As I said at the Teaching Eucharist on June 16th, I am starting a new monthly article in the “News from the Pews” on some of the words and phrases of the Christian and Anglican world, words that often are confusing or raise questions.
I am starting with a short phrase from the Creed that is probably the source of the most questions and comments. In the Nicene Creed which dates all the way back to the 5th century, we say, “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic Church”. So, what does it mean, what are we saying that we believe in?
Let’s take a closer look at the four descriptive words that make up phrase. “One,” we are all part of one Christian Church. This speaks of our Christian Unity, that while there are many different denominations or expressions of the Christian faith, we are called to be one body. Repeatedly in St. Paul’s letters he talks about the importance of the unity of believers. Our unity is modeled after the Trinity: Father, Son and Holy Spirit who are one God, so we who believe and follow this One God are called to unity with each other.
“Holy”, this is probably the easiest of the words for us. We as the Church are called sacred, set apart by God to worship and service God. While individually as members of the Church there are times we are less than Holy, and even as an institution there are times we acted in a less than holy manner, The Church, is called to live into the sacredness of God.
“Catholic” is the word that raises the most questions for us in the creed. We tend to hear it as referring to the Roman Catholic Church, so why are we proclaiming faith in a church we are not a part of? The word catholic though refers to the universal nature of the Church– that the church is full and complete, all-embracing, and with nothing lacking, and that it is for all people. Catholic as we use it in the Creed means that all are welcome, none are to be excluded.
“Apostolic” is the final word or characteristic that is highlighted in this phrase in the Creed. To be an apostolic Church is to be those who are sent. An apostle is one who is sent on behalf of another, as in Jesus’ apostles who were sent into the world on his behalf. We hear this sending as one of the final commands of Jesus before he ascended, both in Matthew 28:17-19 and in Acts of the Apostles 1:8. We have been given authority by Christ and sent into the world to share the good news of Jesus and to serve others, particularly those in any kind of need.
These four: one, holy, catholic and apostolic, are considered the four marks of the Church, the four qualities that define the Christian Church. May we seek to live out these qualities as part of the Church here on earth.
If you have any words or phrases that we use in worship or in the Church that you would like to better understand, please let me know and they may appear in this monthly column.