I Believe in One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church
O Holy Spirit, enter in and in our hearts Thy work begin,
Thy temple deign to make us; Sun of the soul, Thou Light Divine
Around and in us brightly shine, to joy and gladness wake us
That we, in Thee truly living, to Thee giving prayer unceasing,
May in love be still increasing.
Give to Thy Word impressive pow’r that in our hearts, from this good hour
As fire it may be glowing; that we confess the Father, Son,
And Thee, the Spirit, Three in One, Thy glory ever showing.
Stay Thou, guide now our souls ever that they never may forsake Thee,
But by faith their Refuge make Thee.
Thou Fountain whence all wisdom flows which God on pious hearts bestows
Grant us Thy consolation that in our pure faith’s unity
We faithful witnesses may be of grace that brings salvation.
Hear us, cheer us by Thy teaching; let our preaching and our labor
Praise Thee, Lord, and serve our neighbor. (TLH #235:1-3)
The way of the wicked and the way of the righteous (the believers) are very different from one another. Solomon instructs his son to follow the wisdom of God and walk in the way of the Lord rather than be without Christ and follow the wickedness of sin.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came to lay down His life for His sheep. While on the earth He proclaimed the Gospel of Salvation. Jesus’ work and preaching were not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles--the sheep of another fold. All who put their faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sins are believers and are sheep in His fold regardless of nationality, age, gender, or any other earthly division.
Text: Ephesians 2:12-22
At that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
In Christ Jesus, who is our Cornerstone, dear fellow-redeemed:
“I believe in the Holy Christian Church.”—We confessed these words this morning in the Apostolic Creed.
“I believe in one holy, Christian, and Apostolic church.”—We confessed these words last week in the Nicene Creed.
“I believe in one Christian Church” and yet if you go to the yellow pages for Mankato you will find over 30 headings of churches, not to mention the individual churches under each heading. So which one of those churches is the Holy Christian church? Is it Immanuel? Is it another church down the street or across town? When we speak of the “Holy Christian Church” and when God speaks of “the Church” in Scripture, it is not to be identified with any one earthly congregation or church—not ours, not anyone’s.
When God speaks of “church” it is literally, an assembly. When God speaks of His assembly it is the assembly of believers of all time and all places. In Christ’s church, this assembly of all believers includes: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the other believers we read about in both Old and New Testament Scripture. In this assembly of believers are all the believers who have gone before us and died in the Lord. In Christ’s church—this assembly of believers—are ourselves and all believers who are currently living. And in this assembly will be all the believers who will yet live between now and Judgment Day.
This Church, the assembly of all believers, determines its membership by faith and faith alone. The man who is brought to faith in the last moments of his life is a member of that church as much as the person who was lives to be 105 and has been a Christian all of his life. Because membership in this church is by faith and because God alone can read the hearts to know where true faith lies, only God knows with certainty who the true members of this assembly are. We can draw conclusions who the members of this assembly by the confession they make, but our knowledge is incomplete and hypocrites may deceive us. Thus, true membership is known only to God.
Because we are geographically limited, we gather together in specific locations. However, the Church of God is never limited to any physical location. In his letters to the Corinthians Paul began by saying, “To the church of God which is at Corinth” (1 Corinthians 1:2). In other words, Paul was writing “to that segment of Christ’s church who happen to be living in Corinth and happening to be gathering there for worship.” Where there are believers, there the Church of Christ is.
This morning we seek to consider and learn more about this one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church—Christ’s Church. To properly do this we need to suspend any ideas of an earthly church. This morning we are not considering the confessions of individual congregations and church bodies. We are not considering what God says for us to do when we find false teachings in congregations. God has much to say about these things, but this is not our topic this morning. This morning we are not considering earthly churches at all. We are considering the invisible assembly of all believers—Christ’s Church, the one of which He is the Cornerstone. I. It is an assembly of foreigners changed into family II. It is an assembly of hopeless ones led into peace III. An assembly of individuals built into one.
Paul was writing to Ephesians who were Gentiles. As Gentiles, they hadn’t know the truth of God’s Word like the faithful Israelites of the Old Testament had known. Paul writes, [Christ] “Himself is our peace, who has made both one” [v.14] The “both” are the Jews and the Gentiles. “And has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace.” [v.14-15]
In the Old Testament, God wanted to separate His people from the rest of the world. To do this, He gave them a very detailed and strict set of laws to observe—the Old Testament Ceremonial Law. These were the laws pertaining to the sacrifices, the feasts, the clean and unclean foods, and so on. All of these laws built up a barrier around Israel, because the heathen nations did not participate in these feasts and observations. God set apart His people of Israel so that He could preserve them as a people for Himself from which the Savior would be born. All of those ceremonial laws set up the fence, the boundary, between Jew and Gentile.
Paul’s message was that the Old Testament Ceremonial law was in place until Christ came. Christ fulfilled all the pictures of the Old Testament contained in the ceremonial observances. Christ completed the Law by keeping every requirement for us and for all people. He fulfilled the law, the barrier went down, and now there was no division between Jew and Gentile. Now, as Paul told the Ephesian Gentiles, “He has made one new man from the two, making peace.” [v.15]
This message was important for both Jews and Gentiles. The faithful Jews had been very careful about not eating unclean foods and in keeping all of the festivals. Now, they didn’t need to observe the Old Testament Ceremonial Laws any longer because they were fulfilled in Christ. Some Jews had a hard time accepting this truth because it was so different from what they had been practicing. It was difficult for them to see a child of God eat the forbidden foods, but with time and through the working of the Holy Spirit, God led them to accept this.
The Gentiles also needed to hear these words from Paul so that they would not feel as if they were somehow second-class citizens in the family of God. Some Jews continued to insist on the keeping of the Old Testament Ceremonial Law and tried to force the newly converted Gentiles to do the same. The Ephesians and other Gentile Christians needed to be assured that no, they did not need to observe the Old Testament laws, and yes, they were indeed as much a part of God’s people as were the Jews. The Ephesians had been, “…aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.”[v.12] Paul wanted them to be confident that now they were part of God’s kingdom and family.
Those who were far off and foreigners were brought together and changed into family. Now, both Jew and Gentile could worship their common Savior in the unity of a law fulfilled and a redemption completed. There was no longer need for separation.
Ultimately, the believing Jews had also been foreigners to God for all sinners are foreigners. Paul wrote, “…that [Christ] might reconcile them both to God.” [v.16] Jews and Gentiles, people of every nation and every group upon the earth need to be reconciled with God. All people are foreigners and afar off from God. All people are outside the family of God because of our sin. We are born in sin and continue in that sin in our lives. Sin separates us from God. Jesus came, fulfilled the law, and reconciled us to God by dying for our sins, thereby putting down the enmity. We are reconciled to God. The far off have been brought near and have now been changed into family—the family of Christ.
Sinners to this day remain foreigners and outside the family of God as long as the guilt of their sins remains upon them. Through Christ who reconciles all people to God through His work on the cross, they are brought near. Through faith which the Holy spirit creates they receive the forgiveness of sins Christ won and they are in the family of God. Those afar off—the foreigners—are brought near into Christ’s Church and God’s family.
While on the outside of God’s family looking in, we are hopeless ones. But we are led into peace. Paul again reminding the Ephesians from where they had come said, “you were having no hope and without God in the world.” [v.12] Unless we were brought to faith later in life, we do not know what it is like to be without God. Many of us have been with God from our baptism as infants. Many of us received instruction in God’s Word through all of our growing up years, not really knowing completely what its like to be searching and never finding. Not really knowing what its like to feel the full weight of guilt because of our sins. Perhaps if you recall a particular sin, maybe you have felt that exceptional weight of sin—perhaps feeling for a while that you weren’t forgiven. This would be a bit of a taste of what its like to be without God.
In Isaiah, God compares the people who were without God to a turbulent sea—dirt and muck being broiled up in the water. “The wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. ‘There is no peace,’ says my God, ‘for the wicked.’” (Isaiah 57:20-21). Once we were hopeless ones with life all in a turmoil, but now we have been brought into an assembly, settled and led into peace.
All the members of Christ’s church enjoy the blessings of peace. The peace of knowing our sins are forgiven and the peace of knowing that we are in God’s family. Paul goes on to describe this, “[Christ] came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father.” [vv.17-18] When Jesus came preaching the Gospel, He did go to the people of Israel, but He also preached to the Gentiles—to the Samaritan woman, the Roman centurion, and others. Every sinner who heard Jesus and was brought to faith were led into peace, having access to the Father. With sin there is a barrier between us and the holy God, but having been brought into the family of God with sins forgiven we all have access directly to God. We can go to God in our prayers and should go to God in our prayers for all things—small and great, things that are important and things that don’t seem so important. We have access. It is part of the peace of knowing we are in the family of God.
Paul continues, “Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” [v.19] We are no longer on the outside, we are in the safety of our Father’s home. Jesus tells us that we are His sheep kept safely in the Father’s hand and “no one is able to snatch them out of my Father’s hand” (John 10:29). In Romans, Paul speaks of nothing being able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (cf. Romans 8:35ff). It is the peace of knowing that we are safe in the family of God, loved deeply by our Father, given all we need by our Father, and preserved in faith to our end.
We have the peace of forgiveness and the confident hope of eternal life in this family of believers through Christ. It remains a family of individuals, but built into one church.
Whenever there is a collection of different personalities, there are going to be variances of opinion and variances of approaches. I have three brothers making a family of six. In the years of living together in the same home, there were six individuals united as one family. We worked together as one family, and yet, there were six distinct personalities and six different ways of approaching things. The individuals are not lost when we are joined together in one, but there needs to be a unifying factor—one place of common ground. In an earthly family that place of common ground is the family ties.
In the Holy Christian Church there are many, many, many individuals but they are built on the common ground of the truth of God’s Word and upon the Cornerstone of Christ. “Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.”[vv.20-22]
The foundation of the apostles and the prophets is the foundation of which they spoke. It was the foundation of God’s Word, that Rock which Jesus said Peter had identified when he told Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God” (Matthew 16:16). That was the foundation which the apostles proclaimed as they went out into the world. That was the foundation of the Old Testament prophets. That is the foundation of the generations of God’s people down to this very day. On that foundation Christ builds His church. Anything else, is falsehood. There is no salvation apart from Christ. To build something on anything other than Christ and that foundation of the Gospel, is building on straw, on sand—on quicksand—which will surely bring destruction.
Christ builds His church on the foundation of the truth of His word. Where that truth goes out, Christ calls individuals to be brought into the unity. The building of the Holy Christian Church is a testimony to our Savior. It is a testimony to what He has done for us. It is a Church which while on the earth works to spread the Gospel and bring sinners to salvation.
In Corinthians, Paul speaks of this diversity and also unity in Christ. “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord.6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:4-13).
We are unified together in Christ which is why this Church can span miles and not be defined or limited by geography. This is why this Church can span and years and not be limited by time. This is why it can span even death itself. Christ is eternal. Faith in Christ brings eternal life through the forgiveness of sins. There is nothing that can take that away, nothing that can separate us from that love of God in Christ. So, this assembly of God’s children is not bound by any earthly boundary.
While we can speak of this Holy Christian Church built upon the foundation of God’s Word as the apostles preached, what does it mean for our day to day life. It, first of all, gives us comfort concerning those who have died in the Lord and gone before us. We are separated now, by virtue of time and place, but not separated because we are one in Christ. It is significant for us because it means that our goal is to bring people into this Holy Christian Church through faith in Christ. If I speak to a stranger about the love of my Savior and I never see him within the walls of my earthly church, but unknown to me the Gospel has worked in his heart and ultimately brings him into the Holy Christian Church, then by God’s grace I have served my purpose in serving Christ. It is important to keep in mind this Holy Christian Church and what God says about it so that we know that all who put their faith in Christ are in that assembly.
Meanwhile, we do still live on this earth with 30+ categories of churches in Mankato and all the differences in teaching. As we seek to deal with doctrinal differences and all the variety of churches on this earth, the one thing that becomes our guide is the Rock on which the true Church is built. Do I want to learn how to handle myself in an earthly Christian congregation? Do I want to know how to conduct myself as it pertains to other churches in the world that don’t teach the same as I do? I need to go to the foundation of the one true Holy Christian Apostolic Church . That foundation is God’s Word. Just as surely as the true Church is built upon that Word of God, so surely that Word will be the light to guide us in the earthly affairs of a Christian congregation.
May God work in us an appreciation for being members in this assembly of Christ. Amen.
—Pastor Wayne C. Eichstadt