“Catholic” simply means the universal church of Christ Jesus, which consists of all believers in him from every time and place. All people throughout the ages who have placed their faith in Christ Jesus for salvation from sin and death are members of his universal (that is, catholic) church.
When saying the Apostles’ Creed, which is an historical, concise, and biblical summary of the Christian faith, we state that we believe in “the holy catholic church.” What does this mean?
For Christians who are unfamiliar with the Apostles’ Creed, what often comes to mind is the Roman Catholic Church, but this would be an incorrect interpretation of of the meaning of the word “catholic.”
The Heidelberg Catechism, first published in 1563, is a highly regarded summary of the Christian faith. A portion of the Heidelberg Catechism is an explanation of the Apostles’ Creed, which begins each section with the words, “I believe.” In question and answer 54, the Heidelberg Catechism asks what we believe concerning “the holy catholic church”:
Q. What do you believe concerning “the holy catholic church”?
A. I believe that the Son of God through his Spirit and Word, out of the entire human race, from the beginning of the world to its end, gathers, protects, and preserves for himself a community chosen for eternal life and united in true faith. And of this community I am and always will be a living member.”
—The Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 54.