When we say, “I believe in the holy catholic Church,” we are not talking about the Roman Catholic Church, and we do not mean that we put our faith in any church. Our faith is in God and in God alone.
Roman Catholics believe and teach that the “true” catholic church is recognizable because of a supposed unbroken succession of popes, beginning with the Apostle Peter and proceeding on down to Pope Francis. But the Bible teaches nothing like this.
We don’t recognize the true Church based on a white robe and a man’s audacious claim to possess God’s authority. We recognize the true Church based on what it believes, teaches, and does; and the only standard we can use for recognizing these things is the Bible.
The true holy catholic Church is what it is because it believes God’s Word and is under the authority of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Church itself holds a shared authority with Scripture and that the meaning of Scripture is dependent on the Church’s interpretation of it. But this is a lie. God’s Word stands for eternity apart from any man’s interpretation of it. The Apostle Peter Himself said so.
So what is the “holy catholic Church”?
The word “catholic” simply means universal, or comprehensive. The holy catholic Church consists of all God’s people, which He has set apart and is still setting apart from the world, throughout the entire whole world, and throughout all of history. The catholic Church consists of saints from every period of history, before and after the coming of Christ. And it consists of saints from every tribe, tongue, and nation, as well as saints from many different local churches and many different denominations. (By the way, “saints” does not mean super-righteous people who have obtained a special status of holiness; it’s a word which applies to anyone who has placed their faith in Jesus and whom God has set apart from the world—which is to say, made holy.)
The Church is God’s temple because it is the place where God dwells and makes His presence known on the earth.
The Church is Christ’s body because it accomplishes the work of Jesus’ kingdom as His hands and feet on earth.
The Church is Christ’s bride because Jesus loves her, so much in fact that He gave up His own life for her, to purify her and make her holy.
We believe that the Holy Spirit works through this holy catholic Church. The Holy Spirit is perfect and infallible, but the Church is not. She makes many mistakes and has to be corrected and disciplined by her Lord until He comes again to finish the work He began in her.