Both the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds have some interchangeable words. One of these instances is the use of the words “catholic” and “Christian.” In the Apostles’ and Nicene creeds we read: I/We believe in the holy catholic/Christian church.
When many people hear the word “catholic” they automatically think “Roman Catholic.” However, Roman Catholic is a denomination within Christianity and does not have the same meaning as the small “c” word “catholic.”
The following explanation explains it simply:
In the New Testament the Greek word “ekklesia” which is translated “Church” always refers to a group of people and never to a building or a denomination. It literally means “those who are called out (1 Peter 2:9).
In every town or village today you will find several “churches” but in God’s eyes there is only one true church with many different (and varied) expressions. The word “catholic” (Greek katholikos) means “universal” or “worldwide.” In that sense we are all catholics with a little “c!”
To be holy means to be different or set apart to God. It is important to realise that this is not because of any merit of our own but by faith in Christ’s finished work on the cross.
When you become a Christian you join the wider body of Christ, a family that exists both geographically and in time. You will express this by becoming involved in your local church family.
The usage of “Christian” instead of “catholic” for some Lutherans is a negative product of the Reformation. Antagonism between Roman Catholics and Lutherans grew to the point that Lutherans tried to throw out everything that looked like Roman Catholic. For this reason they chose to use the word “Christian” instead of “catholic in their creeds.
In the last 50 years Lutherans and Roman Catholics have grown to respect one another as members of the body of Christ. It is for this reason that most Lutherans have returned to the ancient wording of the creeds that confessed faith in a Church that was beyond human divisions.