The Nicene Creed reads:
"We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church..."
It is not often that I draw upon material from the historical creeds of the church to teach from. Indeed, from my own view point and the tradition that I come from, such creeds have little value. The apostles never formulated any creeds, nor did they encourage others to do so. Even at the "council of Jerusalem" in Acts 15, what the apostles and elders wrote down was nothing more than some informal suggestions and exhortations that were to be circulated amongst the churches.
However, in spite of this, we cannot say that the creeds that the church has formally made into dogma, as an acid test for orthodoxy, have no value whatsoever. Indeed, in one sense they are of great value. The various creeds that have been adopted over the years show the great struggle the church has gone through in attempting to give expression to its deepest beliefs and yearnings. They are creeds that have mostly attempted to say just what is essential to being a Christian.
Furthermore, these creeds are never isolated statements of faith that one person espouses over another person. Rather, these creeds are the expressed faith of a "community." The creeds say "this" is what "we" believe. Our western culture at the present time has such a hard time getting our minds around such things. The mindset of many believers today is so individualistic in nature. Its all about "my" personal relationship with Jesus, and what "I" believe.
I dont make these comments to minimize the importance or necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I simply make them to draw attention to just how isolated we as believers have become from the rest of the church. "I" is on the throne, and as a result the church often lacks a sense of "we." Yet Hebrews 12:1 reminds us that you and I should never forget that we are surrounded by a "great cloud of witnesses," and that it is from the common faith of these historical saints of old that we are to draw strength from and identification with, so that we might run "the race that is set before us."
And just what is the content of that faith that is to be found in the communion of the saints? It is found in the expression: "We believe." This belief is at the same time intensely individualistic and intensely communal. We are the body of Christ, but, individually, members of it. Great injustice has been done by the church over the years which has tended to exalt an individual and think of that person alone as "a saint." But the New Testament knows of no such thing. Rather, the New Testament only knows of "saints."
And those saints have something of substance that they confess to actually believing "in." Its not a vague faith, nor a fuzzy faith that is devoid of focus and content. While it is fashionable today to exalt a personal relationship with Jesus at the expense of "doctrine," the saints of old have shown us that such a teary-eyed, warm and fuzzy faith is no faith at all.
But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, "I believed, therefore I spoke," we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus... (2 Corinthians 4:13-14; NASB)
A faith that is merely mystical and that cannot be articulated is not faith, it is merely sentimentalism. True faith is "in" something and someone. Paul says what we believe we speak, "knowing." Faith knows something. Indeed, a true relationship is never devoid of true knowledge. For, knowledge of another is the framework that all genuine relationships are built upon. Such is no less true when it comes to God.
"Doctrine," is the expressed content of the knowledge that comes from faith. Anybody who downplays the necessity of a faith rich in doctrine is a fool at worse, or merely misguided at best. No, that doctrine does not need to be articulated in the verbiage found in the jungles of Christian academia. This faith, after all, is what "we" believe. An expression in child-like simplicity will more than suffice. But that does not mean the content of that faith should be child-like in stature. We must progress from milk to meat, for meat is what men eat, and spiritual manhood is something we should all seek to attain.
We should also seek for purity in our doctrine. Such is why the various creeds have been drafted throughout the years. The church has recognized it holds to a testimony that has been passed down to us from the Lord Himself. It is "the" faith once and for all handed down to the saints (Jude 3). Therefore we should jealousy guard what we have been made stewards of, and as accurately as possible we should seek to pass along that faith to others. We should not seek to be novel preachers in what we communicate. Invention is not becoming to the Christian faith. The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ, but it should only be new news to those who have never heard it before.
For the faith we hold, as the Nicene creed says, should be judged for its apostolic quality and character. The author of Hebrews reminds us of the Divine order of our faith: "...it was at first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard, God also testifying with them, both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit..." (Hebrews 2:3-4) Our faith must be in keeping with the first generation who heard the Lord in the flesh, who in turn taught it to all of us who have come ever since. It is for this reason "we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church." Contrary to the shallow reasoning of Rome, this is not a statement intended to establish its own organization as somehow being the church Jesus built. Rather, it is an expression that seeks to establish purity in the beliefs and practices of the life of the church, so that there would be an unbroken continuum between us and the first generation of saints who heard the Lord Himself.
Is it no wonder then, that the late Art Katz often said that the word "apostolic," and all that pertains to it, should cause us to "salivate" and foam at the mouth? Yet for many it has become, as he said, "a cheapie." Its a word that has through misuse and abuse, lost its luster, meaning, and power. Apostolic should be a word that arrests every single one of us. We should be spell bound by it, and if necessary, moved with great wrath to utterly slaughter anything that attempts to pass itself along as being apostolic, when in fact it is not! Acceptance of anything fraudulent passing itself along as apostolic is to diminish the Lords ministry, and to rob Him of the glory that is so rightly His. For Jesus Christ is our Chief Apostle.
Therefore, "we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it." (Hebrews 2:1) Often from slackness and neglect, what was once heard we have since drifted away from. Indeed, for entire centuries at a time! As disciples of Jesus Christ, we must continually seek to pay closer attention to what has been said in the Scriptures, and examine what we believe, say, and practice, so as to find out of if these things are indeed in keeping with the faith once and for all handed down to the saints. As was the motto of the Protestant reformation, we must always be about the business of reforming. Even if we make no tweaks in our doctrine, practices, or way of life, the spirit of reformation should always be pulsating throughout our blood. We are not to do this for sake of reformation, as if that were our chief end, but for the sake of being a church that is truly apostolic in all its dimensions. For a church that is apostolic in its character is a church that is most like Jesus Christ Himself.