As the Nicene Creed states, “We believe in one holy universal and apostolic church.” Today we will focus on the universal and apostolic church.
The Universal Church
Church leaders in the fourth century wrote the Nicene Creed after gathering from far and wide. In the creed, they wrote down the foundational beliefs of the Christian faith. Each leader represented a local community of believers. Together, they represented the universal church. The Council of Nicaea was the first time they had gathered together, visibly representing Christians from all over Christendom.
Today we see the universal church as the community of all true believers, all over the world, throughout all time. Jesus told Peter, “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Christ builds the universal church in every community, throughout time.
Christ is also the head of the church. Paul tells us, “he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:22–23). Local churches may have pastors, elders, or deacons, but the universal church has Christ as its head.
The Apostolic Church
The word apostle simply means messenger. The role of an apostle in the New Testament was limited to a few men who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes and were specifically chosen by Him. We know the original disciples (minus Judas) were apostles. While we no longer have the apostles with us, we have their teachings in the New Testament. So why does the Nicene Creed label the church as apostolic?
Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He sent the apostles on mission—a mission to make disciples and build the church. With Peter as the first leader, the church was built upon the foundation of the apostles. The church is also considered apostolic because we believe in and teach the writing of the apostles, the New Testament. Finally, the church is apostolic because we are all messengers of Christ. Christ sent the church on mission to do His work in this world.
Paul tells us, “you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord” (Ephesians 2:19–21). The apostles played a critical role in building the foundation of the church.
By saying we believe in the apostolic church, we affirm that we hold to the apostles’ teaching as found in the Bible. The apostles had seen the risen Christ and been appointed by Him to serve in this unique role during the early years of the church. The apostles had the responsibility of founding the church and passing on Christ’s teaching. Many of the words they wrote were inspired by God and became the books of our New Testament. The apostles had the privilege of writing Scripture. We believe in the apostolic church because we believe in what the apostles taught.
If we believe in the universal church, how does this change our view of churches down the street and across the world?
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