January 27, 2021

IMonk 101: A Generous Catholicity

symbols.jpgHere’s an essay from the archives that discusses that part of post-evangelicalism some find the most obnoxious: the confession that I believe in the catholic church and a catholic Christianity. It’s called “A Generous Catholicity.”

With discussions of ecclesiology beginning to heat up in Southern Baptist life and among the many new church leaders looking at the future of denominational alignment, catholicity is a vital issue. The earliest Christian creeds set the table, but many contemporary conservatives refuse to come and eat a fellowship meal.

Read: A Generous Catholicity


  1. Nicholas Anton says

    Forty five years ago, a Sunday School teacher made the following comment on denominationalism. “You can not put all people into the same mold and expect them to come out alive”. I believe there was some wisdom in that statement. Nevertheless, though denominations may at times be necessary, no individual denomination outlines the “True” church.
    The contemporary universal church, as the New Testament church was, should be one, and included all true believers. There is no indicated New Testament concept of official versus non official, associate status within any church/ekklesia in the New Testament. All true believers were considered part of the True church/ekklesia, the “body of Christ”, and all functioned with equal status as gifted by the Holy Spirit, whether assembled or not assembled, whether itinerant or local. Their function and authority existed in Whom they believed (Jesus Christ), the Words they spoke and in the authority they exercised according to the gifts delegated to them by the Holy Spirit, and not according to human appointed jurisdiction. True, people were delegated, recognized and affirmed by the church and apostles to serve where there was neglect in service, but not to give them official status over anyone within any church/assembly, nor exclusive control of “Truth”, nor exclusive authority in that jurisdiction.
    That is why I hedge at affirming or denying a person’s salvation or my association with him/her at the Lord’s Table on the basis of denomination.

  2. When I was saved I wasn’t yet a member of any local church. I had previously been a Mormon, but had left that. For complicated reasons that would take much to long to explain, I became suicidal. Really suicidal, not “seeking attention suicidal.” One night, sitting on the edge of my bed–despondent and without hope–I suddenly fell to the floor, on my back. Then I said, as nearly as I can remember, “God, if you are there, and if you are listening, I don’t want to live like this for another day. You have all the power and if you wont use it on my behalf, then I am lost.” That was it. I went to bed.

    Next morning, I noticed a Bible on a bookshelf that my brother had left behind some years before. I opened it and was at Romans. I read. As I read (picture me slapping the side of my head) I remember exclaiming, “no one ever told me this!” I believed what I was reading, and I believe it was at that moment that I was saved. I was subsequently baptized in a non-denominational church. (How I got there is another story for some other time.)

    So, I wasn’t saved in the prescribed baptist manner. No sinners prayer. No aisle walk. No “asking Jesus into my heart.” I wasn’t dealing with a pastor, or even a helpful Christian of any sort. I didn’t even expect an answer to my “prayer.” I wasn’t in church. I wasn’t “led” to Christ by anyone–except the Holy Spirit.

    That was some 18 years ago. I am now far from my original home, and a member of a SBC Baptist church in northeast Georgia. They didn’t ask me where I was baptized, or by whom. When I spent about 30 minutes on Wed. night on this testimony of salvation I actually got a standing applause.

    I do have a few points of contention with them but overall I am satisfied to be there. If there is a moral here, I guess it would be that there is hope for we Baptist’s.

  3. Had I said something inappropriate to cause my comment to be deleted/disapproved?

  4. I’ve not disapproved any comments. You might need to resend.

  5. never mind…I found it…just not here. IT seems to be on the archived essay, not this updated one…sorry!

  6. Tonight my wife and I are meeting with the kids’ ministry director at our SBC and another couple of folks to discuss a preteen Sunday School class we’ve agreed to help lead.

    Personally, I’m a bit anxious about the whole thing. If I were leading the class myself I suppose I wouldn’t be, but I have a sinking feeling that our ideas regarding the focus on the “sinners prayer” as a fail-safe salvation formula (don’t care for it) and our old earth view of creation will end up being issues of contention. In other words, the non-stereotypical SBC things about us may lead to opposition from the other leaders. I hope this is not going to be the case.

    It’s funny how disagreement on what should be non-critical issues can make people regard your Christianity as deficient (or potentially disqualify you from leadership). Lord, have mercy.

  7. On another note that relates to this blog post, while driving home from the Sunday School planning meeting, we found out that my paternal Grandfather died of an apparent heart attack this evening. He was a committed Roman Catholic (for most of his life, I think). It is sad to think that many of my SBC church peers would likely assume that he wasn’t really a believer.

  8. Not being an SBCer I guess I was surprised that the type of thinking described in the article is apparently a part of the SBC. Is this movement gaining ground within the SBC? Would I really need to be rebaptized in a lot of SBC churches or is it just a radical few? I have SBC friends and never felt like a second class Christian in my fellowship with them.

    I do resonate with the gist of what Michael is saying about catholicity. In my own journey I have found that catholicity has grown in my outlook as I have been set free from judgemnetalism–especially as it regards the RC Church. Raised as a fundamentalist baptist I have gone through a lot of changes to get there. Life is much better embracing others than it is in excluding them.

  9. Caplight,

    Yes, you would have to be rebaptized at a number of Southern Baptist Churches. I’ve seen major fights, when re-doing the church constitution, over that very issue.

    I find it very sad.

  10. I wouldn’t say it’s just an SBC thing, so to speak (in my experience). I would say it’s more of a certain evangelical culture that would say, “my friend just ‘got saved’ the other day; she was Catholic.” I heard that as part of individual lay testimonies in the AG church I used to go to and in the SBC we now attend. I guess it depends on how you phrase and answer the question of justification and salvation: What must I do to be saved?

    If the answer is “Have a perfect understanding of how utterly sinful you are and that only Jesus can save you–and if you have any reliance on works or anything (too any small degree), then you can’t be saved,” then I don’t think any of us have much hope, let alone RCC-ers. But I think God’s grace covers imperfections in belief and understanding when we see what the object of our “faith” needs to be.

    “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.”

    I think that’s why it’s so important to be reminded out of our theological traditions/systematic theologies and into the way the biblical accounts portray the basic gospel message– the proclamation of Jesus as crucified, risen Lord who has defeated sin and death and is reconciling the world to himself (not a perfect understanding of a particular theory of atonement).

    I think N.T. Wright is correct to say that the doctrine of Justification by faith is supposed to be THE ecumenical doctrine, but it’s historically been used to divide brothers and sisters.

    Early early tomorrow morning I will be flying with my mom and dad for Michigan. I’m kinda interested in being able to be at my Grampa’s RC funeral. If you read this– say a quick prayer for us (and my parents are NOT believers).

  11. I wonder why the love of Christ released in the life of a believer let alone a leader doesn’t cause people to want to find common ground.

    I always appreciated the camaraderie of the Baptist Whitfield and the Anglican Wesley brothers. I think we could learn a lot from them.

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