Pastor’s Corner – September 2019
Are you catholic? (small c)
There has been some confusion as to why we use the word “catholic” (note small c) in either the Apostles or the Nicene Creeds. Rather than hold an in-depth study of the history of this word, I thought I would simply consult my favorite book, “Crazy Talk” a Not-So-Stuffy Dictionary of Theological Terms. Here’s the definition and the explanation:
catholic (again, small c)- A word meaning “universal,” and therefore often used to describe only one part of the Christian family.
First of all, forget everything you think you know about the word catholic. Forget about Mass every Sunday, priests who can’t marry, praying to the Virgin Mary, the sweetly clad old dude who live at the Vatican, clad-in-plaid children going to private schools, fish on Fridays, and so on. Just forget it. The word catholic actually means “universal.” From very early in the history of the church, the term referred to the belief that even though the church is made up of many, many, many congregations, in many, many, many cities, in many, many, many countries, the church is still universal.
Every Christian may belong to a local congregation, but every Christian also shares in a fellowship with every other Christian in the universe. The church is a miracle that is made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit. Our catholicity (now there’s a word to impress your friends and relatives) is a gift from God, not something we do achieve, or are expected to achieve.
The church is not limited by geography, race, language, culture, style of worship, or gender (see Galatians 3:28). The church is open to all who follow Christ.
So what about those Christians who claim the name Catholic (note now a capital C) for themselves? Yep, they are part of the universal church. And so are you.
Protestant reformers understood themselves to be a part of “the holy catholic church.” Millions of Protestants still repeat these words every week as they stand in worship to recite the Apostles’ Creed. The word catholic was first used in this sense in the early second century when Ignatius of Antioch declared, “Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.” Jesus Christ is the head of the church, as well as its Lord. Protestant believers in the tradition of the Reformation understand the church to be the body of Christ extended throughout time as well as space, the whole company of God’s redeemed people through the ages.
Protestants, of course, do not equate “catholic” with “Roman Catholic.” Jesus prayed that his disciples would be one, even as he and the Father are one, so that the world might believe. I think it is right to pray and work for the “full visible unity” of Christ’s church on earth which we know for sure will be completely realized when Jesus comes again. 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 all who truly trust in him as Savior and Lord are by God’s grace members of this church.
It’s my contention that the phrase “Holy Universal Christian Church” is born out of anti-Roman Catholic prejudice and hatred. And while I understand this anger and prejudice, since for centuries there has been awful things written about Protestants by Roman Catholic theologians, and terrible things written about Catholics by Protestant theologians, I believe that any words used in worship born out of hatred and prejudice has no business being used in sacred worship in our Church.
So, are you catholic? You bet your boots!
As always, I look forward to your questions and comments.