We Believe In...
Updated: Oct 31
"We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church".
The Apostles Creed (as it came to be known) did not find the fuller form I have included as our title until a later articulation at the First Council of Constantinople that expanded upon the additions of Nicaea with the addition of “apostolic”. However, the later articulation draws upon this very early confession of the church and each of these terms carry potent value in describing what the community of God’s people look like and who they (or better, we) are. I only offer these brief reflections of a pastor and theologian of the church who stands with the church everywhere and always in confessing what has been passed down.
It is always worth carrying in mind that this confession (as a confession) is first and foremost a confession of the Holy Spirit which heads the third article after the first two articles confessing Father and Son. The ellipses above should not be read as in any way denigrating the Spirit in our confession (quite the opposite!), but only indicative of the focus of this particular article. It is only in and by the Spirit that we, as the church, confess together the Holy Spirit and our participation within the life of God by that same Spirit as this en-Spirited community: one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. What follows does not address the use of the term “church” though that also deserves prayerful reflection at some later time.
To say we are “one” is to say we all together belong to our one God as one people. The one-ness speaks to our unity together in the Spirit. But more than a spiritualized unity, it also addresses our unity in love for one another. We are not all the same. There are all manner of differences encompassing this body of Christ in history and globally. Yet, we all confess the same Lord and Spirit and Father together. This unity as “one” is not artificial by simply coexisting. It is living one-for-the-other even as our Lord Jesus is the one-for-all. We are bound to one another. Our origin and end are bound up with one another even as we seek to live into this reality. By faith we confess we are “one” and we act as such in prayer, service, exercise of gifts, baptism, and eucharist. We are one even as we shall someday be made one.
To say we are “holy” also seems beyond belief for those who have eyes to see. The church seems to fail at holiness at every step of the way. Yet, here is our common confession. And it is true. We are holy. We are holy, because our God is holy. We are holy by the ever-sanctifying life of the Spirit in and through and among us. We do not simply confess this in hopes that it might someday be true. We are declared holy and, indeed, made holy by the washing of the Word that cleanses us and prepares us as one “without spot or wrinkle”. We confess our holiness one-for-another even as we pray “forgive us our trespasses”. We receive confessions of sins and we speak the words of our Lord in the cleansing from all uncleanness. We are made holy in thought, word, and deed, even as we are being made holy in thought, word, and deed…in what is done and what has yet to be done.
To say we are “catholic” is not to say we belong to that church (or those churches) which have taken that name “Catholic” as if it belonged to any singular community, but as that which binds us to one another everywhere and always. Our catholic confession is that the church historic and global all belongs to the Lord together. While the oneness gives greater emphasis to the unity, the catholicity gives greater emphasis to the diversity. We are one, but not as singularity. We are one in diversity. The many gifts, the many tongues, the many nations; we are all bound together as the church of the Lord Jesus. The expressions of our diversity ought never to be the expressions of our divisions as if we no longer belong to one another.
To say we are “apostolic” (the addition from Nicaea) is to say that what we have received is from the Lord Jesus as passed down through his apostles to our very day. It is not simply to affirm the laying on of hands and anointing by the Spirit in apostolic succession one-upon-the-other, but to also say that the same Spirit of the apostles is the same Spirit of our day who enlivens each in turn as poured out akin to that Day of Pentecost. We are those who minister the life of the Son bearing witness as those before us and in that same power and authority. We are a community flowing from the Spirit-ed of Jerusalem to the furthest ends of the earth with the good news of God’s kingdom come and coming in power. As such, we are those who must carry in our bodies and communities the marks of those who have gone before until the day comes of which we have committed to testify.
It is in these ways that we confess together: “We believe one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”.
—Rev. Rick Wadholm Jr., PhD, Canon Theologian of Missio Mosaic and the Anglican Mission, Associate Professor of Old Testament at AGTS