Catholicity Claims You
Monday of Advent 2
5 December 2016
What is catholicity? It is a single form of words, a unified teaching drawn from the Scriptures of the prophets and apostles. There has been much squabbling over what makes the church catholic over the years, some of it arising from the conversion of prominent Lutherans to the Church of Rome. One of those converts has argued that the Roman church is the church that is "rightly ordered over time." What this means (I think) is that the church is recognized where there is the correct church discipline and ministerial order. Where those things are found, then we recognize the church catholic.
One can sympathize with this view as we see our culture and its institutions sliding into the moral abyss. There is a yearning after the moral discipline that parents, teachers, churches, and civil government used to provide for us. For some that yearning is satisfied by the discovery of the Roman church as the arbiter of moral meaning. One can sympathize with this yearning, I say, because we are likely to have to support our boomer parents in retirement because they spent all their money "partying;" our teachers have to be watched lest they molest our children; our churches no longer support common morality, but ordain homosexual bishops; government officials are themselves sexual predators sexting to the vulnerable, and our Supreme Court has upheld a false and hurtful definition of marriage. Moral order is breaking down and the Roman church promises to restore order. I sympathize, but I don't agree with the solution.
Of course, there are people who will simply say that catholicity is not to be sought, "because Luther got rid of the pope a long time ago." This simplistic view of catholicity merely surrenders the word "catholic" to a single communion organized around the earthly institution of the papacy and its external discipline ("rightly ordered over time"). People with this simplistic view object to the name "catholic" no matter what it might mean: "We are Lutherans. Therefore we are not Catholics." Um, well, sort of.
There are no merely organizational answers to the question of catholicity. There is only the gospel and its teaching. Hilary of Poitiers (c. 310 - c. 367) has it right. The Scripture gives us the faith and all of it. It is a divine gift of revelation. So Lutherans, too, have no institutional claim on catholicity. Just because you sport the moniker, "Lutheran," doesn't make you right. Far from it! Names don't make catholic, otherwise the pope would have cornered the market. Everyone wants to claim catholicity or "rightness." (even if they reject the term "catholic").
The right teaching that conveys the Life will always enlighten the darkness. The darkness will never comprehend the Light. Ultimately, you don't claim catholicity, catholicity claims you.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

Hilary of Poitiers
"This Life is the Light of men, the Light which lightens the darkness (Jn 1:9). To comfort us for that powerlessness to describe His generation of which the prophet speaks, the Fisherman (John) adds, and the darkness comprehended Him not (Jn 1:5). The language of unaided reason was baffled and silenced; the Fisherman who lay on the bosom of the Lord (Jn 21:20) was taught to express the mystery. His language is not the world's language, for He deals with things that are not of the world. Let us know what it is, if there be any teaching that you can extract from his words, more than their plain sense conveys; if you can translate into other terms the truth we have elicited, publish them abroad. If there be none-indeed, because there are none-let us accept with reverence this teaching of the Fisherman, and recognize in his words the oracles of God. Let us cling in adoration to the true confession of Father and Son, Unbegotten and Only-begotten ineffably, whose majesty defies all expression and all perception. Let us, like John, lie on the bosom of the Lord Jesus, that we too may understand and proclaim the mystery.
This faith, and every part of it, is impressed upon us by the evidence of the Gospels, by the teaching of the Apostles, by the futility of the treacherous attacks which heretics make on every side. The foundation stands firm and unshaken in face of winds and rains and torrents; storms cannot overthrow it, nor dripping waters hollow it, nor floods sweep it away. Its excellence is proved by the failure of countless assaults to impair it. Certain medicines are compounded as to be of value not merely against some single disease but against all; they are of universal efficacy. So it is with the catholic faith. It is not a medicine for some special malady, but for every ill; virulence cannot master, nor numbers defeat, nor complexity baffle it. One and unchanging it faces and conquers all its foes. Marvelous it is that one form of words should contain a remedy for every disease, a statement of truth to confront every contrivance of falsehood. Let heresy muster its forces and every sect come forth to battle. Let our answer to their challenge be that there is One Unbegotten God the Father, and One Only-begotten Son of God, perfect Offspring of perfect Parent. That the Son was begotten by no lessening of the Father or subtraction from His Substance, but that He who possesses all things begot an all-possessing Son; a Son not emanating nor proceeding from the Father, but compact of, and inherent in, the whole divinity, of Him who wherever He is present is present eternally. One free from time, unlimited in duration, since by Him all things were made. Indeed, He could not be confined within a limit created by Himself. Such is the catholic and apostolic faith which the gospel has taught us and we avow.

Hilary of Poitiers, On the Trinity, 2.21-22
2 Timothy 4:1-13

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. 

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing. 

Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. (ESV)
Lord Christ, You have come into the darkness to bring the Light of the catholic truth. By Your Spirit claim us for that truth, that we might confess it faithfully to the world. Amen.
For Luther Academy meeting today, that the Lord Jesus would open opportunities for the growth of the gospel in all the world
For all those who are doing good works, that hidden under the cross of Christ their good works would bring praise to the heavenly Father
For those confessing to the point of death, that they would see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God
Art: VASARI, Giorgio Annunciation (1564-67)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2016
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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