Theology Conference: One, Holy, CATHOLIC and Apostolic Church

Greg Strand – December 29, 2015 5 Comments

“We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”  From this expression from the Nicene-Constantinople Creed, which is a faithful summary of the biblical teaching on the nature of the church, the church is not only one and holy, but also catholic.

Often when one hears the word “catholic,” one thinks “Roman Catholic Church.”  Some Protestants have been so scandalized by this word they will not even use it.  But the term “catholic” is not limited to Roman Catholicism, just as the term “orthodox” is not limited to the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Although “catholic”, like the term “Trinity,” is not used in the New Testament in reference to the Church, the term was intentionally chosen to refer to important biblical truths that speak about the Church.  By definition it means “universal,” or “referring to the whole.”  The important truth the early church desired to communicate was that the Church as a whole is more than the local church.  While a local church is part of the universal Church, it is not the Church universal in its entirety.  One of the first known uses of this expression occurs in the writings of Ignatius of Antioch, who was martyred in Rome about AD 110, which gives a clear sense of its meaning and importance: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church” (italics mine).

In addition to referring to the universality of the Church of Jesus Christ, “catholic” also meant “orthodox,” i.e., right belief, in contrast to heresy and schism.  In the fifth century, Vincent of Lerins defined this orthodox catholicity as “that which is believed everywhere, at all times, and by all people.”  Moreover, “catholic” also referred to the Church that extended throughout the world that had no geographical, institutional, cultural or racial boundaries.

It is important for evangelicals to know that the catholicity or universality of the Church of Jesus Christ is exclusive.  One must not confuse the universality of the Church with universalism.  As we have learned, one comes to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ through Jesus Christ alone.  The road is narrow (Matt. 7:13-14) and the way is exclusive (Jn. 14:6).  But once one becomes a Christian by believing in Christ’s completed work on the cross through faith, one becomes a member in the true, universal Church.  Those that are members in the true, universal Church will gather with other believers in local churches.

What this means is that the universality of the Church is grounded in her identity, her relationship to Jesus Christ: in Christ alone does the whole fullness of deity dwell (Col. 2:9); Christ alone is full of grace and truth (Jn. 1:14, 16); Christ alone is the Head of all things, for all things were created by Him and for Him (Col. 1:16); Christ alone is the lone, exclusive Head of the Church (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:23).

Contrary to what we hear in the world, the exclusivity of Jesus Christ is the basis of unity and universality (cf. Eph. 4:4-6).  One appropriately writes, “if the church is one, it must be universal; if it is universal, it must be one.  Unity and catholicity are two interwoven dimensions of one and the same church.”

In sum, God promised that all the nations would be blessed through Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3), and this promise was fulfilled in Christ and all those who now by faith believe in Him.  God is drawing a people to Himself that crosses all social, racial and intellectual boundaries, a Church that is universal in scope (Matt. 28:18-20; Col. 1:18-20).  Although being a part of the Church is exclusive, only through Jesus Christ her Head (Eph. 1:21-23), membership is universal in that the Church exists globally and is made up of those from every people and language and nation (Rev. 5:9-10).  This is why the EFCA is committed to our Lord’s biblical mandate to “glorify God by multiplying transformational churches among all people.”

Please join me in confessing our sin against Christ and His Church – our provincialism, our sense of personal kingdom building, our envy against others who are ministering in the same vineyard who appear to be doing “better” than I am, broadening where we need to be exclusive and doctrinally narrow, and narrowing and fragmenting where we need to be broad and universal, our ethnocentrism and racism, etc.  Lord have mercy.  Please also join me in praying that God will do a new work in the EFCA such that the local churches will be true reflections of an outpost from heaven (Heb. 12:22-24).  Lord do this for the sake of Christ.  Please also pray specifically for those who are working on the administrative and logistical details of the Theology Conference, and for those who are making plans to attend the Conference.

For Theology Conference details on The Doctrine of the Church, see here. For registration, see here

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

5 responses to Theology Conference: One, Holy, CATHOLIC and Apostolic Church

  1. “…true reflections of an outpost from heaven”, a thought that immediately challenged me and my perception of our church. Are we? Thanks for the heads-up and for a fresh perspective on how the local church fits into the community, Greg.

    • John, I am grateful to hear this expression of the church prompted a fresh perspective. Your follow up is a great question, and one that is worthwhile for pastors and leaders to ponder.

  2. Hello Greg ! Thanks for the article !
    I am looking for resources developing what the EFCA means by the expression “transformational churches”.
    Do you have an idea ?

    • Thank you for reading and your important follow up question.

      First, it is important to address the term “transformational.’ The gospel transforms individuals (Rom. 12:2; 2 Cor. 3:18; Phil. 3:21) that become part of the new community God is creating, the church, and it is those transformed people that impact homes and cities, etc., through the proclamation of the gospel that transforms lives that impact homes and cities, and on and on it goes. It is important to remember, and to distinguish between, the transformation of individuals and that of cultures, societies, neighborhoods and cities. The gospel transforms individuals, and those individuals, in turn, influence, affect and impact culture, neighborhoods and cities.

      The primary purpose of the church is to proclaim the gospel, not transform societies. An implication and entailment of this is that there will be an impact beyond the church. The New Testament and the early church attest to this reality. And it will happen, as it did in the early church, by ensuring the gospel is given its priority and preeminence in its proclamational and transformational realities in the lives of people, as noted in Paul’s ministry (Acts 19:8-10; 1 Cor. 15:1-8), not the transformation of cities.

      Second, in a previous version the expression was “healthy churches,” which is now “transformational churches.” With that mind, consider this in relation to “sound doctrine,” i.e., healthy doctrine which ensures churches are healthy. It is critical to consider doctrinal health in relation to healthy (transformational) churches, especially in relation to significant doctrinal aberrations, heterodoxies and heresies that exist today. This reflects the importance of solid doctrine and a “head and soul doctor,” pastors and elders, who will give themselves to “watch his (and the church’s) life and doctrine closely, for by it you will save both yourselves and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).

      Paul’s exhortation regarding the life-blood of sound (1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit.1:9, 13: 2:1, 2, 8) doctrine (Rom. 16:17; Eph. 4:14;1 Tim. 1:3, 10; 4:6; 6:3; Tit.1:9, 2:1, 10; Heb. 6:1) is vital to the spiritual health and well-being of the church and is critical to remember. And for pastors and elders, it is vital to remember that we, as called and gifted ministers of the gospel, we serve the Lord by serving people in the local church, and one of the most important ways we do that is to teach, train, live, model, etc., this “sound doctrine.” This is the heart of discipleship and disciple-making, so that the church will truly be the “pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Tim. 3:15), so that “sound doctrine” would be the foundation upon which we stand and the very air we breathe, so that we will not be tossed by the winds of doctrine (Eph. 4:11-16).

      • Thanks for your detailed answer – and the Bible references ! You’ve done a great job. I find it very helpful.

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