Do you believe in the Church?

In our anchoring Apostle’s Creed there is a statement of faith that often gets overshadowed by some of the weightier elements of the Creed, such as our general belief in God and our specific beliefs in Jesus Christ. It is the statement about the church.

About three quarters of the way into the creed—after the affirmation of belief in the Holy Spirit—it says this: “I believe in the holy catholic (or universal) church”.

Do you?

When we survey the weaknesses, flaws, and even corruptions in the church it can sometimes be easier to believe in God than to believe in the church. Lots of people feel this way. They say things like, “I’m spiritual not religious” or “I believe in God; I just don’t believe in the church.”

I understand where they are coming from. Unfortunately, far too many people have had experiences in the church that did not reflect well on Jesus or His teachings. At best, these bad experiences have soured people toward Christianity and at worst they have done lasting damage to a person’s faith in God.

And yet, it’s still in the Creed. When we affirm our loyalty to Jesus we still say that we believe in His church, and we even call it “holy”. How can that be?

First, we believe in the church because Jesus believes in the church. The church is the only organization that Jesus ever promised to build. The church was Jesus’ idea and He has given His word that He would build it on the earth. Furthermore, He is committed to the ongoing purification of the church so that our goodness increases and our shamefulness decreases.

Second, we believe in the church because we are the church. Personally, I worship every week with some of the greatest people on our planet. I’m not joking or being dramatic with that statement. The members of Grace Church La Verne are radiant. Yes, they are human and prone to weakness, but they are also kind and loving and generous and devout. If I were Jesus, I would be proud to have them bear my name. Amazing people—people who care about humanity and who want to honor Jesus Christ—can be found in nearly every church around our world today.

So we believe in the church because we believe in Jesus, and we believe in the church because we know the potential in the church. In the 2001 film Pearl Harbor Japanese Admiral Yamamoto lamented the decision to attack Pearl Harbor and he was quoted as saying, “I fear all we have done is to awake a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

We believe in the church because despite our failures and frailties we see gigantic potential in the church. We see Christ’s hands and feet—the New Testament calls it His body—and we know that our best days of love, mercy, worship, teaching, and reform are before us.

Let’s reaffirm our faith and let’s do our part in being the church that humanity needs.

The Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic (universal) Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

Amen.

Today’s most desperately-needed prayer (for us and our world)

The Lord’s Prayer (expanded)*

Our Father, Holy Father, Abba Father, in the heavens, hallowed, holy, sacred be your  name.

From the rising of the sun, to the going down of the same, the name of the Lord is to be praised.

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of hosts, the whole earth is full of your glory. Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God almighty, who was and is and is to come.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thy government come, thy politics be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thy reign and rule come, thy plans and purposes be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

May we be an anticipation of the age to come. May we embody the reign of Christ here and now.

Give us day by day our daily bread. Provide for the poor among us. As we seek first your kingdom and your justice, may all we need be provided for us.

Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.

Transform us by the Holy Spirit into a forgiving community of forgiven sinners.

Lead us not into trouble, trial, tribulation or temptation.

Be mindful of our frame, we are but dust. We can only take so much.

Lead us out of the wilderness into the promised land that flows with milk and honey; lead us out of the badlands into resurrection country.

Delivers us from evil and the evil one. Save us from Satan, the accuser and adversary. So that no weapon formed against us shall prosper. So that every tongue that rises against us in accusation you will condemn. So that every fiery dart of the wicked one is extinguished by the shield of faith. So that as we submit to you and resist the devil, the devil flees. So that as we draw near to Jesus Christ lifted up, His cross becomes for us the axis of love expressed in forgiveness, that refounds the world. And the devil, who became the false ruler of the fallen world, is driven out from among us.

For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

 

*Prayer taken from Water to Wine: Some of My Story by Brian Zahnd, published in 2016 by Spello Press

Your defiant statement

I wish you could see the larger statement that your life is making today.

And by the way, I am not talking about the statement that your life is making to your loved ones and coworkers who relate closely with you. Certainly, your life is making a statement to them, and hopefully they will take time to affirm some of that with you. I’m talking about something different, something bigger, something on a cosmic level.

The New Testament tells us that God uses the lives of His followers to make a statement to the supernatural world around us. Ephesians 3:10 says that “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms.”

There is something about the church—in all of our glory and ruin—that makes a defiant statement to the supernatural realm around us.

Our world is bursting with competing ideologies, bitter hostilities, military armaments, sociological complexities, and overwhelming fears and insecurities, and yet those things are never the final word. God still has something to say and one of the ways He says it is through the lives of followers who live in a different kingdom, follow a different creed, relate from a different perspective, and work for a different cause.

When you do that—when you respond to God’s work in your life—a message gets sent into the spirit realm: “There is more going on than meets the eye. There is something greater than our small, exhausting pursuits. God’s quickening, illuminating wisdom is still at play.”

This defiant message of God’s wisdom displayed through His followers’ surrendered lives, reminds me of a scene from The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe when Aslan tells Susan and Lucy that the White Witch had been deficient in her education. He said:

“It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backwards.”[1]

There is a deeper wisdom and a greater power at work in our world today, and your surrendered life is a human megaphone that speaks it into the cosmos.

[1] The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, chapter 15.