Occasionally, folks wonder what it means when we confess that we believe in the “holy catholic church” in the Apostles’ Creed. Wait – I thought we were protestant. We’re not catholics, are we? Well, it’s true that we’re not Roman Catholics – which is why if you check our bulletin, we don’t capitalize “catholic” – we’re not under the Bishop of Rome or hold to the peculiar doctrines of that church.
But the word “catholic” by itself simply means “universal” or “the whole.” It comes from two Greek words which literally meant “concerning the whole.” So we do believe in the universal church, and because the universal church is the Bride of Christ, it is holy, sanctified, set apart to Christ. When we say we believe in the holy catholic church we mean that we believe that Jesus has set apart people to Himself all over the world, throughout history. Everyone who confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, and believes that God raised Him from the dead is part of this universal church. Baptism is the sign of membership in that one catholic church, and the Lord’s Supper is our communion in the Body of Christ – and we mean Body in two ways. We mean Body of Christ in the sense that Christ Himself feeds all of us with Himself, what this bread represents. But we also mean Body of Christ in the sense that all who believe are part of Christ. All who believe are in Christ, and therefore, they are His body, they belong to Him.
It’s no accident that the Creed puts several things together at the end: the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. All of this goes together. All who trust in Jesus as their Savior receive the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit unites us to God and to one another. This is part of what it means to be part of the holy catholic church, and this is the communion of the saints. We have this communion with all true Christians fundamentally because our sins have been forgiven, and we are all waiting together for the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life together with Christ and one another.
Do you believe? Then come. Are you baptized? Then come. Are your sins all forgiven? Then come and welcome. Are you part of the Body? Then come. There is bread for all who are bread. Does the Spirit yearn inside of you for the resurrection and everlasting life? Then come. Do you love the saints here and everywhere throughout the world? Then come.
Come and welcome to Jesus Christ.