This morning as we recited the Apostle’s Creed we had two statements regarding the church. The first was, “We believe in the holy catholic church.” The second was, “We believe in the communion of saints.” We want to take a closer look at these two statements.
Let me ask you, “Do you believe in the church?” Let me share with you a study that was done recently by the Barna group. In a recent survey 76 million Americans said they did not attend church, however, half of that number claimed they were Christian. Is it possible to be and Christian and not attend church. Let’s look a bit further into the survey. Although unchurched, 77 percent say they are either absolutely or moderately committed to the Christian faith and millions of them engage in spiritual activity during a typical week. Nearly two-thirds pray to God, one-fifth read from the Bible, and five percent participate in a small group for Bible study, prayer or Christian fellowship.
It would appear that Americans believe that it is possible to be a Christian and not go to church. Let’s look at a few more of their comments. Among the adults disassociated with a conventional church, 66 percent agree that their religious faith is very important in their life today, 50 percent agree that the Bible is totally accurate in all of the principles it teaches, 51 percent believe that Jesus Christ sinned while he lived on earth, 61 percent say their single, most important purpose in life is to love God with all their heart, mind, strength and soul, 55 percent argue that they are totally committed to having a deeper relationship with God and will do whatever it takes to get and maintain that relationship, and 66 percent say they are completely committed to making the world, and other people’s lives, better.
So just as we said last week that some of us are determined to be a Christian without the work of the Holy Spirit, it appears many in America today intend to be Christian outside the church.
I wonder why? But on the other hand, it doesn’t take too much thinking to see why people are dissatisfied with the church. What are a few examples?
- Some feel that that have placed all their life in the church; their time, talent and treasure, and after serving the church all of that the church is changing right before their very eyes. It’s not at all the church they had worked and sacrificed for. Things are done differently than they used to be done. Sometimes to them it feels like nobody cares, especially the pastor…they keep right on ahead. They feel disenfranchised.
- Some feel downright rejected by the church. Suppose a young man walked into our church this morning with tattoos and various body piercings. What would your first thought be? It might be look at him, he sure doesn’t belong here. Our first tendency is to judge. There is a commercial recently that shows a woman with a young child who starts crying during the service. The commercial cuts to a picture a man pushing a large red button and immediately the pew ejects the woman and her child. Another part of the commercial shows a man with a disability being ejected. There are those who come into our church who aren’t at all like us. Sometimes we’re quick to judge. Believe me, when we judge our thoughts become very loud and those who are uncomfortable with church already, don’t like everyone staring at them and making judgments. They feel rejected by the church.
- Some have been hurt by the church. While we lived in New York the clergy sexual abuse scandal broke out in the Roman Catholic Church. Several clergy were removed, including a priest from our local area and a bishop in the diocese of Albany. Many who are hurt in this way place more faith in our court system and lawyers than in pastors and the church.
- Some don’t believe in the church because of the way it behaves. They make call it hypocritical. Two weeks ago, I quoted John Lennon saying, “Jesus is alright, but it his disciples twisting it ruins it for me.” They church doesn’t always behave they way it’s suppose to behave. Sometimes this is because of the pastor, sometimes because of the laypeople and sometimes, it’s a combination of both.
People have many reasons for not believing the church. Some are of the church’s on making and some we have had no control over. In spite of all of that, the church is still something to believe in. Let’s go to Matthew’s gospel, in a passage that we look at while determining the divinity of Jesus; Matthew 16:15-20.
15“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
16Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
17Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. 18And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. 19I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” 20Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ.
Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter quickly replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” It is this that Jesus now declares is the rock on which he will build his church. The church is built on the foundation of Jesus Christ. Christ is the head of the church. Paul tells us, “22And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” We need to remember this, that Christ is the head of the church; not the pastor, or the board, or the laypeople for that matter. The head of the Church is Christ. The church is not here for us. The church is not here for me. The church is not here for you, but the church is here because of Jesus Christ. The church is the kingdom of heaven here on earth. We do not work to establish our own kingdom on planet earth, but Christ’s kingdom.
Perhaps this is why some have difficulty with the church. Many times they will see competing factions even among a small group of believers and they cannot understand why people who are suppose to love each other can’t get along. On a larger scale, many see the fact that there are so many denominations as being proof that the church can’t get along. In some ways they are right. The Creed declares that we believe in the holy catholic church.
There are two adjectives in this statement. One is holy. The church is separate. The church is called out. We are called to be his holy church. Let’s look at what Paul says, “19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, 20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” We together as believers are to be a place where God dwells, because God dwells within the believer through the Holy Spirit. We have been learning as we are reading in the Old Testament that God is a holy God and he demands his people to be holy as well.
The second adjective is catholic. Immediately when we say the word catholic most people associate it with the Roman Catholic Church. But the word catholic (with a small c) means universal. Some will teach that because there are many denominations the body of Christ has been become fractured, but I say just as there are many families in the human race, there are many denominations in the church. Part of the reason for this series is to see not what makes us different from other denominations as some like to do, but to see what unites us as the body of Christ. These core values that we have be reciting each week are believed by Christians all around the world in many different denominations. They are the core of our faith. This is a church worth believing in.
The second statement that is made in the Apostle’s Creed is that we believe in the communion of the saints. Now you have probably all heard this lame joke before, but the saints that the Creed is referring to does not mean the New Orleans Saints. Many times when we think of the word saint we think of an elderly person who has walked with the Lord for many years. We think saints have to earn it. Sometimes we think a person is a saint if they have to put up with someone year after year. Like I’ve said, Pam must be a saint since she puts up with me. But that is not what a saint is. I looked the word up in a Bible dictionary and came up with this. Saint — one separated from the world and consecrated to God; one holy by profession and by covenant; a believer in Christ. Listen to what Paul writes in Romans 1:7, “To all in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.”
By that definition all who are “in Christ” are saints. What does communion mean? Let’s take a look. Communion is fellowship with God, between Christ and his people, by the Spirit, of believers with one another. The Lord’s Supper is so called because in it there is fellowship between Christ and his disciples, and of the disciples with one another.
So, the communion of the saints is those who are in Christ in fellowship with God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit and with other believers. Notice that the whole Trinity is involved. So are all the other believers. As we take a look at this we are reminded that we cannot be lone ranger Christians. Remember one of the first questions I ask you? Can you be a Christian outside of the Church? It appears that many believe you can. But if we take a careful look at the scriptures we will find that we can’t. Hebrews 10 tells us, “19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”
Part of the communion of the saints involves spurring one another onto love and good deeds and not give up meeting together. When you are here on Sunday morning it encourages each one of us. There is a common saying that no man is an island. This becomes true in the life of a believer. We cannot be a lone ranger Christian. We need each other. A church worth believing in needs communion of the saints.
Recently I came across an article on the United Methodist Church. They are concerned with the “graying” of their congregations and how to reverse the trend.
The Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, said, “We are producing a generation of religious consumers who are always looking at what the Lord can do for them, instead of committed disciples who ask what is it that we can do for the Lord,” Gordon continues by saying the most empowering tool the church can use is living by the gospel of Christ.
“In order to make disciples … we must capture the minds, hearts, trust and respect of people,” he said. “The task of evangelism and discipleship is to make the liberating power of the gospel of Christ become real in word and deed.”
In that light, Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, Director of the Board of Discipleship for the Methodist Church, called on church attendants to return to the basics of the Christian faith – prayer, Bible study, fasting, participation in worship and the sacraments, doing good and doing no harm – the essential work of spiritual formation. Our task of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is not a small task. It is a worldwide task, and it needs urgent attention.”