I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
This is the final clause of the ancient confession of faith which is commonly known as the Apostles’ Creed. It is the earliest complete confession of the Christian faith, and is generally supposed to have originated with the questions asked at baptism: Do you believe in. . . ?
The word catholic in this final clause is a source of embarrassment and confusion to many sincere and devout Christians who do not wish to appear to be confessing a faith in the Roman Catholic Church. This is not what the word means. Catholic means to be universally applicable. The Christian faith, in its pure and original form, is applicable and pertinent to people of every nation, kindred and tongue, in every age. Thus, the early believers thought it fitting to describe it as catholic.
We know that in the course of time the Christian faith became the preferred religion of the Roman Empire, which led the bishop of Rome to claim preeminence over all Christian churches throughout the Empire and throughout the world. Thus was born the Roman Catholic Church, a church that could claim to be catholic, but which was never very holy. This was where our Anabaptist forefathers refused to take their orders from the bishop of Rome and his minions, and began to suffer persecution because of this refusal.
In recent generations Anabaptist and Mennonite people have developed an aversion to the term catholic. For that reason the last clause of the Apostles’ Creed in the English translation of the Martyrs Mirror has the phrase “the holy general Christian church.” Maybe I’m nitpicking, but I find the term general to be so general in meaning as to not give much clue as to what it might mean in this context. I prefer catholic, so long as it is understood in its original meaning.
Catholic, when spelled with an upper case C, and Catholicism, are commonly understood to refer to the doctrine and practices of the Roman Catholic Church. When spelled with a lower case c, catholic and catholicity refer to the quality of being universally applicable.
I suppose what I am getting at with all this, is to remind myself, and hopefully my readers, that the pure, unadulterated Christian faith is truly holy and catholic. It appeared at a specific moment in history, among people of a unique ethnicity, culture and language, but it was never meant to remain a prisoner of that ethnicity, culture and language. Or any other. It is the only remedy for the very real spiritual needs and aspirations of all people, of every age, nation, culture and language.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent (Acts 17:30).