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Grace, Race, and Catholicity

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When the Word creates community, the result is a church and not a special interest group or market niche. A new community is formed by the Spirit as an imperfect yet nevertheless real oasis in a world of strife.

When Protestants encounter the words "catholic church," they usually think of a prominent branch of Christendom. When we confess, however, in the words of the Apostles' and Nicene creeds that we believe in "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church," we are one with Christians in all times and places in acknowledging an elect communion in Christ that is even now visible to some extent among us through the ministry of preaching and sacrament. "Catholic" here simply means 'universal'-the church in all times and places, where the Word is properly preached and the sacraments are properly administered. At a time when churches are divided along ethnic, political, socio-economic, and generational lines, the question is as urgent for us today as it was for the apostolic church: Will we be defined by Christ and his victory, or by the rival catholicities of this passing age?

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1 [ Back ] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Sanctorum Communio: A Theological Study of the Sociology of the Church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, vol. 1, ed. Joachim von Soosten; English edition, ed. Clifford J. Green, trans. Reinhard Krauss and Nancy Lukens (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998), p. 162.
2 [ Back ] Bonhoeffer, pp. 158-159.
3 [ Back ] Donald McGavran, Understanding Church Growth, ed. C. Peter Wagner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1970), p. 163.
4 [ Back ] McGavran, p. 174.
5 [ Back ] McGavran, pp. 174-175. C. Peter Wagner defends McGavran's approach in Our Kind of People: The Ethical Dimensions of Church Growth in America (Atlanta: John Knox, 1979).
6 [ Back ] Allan Boesak responds, "Manipulation of the word of God to suit culture, prejudices, or ideology is alien to the Reformed tradition." (Black and Reformed: Apartheid, Liberation and the Calvinist Tradition, ed. Leonard Sweetman [Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1984], p. 87).
7 [ Back ] John de Gruchy, Liberating Reformed Theology: A South African Contribution to an Ecumenical Debate (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), pp. 23-24.
8 [ Back ] Timothy Gorringe, A Theology of the Built Environment (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), p. 164, from Tönnies', Community and Society, trans. C. Loomis (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 165.
9 [ Back ] Bonhoeffer, pp. 239-240.
10 [ Back ] Bonhoeffer, p. 241.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "Grace Over Race" Jan./Feb. 2008 Vol. 17 No. 1 Page number(s): 16-21

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