- The Life of Jesus Christ 1: The witness of Mary
- Jesus Christ; on real and unreal Christianity
- My childhood story
- God's creation and science fiction
- MUSIC Angelicus Domini
- The new frontier of science
- God's Design
- God's Existence
- God's Sovereignty
- God's Tapestry
- A holy Christian Life
- Jesus Christ: Word made flesh
- Who is Jesus Christ 4
- God's Paintbrush
- The Incarnation
- The problems with propositional Christianity
- What is time?
- The real Easter Message
- Deism: at war with God
- The Future plan
- Her grave
- The Messiah
- The Passover and figures of speech
- In the beginning and in the end
- Jesus and Holy Anger
- A Sabbath rest
- Jews Gentiles and the Trinity
- Same sex marriage ?
- The Bible
- Why God allows evil to exist
- Seeing the church
- Understanding the Holy Catholic Church
- True facts about our world
- An inheritance in heaven
- The Sexual Revolution
- Christian marriage
- The Eucharist
- When I have fears
- Jews and Gentiles on the Trinity
- Trinity: One God
- Understanding the Church
- How and why God created the world
- How and why God created the world
- Who is God's Family
- Christs kingdom
- Family values and CHrist's family
- God's Science of creation Part 2
- God's Science of Creation Part 3
HOLY CATHOLIC CHURCH
It has become so customary to think of the church as a building or an institution and to use these as belonging to state or sect, that the statement “I believe in the Holy Catholic Church” seems to refer to what no longer exists. What is the Holy Catholic Church? When the Apostles made this statement, what were they referring to, and why did they choose the words Holy Catholic Church?
It is important to remember that like other statements in the Apostles Creed, this is not a statement of convenience but one of conviction. The statement expresses a most important truth. Each word the Apostles chose had a precisely known and shared meaning, not only for themselves but for the world at large. This is something we cannot say today, for not only do the words have little or no meaning for the world at large but a confused and obscure meaning for Christians.
When the Apostles used the word holy, for instance, they were using a word every born Jew understood of his nation, as the word Roman might be used to identify a person born in Rome, except that the word holy was not a geographical location. The Jews did not distinguish themselves by the name of a capital city, or call themselves after a country or continent. They called themselves God’s holy people by which they meant God’s chosen people. They were a people separated from other people by virtue of being chosen by God. The clear notion of separation from all other people by virtue of being chosen by God stands out as the most significant meaning of being holy. They did, of course, call themselves Israelites but this again was not a geographical location. It was a family name. Moreover it was a family name chosen by God. God gave the name Israel to Jacob before he was born. By this name he was to be the father of God’s own people.
The word holy was the one word that expressed both the origin and identity of the Jews. They were a people chosen by God to be the first nation upon earth to know and believe in the one true God. It is significant, therefore, that this same word was chosen by the Apostles to describe the Christian church.
The word catholic is rather different than the word holy. It is not found in the bible at all. But it is a word that perfectly fits what, under God’s guidance, the church was called to become. The early church was located in Jerusalem and was very largely Jewish. There is much evidence in the New Testament to show that people who were not Jewish were admitted reluctantly into the church and were expected to identify with Jewish customs and traditions as well as belief in Jesus Christ. This is not surprising since the Jewish church or ecclesia [chosen people of God] was a nation. They were not only a chosen people through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but also a chosen nation. They had both a racial and national identity. As St, Paul says, “They are God’s people; he made them his sons and revealed his glory to them; he made his covenants with them and gave them the law; they have the true worship; they have received God’s promises; they are descended from the famous Hebrew ancestors; and Christ as a human being belongs to their race.”
It should also be remembered that Jesus also declared “I have been sent to the lost sheep of the people of Israel.”
It seemed, therefore, to the Apostles that only Jews, not Gentiles, were to receive the good news of Christ. This belief persisted even after Jesus sent them to make disciples of all nations. It was inconceivable that the gospel of Christ’s kingdom should extend beyond the boundaries of their nation and their people. Only when it was revealed to Peter in a vision and a corresponding event did it dawn upon the church in Jerusalem that the Gentiles from all nations under the sun were also chosen to be God’s holy people.
That was the starting point of the church’s awakening to the possibility of a universal, world church. The greatest exponent and defender of this revelation was, ironically, not Peter but Paul. He set in motion, at God’s command, the preaching of the gospel to the Gentiles. But the new preaching met opposition in the Jerusalem church. Up until that time the Law of Moses was adhered to faithfully by the Jewish Christians who saw no breach between keeping the Law of Moses and faith in Jesus Christ. For them the law and the gospel did not conflict.
Admitting Gentiles into their fellowship did however raise questions about their national, legal and racial identity. Were Gentiles to be circumcised and naturalised or were they to be regarded as equal in a New World church? Had God cast the old Israel off to make way for a new Israel that had no national identity or racial composition? What of the Law of Moses? Was it to be obeyed or were there a new covenant and a new law?
St. Peter, it appears, was not sure how to answer these questions. When the question of whether Gentile Christians should sit at the same table and eat food with Jewish Christians he sided with the circumcision party. Paul opposed him publicly because before certain men sent by James came to Antioch, he had been eating with Gentile brothers but when these men arrived he drew back from eating with them.
Jewish Christians were proud of their ancestry, proud of their nation and proud of their race. They were Jews and Judaism was their religion. They saw no reason for abandoning the Talmud or the rites and ceremonies in the Law of Moses. When Paul visited James and the church elders in Jerusalem they warned him of the rumours spreading amongst Jewish Christians that he had been teaching all the Jews who live in Gentile countries to abandon the Law of Moses, to stop circumcising their children and to stop following Jewish customs. They advised him to appear with four brothers who had taken a vow and appear in public with them in a ceremony of purification to dispel these rumours. On this occasion Paul compromised his convictions to pacify the brothers and appease the circumcision party but to no avail. Before the period of purification was over he was recognised by Jews from the province of Asia who seized him and incited the crowds to kill him for teaching people everywhere to disobey the Law of Moses. He was rescued by a battalion of soldiers and put on trial. Neither James nor the brothers appeared to defend Paul. Their attitude is surprising in view of the first council at Jerusalem that Paul attended, [AD 50] in which the council decided to place no restraints on Paul or the Greek speaking churches save a few minor dietary restrictions and a warning against immorality. But by the time Paul returned to Jerusalem from his second missionary journey his opposition to adhering to the Law of Moses had been widely publicised. Not only his letter to the Galatians had been written but his letter to the Romans, a detailed statement of ‘justification by faith alone’ had also been written. [AD 58] The Jerusalem council of elders was no longer in sympathy with Paul. That is why they urged him to publicly demonstrate his obedience to the Law of Moses.
The letter of James to the twelve tribes scattered among the nations is the Judaic response to the Pauline epistles. Paul’s letters are not mentioned by name but there can be no doubt that Paul’s ‘justification by faith alone’ is being countered by James’s ‘justification by works.’ Whereas Paul writes to the Galatians “A man is put right with God only through faith in Jesus Christ, never by doing what the law requires James insists that “A person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.”
Behind these two theological statements lay a world of difference. The Pauline position was catholic, choosing the best historical and theological path that was called for by the gospel. James, on the other hand, remained unmoved, choosing the legal and national course, The Law of Moses, the Talmud and the traditions of the elders.
These two diverse positions split the church in two, the one following a legal and national direction, the other a catholic, non-national, spiritual path. There is no visible evidence that the early church ever resolved this conflict. The conflict continued with those who tried to legalise [canon law] and nationalise [state controlled religion] the Christian faith. Yet both of these processes, whether at the diocesan level or the national level never resolved, nor ever could resolve the conflict between faith and works, law and grace. The conflict was never simply a theological question but a power struggle between those who had most to lose and those who had most to gain.
The struggle was ongoing re-emerging in succeeding centuries under the guise of new creeds and confessions, each professing to be the truth and each creating further conflicts and divisions in the church.
The Judaic solution to the claims and demands of the gospel was to legalise it as an addition to the Law of Moses, a kind of update on the revered, holy Law, handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Judaic form of Christianity placed obedience to the Law alongside of faith in Jesus Christ, the one complementing the other, and national, collective faith, before personal salvation as the right and proper response to God of God’s chosen people.
Canon law, the law made by bishops, was added to the Law of Moses and in the course of time carried the same fear of punishment: excommunication from the church, fines and imprisonment and even death.
It was not until the 15th century that Luther attacked the Judaic form of religion and the Pauline position was reasserted and reclaimed as the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were many models and forms of church reform during the succeeding centuries. Germany adopted the Lutheran model, Geneva, the Calvanist; Switzerland the Zwinglian, England the Laudian and Holland the Arminian. Yet, none of these settlements broke free from the Judaic attachment to cannon or civil law. In consequence the church was split even further into separate national bodies, each claiming to be the one true church. ‘Justification through faith alone’ was swallowed up in the churches attachment and dependence upon the state. By the seventeenth century it was inconceivable that the union of church and state should be dissolved and that every man should live by his own conscience. Canon Law and civil law were seen to complement each other, just as bishops or priests might also be magistrates and landlords.
It is perhaps not generally realised that whilst many countries preferred Protestant forms of religion to Roman Catholicism, these countries were not so willing to recognise or tolerate Pauline theology, personal religion and the priesthood of all believers. They favoured the Protestant solution because it rid them of the Popes authority in both temporal and spiritual affairs.
THE WORD OF GOD
Nevertheless the Protestant Reformation was a big step forward in questioning the legitimacy of the Judaic form of Christianity and although it was largely directed against the Pope it employed an authority greater than the Pontiff or the Emperor: the Word of God. The Word of God spread and took root in all Protestant countries. The bible was read in the mother tongue and a new understanding and awareness of the sovereignty of God over both church and state began to emerge.
‘Justification by faith alone’ and ‘the priesthood of all believers’ were key doctrines in questioning a religion prescribed by law and a priesthood appointed by the king.
How did the church get involved with the end of civil government? Is it the purpose of the church of Jesus Christ to punish, imprison, fine and sit in judgement on mankind? How can the state and the church have an organic union? How can one assert authority over the other? Does not the one rule by force and the fear of punishment; the other, according to Scripture, by the power of the keys: the proclamation of the gospel which, is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes? These and many other questions were raised by men of education and learning, men who studied the Scriptures and who had a personal experience of God. They were labelled Puritans, which was a term of abuse used by royalists and conservatives to discredit them. This was especially the case in England where the Protestant Reformation had never embraced the European models. Henry the VIII’s break with the papacy had little or nothing to do with the Protestant Reformation and had led to nothing more than a break with Rome and the disestablishment of the monasteries. Edward the VI  began a Protestant Reformation in England by repealing the old heresy laws, and Archbishop Cranmer produced the first Prayer Book of the Church of England established by an Act of Uniformity. But these first steps towards a Protestant religion were swept aside by the accession of Mary to the throne and the repeal of all Protestant reforms, the reintroduction of the old heresy laws and the persecution and burning of Protestants.
When Elizabeth 1st, came to the throne she repealed all Roman Catholic laws, revised the Prayer Book and passed an Act restoring to the ‘Crown the ancient jurisdiction over the state ecclesiastical and spiritual...’ and, introduced an ‘Oath of Supremacy’ that all clergy had to make removing from them any right to make judgements on spiritual matters. Articles of faith were repealed and the new Thirty Nine Articles, which were Protestant in doctrine, were made law. This effectively removed all Roman Catholicism from England but it did nothing to change the Judaic form of religion or the ancient jurisdiction of the crown over spiritual matters. Instead of the Pope, the Queen governed the Church and the bishops were no less powerful than their predecessors were.
This might have continued indefinitely had the constitutional conflicts of the next century not occurred. Yet, these were inevitably bound up with the religious question of whether the state should preside over the Word of God. Unlike the Pope the King had no spiritual authority and even if the Pope’s authority was fictional, the king had less reason to interfere in the affairs of the church. Yet, in England the monarch was the self appointed Head of the church, who together with her bishops, had enormous power over ecclesiastical affairs. Nor were the bishops immune from the weakness of the Queen’s position. They no less than her had no jurisdiction over the Word of God. This was the inherent contradiction in the religious settlement in England and in the Judaic form of state controlled religion throughout the ages.
The most significant difference the Protestant Reformation achieved was reviving the Pauline thesis ‘justification by faith alone,’ for whilst this did not remove the Judaic system of state control over faith it did call into question all religious authority and later state authority not based on the Word of God. The Scriptures became a rule to be followed in all matters, temporal and spiritual. This was the reality of the Protestant Reformation. Preaching, not ceremonies or rituals, appealed to the new spirit of the age. The gospel had come alive, not as something prescribed by the traditional church or state but as the Word of God.
THE PURITAN QUESTION
The Puritans, who placed the Scriptures before the laws of their country, were, of course, persecuted. Not only in France were they lost their lives, but also in England which was theoretically a Protestant country. For fear of their lives and for their faith in the Word of God they fled their countries for the colonies, especially America, the home of Puritanism. In England they would have been happy for the King to rule over them had he restrained the power of the bishops and permitted greater diversity and freedom of conscience in the Church of England but the king, [Charles 1st] was even more intolerant than his bishops. His war against parliament, was as much a war against Puritanism as against constitutional changes. The two went together. Puritanism challenged the sovereignty of the state over matters spiritual and the sovereignty of the state over matter temporal as well. For Puritans the Sovereignty of the Word of God applied to politics as it did to religion.
The Puritans, however, were not united in their stand against the state or the established church. There were many questions that troubled and divided them. The Puritan House of Commons were unable to resolve the religious question. The Judaic model of a state church and a uniform faith under parliamentary rule carried more weight than a disestablished church. The House of Commons was divided on this issue with Levellers demanding a voice in the affairs of state as well freedom to worship as they pleased. Yet, despite the failure of Puritanism to take the initiative and the failure of parliament to rule without a king, a greater spirit of toleration grew within the Church of England. The Toleration Act,  meant that dissenters might follow their conscience and worship freely in their own way, although they were excluded from political office as a penalty for doing this.
The Puritan Revolution highlighted the conflict between the Judaic form of religion and the Pauline solution that has persisted down to the present time. The basic conflict between these two has always been that of law and grace, personal and state religion. The founding of the American Constitution was a big leap forward in making a clear distinction between the church and state and the process of democracy in all western countries since then has favoured the Pauline solution, upholding the rights and freedoms of the individual against totalitarian forms of government. In Australia, where I am writing this book at the present time, there is no state church.
THE NATURE OF THE CHURCH
The church is the family of all believers. St. Paul calls the church the “body of Christ,” and “a spiritual temple,” but these are analogies. The real nature of the church is that of a family, for which reason Jesus taught his disciples to pray to “Our Father.” Unlike many other definitions of the church in the New Testament this is not analogous.
The church is called a family because those who belong to the church are born into it. They cannot join the church. The church is not a club or an institution. It is a family.
This concept is not easy to grasp.
“How can a man be born when he is old?” asked Nicodemus, “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
How can a person be born into the church? To Nicodemus it didn’t make sense to talk about being born a second time. Nor does it make sense if by being born into the church we are talking about coming from the womb again!
Nicodemus understood the church to be the people of Israel, only. They were chosen by God to be a peculiar people, holy and separate from other peoples and nations. In his eyes this defined them as the church or God’s people. What did it mean to say that he must be born again of Spirit?
Was not the church already born of Abraham and the covenant God made to Abraham and his descendants?
Jesus certainly seemed to be questioning what had always been taken for granted by the Jews. He also spoke openly about being set free from slavery as if God had not delivered them out of slavery, as if, in fact, they were still slaves in the land of Egypt!
“We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves to anyone,” the Pharisees boasted to Jesus.
Had not God said to Abram, “You will be the father of many nations. No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you. I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you. The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you; and I will be their God.”
Then God said to Abraham, “As for you, you must keep my covenant, you and your descendants after you for the generations to come. This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You are to undergo circumcision, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and you?”
Jesus appeared to be completely in the wrong, making slanderous remarks and undermining God’s Word. It was the same with questions about the Law of Moses.
Jesus, whilst appearing to support the Law, actually implied that it was incomplete and imperfect. They were unable to grasp either the meaning or the implications of what Jesus was saying.
They believed they were wholly in the right in criticising and opposing him. Had not God given them another covenant, one that was added to the covenant made to Abraham? Had he not given them the Law of Moses and were they not right in saying that this was God’s Law and by keeping it were they not God’s people?
Their minds were closed and unable to understand why God had sent his only Son into the world full of grace and truth. They did not realise that although the Law was given by Moses grace and truth came by Jesus Christ. The true nature of the church was hidden from them.
The Pharisees believed that the covenant made to Abraham and his descendants and the covenant made to Moses and the people of Israel were irrevocable.
What else did they need to ensure God’s love for them? What other grace or truth was there? They had the Talmud, the sacrifices and the traditions of the elders. They could appeal to the first five books of the bible on moral or spiritual questions. They could read or sing the psalms in praise to God. Although scattered abroad across the world they had the same God, the same law and the same mark of God’s people. What more did they need?
St. Paul spent most of his life struggling with the Jews over the questions of circumcision and the Law of Moses. It was this that led to his arrest and imprisonment. He loved his own people and most wanted that they should not only hear but understand and receive the good news of Christ’s salvation, a salvation that he believed had nothing to do with circumcision or the Law of Moses.
He wrote to the Christians in Rome, “Brothers my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness for everyone who believes.”
Paul continues, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
This was heresy to the Pharisees. It was also heresy to many of the early Christians who did not fully grasp the full meaning of Christ’s death on the cross or the New Covenant that God had made through Christ’s sacrifice for sin. How could the church or ecclesia be anything other than God’s chosen people, the Israelites? Had they studied carefully the covenant made to Abraham they would have realised that Abraham was called the father of many nations, not solely the father of Israel.
According to Paul the New Covenant included all nations. It was a covenant based entirely on grace. As St. Paul says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Moreover, Paul traces this gift of faith to Abraham.
“Consider Abraham,” he says, “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’”
However, by calling believers the children of Abraham, Paul did not mean what the Pharisees meant. They meant that by circumcision and obedience to the Law of Moses they were God’s holy people or church. Paul meant that like Abraham, a person is put right with God only through faith and not by doing what the law demands. Since the Law of Moses was given four hundred and thirty years after Abraham’s time it is clear that the promise given to Abraham had nothing to do with law but was based entirely on God’s promise to Abraham and so on Abraham’s faith in God’s promise. It was the same with circumcision. God’s promise to Abraham was made before circumcision was added as a sign only.
In his letter to the Galatians Paul now approaches the heart of the gospel message. As we have seen, the Pharisees called themselves the seed of Abraham or the children of Abraham. It was upon this premise that they called themselves God’s chosen people. Wrong! Paul says. The seed of Abraham is not plural but singular. The seed of Abraham refers, not to Israel as a whole but to one person, Jesus Christ. The Law of Moses did not affect the promise given to Abraham. That had nothing to do with the promise.
“If the inheritance depends on the law,” Paul argues, “then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.
“What, then, was the purpose of the law?”
Paul now explains why the Law of Moses was given:
“It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.”
The historical context of the Law of Moses goes back to the deliverance of Israel out of Egypt. They were slaves in Egypt until God delivered them from Pharaoh’s power after which they wandered in the desert for forty years. During that time they became a nation accepting the Law of Moses as the civil and ecclesiastical law. God made Israel into a nation.
The Law of Moses was a national law. It was the law of Israel. It had nothing to do with the promise made to Abraham. The promise made to Abraham went far beyond national boundaries and national identities. That did not mean Israel was not a nation. They are a nation to this day. There is a vast difference, however, between Israel as a nation and Israel as a church or people of God. The true nature of the church is not national or racial or ancestral. The true nature of the church is spiritual, personal and catholic.
“You are all Sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
THE LAW OF NATURE
The fact of the matter is the Law of Moses and the Law of Nature are in conflict. They are two laws working against each other, the one holy, and the other sinful. This is true of all people and all nations everywhere. Paul reflects on what this means in his own person.
He says, “I do not understand what I do, for what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” He also says, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” And, “So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
This is why Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’”
The natural man, whether by philosophy or religion, cannot rise above his own nature. He is truly a prisoner whether he is circumcised, studies the Law of Moses, is baptised in the Christian church or follows Buddhism. That is the reality: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” All must be born again before they can enter the Kingdom of heaven.
The external forms of religion do not alter man’s nature. They provide a veneer of piety but no change of heart. Yet, a change of heart is the essence of faith. Faith does not come by good works, however worthwhile they may be. Doing and believing are two entirely different verbs. Doing is action, believing is trust. The one is external, the other internal.
Action may keep a person or a family busy but only trust can keep them together. The church is a family of trust or to use a complementary word, faith. And the object of that faith is Jesus Christ.
This is contrary to the law of nature. The law of nature is not to trust but to question, doubt and make laws. These laws are made to redress wrongs, punish wrongdoers and rule by fear.
The Christian faith is a choice between law and grace, between believing in the love of God or the law of Karma or some other law that justifies the do - gooder. The church is the family of grace not works. You are born into the family; you do not earn your place there. You are born of faith. You believe and you are a child of God’s family. You do not need a membership card or a certificate or any confirmations save that you believe.
Faith is an operation of the Holy Spirit. It is the gift of God. It is the new birth.
“Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul.
We experience faith; we don’t make ourselves believe. Faith is the only ground of good works and grace is the only ground of faith.
It is inconceivable that there should be more than one true church. For as Scripture says, the church is the body of Christ, and whilst this analogy is not meant to be taken literally, the church cannot belong to any other body, political or ecclesiastical, without severing its union with Christ.
The church is not the body politic or the body ecclesia like that coming from the Law of Moses where elders had civil and religious jurisdiction, but the body of Christ.
There is only one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ. There can be no other who brings God and men together, who reconciles God to man and man to God than the Saviour Jesus Christ. There can be no other who saves us from sin, who rescues us from the evil one, who empowers us with the gospel of reconciliation and who calls us to be holy and like him, full of love.
Jesus said, “A new command I give you; love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.”
Only love, not knowledge, can unite men to Christ and to each other and this love is God’s gift.Who ever heard of a family fighting or breaking up who love each other? Or, a good marriage ending up in the divorce courts? The true church is the lover and the betrothed of Christ.
The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is the bond that unites the church.
As St. John said, “We love him because he first loved us.”
The oneness and unity of the church can only be realised through the love of Christ and our response to his love.
The true church is a family that has its roots in Jesus Christ, not in natural reason or human traditions. By natural reason we cannot know God or his church and by human traditions we only repeat and reinforce the errors and wrongs of the past. Natural reason, or the ordering of our ideas according to the laws of nature, is the reason why there are so many conflicting religions in the world. For natural reason is the mother of philosophy and whilst philosophy is useful to the physical sciences it is of no use to theology.
Natural reason is religious, of that there can be no doubt. And religion, in one form or another, has played an important part in the development of societies and nations. For the most part religion has originated in philosophy, the attempt of reason to make sense of life’s mystery. The ancient world abounds in legends and myths that were created to mirror the existence of gods who were believed exert an influence, if not a total control over human life. These were superseded by the Hindu and Buddhist religions that were more systematically philosophical or by the Islamic and Christian religions, which were more systematically legal and political.
But these were religions of natural reason. They drew upon the teachings of the prophets, the history of the Jews or other esoteric sources.
True religion, that which comes from God, is a revelation. It does not originate in human reason. On the contrary it illuminates human reason, enabling reason to grasp the reality of faith. St. Paul made this perfectly clear in his letter to the Corinthian church. He opposed the so-called wisdom of the Greeks. He claimed that God had made human wisdom look foolish.
He says, “We preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”
This statement of Paul’s squares with what Jesus taught about human wisdom and God’s wisdom.
He said, “I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.”
The true church is revealed and chosen by God. It is not of man’s making. Its oneness is not based on philosophy but on faith in the One God who calls it into being.
Does the one church then have an objective existence? Can we point to it and say there it is or here it is? The real church cannot be seen with the eyes. As Jesus pointed out,
“The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is’ or ‘there it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.”
The things of God are revealed to the heart not the eyes. All those who are called of God and whose hearts bear the witness of that call, who are born of the Spirit and who love one another: they are the church. We cannot say it is here or there like a chapel or a cathedral. The church is invisible. It does have a material existence but not one that can be visibly identified, for like God, its Creator, the church is spirit and worships the Father in spirit and truth. The church has many material or visible expressions and structures, for the church is like yeast in bread, it affects the dough and causes it to rise. Wherever the church is it affects the material forms and shape of society. It grows within the visible world and affects the visible world, yet always remains hidden and spiritual.
The church is within the kingdom of God, in the hearts and lives of Christians everywhere. It is light to the world.