(56) the holy catholic church

I believe in the church catholic. I must never let any group of Christians walk off with this strong, wonderful word “catholic” as if it were their peculiar property. This word means “according to the whole,” that is, “the universal” church—all people where Christ is at work. If anybody were to ask me if I am catholic, I would answer, “Yes.” Insofar as a Christian is truly a Christian, he is catholic, even though he may never have heard of Rome. Anyone who belongs to Christ belongs to the whole of Christ. To me the word catholic suggests the whole task of the whole church to bring the whole world to the whole Christ, making his love and truth so real that the whole life of all mankind may come to fulfill the whole purpose of God forever. This word catholic is a big word which speaks of inclusiveness and unity and repudiates all narrow littleness and divisiveness.

I believe that the church is holy because it belongs to the Holy One. His holiness is his godhood, his uniqueness, his whole difference as Creator from any of his creatures. When God’s creatures are swept aside from their own little purposes and put into action for his specific holy purposes, they take on something of his holiness, however ordinary they may otherwise be. A holy one, or saint, is being separated from ungodly things and separated for God. This is like cleansing, which separates something from dirt and for usefulness. The church is the holy carrier of Christ’s truth, love, and life. It is “separated unto the gospel.” Its business is to be about Christ’s business. Christlike things may be expected from Christ’s holy church. It must be a distributing center for true peace and harmony, true reconciliation and unity among men. All the while it must also keep up a steady pressure against what is false, unloving, and un-Christlike. But it can only do this by being where men are, sharing their lot, and participating with them in the ongoing life of the world.

I believe that the holy catholic church is one church. Its unity centers in Christ who, in joining each member to God, joins him to every other member. The church’s unity cannot be created by men. Unfortunately men have sometimes taken their different gifts from God and turned these diversities into divisions within the church. What a baffling variety of structures have been built on the one great foundation of Jesus Christ! We could rejoice in all this abundance if men didn’t proceed to “unchurch” one another because of it, cutting themselves off from their brothers in Christ. When they do this, they are breaking the Lord’s body, crucifying Christ afresh, afflicting him with groanings that cannot be uttered. But men cannot really tear the church asunder. The reality of the church’s unity lies in its Lord, not in the hands of men. Brothers who quarrel and become estranged neither created their own brotherly connection in the first place, nor can they destroy this permanent family bond. Churchmen who are at odds with one another are sure to feel guilty, for Christ in them is wrestling with their human hostilities. When Christians disagree, they must always at least be willing to come together to seek new light from Christ and his forgiving mercy.