed.
Of course, for many, such arrangements are desirable. People tend to seek out others (room-mates) to help cover the costs, the expense associated with simply living in this ever increasingly expensive world that we find ourselves living in.
Of course, dorm rooms are not what they used to be… At least the ones I’ve toured are completely different than they were back in my day. Nowadays the trend and standard in dorms is to live in a suite… Four bedrooms, connected by a shared, central living space a shared kitchen… but private baths! Back when I was coming along a dorm room consisted of two beds and two desks... and barely enough space to store a few clothes. And the bathroom… well... that was located down the hall and shared by everyone who lived on the hall. So a lot has changed over the years, for sure...
But one thing that hasn’t changed, is that dorm life, or communal style living, tends to lend it self to building friendships… Forging relationships, that last lifetime.
The Koreans who have made our area home since the founding of the KIA automotive plant here in West Point, use the communal concept a lot when it comes to living relationships in their community. They’ll buy a large house with 3/4 bedrooms or so and 4 to 8 people will live in that house, they’ll share expenses… pay rent for there room or bed... and when their assignment is up here in Georgia, they pack up their clothes and they’re done - and the next person moves in. It’s an attractive way for many to live and meet the costs of living. It’s a way for them to remain connected to their culture and community...
It’s really nothing new. There has always been a great hunger and need for community, and for connection. That’s why things like bowling leagues, civic clubs, churches and other community minded organizations, flourished at a time in this country. Everyone has a need, or a sense of longing for connection.
We talked in Sunday school just last week about how several things have come along that have damaged that sense of community, that sense of connection. One of the things that some experts have pointed to over the last decades... is the invention of Air Conditioning.
As air-conditioning became more and more popular, people moved from the front porch (where they could easily see their neighbors and escape the heat of the house) to the inside, where they no longer saw their neighbors on (a regular basis, at least), and they could escape the heat of the outdoors!
Of course, today we have TV... the internet... video games... Facebook. Such things are intended to enrich our lives, but in many ways they’ve diminished our living.
Again, a lot has changed over the decades.
But one thing that will not change, is the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ is still called to be a place of community… a communion of saints (in other words, a fellowship of Christ followers). The Church fosters a sense of connection and belonging… where we all contribute in some way, shape, form, or fashion, to something that’s much larger, much grander than ourselves - that something being the Kingdom of God.
The church is called to be a reflection of our belonging to that Kingdom!
And so when we say we believe in the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints… We’re making reference to our belonging. We belong to Christ, and to one another...
Of course, I know… I’ve heard it, time and time again. Some people don’t like that whole “Catholic” thing in the Apostles’ Creed. After all, the fact of the matter is, we’re Presbyterians! We’re not Catholics, right?
But the word “catholic” with a lowercase “c” is an old hold-over from the days when Latin was the main language of the church. And the word catholic simply means universal.
So, when we recite the Apostles’ Creed, and profess that we believe in the holy catholic church… What we’re saying is we believe in the one, true, universal church. The church that transcends any and all denominational lines and affiliations.
The story has been remembered in slightly different ways, depending on who’s telling it... but the Evangelist George Whitfield (who was instrumental in the Great Awakening) would often share the story in his evangelistic services, about how... “In a dream, he (or someone else) was ushered to the gates of Hell. There he asked, “Are there any Presbyterians here?” “Yes!”, came the answer. Then he asked, “Are there any Baptists? Any Episcopalians? Any Methodists?” The answer was “Yes!” each time. Much distressed, [Whitfield] was then ushered to the gates of Heaven. There he asked the same question, “Are there any Presbyterians here; any Baptists; any Episcopalians; any Methodists?” and the answer was NO! “No?” To this, [Whitfield] asked, “Who then is inside?” The answer came back, “There are only Christians here.”
There are only Christians in the holy catholic church, too. Call yourself whatever you like, but only those who’ve received Christ’s gracious offer of salvation can be part of the universal church.
The sad fact is there have always been those who didn’t (or don’t) fully appreciate the nature of the church. Instead of seeing the church, understanding the church as God’s Word defines it... Some see the church as little more than a political action committee - that serves to promote and foster one political persuasion over another. Others see the church as a type of welfare provider, or social services organization - that for all intents and purposes only exists to pay utility bills and maintain food pantries. And others... many others... view the church as a kind of club, or civic group, that hosts tea parties and wedding receptions, and not much else.
That’s not to say the church shouldn’t have a voice in the political arena... it should. And I’m certainly not saying the church shouldn’t be concerned with helping people... or providing fellowship opportunities.
But the main purpose of the church - is to gather believers around God’s Word (for teaching and instruction) as we pursue Christ’s will for our lives, through communion, prayer, worship... which culminate in service. Our scripture for today tells us, “They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” and they gave “to anyone who had need.”
Of course, the natural out-flow (if you will) of communion, prayer and worship - is service. Caring for one another - and giving of our time, talent and treasure - in a effort to make sure that our brothers and sisters have enough.
Which begs the question: are we truly living-out what we profess to believe? Can we even imagine what our church would look like... what our community would look like... if we did live-out our belief!
Are we living-into the calling of Christ... to be the church he has called us to be. A church that pursues the Word of God... that shares with our brothers and sisters... as we build-up a community of faith that worships, and prays... and fellowships together?
I believe in that universal church... I believe in that communion of saints.
And together, we’re making that belief a tangible, living, breathing reality... through the power and grace, of Christ.