Many Protestant churches such as the Anglican, Reformed and Lutheran, recite the Creeds within their liturgy. But are they casting judgment on themselves for doing such a thing? Perhaps the reason why every one of these ‘unions’ of sort have fallen into the hands of liberalism is because they are indeed casting themselves into the hands of the living God…Which is grace for them, since God seems to be trying to get their attention by not allowing such movements to survive.
What is meant by the term “Catholic” and “Universal” church within the Creed? To some in our day the term is used for describing any church that is a true church according to basic Christian standards, regardless of authority and the posture they have to the rest of the Church and her history. These groups attempt to take lingusitic authority of the words but not patristic authority. If we look at the history of the Church we find that these terms are used exclusively to describe non-schismatic churches.
The Christian faith is founded in the Creeds in that the Creeds protect the very nature of Christ and His Church. Formed out of the early Church and Councils, the Creeds were created to help ward off various heresies that were common in that day.
The heresies that the Creeds (Nicene, Apostle’s and Athanasius) were created to protect us from are still prevalent in our day! The Creeds set forth vital dogmas of the faith that if compromised by any people, determines them to be a sect or all together heretical. The Creeds include the dogma of God as our Creator, The Trinity, the Virgin birth, the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ, the resurrection of believers and the return of Christ for his Church. Each of these dogmatic pronouncements within the Creeds have protected us from the modern heresies such as liberalism and cults such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses.
But there is a section in the Nicene Creed that distinguishes modern heterodox movements of today that is very important to point out:
“And I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church”
What was the understanding of the “Catholic and Apostolic Church” at the time the Creeds were constructed? You will find below a number of bishops from the early church (pre and post Nicene) describing what is meant by the term catholic. There is more than what, say, Augustine wraps up in the term, that can be found in the Athanasius Creed, as well as other patristic writings. This does not mean that each bishop is giving their personal definition of the term, but rather it means that there is much to be said about the term. It is a term that is very complex.
Augustine of Hippo
“We believe in the holy Church, that is, the Catholic Church; for heretics and schismatics call their own congregations churches. But heretics violate the faith itself by a false opinion about God; schismatics, however, withdraw from fraternal love by hostile separations, although they believe the same things we do. Consequently, neither heretics nor schismatics belong to the Catholic Church; not heretics, because the Church loves God, and not schismatics, because the Church loves neighbor” (Faith and Creed 10:21 [A.D. 393]).
Cyprian of Carthage
“You ought to know, then, that the bishop is in the Church and the Church in the bishops; and if someone is not with the bishop, he is not in the Church. They vainly flatter themselves who creep up, not having peace with the priest of God, believing that they are secretly in communion with certain individuals. For the Church, which is one and catholic, is not split or divided, but is indeed united and joined by the cement of priests who adhere to one another” (Letters 66:8 [A.D. 253]).
Ignatius of Antioch
“See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.” (Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, Chap 8 [A.D. 110])
“It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about” (Against Heresies 3:3:1 [A.D. 189]).
A church does not adhere to the Creeds if they are not under apostolic succession, which is clearly proven in just how the term “catholic and apostolic” Church is patristically defined. “Apostolic” never meant to refer to those that have similar doctrines as the Apostles, even the doctrine of the Trinity; rather, the term Apostolic was used in patristic times when referring to proper apostolic succession of the episcopate. No Protestant Church has apostolic succession! They are not in communion with the Orthodox Church or even the Roman Church, for that matter. Orthodoxy teaches that once a bishop breaks from the unified Church he no longer has succession and is not in communion with the Body of Christ! Christ commanded that we be unified (John 17) and that we be under the authority of the apostolic lineage (Matthew 16). Splinter groups off of Rome (who is already splintered from the Orthodox Church) are not even being considered for future disucssions of union with the Church. The reason for this, is, again, they are not connected to the authority of the apostles in any way. They may have some similar doctrines, but the Church is a living organism that only operates properly if they are unified under the same spiritual authority. Doctrines here and there are not a spiritual authority. There must be relationship! The Trinity represents God as communal. The Church is to be communal and relational. The Holy Spirit Himself works through this communal effort. As Saint Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:13, Christ is not divided and so we cannot be divided. Division over doctrine that is not Creedal is schismatic and sinful, and the only way that we will ever get back to the miracles that the first millennium Church experienced is if we become united again. Schismatics distract our unity and withhold their gifts from the Church. We need those people in the Church both for our sake as well as theirs!