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A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery

No Commas, Part 4
March 4, 2010

In this space we have been considering the significance that the believable church is “one holy catholic apostolic church” with no commas. (See part 1, part 2, and part 3 ),That’s what the Nicene Creed confesses. The fact that there are no commas signifies that the church must exhibit all these traits together if it is to be believable; indeed, these traits are inseparable, even though we have often tried to pit them against each other.

One of the places we tend to make a separation is between unity and holiness. Emphasis on unity without a sense of holiness can all too easily lead us to an “anything goes” church. When the church’s unity is stressed at the expense of its holiness, we can become so fixated upon accepting all comers that we lose sight of God’s claims upon each of us. More than once it has devolved into an easy “I’m OK, you’re OK” theology that fails to account sufficiently for God’s claims on any of us. 

That’s what holiness is about – God’s claims on us. The church, after all, is not a voluntary society, but a people chosen and claimed by God. This is one of the touchstones of Reformed theology. In laying claim upon us, God sets us apart from the world where it’s all people for themselves.

Yet holiness is not about our being more faithful law-keepers than others. Rather, it is rooted in the fact that, in the immortal words of the Heidelberg Catechism, “I belong – body and soul, in life and in death – not to myself but to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ….”

“Holiness” is far too often reduced to observable human standards that distinguish the holy from the unholy, marking off who’s in from who’s out by externals. This is as preposterous as the uncritical “I’m OK, you’re OK.” If God has made a claim upon us, we are by definition “holy unto the Lord.” All who have been claimed by God are part of the one people of God. No commas, no exceptions.

If God has claimed you, how can I reject you? This is the essence of our holy unity as God’s people.

The only basis on which I can walk away from you justifiably is if God has rejected you. And who am I ever to know that? Calvin trembles to make such a judgment. Our Second Helvetic Confession notes that only God knows “who are his...,” and we must “hope well of all” and act accordingly. (Book of Confessions 5.055) Our only right and our firm obligation is to act in hope that everyone is a divinely chosen member of God’s one holy people.

Talk about an audacious hope! The one holy church is believable to the extent that it is above all a place of hope – hope that God redeems all people and renews all of creation, whatever evidence to the contrary may be billowing around us. Thanks be to God!

Yours in audacious hope,

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


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