Bruno Forte was seen as the possible successor to become Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, after Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, was elected to become Pope Benedict XVI.
Here is his brilliant definition of the Church as a communion in the Spirit of Christ:
The Franciscan friar Benedict J. Groeschel whom I’ve first encountered thru channel surfing on cable TV via his program on EWTN, is one of the many reasons why I believe (contrary to what most Evangelical Protestants) that Catholicism is a legitimate expression of the Church that Christ established in the New Testament.
I’ve found his writings insightful and have found comfort in his books especially during the first time that I really felt discouraged at my local church where I accidentally read a portion of his book Arise From Darkness that deals with instances that the church lets us down.
Those who studied in Roman Catholic schools are quite familiar with the term ‘salvation history’ as it is one of the emphasis in their required theology classes, which most of the time students don’t really try to understand or at the (very least) care to give a hard look at the subject since in the first place it does not make sense to them, and whether they or the teacher is to blame for that lack on interest in the subject one thing is certain – it is in the Bible.
This I think is one of the mistakes that people make into articulating theology and its terms, they make it seem that they stand alone, and are only articulated in the latter works of more popular theologians rather than as spiritual truths that are already revealed in sacred Scriptures that speaks of God’s self-revelation in the history of Israel and in that of Christ’s time and in the Apostolic Church.
Heaven knows how many times a preacher have scared the living daylights out of me whenever the topic of Lordship has been preached in the church’s pulpit. I can’t even count how many times I’ve raised my hand or almost came and marched in front of the sanctuary to acknowledge Christ’s Lordship whenever a preacher would utter the cliché’ ‘if Jesus is not Lord of all, He is not Lord at all’.
“The true growth which is the secret of the upbuilding of the community is not extensive but intensive; its vertical growth in height and depth. If things are well—and there is no reason why they should not be—this is the basis. The numerical increase of the community indicates that it is also engaged in this very different increase. But the relationship cannot be reversed. It is not the case that its intensive increase necessarily involves an extensive. We cannot, therefore, strive for vertical renewal merely to produce greater horizontal extension and a wider audience. At some point and in some way, where it is really engaged in vertical renewal, it will always experience the arising of new Christians and therefore an increase in its constituency, but perhaps at a very different point and in a very different manner and compass from that expected. If it is used only as a means for extensive renewal, the internal will at once lose its meaning and power. It can be fulfilled only for its own sake, and then—unplanned and unarranged—it will bear its own fruits. As the communion of saints takes place, the dominant and effective force is always primarily and properly that of intensive, vertical and spiritual growth.”
I think it’s a good move for the church to recognize the contributions of the Church Fathers to the life of the Body of Christ, however I feel that one cannot stop with a mere study of Augustine, Athanasius, Origen, Iraneus or Clement of Rome. I believe the study should furthermore encompass that to go as far as to really study the drama of God’s History with His covenant people – that is the Church in its expression as the Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church that has been attested to in the Creeds.
I believe the study of church history in a local church setting is important in the sense that it brings every believer into a mystical family reunion whereas the Church is the household of God is not just a single nuclear family that merely comprises the local congregation but a multitude that includes every tongue and tribe from all nations.
Already I’m seriously pondering using Bruce Shelley’s classic Church History in Plain Language as the material because personally the book in its own way has helped me move away from a stunted perspective of ecclesiology towards a more wider view of God’s plan of salvation that encompasses our local church traditions and dogma.
Below is an interesting conversation with Bruce Shelley about the importance of studying church history.
"Surely one of the remarkable aspects of Christianity today is how few of these professed believers have ever seriously studied the history of their religion." - Bruce Shelley
The story of the history of the Church is a drama, a powerful drama. Why study it?
1) It gives you understanding. How did we get the way we are? A study of the drama answers that. The study of history can make you wise without gray hair and wrinkles (though one certainly cannot say the same about the writing of that history!)
2) The study of history introduces you to new friends. How else could you meet Augustine, John of the Cross, Martin Luther, John Wesley or Charles Finney? Only as you investigate the drama can you meet them.
3) You learn the price that was paid for you!
4) You avoid the pitfalls and the land mines of history. It has been said that he who is not a student of history is condemned to repeat it. The study of history is not done to exalt tradition. In fact, tradition can be enslaving. As Richard Halverson noted, "Tradition can be dangerous. It can not only modify the truth; it can replace it altogether." A study of history teaches us which traditions are suffocating and need to be avoided and which are so crucial that they must be preserved at all costs.
5) Studying history increases your effectiveness. You see what worked, what was effective. Mark Shaw said it all in the title of his book, Ten Great Ideas from Church History.
6) History enhances your endurance. When you see what those before you endured, you will be encouraged to persevere.
7) History will inspire you. Information may guide you, but inspiration keeps you going. A study of history can inspire. Hopefully, this one will.
8) History makes the dead come to life. My friend Harold Ivan Smith says "no person is dead as long as someone keeps saying their name or telling their stories." By telling this drama, the historical figures live once again.
9) The study of history humbles you by helping you to understand that there was life before you were born. John Wesley once said to Adam Clarke, "If I were to write my own life, I should begin it before I was born."
Copyright 2002, JimGarlow.com all rights reserved, used by permission
It is my prayer that as I will be a part of the journey of studying church history in my Sunday school class that we would learn from the church’s past so that we will no longer fall short in responding to the challenges posed to our faith today as I am confident that there is ‘nothing new under the sun,’ as far as the communal life of the church goes. Furthermore that the study of church history would cause to pause in awe and would be forced to bow our knees in worship to a God who has set Himself to establish a people who would bear witness to His name and His Son.
Creeds are used to present a systematic articulation of beliefs adhered to by a community of faith, like the Apostles Creed that most Christians in liturgical churches recite every Sunday.
Howard Paterson Professor of Theology and Public Issues at the University of Otago, Dunedin, Andrew Bradstock recently formulated this piercing creed that is a piercing criticism to contemporary Christianity’s association with middle-class consumerism and capitalism in a public lecture that delivered at the University of Auckland’s School of Theology titled ‘Profits Without Honour?: Economics, spirituality and the current global recession’:
Me and a friend of mine had an interesting jeepney ride two weeks ago, where we encountered a jeepney driver who was also a pastor of a local Baptist church. It was on this conversation that he started to talk about how he doesn’t believe in the ‘once saved, always saved’ teaching of Baptists.
That conversation, lead me again to read on the topic of Eternal Security and Paul Little’s account of a conversation between the Charles Simeon and John Wesley provides wisdom in responding to the question of salvation in its past, present and future implications.
It is my hope that this conversation between an Simeon and Wesley will draw us to focus more on what binds us Christians if we are to talk about our salvation:
A conversation in 1784 between Charles Simeon (a Calvinist and believer in unconditional predestination) and John Wesley (a follower of Arminus, who denied unconditional predestination) can help us understand the mystery of coming to faith.
SIMEON: Sir, I understand that you are called an Arminian; and I have sometimes been called a Calvinist; and therefore I suppose we are to draw daggers. But before I consent to begin the combat, with your permission, I will ask you a few questions… Pray, Sir, do you feel yourself a depraved creature, so depraved that you would never have thought of turning to God if God had not first put it in your heart?
WESLEY: Yes. I do indeed.
SIMEON: And do you utterly despair of recommending yourself to God by anything you can do, and look for salvation solely through the blood and righteousness of Christ?
WESLEY: Yes, solely through Christ.
SIMEON: But, Sir, supposing you were at first saved by Christ, are you somehow or other to save yourself afterwards by your own works?
WESLEY: No, I must bee saved by Christ from first to last.
SIMEON: Allowing, then, that you were first turned by the grace of God, are you not in some way or other able to keep yourself by your own power?
SIMEON: What then? Are you to be upheld every hour and every moment by God, as much as an infant in its mother’s arms?
WESLEY: Yes, altogether.
SIMEON: And is all your hope in the grace and mercy of God to preserve you into His heavenly kingdom?
WESLEY: Yes, I have no hope but in Him.
SIMEON: Then, Sir, with your leave I will put up my dagger again; for this is all my Calvinism; this my election, my justification by faith, my final perseverance; it is in substance all that I hold, and as I hold it; and therefore, if you please, instead of searching out terms and phrases to be a ground of contention, we will cordially unite in those things wherein we agree. 1
1. Simeon, Charles – as quoted by Paul Little – Know What You Believe p.101-102
People who know me or at least those who take the time to read my musings on theology and the life of Christians and the Church are probably familiar with my interest in relating exploring the social dimension of a believer’s faith in Christ.
Primarily because I am a staunch believer that though faith in Christ as Lord and Saviour are personal affairs – it does not mean though that it should be a private affair wherein a believer must be contented in living a Christian life of ‘working our their relationship with God’ through misguided exercise of personal piety and overemphasis on devotional Bible-reading and prayer, however good and important those things may be for each individual Christians.
Hate me as much as you want to but I believe that Christianity is not just about us and Jesus. Because the relationship that we have with God through Jesus Christ brings us into communion with millions of others. Otherwise there won’t be a need for the Church, which exists within the world to be a visible revelation of God calling upon mankind to become subject of His present and future Kingdom.
Looking at Christianity from the perspective of individualism hurts the body of Christ and its witness as it makes it seem that this present world doesn’t matter and that our relationships with one another (however imperfect they are), are not at all important because we have a personal relationship with Jesus.
It is in line with that thought that I have resolved to talk about this social dimension of the Christian life in previous and present post as well as in the coming days as I will try to share with you my personal readings on faith as articulated from the theological reflections of fellow believers who like myself are wrestling with Scriptures in defining a faith that is not ‘dead’ but rather a faith that is transformative not only in the aspect of the individual’s sanctification but also in the life and witness of the Church at large to the world that groans for its liberation when Christ returns in glory.
So it is here that I would like to share about James W. Douglas’ insight on faith’s relationship with hope as he has written in his book Lighting East to West:
“The Christian experience of faith is in a God of hope to humanity, a loving God who will finally bring justice and peace to the world. The Christian prays, “Thy kingdom come,” knowing that when the kingdom does come, swords will be beaten into ploughshares – or more difficult to believe today that nuclear weapons will be abolished and the world’s masses freed from hunger and oppression. The Christian experience of faith is in a God who will finally transform the world as we know it, filled with violence and suffering, into a new heaven and new earth where love and truth will reign in people’s hearts and be embodied in a global community. Thus faith in God means hope for the earth, a hope for all humanity.”1
 Douglas, James W. Jesus, Gandhi and the Nuclear Age: Lighting East to West p.92