One Holy Church

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“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.” – Nicene Creed, 325  These 4 marks are considered the traditional characteristics of the true church:  one, holy, catholic (meaning universal), and apostolic.

How can we say that the church is holy?  The church is clearly a human institution with all of the flaws of any human institution.  This should be obvious given the list of sins that we see published in the newspaper.  The church is a human institution, because it is filled with sinners saved by grace.

However, the church is not only a human institution.  The church is also an institution that was founded by God.  The first mention of the church in the New Testament is by Jesus.  After Peter’s great confession of faith, Jesus said, “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it.”

The word holy doesn’t mean what we think it means.  The word “holy” in the Hebrew is translated from the word qadosh.  God is the most holy.  The first mention of God’s holiness is in Ex. 15:11 “Who is like you among the gods, O Lord – glorious in holiness, awesome in splendor, performing great wonders?”  And the first mention of the adjective ‘holy’ is in Gen. 2:3, “And God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy, because it was the day when he rested from all his work of creation.”

Holiness is one of God’s communicable attributes.  The traditional understanding of the meaning of qadosh is ‘set apart’ or ‘separated.”  So the seventh day, the Sabbath, was set apart by God as a holy day of rest.  (Ex. 20:11)  Likewise God’s people were set apart to be a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”  (Ex. 19:6)

Likewise, the Greek word hagios means ‘separated’ (that is dedicated to God).  God alone is described in the NT as absolutely holy (Luke 1:49; John 17:11; 1 Pet.. 1:15, 16; Rev. 4:8; 6:10).  Believers are holy only in so far as they are devoted or set apart to God.  So the believers are called “saints,” i.e. “sanctified” or “holy ones.”  Sainthood is not an attainment, but the state into which God in grace calls all people.  Believers are called to sanctify themselves, (2 Tim. 1:9) to live a holy life (1 Pet. 1:15; 2 Pet. 3:11).  So Paul uses the metaphor of believers as “a holy temple” (1 Cor. 3:17; Eph. 2:21).  Peter describes the church as “a holy priesthood,” (1 Pet. 2:5), and “a holy nation.”  (1 Pet. 2:9).

Fundamentally, the church, the body of Christ, is holy, because Christ is holy.  The Christian community as the body of Christ is called to reflect the holiness of our Lord in the world.  We are called to exemplify holiness.  We are called to be a holy church.  The fact that we so often fail in being holy, being sanctified, should urge us on as God’s holy people to be sanctified in all our relationships.

As God’s holy people, we should exemplify and glory in our different-ness, particularly when our beliefs and biblical ethics conflict and are at odds with this world.  The holy church is supposed to be like salt in the world (Matt. 5:13), flavoring the entire world.  The holy church is meant to be a light to the world (Matt. 5:14), spreading the light of Jesus Christ to the whole world.

O holy God, our help and our hope:  Holy is your name, unlike every other name we know.  Holy are your ways, beyond the reach of earthly imperfection.  Holy are your people., called by you to show the world a new way, a new hope.  Strengthen us to be your holy people.  Give us more of your holiness by your Holy Spirit, who lives in us and is sanctifying us, and making us your holy people.  Make us into the image of the body of Christ.  Amen.  (Lawrence Hull Stookey, This Day:  A Wesleyan Way of Prayer, p. 84)

 

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