A Question I Was Asked:

What Does 'Holy, Catholic Church' Mean in the Creed?

The Question:

How would you handle the following part of the Apostle's Creed?

"I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints."

As it says in those university things, "discuss."

UK Apologetics Reply:

It means what it says. All Christians must support the concept of one holy catholic church. Always remember that 'catholic' simply means universal. Later on, the word was also used to denote purity of doctrine to separate itself from those who held heretical doctrines (such as the 'Arianists,' which doctrine is now alive and kicking within the so-called 'Jehovah's Witnesses').

The church are 'the called out ones.' This refers to a certain body of people, it most certainly does not refer to any place of worship. There is one such body of people, guided and led by the Holy Spirit, they will be found in various groupings and denominations none of which greatly matter to God, for the people themselves are in spiritual union (whether they realise it or not). This is the 'communion of the saints.' That same creed also mentions 'one baptism,' something which was also important to Paul. Again, that does not rule out various groupings (see 1 Corinthians 12:7-30; Ephesians 4:4-6,11-13), but there is one body and one mode, system, or reason for/of baptism. In theory at least, all the major denominations accept this. The important thing about baptism is the faith which should be present, obviously this calls into very serious question paedo-baptism.

Much later on in Christian history, "catholic" came to change in meaning referring to a certain emphasis upon a specific grouping of ritualistic doctrines, headed by a leader who was celebrated and invested with great power. Mostly such groups have held on to the vital things of the Gospel but an over-emphasis on ritual does call their overall Christian understanding into question. Today we have Eastern Orthodoxy and Roman Catholic, considered to be the two major arms of Christian Catholicism. Even in addition to that we have the so-called 'high church' section of Anglicanism which also considers itself to be catholic. It can get very confusing but the original understanding of 'catholic' was very different.

When we read the Apostle's Creed, we should understand the original meaning of the words used.

Let us close with some very wise words of Paul:

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 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. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. (Ephesians 4:1-7).

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4: 11-16. NIV throughout).

Robin A. Brace. August 12th, 2012.