One Holy Catholic Church

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Almost every week in our church, we recite the Apostles C’reed.  The Apostle’s Creed has this one statement that always causes confusion:  “I believe in…the holy catholic church…”  A similar phrase is in the traditional text of the Nicene Creed:  “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  In the United Methodist Hymnal, both the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed have an asterix after the word ‘catholic’ that indicates the word means ‘universal.’  So the Roman Catholic Church is that part of the universal church that is headquartered in Rome.  We could all rightly call ourselves ‘catholic’.  The church to which I belong is the part of the universal church called the United Methodist Church.

The church is universal in the sense that as Ignatius of Antioch declared,”Where Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church.”  Jesus Christ is the head of the church, the body of Christ, as well as our Lord and Savior.  Since the time of the Reformation, churches in the Protestant tradition, have understood the church to include the body of Christ including the whole company of believers, both in time and space.  So all believers that ever have lived, all that are alive now, and all who ever will believe are included in the universal church.

A picture of the universal church is expressed in Jesus’ parables of the Kingdom.  In Matthew 13:31-32, Jesus said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a mustard seed planted in a field.  It is the smallest of all seeds, but it becomes the largest of garden plants; it grows into a tree, and birds come and make nests in its branches.  The Kingdom of God has small beginnings, but has grown to include people from every nation.

A second parable of Jesus also emphasizes the universal nature of the church, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like the yeast a woman used in making bread.  Even though she had put only a little yeast in three measures of flour, it permeated every part of the dough.”  (Matt. 13:33, 34)  This parable emphasizes the all-pervasive influence of the Kingdom of God in the world.

Having just returned from China, I had the privilege of attending the Beijing International Christian Fellowship.  In the service I attended, there was a great crowd of about 2,000 people “from every tribe and people and language,” and we raised our hands and were singing praises in every language.  It was a beautiful experience and picture of the church in Rev. 7:9.  John said, (Rev. 7:9), “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. …”

Let all the people praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.  For you have created all, and redeemed all.  You have established a church, calling it to be faithful in every time and place.  Draw together all who are one in Christ, that across the whole earth there may be witnesses to you, to the glory of your Name, O God, One in diversity, O God, Three in One.  Amen.  (Stookey, This Day:  A Wesleyan Way of Prayer, p. 86, 87)

 

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