Summary: This sermon examines the different uses of the word "Church" in Scripture, the essence of the Church, the definition of the Church, the Church in different periods, the attributes of the Church, and the marks of the Church.
As we continue our series in The Apostles’ Creed I would like to examine today what it means to believe in the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints. Please listen as I recite the Apostles’ Creed:
I believe in God the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended into hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.
He ascended into heaven
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy Catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.
The third section of the Apostles’ Creed begins with the article: I believe in the Holy Spirit.
From the creating work of the Father (in the first section of the Apostles’ Creed), and the rescuing work of the Son (in the second section of the Apostles’ Creed), it turns to the re-creating work of the Spirit (in the third section of the Apostles’ Creed), whereby the elect are actually made new in and through Christ.
In the third section we affirm our belief in the church (which is a new community), forgiveness (a new relationship), resurrection (a new existence), and everlasting life (a new fulfillment).
Today we want to look at the church, the new community of God’s people which is brought into existence by the work of the Holy Spirit.
Today we want to look at the statement in the Apostles’ Creed in which we affirm belief in “the holy catholic church, the communion of saints.”
I want to do so by looking at the following topics:
1. The Different Uses of the Word “Church” in Scripture,
2. The Essence of the Church,
3. The Distinctions Applied to the Church,
4. The Definition of the Church,
5. The Church in Different Periods,
6. The Attributes of the Church, and
7. The Marks of the Church.
I. The Different Uses of the Word “Church” in Scripture
First, then, let’s look at the different uses of the word “Church” in Scripture.
The principal Old Testament word for Church is derived from a root word meaning “to call.” It was especially applied to the assembly of Israel as they met for worship.
The most common word for Church in the New Testament comes from the verb meaning “to call out.” Both words contemplate the Church as an assembly called out by God.
In the New Testament the word Church sometimes referred to a group of churches. Speaking of the churches in the region of Galatia, Paul says in 1 Corinthians 16:1: “Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.”
Sometimes the word Church designates a local assembly of believers. In his letter to the church at Rome, Paul asks the church there to greet Priscilla and Aquila, and “also the church that meets at their house” (Romans 16:5).
In its most comprehensive sense, the word Church is a description of the whole body of believers, whether in heaven or on earth. Paul says in Colossians 1:18: “And he [i.e., Christ] is the head of the body, the church.”
II. The Essence of the Church
Second, let’s examine the essence of the Church.
Roman Catholics and Protestants differ as to the essential nature of the Church.
The Roman Catholic Church sees the essential nature of the Church as an external and visible organization. And this organization, strictly speaking, does not consist of the whole body that constitute their Church, but of the hierarchy, consisting of the priests together with the higher orders of bishops, archbishops, cardinals, and the Pope. They call this body the “teaching church,” and distinguish it from the common body of believers, which is called the “learning church” or the “hearing church.”
Theoretically, the Roman Catholic Church still holds to the principle that ordinarily there is no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church, though the facts often constrain them to modify their view in various ways.
The Reformation in the 16th century reacted against this external conception of the Church and sought to establish the essence of the true Church as the invisible and spiritual communion of the saints. The Church, they said, in its essential nature includes the believers of all ages and no one else, and outside of the Church there is no salvation. It is the spiritual body of Jesus Christ, in which there is no place for unbelievers.
III. The Distinctions Applied to the Church