The Catholic Spirit

Jesus’ prayer in John 17 has intrigued me increasingly throughout the years that I have been in ministry: “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.”[1] With so many doctrines, theologies and personalities, how will this every happen?

In my discussion group at church, we frequently talk about differences in theologies. One day my pre-Christian lady exclaimed, “That’s what frustrates me about this whole Christian thing. There are all of these different theologies. What are you supposed to believe?” After thinking about my answer, I said that yes, there are many differences in opinions, but we all believe that Jesus is the one to whom we go for salvation. The rest is just doctrine.

I empathize with her frustration, and hope that we have not deterred belief. However, while there are all of those differing opinions within Christianity, I believe that it is possible for all of us to get along if we learn to drop our “black and white” thinking about non-essential matters and to rid ourselves of pride. Wesley expressed his frustration with the situation well: “But although a difference in opinions of modes of worship may prevent an entire external union; yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, thought we are not of one opinion?”[2]

Wesley believed that believers could be unified. He encouraged people to realize that even though they believed their opinion to be correct, that it was possible to make a mistake, to be wrong.[3] It is difficult to imagine in our day that this could possibly be so as we argue with one another about creation, evolution, who’s going to heaven and who isn’t, etc.

“Every wise man, therefore, will allow others the same liberty to thinking which he desires they should allow him; and will no more insist on their embracing his opinions, than he would have them to insist on his embracing theirs. He bears with those who differ with him, and only asks him with whom he desires to unite in love that single question, ‘Is thy heart right, as my heart is with thy heart?’”[4]

Unfortunately, it seems that within Christianity, if someone offers a dissenting view (or even if they have a different way of expressing the same view) that person is looked down upon and deemed a heretic. If the brand of heretic is not acknowledged out loud, bitterness and anger simmer below the surface of a conversation and is let out through gossip and backbiting. This should not be.

I recently dealt with a situation in which this happened. My husband, Mike, is very sensitive to how Christians should express their beliefs and took to task a respected minister within the Ministerial Association by writing an opinion letter in response to a devotion that the minister wrote. Mike did not disagree with the minister he just disagreed with the delivery and said so. The response to this was one of anger. They felt that since Mike wrote for the newspaper occasionally that the paper should not have printed his article. They felt that it was a personal attack on them by the newspaper. Two ministers pulled out and will not write any longer and the rest are considering whether or not the Ministerial Association should continue writing devotionals. Another minister, not in the Association, wrote a letter to the editor saying that my husband was self-righteous and un-Christian. The fact that Mike is not paid to write editorials does not matter to these ministers. They are angry about being challenged.

Wesley said that the heart of a person with a catholic spirit will be enlarged toward all humanity “those he knows and those he does not…catholic love is a catholic spirit.”[5] When Christians have this attitude the Church can be a beautiful place—a place of friendship and love; a place that will attract those outside. Have we forgotten Christ’s words: “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”?[6]

The reason I shared the above example is because it is an example of what is going on in Christianity. You can see it on the evening news from time to time or on Christian talk radio. You see it in the local church whenever someone can’t get their way. We seem to have the idea that everyone is out to get us. This may be the case in other parts of the world, such as China and other countries where Christianity is outlawed, but I fail to see how that thinking applies to us in America. Any persecution we suffer does not come close to meeting secretly in a basement and expecting at any moment for guards to beat the door down. These Christians are hauled off to jail and even murdered. We do not experience that in America. Why do we spend so much time arguing and in turning the culture against us? We are in a position to help others, but we are shooting ourselves in our collective feet, so to speak.

A culture of love is needed in the church today. Wesley said that “a (person) of a catholic spirit is one who…gives his (or her) hand to all whose hearts are right with his (or her) heart: One who knows how to value, and praise God for, all the advantages he (or she) enjoys…”[7] The one with a catholic spirit loves people for who they are and accepts them where they are. They seek to celebrate everyone in the body of Christ and also value them as God’s children. The only way I know how to do this is to ask God to rid me of any anger I might have toward other Christians and then refuse to let it return. I must pray for my fellow believers and choose to concentrate on their good points. If there is disagreement, I must calm myself and choose my words wisely. In this way, I will hopefully be able to live at peace with my fellow Christians and enjoy a catholic spirit.

[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 17:20-21). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Wesley, John, The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 5 (Kansas City, Missouri: Nazarene Publishing House), 493.

[3] Ibid, 495

[4] Ibid, 495

[5] Ibid, 503

[6]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Jn 13:35). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[7] Wesley, 503