The Holy Catholic Church
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation, and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.”- Revelation 5:9–10
Today we resume our study of the biblical doctrines summarized in the Heidelberg Catechism. We are in question and answer 54 of the catechism, which exposits the portion of the Apostles’ Creed in which we confess our belief in “the holy catholic church.” This affirmation is not one of allegiance to the pope or Roman Catholic theology. The term catholic simply means “universal.”
Although we find ourselves in a world filled with many Christian denominations and individual congregations, we believe in a church that is much bigger than any one of these entities. There is a universal church that is not defined by geographical boundaries, ethnicity, social class, manuals of church order, or any other such factor. Instead, the church universal — the catholic church — includes everyone who trusts in Christ alone for salvation, no matter who they are or where they live. Ultimately, there is but one church, and it includes everyone who is united to Christ Jesus by faith alone. As the Apostle Paul reveals in Ephesians 4:4–6, “There is one body and one Spirit … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.”
Revelation 5:9–10 is a key proof text for our belief in the church universal, for it tells us that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, has with His blood “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” God’s kingdom excludes no nationality but welcomes all who repent of their sins and trust in the King of this kingdom. In fact, since today’s passage tells us Christ has already purchased people from every nation and ethnicity, we know that our mission is not complete until the Christian community includes every tribe and tongue in its “membership roster.” The church’s task is to make disciples of all nations (Matt. 28:18–20).
The catholic, or universal, church is the realization of our Lord’s plan for His creation. Through His old covenant prophets, the Holy Spirit foretold a day when the nations would worship the God of Israel (Ps. 22:27; Isa. 19:16–25; Zech. 14:16–19). As the church grows to include all peoples, this prophecy is being fulfilled.
The existence of the church is not a “plan b” that God turned to when “plan a” did not work out. Instead, the church is the goal toward which the Lord has been working from the beginning. A church made up of people from all around the world is a fulfillment of prophecy and a striking proof of the truth of Scripture. When tempted to discouragement, we should look at the church’s growth throughout history as a proof that the Lord is working out His plan.
Passages for Further Study