Confessing our belief in, and love for, Christ's Church
Returning to the Apostles' Creed, we come to the ninth statement (as we are reckoning it); herein, we confess the truth that Christ died to redeem His bride, the Church. We are, in essence, confessing that the Church exists, that all true believers are a part of it, and that it is a glorious and lovely body purchased by our great Lord. Those outside are confused by our great love for this institution, caught as they are in an age which honors empty spirituality, while detesting anything resembling traditional organized religion. Our testimony, however, is that we love neither empty spirituality nor religiosity; our love is for a people purchased by the blood of our Christ, who are by grace grafted into Him, and made truly to be our brothers and sisters by faith.
This union is by no means artificial. We are set apart together in our joint trust in our great Savior. Likewise, we are called to live life together under the Lordship of our true King, encouraging one another in our walk. We are to love one another as a family, having been adopted by our heavenly Father. Finally, we live in this Christian community in joint love, responsibility, accountability, and service. It is truly a most blessed gift from Almighty God. It is for this reason that we confess:
"(I believe in) the holy catholic Church,
the communion of the saints,"
What, then, is the Apostles' Creed instructing us to confess?
First, that there is a true Church
The Church's true existence is testified to in the Word of God. The Scriptures utilize a number of images to describe the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Church is the body of Christ (I Corinthians 12:27) which testifies to the headship of Christ over His Church. Further, the Church is described as the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5:25-27), testifying to the covenantal union through which we are joined to Him. The Church is also described in terms of a building, a household, a temple, etc. In other words, there are many ways in which the Church is pictured or described, but all point to the reality that there is a Church for which Christ gave His life.
Second, that the Church is holy
When the creed confesses that the Church is holy, it is saying something of great importance. It is not stating that the Church of Jesus Christ is holy in the sense of our own goodness, though the people of God should strive for growth in sanctification. When we say that the Church is holy, we mean that we, as the Christians who embody the Church, are separated unto God. In fact, the New Testament Greek word that we translate as church is Ekklesia- a word which means "to be called out". While the term is applied to an assembly of people, it is an assembly that has been "called out" in order to assemble together. In other words, implicit in the very word for the assembly of the people of God is the idea that they are a people separated from the world and dedicated unto God.
Third, the Church is catholic
Warning! The protestant alarms bells are sounding! In all seriousness, this wording is both important and off-putting to some. We confess that the Church is catholic (note the little "c" as opposed to the big "C" of Roman Catholic) which simply means that it is a world-wide Church. As Christians, we function within the setting of a local Church; we recognize, however, that there are Christians who exist beyond the membership of our own congregation. In fact, we know that there are brothers and sisters around the world who, by faith, are a part of the Church of Jesus Christ. Our mission, under the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20), is to take the Gospel to the nations, and will not be complete until the Church includes people "of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues" (Revelation 7:9). In the end, we are confessing that the body is made up of the people of God from around the world.
Fourth, the Church is a people
The Church is not a building, but a world-wide people who comprise the assembly of the redeemed. That is what we are confessing when we state that we believe in the communion of the saints. We are a people united by the strongest bond possible- the bond of our adoption into the family of God. It is a bond so powerful that it unites us not only to all living believers, but to the saints of God who died in the faith. This is why we are called to love one another as Christ has loved us (John 13:34); we are literally brought together into one family in Him.
The Orthodox Baptist Catechism states:
Question 54: What do these words mean, the communion of saints?
Answer: First, that all and everyone who believes are in common partakers of Christ and all His graces, as being His members, and then that everyone ought readily and cheerfully to bestow the gifts and graces which they have received to the common commodity and safety of all.
Truly, it is a great pleasure to be counted among the communion of saints. Likewise, it is a wondrous expectation that one day believers, throughout all generations, will be joined together in glory!
A final word
It is no surprise that this confession falls into the section connected with the Holy Spirit. He empowers, strengthens, and sanctifies the Church. The love that we share for one another is literally "the love of God (that) has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us"(Romans 5:5). If we have a faithful fellowship, we have much to be thankful for. When we gather for worship on the Lord's day, I pray that we will gather as a thankful people, recognizing our many blessings! I pray that we would gather as a people who desire to offer thanksgiving and praise to our great King!