By Stephen W. Hiemstra
Does this phrase, the Holy Catholic Church, mean that we are all Catholic?
The Westminster Confession of faith writes that: “The catholic or universal church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head.” (PCUSA 1999, 6.140) The universal church includes the elect of the church through the ages, and is invisible in that only God himself knows their identity. The visible church, which we can observe, consists of those elected and those not elected by God. Jesus’ parable of the sower makes this point by talking about wheat and the weeds (tares): “Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” (Matt 13:30)
The elect are holy—set apart—by God for reasons that God alone understands. Catholic means we are united in diversity (catholic with a small “c”); it does not mean that we are all Roman Catholic (Catholic with a big “C”).
The doctrine of election is a necessary condition for the sovereignty of God to have any real meaning. God created us and Christ redeemed us before we were born, which implies that we cannot earn our creation and redemption (Eph 2:1–10). Our total dependence on God for salvation becomes obvious when we truly acknowledge and grieve the sin in our lives. Although our inclination to sin has been passed down from Adam and Eve, we also actively sin for ourselves. It is like our spiritual ancestors chose to live in enemy territory, and we grew up living there speaking the local dialect .
So, none of us have earned our creation or our redemption. The gift of faith is both free and priceless. The mystery of election is that we do not know who is saved or why. Jesus simply said: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27)
Our task is to spread the Good News, to pray for the lost, and to trust that God is good, just, and always honors his promises.
 The effect of this personal sin becomes most obvious when we have children of our own and experience first-hand how our sin and brokenness impacts them.
Presbyterian Church in the United States of America (PC USA). 1999. The Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)—Part I: Book of Confession. Louisville, KY: Office of the General Assembly.
Holy Catholic Church
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