A second thing we confess about the Church in the Apostles' Creed is that the Church is Catholic. Many Protestants change this word to "Christian" when they confess their faith using the Creed. They do this because they do not want to be associated with the Roman Catholic Church. The problem with this is that the words "Christian" and "Catholic" do not have the same meaning. "Catholic" means universal. When we confess our faith in the Catholic Church we are saying that we believe in the existence of one, universal Church throughout the world that consists of all believers in Jesus.
Notice that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians not only to the Church of God in Corinth, but also to "all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ--their Lord and ours." The Church is Catholic because it embraces Christians everywhere whether they be Orthodox, Roman Catholic, or whatever shade of Protestant.
Many people today say they believe in the universal Church, but they often do so without identifying themselves with a particular local congregation. However, I think there is a problem with this. Notice again that Paul wrote to the Church of God at Corinth. When people became Jesus followers in the first century they became part of an identifiable body of believers in a particular place. They joined together with other believers for worship Sunday by Sunday. That is what we see throughout the book of Acts. The same should be true about Christians today. The moment we put our faith in Jesus we become part of a body, part of a family. Trying to live the Christian life while cutting oneself off from the body, from the family, is to make one's Christianity virtually impossible to live. Cutting off a finger, a toe, an arm, or a leg, gouging out an eye, slicing off an ear: these are not usually the methods we use to make a body healthier. We need all parts of the Body of Christ functioning together in order for that Body to be healthy. That is why the writer to the Hebrews urges us, "Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another--and all the more as you see the Day approaching." (Hebrews 10:25)
This is not to day that identifying oneself with a local congregation does not present difficulties. Here is what C. S. Lewis had to say about this through the mouth of the devil, Screwtape....
One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans. All your patient sees is the half-finished, sham Gothic erection on the new building estate.... When he gets to his pew and looks around him he sees just that selection of his neighbours whom he has hitherto avoided.... Work hard, then, on the disappointment or anticlimax which is certainly coming to the patient during his first few weeks as a churchman.Then in another one of his letters to his young tempter nephew Wormwood, Screwtape says:
If a man can't be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that "suits" him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.Committing oneself to membership and active participation in a local church is difficult at times. Yes, the church is full of hypocrites, and at times I have been one of them. But here's the thing: the Church is kind of like Noah's Ark. I believe that dealing with the stench inside is far better than drowning in the flood outside.