Chapter 9 -- Christ's One Church
A Physical, Visible Church
Think about this passage of Scripture. Jesus describes how we are to settle our differences. The last resort is for us to "tell the church". The Church is the final arbiter. This can not be an invisible Church, connected only spiritually by the members of the Body of Christ, it must be a physical Church, one you can see, one you can go to for answers. And this is Jesus Himself saying these words.
Suppose a fellow Christian steals from you. You act according to the passage above. You first go to him to tell him his fault, but he refuses to repent or return the stolen goods (he claims they weren't yours, and he has just as much a right to them as you). Next, you find some witnesses, who know the goods are yours, and all of you approach the thief, but he still refuses to give back the goods. So now you want to take it to the Church mentioned in the passage above. Where do you go?
If you pick a Church, any Church, and that Church agrees the thief must make amends, but the thief goes to a different Church that declares he can keep the goods, what result? There can not be more than one result. There can not be more than one Church to rule over the matter.
Jesus knew this when He spoke these words. He knew you couldn't go to opposing Churches; He knew you couldn't pick and choose which Church you wanted to arbitrate the matter. He knew you had to go to the one Church, His Church.
(Notice James says the prayer of faith will "save" the sick person, not "heal" the sick person.)
Here, again, we see reference to a physical, visible Church. James says to summon the presbyters of the Church. This is not a call to pray to generic members of the Body of Christ; it is a call to physically go get the Church presbyters. Where do you go? As above, there must be a physical, visible Church to visit to fulfill this passage of Scripture.
Jesus gave Peter and the Apostles (thus their successors) the authority to bind and loose (Matt 16:19, 18:18). One needs a physical, visible Church to have a hierarchy that has authority to bind and loose.
The Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. We must turn to the Church for the truth. If you have a question, and want to seek the truth, where do you go? You must go to a visible, physical Church. You cannot go to just any church, as they may oppose one another. You want to go to the Church that is the pillar and foundation of the truth. You want to go to Christ's Church.
Christ Built His Church
Jesus used the singular "church" rather than the plural "churches". Jesus founded one church. In His call for unity, Jesus established one Church, one Body, following one faith.
Jesus states there will be one flock with one shepherd who has authority over the flock. There will not be thousands of flocks, each with its own shepherd.
Paul had problems with divisions in the early church. His response was that it gave the church an opportunity to show who was approved by the church and who was not. This implies the church is the final arbiter.
From Christ's death until the Protestant Reformation in the early 1500s, there was only one Christian faith-Catholic. (Eastern Orthodox churches were established midway through the eleventh century, but they considered themselves Catholic.) The Church Christ founded can only be the Catholic Church. Any church founded after Christ ascended into Heaven, has to have been founded by someone else.
The Catholic Church gave us the Bible (see the chapter on the Origin of the Bible). The Catholic Church has been the pillar and foundation of truth since its inception (see the chapter on Truth). The Catholic Church has preserved the Word of God in both oral and written traditions over all these years (see the chapter on Sola Scriptura). The Catholic Church has protected the faithful from false teachings (see the chapter on False Teachers).
Individual Members of the Church May Fail
Some may argue the Catholic Church was the Church founded by Christ, but the Church has since fallen from grace, and God passed on the burden of protecting the truth to those who broke away from the Church.
First, there is no legitimate evidence this was so. But, regardless, for that to be true, Christ must have been wrong when He promised the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against His Church. By any possible reading of Matthew 16:15-19, Christ's Church can not fail. Individual members of the church may fail, but the Church itself can not fail.
False teachers can upset the faith of some, but the Church itself will not fail.
Some say there were some rather scandalous Popes in the history of the Church, particularly around the time of the Protestant Reformation--a clear signal God's grace had left the Church.
Well, Peter himself was a pretty poor first Pope. He did not exhibit the characteristics one might expect of Christ's Vicar on Earth. He bumbled many times during Christ's ministry, including denying Christ three times on the night He was betrayed. Yet, despite his failings, Christ used him. Peter was the rock.
Jesus hand-picked Judas Iscariot, who was an example of an Apostle gone bad. Another had to take his office. Still, Christ's Church prevailed. In John 6:66, many of Jesus' disciples left Him over the prospect of having to eat His body and drink His blood. Still, there was a Church. Thomas doubted Christ's resurrection and all the Apostles abandoned Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. Paul persecuted Christians in the early going. These are examples of bad acts by individuals, and the Church survived through it all, just as Christ promised.
In this passage, Paul was speaking of some of the Jews being unfaithful, but the concept applies to Christians as well. If some of the Church hierarchy were unfaithful, that would not nullify the fidelity of God and His Church.
There were procedures in place in Paul's day to handle presbyters who failed in their duties. The members of the Church may fail, but the Church carries on.
A Call For Unity in the Church
We saw in the last chapter His Church is the Body of Christ. We also saw the Holy Spirit led the authors of the New Testament to demand unity among the members of the Body.
This summarizes the call for unity in one Church. We are to preserve the unity of spirit. We share one Body and one Spirit, one Lord, one baptism and one God. And note, Paul says we are to share one faith. The Holy Spirit gave us one faith to share; not one foundation in faith with thousands of divisions on minor points--He gave us one faith.
Paul says we are to be of the same mind, thinking one thing. At present, there are thousands of different Christian denominations in the world. We are not of the same mind; we are not thinking one thing. We are not sharing one faith.
The reason we have so many denominations is we trust our fallible human reasoning rather than believe Christ by faith. We want to define our own faiths and create our own churches. Christ gave us His Church, and He promised the gates of the netherworld would not prevail against it. He put Apostles, prophets and teachers in authority over us.
We Don't Trust Those God Put in Authority Over Us
But, we don't trust those in authority--we trust ourselves. We don't accept the hierarchy Christ gave us--we reject those whom He sent. Using fallible human reasoning, we believe the Holy Spirit is speaking only to us, bypassing those in authority over us.
We don't like Church teaching--that is why it is a narrow gate. Christ didn't promise it would be easy; He said the road is constricted that leads to life. We're supposed to pick up our crosses daily and follow Him. (Luke 9:23) Instead, we readily follow teachers who were not sent by God, who teach by their own authority, who point us down the easy path--the path to the wide gate.
The narrow path requires us to persevere to the end to obtain salvation (Matt 10:22); the broad path says once you accept Christ into your heart, you are guaranteed salvation regardless of any subsequent sin. Which is easier? The narrow path requires subjection to Church authority as established by Christ (Heb 13:17); the broad path says we can decide for ourselves what is right. Which is easier? The narrow path requires us to confess our sins to one another (Jam 5:16); the broad path says you can keep your sins to yourself and confess to God alone, in private. Which is easier? The narrow path requires acceptance of Mary as blessed among all women (Luke 1:48); the broad path says Mary is insignificant. Which is easier?
God made us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our abilities and inabilities. He gave us free will and He wants us to use it without divine interference. He established a (narrow) path for us to follow with our free will, and almost from the start, we deviated from that path.
He gave us Apostles, prophets and teachers, we had only to listen. Many didn't like what the Church taught. Many refused to accept, through faith, what the Apostles, prophets and teachers sent by the Church taught. Many believed their teaching was invented by men, not protected from error by God. Many rejected the truth and sought preachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear and give them an emotional rush.
Paul predicted the people would not want to follow sound doctrine. They would seek teachers who would tell them what they wanted to hear, and would rationalize these false teachers are right and the Church is wrong. We must listen to teachers sent by the Church, not those who teach under their own authority.
The Apostles, prophets and teachers taught the Word of God, and we believed. But then we started to question Church teaching. We didn't like what the Church taught. We didn't want to burden ourselves with Church requirements. We didn't want to believe God was in control of the Church.
We wanted to believe the Church separated itself from God's grace, and the Holy Spirit was crying out to us as individuals to live the real truth. We didn't want to believe the teachers God gave us; we wanted to follow our own teachers. As early Christians would decide for themselves what was right, the early Church had to correct them and bring them back into the fold. New heresies would arise, but each time the Church guided the faithful back to the truth.
It didn't stop--it persists to this day. Earnest, but uneducated Christians read Scripture (and even then they don't read all of it), and come to their own interpretation of the truth. They don't realize many others presented the same revelations many times over the centuries, and the Church had to bring them back into the fold. They don't realize their predecessors with the same ideas also led many of the faithful away from the faith, and the Church had to bring them back, too. They are excited about their discoveries and feel the Holy Spirit working in them. They write books, produce tapes, evangelize on TV and other forms of media, and spread heresies, all the time wanting to believe God is working through them. It is the epitome of arrogance to assume you alone know the way and were granted the grace to be a child of the Truth.
Consider the alternative. Consider God wants us to follow His Church, and stop trying to circumvent Church authority.
Christ gave us His Church, built on Peter (Matt 16:18), with the Apostles as a foundation (Eph 2:20), the pillar and foundation of truth (1 Tim 3:15). God gave us Apostles, prophets and teachers in the Church (1 Cor 12:28).
God wants us to accept what He gave us, through faith. We have only to accept the authority of the Church to find truth. We know what God wants by listening to Him speak through the Church, not by deciding for ourselves.
Be humble, accept what God tells you. Don't think you know more than those God set in authority over you. God gives you a way to know what is right. God made it simple for you. Listen to the Church.
Christ founded His Church, not churches, and it has remained intact since the year 33, just as He promised. The gates of the netherworld have not prevailed against it. It is the Catholic Church.
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