Lord’s Day 21 (Q/A 54-56): A DIVIDED COMMUNITY, A UNITED COMMUNITY

54   Q.   What do you believe
               concerning “the holy catholic church”?

A.    I believe that the Son of God^1
through his Spirit and Word,^2
out of the entire human race,^3
from the beginning of the world to its end,^4
gathers, protects, and preserves for himself,^5
a community chosen for eternal life^6
and united in true faith.^7
And of this community I am^8 and always will be^9
a living member.

^1 John 10:11
^2 Isa. 59:21; Rom. 1:16; 10:14, 17; Eph. 5:26
^3 Gen. 26:4
^4 Ps. 71:18; 1 Cor. 11:26
^5 Matt. 16:18; John 10:28-30; 1 Cor. 1:8
^6 Rom. 8:29-30; Eph. 1:10-13
^7 Acts 2:46;Eph. 4:3-5
^8 1 John 3:21; 2 Cor. 13:5
^9 1 John 2:19

55   Q.   What do you understand by
               “the communion of saints”?

 A.    First, that believers one and all,
as members of this community,
share in Christ
and in all his treasures and gifts.^1

Second, that each member
should consider it a duty
to use these gifts
readily and joyfully
for the service and enrichment
of the other members.^2

^1 1 John 1:3; 1 Cor. 1:9; Rom. 8:32
^2 1 Cor.6:17;12:12-21; 13:5; Phil. 2:4-6

56   Q.   What do you believe
               concerning “the forgiveness of sins”?

A.    I believe that God,
because of Christ’s satisfaction, ^1
will no longer remember
any of my sins
or my sinful nature
which I need to struggle against all my life.^2

Rather, by grace
God grants me the righteousness of Christ
to free me forever from judgment.^3

^1 1 John 2:2; 2 Cor. 5:19, 21
^2 Jer. 31:34; Ps. 103:3, 10-12; Rom. 7:24-25; 8:1-3
^3 John 3:18


LORD’S DAY 21 (Q/A 54-56)
“A Divided Community, A United Community”

Last week, we saw in Q/A 53 that even as Reformation Day necessarily recalls the theological and ecclesiastical divisions that resulted from the 16th century continental Reformation, the common unity effected by the Holy Spirit is comprehensive, continuous, and serves as our confidence and comfort in the triune God’s work through Christ to redeem a broken world.

Q/A 54 through 56 speaks of our common calling in being the Church, the called out community that is holy because God is holy, and which is catholic because of the broadness of God’s work and the diversity of the members of the Church.  Because we have been assured of forgiveness and redemption, we are called to offer our whole selves to the witness of the Gospel. The Holy Spirit’s work, as the work of the triune God, is not just for a person, for a me, even as the Spirit’s work is deeply personal to each of us; when God touches each of our lives, it’s always in view of bringing us into a wider community – the community of God (who is perfect community – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and the community which belongs to God (i.e. the Church).

As I write this reflection, delegates from the PC(USA) have joined several thousand Christians, communion of saints, for the 10th Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Busan, South Korea. The WCC, a fellowship of about 350 churches from six continents, offers common witness with/for about 500 million Christians from mainline Protestant, Eastern, and Orthodox traditions, as well as continuing relationship with the 1 billion member Roman Catholic Church (which holds full membership in the WCC’s Faith and Order Commission). Still yet, the WCC engages with Pentecostal traditions, other ecumenical bodies, and non-governmental organizations.  Even as I keep track of proceedings in Busan via the Web, Twitter, and Facebook from my home in New Jersey and upcoming travels to California and Kentucky, technology connects, as more decisively our common faith, common baptisms, and the common Table give powerful witness.  Added to this number, millions of others not part of the Council, but still part of the fellowship. Added to this, the communion of saints who have completed their baptismal journeys and who belong to the eternal company of the great cloud of witnesses.

While we confess our common unity that is decisive because of the triune God, we also experience deep division in the body of Christ. We in the Reformed tradition are still prohibited from sharing the Lord’s Table with our Roman Catholic and Orthodox sisters and brothers. But we can rejoice that after over 500 years of division, there is mutual recognition of our baptism between Reformed churches in the United States and the Roman Catholic Church. We in the PC(USA) have our own family divisions as congregations have been dismissed, or are in the process of being dismissed to other ecclesial contexts, even as we can confess quite confidently that the experience and visibility of division, while real and serious, do not, in any way, vitiate or diminish the unity which  the triune God has effected in Christ through the Holy Spirit.

This simultaneous confession of a body divided, a body united is not  a contradiction, but a tension which the Holy Spirit gives us faith, hope and live to live with, to pray with, and to trust in God’s work.

This is similar to Q/A 56 assuring us that forgiveness of sins has been effected by God through Christ and which the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives testifies to the complete and efficacious work of Christ, while at the same time we are continually called to confess our sins, to forgive those who trespass against us, even as we have been forgiven.  No contradiction, just a tension, in which the Holy Spirit is active, especially when the hard work of forgiving one another and forgiving ourselves need to happen.

We confess that we believe and belong in the one holy catholic church., even as we are divided, so that in our divisions we work and pray for the unity which we confess.

We confess that we believe in the communion of living saints, even as we are joined to the communion of saints who are absent from the body but present with the Lord, so that we may finish the race following the way of the Lord.

We confess that we believe in the forgiveness of sins, even as we need forgiveness ourselves and even as we need to forgive others, so that we may have a deeper and continual awareness of God’s own forgiving love.

In the tensions and ambiguities of our lives and faith, there, in the midst, at the periphery, and in the winds of the rhythms and vicissitudes of it all, the Holy Spirit is and always will be.

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