Why A New England Protestant Needs A catholic Spirit
by Garrett Soucy
 
A lifetime ago, with the help of some family members, my wife and I bought our first house. Whole sections of it hadn’t been used in years. In fact, the entire upstairs was uninsulated and sealed off by a sheet of plastic. The woman from whom we bought the house only used the first-floor living room, bathroom, and kitchen. From the outside, it looked like a normal two-story farmhouse, but functionally, it was a tiny studio apartment. This dilemma of massive differentiation between what ought to be and what is relates in many ways to what happens in the Church when believers isolate themselves for efficiency’s sake, rather than unite themselves for Christ’s sake.
We are told in Scripture that the House of the Lord is miles high and miles wide; but, some of us Christians have intramural differences hung like plastic sheets, quartering ourselves off from having to share space with others. This is not only selfish; it’s un-Biblical and stunting. The lack of true Christian unity is a direct cause in the spiritual decay of America’s upper righthand corner.
Most believers would place the task of making disciples somewhere near the top of the list of things the Church should be doing. Surprisingly, those same Christians seem to forget that Jesus predicated successful evangelism on one thing: Christian love and unity. Jesus says that Trinitarian unity is the model of Christian love which the Church is to embody. The result is that the world would believe that Jesus is the Messiah.
 
John 17:21 That they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.
 
How many times have non-Christians accused the Church of having very little in common with her Lord? Interestingly, Jesus also predicated our being identified with Christ on the very same foundation as evangelism.

John 13:35 By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
 
What this tells us is that Christian love and unity should not be something that is worked on within the confines of one’s own fellowship. In cartographical terms, this should be a nation-wide issue, not merely a state-wide one. When New Englanders talk about the defining marks of being from the northeast, amongst the adjectives inevitably listed would be cold, hard, isolated, suspicious, and inaccessible. The sad thing is that we, sometimes, wear these marks like merit badges . . . and Christians are not exceptions. These may indeed be natural postures of a people who live in a frozen and solitary region, but that which is natural is fallen. In Christ, we are called to foster the fruit of the Spirit, not the inclinations of the natural man. When it comes to the Church, what we need is a catholic spirit.

Notice, I do not say that we need a Roman Catholic spirit. Far from it. We need a catholic spirit. When Christians use the word catholic without capital letters and without the prefix of Roman we mean precisely what the etymology denotes. The word comes from two Greek stems (κατά + ὅλος) whose combined meaning is something like “about the whole” or “universal.” Historically, it describes the structure of the Church prior to the Great Schism, but it has gained an even more general use in the last 1000 years. Similar to the way some would refer to universally accepted Christian doctrine as being orthodox (notice the lack of capital letters), not referring to the Eastern Orthodox Church but to the universally accepted doctrines of the faith throughout the last two millennia, the word catholic has come to mean ‘amongst Christians everywhere.’

In what way do New England Protestants need more of a catholic spirit? In a way that re-imagines the Body of Christ as being comprised of more than our own local fellowships. Every Christian will acknowledge if forced to, that there are other believers in their community, outside of those in their own congregation. The issue isn’t whether or not the existence of other believers is acknowledged. . . but whether or not they are embraced and loved. Loving unity is not the same thing as tolerance. The above verses from our Lord do not read, “That they may tolerate each other like you, Father, and I tolerate each other.”

Every evangelical that cringes when a call for unity is given probably cringes for some very good reasons. Much of what has passed for church unity is no better than homogeny. The goal of most ecumenicalism is unity for unity’s sake rather than unity for Christ’s sake. At present, however, evangelicalism is functioning more like a hotel in which the rooms aren’t even open to one another. Christians, we must remember, are not strangers renting rooms in the same building. We are the Body of Christ, and a body that is disintegrated is, at best, not well.

When we open up the rooms, the air between us becomes shared. The line of sight becomes common. In order to get to a place where we are working on the Church with one another, we have to start by acknowledging that we actually share the same house. Unless you want to say that Gospel-believing Christians who may differ with you on modes of baptism, the regulative principle, or the freedom of the will are reprobate and therefore not actually Christians, then you have to admit that we share the same house, if we share the same Gospel. If we share the same house, then we must own one another as family and not mere acquaintances.  Some may interject, “I believe unity is good, but it doesn’t work at the ground level. Plenty of people have tried. We’re better off just committing to not speak ill of one another and maybe saying hello if we rub shoulders in the supermarket.” Again, what I think the Lord has laid out for us is not a tolerance of one another, but a vested interest in one another — even a sacred concern for one another.  How easy it would be to hyperbolize a call for unity. You can imagine that some conflate a call for Church solidarity with anarchy. Surely we could love one another better without having to dissolve denominations or abandon the structures of ecclesiastical governance. A call for unity is not so outrageous a thing that it should be feared or opposed as though it were a subversive liberal ideology. New England Christians need to love believers outside of their traditions. This is a statement that shouldn’t have an apology demanded of it. An image emerges of the emotionally bankrupt patriarch who complains that his wife needs to be told more than once in her life that he loves her. The church cannot keep claiming to be the Body of Christ and not abound in brotherly love. The individualistic Christian is a rotten contradiction that has outlasted its shelf life.
 
Romans 12:3-5 For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.
 
It’s not that you should love your brothers and sisters from other denominations because you might be able to win them to your camp, but because in doing so, the greater and more expansive camp might be seen as something glorious for which we never thought to strive.
One of the dangers of online dating is that the matchmaking algorithms often lend their powers to matching like with like. On the surface, this sounds like a great thing, especially if it can be accomplished. The problem is that God is the Designer of a Body, not a Borg. He does not construct automatons. He did not clone copies of Adam. He creates, divides, and pairs the self with the other. Sometimes we recognize the genius of His design. Sometimes, 30 years into a marriage, we are able to praise Him for not giving us what we wanted so many years ago.

In Romans 1, that desire to cast off the shackles of His purposed pairing of like with unlike is called pride. The Scriptures tell us that it manifests often as homosexuality. The operative principle of homosexuality is like with like. We see, in this, that it is no accident that the motto of the homosexual movement is Pride. Many Christians can recognize the rebellious impetus of like with like when it comes to sexual ethics and yet fail to see the same design malfunction in the Body of Christ. We are designed by God to work with members who are not like us. This is set against the clear reality that we tend to congregate with members who are very much like us. The motto of the Kingdom movement is Love. The Kingdom is built on a Trinitarian unity that, when embodied, shows the world what is possible when a sinner is unified with a holy God. The Trinitarian model of love and unity holds complexity and simplicity in tension. The multiplicity and the oneness are to be shown to the world in the way that Christians love one another. Pentecostals are to love Cessationists. Methodists are to love Fundamentalists. Presbyterians are to love Congregationalists. Calvinists are to love Arminians. This reality should not exist because of our common ancestry in the Reformation but if and when we share a common union with Christ.
Years ago, a Chinese pastor said that the greatest test of a mature Christian’s faith was the immature Christian. Will the Christian who supposedly knows better love the one who does not? Was there ever a Christian with sound doctrine who profoundly loved a Christian with poor doctrine? We look no further than the Lord.
 
John 13:34 A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.