Not Roman Catholic … But Holy Catholic
by Joseph Franks
Would you like more cross-denominatinal, multi-ethnic, non-homogenous, eclectic worship services? Would you like to see brothers and sisters in Christ, who differ in theology, tradition, and practice, gathering together to celebrate Jesus Christ who binds all his children together? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to spend a Lord’s Day with the Southern Baptist Convention and the Presbyterian General Assembly as they gather to read the Bible, teach the Bible, pray the Bible, sing the Bible, and then engage in Holy Communion around the Bible?
Some of you are saying, “Are you kidding me; that’s a fantasy that will never happen!”
Some of you are saying, “Are you kidding me; that a heresy that ought never happen!”
I am saying, “I long to see Christ’s church united and worshiping together in harmony, and I long to see it sooner than later.” Friends, why must we wait until persecution rains down and we find ourselves gathering together in underground churches or subterranean catacombs. Friends, why must we wait until paradise when the ideal of Jesus Christ is realized.
However, that being said, I realize this appears to be a long-shot given the ecclesiastical schisms celebrated in our cities and denominations. Many share not this vision. Many have an ecclesiology at odds with the King and Head of the church.
Look today across the United States. Everywhere one turns there are ecclesiastical conflicts occuring between various assemblies of Christians. In every town, high walls of separation are erected as one group splits from another and concludes they are more faithful to God and the Scriptures than their former brothers and neighbors. On the Lord’s Day, people worship in cloisters, and while they share the Gospel and most beliefs in common, they prefer to major on their differences.
Consider, the many conflicts between denominations:
- Anglicans are against the Episcopalians
- Methodists oppose the Baptists
- Presbyterians oppose the Independents
- Catholics pity and pray for all Protestants to come back to their mother
- Protestants view Catholics as shallow and in league with the antichrist
- Fundamentalists oppose everyone, especially those not using the KJV
Then consider the conflicts within denominations. In each denomination there are:
- Politically conservative and more socially liberal
- Theonomists, libertarians, and everything in between
- Theological progressives and staunch conservatives
- 3-point Calvinists, 4-point Calvinists, 5-point Calvinists, Anti-Calvinists
- Imbibers and abstainers
- Young earth and old earth proponents
- Reformed and the Totally Reformed
- Contemporary, traditional, and ancient worshipers
- Charismatic, continualists, and cessationists
- Those who rest and holiday on the Lord’s Day and others who maintain a “Christian Sabbath”
Friends, none of this is new. In Early American history, one can read of the ecclesiastical fissures between the Old Light and New Light Protestants. Prior to this, there were those connected with the Old School and New School. In this land, there have always been conflicts between the connected and the independent. There have always been issues between those supporting hierarchical, representative, or congregational church governments.
In English history, the ecclesiastical situation was similar. There was the famous divorces between the Roman Catholic Church and the English Catholic Church imagined by Henry VIII. Then there were years of bloody conflict as the pendulum swung between Catholic and Reformed preferences. At the Westminster Assembly, there were passionate debates between the Scottish Covenanters and those or a less radical nature. Even as young children, many of us learned of some of the distinctions between the Puritans and the Pilgrims in how they related to the impure church.
In Europe, conflict came to a head in the Reformation and the Counter-Reformation. However, even within the Reformation camp, Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli could not see eye-to-eye and get on the same page.
Prior to this, there was the Great Schism that separated the church of the East from that of the West. And on and on it goes.
Yes, what we see today is nothing new, and sadly, more divisions are on the way. Within all of our denominations and churches, there are individuals chomping at the bit to find error with their brothers, label them liberals, heretics, or apostates, and start something new. To some, such schism is beautiful. To some, this is a sign of success as they reason themselves to be the sacred remnant. To them, it feels good to be the pure, undefiled, uncompromised, and separated ones.
Well, from an outsider’s perspective, it must be somewhat amusing to watch the church war with the church more than it does with the devil and the consequences of sin. But then they get bored with the show and go on to evaluate other causes. As the verse goes, “They will know we are Christians by our love,” and as the world looks at our love for disagreeing brothers, they are not so impressed. To them, we look like Rubio, Cruz, and Trump going at it one more time.
But more importantly, to the King and Head of the church, it is sad. The ecclesiastical situation in our land is not that which he prayed for. It is not that which he desired. It is wrong!
Now, why would I make such an audacious statement? Consider Jesus’ response to one of his most zealous disciples:
John answered, “Master, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he does not follow with us.” But Jesus said to him, “Do not stop him, for the one who is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)
Then consider Jesus’ great heartfelt prayer:
… I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one … I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. (John 17)
Troubled friends, cut me a little slack. I am not saying that all church splits are unwarranted. There is a time to “come out from among them and be separate.” There is a time when the Gospel and honor of the Lord Jesus Christ must be removed from the place of defilement.
In addition, I am not saying that all church positions on doctrine have equal validity. There is every reason to study the Scripture and seek to master the “milk” and the “meat.” If anything is worthy of such study, it is the holy Word of God. We must study to be approved workmen of Christ. There is right, and there is wrong, and we must always reform and be reformed.
Also, I am not saying that all churches are legitimate. To the contrary, there are always goats, tares, wolves, false teachers, and Judases in the church of Jesus Christ.
However, I am saying that — as we hold our various views and seek to be as precise in doctrine as possible — there should be much more charity, consideration, dialogue, and mutual ministry done by our dissimilar assemblies. As we differ in our theology, tradition, and practices, we who are one in Christ Jesus ought to seek to worship and walk together.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, consider the end; consider the elect congregation in heaven today. One great assembly of God exists of individuals from every tribe, tongue, nation, people-group, ethnicity, skin-color, culture, tradition, and denomination. As they worshiped in life, they played different instruments, sang different songs, wore different clothing, and differently utilized the means of grace. Some were dunkers and some were sprinklers. Some wet babies and others waited until after their profession of faith. Some had male ministers, and believe it or not, others heard the Gospel under female preachers. Some imbibed while others were tea-totalers. Yes, some were more correct in worshiping God according to his standards, and some were more loose and disobedient. However, all these saints who are in heaven, they see clearly now. All know God’s sacred doctrine much more than they used to; they have the mind of Christ. Some see they were indeed correct. Others have learned where they were misinformed. But in heaven today, around the Lord who sits on his lofty throne, there is only one church, one body, and one bride. All of these are former Baptists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Anglicans, Methodists, Non-denominationalists, Inter-denominationalists, and Fundamental Independent Old-Fasioned Bible-Believing 1611-KJV-Only sinners for whom Jesus died. And with one voice, these formerly sinful disciples gather together to adore their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Therefore reader, as we seek to be pure in our orthodoxy and orthoproxy (proper thinking and proper doing), as we seek to pass on the truth to our children and our children’s children, perhaps we ought to do so with a more sincere interest in cross-denominational brotherhood.
No, I am not asking all of us to return to “our mother” and convert to the Roman Catholic church, but I am suggesting we ought to have a greater fondness and allegiance to the Holy Catholic church.
Friends, there are only two parties on the planet. There are children of the devil and children of Christ. Therefore, as we wage war on the devil, and as we seek be used by the Spirit to advance the Kingdom of God, let us do so according to the mind of Christ. We, who are believers, we are not always correct. In some way, we are all errant in some part of our doctrine. This is a sin, and it is a serious sin. However Jesus Christ saves us, not because we have perfect orthodoxy and orthoproxy, but because he is the perfect substitute for an imperfect people. He died for all the sins of all his people, even those sins involving improper doctrine and incorrect practice.
Therefore, as his one cherished bride, let us act like such. Let us make progress in avoiding schism and seeking to be one. There are only two camps in the Kingdom — those with Jesus Christ and those who are against him.