First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday ~ June 7th, 2020)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
There is incredible power in believing. Have you ever pondered what difference faith or believing can make in your life? Have you every pondered what impact believing in a loving, caring, and personal God might have on your life?
There is strength in believing. Listen to these words from Romans 4:20 speaking of Father Abraham’s faith, “He did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but found strength in faith (He grew strong in his faith, his faith filled him with power) and gave glory to God.” The Message puts it this way, “He didn’t tiptoe around God’s promise asking cautiously skeptical questions. He plunged into the promise and came up strong.”
The story of the Bible, from cover to cover, is the story of believing and finding strength, energy, vitality, comfort, and peace in believing. No wonder that countless generations through the centuries have found assurance and encouragement in the words of the Apostles’ Creed, “I believe…”
Over the past few weeks, we have been looking at the Apostles’ Creed, the creed of all creeds, as someone said. We very much covered the major Christian doctrines the creed affirms. We talked about our faith in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Today is Trinity Sunday, and as you can tell, the Apostles’ Creed is a very Trinitarian creed.
This morning we get to that phrase of the creed where it states, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” As you can tell, the focus of this line is the church, what we do right now. What does the Apostles’ Creed teach us about the church? I think this is a timely message. More than any other institution, the church of Jesus Christ has always been attacked and misunderstood.
I assume since you are joining us for worship today or will be watching this service later on, you have some interest in what this church thing is all about. So whether you grew up in Church or just exploring it now, I am inviting you this morning to seriously revisit your ecclesiology, your understanding of the church. What does it mean to affirm and declare today, “I believe in the holy catholic church”? To help us get the proper focus, let’s begin with the word “church.”
What Is the Church?
Often times we hear people say, “I like Jesus, but I don’t care for the church”; or something like, “I believe in God, but I don’t believe in the church.” “I’m spiritual, but I’m not religious so I don’t go to church. I can worship God on the golf course. That’s my church. I believe in my own way. I don’t need to go to church and have someone tell me what to believe.” “The church is just after my money.” “I hate the organized church.” What is the church?
In the New Testament, the word translated “Church” is “Ekklesia”, which combine two Greek words, the prefix “ek”, meaning “out of” and the verb “Kaleo” meaning “to call.” The word ekklesia is found 116 times in the New Testament writings. Ekklesia, therefore, means those people who have been called out of the world by God to join together as followers of Jesus Christ. So a church is a “called-out assembly of believers.” The word “church” in the New Testament never refers to a building. It always refers to people, to living stones.
One profound thing to notice here is the church, the ekklesia, in God’s sight is ONE. When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” he used the singular, not the plural—"churches.” Jesus promised to build one church and one church only. There is only one true ekklesia—the assembly of those who have been called out of the world to follow Christ.
As much as we love our own traditions, the church is not a denomination. Sometimes we speak of the Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran Church or the Catholic Church. That’s a valid use of the English word “church,” but it’s not a meaning found in the New Testament. Denominations are manmade organizations that allow groups of congregations to work together. It’s not a bad concept, and it’s not wrong to be part of a denomination—but the New Testament doesn’t use the word church in this particular way. In God’s sight, there is one ekklesia, one called out assembly of believers.
Jesus deliberately intended to form a continuing community of prayer, preaching, and mutual support. The ekklesia, therefore, is neither a social club nor a political action committee. It is by definition those called forth by the Son to be discipled by the Spirit for the purpose of living lives that bring glory and honor to the Father. That is certainly the picture of the church painted in the New Testament.
The Church is Holy
“I believe in the holy catholic church.” The adjective “holy” reinforces the truth that the church consists of those called out by God; to be holy is to be set apart by God for His service. The church is holy not because of the individual merit of each of its members. Rather, the church is holy in that it derives its life and substance from the Holy Spirit.
Jesus has called the ekklesia, His followers, to live a life worthy of the calling we received. In other words, to experience every day what it means to be set apart by God for His service. Sometimes we get it, other we don’t. Sometimes we do it right, other times we stumble.
The Church is Universal
“I believe in the holy catholic church.” The Apostles’ Creed also confesses that the church is “catholic,” which simply means “universal.” With all respect to our brothers and sisters in Christ in the Roman Catholic Church, the word “catholic” here doesn’t refer to a particular denomination. Rather, it refers to the universal nature of the Church of Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commanded us “to go and make disciples of all nations.”
Last week we celebrated Pentecost. Acts chapter gives us a glimpse of the universal nature of the church where we find people literally from the four ends of the earth forming together a community, one body, the church of Jesus Christ. In Revelation 7:9-10, the Apostle John spoke about the same idea when he wrote, “After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.”
So as I conclude, this is what I want you to remember today, my friends. Remember that in His grace, God has called you to be a part of His family. You’re hand-picked by God. Along with many others, from every nation, tribe, race, and language, you’re set aside by God to be His light where is darkness, to be His love where is hatred; to show compassion where rejection is found. This is what the ekklesia has been doing for over 2,000 years. I believe in the holy catholic church. Amen.
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