Getting to know the church of Christ
“I believe in…the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church…” Such is the New Apostolic Church’s understanding of church. But what exactly does it mean by that? The sermons in June shed some light on the matter.
The month of June has four Sundays—a good occasion to talk about the four notae ecclesiae, or “marks of the church”. In this context, the term church does not refer to a single organisation, but rather denotes the whole church of Christ, which is made up of the multitude of baptised Christians who believe in Jesus. Its visible side is comprised of the various churches, which in turn are made up of human beings who each give their very best, but ultimately remain imperfect. Its invisible side, on the other hand, is perfect, because Jesus Christ is its head.
The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople, likely the most important Christian creed, speaks of four identifying features of the church of Christ, namely belief in the “one, holy, universal [catholic] church”.
The apostolic church
The apostolicity of the church is the focus of the sermon on the first Sunday in June. According to the New Apostolic understanding, apostolicity refers to both the doctrine of the Apostles as well as the Apostle ministry. The New Testament develops the essential content of the Apostles’ doctrine, namely the importance of the death, resurrection, and return of the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation.
Apostolicity means that even today, the Apostles continue their work in the church of Christ with the same function and mandate. They teach that Jesus Christ gave His life as a sacrifice for humanity. Jesus’ death has created the prerequisite for eternal life. With His resurrection He gained the victory over death. The Apostles’ doctrine also includes the promise of the return of Christ. Wherever His return is no longer discussed—or perhaps even rejected—an essential aspect of the Christian faith is missing.
The New Apostolic Church teaches that God also elects Apostles today. They are necessary to ensure that the gospel is preached in the right manner and that the full effect of the sacraments is present. Wherever the Apostle ministry is at work in its full authority, the bridal congregation is being gathered and prepared for the return of Christ—even in the beyond.
The holy church
The sermon on the second Sunday of June dedicates its attention to the holiness of the church. Despite all the imperfection of human activity, it is God who is at work in His church. The holiness of the church can be experienced in God’s word and in the sacraments, among other things. The church responds to its sanctification through God by serving Him.
The one church
The sermon on the third Sunday is to make it clear that, despite the divisions within Christianity and the multitude of Christian churches, there is only one church of Christ. Together, all Christians are to believe in Jesus Christ and strive for the visible unity of His church. It was for this oneness that Jesus prayed when He said: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17: 20–21). Already today, this oneness with God and among the believers can be experienced, and when Jesus returns, the experience of this unity will be perfect. Among other things, this unity is also demonstrated by the fact that Christians attest the gospel collectively to the outside world.
The universal church
The sermon on the fourth Sunday of June is devoted to preparing the way for the divine service for the departed, which takes place at the start of July. God’s love and will to save apply to both the living and the dead in equal measure. Thus there is yet another identifying feature of the church—namely its universality—that comes to expression in this divine service. After all “God loves all human beings and He desires to save them all”.
The notae ecclesiae are exhaustively described in the Catechism of the New Apostolic Church, chapter 6.4.
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