Remembering Who We Are: Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
Remembering Who We Are
We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son. With the Father and the Son he is worshipped and glorified. He has spoken through the Prophets. We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen
The third article of the Nicene Creed sometimes seems to be an addendum. That is, the first two articles dealing with the nature and work of God the Father and the Incarnation of God the Son in the person of Christ seem to take all of the oxygen out of the room. Yet, it is in the third article of the creed that we proclaim who we are. We confess and proclaim that we believe in “one holy, catholic and apostolic church”. In a very real sense, this is a confession of our own identity. Additionally, no single phrase encapsulates more accurately or succinctly how the early church, represented by the bishops at Nicaea, viewed themselves. Now, while it might be profitable to examine and analyze the adjectives applied to the Church – one, holy, catholic and apostolic – my interest is the context in which this definition is placed.
The context is blatant and explicit. The definition of Church is placed in the third article of the Creed, namely that which deals with the work and identity of the Holy Spirit. This is to say, the Church was to be perceived and understood from the perspective of Pneumatology. In plain non-theological words, the Church was seen as both the means and the effect of the Holy Spirit and his work, in this world and the next. In this regard, the Church was also eschatological, for it was not only the means of God’s work on earth, but it was also the goal of God’s work which was to be accomplished in this world and the next through the Holy Spirit.
The work of the Holy Spirit in and through the Church, however, is none other than Christ’s Incarnation in extension. When Christ sent out his disciples to baptize and to teach it was not a new ministry which they were to execute and exercise, but Christ’s ministry. The baptism they were to administer was baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. That which they were to teach were the commands of Christ. The resurrection from the dead and the life of the world to come was proclaimed owing to Christ’s rising from the dead and his ascension. The Church was also, therefore, understood Christologically, for the ministry which it lived, and the ministry which it exercised, was Christ’s ministry which the Holy Spirit worked through the Church.
The Church, in this understanding, is not a political or sociological entity. It is not a training ground for culture warriors. Rather, the Church is a theological reality by which the Holy Spirit makes Christ known. It is, or should be, the embodiment of Christ and the harbinger of a new age in which, according to Ignatius of Antioch, “magic was destroyed, every bond of evil perished, ignorance was destroyed, the old kingdom was utterly ruined as God appeared as man for the newness of eternal life…”
I still believe in the theological reality of the Church.
First, however, we need to remember who we are….