The church's apostolicity (Nicene Creed #11)
We come now to the church's apostolicity, which Thomas F. Torrance (in The Trinitarian Faith) defines as follows:
In its simplest sense the apostolicity of the Church refers back to the original foundation of the Church once for all laid by Christ upon the apostles, but it also refers to the interpenetration of the existence and mission of the Church in its unswerving fidelity to that apostolic foundation (p285).The Apostles were chosen and sent by Christ as a link between himself and the church. They would be this link by both teaching and embodying the truth of the Gospel (the deposit of faith), which is "the unrepeatable foundation on which the Church was built" (p286). This deposit includes the content of the Gospel found in the Apostles' writings (the New Testament, which points back to, and thus includes and interprets the Old Testament). However, this deposit is more than information on a page, for the Gospel itself points directly to the life-giving reality of Christ himself. This is vital to understand, for as Torrance notes:
It is only in Christ and not out of itself, and only through union and communion with Christ in its faith and mission and not through its own piety, that the Church is continuously sustained....That the Church is apostolic as well as one, holy and catholic, signifies, therefore, that it is ever one and the same with the Church once for all founded by Christ in the apostolate... That is to say, apostolicity has to do with the continuing identity of the Church as the authentic Body of Christ in space and time (p287).To be truly apostolic in both its belief and ministry, the church must focus continuously and faithfully on the interpretation, exposition and application of Holy Scripture, which contains the apostolic witness to Christ...
...For it is through faithful transmission of the preaching and teaching of the apostles that the Church is itself constantly renewed and reconstituted as Christ's Church (p287).The bishops and theologians of the Church who assembled at Nicaea grounded their deliberations in careful exposition of Scripture, even though, at times, they had to coin new terms to adequately express and thus faithfully convey the deposit of faith contained in Scripture. This was particularly needful in formulating statements concerning the triunity of God and the Incarnation of the Son of God. According to Torrance:
[The bishops and theologians attending the Council] were concerned in wrestling with the Holy Scriptures to express what they were compelled to think and hold within the context of the apostolic tradition under the impact of God's self-revelation through the Word and Spirit of Christ, and on that basis alone, to confess their faith in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And thereby they sought to provide continuing generations of people in the Church with an evangelical and apostolic framework within which continuing interpretation of Holy Scripture, proclamation of the truth of the Gospel, and instruction in the faith could be carried out (p289).We are richly blessed to have inherited this "evangelical and apostolic framework," which defines and thus defends the deposit of faith once and for all given to the church by Jesus through his Apostles. By remaining true to this framework, the Church remains connected to Christ himself, who is the one Apostle in the absolute sense. That connection includes faithfully reading, understanding and teaching the deposit of faith given in Holy Scripture, and it includes faithful participation with Christ in his ongoing apostolic mission to the world, through his body, the Church.
The Creed's declaration of the church's apostolicity provides the basis for its concluding statement concerning the church's one baptism and issues pertaining to eschatology (the resurrection and the life to come). We will look at one baptism when next we return to this series.