What does the universal church look like?
If the church is the covenant people of God what does that community look like? One of the earliest and most important explanations comes from the Nicene Creed where we affirm that there is, “one holy catholic and apostolic Church.” What does that mean? Let’s break that down.
There is only one people of God. In heaven there won’t be separately fenced sections for each denomination like Presbyterians, Methodists, Greek Orthodox, Baptists, and Coptic Christians. If you are reconciled to God you are part of the one church. If you believe the gospel, trust in Christ, and love the Lord you are saved into one family – his family.
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.
This truth is practical for the church because it means we aren’t in competition with other local congregations. To reinforce that mentality at Shoreline we regularly pray for other churches in New London, Waterford, and Groton – that they would be fruitful, faithful, and joyful in their worship and service.
This also leads us to worship because it shows that God loves the whole world. He draws to himself people from every tongue, tribe, and nation. One of the many things we praise God for is his love to all the earth.
A Holy Church
The church is the covenant people of God. When he draws us into a relationship with himself God the Holy Spirit indwells us. The church is holy because God is building up a holy temple in us.
This truth is practical because it helps us see the way forward. We know what our hearts are supposed to look like and what the church needs to focus on. That affects the topics we discuss, the ministries we pursue, and what we aspire to as a community. We know what our gatherings should focus on – glorifying the Lord by encouraging each other on towards maturity, purity, and holiness.
And we can see there just how integrated the Christian life is – in holiness we see the practical and the worship meet. It’s not just practical to focus church life on holiness, it’s also an act of worship. The Lord gives us his Holy Spirit to help us be holy (a great privilege we worship him for!) and we pursue that end as an act of obedience and worship to him.
A Catholic Church
The word “catholic” means “universal.” Closely related to our discussion of “one church,” we affirm that we belong to a “universal church.”
An Apostolic Church
The church follows the ministry of the apostles. That means it believes, preaches, and applies the central truths of the faith. We affirm that there is one God in three persons. We believe Jesus is God incarnate. We profess Jesus’ virgin birth, death, and resurrection for the redemption of sinners. We affirm the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and regeneration of the heart when a person places their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation.
Practically, this differentiates between the Church and the world. This is the core of our message and our life. It’s why we preach the gospel to non-Christians – atheists, Muslims, Mormons, agnostics, and Hindus alike. Without the apostolic message (the gospel) the church has no mission.
And the apostolic teaching is critical to our worship. We cannot love a God we don’t know. We can’t grow in our love for him if we don’t have an understanding of who he is.
This is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.