I believe in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. These are the words from the Nicene Creed that we regularly confess at St. Paul Lutheran Church. We say these words together with the confidence that we are united in our common faith in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
There is only one church. Yes there are many buildings, congregations, and denominations. There are fractions and divisions in this world among God’s faithful people that may make the oneness of the church difficult to see. You may have an urge to join a non-denominational church hoping that you will find a community where all the differences go away. Keep in mind that even when differences are not talked about or recognized, they still exist.
If we look at the church from God’s perspective, something else will be noticed. St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians about their unity with all believers in the world, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6).
The one true church is not identified with any one congregation or denomination. The one true church consists of all believers in Christ. One common image utilized in Scripture to describe this truth is the body. There is one body that has many members and has Christ as the head. There is only one church, and it is made up of all who believe in Christ.
If you want to find the church, do not simply look for the sign out front or observe the holy works of the people. Look for Christ. Look for Jesus proclaimed in the Word of God and shared in the Sacraments of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and in the forgiveness of sins. The oneness of the church is not found at a church that calls itself one label or another. The oneness of the church is found where Christ is proclaimed.
We believe in one church that is holy. It may seem absurd to people to describe the church as holy since we know so well scandals and abuses have filled Christian history. Some may avoid organized religions because they are tired of hypocrites and pompous displays of holiness. I know I do not have much patience for people parading their good works for all to see. Church history is filled with the stories of sinners, and we do not help the defense of our faith if we try to whitewash this history. In fact we will help our defense of the faith if we are willing to share the ugly stories of our history because then we will no longer rely on the crutch of our own good works to be our publicity. The church is holy because her members have been clothed in the holiness of Jesus.
Some may be uncomfortable with the confession that our church is catholic. Even the translation of the Nicene Creed in our hymnal replaces the word “catholic” with the word “Christian.” By definition, catholic is not the name of a denomination but is a state of the universality and unity of the church. Catholic is a word that describes how the members of the church come from every tribe, language, and nation throughout the world.
This word simply describes that what the 12 apostles witnessed from the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry through his death, resurrection, and ascension is still being taught today. The apostolic and prophetic Scripture is still the only source and norm for what we believe, teach, and confess. The true Christian church does not invent new doctrine to suit the itching ears of the day, but we remain faithful to the inspired Scriptures, the teaching of the Apostles.
I am a Lutheran pastor because I believe that in the Lutheran Church I have an opportunity to participate in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. I want you to be a member of a Lutheran congregation because you will find the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church in a Lutheran congregation that proclaims the Word of God and administers the sacraments. This confidence is not rooted in the label Lutheran. Our cornerstone is not a denominational label. Our foundation and cornerstone is Jesus Christ.