In the Creed, which orthodox protestants affirm throughout the world in common with the Catholic and Orthodox traditions (leaving aside the issue of the filioque), we proclaim that we believe in “one holy, catholic, and apostolic church”. This is an article of faith for all Christians. Whatever else the church is, it is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. However, I wonder if a conversation might really be had about what this article of faith really means.
There are obviously a lot of problems with confessing this “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church”. Obviously there is the issue of how the church is “one” in any meaningful sense today, given the reality of Christian division and schism. Just as problematic is the oft-glossed over confession of the church as holy. What does this mean given the strong empirical evidence of the church’s manifest sinfulness? Catholicity is, of course, a similar problem. Even more complexifying that question is the very definition of the term, which is hardly uncontested. Apostolicity, likewise is a slippery term. In what does apostolicity consist? This is obviously a major issue between protestants and the rest of Christendom, but even within protestantism, what do we mean when we confess the church as apostolic?
I think that this article of faith is perhaps the least analyzed aspect of our creed, at least among protestants. The problem with having the church as a confession of faith lies in the fact that the church is something tangible that can seemingly prove or disprove our confession – or at least lend credibility or incredibility to our claims about it. So, what then should we say? How can we confess the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church” rightly? What does it mean for us to confess this article of faith given the reality of the church as it exists in this age?