March 23, 2008 Q & A

The Apostles' Creed


I attended my first Presbyterian service on Saturday night. Of which branch or denomination of the Presbyterian Church I attended, I am not sure. At the end of the service, the pastor asked the congregation to recite "The Apostles Creed." It sounded great until the part about believing in the Holy Catholic Church. Why was this in the passage? I don't understand. I appreciate any help you can give me.


Thank you for your question. Relax. The Apostles' Creed refers to "the holy catholic church" (notice "catholic" spelled with a small "c"). That is different from the Roman Catholic Church (notice the capital "C"), which claims to be the only true church since it claims a direct descent of popes from the Apostle Peter to the present pope.

Of course, their claim is not historical. But this ancient ecumenical creed (the Apostles' Creed) uses "catholic" in its original Greek meaning -- "according to the whole." The meaning of that phrase in The Apostles' Creed is "the true body of believers over all the earth." Similarly, the Nicene Creed confesses "one holy catholic and apostolic church," which is far better. And that creed was written before what is now called the Roman Catholic Church, though not by the apostles themselves.

And Presbyterians, along with many other Protestant churches, have the biblical understanding of succession. I am an Orthodox Presbyterian minister. My ministerial credentials do not depend on ordination on a long chain of ministers leading back the apostles, or as I like to say with tongue in cheek, "laying fat fingers on bald heads."

The catholicity of historical Protestant claims depends on adherence to apostolic doctrine. And that apostolic doctrine is found in the Word of God, especially the New Testament Scriptures which claim Holy Spirit inspiration and infallibility. That does not mean that we downplay the Old Testament, since those Scriptures prepare for the coming of Christ, the Messiah, and the New Testament reveals Christ come and the establishment of the present order. The New Testament was written either by Christ's apostles or those associated with the original apostles, making the Bible from Genesis to Revelation the Word of God. And "catholic" is a good word, in spite of the fact that the Roman Catholics have usurped it to support their doctrine of salvation by works.

Just another word of difference between Protestants and the Church of Rome. Protestantism holds Scripture to be supreme over the church. Even to join the church, and as well to become a minister, I had to affirm the Bible to be "the Word of God, the only infallible rule of faith and practice." Rome places the Church (particularly the Pope and his Cardinals) to be over the Bible, that is, whatever the Bible says, the Church, through its councils and the Papacy, give the correct and only true interpretation of the Bible.

That was a long answer. But sometimes one word needs a long interpretation. I hope you have the answer that quiets your mind as to "the holy catholic church." Please feel free to come back with further questions.



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