One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

One Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church

Written by R.C. Sproul |
Friday, May 20, 2022

The union of believers is grounded in the mystical union of Christ and His Church. The Bible speaks of a twoway transaction that occurs when a person is regenerated. Every converted person becomes “in Christ” at the same time Christ enters into the believer. If I am in Christ and you are in Christ, and if He is in us, then we experience a profound unity in Christ.

“One nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty . . .” We say it. We argue about it (especially the “under God” part). But is it true? In reality, how united is the United States? The “more perfect union” sought by Lincoln is hardly perfect in terms of harmony. We are a nation—morally, philosophically, and religiously—deeply divided. Yet there remains the outward shell of formal and organizational unity. We have union without unity.

As it is with the “United” States, so it is with the unity of the Christian church. The “oneness” of the church is one of the classic four descriptive terms to define the church. According to the council at Nicaea (325 AD), the Church is one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic.

Few church bodies today give much regard to being Apostolic. Fewer still seem concerned with the dimension of the holy. When these two qualities become irrelevant to the minds of church people, it is a mere chimera to speak of catholicity and unity.

The church, organizationally, is hopelessly fragmented. Since the birth of the “Ecumenical Movement,” the church has seen more splits than mergers. The crisis of disunity is on the front pages following the Episcopal Church’s decision to consecrate a practicing, impenitent homosexual to the role of bishop.

Is unity a false hope? Is it, in its historic expressions, merely an illusion?

To answer these questions we must consider the nature of the unity of the church.

In the first instance, the deepest and most significant unity of the Church is its spiritual unity. Though we can never separate the formal from the material with respect to the Church’s unity, we can and must distinguish them.

It was Augustine who taught most deeply about the distinction between the visible church and the invisible Church. With this classic distinction Augustine did not envision two separate ecclesiastical bodies, one apparent to the naked eye and another beyond the scope of visual perception. Now, did he envision one church that is “underground” and another one above ground, in full view?

No, he was describing a church within a church. Augustine took his cue from our Lord’s teaching that until He purifies His Church in glory, it will continue in this world as a body that will include “tares” along with the “wheat.” The tares are weeds that grow along with the flowers in Christ’s garden.

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