Monday, October 6, 2008

The Church

I believe in one, holy, catholic Church

After we confess faith in the Holy Spirit, we immediately move on to the Church. This is because the two are directly related. The Church has come into being through the Holy Spirit. He breathed it into life at Pentecost, guides it continually into all truth, and empowers it for its mission. He will ensure it is kept faithful until the return of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The Church is described in very precise language. It is one, holy, and catholic. The Nicene Creed adds the word "apostolic" as well. We will consider the meaning attached to those words by the Church itself in their formulation and continued faith.

The Church is one. This does not just refer to a generic unity. It means there is fundamentally one Church, and one Church only. Christ founded one Church, not thousands. He promised this one Church would be preserved by the Holy Spirit from error and would endure forever. The fact that there are other groups calling themselves churches, or claiming to be part of this one Church does not change the reality that there is only one Church. Furthermore, this unity is visible and organizational as well as spiritual and familial. That means that there is a visible organization called the Church. One is either part of it, or not. It is very easy to tell.

This obviously flies in the face of so much that goes under the banner of ecumenism and tolerance. Be that as it may, this truth cannot be ignored or modified. Jesus said He will build His Church, not churches. Jesus founded the Catholic Church. Men founded the rest. It is not to say that they have nothing to offer. There are many wonderful, Christian people affiliated with them. But there is still only one Church.

This Church is holy because the Holy Spirit brought her into existence, dwells within her, and guides her as mentioned above. That is not to say that everyone within her is holy. In fact, most of us aren't. But the Church is. It is by our incorporation into the Church that we are able to become holy. But none of us arrived that way. If such were the criteria for entrance, none of us would be here.

Many people, including many leaders, have done some very unholy things in the name of the holy Church. That is sad and unfortunate. Those who have died unrepentant will certainly answer for their ungodly actions. Having said that, it does not give the rest of us license to rebel against God's Church, or to act contrary to her teachings. As our Lord taught us, we are to do as they say, but not imitate their actions.

The Church is catholic. Notice I use a lower case "c" for that description. The proper name, "Catholic Church", is derived from this adjective. The term catholic means universal, or general. It was coined very early in the Church's history to distinguish the teachings of the true Church from those of heretics. What the true Church teaches is received in every place, time, and language. This is the catholic faith and the catholic Church. Heretics arose in one locality and departed in one or more aspects of doctrine from the teaching of the true Church.

The adjective has become an organizational name: the Catholic Church. Either way, it reflects that all of the Faith, without addition or deletion is held here unchanged from the beginning. For those who want to know what our Lord truly taught, they are able to look to the teaching voice of His Catholic Church.

The Church is apostolic. That is, its teaching and authority flow directly in unbroken succession from the first apostles, most notably from Peter, the chief of the apostles. He established his apostolic see, or authority, in Rome. Ever since, the bishop of Rome, who succeeds from Peter, has been looked to for specific guidance in this Catholic Faith. From about the 6th century to the present, he has been known as the Pope.

Since the Church was completely unified in its earliest days, there was no question about being in communion with the bishop of Rome. But since the days when many have split off from the Church, communion with the Pope has been a key factor in determining if someone is indeed part of the Catholic Church.

The Church that Jesus founded, then, is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. The Church that can meet all of those criteria is indeed the one true Church of Jesus Christ. All the rest will try to change those words, their meaning, or the need to abide by them. As organizations, they are outside the Church. As individuals it may be that they are part of the Church even though they have chosen to be estranged from her.

St. Cyprian in the mid third century asked, "How can one have God for his Father who does not have the Church for His Mother?" So it is. To have Christ- to know Him deeply, one must be in His Church. So the call is issued as it has been for centuries: "The Spirit and the Bride (the Church) say, 'Come!'"


Joni said...

First, let me say that I am thoroughly enjoying this series. I don't always have the time to leave a lengthy comment, but I am enjoying it, and learning a lot!

This is a tough post, especially in light of the "one Church" idea. But how can we deny the reality of it? Thank you for putting the truth so clearly.

Keith said...

You're welcome!

Thanks for the comment.