…and I believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church… — from the creed of the Council of Nicaea, 325 A.D.
After three hundred years of persecution, threats of internal disruption, and false doctrines, the leaders of the local churches met at Nicaea to draw up a common, unified, concise statement of the articles of faith for all Christians. They sifted through hundreds of traditions, writings, oral reports, and customs; when it was over, they chose those which they considered foundational for Christian life and transcribed them as a creed.
One phrase contained in that creed begins this article. Why did the Church Fathers choose to include it among the statements about the divinity and incarnation of Jesus, the Trinity, the atonement, the communion of saints, the hope of future glory? Obviously they knew it to be important. But is it as important to the believer as the other creedal beliefs? The answer is yes. Many volumes have been written on this subject, but let me present this simple progression to defend my answer.
God, after He spoke long ago to the Fathers in the prophets, in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, Whom He appointed heir of all things…– Hebrews 1:1-2. The revelation of the Father to this earth is found in the Son. The Apostle John called Him the Logos, the Word of God. Paul referred to Him as the fullness of the Godhead. Peter referred to Him as the cornerstone of the spiritual house of God. Jesus Himself proclaimed that if we have seen Him, we have seen the Father. If Jesus was the final revelation of God to man, then in what form do we now possess this revelation. The answer is simple, in the vessel which He left behind to bear witness to Himself, the Church.
I write to you so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth – I Timothy 3:15. And again in II Corinthians 5:18-20:
Now all these things are from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were entreating through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Or again in Matthew 16:18-19:
And I say unto thee, that thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatsoever shall be loosed on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
And He (the Father) put all things in subjection under His (the Son’s) feet, and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. – Ephesians 1:22-23.
It is a simple truth that is often easy to overlook in the vast collection of doctrines, interpretations, literature, and tradition. It is even easier in today’s world of hyper-individualism to discount the truth of the Church as unimportant. Because of divine direction it was not overlooked by the Fathers of Nicaea. Let us never discount the Church’s role in the plan of God’s reconciliation of the world, or think less of it because of its claim to speak into our own relationship with God. It alone can say what we could never begin to speak:
What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled concerning the Word of Life…what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also that you also may have fellowship with us, and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. – I John 1:1-4.