32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet. (Acts 4:32-37, New International Version).
I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me (Romans 16:1-2, New International Version).
A few weeks ago I told you that I am not “that guy.” I am not a car guy. Yes, I want a reasonably nice car. I want a car that will let me ride and not feel like I am being squeezed into an egg carton. And, I live in Texas. Air Conditioning is a must. But, I am told every guy needs to have his mid-Life crisis car, though I’m not sure why. I have never even looked seriously at it but every year for the past 10 or 15 years, I update the mid-life crisis car. It started out as a Dodge Charger but it is currently the 2020 Shelby Ford Mustang GT 500 Fastback. This Mustang is one bad car. It has a 5.1 L fuel injected engine and a six speed manual transmission. This car is “hot!” It has 760 horses under the hood and can go 0-60 in 3.4 seconds and 0- 130 in 11.2 seconds. I’m not really sure why I would ever need to go from 0-130 in 11.2 seconds, but with this car it can be done! The top end limited speed of 180 miles-per-hour make this a machine of pure American muscle that makes me want to rush out to Al Myer Ford and buy mine right now. But the thing is, with a sticker price north of $75,000, if it takes this car to resolve my mid-life crisis, I will just have to remain in crisis. In truth, I don’t even know what I will just have to be satisfied with my Kia Soul and drooling from afar. Besides, I think I am a few years past “mid-life.”
I feel pretty certain that one paragraph into this message some of you are wondering what my mid-life crisis and accompanying halfhearted car dreams could possibly have to do with a post advertised to be part of a series of posts about The Apostle’s Creed. Never fear, I am now ready to tell you. Absolutely nothing! But, buried within that first paragraph are three words I intentionally misused according to the standard definitions of the English language. “Oh, Great! First we hear about his mid-life crisis and now he is going to give us an English lesson.” Well, sort of, but bear with me. There really is a point to all of this. First, I said, “The 2020 Shelby Ford Mustang GT 500 Fastback. This Mustang is one bad car. Now here’s a question for you, “Why in the world would I EVER be willing to pay over $75,000 for a ‘bad’ car?” If we look online at the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary and look up the word “bad” the following are the definitions, “low or poor in quality, not correct or proper, not pleasant, pleasing or enjoyable.” You actually have to scroll down to the bottom of the page to find the slang meaning which is the opposite of the definitions I already gave you.
Second, I said, with its engine and transmission this car is hot. Well, that’s the general context anyway. Mr. Webster had many definitions for this word, most of which had something to do with temperature. I am not going to bore you with all the definitions. The dictionary does come up with a definition that says, “Of intense and immediate interest, currently popular or in demand, and very good” but you have scroll almost to the bottom, number six to see it!
And third, “With a limited maximum speed…” Again, consulting the dictionary, muscle is defined as, “a body tissue that can contract and produce movement, physical strength, power and influence.” I guess physical strength and power could fall into the definition, but let’s face the facts, in any other context, if you are talking about muscle, you would never think of a car.
Therein lies the problem. Words have meaning. At times, when we assign words new meaning, it can leave others puzzled. It can leave them with wrong ideas. If you were to say the term, “American muscle” to a person whose native language was German and who was attempting to learn to speak English, they might walk away completely frustrated thinking, in German of course, “Where on the human body is the ‘American muscle.’” That doesn’t even begin to talk about the confusion with the word ‘bad’ whose definitions can be completely contradictory.
When I was in the Navy there was a guy I worked with on the signal bridge. We didn’t work together very long as his enlistment was up shortly after I reported. I can’t even remember his name. He loved the word “dubious.” For those who may not know, dubious means, “likely to be bad or wrong.” It didn’t matter much whether it fit or not. He would come back up to the bridge from lunch and ask him, “How was chow?” His response, “dubious.” Well, that example doesn’t really make my point. I knew the food was likely to be bad before I ever ask. But, you could be below decks and not outside yet, he would come in from watch and you ask, “How’s the weather?” His response, “dubious.” Then, when you walk out on deck it is a beautiful morning, 80 degrees and not a cloud in the sky. He would take a look at my mid-life crisis car, love everything about it, and instead of saying he liked it or calling it cool or something like that, he would say, “dubious.” If he was trying to start a new trend, it didn’t take.
Today we are continuing our posts on The Apostle’s Creed. We began last Wednesday I think. We started talking about how all of this, the world and all that is in it was created by God. It didn’t happen by accident the way many believe. As people of faith we believe in God the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
Thursday we looked at the line “in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord…” we continued to the end of that section “from whence he shall come to judge quick and the dead.” As Trinitarian Christians we believe that Jesus is both fully human and he is fully divine. In other words, Jesus is God.
Friday we said we believed in the Holy Spirit. As the third person of the Trinity we believe the Holy Spirit is God’s guide for our lives. We believe the Spirit is our comforter and our advocate. We believe the Holy Spirit is Christ, is God present, active and working in our world.
Today we are moving on to the most misunderstood section of the creed. “I believe in the… …holy catholic church, the communion of saints…” There is a reason for that. Like my use of the words bad, hot, and muscle or my Navy shipmate’s use of the word “dubious,” people might really misunderstand and become confused.
In the remainder of this post there are three words in this section of the creed that confuse many of us. These words are catholic, church, and saints.
First, catholic. This is probably the single most misunderstood word in the entire creed, perhaps among the most of the documents of the early Church. I think there is a reason for this.
The earliest evidence of The Apostle’s Creed is from the early eighth century. Many people believe this creed dates back the twelve apostles with each apostle contributing a different section of the creed. There is, however, no real evidence of this as truth. The earliest known creed of the Christian faith is the Nicene Creed, coming from the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. Still, even if written in the eighth century A.D. without question, the Apostle’s Creed is old. Our language has changed over time. Words have developed new and/or different meanings. When I was born 62 years ago, the word gay meant something completely different than it means today. Beyond that, for whatever the reason, there are words that didn’t exist 1700 years ago and words that were used 1700 years ago that are no longer used today, or at least not in the same context.
When The Apostle’s Creed was developed there was, for all intents and purposes, one
When the Apostle’s Creed was developed there was, for all intents and purposes, one Church. This was before the division of the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church. There were a few splinter cells around, but for most Christians, there was one church. It was a universal church, or at least it was a universal church for the known universe. That is the meaning of the word catholic. If we go back again to Merriam-Webster we can see there is a definite difference between the word Catholic with a capital “C” and the word catholic with a lower-case “c.” You actually have to look down the page as well to find “Roman Catholic.”
When we stand and recite The Apostles’ Creed and we say we believe in the holy catholic church, we are not referring to the Roman Catholic Church, at least not them alone. We are talking about Christ’s universal church that includes believers of every Christian faith tradition, including United Methodists and Roman Catholics.
That second word that is often misunderstood is Church. Again, there are many definitions for the word church. Often it is the building. I have made such statements before. “Hey Honey, I need a book from the office. I am going over to the church.” At other times we are referring to a particular congregation, as in, “I am the pastor at Huntington United Methodist Church.” But, in the context of a creed, we are saying we believe in the entire body of people who claim belief in Jesus Christ are the Church. We are saying we believe in Christ’s universal Church.
The third often misunderstood word is the word saints. It is actually part of the next clause of the creed, “…the communion of saints…” Again, oftentimes when we think of the saints we think of those whom the Roman Catholic Church has canonized. They would include people like the disciples, minus Judas. The saints of this context would include people like St. Anselm and St. Augustine or in a more modern context St. Teresa of Calcutta (Mother Teresa) and St. John Paul II (Pope John Paul II ) Let there be no doubt, these people are saints.
At other times we might refer to saints as some person living who we think is a remarkable person. We might hear someone say, he or she is or was such a saint. If either of those fits your personal meaning of the word saint, while both are correct, Biblically they don’t go far enough. According to the Bible, you are a saint. I am a saint. Anyone who professes faith in Jesus Christ is a saint. Now isn’t that a hoot and a half. If you stand and recite this creed and you believe what you are saying as divine truth, YOU ARE A SAINT.
In our understanding as United Methodist Christians it doesn’t matter how good you are or have been in your life. It doesn’t matter what sins you have committed now, in the past, or in the future, because you have faith in the God who came to earth, who lived as a human and who died that our sins might be forgiven (We will discuss these later this week), you are a saint.
If you don’t believe me, take a look at 1 Corinthians or 2 Corinthians. When Paul wrote each of these, he was far from being a happy camper with any of these folks. At least at times in these letters Paul is angry. Yet he still called these Christ followers saints. You are a saint first by your baptism and then by the faith you profess.
When we speak of the “Communion of saints,” we are talking about the spiritual union of the members of the Christian Church, both the living and the dead, those on earth, and in heaven. We are all part of a single mystical body, with Christ as the head, in which each member contributes to the good of all and shares in the welfare of all.
The communion of saints simply means, friends we are all in this together. We help to build each other up in love. We are united with people of faith in all times and places. We are united together in this life, cheered on by the great cloud of witnesses of which the writer of Hebrews speaks so eloquently.
Over the years I have heard many people say, “I don’t recite the Apostles’ Creed.” When I ask why, I almost always know the answer before they ever say it. Their problem is a problem of words. But friends, there is nothing to fear here. As United Methodists, as faithful Christians of just about any denomination, we are part of, and we believe in, the church universal. We are a part of, and we believe in the communion of saints.
When you get down to it, mid-life crisis or not, I don’t need that car. Contrary to what one commercial of a few years back said, the point of a car is to get you from point a to point b and it is not the point itself and the car I have serves that purpose fine.
What I do need is the holy catholic Church. I don’t need the capital C catholic church but I do need the universal church of Jesus Christ. I need to be a part of the body of believers in Jesus Christ. And, I also need you and all the rest of the communion of saints. I need you to build me up. I need you to pray for me. I need you to hold me accountable. I need the Church of Jesus Christ and I need the saints of that church because, I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.
Have a Great Day in the Lord,
In Search of the Genuine,
Copyright 2020, J. Keith Broyles, All Rights Reserved