Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. [Ephesians 2:20-21 (NLT)]
We believe in…the holy catholic church. [Apostle’s Creed]
When reciting the creeds as a youngster, I wondered why I said we believed in the catholic church when we didn’t go to one. My family didn’t attend the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our priest was married, and our service was in English, so why did we attest faith in the catholic church? It wasn’t until my confirmation class that I clearly understood that the creeds weren’t referring to the Roman Catholic church. Coming from the Greek katholikos (derived from kath holos, meaning “throughout the whole”), catholic simply means universal! The term originates from the first century and the words of Ignatius of Antioch: “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”
The catholic church wasn’t founded by Peter, James, Paul, Clement, Ignatius, or Polycarp. It wasn’t founded by Augustine, Emperors Constantine or Theodosius, or Patriarch Michael Cerularius nor was it founded by reformers like Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Wycliffe, William Tyndale, or John Calvin. The catholic church was founded by Jesus! The “catholic” in the creeds simply confirms the universality of the entire Christian church—a church that is not confined by ethnicity, race, geography, language, culture, or time. The catholic church shares a common confession of God’s redemptive work in Christ and our necessary response to it.
While we Christ followers may disagree on a number of secondary and minor issues like celibacy for the clergy or the day to worship, we agree about the essentials of faith and are united by the beliefs stated in the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian creeds. It is this unity that transcends our various denominational differences. Our brothers and sisters in Christ may belong to different churches and worship in different ways, but we all are members of the holy catholic church.
Nevertheless, some still mistake catholic with the small “c” for (Roman) Catholic with the capital “C.” To avoid any confusion, some Protestant churches prefer to say “holy Christian church” when reciting the creeds but it’s the same thing. Regardless of the term used, the catholic church is what remains when all the Christian church buildings burn down and the priests and ministers all leave town.
Sadly, however, Christians sometimes forget that we’re in the same family. A friend attended the same church for nearly two decades and, as one of the parish’s “prayer warriors,” she received a weekly list of prayer requests. Within a week of her quietly changing to another Christian church, she stopped getting the list. She contacted her previous pastor and, after pointing out that her love for her brothers and sisters in Christ did not stop when she changed her place of worship, she respectfully asked to keep receiving the prayer list so she could continue offering prayers for their needs and praises for their blessings. Unfortunately, her request fell on deaf ears. Perhaps, just as I did when a child, the pastor confused one’s place and manner of worship with what it means to be part of the catholic church.
Indeed, wherever Christ is, there we find the church. Without a doubt, Jesus tells us to pray and why anybody would arbitrarily decide who is allowed to pray for someone or whose prayers God will hear is beyond me. I’ll gladly welcome any prayer sent on my behalf, regardless of who offers it or where they attend church. If they believe in and worship God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, they are my brothers and sisters and members of my church—the holy catholic church—the body of Christ!