In his book, After Our Likeness, Miroslav Volf lays out perhaps the most rigorous and well-articulated vision for an ecumenical Free Church ecclesiology that I have ever yet encountered. In his discussion of the catholicity of the church, he makes a couple of helpful observations. He notes first of all that “the church is catholic because the fullness of salvation is realized within it.” What makes the church catholic is the fact that she embodies the fullness of God’s redemption in the world. However, it is important to qualify this definition on the basis of the eschatological nature of salvation. Catholicity, like “all other fundamental soteriological and ecclesiological statements in the New Testament can be understood properly only within a comprehensive eschatological framework.” Thus, our understanding of catholicity must be understood in light of our understanding of the eschatological redemption of God, of the nature of the new creation which is God’s future for the world.
Thus, Volf defines catholicity as “the ecclesial dimension of the eschatological fullness of salvation for the entirety of created reality.” Thus, for a church to be catholic, it must bear within itself the fullness of salvation as appropriate to the eschatological state of the church in the world. Given that redemption is not consummated yet, catholicity is always a partial and incomplete reality in the life of the church. “If the Spirit of God is present in the church only as the firstfruits of the still outstanding new creation, then each church can be only partially catholic.” So, then there is no such thing as a perfect or totalized realization of the church’s catholicity within history. Rather “within history, each church is catholic insofar as it always reflects its full eschatological catholicity historically only in a broken fashion. This is why no church can claim full catholicity for itself.” (pp. 266-268)