PAPER NO. 38
THE HOLY CATHOLIC AND APOSTOLIC FAITH
Given for the Unity of the Faith
- Challenges remaining after five hundred years
On the five-hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the Reformation there are unresolved challenges remaining that hinder the unity of the faith in Christendom: the principle of authority expressed in the magisterium and that authority expressed in the theology of the sacraments.
- The Magisterium
The magisterium is the authority and power of the Church to teach religious truth. This authority has been located variously: in Church Councils, in the head of the church of Rome, in particular persons from time to time.
- The Holy Spirit leads the Church into all truth
This authority is grounded in the truth; and knowing this truth is the work of the Holy Spirit, sent by Christ, to lead the Church into all truth (John 16:13). Being led into all truth applies not to individuals or to the Church in the first century, but to ever deepening understanding of the Word of God through history. The Holy Spirit makes the truth known to individuals through regeneration and sanctification.
- The First Church Council at Jerusalem
Leading the Church into all truth is an ongoing work: it was first expressed in the First Church Council at Jerusalem in A.D. 50 (Acts 15). In response to challenges, the pastor-teachers/elders and apostles, after much discussion, came to agreement, expressed in a statement of faith and delivered to all churches for the unity of the faith. There have been several Creeds and Confessions through Church history (Jerusalem, the Apostles Creed, Nicea, Carthage, Chalcedon, Orange and Westminster—summing up the Reformation); and there is still more work needed to respond to remaining challenges. A creed is valid if it builds upon (or explicitly corrects) what has gone before.
- The response to Sacramentalism
The Jerusalem Council responded to the theology of Sacramentalism: “unless you are circumcised you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1). Circumcision was an outward sign pointing to the inward reality for the need for a new heart (to the need to be recreated, regenerated, resurrected from spiritual death) (Romans 2:28-29). Circumcision was the same in substance as baptism (Colossians 2:11-13). One may have the outward sign without the inward reality, and, vice versa, one may have the spiritual reality without the outward sign. This is true of all sacraments as outward signs, including Passover in the Old Testament, continued as the Lord’s Supper/Communion (the Eucharist/Mass) in the New Testament. The physical sign never becomes the spiritual reality in any meaningful sense of the term.
- The authority of the Council
The Jerusalem Council was authoritative: against the subversive teachers of Sacramentalism, it declared: “to whom we gave no such command” (Acts 15:24). Its declaration was sent to all the churches (23). Its declaration was the work of many, led by the Holy Spirit, not of one (22, 23, 25, 28). It declared against a recurrent false principle of literalism (vs. contextualism) which takes the sign for the reality, or takes a metaphor literally (John 2:18-22; 3:3-4, 9-10, 14-15; 4:15 etc.). It affirmed that salvation was by grace (11), through faith (9), not by works (10).
- The locus of the Magisterium
The magisterium resides in the Church Councils, led by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28), through much discussion (17) based on scriptural revelation (15, 21), and new revelations in the acts of the Holy Spirit in redemptive history as were here reported by Paul and Peter (7, 12). The cumulative insight of the Church’s declarations, thus assembled and led through the centuries, constitutes the true (holy, catholic and apostolic) faith, the basis of the unity of the faith for all who believe. This faith is one form of the Word of God (the Logos—truth in its fullness), subordinate to prior forms of the Logos.
- The Church and the keys of the kingdom
The Church, now visible on earth, is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Timothy 3:15), and is constituted of all those who profess the true faith and their children. Those who continue in Christ’s word are his disciples (John 8:31). Authority to include the repentant and to exclude the unrepentant—the keys of the kingdom—is given to the Church (Matthew 18:15-21), through the apostles (John 20:21-23) based upon the apostolic teaching that Jesus is the Christ (Matthew 16:15-20).
- Justification in the covenant by imputation
The Church affirms the covenant of creation (Genesis 2) in which Adam’s sin is imputed to all in him by natural generation. It affirms that Christ, the seed of the woman, is the Lamb of God, in the place of Adam, who takes away the sin of the world. The sin of those who are united to Christ by faith is imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is imputed to those who believe in him (as Adam, who upon repentance, was covered with the coat of skin (Genesis 3:21) signifying Christ to come).
- Sanctification vs. penance, purgatory and indulgences
The Church affirms both the forgiveness of sins and cleansing from sins as distinct but inseparable (1 John 1:9). We are sanctified by knowing the truth: God’s Logos is truth (John 17:17). We come to know the truth through suffering trials of faith. Natural evil (the curse of toil and strife and old age, sickness and death) is imposed by God as a call back from moral evil (sin). Adam, being justified, was expelled from the Garden to be cleansed from sin; he must learn the truth through suffering under the curse (Genesis 3:21-24). Cleansing is mercy, not punishment to be paid for by penance or indulgences, in this life or in the next (in an imagined purgatory). For to be absent from the body, for the justified believer, is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).
- Scripture and the Word of God
Scripture is the Word of God written; the Logos is the Word of God (Truth) in its fullness; Christ is the Logos incarnate who makes God known through the working of the Holy Spirit (John 1:1-18; 16:13; 17:17). We know Scripture (special revelation/SR) is the Word of God written, not by testimony of the Church, but from the clarity of the Word of God in general revelation (GR) (John 1:4,10; Romans 1:20). GR shows the necessity for SR: natural evil as a call back is mercy and mercy requires SR to show how God can be both just and merciful to man in sin and death. SR must be consistent with what is clear about God and man and good and evil from GR, that is, it must be spoken in the name of the Lord (Deuteronomy 18:21-22). Of all religious teachings only Genesis 1-3 affirms creation–fall–redemption, so only Genesis 1-3 (and what builds on it) is Scripture. We know that Scripture, being given by God to redeem man from sin, is kept pure and entire by God from being corrupted by sin.
- Clarity and contextualism vs. literalism and allegoricalism
We understand Scripture, not by any church’s teaching, but by interpreting what is less basic in light of what is more basic; what logically comes after by what is logically prior. We understand scripture in light of reason, the Word of God in all men (John 1:4), and the clarity of GR, through good and necessary consequences. We understand redemption in light of the fall, and the fall in light of creation. We understand man’s purpose as a rational creature in light of God’s purpose: that creation is revelation, necessarily, intentionally and exclusively and that all things are directed to the good—the knowledge of the glory of God. Contextual interpretation is opposed both to literalism (which treats context as non-existent or irrelevant) and to allegoricalism (which rejects that interpretation is bound by the clarity of GR, or maintains that there is no clear GR, or that we cannot know what is clear from GR).