Thursday, August 27, 2009

What is 'church'?

Both the Anglican (Episcopal) Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America denominations have faced some internal strife in the past several months concerning openly homosexual clergy. Certain governing bodies within each of the denominations have voted to allow openly gay members to serve as pastors or even as bishops within their respective denominations. Obviously, this has caused an uproar among the more traditionally minded members. Some of those concerned Christians have begun seeking other denominational bodies with which to associate. Whole parishes or even whole dioceses are seeking to realign themselves with other factions within their own Protestant tradition.

This is really nothing new, of course. There are already a plethora of churches and denominations within Protestantism which have broken ties with one group and then merged with another, only to sometimes undo that association and move on to yet another body of Christians. Within Protestantism the lines that separate one sect from another are not always distinct nor are they solidly fixed. There is a constant splintering and realignment within Protestantism that begs the question: What is “church”?


Most Protestants (and I use that term loosely to include most non-Catholic Christians who would associate themselves with the teachings of the Protestant Reformers) describe “church” in very vague terms. The most common response I get when I ask non-Catholics this question goes something like this: “The ‘church’ is the invisible body of believers here on earth. It is all those who believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and died for our sins.” That’s a rather vague definition, but it does fit the rather vague delineations and constant shape-shifting that one sees among Protestants. I suppose it shows consistency.

I have also asked non-Catholics whether I might be included in that vague ‘church,’ since I as a Catholic believe in Jesus and in what He did for us. And the answers are mixed. Some say yes, because my belief in that simple formula of faith is enough. Others say no, because my other beliefs as a Catholic are superstitious and even idolatrous. Once again, ‘church’ is not clearly defined.

And again, I have asked Protestants why they find it necessary to associate with one another within denominations if all that is really required to be ‘church’ is a vague belief in Jesus. Why have a Lutheran Church Missouri Synod that is distinct from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and why are these Lutheran sects then separate from Anglicans, Baptists and so on, who also have their divisions. If all we need is a belief in Jesus and THERE is the Church, then why are there so many churches?

“Well, these are the various ‘traditions’ within Protestantism,” I am told. “Different men and women have read Scripture and discovered different ways to live out the Gospel Truth.” ….Hmmm, sounds an awful lot like the “traditions of men.” Catholics get that one pounded over our heads quite frequently. (But Catholics only accept ONE Tradition; anyone who wants to read the Bible and come up with their own tradition can go join the Protestant fold.)

And so the questions continue: What about these differing methods of governing the churches – councils, synods, congregationalism? What about bishops – why do some have them and others do not? What about the role of the laity – why do some play an active role in determining doctrine and others do not? What about the sacraments – how many are there, what significance do they have, what do they do for us?

So then, finally I must ask my Protestant friends: why is it that Jesus did not clearly define the Church? What guide do we have from Jesus to show us what teachings are correct?

“Well, the BIBLE, of course. The New Testament gives us a description of the Church and what it should look like.”

So I search the pages of Scripture to see what it is that Jesus literally said on this matter. Strangely, He never said to the Apostles, “I will command some among you to write a New Testament, and this will teach you how to form a Church. From this you will form various denominations and associate with fellow Christians within these differing traditions.” No. He did not leave it up to us to go thumbing through the Bible to find out how to do this thing called “church.” He did not intend for us to form thousands of separate churches that squabble over doctrinal and moral issues and perpetually realign themselves as doctrines change.

Rather than allow such confusion and vagueness when it comes to the question of “church,” Jesus established, once and for all, a single Church, when He said, “…on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18-19)

A Church with this authority to “bind and loose” could never be questioned on matters of faith and morals. Such a Church, established by Jesus Himself, could never be viewed as an optional ‘tradition of men’ added on after the fact. A Church that can withstand the “gates of Hell” could never be a wishy-washy, vague denomination or an invisible, undefined throng, who disagree on doctrine and meet in separate houses of worship. A house divided against itself cannot stand…how could the Protestant vision of ‘church’ stand up to the very gates of Hell?

The head of the Anglican Communion has suggested a solution to the problem of ordained homosexual clergy. He suggests that two distinct bodies of Anglicans could co-exist within one larger denomination. One group can maintain the traditional view, that open homosexuality is a sin and objectively disordered and thus precludes one from ordination. The other group could accept homosexuality as a valid expression of Christian sexuality and so allow gays into the priesthood and episcopal office. It seems to me that this only temporarily puts off an inevitable schism. How can one church believe two opposing things regarding such a serious sin and ordination? How can anyone endorse the idea of a house divided against itself, and call it the Christian “Church”?

But then again…Isn’t that the foundation of Protestantism – Christianity torn by schism, first from Catholicism and then from one another? Haven’t Protestants always, on the one hand, defended their diversity of belief, yet on the other, ripped apart their houses of worship and shattered their unity because of the diversity they so loudly proclaim?

Is this God’s plan for His Church?

17 comments:

  1. When Christ speaks of his church (and much more lengthy and descriptive than how you interpret MATT 16), he refers to it as a pure woman, and himself as the bride groom. The parable of the wise and foolish virgins, the marriage feast, the texts in revelation etc etc..He also speaks in the beatitudes about non denominationalism.
    Matt 5:2
    2and he began to teach them saying:
    3"Blessed are the poor in spirit,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
    4Blessed are those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.
    5Blessed are the meek,
    for they will inherit the earth.
    6Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled.
    7Blessed are the merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.
    8Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.
    9Blessed are the peacemakers,
    for they will be called sons of God.
    10Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    On earth we humans seem to organise for harmony and accomplishing a specific task or focus.
    God only sees black and white. You are saved or lost, you are in the "church" or not etc.

    Even in your Matt account, how soon does Christ go from telling Peter he is part of building a growing Christian church to telling him a mere 4 verses later, "Jesus turned and said to Peter, "Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men."

    That section in Matt is not the best foundation to start a church on after all which admonition from Christ came last? People fall into error when they establish doctrine on such fleeting passages. Its called proof-texting or cherry picking.

    None of the issues you relate the protestants dealing with have escaped the Catholic Church either. Just as much bad history, current struggles and political concerns plague the Catholic Church as any other and how could it be otherwise when the wheat and the tares are intermixed till the end?

    Even in acts it says the believers grouped together. It doesnt say the formed a church or joined Peters denomination.

    As to if you might be in the "church". It is entirely possible! God promises that everyone will have a chance to know/hear the truth and even if they do not, He knows what a person would decide if they did here the truth. He discribes it in the beatitudes.


    That said, in all of Christs descriptions and parables the woman is not part of any other institution. Not only that but Christ also said that the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest so no affiliation with any church will save you.

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  2. Michael,
    Your comments appear below, followed by my responses...

    “When Christ speaks of his church (and much more lengthy and descriptive than how you interpret MATT 16), he refers to it as a pure woman, and himself as the bride groom.”
    Yes. And Paul writes of the Church as being a “Body” – and that there ought not be division – it is a unified Body of believers. Jesus prays in John’s Gospel that all believers should be ONE as He and the father are ONE. And Paul says that we are to follow the “tradition” that he (Paul) handed down. He speaks of ONE tradition, not many “traditions.” He warns against breaking into factions.
    So a single Bride, that is described as one Body, which adheres to one Tradition, is hardly what we find in Protestantism.

    “He also speaks in the beatitudes about non denominationalism.”
    Interesting…To say that the beatitudes is a discourse on “non denominationalism” is an awfully BROAD interpretation. I think you are reading an awful lot into the passage.

    “God only sees black and white. You are saved or lost, you are in the ‘church’ or not etc.”
    You say that humans have invented church denominations to get done what we need to get done. You say that humans “organize for harmony and accomplishing a specific task or focus.” But God sees things in black and white. But aren’t we doing GOD’s work? If Jesus established a “Church” (and He used the singular, not the plural), then why do we need to break into smaller “churches”? If we are doing God’s work, then why are we not doing it the way Jesus established things?
    We need to explore what Jesus meant when He established His Church. We need to ask, if God sees things in black and white, then why don’t we have doctrines that are ‘black and white’ and not simply a matter of opinion? If God thinks in terms of black and white, then which church transmits doctrine the way God would have it? Protestants leave many things unanswered. It seems that there is no “black and white” in Protestantism – it is all up for questioning. That doesn’t seem to fit God’s pattern of ‘black and white’ as you describe it.

    “Even in your Matt account, how soon does Christ go from telling Peter he is part of building a growing Christian church to telling him a mere 4 verses later, ‘Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’”
    True. And I have told you in other conversations that members of the Church are not free from sin. Even leaders of the Church can fail or even fall away. That makes it all the more important that Jesus established an institution which will be protected from the sin of individual members. Among Protestants, so much rides on the individual. Each person interprets for him or her self. Since we are all capable of sin and error (as Peter demonstrates), how can we be sure that we interpret correctly? Just look at all the Bible-based churches out there that claim to teach the Bible Truth (as interpreted by their founders of course), and yet they all teach something different.
    Jesus also said to Peter “I give to you the keys…” to loose and bind. He uses the singular pronoun “you” which refers specifically to Peter. How can Peter have this power to loose and bind on earth and heaven, unless God also offers some kind of protection from error against Peter’s personal imperfections? Later Jesus gives the same power to the other Apostles together, as a group. This is the formation of a teaching authority which established a defined hierarchy within an institutional Church (not all are Apostles, not all are prophets, not all are teachers…) – this is not a loose, undefined rabble of people who have some indistinct notion of Jesus as a great teacher and go off to form their own “churches” – No, Jesus gave His Apostles a real and binding authority over the Church. This is to protect it against the errors of individuals. Any group that breaks away from this Church is denying what Jesus did when He spoke these words to Peter.

    (Continued...)

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  3. “That section in Matt is not the best foundation to start a church on after all which admonition from Christ came last? People fall into error when they establish doctrine on such fleeting passages. Its called proof-texting or cherry picking.”
    The passage I cited says specifically that Jesus established a Church, and that He gave Peter the authority to bind and loose, and that Peter’s authority will be recognized in heaven. Is that not the best text to cite when trying to find out what Church Jesus established? Yet you cite the “beatitudes” as a proof text for non-denominationalism? Please explain your reasons for saying this. And who is “cherry picking”? I think my passage supports my point more clearly than yours does.

    “None of the issues you relate the protestants dealing with have escaped the Catholic Church either. Just as much bad history, current struggles and political concerns plague the Catholic Church as any other and how could it be otherwise when the wheat and the tares are intermixed till the end?”
    I agree that Catholics often disagree and struggle over issues and even doctrine. But I don’t think you can say that the Catholic Church is divided the way Protestants are. There are literally thousands of separate churches that claim to be Bible-churches, and they disagree on very fundamental doctrines. When it comes to dogmatic teachings there really is no question about where the Catholic Church stands. Certainly the wheat and the tares grow up together (and I think this passage can be applied to sin as well as doctrine), but in the end there is really no question that there is ONE Catholic Church but MANY Protestant churches.

    “Even in acts it says the believers grouped together. It doesn’t say the formed a church or joined Peters denomination.”
    Catholics group together too…it is called parishes, dioceses, deaneries, etc. But we remain ONE CHURCH.
    Incidentally, I reject the notion of a “denominationalism.” There is but ONE Church…God’s Church. That is why I usually refer to “the Church” rather than “the Roman Catholic Church” – Catholic theologians would reject the notion that a single “name” be the primary defining feature of God’s Church. There are many “names” we can call the Church (Body of Christ, People of God, etc…), all of which describe what is usually referred to as the “Catholic Church.” The name is simply an easy reference tool to make distinctions between other Christian groups. Also there are legal reasons in the modern world which make it necessary to “name” a church in an official way.)
    Anyway…the early Christians would not have seen Peter as heading a “denomination” – there was but ONE Church (one “Body,” as Paul puts it) and you are either in or out (very “black and white” – just as God intended it). Division and strife and denominationalism came later, with heresy and false teaching…eventually Protestantism, which caused the greatest rupture in Western Christianity.
    More to your point, I would point out that Peter did speak on behalf of the early Church. He often took the lead among the Apostles, even while Jesus was yet alive. Peter’s response to Jesus in the Matthew passage above is a great example of this…and Jesus says that the Father revealed the truth to Peter. Peter is then given the symbolic “keys” (no other Apostle received these) and a special authority to loose and bind unique to him. Even Paul went to visit Cephas (Peter) and the others to confer with them before he began preaching. There is a distinct order within the early Church. It was not a loose collection of groups. People knew who had the authority and where they had gotten that authority.

    (Continued...)

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  5. “…Christ also said that the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest so no affiliation with any church will save you.”
    You’ll have to give me some specific verses to support what Jesus says about not belonging to a specific group.

    Jesus said that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. Protestants seem to have a lot of trouble defining “Truth.” Since Jesus is the Truth, I think we need to do a better job of defining it, if we are to be authentically Christian. The Truth ought to be a foundational principle of Christianity.
    Search the Bible and see where we should go to find the very foundation of Truth? - - Answer: “…the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the Truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
    If the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth, then we ought to look to the Church (the foundation of Truth) for guidance. Which church do we go to? A loose collection of believers who teach different doctrines? That’s a rather shaky foundation. Maybe instead we should go to the Church built on the Rock (Peter)…a church with the authority to loose and bind…that seems more credible and more stable to me.

    Thomas

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  6. I'll try and answer as concise as possible.
    Thomas said...
    “…Christ also said that the wheat and the tares grow together until the harvest so no affiliation with any church will save you.”
    You’ll have to give me some specific verses to support what Jesus says about not belonging to a specific group."
    To use your own mind set. A "tare" in the Catholic Church will not be saved any more than a tare in any other church. His affiliation with a "church" will not save him. Clear?

    "Incidentally, I reject the notion of a “denominationalism.” There is but ONE Church…God’s Church. That is why I usually refer to “the Church” rather than “the Roman Catholic Church”

    I also agree. How could it be any other way since tares and wheat grow together in many different fields? Jesus said I have sheep not of this fold John 10:26. That would contradict your characterization of the RC as the one "fold". That makes the true classification to be those within these different folds, who are also not tares, his true church. In that way Christs church is invisible mixed among the different faiths and churches.
    Further how could a Shepard of one fold bind or loose sheep in folds he doesn't even know about? I am not disputing what Christ said or how it works, only your assumption that only the RC has that ability.
    In that way Christs church is invisible mixed among the different faiths and churches.

    As to the RC being more together as compared to protestants. The RC has many divisions. Why are their Jesuits, Benedictines, Greek orthodox and all other Catholic orders/sects? Why isn't everyone just Catholic? Same difference.

    As to the beatitudes. Described are a set of individual principals, not a tradition or a "church". Nothing you can hold a membership in.

    “…the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the Truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
    Household is not an institutional description but a relational one. Your understanding and perspective you see scripture through is one of infrastructure organizational structure and hereditary title.
    Rather Jewish in its characterization of who is in "authority".

    I dont answer for all protestants. And I agree that many of them have flawed understandings that in many cases are holdovers of their split with Catholicism.

    Differences over the Eucharist and the sacraments for example.

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  7. Sorry this is so long, Michael, but I wish to give a thorough response...

    Michael: “To use your own mind set. A ‘tare’ in the Catholic Church will not be saved any more than a tare in any other church. His affiliation with a ‘church’ will not save him. Clear?”
    In this parable of the wheat and the tares, Christ says that within the Church there will be less than perfect examples of Christian living – people who fall short of their calling to live out the Gospel in their lives. These “tares” will grow side-by-side with the “wheat” – those who bear good fruit for the Kingdom.
    This does not mean that there is more than one “church.” It could mean that within the one Church there are both sinners and saints – tares and wheat. This is a moral question rather than a doctrinal or ecclesial or even denominational question.

    Michael: “Jesus said I have sheep not of this fold John 10:26. That would contradict your characterization of the RC as the one ‘fold.’”
    Jesus spoke this to the Jews before the formation of the Church at Pentecost and before the spreading of the Gospel message to the Gentiles. Jesus came first to the Jews and then His message spread to the Gentiles, especially through Paul. When He says that He has sheep not of this fold, it could be that Israel and the Jews are the “fold” to which He refers, and the Gentiles are not of this “fold.” Jesus is announcing that the Church will be for both Jews and Gentiles.

    Michael: “Christ’s church is invisible mixed among the different faiths and churches.”
    Now, I would agree that Christ’s Church is both visible and invisible. It is in-visibly represented by all believers to a greater or lesser extent depending on how much they hold correct doctrine and on how they obey Christ’s commands, especially to love one another. But it is VISIBLY made manifest to us in the Catholic Church. Its teaching is most fully represented by the Catholic Church. In that way I could accept that the Church is invisible, but only if it is also clearly stated that it has a visible, hierarchical, institutional structure as well.
    In other words, those who hold some piece of True Christian doctrine may have some share in the in-visible Church, but unless they are in union with the Catholic Church, they are separated from the visible Body, the Church.
    Protestantism over-emphasizes the invisible nature of the Church, but neglects the visible authority based on Apostolic Succession of bishops. They are thus in a state of schism from the institution that Christ founded.

    Michael: “Further how could a Shepard of one fold bind or loose sheep in folds he doesn't even know about? I am not disputing what Christ said or how it works, only your assumption that only the RC has that ability.”
    The pope and the bishops have this power to bind and loose from Christ Himself. They exercise this authority within the visible, hierarchical Church. He gives them the power to do this as a gift from Holy Spirit. They bind and loose over the flock that is entrusted to them as bishops. They know the flock for which they are responsible because Christ gave them the visible Church over which to govern. Those who are in communion with the Catholic Church owe their obedience to this visible authority established by Jesus. On the other hand, those who separate themselves from Christ’s one fold (i.e. Protestants) must search their own conscience and decide if their situation ought to be remedied. If they decide to join the One Church, then they too owe their obedience to Christ’s appointed shepherds. If they remain in a separated state, then it is up to God’s mercy to sort out their salvation.

    (Continued...)

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  8. Michael: “As to the RC being more together as compared to protestants. The RC has many divisions. Why are their Jesuits, Benedictines, Greek orthodox and all other Catholic orders/sects? Why isn't everyone just Catholic? Same difference.”
    As I said before, Catholics do separate into groups such as parishes, dioceses, deaneries…and I would include religious orders (Benedictines, Jesuits, etc.) and there are other divisions as well. The thing that unites us in all of these groups is that we all accept one set of teachings – we accept the dogmas and doctrines as taught by the bishops in communion with the Bishop of Rome. We ARE all CATHOLIC. We all acknowledge the authority that Christ gave His one Church. We are many parts, but one body. We are not divided into different Catholic denominations the way Protestants are.
    Protestants have divisions that are far deeper and that cause real schism. Benedictines and Dominicans, for instance, did not separate from the Church because they had some doctrinal dispute. They are NOT separate from the Church but are included within it. They did not form separate denominations the way Protestant churches do. Likewise, separate dioceses within the Catholic Church are not divided on doctrine or out of some schism. We accept the same teachings and we acknowledge the same authority within the Church. The division of power within the ONE Catholic Church is not the same thing as the division over issues of faith in the MANY Protestant churches.
    (Also I would note that the “Greek Orthodox” churches (which you mention) are not a part of the Catholic Church. They reject the authority of Rome and so they are not simply a division with the Church, they are a separate sect, like Protestants.)

    Let me give you an example of how these divisions within Catholicism are different than Protestant divisions: If I shop at Walmart, I may go to the shoe department for shoes, or the housewares department for my home needs, or electronics for a TV. These are different divisions within Walmart…but it is still the same store. Similar divisions are also natural in the Church. You go to your parish church for Sunday Mass, but you go to the Franciscans for missionary work – but its all within the ONE Church. That’s why Paul says that not all are Apostles, not all are prophets, or teachers, etc. - there are many parts, but all one Body. It is still one Church – believing the same doctrine.
    Now if I went to Walmart for shoes and then went to Kmart for a TV, and then tried to say that they are the same store, that would be closer to what Protestants say about the Church. Among Protestants, there is a vagueness about the term “church.” As long as we are “kind-of-sort-of” trying to do similar things out their in the realm of religion, then we are one “church” under different names. But in practice this does not work (just try to take something back to Kmart and show them a Walmart receipt).
    The reality of Protestantism is that one “church” may believe that infants can be validly baptized (which some Protestants do) while other “churches” would reject this doctrine. But the bottom line is: BOTH cannot be TRUE at the same time. If it is TRUTH that we are ultimately after, and the Church is the pillar and foundation of Truth, then we cannot say that two churches are the same CHURCH if they teach to opposing TRUTHS.

    Michael: “As to the beatitudes…”
    The beatitudes are an important set of moral precepts. I hope all Christians, no matter the denomination, follow the beatitudes, as they should follow all of Christ’s teachings. But the beatitudes do not instruct us specifically on what is meant by “church.”

    (Continued...)

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  9. Michael: “’…the household of God, which is the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the Truth.’ (1 Timothy 3:15)…Household is not an institutional description but a relational one. Your understanding and perspective you see scripture through is one of infrastructure organizational structure and hereditary title.”
    I will accept “infrastructural” and “organizational” as descriptions of the Church, but I reject “hereditary.” One of the reasons Catholic priests do not marry (as a general rule) is because “heredity” is not what makes a man a priest. That was part of the Old Law.
    I do insist though that the True Church, as established by Jesus, is “organizational” and it is “hierarchical” (a more precise term) and this is reflected in the way the Bible describes the ordering of the Church with Bishops, Deacons and other structural offices. And that Paul instructs Christians to obey their leaders. Also we can explore the writings of the ancient Christians to see just how structural it was even in the First Century. There is no question that the Church has always had a defined hierarchy.
    I agree with you that it is also “relational” – we become members of a household, when we become adopted sons and daughters of God. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. Which points out the sad reality of Protestantism: The schism that was caused by Protestantism is akin to divorce or a separation among the family…it is not something that we should call a “natural order” to Christianity the way Protestants claim. There is nothing “normal” or divinely prescribed in the great rift that is between Christian denominations. If Christianity is meant to be “relational,” (and I think you are right in saying that) then we ought to insist that the divisions be healed; we should not excuse those divisions as though they are a part of what Jesus planned.

    Micahel: [Thomas’ Catholic view is] “Rather Jewish in its characterization of who is in ‘authority.’
    Yes it is. This is because the Church is the natural progression from the Jewish Old Law to the Christian New Law. There is a definite connection between the two. God is consistent in the way He reveals Himself to us. He uses the Old Law and builds upon it a New Testament Church with a New Law that is the fulfillment of the Old. We can draw many parallels between the two (such as authority and hierarchy) and yet there are many differences as well (such as: animal sacrifice has ended and the priesthood is not hereditary).

    Michael: “I dont answer for all protestants. And I agree that many of them have flawed understandings that in many cases are holdovers of their split with Catholicism. Differences over the Eucharist and the sacraments for example.”
    I don’t expect you to answer for all of these differences. But when Protestants takes the position that all Christians are members of the same “church” then it implies that there is a commonality that quite simply does not exist. In effect, Protestants want to have it both ways…They want to say, “We are all one church.” But they also what to say, “I don’t answer for all Protestants.”
    If you disagree with one denomination’s teaching on the Eucharist, and another denomination’s teaching on infant baptism, and yet another denomination on female ordination of the ordination of active homosexuals, then you are disagreeing about TRUTH. You are at odds with one another on the “foundation” of Truth that is supposed to be the very thing the “Household of God” agrees on. That is not ONE Church…that is many church-ES – and that is not what Christ meant to happen when He said, “…on this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”
    Continued...)

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  10. I’ll add a bit of a clarification on my position…

    I am NOT saying that ALL non-Catholics are going to hell for not being members of the Visible Church. That is up to God. I believe it is possible that they can get to heaven.

    Also I am NOT saying that ALL Catholics go to heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth. Catholics may fail to respond to their call.

    What I am saying is that Christ gave us ONE Church. Through that Church God pours out grace (especially through the Sacraments) and draws us into a deeper relationship with His Son. That one Church is the “household of God, the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of Truth.” As such the competing denominations that teach contradicting “TRUTHs” cannot ALL be right…they cannot ALL be ONE Church. They do not stand as a foundation of Truth.
    The One Church must teach ONE Truth. Since that one Church was established by Christ Himself and offers His grace through the Sacraments, it is the best means available to us for attaining salvation through God’s Grace. God gave us His Church and that is where we should go to be a part of His Household.
    If God works through other means (outside of the Catholic Church), then it is through His invisible Grace and may be attributed to the “invisible Church.” But the Truth that is found there invisibly always points back to the one reality that is the visible Church.

    Thomas

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  11. The problem is your answers are all dependant and tuned to 1AD to the present, that what you say encompasses foundational principals, were not there for over 4k years BC. There were no sacraments. There was no apostolic succession. Anything you say about structure, title, authority is all irrelevant to the individual salvic path. That's not to say God cant work through these channels too, but saying apostolic succession and Catholic tradition and the sacraments "save" someone is the only way except in rare and specific circumstances is wrong.
    The one thing that is for sure is that God has always wanted the same thing. For people to love him and each other. On this hang ALL THE LAW and the prophets. Matt 22:40
    This existed for 4k years before all Catholic traditions and canonical law was ever dreamt up by man.

    "Now, I would agree that Christ’s Church is both visible and invisible. ..... But it is VISIBLY made manifest to us in the Catholic Church. Its teaching is most fully represented by the Catholic Church."
    I have often wondered how one can make statements like that.
    How do we know that "Its teaching is most fully represented by the Catholic Church?"
    Simple. The Church says so. How convenient.
    How do we know it "is VISIBLY made manifest to us in the Catholic Church?"
    The church says so.
    How do we know the Pope is the Vicar of Christ?
    The church says so.
    What makes it say that?
    It is founded on the words of the Divine Shepherd to St. Peter: "Feed my lambs. . . . Feed my sheep" (John 21:16-17),
    So the instructions to take care of each other and continue the spread of the Gospel is translated how? Not as counsel or admonition but in Title and Position and Hierarchy. The coin of the realm in Catholic circles to this day.
    A self proclaimed title. Self proclaimed position. Show us one book that says that in the bible. How about Peter writing a book of the bible? Not 1. Still years after Peter was dead they interpreted it as suited the new leadership.
    Vicar of Christ
    A title of the pope implying his supreme and universal primacy, both of honour and of jurisdiction, over the Church of Christ.
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15403b.htm

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  12. http://www.newadvent.org/bible/mat016.htm#vrs18

    Look at the Catholic encyclopedias discription of Christs simple admonition to feed his lambs and sheep. Not as instruction or admonition but of Rank and Position and Title.
    "... That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
    23 words translated into hundreds.
    Look also at the account of Christs rebuke of the new seconds old "Pope" a mere 4 verses later.
    23 Who turning, said to Peter: Go behind me, Satan, thou art a scandal unto me: because thou savourest not the things that are of God, but the things that are of men.
    Look also at that amplification where it says; "but the Lord said to Peter, verse 23, Go behind me, Satan. These words may signify, Begone from me; but the holy Fathers expound them otherwise, that is, come after me, or follow me;"
    So what the clear meaning of get away from me means according to the infallible Pope is actually come to me. Amazing.

    A funny part here too.
    "The words of Christ to Peter, spoken in the vulgar language of the Jews which our Lord made use of"
    So hebrew is vulgar huh?

    The foundational truths you have laid out as if they all came from Peter is wrong too.

    Even binding and loosing being a papal ability wasnt their until Innocent III claimed it in the 1100's.

    Innocent III appeals for his power to remove bishops to the fact that he is Vicar of Christ (cap. "Inter corporalia", 2, "De trans. ep."). He also declares that Christ has given such power only to His Vicar Peter and his successors (cap. "Quanto", 3, ibid.), and states that it is the Roman Pontiff who is "the successor of Peter and the Vicar of Jesus Christ" (cap. "Licet", 4, ibid.).
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/15403b.htm

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  13. Michael: “The problem is your answers are all dependant and tuned to 1AD to the present, that what you say encompasses foundational principals, were not there for over 4k years BC…”
    Thomas: If that is my problem then it is also Jesus’ problem. There was no Christian “church” until Jesus “built” His Church on the “rock,” and that happened in the First Century. If you are saying that the Church is irrelevant because it was not established until after Jesus came, then you have an issue with Jesus Himself, with the timing of His arrival and the mission He came to accomplish. I can’t help you there. God’s ways are not our ways.

    Michael: “The one thing that is for sure is that God has always wanted the same thing. For people to love him and each other.”
    Thomas: Agreed! And just as the Jewish Law (with all of its details and obligations) were meant to re-enforce that idea, so too is Canon Law (with all of its details and obligations) as they are based on the New Covenant. The Law hangs on these two precepts (to love God, and to love neighbor): that does not mean that the Law is null and void, it does not mean we can chuck it all and just have a love-fest; it means that when you practice the Law (Old or in our case, New) you must keep in mind what is behind the Law…which is LOVE. That should motivate you in your obedience to God.
    While Jesus had critical things to say about the Old Law and how the Pharisees rigidly applied it, notice too that the Christians still allowed Jewish circumcision among the Jewish converts and they observed other tenets of the Old Law, as long as they kept in mind God’s command to love and that it all comes through God’s grace, which stands behind the Law. There is no reason to deny the Law (Paul did not advocate this) or to say that Jesus came too late and that His Church is irrelevant. It is just important to put these things into a perspective of Love.

    Michael: “How do we know that ‘Its teaching is most fully represented by the Catholic Church?’”
    Thomas: Study history. Discover what the first Christians believed. Trace those teachings from the First Century, to the Second, to the Third, and so on. Compare what you find to what all the churches teach today. See which church is truly in line with historical Christianity. You’ll find that the Catholic Church most closely matches those teachings…the other churches show an obvious break from the First Century Church.
    Otherwise, as you say, it is just one church’s word against another. If you ignore history then of course, what I say is meaningless. I don’t expect you to believe me “because the Catholic Church said so.” But history shows us that the Catholic Church is the only church that continues to teach as the first Christians believed.

    Continued...

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  14. Michael: “Look at the Catholic encyclopedias discription of Christs simple admonition to feed his lambs and sheep…23 words translated into hundreds.”
    Thomas: The same could be said of any church’s interpretation of any passage of Scripture. How many gallons of ink have been used in defending Sola Scriptura? How many times have you seen non-Catholic books and articles written to describe the meaning of a passage? How many thousands of words are used by Protestants to defend there own interpretation of the very passage we are discussing? What about “faith alone” – There is only one place in all the Bible where those words are found together, James 2:24…”You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Yet the Protestant Reformers were determined to prove that “faith alone” is what saves you. They used many, many words to do this. Martin Luther even added the word “alone” into some of Paul’s writings in his own translations, and then called for the book of James to be removed from the Bible. I find that far more reprehensible than for a Scripture scholar (Catholic or otherwise) to spend some time explaining his interpretation with a reasoned argument.
    Just because hundreds of words are used to explain a Scriptural passage, or whole books are written to prove an interpretation is correct, does not mean that the scholarship is wrong. If that is true, then everything you have ever written to me is meaningless, every sermon you have ever heard preached that opens up the meaning of Scripture was just wasted words. Using a hundred words to explain 23 Biblical words cannot be objected to, unless you would like to retract every word you have written here.
    Using our own words to defend an interpretation is perfectly acceptable no matter what denomination one belongs to.

    Michael: “Look also at the account of Christs rebuke of the new seconds old ‘Pope’ a mere 4 verses later. These words may signify, Begone from me; but the holy Fathers expound them otherwise, that is, come after me, or follow me…Amazing”
    Thomas: (First of all Peter was not yet “pope” – the Church would be established AFTER the Resurrection, with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Notice, Jesus says, “I will build my church…” - future tense. After the Spirit came, Peter was prepared to lead.)
    Anyway…it is “amazing” how Jesus came to save sinners. Jesus was often rebuked by the Pharisees for calling sinners to Himself – He sought them out and called them to Him. Tax collectors, prostitutes, and other sinners got behind Him and followed Him. I realize this may seem puzzling to you, but then I guess Jesus knew what He was doing, since Peter obviously repented of his sin. And after his re-commitment to the faith, Jesus then called Peter to care for his “lambs.” (Are you saying that when Jesus said “get behind me” Jesus wanted Peter to leave and not come back? Why did Jesus then also ask Peter to strengthen his brothers, Luke 22:32? How could Peter do this if Jesus wanted him to leave?)
    Notice too that the passage where the risen Christ calls on Peter three times to shepherd his flock ends with “Follow me!” (John 21:15-19) That’s a beautiful way to parallel the other passage. “Get behind me” and then “Follow me!” You are a “satan” to me, and then you are my appointed shepherd, “feed my lambs.” It turns the whole thing on its head…but then that’s what Jesus did in a lot of ways.
    We could spend some time discussing this further, but my main point is that Biblical interpretation requires that we spend a lot of our own words talking about Scripture, and it can be quite enlightening if we don’t blow it off as “wasted words.”

    Continued...

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  16. Michael: “A funny part here too. ‘The words of Christ to Peter, spoken in the vulgar language of the Jews which our Lord made use of’ So hebrew is vulgar huh?”
    Thomas: Just to clarify…“Vulgar” is a technical term that means “common” or “ordinary” – from the Latin “vulgate.” Apparently the words spoken by Jesus in this passage were in the common language of the Jews at that time. Vulgar does not mean what you think it means when you are reading a scholarly work such as this. Apparently textual studies (from ancient manuscripts, etc.) show that the passage here has a structure that suggests it is a direct quote from the actual vulgate(vulgar) words spoken by Jesus, not a mere Greek interpretation laid down by the original author. This adds a certain authenticity to the text and can help in interpreting, as well as dating the work.

    Michael: “The foundational truths you have laid out as if they all came from Peter is wrong too. Even binding and loosing being a papal ability wasnt their until Innocent III claimed it in the 1100's.”
    Thomas: The concepts are there in Scripture and Tradition from the beginning. The passage I cited clearly states that Jesus promised that the Apostles (and Peter specifically) would “bind and loose.” The concept was present in its infancy even in the First Century…but it certainly developed as time went on.
    Likewise, we could point out that the books of the Bible were not all present in one volume in the First Century. That did not happen until the Fourth. And the Trinity took time to work out…there were disputes for hundreds of years. With regard to the Trinity we could look specifically at disagreements on the precise nature of Jesus as “God-and-man.” The terminology and the precise details of this belief did not emerge for many generations.
    This is called “development of doctrine.” We see it in the New Testament when the Apostles met to discuss whether non-Jews can enter the Church and if so under what conditions. Part of the power to “loose and bind” involves making doctrinal decisions such as these which move forward our understanding of God’s Revelation.
    The fact that certain declarations were made in later centuries to clarify a doctrine does not contradict Catholic teaching. That is what the Catholic Church has always taught would happen. In fact, it only proves that a power to “loose and bind” is necessary in the Church. As doctrine develops we must have an authority to sort out Truth from falsehood. (Was Jesus God? Was He man? What is Scripture telling us about these things? Who can rightly interpret?) Without a proper authority (ordained by God) you have the chaos that is found in Protestantism, where there is no teaching authority and people believe conflicting doctrines.

    Thomas

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  17. Final Note: On the assertion of papal authority in later centuries, after Peter...

    I am currently reading a book on the “Church and State” in early Christianity. The book details the shaping of church-state relations from the First Century through to the Medieval period. As the popes worked out their precise role during this time, it became necessary to assert their authority against that of “state” powers, such as the naming of bishops, the clarification of doctrines, the calling of councils, etc. The popes were concerned with combating the power of kings and emperors influencing church matters.

    Now, in the East many churches fell victim to this state-influence. (This is largely why the Orthodox churches, which broke with Rome, are so closely identified with their nation of origin – Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, etc. They were aligned politically with their kings, czars, and so on) The Catholic Church was protected from this church-state confusion by asserting the authority of the Roman bishop over the whole Church..and even over kings and other rulers. This kept local bishops from being unduly influenced by local state officials...they had to answer to the pope, not to a king.

    Obviously, corruption did enter the picture. Bishops are human and do give into the temptation of power. But the papacy at least established a mechanism by which this corruption can be counteracted. A local bishop can be reprimanded by papal decree. The assertion of papal authority can trump any state power that might attempt to wield influence. Kings and emperors were told in no uncertain terms, that, unlike the Eastern churches, the Catholic Church will maintain its claim to independence.

    When you read about Innocent III, or any other pope who makes claims to authority, you may want to check the historical context to see what kind of abuses the popes were trying to counteract. I'm not saying that there were not other abuses that entered the picture as well - the Catholic Church is not immune to this...But the assertion of papal authority at least protected the Catholic Church from doctrinal confusion and it kept the Church united even when political forces tore apart the Orthodox as well as the Protestant churches.

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