"The Body of Christ is made up of all God’s faithful, both living and dead, from all of human history. Catholic means that you an I actually belong to the same Church—we make up the One Body of Christ—and so do Christians across the world, and so do those who have died and entered into glory."
Although the Filioque is the most controversial phrase in the Creed globally speaking, the word Catholic might be the most controversial in our context. We probably field more questions about this word than any other word in the Creed. Some go as far as to say that we should remove the word from the Creed, or change it to something else. (For the record, I hope you see how bad of an idea it would be for a school or local church that represents .000001% of the population of the Church throughout all time and space to unilaterally change the Nicene Creed.)
So let’s spend some time talking about this word.
First: Do not be afraid of the word Catholic. By cowering in fear over this word, you are giving up one of the most beautiful aspects of our faith.
The word Catholic means something close to universal. When we affirm that we believe in the Catholic Church, we affirm that we believe that the Body of Christ expands beyond the walls of our homes, beyond the walls of each of our churches, beyond the borders of our nation, beyond the bounds of the English language, beyond the restrictions of time and space. The Body of Christ is made up of all God’s faithful, both living and dead, from all of human history. Catholic means that you an I actually belong to the same Church—we make up the One Body of Christ—and so do Christians across the world, and so do those who have died and entered into glory.
THIS is what it means to be a Catholic Christian. If that doesn’t get you fired up I don’t know what will.
Can I tell you something? I really don’t like the way we talk about “Big C” and “Little C” catholic. We usually reserve “Big C” Catholic for talking about the Roman Catholic Church, and the “Little C” Catholic for talking about the rest of us.
That gets things exactly backwards.
Luke Timothy Johnson, a Roman Catholic himself, has written an excellent book on the Nicene Creed. In the opening sentence of the chapter on the word Catholic, he says, “the term Roman Catholic is an oxymoron.”
The Body of Christ is the Big C “Catholic.” Your church, whether it is Roman Catholic, Baptist, Non-denominational, is the Little C “catholic.”
If you are a member of the church that is in communion with the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the Pope), this makes you a Roman Catholic. That is one way to be Catholic: Roman Catholic.
If you are a member of the global church that is in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, this makes you an Anglo-Catholic. A member of the One Body of Christ who worships in the Anglican Communion of the One Holy Catholic Church.
If you are a member of a Baptist Church, this makes you a Bapto-Catholic. A member of the One Body of Christ who worships in the Baptist corner of the One Holy Catholic Church.
So, as I used to tell the Seniors in Flower Mound after spending a year teaching on this: Regardless of what your Church sign says, embrace your inner Catholic.
Apostolic is another word we hear about from time to time, not because it is controversial, but because it is a word we simply don’t use.
Think of “Apostolic” as meaning “the faith proclaimed by the Apostles, who were given authority by Jesus to found the Church.” The Apostles play a very special role in the New Testament and the formation of the Christian Church.
When we affirm that we believe in an “Apostolic” Church, we are saying that the faith we have all received is the same faith taught by the Apostles. What they believed about Jesus is what we believe about Jesus. Times have changed, but our faith has not.
There are a few ways of understanding this. To some extent, to be apostolic simply means to believe the same sorts of things that the Apostles believed. But being Apostolic also means that there is actually a direct link from your church back to the Apostles themselves. This is the history of Christian missions: The apostles preached, baptized, planted Churches, and laid their hands on others to take over the mantle of leadership. Those Churches and their leaders preached, baptized, and planted more churches, laying their hands on another generation of leaders. Those churches and their leaders preached, baptized, and planted more churches, laying their hands on another generation of leaders. Eventually, throughout the centuries, this happened here in North Texas.
You and I are the result of generations of faithful preaching, administering of the sacraments, and laying on of hands to pass the mantle of leadership on to the next generation.
This is what we mean when we say “Catholic and Apostolic.” Do not be afraid of these very rich words!
Jon Jordan, Dallas Logic School Principal