So far we have seen how this earliest catholic (i.e. universal) statement of the Christian Faith has concentrated on the nature and being of God. God the Father our Creator: God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, our Redeemer: God the Holy Spirit who makes the things of God real for us and brings about our Sanctification. We now look at the closing section of the Creed which briefly defines and marks out the nature or makeup of the living Church of God; the very family of Jesus; the community of Christian people. No statement of the Christian Faith whether Creeds or personal acts of faith can be complete without a clear declaration of belief in the Church’s essential nature, following of course first our belief in the One supreme God.
I stress this because it is tempting to denigrate or even dismiss the Church because it does get things wrong sometimes, or makes demands that are too costly. The Christian faith is something that must be very personal, but it is also about belonging to a corporate Body, the very Body of Christ, indeed the Bride of Christ. It’s impossible to be a Christian and not belong to the Church. Its mistakes and errors are often of our individual making in large part!
In the New Testament and in her early years the Church is often described with significant names like this: the New Israel, the Body of Christ, the Bride or Spouse of Christ, the People of God, the Vine, the Fellowship and Communion, the Way. Also supremely from the earliest years what I will call the four pillars of the Church, that she is One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, with her one sure foundation and head the Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:25-27; Revelation 22:17; 1 Peter 2:9; John 15:5; Acts 2:42 & 9:2).
Two well know hymns express something of all this:
“The Church’s one foundation is Jesus Christ, her Lord; she is his new creation, by water and the word; from heaven he came and sought her to be his holy bride, with his own blood he bought her, and for her life he died”. (Samuel J. Stone: Hymns Old & New 636).
“And I hold in veneration, for the love of him alone, holy Church as his creation, and her teachings as his own”. (John Henry Newman: Hymns Old & New 174).
As a living organization with a clear mandate from Christ himself to teach his saving faith to all people, the Apostles and others enshrined that teaching in the writings of the New Testament. The Bishops at Nicea in A.D. 325, again as the Church’s commissioned leaders with the Holy Spirit’s continuing mandate, drew up this Creed to confirm the essentials of our holy biblical Faith when many disputed it. This is part of what it means to be an Apostolic Church.
The root meaning of the Greek noun Ekklesia which in English we translate Church is simply called out and gathered together. At the start of the Church’s mission, as the apostles preached about Jesus, new believers who responded to God’s calling were joined to a living community or Ekklesia. St. Luke writes of new converts joining the Church: “And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved” (Acts 2:27,28,42 & 46).
It has continued so over 2,000 years to this very day. In Faringdon and Little Coxwell new members are still added to the living Church.
We now look at each of those four pillars of the Church, and for reasons that will become clear I shall take them in the reverse order. First, the Church is Apostolic because supremely it is built on the faith of the apostles and is forever nurtured in that faith and no other. In all our articles we have looked at the New Testament teaching about Jesus; his whole life, ministry and saving work. The apostolic faith was the distillation of all that those first disciples had experienced; a revelation of God’s great purposes of saving Love in and through Christ. Briefly “The faith once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude verse 3).
The Church is also Apostolic because it is sent out to bring the whole world and humanity to Christ. The Greek word apostolos simply means one who is sent. It has been said that the Church is the one organization which exists more for those who are not members than for those who are! The Church’s apostolic task may be summed up briefly like this, to save souls, to fashion saints, and to serve humanity. That’s not given in order of priority for each is equally important. This fundamental task involves organized Mission Societies (home and overseas), evangelism in many differing ways both large scale and by the gifted individual. Key operations also like translating and producing Bibles, Christian schools, hospitals etc. and Aid Charities. But perhaps most of all by the quiet steady witness of countless people like you and me. One of the greatest joys we will experience in heaven will surely be to meet those whom we have helped to come to Christ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
The Church is also Apostolic because it is linked through all the Christian centuries to the early Apostles and leaders, first by its Faith and secondly by its threefold ordained ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. In particular the office and role of the Bishop has by Ordination what is called Apostolic or Episcopal Succession. It’s a gift of grace given for service: for leadership, teaching and upholding the true Scriptural faith; guarding the Church’s unity and enabling its mission; caring for the ordained co-workers with the Bishop; and not least for all the people of God in their ministries too. It’s an onerous task and can only succeed with God’s constant renewing grace and the daily prayers of the faithful. Indeed all ordained men and women need loving prayer and patient support with warm friendship just as we support and pray for each other as Christ’s family.
The Church is also Apostolic because it shares the same life, worship and prayer of those very first Christians: Adoration of our one Lord and God: Praise to our only Saviour Jesus Christ: Glory to the life-giving Holy Spirit. The focal-point of that life and worship, from the very beginning, has always been the Sacrament of the Eucharist: the Holy Communion, the Mass, Divine Liturgy, or whatever name we use. The early Church Fathers often spoke of this great Sacrament as that which actually makes the Church, and so makes herself also to be a sacrament of saving love for many (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
In the next two Articles we shall look at the Catholicity, Holiness and Oneness of the Church.
Praise be to God. Amen.