Catechism

6 The church of Jesus Christ

The church of Jesus Christ has been established on earth by the Lord Himself. In it salvation is made accessible to human beings. In it human beings bring worship and praise to God.

6.1 Concerning the term "church" Back to top

The word "church" is derived from the Greek kyriake ("belonging to the Lord"). The New Testament uses the term ekklesia ("those who have been called out"). The word ekklesia can be translated as "assembly", "congregation", or "church".

In general speech, the term "church" has various meanings. On the one hand it can mean a Christian house of God as a place of assembly for the believers. On the other hand it can refer to a gathering of people of Christian faith, that is a local parish. Beyond that, the term can also describe a Christian denomination. The following remarks refer to the "church" as an object of faith.

Those human beings who belong to the church of Christ have been called forth by God for eternal fellowship with Him, namely with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The focal point of church life is the divine service. In the midst of the church, Jesus Christ prepares His bridal congregation through Apostles for His imminent return and the "marriage in heaven".

6.2 Biblical foundation Back to top

On the one hand, the purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is to make salvation and eternal fellowship with the triune God accessible to mankind and, on the other hand, to bring worship and praise to God.

6.2.1 Old Testament references to the church of Jesus Christ Back to top

After the fall into sin, human beings could not remain in direct fellowship with God. They had to leave the environment in which God had granted them encounters with Himself. Through sin, mankind had fallen prey to death. God wishes to redeem human beings from this condition of deterioration into death, grant them salvation, and allow them to have eternal fellowship with Himself.

From the very beginning, God provided for mankind. Upon their expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the Creator clothed them and promised that a descendant of the woman would defeat the tempter (Genesis 3: 15).

The recognition that mankind is fundamentally dependent on God is brought to expression again and again in the Old Testament. This finds direct expression in the building of altars and the offering of sacrifices.

In the course of time, sin became overwhelmingly powerful, and mankind increasingly turned away from God. For this reason, God caused them to perish in the flood, a divine judgement. God granted grace to Noah and his family. They were saved in the ark. God made a covenant with them in which He promised all descendants of the human race that He would preserve and care for them. He gave the rainbow as a sign of this covenant.

These events are already a reference to God's acts of salvation which would later be carried out in the church of Christ: God inclines Himself to mankind, cares for and protects them, and takes them into His covenant. Deliverance in the ark is expressly interpreted in 1 Peter 3: 20-21 as a model for baptism, through which deliverance is effected in the new covenant. As a result, Christian tradition understands the ark as an image for the church of Christ.

The covenant with Noah included all human beings. Through God's election of Abraham, a further covenant was established, which called Abraham and his descendants into a special relationship with God: they became the chosen people of God. The outward sign of this covenant was circumcision. This covenant was confirmed with Isaac and Jacob.

When Moses received the Ten Commandments from God on Mount Sinai and passed them on to the people of Israel by God's commission, God revealed His will in the form of a law. This was proclaimed to a particular assembly, a congregation.

The law defined the relationship between human beings and God, as well as their relationships with one another. It established rules for proper divine service. The latter consisted of the sacrificial rite performed by the priests in the tabernacle, in addition to worship of, and devotion to, God by the people through prayer, profession, and obedience. As the people chosen by God, Israel was called to this divine service.

These elements of the old covenant also point to Jesus Christ and to the establishment of the church: the old covenant points to the new covenant, the old covenant mark of circumcision points to baptism, the proclamation of the divine will points to the preaching of the word of God, the priestly sacrificial service points to Holy Communion and its administration by the authorised ministry, and prayer and profession point to the worship of the triune God in Christian divine service.

The divine service of the Old Testament had its central place in the temple of Jerusalem, where it was celebrated in solemn fashion. It was there that the house of the Lord stood, and it was there that the people came together in order to praise God (Psalm 122) and bring Him sacrifices. This changed with the destruction of the temple and the ensuing Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people. During this period, the Jews gathered in synagogues for divine service, in which the word of God–the law–was read aloud and interpreted. The sacrificial service could not be performed there, however. In this respect, these divine services were deficient. Even once the temple in Jerusalem had been rebuilt after the Babylonian exile, and after sacrificial service had once again become possible, the believers continued to gather for divine service in synagogues, in which the proclamation of the word was the focal element.

This serves as a reference to the church of the New Testament, in the centre of which Jesus Christ is present as the Word incarnate (John 1: 1). The epistle to the Hebrews interprets the old covenant with its law, sacrificial service, circumcision, and priesthood as a "shadow"–that is an anticipation–of the new covenant (Hebrews 8: 5; 10: 1). A shadow is not the object itself–it merely refers to the object. It is not the old covenant that is God's perfect institution of salvation, but rather only the new covenant which Jesus Christ established.

Therefore the chosen people of the old covenant already foreshadowed that which would become reality in God's people of the new covenant, in the church of Christ.

6.2.2 The beginning of the church of Christ Back to top

Everything that church is, and everything on which it is based, has its origin in the person and deed of Jesus Christ, who both is and brings salvation. "But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons" (Galatians 4: 4-5). Jesus, the Son of God, was born as a human being into God's chosen people of the old covenant. God became Man–He entered into human history and became part of it.

He called human beings to follow Him, gathered disciples, preached the kingdom of God, revealed Himself–for example, in the Sermon on the Mount–as a lawgiver, healed the sick, fed the hungry, raised the dead, forgave sins, and promised and sent the Holy Spirit.

The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the essential prerequisite for the existence of church. All other events pertaining to the foundation of the church are founded upon, and have derived from, this event: the choosing of the Apostles (Luke 6: 12-16), the establishment of the office of Peter (Matthew 16: 18), the institution of Holy Communion (Matthew 26: 20-29), the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the great commission (Matthew 28: 19-20).

The first historical manifestation of the church of Christ was on Pentecost, with the outpouring of Holy Spirit. Apostle Peter preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and the first congregation came into being. Baptism, forgiveness of sins, and the receiving of the gift of Holy Spirit are elements that impart salvation on the path of redemption (Acts 2: 38). The early Christians "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers" (Acts 2: 42). These characteristics are of decisive importance for the church of Christ.

SUMMARY Back to top

The church of Jesus Christ has been established on earth by the Lord Himself. (6)

The term "church" is used to describe a Christian place of worship, a local parish, or a Christian denomination. In the theological sense, however, the term refers to the church of Jesus Christ. (6.1)

Those human beings who belong to the church of Jesus Christ have been called forth by God for eternal fellowship with Him. (6.1)

The purpose of the church of Jesus Christ is, on one hand, to make salvation and eternal fellowship with God accessible to human beings and, on the other hand, to bring worship and praise to God. (6.2)

Already in the Old Testament there are many references to the church of Christ. (6.2.1)

The letter to the Hebrews also interprets the old covenant–with its law, sacrificial service, circumcision, and priesthood–as a "shadow", that is, a foreshadowing, of the new covenant. Thus the old covenant already intimated that which has become reality in the church of Jesus Christ in the new covenant. (6.2.1)

Everything that church is, and everything on which church is based, has its source in the person and deed of Jesus Christ. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the essential prerequisite for the existence of church. (6.2.2)

In history the church of Christ was first revealed on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. (6.2.2)

The early Christians continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. These characteristics are decisive for the church of Christ. (6.2.2)

6.2.3 Images for the church of Jesus Christ in the New Testament Back to top

The New Testament does not provide a self-contained doctrine of the church. There are, however, multiple images and examples through which the nature of the church is revealed. Each of these images refers to one or several aspects of the church. These images can be interpreted in various ways. Even the Bible uses them inconsistently.

6.2.3.1 The body of Christ Back to top

The image of the church as the body of Christ occupies a central position. It is often applied to those who, through baptism, faith, and profession, belong to Jesus Christ. In Romans 12: 4-5, believers are described as "members" of the one body of Christ. This image picks up on a common metaphor of the time, in which the state was envisioned as an organic body and the individual as a member of it. The gifts of the individual members of the congregation vary, as do their tasks. However, they are all interconnected and serve one another. Accordingly the church is an organism in which all are dependent on each other.

Despite the diversity of the individual members, together they comprise a single entity. As members of the body of Christ, they care for, and are united with, one another: "But now indeed there are many members, yet one body" (1 Corinthians 12: 20).

In Ephesians 1: 22-23, Christ is shown as the head of the church and the ruler of all things. This builds on the hymn recorded in the epistle to the Colossians in which it says: "He is the head of the body, the church" (Colossians 1: 18). In this imagery, the church of Christ is equated with the "body of Christ". It shares in the perfection of its Lord.

The image of the body is also used for the local congregation, in which imperfect human beings are to "come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4: 13).

The growth of the body–applied to the church as a whole, as well as to the local congregation and the individual believers–occurs through the activity of God (Colossians 2: 19). This growth is oriented toward Christ. As the head, He is the Lord, the standard, and the goal (Ephesians 4: 15). For the edification of the body of Christ, God provided ministries and commissions.

6.2.3.2 The people of God Back to top

The image of the people of God refers to the fact that God has chosen a single people from among all the various peoples: "For you are a holy people to the Lord your God; the Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for Himself, a special treasure above all the peoples on the face of the earth. The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any other people, for you were the least of all peoples; but because the Lord loves you, and because He would keep the oath which He swore to your fathers ..." (Deuteronomy 7: 6-8).

The history of Israel is founded on God's activity of redemption. He liberated the people from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. It was to this people that He sent His Son, and it was in the midst of this people that God became Man. Israel, however, rejected Jesus as the Messiah and did not believe in Him: for God's people of the old covenant, the Son of God became a stumbling stone and a rock of offence.

By contrast, there are those who, as God's people of the new covenant, believe in Jesus: "But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people ... who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy" (1 Peter 2: 9-10).

Here the church of Christ is shown both in its present state as well as in its intended form. At present it prefigures what it will be in perfect fashion in the future.

6.2.3.3 The city of God Back to top

In the image of the city of God, the church is shown as the place where God dwells among all those who belong to Him. On earth, church is the place where Jesus Christ, the Mediator, makes salvation accessible in various ways and grants fellowship with God. In this respect, church is the place of encounter with God, as well as the place of worship and divine service.

The church of Christ transcends human imagination. It is both of this world and of the world to come, it is both present and future. These manifestations belong together. Hebrews 12: 22-24 gives an indication of the grandeur of the church in its ultimate perfection. The words, "you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem," are directed at the church in its absolute fullness. In this respect, the earthly side of the church is interwoven with its heavenly side. God rules in the heavenly Jerusalem. This includes the angels, "the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven", the perfected righteous souls, and Jesus, the Mediator of the new covenant.

In heaven God is worshipped and praised by the heavenly creatures (Psalm 29: 1; Revelation 4). Believers do the same on earth, namely in the earthly side of the church of Christ.

In the future city of God, New Jerusalem, God Himself will dwell with mankind (Revelation 21: 3).

6.2.3.4 The kingdom of God Back to top

The image of the kingdom of God refers to the reign of God in His church. Jesus described the kingdom of God in many parables and with various emphases (Matthew 13). The "kingdom of God" can, for example, represent:

  • Jesus Christ, the present Lord Himself (Luke 17: 21),

  • His church, which is present on earth,

  • the kingly reign which will be revealed at the marriage feast in heaven (Revelation 19: 6-7),

  • the kingdom of peace which Jesus Christ, the returning Lord, will establish on earth,

  • the eternal kingly reign of God in the new creation, and

  • the realm of eternal life.

In John 3: 3, 5 it states that the kingdom of God is only accessible to those who have been born of God: "unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God ... unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." To "see the kingdom of God" means to see God face to face. For the firstlings, this will already come to pass on the day of the Lord (1 John 3: 2): they will see the realm of eternal life.

6.2.3.5 The flock of God Back to top

The image of the flock of God portrays Jesus Christ as the good shepherd. He knows His own and gives His life for them. He calls sheep to Himself who are from other places–He continuously calls upon human beings to believe in Him and His church. In the end, there will be one flock and one shepherd (John 10: 11-16). Jesus speaks to His own through the Holy Spirit. Those who believe and follow Him will receive eternal life from Him (John 10: 25-28).

Prior to His ascension into heaven, the Risen One entrusted His lambs and sheep to the care of Apostle Peter (John 21: 15-17). This Apostle bore responsibility for the care of those who belonged to the church of Christ. Nevertheless, as the flock of Jesus Christ, the faithful remained His property.

In 1 Peter 5: 2-4, the ministers of the church are called upon to shepherd the congregation as the "flock of God". In doing so, they are not to act as lords over the congregation, but rather serve as examples. They fulfil their tasks with a view to the return of Jesus Christ, the "Chief Shepherd".

The image of the flock shows the church as a community that follows Christ. It receives its care, protection, and leadership through Jesus Christ, the good shepherd.

6.2.3.6 Further images for the church Back to top

The New Testament contains other figurative descriptions that underline the above-mentioned hallmarks of church and illustrate its additional characteristics. These include: God's field, God's building, the house of God, the dwelling place of God, the temple of God, the woman clothed with the sun and the male child, as well as the bride (1 Corinthians 3: 9; 1 Timothy 3: 15; 1 Corinthians 3: 16-17; Revelation 12, Revelation 21: 2). The interpretation of these images is dependent on their respective biblical contexts. Depending on its context, one image can therefore be used to make different statements. It is significant that in some biblical passages several images are linked to each other.

Thus the individual image should not be viewed in isolation. When viewed together, however, the images allow us to recognise that the church is one, apostolic, universal–that is all-encompassing–and holy.

SUMMARY Back to top

The New Testament contains a great number of images and examples in which the nature of the church is revealed. (6.2.3)

The image of the church as the body of Christ is often applied to those who, through baptism, faith, and profession, belong to Jesus Christ. It demonstrates that the church is similar to an organism in which all are dependent on one another. The growth of the body is geared toward Christ, who as the head is Lord, standard, and goal. (6.2.3.1)

Just as God chose the people of Israel out of many nations, He has also chosen a people in the new covenant, namely His church. (6.2.3.2)

In the image of the city of God, the church is shown as the place where God dwells in the midst of all those who are His own. (6.2.3.3)

The image of the kingdom of God refers to the rule of God in His church. (6.2.3.4)

The image of the flock shows the church as a community which follows Jesus Christ, the good shepherd. (6.2.3.5)

Other images for the church include the house of God, the temple of God, the woman clothed with the sun and the male child, as well as the bride. (6.2.3.6)

6.3 The church of Jesus Christ–a mystery Back to top

Everything that church is and will ever be is founded upon the word, work, and nature of Jesus. Jesus Christ is true God and true Man, and thus exhibits two natures (see 3.4.3). This mystery remains unfathomable. Likewise, the nature of the church of Christ is unfathomable: it is also a mystery, it also has a dual nature, and it can likewise only be grasped in faith.

Through Jesus Christ, the Mediator between God and mankind, human beings can obtain salvation. These glad tidings are to be preached and passed on by Apostles (1 Timothy 2: 5-7). In the words of the sermon, the word of Christ is brought to expression in various ways through the activity of the Holy Spirit. It is by hearing this word that faith comes into being (Romans 10: 16-17). In this capacity, the church shares in Christ's ministry of mediation through the proclamation of the gospel.

In its nature, the church of Christ reflects the dual nature of Jesus Christ. His divine nature is concealed or invisible, whereas His human nature is visible or manifest. In His human nature, Jesus aged just as every other human being. He felt pain and fear, and He knew hunger and thirst. Hence He shared in the fate of all humanity, albeit without being subject to sin.

Likewise, the church of Christ has a concealed–or invisible–and a visible–or manifest–side. These two sides of the church of Christ can no more be separated than the two natures of Jesus Christ. Although they are different from one another, they belong together indivisibly.

Like the divine nature of Jesus Christ, the concealed side of the church is ultimately indescribable. Its presence, however, can be perceived in the salvific effects of the sacraments and in the word of God. In the concealed side of the church–which is comprised of those who are properly baptised, who genuinely believe, and who profess the Lord–the four identifying features of church (unity, holiness, universality, and apostolicity) are present in perfect fashion. This side of the church is addressed in the Third Article of the New Apostolic Creed.

The revealed side of the church of Christ, like the Man Jesus, shares in the general history of mankind. In contrast to Him, however, the human beings at work within the church are subject to sin. Hence the errors, aberrations, and lapses inherent in mankind are also to be found in the church. However, the deficiencies of the visible church can neither damage nor destroy the invisible and perfect church, namely the church to which the true believers and elect (see 4.5) belong.

This interconnection and simultaneous distinction between the visible and invisible church can only be grasped in faith. The visible form of the church–the church of Christ in its historical manifestation–is not the object of faith. Rather it is the institution in which, at present, salvation and the nearness of God can be experienced.

6.4 Belief in the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church Back to top

Salvation is accessible in the church of Jesus Christ, which has been established by the Lord Himself on earth. Those human beings who belong to it have been called forth by God to eternal fellowship with God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. God is worshipped in the church. The focal point of church life is the divine service.

In its spiritual nature and perfection, the church of Christ remains concealed, and can only be grasped in faith. In its historical manifestation, however, it can be perceived and experienced. In the Third Article of Faith we profess: "I believe in ... the one, holy, universal and apostolic church." Thus the church is an object of faith.

The first three Articles of Faith profess belief in God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In the same manner, Christians throughout the ages have professed belief in the church. This makes it clear that the church is not an external or trivial thing, but rather one of the fundamental elements of Christian faith. Without church, it is impossible to be a Christian.

SUMMARY Back to top

Everything that church is and ever will be is rooted in Jesus' word, work, and nature. (6.3)

In its nature the church reflects the dual nature of Jesus Christ. His divine nature is concealed while His human nature is visible. The church likewise has an invisible and a visible side which belong together inextricably. (6.3)

The invisible side of the church is perceptible in the salvific effect of the sacraments and in the word of God. (6.3)

Like the Man Jesus, the visible side of the church shares in the general history of humanity. By contrast to Him, however, the people at work within the church are subject to sin. It is for this reason that the same errors, aberrations, and lapses inherent in human beings are also to be found in the church. (6.3)

The triune God is worshipped in the church. The focal point of church life is the divine service. Without church it is impossible to be Christian. (6.4)

6.4.1 Distinguishing features of the church Back to top

The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople states that the church is the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church. These distinguishing features of the church are called notae ecclesiae.

6.4.1.1 The church is "one" Back to top

The profession of the one church arises from the belief in the one God. The triune God has founded and preserved the one church through the Father who sent the Son, through Jesus Christ who–as the head of the body–is enduringly united with the congregation, and through the Holy Spirit who is active in the church of Christ. The church of Christ therefore attests to the unity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Jesus described oneness with one another and love for one another as identifying features of those who belong to Him and follow Him (John 13: 34; 17: 20-23). Thereby differences among the members of the church become meaningless, and unity is established. Togetherness and mutual support in the body of Christ are based on love, "the bond of perfection" (Colossians 3: 14).

Thus the nature of God is revealed in the church: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him" (1 John 4: 16).

6.4.1.2 The church is "holy" Back to top

The church of Christ is holy on account of the sanctifying activity of God in Christ's sacrifice and through the activity of the Holy Spirit in word and sacrament. This sanctifying activity takes its effect upon believers in divine service.

The holiness of the church of Christ is founded solely upon the triune God, not the human beings who belong to it. In Jesus' intercessory prayer, the Lord brings to expression that He sanctifies Himself for His Apostles, "that they also may be sanctified by the truth" (John 17: 19). He also includes the church in this process of sanctification through Himself (John 17: 20).

Hebrews 10: 10 speaks of this sanctification through the sacrifice of Jesus: "By that will [of God] we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."

Apostle Peter calls the believers a holy nation (1 Peter 2: 9-10). He says this despite the fact that the believers are human beings encumbered by imperfections. Their sinfulness does not invalidate the holiness of the church.

6.4.1.3 The church is "universal" Back to top

In its historical context, "universal" ("catholic") means that there are no boundaries for the preaching of the gospel. This comes to expression in the commission the Risen One gave to His Apostles (Matthew 28: 19; Mark 16: 15; Acts 1: 8). Jesus Christ and His church are there for the people of all nations, for both the living and the dead (Romans 14: 9). God's universal will to save thereby takes on a directly perceptible form within the church.

The church of Jesus Christ is all-encompassing and universal: it is both of this world and of the next, both present and future. While it is at present perceived as an institution for imparting salvation and fellowship with God, the concealed nature of the church will be revealed when it is complete: it will have a life in perfect salvation and in direct fellowship with God.

6.4.1.4 The church is "apostolic" Back to top

The church of Christ is apostolic in two respects: in it the apostolic doctrine is proclaimed and in it the apostolic ministry is active.

The apostolic doctrine is the unadulterated message of the death, resurrection, and return of Christ, according to the teaching of the early Christian Apostles, as attested in the New Testament, and as believed and practised by the early Christians (Acts 2: 42).

The apostolic ministry is the Apostle ministry given by Christ and led by the Holy Spirit, with all its powers, namely to proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments, and forgive sins (Matthew 28: 19; John 20: 23).

Thus the apostolicity of the church consists of the fact that it continues the proclamation of the apostolic doctrine, as attested in Holy Scripture, and that the Apostle ministry is historically manifest within it until the return of Christ.

SUMMARY Back to top

The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople states that the church of Christ is the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church. (6.4.1)

The church is one. Profession of the one church derives from belief in the one God. The church attests to the oneness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (6.4.1.1)

The church is holy. This has its foundation in the sanctifying actions of God. The holiness of the church has its foundation in God alone, and not in the people who belong to it. Their sinfulness does not invalidate the holiness of the church. (6.4.1.2)

The church is universal. This means that it is all-encompassing and universal. It is both of this world and of the next, both present and future. (6.4.1.3)

The church is apostolic. In it apostolic doctrine–the message of Christ's death, resurrection, and return–is proclaimed. Likewise the Apostle ministry instituted by Jesus Christ has been historically manifested in the church until His return. (6.4.1.4)

6.4.2 The manifestation of the church of Christ in history Back to top

The historicity of the church is based on the historicity of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ lived as true Man among mankind: "That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled ... we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ" (1 John 1: 1-3).

Just as human beings were able to perceive Jesus Christ with their senses, so too they can experience His church. It is manifest in historical reality, specifically within the fellowship of human beings who have been baptised, who believe in Christ, and who profess Him.

The letters of the Apostles in the New Testament already bear witness to the discrepancy between the demands of the gospel and the reality in the congregations. This divergence has always persisted throughout its historical reality, and has up until now remained impossible to undo. Although the church of Christ is perfect in nature, it shows itself to be imperfect in its historical form. While it is perfect as an institution of God, it exhibits shortcomings on account of the human beings who are active within it and who are to serve as "living stones ... being built up" as "a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2: 5).

6.4.2.1 The church of Jesus Christ at the time of the early Apostles Back to top

The incarnation, life, and activity of Jesus Christ comprise the foundation for the historical manifestation of the church established by Him: "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3: 11). The church of Christ was manifested upon this foundation, and developed further with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

The first congregations began to form. In them, Apostles and other ministers were active, the gospel was preached, and the sacraments were administered. In accordance with the great commission, the Apostles went to both Jews and Gentiles in order to bring them the tidings of salvation through Christ.

6.4.2.2 The church of Jesus Christ after the death of the early Apostles Back to top

The situation changed with the death of the first Apostles. The ministry which Jesus had entrusted with the administration of the sacraments, forgiveness of sins, and the proclamation of the gospel was no longer occupied. It was thus no longer possible to dispense the gift of the Holy Spirit. Holy Communion remained intact as a meal of remembrance, profession, fellowship, and thanksgiving (see 8.2.8 et seq.). The forgiveness of sins pronounced in authority was no longer possible, however, it is conceivable that–even in this time–God showed His grace of forgiveness to those who believed.

Believers who professed Christ continued to receive the sacrament of Holy Baptism with water and were thereby incorporated into the body of Christ.

In the proclamation of the word, the expectation of the imminent return of Christ gradually receded into the background. Nevertheless, belief in the life and activity of the Son of God, and in His death and resurrection, was kept alive. Believing people continued to pass along the gospel and the Christian system of values. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, fundamental statements of Christian doctrine were formulated in the creeds of the early church. Throughout the centuries, missionaries then carried the testimony of Jesus Christ into the world. Finally, in the nineteenth century, the gift of prophecy was awakened in a number of people and called those men who, according to the will of God, had been chosen as Apostles.

So it was that, even during the time after the death of the early Apostles, the Holy Spirit was active, albeit not in His original fullness.

6.4.2.3 The church of Jesus Christ after the reoccupation of the Apostle ministry Back to top

With the renewed occupation of the Apostle ministry in the year 1832 (see 11.3), the Lord gave back something essential to His church on earth: apostolicity was once more fully restored in the visible church. The activity of the newly called Apostles was not intended to establish another Christian denomination. Its goal was rather to prepare all of Christianity for the return of the Lord. With the reoccupation of the Apostle ministry, the proper administration of the sacraments was also restored. In addition, the proclamation of the word was given a more binding character through the authority of the ambassadors for Christ. This was especially brought to expression in that the certainty of the imminent return of Christ was kept alive. Likewise, it again became possible to proclaim forgiveness of sins through Apostles.

Thus the ministry and the proper administration of the sacraments associated with it, as well as the proper proclamation of the word, were once more fully present as essential elements of the church of Christ in its historical reality.

SUMMARY Back to top

The historicity of the church is rooted in the historicity of Jesus Christ. He lived as true Man among mankind. (6.4.2)

Just as human beings were able to perceive Jesus Christ with their senses, so too they can perceive His church. It is manifest in historical reality, specifically within the fellowship of human beings who have been baptised, who believe in Christ, and who profess Him. (6.4.2)

In its nature the church is perfect, however, it still demonstrates imperfections in its historical manifestation. (6.4.2)

With the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost, the church of Christ began to unfold. In it Apostles and other ministers were active, the gospel was preached, and the sacraments were dispensed. (6.4.2.1)

After the death of the early Apostles this ministry was no longer occupied. Even during this time, the Holy Spirit was at work, albeit not in His original fullness. Believers continued to spread the gospel and the Christian system of values, however, the expectation of Christ's return faded into the background. (6.4.2.2)

In the nineteenth century the Apostle ministry was reoccupied. Apostolicity was thereby once again fully restored in the visible church. Thus the ministry, the dispensation of the sacraments, and the proclamation of the word are once more fully present in the historical reality of the church. (6.4.2.3)

6.4.3 The church of Jesus Christ and ministry Back to top

The Fourth Article of Faith refers to the unity of the church and the Apostle ministry: "I believe that the Lord Jesus rules His church and thereto sent His Apostles, and until His return still sends them with the commission to teach, to forgive sins in His name, and to baptise with water and Holy Spirit."

Jesus Christ rules His church. In the time of its founding–as in the time of the bride's preparation for His return–He sent Apostles to the earth through whom His regency was to be felt. The Apostle ministry has been given for the church of Christ as a whole. Its commission is to work its way into all parts of the church.

The Apostles have been sent to all nations in order to teach and baptise them. They call upon all human beings, both non-Christians and the baptised who believe in Jesus Christ and profess Him as their Lord, to be baptised with the Holy Spirit and be prepared for the return of Christ.

The Apostles testify of Jesus Christ as the One who is and was and who is to come. They thereby also disclose future events in the history of salvation. The focus on a future in direct fellowship with God represents an important element of the nature of the church of Christ. It is the primary task of the Apostles to proclaim the imminent return of Christ and to lead the bride to the Lord (see 10.1.2).

The bride of the Lord–also known as the "community of the saints" in the narrower sense–are those believers who have been reborn of water and the Spirit, who have allowed themselves to be prepared by the Apostles of Jesus Christ for the day of the Lord, and who have been accepted by Him.

The original ministry is the Apostle ministry. Only this ministry was instituted by Jesus Himself. All other ministries have come forth from the Apostle ministry. Concerning this, the Fifth Article of Faith states: "I believe that those designated by God for a ministry are ordained only by Apostles, and that authority, blessing, and sanctification for their ministration come forth out of the Apostle ministry."

SUMMARY Back to top

Jesus Christ rules His church. At the time of its establishment and in the time in which the bride of the Lord is being prepared for His return, He has sent Apostles. Their primary tasks are to proclaim the imminent return of Christ and lead His bride to Him. (6.4.3)

The Apostle ministry has been given for the church as a whole with the commission to work its way into all parts of the church. (6.4.3)

The original ministry of the church is that of the Apostle. It is from this ministry that all other ministries have come forth. (6.4.3)

6.4.4 The church of Jesus Christ and the sacraments Back to top

Wherever believing souls are properly baptised–that is in the name of God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit–they can, through the grace of God, be incorporated into the body of Christ. Holy Baptism has been entrusted to the church as a whole. This is professed in the Sixth Article of Faith: "I believe that the Holy Baptism with water is the first step to a renewal in the Holy Spirit, and that the person baptised is adopted into the fellowship of those who believe in Jesus Christ and profess Him as their Lord."

The all-encompassing administration of the sacraments–the dispensation of Holy Baptism with water, Holy Communion, and Holy Sealing–is entrusted to the Apostle ministry. The Apostles also dispense the three sacraments to the departed.

The sacrament of Holy Communion is celebrated in proper fashion together with the Apostles as a table fellowship in which the sacrifice of Christ, as well as the body and blood of the Lord, are present. Concerning this the Seventh Article of Faith states: "I believe that Holy Communion was instituted by the Lord Himself in memory of the once brought, fully valid sacrifice, and bitter suffering and death of Christ. The worthy partaking of Holy Communion establishes our fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord. It is celebrated with unleavened bread and wine; both must be consecrated and dispensed by a minister authorised by an Apostle."

The sacrament of Holy Sealing can only be administered by the Apostles, as is stated in the Eighth Article of Faith: "I believe that those baptised with water must, through an Apostle, receive the gift of the Holy Spirit to attain the childhood in God and thereby the prerequisite for becoming a firstling."

SUMMARY Back to top

Wherever baptism is properly performed, believing human beings can be incorporated into the body of Christ. Holy Baptism with water is entrusted to the church as a whole. (6.4.4)

Comprehensive administration of the sacraments occurs through the Apostle ministry. The Apostles also dispense the three sacraments to the departed. (6.4.4)

Holy Communion is celebrated in proper fashion together with the Apostles as a table fellowship in which the sacrifice of Christ, as well as the body and blood of the Lord, are present. (6.4.4)

Holy Sealing can only be dispensed by Apostles. (6.4.4)

6.4.5 The church of Jesus Christ and the future Back to top

Belief in the future events of salvation is professed in the Ninth Article of Faith: "I believe that the Lord Jesus will return as surely as he ascended into heaven and that He will take unto Himself the firstfruits of the dead and living who have hoped for and were prepared for His coming; that after the marriage in heaven He will return to earth with them to establish His kingdom of peace, and that they will reign with Him as a royal priesthood. After the conclusion of the kingdom of peace, He will hold the Last Judgement. Then God will create a new heaven and a new earth and dwell with His people."

The church not only has a present, but also a future dimension. The church, which according to its own profession awaits the return of Jesus Christ, is also future-oriented. The praise of God and adoration of His majesty will never cease. His servants will serve Him "forever and ever" (Revelation 22: 3-5).

At the time of Christ's return, church will be manifest as it is, in all its salvation and also in all its deficiencies. A twofold life will be clearly revealed within the church, namely that of the bride of Christ and that of the "woman clothed with the sun" (Revelation 12). Whereas one part of the church of Christ will be caught up from the earth, another will remain behind on earth and will have to prove itself in a period of antichristian afflictions.

The future manifestation of the church also becomes clear in the promise that the firstlings who are elected to the royal priesthood will share in Christ's reign. In the kingdom of peace, they will be directly involved in imparting salvation (Revelation 20: 6), and will be ambassadors for Christ to all mankind who have ever lived.

The new Jerusalem described in Revelation 21 and 22 is an image for the church which has been perfected in all aspects as an expression of God's acts of salvation and new creation. In the new Jerusalem there will be eternal worship and unending praise of God.

SUMMARY Back to top

The church has a present and a future dimension. (6.4.5)

At the return of Christ the church will be revealed in all its salvation and all its deficiencies: part of the church will be caught up to God, and another will remain on the earth and will have to prove itself in a period of antichristian afflictions. (6.4.5)

The future manifestation of the church also becomes clear in the promise that the firstlings elected to the royal priesthood will be involved in imparting salvation in the kingdom of peace. They will be messengers of Christ for all human beings who have ever lived. (6.4.5)

6.5 The church of Jesus Christ and the churches as institutions Back to top

In its historical manifestation, the church of Jesus Christ will not completely live up to the commandment of oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity. The main reason for this is that for a long period of time the Apostle ministry was not active at all, and that, since the nineteenth century, it has only been able to unfold to limited effect. The multiplicity of "Christian churches" is conditioned by cultural, social, and historical differences, as well as the great diversity of human interpretations of the one gospel, the one Holy Scripture. Despite these differences, the church of Christ does not remain concealed or inaccessible. It is most clearly revealed where the Apostle ministry, the administration of the three sacraments to the living and the dead, as well as the proper proclamation of the word are present. It is there that the Lord's work of redemption [1] is established, in which the bride of Christ is prepared for the marriage feast in heaven. Binding elements between the individual Christian churches [2] are baptism, the common profession of Jesus Christ, and belief in Him as the only Lord and Redeemer, as Holy Scripture testifies of Him. Christian tradition states that only true believers can be assigned to the invisible, concealed church, in contrast to those who, though baptised, neither believe in Jesus nor profess Him as their Lord (Revelation 3: 1).

Church–as a fellowship of faith, hope, and love–can only be experienced in the first place by the baptised who live their faith and profess Jesus as their Lord. Thus the church of Christ is not only present where the Apostle ministry is active, that is in the Lord's work of redemption to prepare the bride. It is also present in other churches where Christian faith is manifest in active love for one's neighbour, in the clear profession of Jesus Christ, and in the sincere endeavour to follow Christ. This includes those Christian denominations where worship and the praise of the triune God occur in divine service, and in which oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity are to be found in various forms and to varying degrees.

Where the Apostles in the New Apostolic Church today work to prepare the bride of Christ for the return of her Lord, all the means required for this are available, despite all imperfections. The redemption work of the Lord will be completed within the church of Jesus Christ.

SUMMARY Back to top

In its historical manifestation the church of Christ will not completely live up to its oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity. (6.5)

The church of Christ is most clearly revealed where the Apostle ministry, the dispensation of the sacraments to the living and the dead, as well as the proper proclamation of the word are present. It is there that the Lord's work of redemption to prepare the bride of Christ for the marriage in heaven is established. (6.5)

Binding elements between the individual Christian churches include baptism, the profession of Jesus Christ, and belief in Him. Through the baptised who live in accordance with their faith, the church can be perceived as a fellowship of faith, hope, and love. Thus the church of Christ is also visible in the churches in which oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity are present in varying forms and to varying degrees. (6.5)

[1] The term "Lord's work of redemption" is generally understood to mean Jesus' saving act, which has already been completed. When this term is used here, it refers to that part of the church in which Apostles are active in imparting those gifts of salvation that serve to the preparation of the firstlings, the bride of Christ.

[2] The World Council of Churches formulates the elements that bind all churches together as follows. Churches are those which "confess the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Scriptures and therefore seek to fulfil together their common calling to the glory of the one God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit."