I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.
He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and life everlasting.
Credo in Deum Patrem omnipotentem, Creatorem caeli et terrae,
et in Iesum Christum, Filium Eius unicum, Dominum nostrum,
qui conceptus est de Spiritu Sancto, natus ex Maria Virgine,
passus sub Pontio Pilato, crucifixus, mortuus, et sepultus,
descendit ad ínferos, tertia die resurrexit a mortuis,
ascendit ad caelos, sedet ad dexteram Patris omnipotentis,
inde venturus est iudicare vivos et mortuos.
Credo in Spiritum Sanctum,
sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam, sanctorum communionem,
The part of the Apostle's Creed I would like to focus on is the part that says "sanctam Ecclesiam catholicam" or "holy Catholic Church". I contest centuries ago, before the so-called Protestant "Reformation" (it hardly reformed anything but rather caused schism and heresy), Christians since the formulation of the Apostle's Creed (and Nicea) correctly understood which Church they were professing belief in. For there were two bodies of believers before the Reformation. The Apostolic Church consisting of the Western Roman and Eastern Greek Churches, and the heretics consisting of Arians, Donatism, Gnostics, Marcionism, Montanism, etc. For more ancient heresies of Christianity visit here.
Before the division of Christians during and after the "Reformation", Catholics and Orthodox Christians who recited the Creeds understood the "holy Catholic Church" to be the same Church as those who had written the statement of faith. And they were correct in their thinking. Pre-"Reformation" all Christians, whether from the East or West, outside of the heretics, were all in an Apostolic body that was unified in faith, practice, and leadership. They understood that their Metropolitan Bishop's succession to the See could be traced back to the Apostles and Early Church Bishops. It was a very concrete thing and it did not take much mental power to comprehend this reality. Since the thousands of denominations that have sprung up since the "Reformation", this is still not the case outside of Catholicism and Orthodoxy.
The Protestant mindset when analyzing the Apostle's and Nicean Creeds are only half way there to the full understanding of the Catholic/Orthodox belief at the words "holy Catholic Church". The Protestant will say, and I have a pretty good idea since I used to have this same mindset out of ignorance, that when he/she says "I believe in the holy catholic Church" they are not referring to any particular "denomination", but rather all the "true believers" who have professed Jesus as Lord and Savior. These "true believers" could not possibly be counted since they can be at any place and time in the world. I take this belief to be very abstract and it doesn't sound like much to believe in...personally an invisible body of believers gives me little comfort. This ideal hardly fulfills the Lord's words when he says his followers are to be as obvious as a light on a hill (Matt. 5:14).
Thinking about this more thoroughly, I'd say there are other conclusions a Protestant can come to with "holy Catholic Church". Although, they certainly would never say it's the "Roman" Church. The die-hard fundamentalist could believe their denomination, though created some man in the last few centuries, truly is the church spoken of in the Creed. This type of believer insists all other Christian expressions are incorrect and their particular "church" was doctrinally right in its founding, thus it can be the church spoken of in the Creeds (Baptists come to mind here). Another Protestant believer might say their denomination branched off of an Apostolic Church at some point, so it can trace it's lineage back to this Church spoken of in the early Creeds.
I find both, and indeed all of these theories, to be problematic. The "branch-theory" could not work in the case of Protestantism. The reason the Orthodox are properly and rightly considered Apostolic and true Churches is because they maintained the priesthood, the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the 7 Sacraments, Liturgical worship, hierarchy, etc. The true Apostolic faith minus their acceptance of the Pope as having universal jurisdictional authority. The Protestant's completely threw away the Apostolic faith and adopted a new set of beliefs, some of which were condemned in the past. So, for a Protestant to claim the "branch theory" would liken to a member of an ancient heretical cult claiming they too are true Catholic or Orthodox Christians. It's not logical nor reasonable.
Secondly, for a person, such as a Baptist, to think their denomination (usually as ridged as their individual congregational church) is correct and all other expressions are in error, they would have to show historically how their beliefs today can be found throughout all of Christianity's history. They would need to back up their theology using the Early Church Fathers, Councils, Creeds, and Scripture of course. Any honest person will tell you that at some point, all Protestant denominations, and even those non-denominational denominations, can find their origins in a person who was once Catholic and left the Church to start his own version of Christianity (Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, King Henry VIII, Thomas Cramner, John Knox, etc.). For a belief like this to hold would mean Christians for nearly two thousand years were in error, possibly damning error, and Christians were "lost" for all this time until Calvin or Luther or Rick Warren came onto the scene to lead people to the correct beliefs. I find no logic in this and frankly appalling. I don't buy into this "Remnant" belief some extreme Fundamentalist Evangelicals adhere to either.
So what should an Evangelical, Non-denominational, Protestant be thinking of when they recite the words of the Creed stating belief in the "holy Catholic Church"? They should be thinking of the Catholic Church headed by the current Pope, Benedict XVI. If they think it means the invisible set of true believers in Christ, they are half way there, but not fully correct. Catholics believe too that if one is baptized in the Trinity, they are a Christian and are some how mystically connected to the physical Church Jesus established over two thousand years ago. We regret they are not in full communion with us and we pray for their return to orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
Protestants are Christians thanks to the baptism and belief in Jesus. However they are sects within Christianity and they lack many of the graces Christ intends for his children to have. They have the Scriptures, which many enjoy abusing by making themselves the sole authority on its interpretation, and they have prayer, along with Baptism and Matrimony. They severely lack the New Covenant priesthood, Eucharist, Absolution from sins through Confession, and to sum it up, the fullness of faith as promised by the Holy Spirit. I pray for their return to the Church of Christ so that Jesus' powerful prayer "may they all be one" in St. John 17 would be fulfilled.