“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” Acts 9:31
The Apostles’ Creed
I believe in God, The Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, our Lord; who was conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, whence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, The holy catholic church, The communion of saints …
The Apostle’s Creed at this point turns from right belief about God to our relationship with God. We find that our relationship is not singular but communal in the church. It is certainly true that the gate to salvation is narrow, and each person must come individually by faith, but as Christians our faith is not designed to be lived out in isolation. We are designed by God, and intended by God’s purpose, to relate to one another in the local church. Let’s work to define the terms in this section of the Creed. Most of the words used in this section are misunderstood by our culture.
Church: Most people associate the word “church” with a building, not with a group of people. The Bible teaches that the church is made up of all those who are redeemed by Jesus Christ. An important analogy is attached to this group of people called the church. Those who come to salvation in Jesus are called “the body of Christ.” In this analogy of how we should understand our relationship to Jesus and to each other, Jesus is the head (of authority) and we individually are interworking parts of the body (1 Corinthians 12:12-31). Like the parts of a body, we are each given different roles through the gifts and purposes of God. As we each engage with other Christians, we begin to understand how much we need them, how much they need us, and how together we strengthen each other’s lives through Christ. There ultimately is one church, because there is one head – Jesus Christ. There is one gospel, but there are many local gatherings of Christians meeting in every type of building imaginable. This is the local church. I believe in the local church.
Holy: The church must be holy. To be holy means to be set apart from something else. The church must be set apart from the world by what we believe about the world (our worldview) and our ethics (how we conduct ourselves morally). We live differently from the world, because of our faith in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:13-16). A basic part of the call of Christ in salvation is the call to turn away in repentance from the way of the world. But we are not called to cut against the grain of this fallen world alone. In the church we come alongside an entire community of people that are following the ways of Jesus. In the church we find people of different ages, races, and economic status, all sinners forgiven by Jesus, but all pressing to live a set apart life in Christ.
Catholic: This is the most misunderstood word in the Apostle’s Creed. Catholic as written so long ago means universal. The statement “holy catholic church” speaks to the singular body of Christ, set apart from the world in holiness. However, today, the word catholic is immediately associated with the Roman Catholic church. The Roman catholic church is just that, the formation of the Christian church under ancient Roman government. This development began as a part of the Christian church becoming the official state religion under Emperor Constantine. This strong connection between church and state continued for hundreds of years into the Middle Ages, all the way into the decline of the Roman Empire through decadence. The Roman Catholic church declined in holiness and biblical faithfulness along with the decline of the Roman state. Though we differ significantly from Roman Catholics in biblical Christian doctrine, we still believe in one catholic church.
Communion of Saints: Again, the meaning of this phrase has been significantly affected by the Roman Catholic understanding of “saints.” The word “saint” is often used in the New Testament to refer simply to faithful and godly Christians. Saint means “holy one.” As stated above, all Christians are to live lives that are holy – set apart in godliness to the Lord. All Christians are saints. This is very different from the Roman Catholic understanding of saints being a small group of super-Christians that reach a status of veneration. Instead, as we choose to join the local church, we become a part of the communion of saints. Communion is where you sit down with people and enjoy their company, share a meal, and live together. It’s a word that speaks to personal relationship and real meaningful interaction. I believe this is found most truly and fully in the local church. The communion of the saints should be so important to us, that we really cannot tell the story of our lives without that story including how our lives have been blessed and shaped by the local church.
Al Mohler writes, “The church, unlike anything on earth, will be the only institution to transcend the ages.” I affirm the Apostle’s Creed and believe passionately in the local church as God’s plan for reaching the nations with the gospel. If you, like many, have been frustrated with the local church, I urge you to lean in and play the unique part God would have you to play. If you believe in Jesus as your Savior, you have a unique part to play in the church. Without you there and serving, the church is partially incomplete. There is no substitute for the church!
May Jesus be glorified, and the congregation blessed through all that happens at Redeemer,
< This is part eleven in a series of articles on the Apostles’ Creed. To learn more about the Apostles’ Creed read: “The Apostles’ Creed: Discovering Authentic Christianity in an Age of Counterfeits” by Albert Mohler. >