Today our study of the Apostles’ Creed turns away from what we believe about God and focuses on how believing in God needs to shape our lives. Two things to keep in mind as we look at this last section of the creed; first, these things are not optional to our faith. Being part of the church and a life of forgiveness are not add-ons that we can choose or set aside. These are essential truths that shape our lives as people who believe. The second thing to remember is that what makes possible everything we will be talking about is the Holy Spirit. What makes us the church and allows us to forgive and brings us eternal life is not our work but the work of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the giant outlet that powers everything else.
Today our focus is on the church and how appropriate that we are talking about this #1 in a factory and #2 at the beginning of VBS. A factory is a good setting because a factory is a place where people come together to work for a common goal. For a work force to be successful, everyone has to commit to being present, have a common vision, do their job while also looking out for those around them. While more and more factories might rely on automation – there are still teams of people needed to make sure things run effectively. So a factory is a good setting for us to talk at being the church because we are the team that God has called together to do His work.
And tonight is the first night of VBS which is only successful because the church – which is the entire congregation – comes together to make it happen. There are those who can create amazing sets, but these are no good unless we have people here to care for the children and those crew leaders are no good if there aren’t station leaders to teach the children about Jesus. All those crew and station leaders need the kitchen crew to feed them so they can be at their best, and we all need prayers for patience, persistence and the power to do what God asks us to do. VBS takes the entire church working together so today is a good day for us to hear about this part of the creed. I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints.
Perhaps more than any other part of the creed there are three words here that we need to understand correctly and they are holy, catholic and church. Let’s start with holy.
The word holy does not mean perfect. The church is not a perfect institution or organization and we are not perfect people. We miss the mark and as an organization we fail to be all that God wants us to be. Being holy is not a statement that we have it all together but an understanding that we are set apart by God and for God. The word holy means set apart. As followers of Jesus, we have been set apart by God to fulfill God’s purpose and plans, not our own.
The purpose God has for us as the church is not to have all our own needs met but to make disciple-makers. We are to invite people to follow Jesus with the understanding that they will find so much joy, peace and life with Christ that they will in turn invite others to follow Jesus. So when we say the church is holy we are not claiming to be righteous or saying that we are better than others, we are simply saying that we believe God has set us apart for his purpose and plan and we are committed to that.
Then we come to the word catholic. This is perhaps the most misunderstood word in the creed because many people hear this and think that we are talking about the Roman Catholic Church – but that is not what we are saying. The Apostles’ Creed was first formed about 400 AD, long before there was any formal institution of the Catholic Church and the word catholic simply means universal. The word catholic comes from the Greek words kata and holos which means throughout or everywhere. We hear this in Acts 9:31. The church throughout the entire region is what they are talking about – they are talking about all the churches and at that time it meant everyone who claimed to be a follower of the risen savior Jesus Christ. It was one church, a catholic church.
It wasn’t until 1054 AD that the Christian Church split into two groups and they divided east and west. The Western Church took the name Catholic because they believed they were the one true church and the Eastern Church took the name Orthodox which means right worship. So the eastern church claimed to be the right church and the western church claimed to be the one church, but what the creed affirms is that the followers of Jesus in the east and west and north and south are the one church.
As crazy as it sounds, the little song we teach children tells us this most clearly. That song goes, I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together. All who follow Jesus, all around the world. Yes, we’re the church together. The catholic church is all who follow Jesus all around the world. We hold different views on different things, but there is a common bond we share when we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ.
Jesus’ prayer for us was that we would be one. John 17:20-21. Jesus wants us to be one because our unity points to God and helps people believe in and trust God. Our unity brings people to Jesus so when the church is one, the church grows. That’s what we heard in Acts 9:31b.
So being holy and catholic has nothing to do with being perfect or part of the organization run by the Pope out of the Vatican, it means that we understand that all followers of Jesus have been called together and set apart to glorify God and accomplish God’s mission. So now let’s turn to the word church. In the New Testament, the word most often translated as church is the word ekklesia which means called together – as an assembly or group of people.
The other word we translate as church is the word kuriakon which means – belonging to the Lord. That word in German was translated as kirsch which then in English became church. So the church is really just a group of people who belong to the Lord. It is the followers of Jesus called out of the larger society – set apart – because our hearts tell us that we belong to the Lord. While we use the word church to also talk about buildings and locations, the truth is that the church really is a group of people who belong to Jesus and are gathered together as one to glorify and serve God.
We are holy because we are set apart, we are catholic because we are to be one and we are a church because we are an assembled group of people called together with a common faith and purpose. There are two important images that the New Testament uses to talk about the church and the first one is as a family. We are called brothers and sisters in Christ and we are called to love one another as we would our own family. Jesus himself said this when he said, Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50)
This image is important because it tells us that what holds us together in the church is love. Just as a family is to love one another, so the bonds of love are to hold us together in the life of the church. As a family we are to share our lives with one another and invite people to part of our lives.
The other image used for the church is that of a body, specifically the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27. What we learn with this image is that every person in the church is important and needed as part of the whole. There is no insignificant member of the body – every part is needed for the body to function well. The eyes need the ears, the head needs the feet. The arms need the legs. The heart needs the lungs. Every part is needed and it is only when all the parts come together as one that the body can function well.
We see this principle at work so well during this week of VBS. Every part of the body is needed. Every volunteer is needed and missing someone in just one part of the ministry can make the entire body fail. From ministries with children and youth to music and missions, we see this all through the life of the church. Every member is needed. For the church to function well and fulfill our purpose – every person is needed. You are needed.
This closing part of the creed is not a list of options that we can take or leave. Being part of the church is not an option; we are all called to be part of the church. We are all part of the body of Christ and members of one another. If we fail to live as part of the body, we are weakening the work of God in the world and we are not living up to our own full potential as followers of Jesus. The reality is that we need each other in order to grow. We need people encouraging us and loving us and at times pushing us to do things we might not otherwise do. We need the wisdom of others to help us more fully understand God and we need the insight of others to help shape and mold our lives.
The creed also tells us that the church is to be a communion of saints. A saint is not a person of extraordinary faith in God, but an ordinary person who has faith in God. Saints are just people like you and me striving to live our lives with faith and purpose and power. Many of the letters found in the New Testament were written to the saints which means they were for all the Christians living in the region. So saints are just those committed to looking more and more like Jesus and today we are surrounded by saints right here.
Saints are those who visit the sick and take communion to our shut-ins. Saints are those who help feed the hungry by serving at the food bank and faith centre. Saints care for the creation around us by serving at paws and working to recycle. Saints are those who nurture and teach our children at VBS and those who provide snacks, and meals and prayers and encouragement for the leaders. Saints are those who serve the poor in our community and give to support pastors and people in Sierra Leone. Today we are surrounded by many saints because gathered here is a communion of people committed to living and loving like Jesus.
But this communion of saints also includes those who have gone before us. In the book of Hebrews there is a chapter that names and recognizes some of the great people of our faith. Some are singled out by name like Abraham and Sarah, David and Deborah, and some are remembered for what they did like standing up for the faith in face of persecution and violence but then it says this in Hebrews 12:1.
All these people had died but they were still part of this great cloud of witness or a communion of saints. That communion and those saints still speak and love and encourage us today.
In a few weeks we will talk more about resurrection and eternal life, but for now let’s just say that we believe in this communion of saints in heaven who still love us and encourage us and whose lives still speak to us. I am thankful for this great cloud of witnesses and the saints who have touched my heart and life. Some are no longer here in person but their influence lives on in my life. Some saints are simply not part of my life because we have moved on to new locations and new opportunities but their faith and witness continues to speak to me and some saints are right here and part of my life today and their love and support keep me going and keep me faithful. Give thanks for the communion of saints that has formed your faith and supported you in life and never forget that God is calling you to be part of that communion of saints for someone else. There is only way to be part of that great communion and that is to be part of the holy catholic church.
So when we say that we believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints, we aren’t just saying that we believe the church exists, we are committing ourselves to being part of it. The creed makes clear that we need to be part of the family of God, the body of Christ and the communion of saints. This is not optional. If we want to be fully committed to Christ – being part of the church is essential and it being part of the church is helps glorify God and further the mission of Christ.
I Believe – The Church
1. Jesus’ prayer was for all his followers to be one. Read this prayer in John 17:9-26
• Why is unity so important for the followers of Jesus?
• Pray for the unity of the church in our community and world.
2. The Bible gives us two powerful images for the church: the family of God and the body of Christ. What does each image tell us about the importance of being part of the church?
3. In what ways do you feel like you are part of the body and the family? What has helped you feel like you belong?
How can you encourage others to be connected to the church?
4. Name the saints that have helped you come to believe in God and follow Jesus.
• For the saints still present in your life, thank them for their faith and love.
• For the saints who have died, thank God for their faithful witness and remember one thing that they have taught you that you can live out this week.
5. How do you define being holy? If it doesn’t mean being righteous and perfect, what does it mean? How are you intentionally trying to be holy?
6. Vacation Bible School takes the full family of God and the complete body of Christ working together.
• Volunteer to help as a crew leader for the children
• Pray each day for the teachers, children and families
• Join us tonight at 5:15 as we welcome the children