44. The Christian Disciple and the Church as Catholic
Jesus speaking in The Gospel of John 17v21 says “And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me.”
The word catholic derives from the Greek word katholios, and its first written appearance is in Ignatius’ Epistle to the Smyrnaeans. Second century Christians used it to describe themselves signifying that God’s salvific truth was to be communicated across the world, transcending all barriers of nationality, cultures and language. The word was also used to symbolize their distinction from the heretics and their false teachings. In the mandate of Matthew 28v19, Jesus commands that the Gospel is spread throughout the world, and the church was to be His witnesses empowered by the Holy Spirit. Whilst the other first century religions were exclusivist by race, intellect or other means, Christianity was unique in that it was open for all, regardless of gender, race, culture or class. Paul had this in mind when he wrote “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” (Galatians 3v28) The Gospel message proclaimed was for all people everywhere, including those with immoral pasts, just as Jesus commanded in the Great Commission (Matthew 28vv18-20).
While ‘catholic’ may be defined as universal, it can also be understood as referring to the whole. This is because a ‘catholic church’ is a whole church, in so much as that the Gospel impacts every aspect of a human and the ‘catholic’ church addresses the heart, mind and will of all people everywhere. The church possesses in itself every kind of virtue, which can be named related to words, deeds or spiritual gifts of every kind.
It is also whole or universal in relationship to time and history; in so much as there has always been a people of God and will remain so after the end of time on earth. It is participation within the church of the past, the present church and church of the future, which reflects catholicity.
It is through the function of mission, that this hallmark can be tested in any church can be discerned in the church. If the community engages in gospel outreach, then the church can be seen to be ‘catholic’.
The Church’s mission is evangelism. This is sourced from the church being marked as catholic. Evangelism is the virtue of bringing God’s reconciling message of salvation to all people of all time in all places without barrier or hindrance. Throughout the Book of Acts, we see the commitment to mission in practice as God’s reconciling message spread through His church to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and into the Gentile lands. This was in response to Jesus words in Acts 1v8 “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
What is evangelism? Evangelism is purely telling others of God’s message of reconciliation to all people of all time. It is not forcing people to adopt Church standards (1 Corinthians 5v12) and nor is it simply a message of join the church as a symbol of good works (Ephesians 2vv8-10). This catholic gospel says that everybody has sinned against God (Isaiah 53v6; Romans 3vv10-11); nobody can earn their reconciliation with God (Ephesians 2v9); that God sent His Son Jesus to be born, crucified and resurrected so that salvation can be had for all people of all time (John 3v16; 1 Timothy 1v15); and that it is by acquiescing to God by faith in Jesus alone that people are saved (John 5v24; Acts 16v31).
Why evangelize? The prime motivation for evangelism is out of gratitude for what God has done for the church, in that the church loves because He loved first (1 John 4vv10-12, 14,19). It was this sentiment Paul refers to when he writes, “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.” (2 Corinthians 5v14). The New Testament church told of God’s reconciling message out of an “overwhelming experience of God’s love” which they had received. Also God is a missionary God. Jesus was sent to save the lost and redeem mankind! The Holy Spirit was sent from the Father and the Son!
While some are explicitly called to be evangelists (Ephesians 4v11), it also falls on all members of the church to do the work of an evangelist, following the example of Timothy (2 Timothy 4v5). Scripture dictates several reasons for members of His church to share their faith. Jesus commands us to tell others of God’s reconciling message. In the last words of Jesus’ earthly ministry, His church was commanded to be witnesses for Him (Acts 1v8). Evangelism is also an expression of the Christian Disciple’ love for God, through obeying His commands (John 14v15). It is also the church’s imperative mission because the church is the vessel God has chosen to spread the message of reconciliation to all people (Acts 4v12; 2 Peter 3v9). Remember Paul’s words from Romans 10vv14-15: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"”
For more to think about please do read 2 Corinthians 5v11-21. Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.
Q1. What is the message I proclaim as a Christian disciple, both in words and lifestyle?
Q2. How and why do I tell others this message, despite opposition?
Q3. What is my motivation for telling others the Christian message?
As ever, if you have any comments to make on this, please do contact me at partake(at)hotmail.co.uk. Thank you.