Friday, August 29, 2008

What is the Church...Catholic???

This month, we pick back up with our discussion of the marks of the, holy, catholic, and apostolic. So what does it mean to be catholic? Ever wonder why we say that in the Apostles' Creed? Why we claim to be “one holy catholic” church? Well, for starters, the word means something beyond Roman Catholic. The word catholic actually means “universal,” such that when we claim to belong to a catholic church, we are saying that we belong to something larger than Methodism...we belong to a world-wide movement. One that is bigger than our denominations. Even when we divide, we are called to be Universal.

When colonial missionaries went out to the New World, they often brought with them more than Christianity. Many of them mistakenly thought that in order to convert the “savages” (who were a LOT more sophisticated than the Europeans realized), they needed to give them European culture, values, and language, in order for them to understand Christianity. They had confused the culture with the faith. They had forgotten the lesson of long ago, when men like Peter and Paul told their ancestors that you didn't have to become Jewish first to become a Christian. Because, as Paul wrote, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) Christianity, from the word go, was something beyond your culture. It applied to and united all people exactly where they were at, no need to become something else first.

The universality of the church means it overflows the cultural boundaries we want to put it in, and finds expression in a variety of contexts. Contrary to what some of those missionaries thought, Christianity is not contained by western culture. It is not contained within any era of human history, pre-modern, medieval, modern, or post-modern, but has expressed itself somewhat differently in each time. It defies definitions of race, gender, ethnicity, culture, time, language, territory, political party, and technology. It has spread by word of mouth, pictures, ritual, print media, and now electronic means. It does not fit nicely into our neat boxes.

Now of course, there are some things that are rock-solid, as we talked about near the end of August. The humanity, divinity, crucifixion, and resurrection of Christ are what define us, what unite us in our universal diversity. In the absence of these things, I hesitate to say that what we are talking about is an expression of the Universal church. Because these are the things that, despite cultural and even doctrinal differences, bind us together in the Oneness that also is a mark of the church.

But having said that, the church takes on many different forms in it's universality. The gospel is spread in English, Spanish, Swahili, Navajo, and Korean. It finds expression in the unique musical stylings of each culture. Preachers from different cultures speak in different rhythms. Different bread is used for the same Lord's Supper (and indeed, different drink as well). But all express the One True Savior, in their own individual ways.

We are linked to people very different than us, who dress different, talk with a different accent, or in a different language, whose families function different, whose ways of understanding and testing the Truth of something may vary from ours. We are united in a common of of a savior. I love that the youth in our church have begun to build bridges with other churches in the area. I love that the pastor from the CMA church down the road has been known to fill-in here. I love it whenever I see boundaries overcome in the name of Christ. For in Christ, there is neither black nor white, Hispanic nor Asian, Baptist nor Methodist, Pentecostal nor Roman Catholic, rich nor poor nor middle class, male nor female, Republican nor Democrat. Christianity finds a home in all of these diverse peoples, and those differences remind us that Christ makes us all one. Let's look for ways to express that as we move forward in ministry in our communities, celebrating the wonderful, cross-cultural universality of our common faith.


Questing Parson said...

Well said. I'm particularly struck by your observation of the Europeans assuming being Christian was being European-like. That same attitude is so prevalent today in much we see. Folks at one church point to another church (even denomination) and think them not "really" Christian because they are not like us.

David Mullins said...

Yeah, have to agree with you there. I end up in conversations with a lot of people (God only knows how we always find each other) who have very distinct ideas of who is Christian and who isn't. And I've had a couple say I wasn't Christian because I hadn't [fill in value of N]. There's nothing that hacks me off faster.