“and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains.” – Acts 9:2
“and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.” – Acts 11:26
“We found this man to be a pest; he creates dissension among Jews all over the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazoreans.” – Acts 24:5
Though it might make a few readers of this blog uncomfortable, another name for Christians that appeared very early on in the life of the faith is the name Catholic. We read in Saint Ignatius' letter to the Smyrneans, dated about 100 AD:
“Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”
I write this because through the ages Christianity has always had its temptation in size and numbers, statistics and significance. This is not simply true of the modern era but has always been a struggle. Even now within my own church body, there are some who disparage the small congregation as an embarrassment or scandal. I have personally witnessed the outrage of church experts and leaders who complain against those smaller congregations and attempt to make the people in the pews and the pastor in the pulpit feel guilty or ashamed of being small. But in the small congregation resides the fullness of the Church and this community is fully catholic -- every bit as much as one with greater numbers of even a greater number of clergy. The creed calls upon this ancient term in order to draw our attention to content, doctrine, and truth (to the Word and Sacraments) as that which defines catholicity and not size or relevance or even a particular see. Lutherans ought to be rightly offended that this terms has been co-opted from its creedal definition and the one apparent from the beginning according to St. Ignatius and has come to mean one structure, jurisdiction, and communion.