The Church (Nicene Creed #8)
|The Adoration of the Trinity |
by Albrecht Durer, 1511
We come now to the section of the Creed that addresses the Church:
[We believe] in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We confess one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.
Note that the Creed declares the church to be one, holy, catholic and apostolic. These identifying characteristics are sometimes referred to as the "marks" of the Church. It is vital to see these characteristics within the overall Trinitarian context of the Creed.
The Creed declares that the church to be one in the sense that it is rooted in and thus expresses the essential oneness of the triune God. Reflecting on this, T.F. Torrance (in The Trinitarian Faith), writes the following:
[The Church is] the empirical community of men, women and children called into being through the proclamation of the Gospel, indwelt by the Holy Spirit in whom it is united to Christ and through him joined to God. Far from being a human institution it was founded by the Lord himself and rooted in the Holy Trinity. As Ignatius of Antioch [an early Church leader who may have been a disciple of John] taught that the members of the Church are united with Jesus Christ just as he is united with the Father. Hence whatever the Church does from beginning to end is done 'in the Son and the Father and the Spirit'. The Church is what it everywhere is in the world as a manifestation of the saving union with God incarnate in Jesus Christ....'Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the universal Church' (p253).Making reference to the writings of Irenaeus (which preceded, but heavily influenced the writing of the Creed), Torrance continues:
The [Church] is what it is through the incarnation of the Son of God in Christ who has gathered up and reformed the human race in himself, and through the astonishing event at Pentecost when God poured out his own Spirit upon the apostles and disciples of the Lord Jesus thereby giving birth or rather rebirth to the Church and making it participate in his own divine life and love (p254).This Christocentric understanding of the church tells us that that the Church is formed to be a servant of Christ who, in the power of the Holy Spirit, is a servant of the Father's mission and kingdom. Thus "the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit occupied the unqualified center of Christian faith and life empirically as well as spiritually" (p255).
That is Holy
As noted by Torrance on p252, the Creed shows that the Church is holy because it is formed by the Holy Spirit (note in that regard, that the Creed's section on the Church follows immediately its section on the Holy Spirit - this is no accident). We are to revere and honor the Church as holy because upon it is the imprint of the character of the Holy Trinity. The Church's holiness is not its own, but rather its sharing in the holiness of God himself.
Through one baptism
The Creed's statement on the Church and its mission includes the reference to "one baptism" in the one name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This baptism is seen as the means by which people enter the one Church. As Torrance notes, the early church prepared candidates for baptism with thorough instruction in the Gospel. Thus baptism is grounded in the Holy Trinity and related directly to the truth of the Gospel. In this context, Torrance expands his definition of the Church:
Thus the Church may be described as the place in space and time where knowledge of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit becomes grounded in humanity, and union and communion with the Holy Trinity become embodied within the human race. Expressed the other way round, the Church is constituted by the Holy Spirit as the empirical counterpart of his sanctifying presence and activity in our midst, for in the Spirit we are made members of Christ the incarnate Son and through him have access to the Father... As Irenaeus...expressed it: "This Gift of God has been entrusted to the Church, as breath was to the first created man, that all members receiving it may be vivified, and the communication of Christ has been distributed within it, that is, the Holy Spirit, the earnest of incorruption and the confirmation of our faith, as the ladder of ascent to God... For where the Church is there is the Spirit of God; and where the Spirit of God is, there is the Church, and every kind of grace; but the Spirit is truth." As such the Church is constituted by Christ to be the receptacle of the Gospel proclaimed and handed on by the apostles... It was ultimately in the Gospels themselves that Irenaeus located the vivifying deposit committed to the Church, and handed on by the apostles. In this conception of the Church Irenaeus was clearly drawing out the implications of the New Testament injunction about "the faith once for all delivered to the saints" (p257).In this way we are given to think of the Church as indwelt by Christ himself, who comes "clothed with the Gospel" (see p258). In this we see the importance of the Church's calling to proclaim the Gospel as it is presented in the writings of the Apostles (the New Testament). Through this proclamation, Jesus himself is proclaimed and through that proclamation the saving Word and power of God is at work in people's lives (see p260). In that context, Torrance adds this to his definition of the Church:
The Church [is] the community called to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and brought into union and communion with God the Father through baptism and the regenerating gift of the Holy Spirit. By its very nature, therefore, the Church is tied up with the tradition of the apostolic...Gospel which is handed on from generation to generation with baptism: instruction in the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints and baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are thus inseparable (p261).Next time we return to this series, we'll discuss further these identifying marks of the Church.