Wednesday, December 23, 2015

"Catholic" in the Creeds

* I write a brief piece for our church bulletin every week.  Here are the thoughts from an upcoming bulletin.

A new year is upon us.  A quick note about our bulletin—you will notice that our affirmation of faith has changed.  We will be using the Nicene Creed with occasional weeks perhaps devoted to other ecumenical or Reformed creeds and confessions.  It is good to give public confession to the faith.  We are not mindlessly reciting words.  Rather, we are doing something profound.  We are giving expression to that which defines us.  We are giving verbal allegiance to the truth that shapes the Church and we are confessing our glad submission to it.

There may be one area that some may be concerned about and that is the use of the word “catholic”—“we believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  We need to remember that the word “catholic” simply means “universal” and is not indicating the institutional structure of what we know today as the “Roman Catholic Church.”  The Roman Catholic New Testament scholar Luke Timothy Johnson in his book The Creed: What Christians Believe and Why It Matters recognizes this reality and has written some important words on this issue:

Before examining the term [“catholic”] it may be helpful to make the (I hope obvious) point that the creed does not say that the church is “Roman Catholic.”  That term is, indeed, oxymoronic.  It combines the element of universality with a highly particular adjective.  The Roman Catholic tradition (the reader will remember it is my own) may believe the Roman tradition is all-encompassing, but that is simply mistaken.

So to confess our belief in the “catholic church” is simply to recognize the universality of the church—it exists everywhere rather than simply in one place.  Part of our praying for the church in other nations is to also give expression to this catholic impulse.  The church does not exist centrally or primarily in the United States.  Christ’s church exists around the world.  To be sure, this universal church is not always equally pure in doctrine or life but it is, nonetheless, the church purchased by the blood of Christ.

So when you confess your faith in the church’s catholicity today, do not think of Rome, the Pope, or any such thing.  Let your mind move to the universal church—our brothers and sisters throughout the nations crying out to God in the name of Jesus Christ.  Rejoice in the Savior’s love which is nourishing and sustaining the church around the world!