One distinction is important to make right off the bat. This is NOT referring to the Roman Catholic Church. The distinction that is usually made is between the capital “C” Catholic Church and the lower case “c” catholic Church. We are speaking of the lowercase “c” catholic Church. Catholic just means “universal.” This is not a claim to Universalism. That is something different. To say the Church is universal is to say “in keeping with the whole.” In this regard, Micheal F. Bird claims that an independent church is an oxymoron. For, “one cannot be ‘independent’ of other churches any more than one can be independent of Christ” (Bird, 200).
To claim the Church is catholic is to claim that the Church is bigger than anyone expression of it in time or space. The confession of catholicity is a universal expression of the oneness of the Church. The Church is not a Church. The Church is every church of faithful confessing Christians who have ever lived from Pentecost to the Parousia. Because of this, we should always be weary of those who claim to be capable of speaking for the entire Church. By nature of the great cloud of witnesses (Heb. 12:1) from every nation, tribe, and tongue (Rev. 7:9) the Church has spoken and is speaking for herself.
The Apostles’ Creed rightly confesses “I Believe in the communion of saints.” As one of my professors used to say, “Communion is a death defying meal.” When we meet Christ at the table of his body and blood we are also meeting all who are a part of that body. Transubstantiation in the sense that the bread and wine become the literal body and blood of Christ is a bit much for me personally. Transubstantiation in the sense that we become what we eat at the communion table – the body of Christ – that is more believable to me. As we feast on the body of Christ, we join the body of Christ and in that moment are connected to everyone who ever has been and ever will be a member of the Church: past, present, and future (more on the Eucharist in a later post).
From the beginning of the Church, she was to become a global phenomenon (Acts 1:8). From the beginning the Church could serve her Husband, Christ, without being bound to a particular cultural expression, gender, race, ethnicity, or social status (Acts 15; Gal. 3:28; Rev. 7:9). The Church is the Church wherever Christ is present and serving His bride. To claim the Church is one is to claim her unity despite her great diversity. To claim the Church is catholic is to claim her diversity despite her unity.
For further research:
What Christians Ought to Believe: An Introduction to Christian Doctrine Through the Apostles’ Creed. By Micheal F. Bird. Purchase here.