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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

No Commas”
February 4, 2010

Several years ago a sister denomination conducted a public relations campaign under the slogan, “Never put a period where God has put a comma.” A close friend of mine composed a wonderful jazz setting of that text that became the campaign’s musical signature. It was a clever way of affirming that God is still speaking, still at work in the world.

Our problem is not only that we sometimes put periods where there should be commas – sometimes we put commas where there should be no dividers at all. One case in point is how we understand the nature of the church. The Nicene Creed (traditional version) invites us to affirm, “We believe one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Another way to put this claim might be: “This kind of church is trustworthy: the one holy catholic apostolic church.”

Why make a big deal about commas, or lack thereof? Because the lack of commas signifies something crucial: These church characteristics are indivisible. We often take them to be discrete traits that we hope will someday all be visibly manifest in the church. But for now, we shoot for one, or perhaps two of these marks, and feel pretty good about any modest progress we make toward embodying them.

But “no commas” means we can’t have any of them without the rest. We cannot be “apostolic” without being “one.” We cannot be “holy” without being “catholic.” And so on.

Anything less than a full display of these marks renders our witness untrustworthy. No longer is a church believable when any of these marks is absent. If we wish our proclamation of the Gospel to be evangelically credible, let’s take a good look in the mirror. Are we living faithfully and intentionally as the one holy catholic and apostolic people of God?

Of course, before we can answer this question, some definitions of these terms is in order. But that will have to wait for another day….

Trusting in God and believing the church,

The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery

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