Article 9 (cont’d.)
In Article 9 of the Nicene Creed the early church confessed, “And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church.”
We find in this article the four attributes of the church—her unity or oneness, her holiness, her catholicity, and her apostolicity. We have seen however that the early church had a much different understanding of these concepts than we do today.
The early church correctly acknowledged the existence of only one church: There are not several bodies of Christ, but only one. However, the early church made the mistake of trying to identify the one church of God with a particular institution.
The early church in turn confessed that this particular institution of the church is catholic. By this was meant that the one institution of the church is the whole or complete church. Within this institution of the church is to be found the whole body of Christ. Outside of this institution, membership in the body of Christ is not possible.
The early church also confessed that the church is apostolic. By this she meant that the bishops of the church were the personal successors of the apostles and therefore received from Christ via the apostles all the gifts of the Spirit necessary to lead and guide the church into all the truth. This implied that that institution loyal to and subservient to these apostolic bishops was the one true church of Christ.
For that reason the church is also holy. That the church is holy means that she is devoted and consecrated to God. And she is that exactly because she is apostolic—loyal to the personal successors of the apostles who alone have preserved the true tradition of the apostles.
With this conception of the church the early church was led originally in this 9th article of her creed to confess her faith in the church. She confessed that even as she believed in God the Father and in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Spirit, so also she believed in the one holy catholic and apostolic church. By this she meant that the trust of the saints was in the institution of the church. And again this was because the church was apostolic—led by the personal successors to the apostles who were gifted by the Holy Spirit.
This in brief summarizes what we saw in our last article to be the understanding of the early church by this confession of the Nicene Creed.
What we wish to do now is to examine these various attributes of the church in the light of Scripture to ascertain their true meaning. In so doing we will find that this confession of the early church concerning the church is indeed a beautiful one, provided we understand it in the true, Biblical sense.
First of all, the Scriptures teach the unity or oneness of the church. This attribute of the church is set forth in a passage such as Romans 12:5: “So, we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” We find the idea of the unity of the church also in Ephesians 4:4-6: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”
By the unity or oneness of the church is meant first that there is only one church. The church is designated in the Scriptures by various names. It is called the body of Christ, the temple of God, the household of God, the New Jerusalem, and Mount Zion. But regardless of how the church is designated, there is only one church. There is only one body of Christ, one temple of God, one Mount Zion, not several.
Nor must we make the mistake of identifying this one church with any one institution or ecclesiastical organization. The body of Christ is not to be identified with the Roman Catholic Church or the Protestant Reformed Churches of America or with any other church. The body of Christ is broader than any one ecclesiastical organization. The members of Christ’s body are to be found in many different churches and denominations. In fact we may say that wherever the gospel is proclaimed, the sacraments administered, and Christian discipline exercised, the one body of Christ is both represented and manifest. And no church or group is able to claim that to herself exclusively.
By the unity of oneness of the church is also meant that there is an essential unity among the members of Christ’s body. All the members of Christ are given the same gift of faith whereby they come into possession of the one salvation of God. Consequently, they all possess the same hope, the hope of life eternal. They all live the same life, the life of thankful service to God. They all are of one mind, which is the mind of Christ.
It is true, of course, that this unity is not always so apparent. For the church world today is badly fragmented. There are many different denominations, each with its own confession and belief. One confesses this about Christ, and another will contradict that confession with something else. Nevertheless, in principle there is an essential unity among the saints which finds its source in the common salvation they all have in Jesus Christ. And whereas that unity is not made perfect in this present age, it will be made complete in the age to come. For that we look forward.
The church is also catholic.
By this is meant that the church is universal. The church is not to be limited to any one nationality or social status. The church of Christ is not comprised merely of the Dutch or the English, the blacks or the whites. The body of Christ is made up of all nationalities and races; and none are excluded. Neither is the church limited to any social status. Not just the male but also the female, not just the rich but also the poor, not just the bond but also the free are found in the body of Christ. Besides this, the church of Jesus Christ is not limited to any one age or generation. The church did not have its beginning at Pentecost, as is the claim of some. The church finds its beginnings at the very dawn of history in Adam. And that church has continued to exist down through the centuries and will continue to exist on the earth until the very end of time.
This catholic character of the church is certainly attested to by such Scripture passages as Romans 10:12, 13: “For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich to all that call upon him”; Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female; for ye are all one in Christ Jesus”; Revelation 7:9: “After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.”
According to the Scriptures, the church of Christ is also apostolic.
By this is not meant that there are those in the church who can lay hold to the claim to be the personal successors to the apostles, who also in this way have special gifts of the Spirit, which are given to no one else, to lead the church.
The apostolicity of the church is rather to be understood in the light of Ephesians 2:20, where the church is said to be “‘built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief corner stone.” That the church is built on the apostles and prophets means that she is built on the doctrine of the apostles and prophets. Both the apostles of the New Testament and the prophets of the Old Testament were vehicles of divine revelation. It was through them that Jesus Christ, our chief prophet, spoke and revealed the full counsel of God concerning our redemption. That revelation of God given through the apostles and prophets has been infallibly preserved for us in the Scriptures through the wonder of inspiration. And it is upon the basis of that revelation that the church is built. Through the proclamation of that revelation the church is not only gathered but she also grows spiritually. And it’s in that sense, and that sense alone, that the church is apostolic. She is apostolic in the sense that she is built on the teachings of the apostles and that therefore she also’ confesses the doctrines of the apostles.
Again this is true of the church only in principle for the present age. For there are many churches and many members of the body of Christ that do not confess the doctrines of the prophets and apostles in all their purity but have in one In the past couple of articles we have been dealing with the whole subject of the Christian and work. We want yet to consider the question of working mothers.
By “working mothers,” of course, we mean mothers who work outside of their homes. Every mother who takes seriously her motherly calling within her home is a working, hard-working mother. But we want to talk about those mothers who work outside of the home. Even then, our main concern is not with all mothers who work outside of the home, but especially with those who have small and school-age children.
It’s obvious to anyone the least bit observant that the numbers of working women generally, and working mothers specifically, are constantly increasing. Nor is this phenomenon limited to the world at large, but it is something that is found within the church, and within our own churches. Many of our own mothers become full- or part-time working mothers.
The drastic rise in the numbers of working women has had very obvious effects upon our society. Road signs no longer read “Men At Work,” but “People Working.” Heads of committees are no longer “chairmen” but “chairpersons.” That sometimes annoying, sometimes helpful person we used to refer to as a “salesman” is now a “salesperson.” Every occupation recorded this past year by the Census Bureau lists women as well as men.
The statistics are staggering. Forty-four percent, nearly half, of all employed Americans are women. And the percentage continues to rise steadily. So rapidly have the women swelled the ranks of the work force that substantial numbers of men are losing their jobs to women. The advances of modern technology and the introduction of specialized equipment have made it possible for women to enter jobs that in the past were exclusively held by men.
One of the consequences of the rise in the number of working mothers has been the phenomenon of “latch-key kids.” “Latch-key kids” are children whose parents both work, or children of working single parents, usually mothers. After a day at school, they must come home to an empty house and must take care of themselves, because Dad and Mom are both working.
Exact figures are difficult to find, but estimates that I have seen place the number of American school-children coming home to an empty house or apartment from 2 million to 6.5 million, with one figure even set at nearly 10 million. The Department of Labor indicates that 32 million children of all ages (infant through high school) have mothers who work outside the home. Thirteen million of those children are under age 14. Every year an additional 4 percent of the nation’s mothers take jobs outside their homes. The Newark, New Jersey fire department reports that one out of six calls that they handle involves children left alone at home.
Experts agree that the telephone and television have made possible the latch-key arrangement. One researcher has said, “The television is the baby sitter, and the telephone is the lifeline to Mom and Dad,” (quoted in Christianity Today, Aug. 10, 1984, in an article by Dean Merrill entitled “After- School Orphans”).
In our own churches, it’s plain to see, the number of working mothers has increased quite substantially in the last couple of years. Various reasons are given to justify the mother’s doing this. The chief reason is that this is simply necessary in order for the family to make ends meet. It is an economic necessity. The bills must be paid (house payment, car payment, medical bills, utility bills, etc.); the Christian school tuition, which always seems to go up, must be paid; the church budget and other financial obligations must be met. Although in the world too mothers often give financial necessity as the reason for working, it’s interesting that statistics show that the majority of mothers, sixty-seven percent, work outside the home not because they must, but because they want to.
Serious ill effects of the rise of working mothers are increasingly in evidence. We may be certain that many of the economic woes that our country and other countries are experiencing today, especially the high rate of unemployment, are due to women forsaking their God-assigned labors in the home for work outside of the home in the marketplace. Certainly the rise of working mothers has contributed a great deal to the breakdown of the family, something that even the government becomes alarmed about today. Working wives and mothers have introduced strained relationships in many marriages. There is the increased contact that working women have with men other than their own husbands, and which accounts to no little degree for the rise in extra-marital affairs and the increase in divorce. The husband’s inability to earn enough to be the family’s principal source of support, and in many cases the wife’s outstripping the husband as “breadwinner” for the family, is a major cause of marital breakup. God is not mocked. Society will pay its dues for disobedience to the ordinances of God.
What we must be convinced of as Christians is that mothers ought not to work outside of their homes, not first of all because of the bad results of this for society or for themselves, but because this is forbidden by the Word of God. We are Reformed Christians. The Word of God is the sole standard for our faith and for our life. The teaching of the Word of God, not our financial situation, not our personal feeling that housework and motherhood are unfulfilling, must be decisive as regards the proper sphere of labor for mothers.
The Word of God is clear in its prohibition of working mothers. The word of the Apostle in Titus 2:5 to young mothers is that they are “to be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.” Not only does the Apostle describe the nature of the work of the mothers here, but he describes the sphere of their labor. They are to be “keepers at home.” This is God’s will for young mothers. An incentive to their obedience to the will of God on this score is “that the Word of God be not blasphemed.” The Word of God is blasphemed by the world when we Christians speak so much about the covenant of God with us and with our children, talk so much about the blessedness of children, that our children are gifts to us from God, but then allow our mothers to forsake their calling with regard to these precious, covenant children by working outside of the home.
In I Timothy 5:14 the instruction of the Apostle is similar: “I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.” The will of God’s Apostle, and therefore of God Himself Who sends the Apostle, is that the younger women marry, bring forth children (notice: “children,” in the plural), and guide their houses. They are not to be off working outside of their home, but in their home, guiding those homes. Again, the incentive is that by doing this they “give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully.”
The last part of Proverbs 31 gives a very beautiful description of the “virtuous woman” (verse 10). Oh, she is a woman who works, who works hard. But she is a woman who works hard at home, whose whole labor is consumed in the needs of her home and family. All her work is directed towards them and on their behalf. The reward that she receives from God, already in this life, is that “her children arise up, and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praiseth her” (vs. 28). The women can be sure that if they forsake the example of the virtuous woman of Proverbs 31, they will also forfeit this great blessedness that comes to her.
This is simply the plain teaching of the Bible: The place of the young mother is in her home, with her children. This is as much the teaching of the Bible as the truth of total depravity, the virgin birth, the antithesis, and any other doctrine of the faith. As much as we are called to believe and confess these other truths, are we to honor the Bible’s teaching concerning the place of the mother in the home.
But are there no exceptions? Are there not times when it is permissible that the mother work outside of the home? Isn’t it permitted when the mother needs to work to help provide a Christian education for the children? When the husband’s paycheck alone won’t cover the family’s expenses?
No, mothers ought not to work in order to provide the Christian education that their children need. Christian education is important; Christian education is required by the Word of God, but never at the cost of the loss of the mother to the home. What is more basic, the home or the school? If the day ever comes that our ability to provide Christian education depends on mothers working outside of the home, that must be the day that we close the doors to our Christian schools. That will be the day when God’s blessing leaves our Christian school movement.
But that day has not come. Oh, I don’t mean to minimize the financial difficulty that many of our families, especially our young families, are having. But the answer is not to send the mother out of the home. The answer is to seek help in the way which the Scriptures themselves clearly outline in a place like I Timothy 5. First, families who are in financial trouble ought seriously to examine their life-style. Are they living above, or within, their means. Secondly, if they are honestly living within their means as best they can, but are still unable to meet their obligations, they must seek first the help of their close relatives. This is nothing shameful. This is the Word of God. And relatives, parents, brothers and sisters, even uncles and aunts, should be sensitive to the needs of such families and stand willing to help them. Other wealthier members of the church ought also to help those families of the church who are struggling. Thirdly, those who experience financial hardship have recourse to the office of Christ in the deacons. Christ has instituted this office exactly for them, with their needs in mind. They ought not neglect, but ought to avail themselves of the help of this office. If they do, they themselves and the whole congregation will reap the fruits of the exercise in the church of this office.
Recently two young mothers, who had in the past worked outside of their homes, acknowledged to me how wrong and how detrimental to their home and family life their working had been. Because they had come to see this, they quit their jobs. I pray that the other working mothers among us may be brought to the same realization. way or another corrupted those beautiful doctrines with the philosophies of man. Yet in the age to come the apostolic character of the church will be fully and perfectly realized as all the saints in glory sing the praises of God in perfect truth.
Finally, the church in holy.
This is clearly taught in such passages as I Peter 2:9: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should show forth the praises of Him Who hath called you out of darkness into His marvelous light”; I Corinthians 1:2: “Unto the church of God which is at Corinth, to them that are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints with all that in every place call upon the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.”
By the holiness of the church is meant that the church has been consecrated to God by the work of salvation in Jesus Christ. Negatively, she has been separated from the world so that she lives antithetically opposed to the world with all its sin and corruption. Positively, this holiness means that she has been brought by the power of grace in Christ into the service of the living God, whose salvation she enjoys.
Again this holiness is only a principle reality for the church for this present age. Witness all the spiritual corruption of the world that still clings to the church. Witness the failure of the church and her members time and again to serve the cause of God with that zeal that they ought. Nevertheless, in Christ the church is principally holy. And in the age to come this holiness shall be perfected.
Finally, in this article we as a church confess all this as the object of our faith. No, we do not confess, as the early church originally did, faith in this holy catholic and apostolic church. We confess our faith in the triune God and in His great work of salvation alone. In that alone we put our trust. In the church we do not put our trust. That, according to LD 34 Q 95 of our Heidelberg Catechism, would be idolatry. Rather we believe an holy catholic and apostolic church. That means that we believe that there is such a church. And even though it may not always appear to be the case with the church, we also believe that she is one and holy and catholic and apostolic. And it means too that we pray and work for the unity, holiness, catholicity, and apostolicity of that church.