The church is the community that is called into being by the Spirit. It is the community which, by its very existence, bears witness to Jesus Christ through whose life, death and resurrection the kingdom of God has come.
We do not "believe ... in the holy catholic church" in the same way as we confess "I believe in God the Father almighty .... I believe in Jesus Christ .... I believe in the Holy Spirit ...." The church is not a fourth divine reality alongside God: Father, Son and Spirit. Rather, we confess we "believe in the ... church" for the church is essentially connected to the Spirit.
The triune nature of God is communal. As Jesus called into being a community of disciples, the Spirit calls and gathers into being a community of believers and disciples throughout time and space. In its very existence and witness in the power of the Spirit to Jesus Christ as Lord, the church points to its source of life in God the Spirit.
Precisely because it is the community that God—who alone is the source of life, healing and forgiveness—calls into existence, we confess we "believe in the ... church." That the church is essentially connected to the Spirit grounds our confession, "I believe in the holy catholic church," and says no to others who want our ultimate allegiance.
This community, the church, was formed in the context of the Roman Empire, which required of its citizens and subject peoples an allegiance to a host of gods other than the Triune God. Thus confessing that the Spirit has called into being the church is a radical "no" to idolatry, for the church confesses faith in God alone: Father, Son and Spirit.
The church as the community of saints also challenges the cult of individualism often seen in our North American context. Religiously this individualism expresses itself when we view our faith as something only between us and God. This individualism may be believing we can solely worship God by ourselves, in private experiences of creation or mediation. Or it may be believing our relationship with God has nothing to do with how we view other human beings, especially those who are victims of oppression or injustice.
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© 2013 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers