A Progressive Christian Primer, Part 2: “The Catholic Faith”

Joel Michael Herbert
4 min readNov 15, 2023

Part 2 of my blog-before-it-becomes-a-book. Feedback welcome!

The “Catholic” Faith

One of the first words used to describe the new faith surrounding the first Jesus Movements was not “Christianity,” but “Catholic.” If you grew up in church, you may be familiar with a puzzling line in the early 2nd century “Apostles’ Creed,” which many churches read together as a regular part of their liturgies, and many evangelicals will know from the 1995 Christian artist Rich Mullins song “The Creed” and Hillsong’s well-known congregational hymn “This I Believe.” The line is this: “I believe in the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and life everlasting.”

The word catholic is an adjective meaning “universal.” In the days of the formation of the creeds (the 4th and 5th centuries), catholic began to be synonymous with “orthodox,” meaning “right belief.” To be catholic meant that you were in fellowship with the inheritors and administrators of right doctrine, namely, the Bishop of Rome. Those communities whose beliefs fell outside of catholic orthodoxy, defined by the Nicene, Athanasian and Constantinoplian Creeds, were deemed not catholic, and therefore, heretical. Eventually the word became associated with one particular Christian communion, the Roman Catholic Church, which divided in 1024 into East and West, with the East taking the moniker of “Orthodox” (capital O), and the West taking “Catholic” (capital C). Protestantism, when it came around some 500 years later, was in its theology, nevertheless, still very much “catholic” (little c), as the main streams of it (Lutheranism, Calvinism, Anglicanism, Anabaptist/Baptist) did not depart from the theology of the creeds.

But I think something deeper and very beautiful is going on with the word “catholic,” something that belies the original Jesus Movement. The original writers of the New Testament are keen on one thing- that the “gospel” (the good news of the kingdom of God) is for everyone. In other words, it is universal. Most Christians today will affirm this, but I think most of us would miss what this really means. The good news of the kingdom of God is not just available to everyone who chooses to believe certain creedal assertions about God and Christ, but is available and applicable to all people, at all times, everywhere, even those who do not believe “the right things.” The “catholic faith” does not and cannot mean “belief in orthodox…

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Joel Michael Herbert

Husband. Father. Artist. Storyteller. Armchair Theologian. Advocate, activist and politician. Gryffindor. [neuro]Divergent.