The Church is . . . Catholic

The Nicene-Constantinople Creed (381) states “We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church."

Many Evangelicals are afraid or bothered by referring to the church as catholic. When many hear the term, they immediately think of the Roman Catholic Church. Two correctives. First, that is inaccurate since the meaning of the term means universal. The church is universal. Second, the Roman Catholic Church is not universal, so it is a misnomer to refer to the church of Rome as catholic. In many ways, a good term has been coopted. There is no limited expression of the church that can rightly be referred to as universal.

So then, with this right understanding of the church being catholic, what does it mean to affirm that the church is catholic, viz. universal?

According to Cyril of Jerusalem, the church (Cf. Scott Swain, Cyril of Jerusalem, Ron Swanson, and the catholicity of the church)

is called Catholic . . . because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men's knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts.

Let’s take a closer look at this extended statement by focusing on the four reasons given for why the church is referred to as catholic.

  • because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other;
  • because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men's knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly;
  • because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned;
  • because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts.

We corporately confess, profess and pray, ‘We believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”

We acknowledge this is true in principle. We pray it becomes true in practice, modeled after Jesus’ High Priestly prayer for the oneness of Christians in Christ (Jn. 17).

We will be learning and discussing some of these truths at our upcoming Theology Conference on The Doctrine of the Church. Please register and plan to join us!

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