One of the questions I am asked all the time is about the phrase “catholic Church.” This phrase is found in the Creeds of the church. Many churches throughout the world including the Lutheran Church ascribes to three different creeds, The Apostle’s Creed the Nicene Creed and the Athanasian Creed. The Apostles Creed and the Nicene Creed are used quite often in the church, while the Athanasian Creed may be used on Trinity Sunday (the Sunday after Pentecost Sunday) but rarely any other time.
The Apostles Creed is used the most throughout the year. It was first introduced into the church around the eighth century. This creed does not come from the apostles of Jesus, but it does keep in line with the teachings from the New Testament. It describes a faith in which we are all baptized into and therefore is used as the statement of faith by the gathered assembly at a baptism. It is the creed that is used when there is not a festival of the church happening.
The Nicene Creed was first adopted by church leaders in 325 at the First Council of Nicaea. This creed that is used by most Christian Churches around the world. Historically it has been used when we celebrate festival Sundays.
Finally there is the Athanasian Creed. This creed takes its name from Athanasius, the great theologian of the fourth century who defended Trinitarian teaching. This creed is not commonly used in churches. It is a historical creed that many study and we as a church ascribe to it but we do not use it very much, if at all in worship.
Within the text of the Apostle’s Creed and Nicene creed is a line that talks about the the ‘catholic Church’ which simply refers to the universal Church of believers. The way I like to explain it is that when we pray in the creeds about the “catholic Church” we are praying about the “little c” Church not the “big C” Church.
The word Creed is from the Latin [credo] meaning “I believe”, so the creeds are a statement of Christian beliefs. Some people have the mistaken idea that the word ‘catholic’ belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.
For a long time in our history there was one church that was recognized as the church which everyone belonged. It was the universal church the Catholic Church. However, over time there were a number of people who started to protest the way the Catholic Church carried out the practices of the church which began the Reformation.
Today the landscape of religion and the church looks very different. There are many denominations and faith practices and so we can no longer say that the Catholic Church is the only church in town. Instead we can say that there is only the universal church, not a Roman Catholic Church and a Protestant Church, but one Holy Universal Church.
The true church of God is the universal church, where we all belong and are members no matter what label we try and put upon it. There are many, many churches living out what they feel God is calling them to in this world. We don’t always get along, and there are arguments between the churches and there are arguments between the churches and those who don’t believe in God.
There are also many people (like myself) who spend their lives trying to proclaim the Gospel of love, grace and forgiveness from God to the world. This message is from the church universal.
We could say:
I believe in the Holy Spirit, The Holy Universal Church, The communion of saints…..
Which would help those who are not as familiar with the language of the church not to be as confused. However, if we are using a creed prayer in church we are praying with brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world. It is one of the few things in worship which we can agree on and use together across church boarders.