In the NewsOK (an Oklahoma paper), religion columnist Andrew Tevington, a United Methodist minister, is asked the following question:
Q. I am Baptist and attended a friend’s Methodist church. During the worship service, they recited a creed that said something about “apostolic and Catholic church.” Why would they say that in a Protestant church? What does it mean? Our church doesn’t believe in any creed but Jesus.
Rev. Tevington gives a pretty good answer, defining what “catholic” means in the orignal Greek (“universal”) as well as distinguishing between apostolic churches and non-apostolic churches. However, as should be expected, his answer falls a bit short.
One thing that Rev. Tevington does not address is what the original framers of the Nicene Creed believed when they professed the Church as “catholic.” Does it refer simply to the “worldwide Christian church,” as Rev. Tevington believes?
By the time of the Council of Nicea, the term “Catholic” had already become something of a title, not just a description. Yes, the term means “universal,” but it also referred to something distinctive – a visible Church with bishops that could trace their offices back to the apostles. It did not simply refer to all who professed Christ throughout the world, but specifically to that visible organization which one joined through Baptism and maintained membership in through the reception of the Eucharist. One could know if he was a member of this Church are not – and so could others.
I am glad that non-Catholic Christians still recite the Nicene Creed, as it shows that they place a high value on the importance of correct doctrine. However, it would be better if they did not change the meaning of the words to fit later doctrinal alterations.