American Jesus or Catholic Jesus?

Every Sunday we confess in the creed that, “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” First a note of clarification. By “catholic” the creed does not mean “Roman Catholic.” The Roman Catholic Church finds its unity in the rule of the Pope. A large percentage of Christians throughout history have never accepted the Bishop of Rome as the head of the Church. So although we are not Roman Catholics we are “catholic.” “Catholic” actually means “universal.” When we confess that we believe in the catholic Church, we are confessing that God’s Church is universal in scope. We are part of the one universal, worldwide Church of those who gather around his word and communion table as disciples of Jesus.

This catholicity, this universality, does not only extend throughout the breadth of the entire earth but it also extends backwards into the depths of time. This one church, this one congregation, of those who believe in Jesus, goes all the way back to the apostles themselves.

So, why does this matter? It matters because you and I are stuck in 21st century America. We have been trained since our youth by Oprah, the Beatles, the NFL, FOX, blogs, Hollywood, talk radio, and college. We have been indoctrinated to view the world a certain way. We have been brainwashed! As a result, we believe many things "just because."

Again, why does this matter? Because the human heart is an idol making factory. As 21st century Americans we have taken Jesus and made him in our own image and likeness. We have formed an image of Jesus that easily accommodates our 21st century American biases.

How many pastors today preach that Jesus wants you to be healthy, wealthy, and happy? How many pastors today preach a Jesus who is a political social activist, seeking to change the world through human power structures? How many preachers have made Jesus just a friendly therapist who wants to hear about your problems and empathize with you? 

But we are part of the catholic Church. The universal Church follows a different Jesus. A Jesus whose life work, whose death and resurrection is still, after 2000 years, the most counter-cultural, revolutionary, subversive message in the world today. We follow a Jesus who calls us to lay down our life in order to find true life. We follow the Jesus of the first century Christians who met in secret for fear of being found out and fed to the lions. We worship the same Jesus as our Syrian brothers and sisters who worship despite the threat of crucifixion at the hands of ISIS. Those who are part of the catholic Church worship the catholic Jesus.

The Jesus of the catholic Church is not an American self-help guru. As we read in the Gospel on Sunday, the Jesus of the catholic Church is the one who defeated sin and death and therefore is worthy of our life. He is the one whose resurrection so fundamentally changed the apostles that they chose to suffer martyrdom instead of deny him. We worship the Jesus who has risen and is among us as well, bringing joy into our deepest fears. We worship the Jesus who sends us out on mission to lay down our life for others as he laid down his life for us.

And so, we confess together with the catholic Church throughout all times and places, “Alleluia! Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”


Father Kurt is the Pastor of Light of Christ Anglican Church in Georgetown, TX