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November 17, 2023: "One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church"

When I was a young United Methodist pastor, I came across several hymnals in the church I then served in which the word “catholic” was crossed out in the Apostle’s Creed and the word “universal” had been scrawled. The word “catholic” conveys a specific meaning that needs to be recovered and taught by the Church. For when we say “catholic” we indeed do point to the universal Church. But what constitutes being a part of that Church?

I’ll start with a related question: which denominations are Christian? That question always stirs up controversy. There are sects who hold beliefs that are heretical, some denying the incarnation, the atonement, or the resurrection of our Lord. Other sects have additional writings that supersede scripture. Meanwhile, there are other denominations originally founded on a firm foundation of faith that have departed that faith once held so dear. Of the denominations or sects which understand themselves as Christian, there is real controversy if that is true. So, what constitutes being a Christian?

This is not a new question. In 434 AD, St. Vincent of Lerins wrote in his Commonitorium that the catholic Church must take care to uphold “that faith which has been believed everywhere, always, by all.” When we confess “one holy catholic and apostolic Church,” this is what we mean. Our age is deeply offended by anathemas, but without defining the boundaries of catholic faith, heresy is allowed free reign. To be catholic is not to believe just anything, but to believe the faith once received, that faith handed down by our Lord through His Apostles.

I am a “catholic.” I am not a Roman Catholic. I am not an Anglo-Catholic. It is not a matter of being “high church” or “low church.” I hold to the catholic faith. Others who might never use the word, “catholic”— may even be offended by the word —are catholic, nevertheless, if they hold to the same faith serving the same Lord. It is true that the catholic Church has differing beliefs on non-essential matters, but these doctrines must never break communion; it is our Lord’s Church.

I am held accountable to preach and teach the catholic faith. We find in our congregation many who have come into our church because of our unwavering adherence to the catholic faith and the liberty we extend in nonessential doctrines. Saint Timothy’s is made up of those from diverse faith traditions: Episcopal, Church of Christ, Methodist, Presbyterian, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Baptist, and non-denominational. At the center is the catholicity described by one of the greatest Anglican Bishops and an editor of the King James Bible, Lancelot Andrewes:

“One canon reduced to writing by God himself, two testaments, three creeds, four general councils, five centuries, and the series of Fathers in that period – the centuries that is, before Constantine, and two after, determine the boundary of our faith.”


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