The Creeds: catholic vs Christian

Holy-and-Catholic_edited-1Both 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.

2 Replies to “The Creeds: catholic vs Christian”

  1. I see the word christian in my bible( a follower of Christ Jesus)part of a world wide following.I have never come across the word catholic.It seems to me to give the attention and praise to the catholic church and not to Jesus.

    1. The word “Christian” is indeed found in the New Testament a total of three times, but it is never used in relationship to the word “church” which is recorded well over a hundred times. Yes, the word “catholic” is not found in the Bible, but neither is the word “Trinity.” I don’t think we would throw out that word whoever might use for whatever purposes. The question is, “How will we use that word?” Since the earliest days the Church has understood itself as both “following Jesus” (Christian) and “catholic.” It chose the word “catholic” to express an important concept that is based in Scripture (e.g. Galatians 3:26-28). The fact that it is used in the name of a church body bears no impact on its meaning. Perhaps, another question would be, “Do you/we accept the Roman Catholic church as Christians? Lutherans do, in spite of theological differences with Romans Catholics. Lutherans, remembering that their Reformation roots and their namesake (Martin Luther) was Roman Catholic, have even referred to themselves as “Evangelical catholics.”

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