Sunday, February 9, 2014. One of the most frequent questions I've received throughout this series about this phrase in the Apostles Creed. Why do we say we believe in the Holy "Catholic" Church? And what does it mean to believe in the Church?
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What does it mean to believe in the Church?
One of the main reasons people don’t embrace Christianity is not that they can’t believe in God but they can’t believe in the church. G.K. Chesterton famously said, “By far the most powerful argument against the truth of Christianity is Christians.” In fact, the reason so many have so much trouble believing in God is they absolutely don’t believe in the church.
Christians have let them down.
The church has disillusioned them.
Or just bored them.
But the reason it’s in the Apostles Creed is because believing in the church and believing in God are inextricably linked. You really are not going to be able to find God without dealing with the church somehow.
This passage (Jn 21v1-22) tells us about what the church is to be in the world, why we tend to fail, and how we can succeed.
Why does it say "catholic"?
First of all, the Apostles Creed has been around since the second or third century - whereas the Protestant Reformation did not occur until the sixteenth century. The Reformers obviously wanted to do just that - reform the church - but they had no intention of rejecting the ancient doctrines of Christianity. They just wanted to reform the abuses.
However when Protestants (like ourselves) use the Creed we DO NOT equate “catholic” with “Roman Catholic” because that is not what the word “catholic” originally meant. The word “catholic” simply means means "general, universal, concerning the whole.” This is how it was originally understood when the Apostles Creed was first written and recited.
But after the East–West Schism of 1054, the churches that remained in communion with the Rome continued to call themselves “catholic" while the Eastern churches have generally been known as “Orthodox" or "Eastern Orthodox". After the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the Roman Catholic Church continued to use the term “catholic" to distinguish itself from the various denominations that split off.
But well before any of this - the word “catholic" was first used in the early second century by Ignatius of Antioch when he declared, "Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one, even as he and the Father are one, so that the world might believe (John 17v20) and Paul says "There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Eph 4v4-6).
So when we say that we "believe in the holy catholic church," we are confessing that Jesus Christ himself is the church's one foundation, that - despite all of our denominational, theological and philosophical differences - all who truly trust in him as Savior and Lord are by God's grace members of this universal church, and that the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.