One of my favorite things about the Nazarene Church is that we do not believe that we are the “one true” Church.
“… that we may cooperate effectually with other branches of the Church of Jesus Christ in advancing God’s kingdom” – Manual (pg 30, Preamble)
As a Nazarene I am free to think of myself as a part of the body of believers. I am a member of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ.
So what does it mean to be a part of the Universal Church of Jesus Christ?
I asked a bunch of friends and here are some of the answers I got:
· “Believing in Jesus”
· “A profession of faith in Jesus”
· “follow the golden rule, make yourself an example with Christ like”
· The figurative “Body” of ‘called out’ believers who do the work of God’s Kingdom in Jesus’ absence.
A few hundred years ago, about 325 A.D., a group of men came together to try and establish some basic idea of what it means to be a Christian. They came together in a city called Nicaea in what we now know as Turkey.
By the year 381 they had created what we know as the Nicene Creed and it make for an interesting picture of where the faith was at that point in time:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all worlds; God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made.
Who, for us men for our salvation, came down from heaven, and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried; and the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures; and ascended into heaven, and sits on the right hand of the Father; and He shall come again, with glory, to judge the quick and the dead; whose kingdom shall have no end.
And I believe in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life; who proceeds from the Father and the Son; who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified; who spoke by the prophets.
And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. I acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; and I look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.
Again the idea here was for the representatives of the Catholic (Universal) Church of Jesus Christ to form a coherent and agreeable dogma (core beliefs). In other words, the important stuff.
They were saying this is what it means to be a Christian.
Well over time there have been many variations on this idea. We have:
· The Apostles Creed
· The Book of Cord
· The Brethren Card
· Nazarene Statement of Belief
But if all of these creeds disagree in some way what is it that makes us a part of the Church of Jesus Christ?
First we are no longer a part of the Catholic Church. The original Universal Church broke apart into thousands of pieces. These denominations all have different spin on the idea of being a believer.
Yes, we still have Catholic Believers, but now we have Lutherans, Wesleyans, Assemblies of God, Pentecostal, Anglican, Episcopalian, Quakers, Pilgrim Holiness, (Free, Southern, and American) Baptists, (Free, African, and United) Methodist, Nazarenes, and many more.
Today an agreeable creed might look like this.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again, he ascended into heaven, is seated at the right hand of the Father. and will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
So what does that all mean? Why does it matter that we are part of the Church? What is any different about us as part of the Church of Jesus Christ and those who are not?
I think Jesus boiled it down to a simple phrase and John tells us in his Gospel.
Jesus Said, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
What verse is that? John 3:16… Right. Bur is everlasting life what it is all about? Is that all we are about?
In the book of John Jesus tells us again and again that we are His and a part of Him.
John 14: 18-20 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you.”
No, everlasting life should only be a part of our quest. Being a part of The Church of Jesus Christ is about relationship to God. God realting to us and us relating to Him and His creation.
When Jesus says “whosoever believeth” what does he mean by believe?
Does it mean that we believe that a man names Jesus was born to a couple named Joseph and Mary in Nazareth? Does it mean that we believe he existed in history? He was great philosopher? He was killed on a cross? Is that it?
Then is it that you believe he is God?
Jesus Brother James says, ”You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” – James 2:19
So what is it if not that?
We can see a few things in Jesus words and life that we can say are paramount to be a part of His Church.
The first is Christianity 101 demonstrated by a criminal on a cross.
39One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
40But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
43Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
This man seeks Jesus and finds salvation in the most simplistic way one can. He confesses his sinful nature and his need for Christ. Jesus response. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Jesus isn’t looking some big elaborate display from us. He doesn’t tell this man to speak some new language, kneel at an altar, say some magic phrase, walk a Roman road, or even be baptized.
He is looking for is a recognition of who we are and a recognition of our need for Him.
But for those of us who must exist here as believers what does that look like? How does a believer live any different?
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” – John 13:34-35
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” John 15:12
When we look at the early Church in the book of Acts and when we read James we find that Loving Each Other is about taking action for one another.
Acts 2:44-47 “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.”
James 1 “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Jesus puts it this way, “’Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” – Matt 25:34-36
Honestly ask yourself, When is that last time YOU fed a hungry person, visited the sick, clothed the naked, even got close to a prison? When is the last time you helped even a fellow Christian for free?
I an Atheists couple that I dearly Love. They are not believers, but check this out. These two have actually asked for a Christmas gift of a well for a village in Africa, or a goat for family.
Jesus teaches that he is “the Way and the truth and the life” – John 14:4
Who is a better example of The Way taught by Jesus: this couple or most Christians you know? What celebrates Jesus birth better? Does God see that? Does the world see that? Who will the world come to in times of trouble?
To quote the band Casting Crowns, “If we are the Body, why aren’t His arms reaching?”
In John 14 Jesus is addressing his disciples and spends a great deal of time instructing them and comforting them. During this chapter Jesus mentions over and over again what he means by believing in him:
· 12”I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.
· 21Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”
· 23Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.
Jesus also comments on those who only believe with their minds and not their hearts:
8 “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. 9They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”
News flash folks…
This is not Club Jesus! This it “The Way”
21″Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’
If Jesus is real then we must treat him with at least the respect that you treat other REAL Beings.
1) If He is the “All seeing, all knowing, creator of the universe” then treat him like he is.
2) If you Believe in His mission then support it.
3) If you Believe He is real then God knows everything about you. Thought, word, and deed. Yes, that too…
Things that are real require a change in our life. Being a part of the Body of Christ requires change in your life. Like a real brick wall requires you to change you path, being a part of the Body of Christ requires a change in you and your existence.
· We must Believe in Him, Worship Him, and Declare His glory
· We must Love one another inside and outside the Church
· We must minister to the broken members of our body
· We must feed to poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, cloth the naked. Help where ever we find real need.
· We must invite in the stranger to be a part of us
· We must be in relationship with Him and His Body everyday
The beautiful thing is that all you need to start with is asking Jesus to change you.
The Universal Church of Jesus Christ must exist beyond our words and our songs on Sunday morning.
The Universal Church of Jesus Christ exists in you when you sit in this building, but most of all it must exist as you leave.