This is the third article in a series discussing why the “four marks” of the true church don’t apply to the Catholic Church. According to the Catholic Church, the four marks of the true church are that it is “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.” We are here addressing the third mark (“catholic”) and will demonstrate that the term does not relate to the Catholic Church in the sense that they believe it does.
The term “catholic” (meaning “universal”) was not originally intended to be the name of a denomination as it is today, but it was more a description of the church in terms of its doctrine, its mission, and certain ordinances, like water baptism and the Lord’s Supper. In that sense, the early church was universal.
By the way, it is almost redundant (repetitive) to say that the church is both “one” and “universal.” The two terms seem to overlap to some degree. But anyway, when it comes to doctrine, the Catholic Church is not as universal in its teachings as it claims to be, since there are many internal arguments and divisions within her. See Part 1 of this series:
But the Catholic Church does have a measure of “universal-ness” in some of the things they do and teach, and they do have a billion or so members. Ok, what if it’s true that the Catholic Church is found in more places in the world than any other church? So what? That’s not necessarily a good thing. We’ve already established in Part 1 of this series that belonging to the biggest church around can be spiritually dangerous! (Matthew 7:13-14)
“The word ‘catholic’ means ‘universal,’ in the sense of ‘according to the totality’ or ‘in keeping with the whole.’ The Church is catholic in a double sense:
First, the Church is catholic because Christ is present in her. "Where there is Christ Jesus, there is the Catholic Church." In her subsists the fullness of Christ's body united with its head; this implies that she receives from him "the fullness of the means of salvation" which he has willed: correct and complete confession of faith, full sacramental life, and ordained ministry in apostolic succession. The Church was, in this fundamental sense, catholic on the day of Pentecost and will always be so until the day of the Parousia.” (CCC #830)
Once again, we can see the inflated view that the Catholic Church has of itself. But let’s put this in simpler terms. Supposedly, the first reason that the Catholic Church is catholic / universal is because “Christ is present in her.” Ok, assuming this is true (and this is an assumption that we would deny), how does this make the Catholic different from any other Christian? Isn’t Christ present in ALL Christians? Having Him present in you doesn’t make you a special kind of Christian, nor does it make you “more universal” than other Christians. It just makes you a Christian. Jesus does put His same Spirit in all Christians, but this goes far beyond the borders of any label / denomination.
Also, according to the catechism, the Catholic Church has supposedly received “the fullness of the means of salvation.” Fullness? Does this mean that non-Catholic Christians are not as “fully saved” as Catholics? They make it sound as though salvation is some sort of complicated process that only a certain organization can offer. But try telling that to the repentant thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43), or the publican in the temple (Luke 18:9-14), or the Philippian jailer (Acts 16:30-31). They would all disagree with that idea.
Furthermore, the whole false premise that the Catholic Church is operating under is that they are the church that Jesus established. But, in fact, they aren’t. This is the same circular (and faulty) reasoning that we mentioned in Part 2. See here:
The Catechism continues:
“All men are called to belong to the new People of God. This People, therefore, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and to all ages in order that the design of God's will may be fulfilled: he made human nature one in the beginning and has decreed that all his children who were scattered should be finally gathered together as one. . . . The character of universality which adorns the People of God is a gift from the Lord himself whereby the Catholic Church ceaselessly and efficaciously seeks for the return of all humanity and all its goods, under Christ the Head in the unity of his Spirit.” (CCC #831)
The second reason the Catholic Church is supposedly universal seems to be because of the “Great Commission” (of spreading the gospel) given to all followers of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20). But this is not at all exclusive to the Catholic Church. So what makes them different? How are they better or “more universal” than any other church (who, in fact, may be doing a better job of spreading the gospel than the Catholic Church does)?
It is true that there is universality in Him (Jesus), but the question is, are Catholics “in Him” to start with? Can a church with so many false doctrines claim to be His true church? Note that many of this church’s “universal” teachings are not traceable back to the apostles, as they would have us believe (we will speak more about this in Part 4). But making great claims about being “universal” becomes absolutely irrelevant if you are not teaching what Jesus and the apostles taught.
The modern Catholic Church usurps the term “catholic” for itself and claims to have this “universal-ness” in its fullness. But if a group wants to claim to be universal, they should at least be universal on THE TRUTH. It is for this reason that the “Catholic Church” does not even live up to its own title.
But the true church of Jesus Christ (which includes all true believers around the world) is indeed universal in its mission of spreading the gospel (good news). But the gospel of the Catholic Church is not one of good news, because it consists of a works-based salvation. Theirs is not the gospel found in the New Testament. It is another gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), and she is depriving her members of the grace and true freedom that are in Christ Jesus (Galatians 5:1).
See these links for more on the role of works in the Christian’s life: