Ash Wednesday: "Liturgical"
Week 2: "catholic"
Week 3: "evangelical"
Week 4: "orthodox"
Week 5: "confessional"
Week 6: "apostolic"
Holy Thursday: "Sacramental"
Good Friday: "Cruciform"
Easter Sunday: "The One Holy Church"
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
What comes to mind when you hear the word “catholic?” The Pope? Benedict XVI’s recent resignation? The smell of incense at a funeral? Maybe you think of social service organizations like the Knights of Columbus or health care initiatives like the St. Joseph’s Care Group? These things and many more belong to the Roman Catholic Church.
Roman Catholics have traditionally declared that they are the only real and true church. For Roman Catholics the church is identified by a structure, by belonging to an institution, by submission to the pope. In response, Luther writes in one of our public statements of faith, “We do not agree with them that they are the Church. They are not the Church. Nor will we listen to those things that, under the name of Church, they command or forbid. Thank God, a seven year old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray, “I believe in one holy Christian Church.” This holiness does not come from albs, tonsures, long gowns, and other ceremonies they made up without Holy Scripture, but from God’s Word and true faith.” SA 3.XII
You have no problem with the phrase “universal church.” And yet, many of you are uncomfortable with the word “catholic” because in your mind think that “catholic” automatically means, “Roman Catholic.” It doesn't. The word “catholic” means “according to the whole” or “universal.” When we talk about the Christian church, we assume that people understand that we are talking about the church catholic. If you look at the Apostle’s Creed in our hymnal you’ll notice that when it describes the Church, we say, “I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic church.” There is an asterisk by the word “Christian” and a footnote that says, “the ancient text reads ‘catholic,’ meaning the whole Church as it confesses the wholeness of Christian doctrine.” This means that wherever God’s Word is read aloud there can be true Christians who believe and confess the faith according to the whole, in spite of what their church might teach.
We all know that the Church ought to be united. That division amongst Christians is of the devil. And in reality wherever Christians trust in their saviour Jesus Christ, we have a catholic unity throughout the world. But there are various attempts to increase our outward visible unity such as the “ecumenical movement.” It is an effort to have separate and different churches sweep their differences under the carpet and ignore those differences. You will often hear things like, “We are all Christians, so why can’t we just all get along.” Another way that Christians try and deal with this scandal of division is by saying they are “non-denominational.” In either case, you are left asking the question, “Well, what is it you believe?”
Can people hold to false beliefs and still be part of the “universal church?” Absolutely. We have no problem recognizing that in heaven there will be Anglicans, Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Russian Orthodox, Pentecostals, Evangelicals, Lutherans and people of other denominations. Why? Because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.
So does that mean divisions don't matter? Does that mean that the teaching in these other churches doesn't matter? That's where the problem lies. The divisions that exist in Christendom do matter. They matter because it is a matter of the truth. We want nothing more than for erring Christians to recognize their errors and false beliefs so that they rightly believe in Jesus their saviour. It matters that we strive to clearly and accurately proclaim Jesus. It matters because
false teaching hurts people.
When a Roman Catholic teaches that you have to do penance to make up for your sin before you will be forgiven, that hurts people and we want to correct them so they can have the truth. When Pentecostals teach people that if they have enough faith they will be healed, what happens to the guy who buys into that, stops taking his medication and gets sick. That person gets hurt. When end time teachers say there will be a rapture and that certain events have to happen before Christ can return, they are not only misunderstanding scripture, but they are giving false security because those events haven't happened yet. When a reformed Christian teaches that God has predestined that some people go to hell and that you have no certainty that Christ died for you, people lose the comfort and assurance of Christ's gifts.
So the divisions that exist aren't about pride. It isn't about “being right” so we can lord it over our brothers and sisters. It is in genuine love and concern that we want to help our brothers and sisters in Christ better know Jesus. It is done so that we faithfully proclaim Christ to those who are not yet a part of the Church.
Think of it like your typical family. Siblings will fight, argue, bicker, tease, torment, and try and correct an erring brother or sister. Those disagreements don't mean they aren't siblings. Not in the least. They simply mean that they are trying to correct an erring brother or sister.
But what happens if someone tries to pick on your brother or sister? All of a sudden, you come to their defense, you protect them, you stand in solidarity with them, you take care of them. In recent years, we have heard about more and more persecution of our brothers and sisters in Christ. We do not ignore their plight. We pray for them. We want to help them. The Coptic Christians in Egypt are our brothers and sisters despite our differences with them. The Chinese
Christians who belong to house churches … they might not be Lutheran, but we will argue for their fundamental right to worship God without persecution from their government. These fellow Christians are part of the universal church. They are part of the church catholic.
Saints of God, do not be afraid of the word “catholic.” We are not Roman Catholic. But we are catholic Christians. We are united with the historic practices of the Church. We are united with saints of old like Augustine and Polycarp and the Apostles. We are part of the universal church because the Lord of the Church, Jesus Christ, has called you out of darkness, He has washed you in the waters of baptism, He has given you faith in Him. But Jesus does not call you to be a lone
Christian. He calls you into the universal church. He calls you into the church catholic.
In +Jesus name, Amen.
Original sermon by Rev. Garry Heintz, you can find it here. (called "The Church Catholic", 02/19/2013)