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Summary: Orthodox Christianity believes in one, holy, catholic, apsotolic church.

This We Believe—

“I Believe in the Holy Catholic** Church; The Communion of Saints”

Ephesians 4: 1-6

We have all heard the little children’s rhyme where we put our hands together and say, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the door and here’s the people.” We come this morning to the statement in the Apostle’s Creed that says, “I believe in the holy catholic** church; the communion of saints.” What do we mean when we say we believe in the church? Do we mean there is a building (or many buildings) in our communities that we call churches? Is the building the church? And what is with this catholic word anyway? Are we saying we are Catholic? And holy? And saints? Come on? Really? Can anything in this life be holy? Isn’t that just a “holier-than-thou attitude?” How do we understand this statement contained in the Apostle’s Creed? Tell me, preacher, what is all this holy catholic church stuff about anyway?

There is one passage of Scripture I think sums up what we say when we make this statement. Paul wrote the passage to the Christians at the church at Ephesus. Paul wasn’t writing anything about the Apostle’s Creed, for it was not even glimmer in the minds of the early church fathers who were its authors. Paul was writing to a confused church in a city with diverse religious beliefs and cultures. Ephesus was a thriving seaport in the province of Asia, and was perhaps the most important trade center in the region. Ephesus was the largest city in the province with as many as 300,000 residents. Ephesus was the home to the most notable temple to the goddess Artemis found in the ancient world. In fact, the temple was ranked as one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. It was into this environment that Paul wrote, and he wrote to a young church (which met in homes, by the way) that was unable to live in the power and love of God. It was a church which had not fully embraced nor understood its position in relationship to Christ. Paul wrote to communicate their position in Christ, in the hopes that knowing their position, they could embrace the life God was calling them to lead. In the context of communicating those deep truths, Paul shares a few words about the church, and I believe they are very instructive to us as we seek to understand what we mean when we say, “I believe in the holy catholic church.” Listen to Paul:

Ephes. 4:1-6

Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. [2] Be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. [3] Always keep yourselves united in the Holy Spirit, and bind yourselves together with peace.

[4] We are all one body, we have the same Spirit, and we have all been called to the same glorious future. [5] There is only one Lord, one faith, one baptism, [6] and there is only one God and Father, who is over us all and in us all and living through us all.

What do we learn about the church in this passage of scripture that is instructive to us as we make our confession of faith? First, we encounter the definition of what it means to be the church. Paul says, “you have been called by God” (v. 1). That is, at its heart, the meaning of the New Testament Greek word “ekklesia” translated “church.” The church is those believers “called out” by God to be participants in the continuing community of faith established by Jesus during his earthly ministry.

And there is little doubt Jesus meant for there to be a lingering community of faith after his death, resurrection and ascension. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” Peter’s answer was, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” What was Jesus’ response? Matthew 16:18: “Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.” The church are those called out by God who have made their confession in Jesus Christ as Lord, the Son of the Living God.

In its infancy, the church was small, simple, and passionate. It was a courageous fellowship in faith. The only task of the early church was to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But something happened. Financial hardships, can you believe theological disagreements, persecution and racial and ethnic divisions began to divide the early church. The early church began to organize to address these problems in an effective way. In the course of a single century, the church became something very different than what the Apostles had established, and what Paul was addressing in this letter.

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