Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Church

On November 1, we celebrate All Saints Day. This is a day for those of us in the Church to celebrate the lives of saints living and ones who came before us. They are the "great cloud of witnesses" mentioned in the letter of Hebrews. They are the early church fathers. They are martyrs of the faith. They are the pastors, Sunday school leaders, youth and children's ministry directors, grandparents, and friends who are faithful to Christ.

This celebration was a favorite of John Wesley and one he "peculiarly loved".  It is a time we recognize and give thanks for the body of Christ which is His Church.

Now, we live in a day in which society, even some who call themselves Christians, have a low or negative view of the church. You might have even heard some say you don't need the church to be a Christian. This view is contrary to scripture and apostolic tradition.

So what is so special about the church? I will answer the question from the historic Nicene Creed. This was a statement of faith of the early church that distinguished the apostles teaching's handed down to the body of Christ from heresies. The confession of this creed states, "And I believe in One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church."

First, the Church is One. Ephesians 4:4-6 says, "There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." Jesus Christ has one Bride, not many. He loves her and gave Himself for her. He will never divorce her and is always faithful to her. 

Second, the Church is Holy. Ephesians 5:26-27 says, "26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish." Christ Jesus is actively sanctifying His Body. She will be perfected in love. Holiness is not an option for the Church. She is forever set apart for God. 

Third, the Church is Catholic. This might unnerve some of you. However, another term that can be used for catholic is universal. The Church consists of people of all languages, races, and geographical locations. Galatians 3:28 says, "28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave[g] nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." At one time, God's people were considered to be of one national race. Since Christ has come, salvation has come to all people of every nation, tribe, and tongue. 

Lastly, the Church is Apostolic. Within the Church can be found the teachings of the apostles. Jude says, "Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." There is no new revelation concerning Jesus Christ and the message of salvation. Ephesians 2:20 tells us the body of Christ is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus being the chief cornerstone. 

What do some of our early church fathers, who we celebrate on All Saints Day, say about the church?
Saint Irenaeus (died A.D. 202):
“[The Church] is the entrance to life; all others are thieves and robbers. On this account we are bound to avoid them… We hear it declared of the unbelieving and the blinded of this world that they shall not inherit the world of life which is to come… Resist them in defense of the only true and life giving faith, which the Church has received from the Apostles and imparted to her sons.” (Against Heresies , Book III)
Origen (died A.D. 254):
“Let no man deceive himself. Outside this house, that is, outside the Church no one is saved.” (In Iesu Nave homiliae )
Saint Cyprian (died A.D. 258):
“He who has turned his back on the Church of Christ shall not come to the rewards of Christ; he is an alien, a worldling, an enemy. You cannot have God for your Father if you have not the Church for your mother. Our Lord warns us when He says: `he that is not with Me is against Me, and he that gathereth not with Me scattereth.’ Whosoever breaks the peace and harmony of Christ acts against Christ; whoever gathers elsewhere than in the Church scatters the Church of Christ.” (Unity of the Catholic Church )
“He who does not hold this unity, does not hold the law of God, does not hold the faith of the Father and the Son, does not hold life and salvation.” (Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Latina , Father Migne)
“Nay, though they should suffer death for the confession of the Name, the guilt of such men is not removed even by their blood…No martyr can he be who is not in the Church.” (Ancient Christian Writers )

Martin Luther said, "Therefore he who would find Christ must first find the Church. How should we know where Christ and his faith were, if we did not know where his believers are? And he who would know anything of Christ must not trust himself nor build a bridge to heaven by his own reason; but he must go to the Church, attend and ask her. Now the Church is not wood and stone, but the company of believing people; one must hold to them, and see how they believe, live and teach; they surely have Christ in their midst. For outside of the Christian church there is no truth, no Christ, no salvation."

Perhaps today we have too low a view of the Church. Instead of criticizing the Bride of Jesus Christ, maybe we should be more reverent of her. Maybe why you no longer sense the Lord's blessing on your life is because you are cursing His very Body? The apostle Paul thought he was terrorizing a sect of people. Instead he found he was persecuting Christ Jesus Himself. He quickly repented. If we are guilty of having a low view of the Church or criticizing her, let's repent quickly like Paul. 

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