In response to the various heresies that surrounded them, the church had to articulate the universally held beliefs of the Christian faith. The church began using the word catholic to explain these universal beliefs. The word catholic is from the Greek word meaning “according to the whole.” As opposed to the teachings of the various heretical sects, the universal beliefs of the church were built on the testimony of the apostles. The word catholic was used to describe the church as set apart from the heretical groups.
the catholic church
part of the universal church
For centuries there was one, universal—catholic—church, expanding through the Roman Empire and beyond. This is our heritage as Christians. As believers, when we recite the Apostle’s Creed, we declare our belief in the “holy catholic church.” When we say this, we are not referring specifically to the Roman Catholic Church, but again to the “universal church” of Christ, all believers everywhere and through all time. Consider this for a moment as we read through these devotionals, with each day’s writings and ruminations on this history of the church: This is our story, the story of the church, through the centuries, around the world. We, here and now, are actually part of something bigger, tied to the larger story of Christ’s church.
How can we learn from those who have gone before us? How can we, as we study the church’s story, celebrate the fruit and growth, insights and victories, as well as weep over the sin and brokenness, the mistakes of the church?
structure and leadership in the church
In the New Testament we read of various roles of leadership in the church. These include bishops, elders, and deacons. Within the writings of the apostolic fathers (the generation after the first apostles), we read of the rise of the role of bishops and their key authoritative position in the church. As Ignatius wrote, “follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father.” With this structure, one bishop presided over a church or an area of churches. This became the organizational structure for the church. To this day, a number of churches have bishops in positions of authority and leadership. While not every church or denomination has bishops, certainly every one of them has leaders. Spend some time today praying for the leadership of your church.
Who has been a spiritual mother or father in your life? How has their influence shaped you?
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