One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church: What Does the Word “Church” Mean? (2023)

Every Sunday the Creed is said in Church in which Christians say the words, “I believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”. It many ways it is an odd thing to say. In the Creed we confess things that are matters of faith, things contestable, maybe even controversial. Thus we confess that God the Father almighty made the heaven and the earth, including all things visible (such as animals and men) and invisible (such as angels). This is not beyond dispute and many people manage to dispute it, believing either that the universe always existed or that it began without any help from God. It is similar with our confession of Jesus Christ as light from light, true God from true God, conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary, and raised from the dead three days after He died. This is a matter of faith, and so it finds its way into the Creed. But the Church? Surely the existence of the Church is hardly a matter of faith. We do not need faith to believe in the church—we can see churches all around us. Why is the Church in the Creed?

In fact, we often do not know the meaning of the words we are saying when we confess that we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Sometimes we mean by these words something not much more than “we believe in the existence of an institution which is very good and worthy of respect”. This is not quite what the Creed is getting at.

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Let us look first at the term “church”—in Greek ekklesia. The word “church” is used in lots of ways. Most often the term refers to the building in which the Christians meet for worship. If I say, “I’ll meet you at the church at noon” I am obviously referring to the building used for Sunday services. Sometimes, in an earlier day, the term meant simply “the clergy”, so that if a young answered the question about what career he had chosen by saying, “I am going into the church”, he meant he was seeking ordination as a priest. More often by “the church” people mean “the Christians”, wherever they might meet for services. Often too by the term “the church” people mean an institution, as the Smithsonian is an institution or as the British Crown is an institution. I suspect that most people when they say the Creed mean something rather like this. When they confess belief in the Church, they mean to express loyalty to a venerable institution. The institution came into existence in the time of Jesus, and now has branches or spiritual franchises in many places, including the little congregation down the street.

In fact the church is not an institution, however many outward similarities to an institution it may possess. The term ekklesia (the Greek version of the Hebrew qahal) meant a gathering, an assembly. People assembled or gathered—that is, they left their homes to congregate in a particular place for a particular reason, and the result of all that individual assembling was an assembly. After they had gathered, they constituted a gathering. The assembly could be called for a number of purposes, either secular or religious. One could assemble to select a king, as Israel assembled to select King Saul (1 Samuel 10). One could assemble to prepare for war, as Israel did to wage war on the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20). One could assemble for a religious convocation as Israel did when they repented before God at Mizpah (I Samuel 7). One could assemble to debate a civic problem, as the silver-smiths of Ephesus did when they met to protest against the work of St. Paul (Acts 19). This last example is particularly instructive: those who assembled were pagans, and men motivated mostly by financial concern, despite their loudly-professed civic devotion to Artemis of the Ephesians. Their assembly almost turned into a riot until the town clerk quieted the crowd and told them to go home. Then, as Luke reports, “When he said this, he dismissed the ekklesia”—i.e. the crowd which had gathered together. These men, pagans motivated by secular concerns at a town hall meeting, were an ekklesia—an assembly.

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That is the word used in the New Testament to describe Christian liturgical experience. Individual Christians left their respective homes on Sunday to assemble and gather in a particular pre-arranged place. Having assembled, they were an assembly. Having gathered, they were a gathering. But not just any assembly or gathering—they were an assembly to which Christ pledged His presence. Whenever they assembled together to remember Him at the Eucharist, He promised that He would be in their midst, even if the assembly were so small that only two or three were there (Matthew 18:20). (The Greek of this last is interesting: Christ promises to be among them even if only two or three assemble—in Greek sunago/ συναγω–the same word used in the word “synagogue”, which was the word James used to describe the Christian assembly in James 2:2.) Christian assembly/ ekklesia is what happens after the Christians assemble. It is not so much an institution as an event. For at that assembly Christ manifests His presence as He promised He would. One can therefore refer to the ekklesia or church in the plural because Christians assembled in many assemblies throughout the world. One can also refer to the ekklesia or church in the singular, because wherever one went throughout the world one found the same Christ in every single assembly. The assembly in Thessalonica was the same as the assembly in Corinth because Christ was equally present in both. Christ’s presence made the different assemblies into one Assembly—one Church.

From this, three things follow.

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First, one cannot consider oneself a part of the assembly unless one actually assembles, because that is what the word “assembly” means. Membership in the Ekklesia of God is not like membership in the Public Library. I am a member of the library in that I still have my library card, and it does not expire. I may not have set foot in the library for years, but the card still works. It is otherwise with the Church. If you didn’t assemble on Sunday, we were not a part of the assembly, and if you haven’t attended the Eucharist for years, you are no longer a part of the Church. It is easily remedied—to be a part of the assembly, just go next Sunday and assemble. (If it really has been years since you partook of the Eucharist, going to confession is also recommended.) The name “Christian” is the term for one who assembles regularly, and one forfeits the right to use the name if you never assemble.

Secondly, one should assemble on Sunday with the expectation of meeting Christ there. That is the whole reason for assembling. Valuable as sermons are, and uplifting as the choir sounds, one mostly assembles to meet the Lord and to be fed with His Body and Blood. We go in our brokenness to be healed, and in our filthiness to be washed clean. We assemble because the only one who can heal and cleanse is there and He has promised to do both for us if we come in penitence and faith.

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Finally, if we plan on assembling on Sunday we must live in anticipation of this event on the six days previous. The priest will call us to the Chalice by saying the words, “The holy things for the holy!”—or, in another possible translation, “The sanctified things for the saints!” The usual New Testament term for a believer is the word “saint” [Greek agios], which is what we are. A saint is not a sinless person, but a person who belongs to God and who is striving to please Him, whatever his or her rate of success. It is as saints that we assemble, which is why the priest uses that term. As members of the Ekklesia and the Household of God we must strive to become what we are.

Source: No Other Foundation

(Video) One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic

FAQs

What does it mean to describe the Church as one holy catholic and apostolic? ›

This means that it is a single, united and global Church which has its basis in Christ Jesus.

What does the word Church mean to Catholics? ›

a visible society of baptized Christians professing the same faith under the authority of the invisible head (Christ) and the authority of the visible head (the pope and the bishops in communion with him).

How does the Bible define the word Church? ›

Church The word translated "church" in the English Bible is ekklesia. This word is the Greek words kaleo (to call), with the prefix ek (out). Thus, the word means "the called out ones." However, the English word "church" does not come from ekklesia but from the word kuriakon, which means "dedicated to the Lord."

What is the proper meaning of the word Church? ›

1 : a building for public and especially Christian worship. 2 : the clergy or officialdom of a religious body the word church … is put for the persons that are ordained for the ministry of the Gospel, that is to say, the clergy— J. Ayliffe. 3 often capitalized : a body or organization of religious believers: such as.

Is the Catholic Church the one true church? ›

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Catholic ecclesiology professes the Catholic Church to be the "sole Church of Christ" – i.e., the one true church defined as "one, holy, catholic, and apostolic" in the Four Marks of the Church in the Nicene Creed.

What is the origin of the Church? ›

The Christian Church originated in Roman Judea in the first century AD/CE, founded on the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, who first gathered disciples. Those disciples later became known as "Christians"; according to Scripture, Jesus commanded them to spread his teachings to all the world.

What are the three meanings of the Church? ›

Three Meanings (752)

In Christian usage, "church" has three inseparable meanings: The liturgical assembly. The local community. The universal community.

Why are churches called churches? ›

The word church is derived from Old English cirice, "place of assemblage set aside for Christian worship", from the Proto-Germanic kirika. This was probably borrowed via the Gothic from the Greek kyriake (oikia), kyriakon doma, "the Lord's (house)", from kyrios, "ruler, lord".

What's another word for Catholic Church? ›

synonyms for Catholicism
  • Catholicity.
  • Church of Rome.
  • Romanism.
  • papistry.
  • popery.

What make a church a church? ›

A church (or local church) is a religious organization or congregation that meets in a particular location. Many are formally organized, with constitutions and by-laws, maintain offices, are served by clergy or lay leaders, and, in nations where this is permissible, often seek non-profit corporate status.

What is church according to the KJV? ›

The church is the body of Christ, with Jesus at the head. In Romans 12:4 KJV: For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office. We are all very different, possessing different talents and giftings. However, as the body of Christ, we all pursue the glorification of God.

What is the meaning of Church of God? ›

Church of God in American English

noun. any of numerous Protestant denominations that stress personal conversion, sanctification, the imminent return of Jesus Christ, baptism by immersion, and, among some, speaking in tongues.

How did the Vatican II describe the Church? ›

By describing the church as the people of God, a pilgrim people, the council fathers provided the theological justification for changing the defensive and inflexible stance that had characterized much of Catholic thought and practice since the Protestant Reformation.

Is church a place or a thing? ›

Word forms: churches

A church is a building in which Christians worship. You usually refer to this place as church when you are talking about the time that people spend there. ...

What is the true religion according to the Bible? ›

In short, James tells us that true religion is a devotion to God, demonstrated by love and compassion for fellowmen, coupled with unworldliness. Such a statement seems too simple to be sufficient, but in its simplicity it speaks an important truth.

What was the first church in the Bible? ›

The very first church started in Jerusalem, and then it spread to Judea and Samaria, and then all over the rest of the known world at the time.

Why do Catholics pray to Mary? ›

Catholics do not pray to Mary as if she were God. Prayer to Mary is memory of the great mysteries of our faith (Incarnation, Redemption through Christ in the rosary), praise to God for the wonderful things he has done in and through one of his creatures (Hail Mary) and intercession (second half of the Hail Mary).

Did Jesus start the Church? ›

Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life. He established His Church, taught His gospel, and performed many miracles. He chose twelve men to be His Apostles, including Peter, James, and John. He taught them and gave them priesthood authority to teach in His name and to perform sacred ordinances, such as baptism.

When did church started in the Bible? ›

(Acts 1:5; 2:1-4; 11:15-17) Therefore, the church began on the day of Pentecost after Christ's resurrection.

Who founded the Church of God? ›

Elder Richard Spurling

What does Jesus mean when he says church? ›

The Greek word used to denote church in Matthew 16:18 is ecclesia, which literally means a “calling out” and originally referred to a civil assembly. Thus Jesus' use of the phrase “my church” referred to an assembly “called” by him. In the present dispensation, the Lord used church in this same sense.

What is the meaning of the church in the Old Testament? ›

A group of Christians (see also Christian); church is a biblical word for “assembly.” It can mean any of the following: (1) All Christians, living and dead. (See saints.) (2) All Christians living in the world.

Is a church just a building? ›

Although the Church is a spiritual organism, it's also relational. The Church isn't a building but it is a gathered people.

Who named the Church? ›

The first use of the term "Catholic Church" (literally meaning "universal church") was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (circa 110 AD).

Why does the Church exist? ›

It is the church's responsibility to represent God to our world. Our main job is to let people know God has forgiven them. The New Testament says that the “forgiveness of sins is proclaimed” in the name of Jesus.

What is the Church in heaven called? ›

the Church Penitent (Latin: Ecclesia poenitens), also called the Church Suffering (Latin: Ecclesia dolens) or the Church Expectant (Latin: Ecclesia expectans), which in the theology of certain churches, especially that of the Catholic Church, consists of those Christians currently in Purgatory; and.

What is the opposite of catholic religion? ›

Protestant. Catholicism and Protestantism are two denominations of Christianity, just like Shia and Sunni are sects of Islam. While the Pope is the head of the Catholic Church, Protestantism is a general term that refers to Christianity that is not subject to papal authority.

What is a catholic person called? ›

noun. Cath·​o·​lic | \ ˈkath-lik , ˈka-thə- \ Definition of Catholic (Entry 2 of 2) 1 : a member of a Catholic church especially : roman catholic.

What is the catholic symbol? ›

Crucifix

The most common symbol of our faith is the crucifix – a cross with the figure of the body of Jesus Christ attached to it. The crucifix is a symbol of sacrifice and atonement, since, according to the Bible, Jesus died for the sins of the world. The crucifix is found wherever there is a Catholic presence.

What does Paul say about the Church? ›

Biologically, the Church is described as the Body where different members are connected together and grow (4:16). Christ is the head of the Body (1:22; 5:23-24), he is the savior of it (5:23- 24), and he loves and nurtures it (5:29).

What religions use the word church? ›

church, in Christian doctrine, the Christian religious community as a whole, or a body or organization of Christian believers. The Greek word ekklēsia, which came to mean church, was originally applied in the Classical period to an official assembly of citizens.

What are the main features of a church? ›

Features of churches
  • the altar – a table where the bread and wine are blessed during the Eucharist.
  • the lectern – a stand where the Bible is read from.
  • the pulpit – where the priest delivers sermons.
  • a crucifix – a cross with Jesus on.

Who is the head of the Church according to the Bible? ›

Head of the Church is a title given in the New Testament to Jesus. In Catholic ecclesiology, Jesus Christ is called the invisible Head the Heavenly Head, while the Pope is called the visible Head or the Earthly Head. Therefore, the Pope is often unofficially called the Vicar of Christ by the faithful.

Who is the owner of the Church? ›

Christ is the Owner and Head of the Church.

What are the 5 purposes of the Church? ›

Warren suggests that these purposes are worship, fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and mission, and that they are derived from the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:37–40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19–20).

What is the origin of the church of God? ›

The (Original) Church of God is a Holiness Pentecostal Christian denomination located mostly in the Southeastern United States. Its origins can be traced to a small meeting of Christians at the Barney Creek Meeting House in Monroe County, Tennessee in 1886.

What is Church of God believe? ›

COGIC teaches the deity of Jesus Christ, his virgin birth, sinless life, physical death, burial, resurrection, ascension and visible return to the earth. Christ is the Head of the church, and He is the only mediator between God and humanity, and there is no salvation in any other.

Where did the church of God begin? ›

What are the 3 state of the Church? ›

the Church Triumphant, which consists of those who have the beatific vision and are in Heaven. These divisions are known as the "three states of the Church," especially within Catholic ecclesiology.

Does the Catholic Church has an apostolic structure? ›

The claim of the Roman Catholic Church to be the one legitimate continuation of the community established by Jesus Christ is based on apostolic succession. The idea of apostolic succession first appears in ad 95 in a letter of Clement, bishop of Rome, who maintained that the bishops succeeded the Apostles.

In what way the Church is apostolic? ›

The Church is apostolic in three ways: She is built on "the foundation of the Apostles," those witnesses chosen by Christ. The Church hands on the teaching of the Apostles (the deposit of faith). The Church is guided by the successors of the apostles, the bishops in union with the Pope.

What is one in four marks of the Church? ›

The Four Marks of the Church, also known as the Attributes of the Church, describes four distinctive adjectives of traditional Christian ecclesiology as expressed in the Niceno-Constantinopolitan Creed completed at the First Council of Constantinople in AD 381: "[We believe] in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church ...

What is the church on earth called? ›

Anglican Communion

Anglicans believe that "...the Church on earth is united with the Church in heaven, ('sanctorum communio'). They speak of the 'Church Militant here on earth' and the Church triumphant in heaven.

Who first used the word church in the Bible? ›

The oldest word for church, the word that St. Paul himself used, is the Greek word “ecclesia,” from which we get the terms “ecclesial” and “ecclesiastical.” The word was in use centuries before the Christian church appeared on the scene.

Who goes to Purgatory? ›

The Catholic Church holds that "all who die in God's grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified" undergo a process of purification, which the Church calls purgatory, "so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven".

Who founded the Church? ›

Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life. He established His Church, taught His gospel, and performed many miracles. He chose twelve men to be His Apostles, including Peter, James, and John.

What does apostolic mean in the Bible? ›

A: “Apostolic” refers to the apostles, the earliest followers of Jesus who were sent out to spread the Christian faith. In this case, it comes from Apostolic Pentecostals' beliefs about baptism. Apostolic Pentecostals baptize believers in the name of Jesus.

Why is the Church catholic? ›

Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386) was even more explicit: "The Church is called 'Catholic' because it extends through all the world. . . because it teaches universally and without omission all the doctrines which ought to come to human knowledge. . .

Who named the Catholic Church? ›

The first use of the term "Catholic Church" (literally meaning "universal church") was by the church father Saint Ignatius of Antioch in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (circa 110 AD).

What are the rules of Apostolic Church? ›

A: Apostolic Pentecostals are the strictest of all the Pentecostal groups, according to Synan. Like most Pentecostals, they do not use alcohol or tobacco. They generally don't watch TV or movies either. Women who are Apostolic Pentecostals also wear long dresses, and they don't cut their hair or wear makeup.

What are the 4 symbols of the Church? ›

The four marks of the Church are that it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.
  • The Church Is One. Just as God is one in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, so also is the Church one. ...
  • The Church Is Holy. ...
  • The Church Is Catholic. ...
  • The Church Is Apostolic.

What does the Church say about God? ›

Catholics worship the One and Only God, who is the Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.) He is ONE God, in three divine Persons, and his name is YHWH or Yahweh. The second Person of this Trinity (the Son) came to earth and took on humanity. His name is Yeshua (meaning: “Yahweh Saves”).

What are the four symbols of the Catholic Church? ›

Traditionally, the four Gospel writers have been represented by the following symbols: St. Matthew, a pine man; St. Mark, a winged lion; St. Luke, a winged ox; and St.

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