FromTheVaultFinal

The following is an excerpt by highly esteemed scholar J.I. Packer from his book Affirming the Apostles Creed.

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It is by strict theological logic that the Creed confesses faith in the Holy Spirit before proceeding to the church and that it speaks of the church before mentioning personal salvation (forgiveness, resurrection, everlasting life). For though the Father and the Son have loved the church and the Son has redeemed it, it is the Holy Spirit who actually creates it, by inducing faith; and it is the church, through its ministry and fellowship, that personal salvation ordinarily comes to be enjoyed.

Unhappily, there is at this point a parting of the ways. Roman Catholics and Protestants both say the Creed, yet they are divided. Why? Basically, because of divergent understandings of “I believe in the holy catholic church” – “one holy catholic and apostolic church,” as the text of the Nicene Creed has it.

Official Roman Catholic teaching presents the church of Christ as the one organized body of baptized persons who are in communion with the Pope and acknowledge the teaching and ruling authority of the episcopal hierarchy. It is holy because it produces saintly folk and is kept from radical sin, catholic because in its worldwide spread it holds the full faith in trust for everyone, and apostolic because its ministerial orders stem from the apostles, and its faith (including such non-biblical items as the assumption of Mary and her immaculate conception, the Mass-sacrifice, and papal infallibility) is a sound growth from apostolic roots. Non-Roman bodies, however church-like, are not strictly part of the church at all.

Protestants challenge this from the Bible. In Scripture (they say) the church is the one worldwide fellowship of believing people whose Head is Christ. It is holy because it is consecrated to God (though it is capable nonetheless of grievous sin); it is catholic because it embraces all Christians everywhere; and it is apostolic because it seeks to maintain the apostles’ doctrine unmixed. Pope, hierarchy, and extra-biblical doctrines are not merely nonessential but actually deforming; if Rome is a church (which some Reformers doubted) she is so despite the extras, not because of them. In particular, infallibility belongs to God speaking in the Bible, not to the church or to any of its offices, and any teaching given in or by the church must be open to correction by “God’s word written,”

That the New Testament presents the Protestant view is hardly open to dispute (the dispute is over whether the New Testament is final!). The church appears in Trinitarian relationships as the family of God the Father, the body of Christ the Son, and the temple (dwelling-place) of the Holy Spirit, and so long as the dominical sacraments are administered and ministerial oversight is exercised, no organizational norms are insisted on at all. The church is the supernatural society of God’s redeemed and baptized people, looking back to Christ’s first coming with gratitude and on to his second coming with hope. “Your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4) – such is the church’s present state and future prospect. To this hope both sacraments point, baptism prefiguring final resurrection, the Lord’s Supper anticipating “the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Revelation 19:9).

The evangelical theology of revival, first spelled out in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, and the present-day emergence of “charismatic renewal” on a worldwide scale remind us of something that Roman Catholic and Protestant disputers, in their concentration on doctrinal truth, tended to miss – namely, that the church must always be open to the immediacy of the Spirit’s Lordship and that disorderly vigor in a congregation is infinitely preferable to a correct and tidy deadness.

The acid test of the church’s state is what happens in a local congregation. Each congregation is a visible outcrop of the one church universal, called to serve God and men in humility and, perhaps, humiliation while living in prospect of glory. Spirit-filled for worship and witness, active in love and care for insiders and outsiders alike, self-supporting and self-propagating, each congregation is to be a spearhead of divine counterattack for the recapture of a rebel world.

Here is a question for you: how is your congregation getting along?



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