I believe . . . in the holy Christian Church.
I imagine there are some who read the Apostles’ Creed, this ancient and great statement of essential Christian belief, and have an easy time up to this point. It isn’t hard to picture someone having a hard time saying the words I believe . . . in the holy Christian Church. They might have no trouble affirming their belief in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. But why make a statement of faith in support of the church? Hasn’t the church disappointed too many people to deserve such a high place in this great creed?
Through the centuries, the church has often punished good and rewarded evil. At times it has encouraged sin and discouraged godliness. Sometimes the church has seemed to be on an dedicated mission to hide Jesus and His Word. By and large, the history of the church teaches us more about what not to do than what to do. Then why is it important for every Christian to say, I believe . . . in the holy Christian Church?
First, we should love and value the church because Jesus does. Are you an expert in the sins and shortcomings of the church? Jesus knows about them better than you do, yet He loves the church. He regards the company of God’s people as His precious bride, cherished and loved. When we choose a bad attitude against the church, it offends Jesus. We believe in the holy Christian Church because Jesus does.
Second, we should love and value the church because Jesus commands us to. There are many passages from the Bible that speak to this, but an impressive one is in John 13 where Jesus washed the disciple’s feet. After that amazing display of humble, serving love, Jesus didn’t demand that the disciples come and wash His feet. Instead, He said: If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. (John 13:14 – click here for more on John 13) In a strange way, our love for Jesus is not measured by our love for Jesus directly. In truth, our love for Jesus is measured by our love for the people who make up His church.
There is something in this last phrase that I prefer in other renderings of the Apostle’s Creed. Our rendering of the Creed has I believe . . . in the holy Christian Church. I prefer the more traditional rendering I believe . . . in the holy catholic Church. I prefer it because when we understand what the word catholic means, it is a beautiful and meaningful statement to proclaim, I believe . . . in the holy catholic Church. Most of us associate the word catholic with the Roman Catholic Church; but the word catholic in itself – in its original meaning – has nothing to do with Rome and popes. The word “catholic” simple means “universal.” Therefore, with this correct understanding, when I say, “I believe in the holy catholic Church,” I declare the essential unity of the church throughout all ages. I’m saying that there is really only one spiritual and invisible church that all who are genuinely born of God belong to. It says that I go to church with Peter and Paul and Polycarp and Francis of Assisi and Hus and Wycliffe and Luther and Calvin and Whitefield and Wesley and Edwards and Spurgeon and Schaeffer and Graham. I like going to that church.
If it’s hard for you to say, I believe in . . . the holy Christian Church, then do one simple thing: Ask Jesus to give you the same heart He has for the church. Jesus believes in His Church, and I think we should also. He knows all our sins and shortcomings, and works on them – but His love never leaves.