“The holy catholic church [and] the communion of saints”

posted by R. Fowler White

In our series of blogposts on the Apostles’ Creed, we now turn to Article 9: I believe in … the holy catholic church and in the communion of saints. Here in the Creed’s third section, we’re focused on the person and work of God the Spirit. Especially regarding His work, we affirm in Article 9 that He brings believers into fellowship with God the Father and God the Son (cf. 1 John 1:4), a fellowship realized in the church and in the communion of saints. Like Article 8, the wording of Article 9 was perfected and expanded in the Nicene Creed. So, once again, our thoughts below will reflect the additions of the Nicene Creed.

The article before us has us confessing our belief in the church created by the Holy Spirit as the holy, catholic, and (with the Nicene Creed) apostolic fellowship of the triune God. First, as a holy assembly, we confess that the church has been set apart from the world for God’s use. Though we once were slaves to sin, we have become slaves to righteousness (Rom 6:17-18), God’s sons and daughters committed to His yoke of discipleship. Second, as a catholic assembly, we confess that the church is universal, reaching as far as God’s saving will, Christ’s saving work, and the church’s mission—in other words, extending across time, place, class, and race. Third, as an apostolic assembly, we confess that the church was founded on and is devoted to the Apostles’ doctrine. The church recognizes that, in keeping with Christ’s promise, the Spirit of truth gave through the Apostles all the revelation necessary for building His church. The Apostles’ official testimony cannot be repeated, revised, repealed, or replaced. It was enough, and it was final. Through the Spirit, then, the church is one (as the Nicene Creed puts it) in her common confession from heart and mouth: Jesus is Lord (1 Cor 12:3; cf. Rom 10:9-10). By the Spirit there is one holy commonwealth, one household of faith, one temple (Eph 2:12-22), one covenant people, one olive tree (Rom 11:17-24), one body (1 Cor 12:12-13). Across all times, places, classes, and races, converted offenders have been united—made one—insofar as they are each and all washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:10-11). Therefore, together we confess belief that the church is that company which is joined together by God the Spirit, into one holy, catholic, and apostolic fellowship.

In Article 9, belief in the church goes hand-in-hand with belief in the communion of saints. All three Persons of the Godhead have been involved in creating the church. By the Father’s involvement, the church is the assembly of His children and people. By the Son’s involvement, the church is the company of His disciples, the citizenry of His kingdom, the membership of His body. By the Spirit’s involvement, the church is the fellowship and temple of the living God. The Spirit is the One who creates that fellowship, that community of which believers are a part with the Godhead and with one another. The Spirit is the One who makes believers new creatures in Christ; who gives beauty to Christ’s church through the ministries of the Word, sacraments, and discipleship; and who brings bounty to Christ’s church as He bears His fruit among us, binds us together in love, guides us with wisdom, and stirs us with zeal. All this He does for the good of God’s people, each and all. Thus, we can say that the communion of saints is particularly the Spirit’s work.

There is still more to say about the communion of saints. Through our stewardship of the Spirit’s gifts for ministry, He nurtures in us the graces of faith, hope, and love. He gives us increasing assurance of faith as He bears witness through the Word that we belong to the Lord and that we are sealed for the full harvest of our final redemption. He nurtures hope in us despite the sufferings of this present time, interceding for us Himself according to God’s will with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8:26-27), but also by putting us together with others to rejoice and to weep together (1 Cor 12:25-26). The Spirit also teaches us that love is indispensable, selfless, and everlasting—indispensable in that we amount to nothing spiritually when love is absent; selfless in that through love we promote the good of others such that we are fitted and held together as the temple of God and the body of Christ; and everlasting in that He teaches us that love is ours not only in this age but in the age to come. The Westminster Confession of Faith (ch. 26, par. 2), following Scripture, sums it up well: “It is the duty of professing saints to maintain a holy fellowship and communion in the worship of God and in performing such other spiritual services as help them to edify one another. It is their duty also to come to the aid of one another in material things according to their various abilities and necessities. As God affords opportunity, this communion is to be extended to all those in every place who call on the name of the Lord Jesus.”

In Article 9 of the Apostles’ Creed, faithful to Scripture, we confess: I believe in the holy catholic church and the communion of saints. To be sure, the congregations of Christ’s church are not all that they should be in this age. We take confidence, however, from the truth that to each congregation of His church, Christ has given His Spirit and the means of saving grace both to gather His saints and to grow them. Moreover, we take confidence that Christ, by His Spirit and according to His promise, makes these provisions effective. Knowing these things, we must continue to confess, with much gladness, courage, and hope, that we believe in … the holy catholic church and in the communion of saints.

We take up the Creed’s Article 10 on the forgiveness of sins here.

2 Comments

  1. July 7, 2022 at 10:35 am

    […] Our attention turns to Article 9 of the Creed here. […]

  2. July 13, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    […] Read More […]


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