What I find truly ironic is denominations saying that they are not in “full communion” with this or that church, or that they do not recognize this or that church, and yet, they assemble in their own churches each week and confess their faith in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
The fact seems to be that most denominations only give lip service to this article in the creed when they are supposed to during worship and then spend the rest of the time expressing their faith that the church is anything but one, holy, catholic and apostolic.
One: This has to do with the unity of the Church — a church that has many forms and denominations may still have a unity of mission and purpose. This means that we all agree to work together for the mission of the Church which is to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ (notice I said “communicate” and not “preach”). We need to put the mission of the whole church above the wants, traditions, and teachings of any particular expression of it.
Holy: This has to do with the Church’s distinctiveness. To be holy is not to be imbued with special or magical stuff; it is to be distinct or separated from what is common. Things that are holy are kept separate from things that are not. The holiness of the Church has to do with the character of the Church being in the world but not of the world.
Catholic: This comes from καθολικός (catholicos), which was most likely derived from the phrase καθ’ ὅλου( kath’ holou), which means “according to the whole.” The catholic Church is what the WHOLE Church has always believed and taught in all places and in all times. Old Catholics believe that these teachings are derived from Holy Scripture, Holy Tradition, and the Seven Ecumenical Councils. When the Church split in 1054 and then again during the Reformation, it became impossible for any new doctrines to be established for the WHOLE Church since Ecumenical Councils became impossible. This means that particular denominations have the right to establish doctrine for themselves, they do not have the right to set up doctrines for the WHOLE Church, and differences of doctrine should not be used as a means to separate denominations or particular churches from one another. Until such time as the WHOLE Church comes together to settle the issues of new doctrines, the point of view of each particular church must be “We have come to understand this thing in this way, but we accept that you do not, and we acknowledge your right to see it differently and still be ONE with us in mission.”
Apostolic: This can mean two things. Catholics believe that the churches they have are the churches passed down to them from the Apostles. The idea of Apostolic Succession is that Christ ordained Apostles, and the Apostles taught and ordained their successors, who are the bishops. So for Catholics, “apostolic” means an episcopal structure that can be traced back (at least in theory) to the Twelve Apostles. Protestants tend to reject this idea. Apostolic Succession aside, the place of agreement between Catholics and Protestants is the meaning of the word “apostolic.” Apostolic means “sent out” and more than that, it is “sent out with the authority of the sender.” So to say that the Church is apostolic is to say that the church is sent out into this world with the authority of the one who sends it (Jesus Christ, who Himself was sent out by God the Father with His authority). Therefore, to claim that the church is apostolic is to claim that the mission of the church is not for itself, but for the world. The church does not exist for itself, but for the world.
The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is a Church that is sent out into the world with a unified mission to communicate the Good News of Jesus Christ; it does this by being in the world but not of the world; and it teaches everything that Christ has taught the Church wherever it goes. To be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic is for the Church in all its forms and denominations to go out into the world and make disciples from all nations, teaching them to observe everything that Christ has taught it, baptizing them, and knowing that whenever two or three are gathered in the name of Jesus Christ, then He is there with them.
The Old Catholic Church understands itself and its relationship with other denominations as one, holy, catholic and apostolic in the following way:
a. All persons who have received a Trinitarian baptism are by virtue of that baptism Christians and disciples of Christ.
b. All persons who have received a Trinitarian baptism and adhere to the ancient Catholic faith as expressed by the Nicene Creed are Catholics.
c. All persons who adhere to the full Catholic faith as received by the church until the Schism of A.D. 1054 are Old Catholics, in the fullness of the Catholic faith.
d. All Christians holding the fullness of the Catholic and Apostolic faith, regardless of their church affiliation, are regarded as being in communion with us, and may be received in fellowship and admitted to the sacraments, and receive pastoral care.
It is far from a perfect expression of unity, but it is inclusive of other denominations, and it does offer a starting point to discuss the difference between being “Christian” and being “Catholic’ as well as the difference between being “Catholic” and being “Old Catholic.” Most Christian churches and denominations in our view are Catholic in that they accept the Nicene Creed and have received a baptism in the Trinitarian formula. Being Catholic has nothing to do with being united with the Bishop of Rome – that only makes you a type of Catholic (Roman).
So the point of all this (if there is one) is that The Old Catholic Church does not consider itself to be more “Catholic” or “Christian” than any other denomination. We are an expression of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. We accept the validity and even the equality of other Christian denominations and even consider most Protestant denominations to be validly “Catholic” as well as catholic. The Old Catholic Church does not preach against any other denomination or church, but seeks full communion with them all, even when they refuse to accept that we are in full communion with them because for us, to be “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic” is to be inclusive, loving, accepting, and tolerant, accepting our joint mission with others as the ONE CHURCH, even if that ONE CHURCH exists in many forms.