Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Church

I have been on a somewhat forced hiatus due to varying circumstances of late. But as I return to "blogland" I am thinking about something that commonly occupies my thoughts- the Church.

What is the Church? The Church is quite simply the body (bride) of Christ. Think about it for a moment: those two naturally go together. It was from Adam's body that a bride was formed for Him. So it is with the second Adam, our Lord Jesus Christ. From His side flowed water and blood, symbolic of the two primary Sacraments, Baptism and Eucharist. While I am not taking issue with the historicity of this event, I believe I am correct in seeing it in symbolic terms as well. So we see that the Church was formed from the side of Christ and the picture between the first and second creation is made complete.

Who are the people that comprise the Church? All baptized Christians. Here we come to a point of division amongst many Christians. The answer from the ranks of those with more Protestant evangelical leanings would be to say that it is comprised of all believers, regardless of whether or not they have been baptized. But the Tradition of the Church and the overall teaching of Sacred Scripture combine to show us clearly that it is by means of baptism that one becomes part of the Church. Faith is presupposed, but it is baptism that effects the transition. Thus our Lord stated emphatically the necessity of being born again of water and the Spirit (Jn. 3:5). St. Peter, when asked how one should respond to the truth of the Gospel, called for repentance and baptism (Acts 2:38). Baptism is the means by which we die to the old order of fallen humanity and we are resurrected with Christ to the new order of the redeemed (see Ro. 6). This is the indelible mark which seals us as Christ's own forever.

Now some will contend with me on this point, saying that faith alone is all that is necessary. They arrive at their conclusions from a fundamental misunderstanding of both faith and the Sacred Scriptures. Faith cannot be merely intellectual. It needs action for life (see Jms. 2). If one believes, one acts. When one believes in Christ, he is baptized. Secondly, where the Scripture speaks of faith alone as the necessary ingredient for salvation, it understands faith in its historical context which always includes baptism. To see this borne out, look at all the instances of conversion in the book of Acts and they almost all include the mention of baptism. This was a fundamental understanding of the early Church.

Now, this is the tricky part. Even though we may rightly say that all baptized Christians are part of the Church, it remains an uncomfortable truth that many of them have separated themselves from the Church. They are family, but they are estranged. And their estrangement is self-imposed. They have chosen to practice their faith either independently, or as part of a group that has separated itself from the one historic Church, namely the Catholic Church. They are Christians, but they have cut themselves off from much that flows from their birthright. This is a very grievous situation.

The Church continues its relentless efforts to reach out to such through various ecumenical endeavors. But I think one thing must be clearly understood. They are indeed separated from that one, true Church founded by Christ. This should compel them to prayerful examination, and, hopefully, to a return to that Body which is their true home.

Having spent much of my life outside the Church, and having recently come in, it is my earnest hope for all Christians to do likewise. Our continued divisions only hurt the cause of Christ. It creates confusion and results in the loss of souls who otherwise would have been saved from their sins. We are indeed family. When can we look and act like one?

I bear no malice in my comments. I only hold a firm conviction backed by insurmountable evidence to those who will honestly and objectively investigate it. I know there is much more to be said on the issue, but perhaps this will provide a starting point for some who have yet to give it proper consideration.

4 comments:

Joni said...

This is still hard for me to grasp in its entirety. I mean, I know Protestants are Christians...but how does that all work out practically, when they are separated from the Church?

Hattigrace said...

Oh my, I will be visiting often.

Having been raised atheist and becoming a born again Christian at 22, I embraced the Bible as His Word. I read it and obeyed it as I understood it.

I had some Christian friends (all Protestant) that helped me along my journey, to the best of their own understanding.

Twenty-five years later, I became Catholic. Did I purposely keep myself separated from the Church? No. Did I wrestle with uneasiness over the endless debates between denominations about the "true" meaning of Scripture? Yes.

It took a move of the Holy Spirit in another friend's heart to investigate the Catholic Church to begin the process of conversion for me.

Though I had seriously questioned what God "got" out of the Protestant form of worship I was involved with, I never would have turned to the Catholic Church without the help and leading of His Spirit.

I have experienced tremendous things of His Spirit in the Protestant churches. I know He is there, because they give Him all they know to give.

The problem is the Protestant church does not really THINK about history. The silliness of their claim that Catholics added books to the Bible. The ignorance that Martin Luther's revelations were needed for people to come to the true saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The history of the Church is not taught, or even considered, past the Reformation.

What messed with my theology that said that all liturgical churches were not saved Christians was a young Catholic couple whose devotion to Christ far surpassed mine. And they were knowledgable about the Church and her history and the Protestant church as well.

Okay, I don't think this is very kosher to leave such a long comment. I just think we have to be careful to not accuse Protestants of willful separation and pray for revival to sweep the Catholic Church so our lives would be so powerful with His presence and love that our separated brothers and sisters would hunger and thirst for the fullness of His Church.

I love how you write. God has blessed you with a beautiful gift.

Keith said...

Glad to see you are still blogging!

Keith said...

Joni,
All those who are baptized are Christians, and therefore part of the Church. Yet, they remain separated from the Church whenever they do not come into the Catholic Church. It's like belonging to a family, but never meeting with them. One is estranged at that point.

Hattiegrace,
Thank you for your comments. I do want to clarify that I agree with you that those Protestants who have never been Catholic cannot be held responsible for the division. Yet, my words are intended to challenge such to consider that the Catholic Church really is their true home.

Keith,
Nice to hear from you again. Drop me a line sometime to let me know how it goes.