The beauty of catholicity

As a protestant, the word “catholic” is not the first word I’d use to describe myself. Indeed, for many of us who do consider ourselves to be fairly conservative protestants, holders of the gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone (with some measure of asterisks around the word “alone”), the very word “catholic” might seem to be a dirty thing bringing back to mind the very reason that we call ourselves protestant over the self-identifying word of the Roman church. However, the truth is the church must be catholic, I must be catholic, if I at all can truly call myself Christian.

Two of the three Western ecumenical creeds say that we believe in the [one] holy, catholic, and apostolic church. There is that word “catholic” that so vexes protestants. Indeed, some of the Lutheran confessions famously replace the word catholic with Christian [1,2]. However, this word “Christian” is insufficient to express this fundamental attribute of the church. Catholic merely means universal or of the whole and in Christianity it refers to the universality of the church and it at once closely related to this attribute of “oneness” which we find in the Nicene Creed, and implicitly in the common Apostle’s Creed. It is the idea that in Christianity we might find every tribe and tongue on earth, that we, when we worship, worship with people a whole continent away in the faith handed down to us from the apostles. Indeed, as an ethnic Christian, one who isn’t as white as the common idea of Christianity holds, this fact is as true for me as my face in the mirror every morning. I am catholic, not in the same way as those who follow the See of Rome, but catholic nonetheless as are all who call themselves properly Christian.

Related to this idea of catholicity, is oneness and this oneness is why I think that working within a denomination is the most right way to live the Christian life, because it is a visible reminder that I am Christian, but I am not Christian alone. Currently, I attend an Anglican Church, and though I may not always agree with it in practice it is, for me, a reminder that I am not alone in Christianity, and neither is the Canadian Church alone. In this context as an Anglican oneness and catholicity was expressed when a leader from Africa was found in need, and my church immediately moved to help raise money. This is the oneness and catholicity of Christianity, a true evidence of how Paul said “we being many, are one body in Christ.” There are few churches that can show this as easily as one whose denominational ties cross country and continent. So often it is easy to forget that there is a church beyond our own, regardless of where we are or how obvious the reminder is, let us remember our brothers and sisters in Christ who are removed from us by distance and yet remain part of the body of Christ.

I am catholic, and if you are Christian, then you too are catholic in a protestant understanding of catholicity because we together, being in one body, are the many tribes and tongues that the one gospel of the person of Christ says are part of this body. Let us not forget that Christianity crosses cultures, it is not merely a Western idea. Therefore, let us pray with diligence for those who are distant from us because in this era, the era in which Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world, let us who do not suffer the threat of death and terror pray unceasingly for those who do. In catholicity, we are one church, and as one church we are truly catholic.


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