At Christ Church we embrace and celebrate the reality that our Church is both Catholic and Reformed. As the Protestant Reformers liked to call themselves, we are reformed Catholics. And of these two words, Catholic, as the Reformation scholar Gordon Rupp once said, is the “more enduring term.” Every week as we meet to worship the living God together, we confess with the Apostles’ Creed that we believe in the Catholic Church, and by extension, we affirm that we are faithful Catholics.
It’s become customary in modern times to identify the word “Catholic” exclusively with the Roman Church. But the argument of the early Anglican Reformers demonstrates the error of using this word in such a restrictive way. Catholic means universal, something far bigger, far wider, and far deeper than the local assembly in which we find ourselves at any given point. Bishop John Jewel, one of the great English Reformers and architects of the Anglican Church, writes:
We believe there is one Church of God, and that not as formerly amongst the Jews, limited to some one corner or Kingdom; but that it is Catholick and Universal, and spread over the face of the whole earth; that there is now no nation which can justly complain that it is excluded, and cannot belong to the Church and people of God.
Since the word Catholic is such a compelling descriptor for the whole people of God—a community that transcends geographical and cultural boundaries—it is a mistake to limit this rich and helpful word to the Church of Rome. When we proclaim that we believe in and belong to the Catholic Church, we are affirming the sweeping power of God to save a vast and diverse multitude through the death and resurrection of his Son, Jesus Christ: God’s saving actions are far larger and far more extensive than we can possibly comprehend. In our worship services, we don’t confess our belief in an Anglican Church, or a Presbyterian Church, or a Baptist Church: we confess our belief in the Catholic Church.
We won’t find the word Catholic in the Bible, but it was used very early by significant leaders in the Church. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the earliest of the Church Fathers, writes, “Wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” And when we read about the martyrdom of the Apostle John’s disciple, Polycarp, in the Epistle of the Church at Smyrna, we read: “…to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place.” This very early usage, and its consistent usage thereafter, is why the English Reformers (as with the Reformers on the Continent) never hesitated to understand themselves as true Catholics: those who through the grace of God in Christ have become part of this Alma Mater, this nourishing Mother. In fact, John Calvin, the great French Reformer in Geneva, when urging his readers to cherish the Catholic Church, refers directly to St Cyprian’s treatise, On the Unity of the Catholic Church, where Cyprian writes: “You cannot have God for your Father unless you have the church for your Mother.” Accordingly, Calvin is bold to say, “…away from her bosom one cannot hope for any forgiveness of sins or any salvation.” The Protestant Reformers were glad and joyful Catholics.
Alexander Nowell, an important catechist in the English Reformation, writes in his classic catechism that when we profess our belief in the Catholic Church, we profess that “a great number and infinite multitude of godly persons, gathered out of all the countries of the world…and all ages of all times, by the strength and power of his holy word and voice, and by the divine motion of his heavenly Spirit, is by God incorporated into this Church as into his own city.”
For those who trust in Christ, the Catholic Church becomes their native city. What a wonderful thing, what a good thing, and what a gracious thing to declare each week with our brothers and sisters around the globe and across time that God, in his inestimable love for us, has planted us in a city, a city that will never end, nor ever be destroyed, and that one day we will see, face to face, a dear family in Christ, a multitude beyond number that has been confessing in hope from the very beginning: I believe in the holy Catholic Church.
At Christ Church Kelowna, we invite you to become unashamed, joyful, and faithful Catholics as God opens your heart and mind more and more to the wonder and goodness of his Gospel, and as he reveals to you, in the Person of his Son, gracious glimpses of what he has in store for those who love him.
Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. World without end. Amen.