Summary: The church of Jesus Christ is catholic, i.e. "universal". All of every age, race, and station stand in need of the means of grace which it alone supplies.
The most misunderstood part of the Apostle’s Creed is the phrase we are considering today. I have had sincere people tell me that they do not repeat this part of the creed because they think that it means the Roman Catholic Church, and if they had wanted to be Catholics they would have joined that church. But the word “catholic” means universal. We believe in a holy church, and one which is universal, that is to say, one which is world-wide in its reach. It is the church for every race, nation, and culture. There is no one who cannot belong to it. It is not for some small select group of people, it is for everyone. It is not just for just a privileged few in a particular corner of the globe or era of history. It is for all people, in all places, of all time. It is for the educated and the unlearned. It is for the rich person and the beggar. It is for the ancients and the moderns, the young and the old. It is for the American, the African, the Asian, the Russian, the Israeli and the Iranian alike. The Church of Christ encompasses and embraces every part of the human family.
You can belong to it today. But it is bigger than the United Methodist Church. It is bigger than the Roman Catholic Church, the Episcopalians, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and all of the other denominations put together. We stand with our hands joined with Abraham and Paul, and every person in all time, from every nation who has loved God and walked with him. We belong to the family of the redeemed in whatever time they lived, and from whatever land they have come. We have something in common far greater than ethnic background, or our place in time, as history sees it. I serve the same God, I read the same words from the same Scriptures, and feel the same inspiration that millions before me have felt and known. The same moral principles by which they ordered their lives are the ones which I follow, even though I live thousands of years later or thousands of miles away. I do not know some of these people, and yet I am closer to them than I am many people with whom I have a regular acquaintance.
We are a part of the redeemed of the ages. God has touched our lives in the same way no matter whether we live in the city or the country; whether we are black or white, young or old, Spanish or Asian, from Babylon or Brooklyn. We have a common experience of forgiveness and regeneration. We have a common heritage and a common destiny, and someday we will exist together as a common community of the blessed in the eternal kingdom of God here on earth. It is a Kingdom that destroys all distinctions and creates a family out of all the beautiful mixture and background of the people of God.
There will be those there who will have been forgiven much, and those whose sins were not as great, but all of whom realized their need of a Savior. The only ones not found there will be the proud and the unrepentant — those who did not recognize the lordship of Christ, and who would rather follow their own ideas and desires than to follow God. Missing will be those who found it too much trouble to bother with God and obey him. Outside will be those who neither served God nor loved him. The only qualification for entering the Kingdom is the willingness to submit your life to him. Other than that, the family of God includes any person from any time and from any place in the world. It is the catholic church — the universal church.
One Sunday in a little church somewhere in the world two Jews paid a visit. It was a beautiful church with paintings and statues of biblical and historical figures. In one special corner was a statue of Joseph, Mary and the child Jesus, of which the church was exceptionally proud. But this particular morning they were upset at the appearance of these unusual visitors. The pastor got up and said, “Will all those who are not members of the congregation please leave.” The Jewish visitors sat in silence. “Will all those wearing hats please leave,” intoned the pastor. Still no movement from those wearing their skull caps. In desperation the pastor finally said, “Will all Jews please leave!” With that the statue of Joseph turned to Mary and said, “Come on Mary, get the kid and let’s get out of here!”
In the true church no one is asked to leave. The reason this phrase was included in the Apostle’s Creed is that in the beginning the Jews thought they were the only people who could belong to God — that only Jews could be Christians. Since Jesus was a Jew and worked primarily among his own people, the first Christians were all Jews and naturally saw Jesus as the Jewish Messiah — the fulfillment of the faith God had given them down through the years as a nation. It was a completely new idea to them to realize that Jesus died for all mankind, that he was the Messiah of the world, not just the Jews.