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The Holy Catholic Church

I believe in . . . the Holy Catholic Church.

One Sunday morning when I was just a wee Lutheran, my family, while visiting relatives, attended their liberal “church.” As I remember it, the liturgy was more high-church than ours but, doctrinally, standard Lutheran stuff—until we got to the recitation of the Apostles’ Creed. What? “the holy Catholic church? I was shocked and dismayed. Surely, this must be part of their liberalism, alongside of biblical errancy and all of its consequential errors. Why else would they change “Christian” to “Catholic”?

What I didn’t know, and wouldn’t for some years after, was that it was not Catholic, but catholic—lowercase c—or what that signified. I also didn’t know that it was my church, not theirs, that had changed the word. As a grateful, fully invested son of the Reformation, I still get the willies a little bit when I hear the Creed in its original wording, but I’ve come to wish, like Albert Mohler, we could reclaim the word as it should be understood. Sadly, though, like evangelical and fundamentalist, I fear it is probably beyond redemption. But, even if we can’t save the word, let’s not forget the truth it conveys—and while we’re reciting our modified-for-modern-Protestants version, maybe we can at least think catholicly.


The temptation arises, as we confess the Apostles’ Creed, to skip over the designation catholic. Confusion surrounds this word, and some may think they, in reciting this line, are affirming Roman Catholicism or the rule of the pope. But that is not what the word catholic affirms. We need to reclaim the word and confess it boldly and with joy. The word catholic here simply means universal. Thus, wherever the church is found, it is the same church. We believe, therefore, in Christianity, not in “Christianities”; we believe in the gospel, not in “gospels.”

This notion of a universal church does not dispense with the rule and affirmation of the local church. Indeed, the book of Acts details the story of a local church in Jerusalem and the founding of other local churches around the ancient world. In fact, a proper ecclesiology particularly emphasizes the fact that every local church is an embassy of the eschatological kingdom. As D. A. Carson explained:

Each local church is not seen primarily as one member parallel to a lot of other member churches, together constituting one body, one church; nor is each local church seen as the body of Christ parallel to other earthly churches that are also the body of Christ—as if Christ had many bodies. Rather, each church is the full manifestation in space and time of the one, true, heavenly, eschatological, new covenant church. Local churches should see themselves as outcroppings of heaven, analogies of “the Jerusalem that is above,” indeed colonies of the new Jerusalem, providing on earth a corporate and visible expression of “the glorious freedom of the children of God.”

Thus, to believe in the universality of the church affirms a fundamental belief in the authority of the local congregation as well as an expectation of being united to Christ with all believers throughout the ages in the new heavens and the new earth. To confess “I believe in the holy catholic [universal] Church” confesses the universal nature of the church revealed in every local congregation that espouses and holds fast to the gospel and the expectation of a day when the entire universal church will join together at the wedding supper of the Lamb.

—Albert Mohler, The Apostles’ Creed (Crossway, 2019), 159–160.

Posted 2020·03·13 by David Kjos
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Posted in: Albert Mohler · Church History · Ecclesiology · Papism · The Apostles’ Creed (Mohler) · Unity of Believers

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