What Ever Happened to the Doctrine of Catholicity?

By James Brown Jr.

“And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;  And hast made us unto our God kings and priests: and we shall reign on the earth.” —Revelation 5:9-10

“And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people,  Saying with a loud voice, Fear God, and give glory to him; for the hour of his judgment is come: and worship him that made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and the fountains of waters.” —Revelation 14:6-7

One of the focal points of Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity is the Catholic Church.  Most minds directly think of the apostate Roman Catholic Church.  However, when we say catholic we are talking about the true universal Church of Jesus Christ.

Our confession of faith states:

“The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.

“All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.” —1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 26: Of the Church, Section1-2

The confession of our Presbyterian brethren similarly states:

“The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the Head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that fills all in all.

“The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the Gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion; and of their children: and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation.

“Unto this catholic visible Church Christ has given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and does, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto.

“This catholic Church has been sometimes more, sometimes less visible. And particular Churches, which are members thereof, are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the Gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely in them.” —Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter XXV Ofthe Church, Section 1-4

My question then is what happened to the doctrine of the catholic Church?

There is so much division among our Reformed brethren it is embarrassing.  In our fears and reactionary thinking we have devoured the Church and created a sectarian monster.

This has not been exemplified any greater than the recent National Center for Family-Integrated Churches (NCFIC) controversy.

In case you just returned from your Thanksgiving vacation, NCFIC posted a video from their Worship of God Conference criticizing Reformed Rappers and calling Reformed Rap sinful and Satanic.

If you watch and listen you cannot help but be perplexed by 6 white panelists displaying unkind, uninformed and elitist views on the subject.  Since we are not going to dissect the statements of each individual you can view the video below.

For a moment I thought I was watching an audition for Downton Abby.  The ignorance of the culture they are attempting to speak to is almost unforgivable.  It is what you would imagine if Robert Crawley gave a dissertation on Americanism.

The NCFIC controversy is only worsened by the recent Doug Phillips scandal.  I realize they were in the midst of this conference when the news broke of Phillips resignation.  However, to follow that disgraceful revelation of pride, elitism and ultimately some kind of marital infidelity with more pride and elitism from the same camp is reckless.

Of all the video clips they could have released from this extensive conference they chose this one.  I cannot even imagine the thoughtlessness of such a decision.

It is bad enough these speakers made such mindless statements, yet, to broadcast them as if this was the highlight of the conference is asinine to say the least.

So again, I ask, what happened to the catholic Church?

Well, to be honest it did not take long after we came to America to renew the European denial of the catholic Church as we each made our cultural version of the Reformation the standard.

Please understand I am not speaking against any cultural version of the Reformed truths.  I am only saying they should all be judged equally.

We must understand there are cultural variants within the different cultures of the world.  The German Church and the Scottish Church had some distinct differences.  We should expect no less with the European and African Churches.

However, this does not just apply to ethnicity but a whole host of cultural influences in America.  Here in Indiana, an urban church located on East 38th Street will no doubt have some cultural differences from a church located in the Carmel outskirts of the 465 loop.  Both of these will no doubt look different than a church in Brown County.

Some of the confusion that has arisen over the years is the term Catholic which can mean universal or apostolic depending on its context.

Universal to many white, Anglo-Saxons has come to mean “look alike.”  However, this is based solely off of traditional concepts from the 1700, 1800 and finally early to mid-1900.  We must remember that our conceptual view has existed at most a couple hundred years.

For Fundamentalists, their concept of the Church is less than 100 years old.  Southern Presbyterians only go back a little more than 200 years.  No matter what American denomination we may belong, we have all developed a very narrow and limited view of Christ’s Church.

Reformed Christians must understand that our Faith is what unites us in the brotherhood.  Southern choirs and hymns are not the defining element.  It may define a particular in one group but it does not define the whole of that group or the Reformed churches.

“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” —1 Corinthians 12:13 

Whether Jewish or one of the multitude of Gentile parts of the body, our particular part is not the whole.

“But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him.  And if they were all one member, where were the body?  But now are they many members, yet but one body.” —1 Corinthians 12:18-20

This isolationist and elitist view has done much damage to the unity of the Church.  While these reactionary movements arose as a response against liberalism, the fact is our reactionary movements have been just as destructive as the liberal movements.

A disjoined Church is a broken Church.  This is what we presently see in our America limited view of God and Christ’s Church.

We are not calling for doctrinal abandonment, which is the fear of all those who have embraced the different reactionary movements against ecumenicalism.  Our Faith is what unites us.  However, before we can once again advance the Christian Faith we must define what this Faith is.

To us here at Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity it is the doctrinal expressions of the Great Reformation.  However, there are distinct practices that should not divide us but only particularize us.

“All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.” —1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chapter 26: Of the Church, Section 2; http://www.reformedreader.org/ccc/1689lbc/english/Chapter26.htm

These particular churches will find distinct expression culturally and in the practice of our one Faith.  We will do a great disservice to our posterity if we allow this particularity to keep the Church from becoming united in Christ.

The First Century Church did not allow the particulars of the Jewish and Gentile churches to alienate and fragment the Church.  Our strength is in the uniformity of our one Faith and in the diversity of our ability to redeem every culture, tribe, tongue and nation.

Reformed Church of the Holy Trinity is seeking to unite true believers in the one true universal or apostolic Faith.  Here are a few guidelines in restoring catholicity.

Unity of Doctrine

We are constantly told by the liberals, “doctrine divides.”  However, it is doctrine that defines our Faith.

The true Church has a long history of great creeds and confessions defining this religion of Jesus Christ.  There is really no additional work to be done in this area.  These deep bodies of expressions are the standards by which the Christian Faith is defined and how we must judge current issues.

These creeds include the Apostles Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed, and the Chalcedon Creed.  Our confessions include the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Second London Confession of Faith, the Three Forms of Unity and many others.

Why then are we having trouble defining the Faith that should unite us?  Simply, we get focused on the minor particulars and abandon our doctrine.  We seek to bind the consciences of our brethren with our particular practices, traditions or even things of indifference.

In certain practices where the Scriptures are not clear we bind heavy burdens upon the churches.  We then attribute this as upholding doctrine when we are really just upholding cultural or denominational practices.  We squeeze and twist the Scriptures like someone trying to get juice out of a turnip in order to make our denominational practice the standard bearer of the Church.  These things ought not to be. 

We must uphold our doctrine as it is universally expressed in the Reformed churches leaving particular churches free to practice their distinct practices of this united Faith.

Diversity of Practice

If the Church is one, why are brethren not in union, either universally or particularly?  Obviously, I am not talking about liberals who deny the Five Sola’s and/or the creedal confessions of the Church.

We look to RC Sproul as a mentor, friend and brother but if he comes near the communion table in our church we will fence him out with the unbelievers.  This is absurd but it is of the same arrogance and elitist nature we see in the NCFIC video.  What I am saying is the churches have become infested with this prideful ignorance.

To think that the churches cannot exist one with another, since we are to be one of another, is possible blasphemy.  These divisive practices communicate to the world that Christ does not love His own, is not united with His people and is the author of confusion.  Is it any wonder the West is declining?

The true churches of Christ must be united in the Faith but allowed to practice that which is not heretical according to their understanding of the Faith.

Distinction of Ethnicity

The Gospel has went into the entire world and whether we like it or not, God will gather His elect from “every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation” (Revelation 5:9).  Jew or Gentile means whether Scottish, English, African, Chinese or so on.  This Faith is universal but in that catholicity there are distinct people groups.

The English language is not the standard form of communication for the Gospel, Bach is not the standard form of musical expression, and cathedrals are not the standard custom for church buildings.

If we want our European cultural expressions to continue to receive the honor they deserve, we must also honor those of other people groups seeking to redeem their cultures.

In the midst of doctrinal unity, diverse practices and ethnic distinctions, we just might find some valuable demonstrations of Christ’s redeeming power to bless us, edify us and aid in the advancement of the Gospel.