Nicene Creed: The Church, “Wait! Did that say Catholic?”

This six-part series on the Nicene Creed by HPPC member Drew Armstrong takes us through an in-depth analysis of what the confession meant at its time of inception and how it is still a core part of our faith today. Drew has taught in the Young Adults and 30s/40s Sunday Morning Communities, co-taught with Michael Walker and regularly collaborates with Charlie Dunn. Miss a week? Start at the beginning.

Part Six: The Church, “Wait! Did that say Catholic?”
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.

I often tell the same stories over and over again, just ask my wife. It is a curse that my father passed on to me, and it is a phenomenon that my students know all too well. 

One story that I tell my graduating seniors repeatedly is the story of the Christian student who goes off to college fully ready to defend his/her faith. They know all the answers to all the tough questions and have the entire range of pertinent Bible verses memorized to ward off the bogeyman of State School Atheism. What they aren’t equipped with is a proper sense of self within the context of a community. You see, the student so often lacks the realization that their faith is not theirs alone, and they are never tasked with defending it in the void.

Their faith is the faith of their parents and their Sunday school teachers. Not only that but it is the faith of the Sudanese church, and the Chinese Church. And not just that, perhaps most amazingly, it is the faith of the dead, the faith of Augustine, Calvin, Boniface, Gregory the Great, and the Fathers at Nicaea.

We all must come to the realization that the Christian faith is something so much larger than ourselves and the Church is the manifestation of that reality. When we realize that such a “cloud of witnesses” surrounds us, suddenly defending the faith becomes a far less lonely and intimidating task.

Focusing on the enormity and importance of body of Christ, the Nicene Fathers (381 A.D.) endeavored to describe the reality of the Church. They provided a description by answering two basic questions. What does the Church look like, and what does it do?

First, what does the church look like? According to the creed it has four basic earmarks: oneness, holiness, catholicity and apostolicity. Second, what does the Church do? It believes in a single baptism, the resurrection from the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Oneness is the bedrock characteristic of the church. There is a similarity between the belief in “one God” and “in one Lord Jesus Christ,” and the belief in the oneness of the church. Christ’s prayer for his disciples and the followers after them was that they might be one as he and the Father are one (John 17).

Unity and oneness are the most basic characteristics of the church as they are derived from the very essence of the God we serve. It is not our organizational structure but our belief in the ONE God of the universe that unites us as one.

Holiness is a relatively familiar concept even if we tend to see it in others more than ourselves. I believe “set apart” provides the best working definition for holiness. God has set the church apart as his possession, sanctifying it and making it clean for the purposes of his own glory, filling it with his holiness. God gives his people the command to “be holy,” but he does not give this command in a vacuum. He commands them to be holy as he is holy. Just like the oneness of the church comes from God’s own unity, the holiness of the church comes from the holiness of God.

Catholic, as it is used in the Nicene Creed, means universal. The church is a reality that is pertinent to everyone universally. There is no one to whom the church cannot minister and to whom its message cannot reach. Blocked for none, the church’s roles are full of sinners of all stripes, their admission secured by the stripes that Jesus Christ bore.

Finally, the church is to be apostolic. Apostolic simply means that the church is to be rooted in the historic teachings of the apostles. Essentially, this is an admonishment to the church to be founded in the Word of Scripture written by the apostles, which convey the faith once for all handed down by them. Both admonitions are evinced by the clear biblical allusions throughout the creed above.

So, what does the church do? The creed makes a positive statement about present action and future hope. The church practices one baptism. Rather than focusing on the arguments that would later cloud discussions of baptism, the authors of the creed focus on the singularity of baptism. There is only one baptism that is effective, and it is the baptism of the church.

Secondly, the church hopes. It looks forward to the resurrection and the world to come. Again, nothing divisive is said about where, when, how Christ will return. The creed simply acknowledges the promise of a physical resurrection and a world to come.

Let us affirm our hope together one more time as we read…

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.

Posted by Communications Ministry at 8:00 AM
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