2.4.3 The Third Article of Faith

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the one, holy, universal, and apostolic church, the community of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting.



The Third Article of Faith begins with a profession of belief in the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the third person of the Godhead. The Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople again brings to expression the divine essence of the Holy Spirit and His oneness with the Father and the Son: "[We believe] in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceedeth from the Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets." Believers thereby acknowledge the Holy Spirit and His divinity.


One of the works of the Holy Spirit is the church. The church is not something that emanates from human beings or that was created by them. Rather it is a divine institution. It is the assembly of those who are baptised, who follow Christ in their conduct of life, and who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord. The purpose of the church of Christ consists, on the one hand, of making salvation and eternal fellowship with the triune God accessible to mankind, and on the other hand, of bringing praise and worship to God.


The church of Jesus Christ has a concealed side and a revealed side. In this respect it corresponds to the dual nature of Jesus Christ, who is both true Man and true God. The concealed side of the church (see also 6.3→) cannot be fathomed by human reason, but can be accessed through faith and experienced, for example in the sacraments and in the spoken word of God, that is in all the signs of divine salvation and divine nearness. The revealed side of the church is a reference to the true humanity of Jesus Christ. Like the Man Jesus, the church is part of the history of mankind, although the Man Jesus was without sin–which is not the case with the revealed side of the church. It shares in the sinfulness of humanity on account of the human beings at work within it. Thus the mistakes and deficiencies of human history are also present in the church.


The Apostolicum only makes reference to the "holy universal church". The formulation "one holy universal and apostolic church" is taken from the Creed of Nicaea-Constantinople. This formulation makes the essential criteria of the church of Christ clear: it is "one", it is "holy", it is "universal", and it is "apostolic".


The church is "one": the fact that the church of Jesus Christ is one is based upon the profession of the one God. God, the Father, is the Creator. Jesus Christ is the sole head of the church. He is the one Lord. The one Holy Spirit is at work in this church and fills the believers with the knowledge of the truth.


The church is "holy": this holiness has been conferred upon the church by God. Holy things are revealed in it–for example in the sacraments–and the Holy Spirit is at work within it.


The church is "universal" (Greek: catholic): the universality, or catholicity, of the church implies that it is all-encompassing, in other words, that it far transcends anything which can be experienced by human beings. God's universal will to save finds direct expression in the church, and thus it encompasses both that which is of this world and that which is of the world to come, both past and present. It even reaches into the future and finds its completion in the new creation.


The church is "apostolic": the apostolicity of the church has a content-related aspect and a person-related aspect. First of all, the church is apostolic because the gospel of the death, resurrection, and return of Christ–as preached by the early Apostles–is proclaimed within it. On the other hand, the church is apostolic because the apostolic ministry is historically manifest in the Apostles who work within the church in the present.


In its historical manifestation the church will never do complete justice to the requirements of oneness, holiness, universality, and apostolicity. Among other things, this is also due to the sinfulness of the human beings who are active in it. Despite these inadequacies, the church of Christ does not remain concealed or inaccessible. It can be most clearly experienced where the Apostle ministry, the dispensation 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 [2] to prepare the bride of Christ for the marriage in heaven is established.


Though all believers share in the holiness of the church, the narrower meaning of the "community of the saints" nevertheless has an eschatological dimension. It consists of those who will belong to the bride of Christ, and will thus only be revealed at the return of Christ. In the broader sense, however, the "community of the saints" also has a current dimension: it comprises all those who are part of the church of Christ. Ultimately, the "community of the saints" will be revealed in its full perfection in the new creation.


The opportunity for "forgiveness of sins", which has been created by the sacrifice of Christ, is also an object of profession. The fundamental liberation from the rule of sin occurs through Holy Baptism with water, in which original sin is washed away.


The Third Article of Faith ends with two eschatological hopes, namely the "resurrection of the dead, and life everlasting". The belief in the resurrection of Jesus and the resurrection of the dead–which is predicated upon it–are among the essential certainties of Christian faith. The "resurrection of the dead" refers to the fact that those who have died in Christ will receive their own glorified body, whereby they can share in God's glory (1 Corinthians 15: 42-44).

The Third Article of Faith concludes with a view to "life everlasting", that is unceasing fellowship with God in the new creation.

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