The Ecumenical Church
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15
The first Sunday after Pentecost is traditionally known as Trinity Sunday. The appointed readings for this Sunday point to the Holy Trinity. One of the important advantages of the lectionary is that it requires us to address Biblical concepts that we might otherwise avoid.
There was a great deal of confusion over the Trinity within the Early Church. Questions arose about the nature of God. Ecumenical councils were convened to address these concerns. The Nicene Creed, a Christian statement of faith accepted by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and most Protestant churches, was formulated to address these questions. The creed gets its name from the First Council of Nicaea (325 A.D.), where it was initially adopted, and from the First Council of Constantinople (381 A.D.), where a revised version was accepted. A contemporary English translation of this version reads as follows:
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is seen and unseen. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, one in Being with the Father. For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, by the power of the Holy Spirit he was born of the Virgin Mary and became truly human. For our sake he was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered, died and was buried. On the third day he rose again in fulfillment of the Scriptures; he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end. We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. Who with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified. Who has spoken through the prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Why is this creed important? It is more than just a document of passing historical or theological interest. It speaks to us about who God is and what we believe about God. The Christian Faith and the Church itself cannot be fully understood outside the context of the Trinity. The fundamentals of the Faith embodied in the Nicene Creed have been agreed upon my most Christians. Perhaps we need to revisit some of those fundamentals on Trinity Sunday. We want a true and balanced understanding of the Church which Jesus established through the Holy Spirit.
Why is the Church either liturgical, evangelical, or pentecostal? Each of these three “branches” of the church tend to emphasize certain aspects of the Faith over others. The liturgical church seems to emphasize the Law of God and obedience to the Law, but may neglect the concept of new birth. The evangelical church values a salvation by a personal statement of belief in Jesus and, in some cases, that is all that is required – a “once saved always saved” approach. The pentecostal church in its most radical form may value spiritual signs and wonders, in some cases, to the exclusion of all else. Many counterfeit gifts have filtered into certain churches with little discernment and Godly authority in evidence.
Let us consider God. He is Father; He is Son; and He is Holy Spirit. He is all three and He is One. We cannot neglect one person of God in favor of another. God cannot be divided and His Church should not be divided, though we have divided it. Our understanding of the Church should not be divided. We need a vision of the Church that is ecumenical, which does not emphasize one aspect of God over another. The Apostle Paul speaks of a balance in the faith:
Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. (Romans 5:1-5)
Jesus makes it clear that we need the Holy Spirit to guide us into all truth. Further, He stipulates that the same Spirit will glory Him and not act apart from Him:
Jesus said to the disciples, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16:12-15)
We see that the Faith about which Jesus speaks is dependent upon the leading and empowering of the Holy Spirit. How can a church not be pentecostal? We see that our heart needs to be transformed. We need to be born from above by the Spirit. How can a church not be evangelical?
The ecumenical church is as much a right path through life as it is an institution. Let us seek the fullness of God within ourselves and within our churches. Let us pray for those in leadership that they might have the mind of Christ. Let us pray for a revival and reformation by the Spirit under the authority of God.