Not Just Another Denomination: Part 2 of 2

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Peter at the Vatican

The first part of this article tried to put denominational Christianity into proper perspective and suggested, above all, that Jesus created one, organized, visible, authoritative Church.

I also suggested that when we put aside our own cultural predispositions to denominational Christianity, that the one Church that Jesus founded seems to look like the Catholic Church as we know it today.Part two of this article explores this idea further by listing 9 objective observations we see in the Catholic Church that one would also expect to find in the Church Jesus founded.

  1. Apostolic succession – The Catholic Church is the only church that can trace its leadership directly back to the Apostles themselves in a direct line of authority.It is a matter of historical record that the line of popes is continuous from our current pope directly back to the apostle Peter, who was given the keys to the kingdom (Matt 16:19) by Jesus Christ himself.All present day bishops of the Catholic Church similarly trace their lineage back to the apostles. It is the only Church that could have possibly been founded by Jesus Christ.All other denominations were founded by some other man over a thousand years later, at least.
  2. The Bible is a Catholic book – I know that sounds scandalous to many non-Catholic Christians, but it’s true. There is no way around it. The Church existed before the Bible (Jesus founded a Church, not a book). The letters that eventually made up the canon of the Bible weren’t even finished being written until nearly the end of the 1st century. Further, nobody had an official, common canon of the New Testament until the end of the 4th century! The Church had already existed for almost 400 years without it. It was the pope and bishops of the Catholic Church, out of a growing need to clarify the confusion of which books were “inspired” and which were not, that finally discerned the official canon of the Bible. And it is that New Testament canon that all Christians use to this day. So, in other words, the authority of the Bible rests upon the authority of the Catholic Church to define its canon in the first place.
  3. It’s still here – As an organized institution, the Catholic Church has somehow survived longer than any such institution in the history of mankind. Despite the faults of its leaders (even downright corrupt ones at times) and the human members that make it up, the structure has remained stable and the original dogma uncorrupted for almost 2000 years. It saw both the rise and fall of the Roman Empire and the first landing on the moon.
  4. It’s consistent – It doesn’t change its beliefs based on what is popular or by which way the wind happens to be blowing in the present culture. The Truth certainly isn’t democratic, so why should we expect the true Church to be? While doctrine is constantly developing as the Body of Christ grows deeper in understanding God, the Catholic Church has never once contradicted old dogma with “new” dogma.
  5. It’s reasonable – The Catholic Church embraces both faith and reason. Both are necessary to approach the fullness of truth. Many “denominations” have put science and reason at odds with our Christian faith and have created a perception that Christianity is not reasonable. This could not be further from the Truth. Simply because something is beyond our reason does not mean it is unreasonable. Throughout history, the Catholic Church has been one of the biggest supporters of science, reason and the pursuit of truth in all of its forms. Even in our modern era this is true. In fact, the theory of the Big Bang was first introduced by a Catholic priest, Georges Lemaitre. That is a perfect example of the pursuit of science in harmony with the faith of the Church. Far from opposing the dogma of Christianity, science and reason have enriched it, giving a much deeper insight into the wonders of God revealed through scripture, the Church and our reasonable world.
  6. The Saints – some of the most “saintly” people to have ever walked the earth were Catholic. Being a Catholic, one doesn’t simply get the Bible and a bunch of dogma, they get to stand on the shoulders of 2000 years of the greatest theological minds and Christ-like people in the history of mankind. They get to share in the lives of those that have lived the virtues of the faith to heroic proportions.
  7. It’s universal and unified in its diversity – The Catholic Church is truly a universal Church. Not only is there something for everybody, but it includes people from every walk of life. It is arguably the most diverse institution in the world while at the same time being the most unified in its beliefs. For example, a Catholic can go to any mass in any country on any given day and still fully participate in the same celebrations as every other mass occurring on that day throughout the world – even if they don’t know the language.
  8. The earliest Christians were Catholic – Historical record didn’t disappear after the apostles died, only to return at a much later date. Study what the early Christians, the disciples of the apostles, went out and did. Read what they believed. Their beliefs were distinctly Catholic. They believed in the authority of the Church (they had no New Testament canon), baptizing infants, confessing one’s sins, losing one’s salvation through grave sin, and most especially the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist. It’s all there. These aren’t ideas that were invented by the Catholic Church at a later date. They have been there since the beginning.
  9. The Eucharist – The Catholic Church (along with the Orthodox Church) is the only church that claims to offer the actual body and blood of Christ (that the bread and wine completely change mysteriously into the body and blood of Jesus Christ) in communion. This is what Jesus did with His apostles and commanded them to do once He was gone (Luke 22:19). Where else can we fulfill what Jesus affirms when he says “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you; he who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life” (John 6:53)? You can only get that in the Catholic Church.

I’m sure I’ve missed some other good points, so feel free to share any additional thoughts you may have. But the main point of this article is to give encouragement to those that are seeking Jesus’ true Church. It absolutely exists. And it is findable.

Don’t be discouraged by the sea of “churches” out there. Don’t accept that Christianity is supposed to be denominational. Don’t assume that we must not be able to know the Truth, since there are so many “denominations” that disagree. Just take your faith and your reason and start looking. You’ll eventually find it.

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Cindy Ellis July 26, 2010 at 11:03 am

I searched my entire life for “the church” that I knew in my heart existed. It took my Catholic father-in-law’s death for me to see the way to investigate the Catholic faith. What I found was all the things you pointed out in Part 2 of your article. I believe the Catholic Church is “the church” and will do my best for the rest of my life to pass that message on to others who are questioning denominational church teachings. (We were confirmed in the Church at Easter Vigil 2009.)

“Jesus founded the Church, not the Bible” – what a powerful statement and oh so true! I am sharing this article with all of my facebook friends (Catholic & non-Catholic alike). God bless you & your blog – I read it often!

charlie September 15, 2010 at 10:35 am

Thanks for a wonderfully succinct article. How a Christian of any denomination (other than Catholic) can read this and not be prompted to question whether or not their church preaches the whole truth as taught by Christ and the apostles is beyond me. But if I were to venture a guess I could name a few reasons other than relativism,which is mentioned in the article, why they may not; money, power, apathy, fear of change etc., ). The beauty of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church is confirmed for us in scripture and sacred tradition and perpetually reaffirmed should we ever fall into doubt by the Magisterium implemented by Jesus Christ. Let us all pray that are Christian brethren will come to find the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, Amen.

Ricky Jones November 16, 2010 at 12:24 pm

Thanks again Matthew for another informative article. There are two things I think you should add in: 1) a link at the top to part one, and 2) in the part about the Eucharist Jesus specifically says “my flesh is TRUE food and my blood is TRUE drink” not a symbol as many denominations will have you believe.

I have people close to me who are tempted to leave the Church and some who have, because they don’t understand these principles of the faith. I will definitely be sharing your article with them. Sometimes as practicing Catholics we feel like these points are so obvious and clear, but a lot of people are unaware of these things, so thanks for shedding some light on this.

If “Mass is boring” that’s because you aren’t fully participating and it might take some research and study, but it’s worth it. I think many people are lazy and like to sit and listen to a preacher yelling at the top of his lungs for an hour repeating the same point over and over so that they can get it into their hard heads.

In the end if the trust that we each have in God individually and the desire to seek Him and come to know Him more intimately will guide to the “fullness of truth” in the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Praise God!

glenn lego November 16, 2010 at 8:28 pm

What is boring is to sit and listen to preachers yelling at the top of their lungs, and calling that “the anointing of the Holy Spirit!” It’s no such thing. Rather it’s just crass emotionalism. You can get that from any rock concert! I have to laugh when I hear protestant preachers yelling about “disobedience” when one of the most disobedient people who ever lived was their founder Martin Luther!

walter brietzke January 15, 2011 at 12:29 am

Love the article.
Have a comment though. We know that there is only one Church that being the Catholic Church therefore I don’t believe that it is correct to call it one of the denominations. Denominationalism is a protestant thing. It would be more correct to call them ecclesial communities so as not to confuse them with the true Church.

Bill Hobbs April 20, 2011 at 11:06 am

As a Catholic Christian, my faith is very important to me and I appreciate your overall perspective on the broken reality of Christianity. I would take exception to several elements of your argument though. We take for granted the founding of the Church and that it reflects God’s will. Proof-texting the Gospels to make that argument is a little tenuous and a legitimate assertion could be made that Jesus put forth a Way of living and his followers, after being excluded from Temple worship and the synagogues, founded the Church. I also think that there are many – Coptic Christians, Anglicans, and the Orthodox among them – that would argue the same point about the Eucharist. Catholics are by no means the only ones who believe in the Real Presence is confected in the the liturgy. Actually, I think most Orthodox would take exception to many of the positions put forth here. Unfortunately, in the “state of the Church” today, I fear that Jesus would find that we have evolved into the very type of religious institution with the same type of leaders that he railed against in his own day.

Matthew Warner April 20, 2011 at 4:59 pm

Hey Bill – I certainly understand there are some denominations who believe in the Real Presence or some form of it. The validity of such a belief and authority to hold it would be necessarily important to whether or not such a belief is true or not. Additionally, the Church has extensive writings and teachings regarding the valid apostolic succession in the Orthodox Church and its Eucharist. The Orthodox are definitely unique and would require special treatment with each of these points – I agree. But their separation from the Church is still problematic from a Catholic perspective, although I understand they certainly see it differently. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t be separated from them like we are.

But your assertion that Jesus gave us a “way” and it was His followers who founded the Church is a bit strange to me. It is clear throughout scripture that Jesus founded his Church – His bride. He even speaks about it directly on numerous occasions, including expressly communicating that HE will build His Church upon Peter. I’m not sure how you can come to the conclusion you have or to even express ambiguity about it – especially as a Catholic, as it is part of our core dogma.

Here’s a good document that covers a lot regarding the Church: A very good read.

Thanks for your thoughts!

Edwin Tazelaar, II May 20, 2011 at 10:53 am

Very interesting and enlightening with great explanation. I hope that many more people read your article and that it confirms for them that there is only one church that Jesus started. For those that are followers of other christian faiths, perhaps your article may also open their eyes as to who’s church that they are believers in… a church started by Jesus who is God, or a church started by a mortal man…

J E Friesen June 8, 2011 at 11:41 pm

Matthew,

Interesting reading. I am a Christian raised in a conservative protestant denomination, who has attended and participated in Catholic churches with my family for many years. I think that all of this ‘denominational apologetics’ – coming from all sides of the spectrum – is very distracting and detrimental to the calling of Christ and Christianity. An open heart and mind with focus and attention to the many many things that the varying Christian ‘perspectives’ have in common can lead to an appreciation of the overwhelming number of Christian beliefs that we all share — and for me the understanding that ‘one holy, catholic and apostolic Church’ means all Christians from all denominations (for lack of a better term).

Respectfully, I wish to point out a few things: 1) All Christians share in the heritage of the Christian Church from Jesus Christ through Martin Luther’s time – these would be the roots and trunk of the Christian tree. When Catholic’s of today claim that the Catholic church is the only church which can trace leadership directly back to the Apostles, or saying that the early Christians were Catholic – you are forgetting that today’s non-Catholic branches are also connected to the trunk and the roots – and you are implying that they are not.

2) Most Catholic apologetic writers which I have read make a key but hugely significant mistake – they try to quote the Catholic profession of faith as “One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church” as support for the Catholic Church as it exists today being the ‘One Church’ – yet in the official Profession of Faith for the Catholic Church- the Nicene Creed – as printed on page 9 of this year’s Breaking Bread missal – as it has for as many many years – states it as “one holy, catholic and apostolic Church”. The lack of capital letters is extremely signficant. Catholic Church leaders officially mean ‘universal’ when they say ‘catholic’ – they do not mean the Catholic church as we know it today. I think this is beautiful myself. God’s intent is right there in the Catholic missal.

3) The chain of Church leadership in our common heritage before Martin Luther includes some pretty seedy characters. Upon deep study, one might think that ‘The Church’ (there was really only one before 1520’s) had really veered away from Christ’s instruction for a few centuries. Notably, ‘The Church’s’ later leadership attempted to clean up the record a bit by deposing and excommunicating a few prior popes, but for a while our common Christian ancestors allowed the papacy and other positions of leadership within ‘The Church’ to be bought, sold and handed down like a medieval dictatorship.

4) Thus…the purpose of the protestant revolution? God’s purpose?? I don’t know – but Martin Luther’s initial objection dealt with the literal ‘selling of forgiveness’ and specifically the selling of indulgences to fund the construction of the basilica of St. Peter. Martin Luther specifically questioned “Why does the pope, whose wealth today is greater than the wealth of the richest Crassus, build the basilica of St. Peter with the money of poor believers rather than with his own money?” This is certainly a practice which has been abandoned by the Catholic Church sometime since then. Many other changes have occured within Christian ‘denominations’ since then – including within the Catholic Church. So – did God use the protestant revolution to drive needed reform within the Catholic Church also? Maybe to bring the whole of Christianity back towards his purpose?? I don’t know – just asking the question.

5) Thank God for our early Church (you can call it Catholic if you wish – remember – it was The Church at the time) – It did collect the God-inspired writings which define our faith, canonize the Bible that we all share today, and is very still the ‘rock’ of today’s Christian faith.

I don’t believe that ‘Denominational Apologetics’ furthers Christ’s purpose for his Christian Church. It creates division and distrust. I would even go so far as to say that all of this ‘my church is better than your church’ stuff serves Satan’s purposes better – divide and conquer. Read Romans 11:16-24 again and think about it relative to all of this denominational posturing. If Paul told the Romans not to look down their noses at the Jewish Christians, what do you think he would say to us today? Specifically he said “do not be arrogant toward the branches…” I find that very interesting. How about the tongue lashing that Paul gave the Church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:10+?

As for me, I am still growing in my understanding – but am convinced that I will not reach a full understanding in this life. I know that Christ’s truths as revealed through both Protestant and Catholic Churches have shaped me and I pray that I help open eyes to the ‘catholicism’ which exists in many/most Christian ‘denominations’.

One in Christ,
James

Melanie July 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

very well said.

Matthew Warner June 14, 2011 at 12:54 am

James, thanks for your thoughtful comment here. I answered some of your questions over on another comment you left over here.

As for your other points, I completely disagree that “denominational apologetics,” as you call them, create more division. They simply highlight reality. In other words, they highlight the division that already exists. We do ourselves a dis-service to pretend we are unified when we are not. And such apologetic work is aimed at working toward a real and authentic unity and communion.

To quickly respond to your points as I’m short on time, sorry…

1) Branches they may be, the extent to which they have cut themselves off from the trunk is a different thing all together.

2) For Catholics…the Catholic Church and the catholic Church are exactly the same Church.

3) The fact that there were imperfect leaders in the Church is no argument. Jesus founded the Church upon imperfect people – the Apostles. What is miraculous is that through all of the scandal, sin, corruption and imperfect leaders at different times in Church history – Her teachings were still preserved. Which is just more evidence that it is indeed Jesus’ Church.

4) I urge you to read a bit more from a good source about who Martin Luther was, what kind of person he was, his arrogance and the fundamental theological changes he made to traditional Christian teaching. The selling of indulgences was a corruption of officials in the Church (not a teaching). It needed to be fixed just like you need to change out the bath water every once in awhile. Martin Luther decided to through the baby out with the bath water, instead. I wouldn’t say that it was “God’s purpose” for the baby to be thrown out just so the water could be cleaned.

5) Amen! And I don’t just call it the “Catholic Church.” That early Church WAS Catholic in every sense. Look at her teachings. Read what the early Christians wrote and did and taught. They were the same teachings of the Catholic Church today. It is the same, God-given authority. It is the same Church.

Your brother in Christ,
Matthew

Joe Dowell December 19, 2012 at 3:11 am

As usual, an excellent blog Matthew. Also, where else can we see the following prophecy fulfilled?

“Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.”

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