CHURCHES TRUE CHURCHES?
BY GRAHAM MOORHOUSE
POSTED BY: WEB TEAM | 02.12.2016
Protestants are divided into thousands of differing sects, many of which disagree even about the basics. Some, for example, teach that a spiritual awakening, which they call being "born again", is sufficient for salvation, while others, the Baptists for example, teach that baptism by total immersion is essential. Can any one reading the New Testament honestly say that they find anything even remotely comparable? Of course not: in the Bible we find one Church and one Church only, and that Church is acclaimed as "... the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). And that Church, the Catholic Church, which has an unbroken line of succession going right back to the apostles, has remained united and one for 2,000 years.
Great men and women fall into two broad categories. There are those who leave it to providence to carry on their work after their deaths, and there are those who put a well thought-out organization in place for this purpose. Christ is without a doubt in the second category. Christ deliberately left behind Him the organised institution that we call the Catholic Church.
We need to be clear in our minds what we mean by an organization. Firstly an organization exists for a purpose, it has a mission. Secondly, it will have the powers necessary to fulfill its mission. Thirdly it will have a head and a clear chain of command. Fourthly it will have a rite of entry and there will be specific things required of its members. Finally its members should be united in the same articles of faith and moral code.
Within a few months of Our Lord starting His public ministry, He began hand-picking twelve men for special coaching. First Andrew (who had been a follower of St John the Baptist); Andrew immediately drew in his brother, Simon, whom Our Lord, as soon as He clapped eyes on Him, renamed Rock (in English, “Peter”). In three months Christ had completed the task of selecting the twelve men who were to become the foundation pillars of His Church. Henceforth Our Lord’s mode of operating would be to preach to the masses in parables and then call the twelve aside and explain the parables to them.
Thus, from very early in Our Lord’s ministry, if one wanted to fully understand what He was teaching, one would have had to go to His Apostles.
Christ used many metaphors to describe His Church. He called it a Kingdom frequently. He called it a net cast into the sea in which there would be good fish and bad. He similarly referred to it as a field that contained good wheat and weeds. He then added that the weeds should be left until the harvest. He called it a sheep-fold of which He is the Good Shepherd. He also intimated that not all the leaders of His church would be good shepherds; some would be hirelings, and these hirelings would not protect the sheep. And He called it “My Church” (Matthew 16:16–18) on the occasion that Simon Peter acknowledged Him as God.
Christ established His Church with a clear purpose, i.e. it has a mission.
Ancient Judaism was built upon the three offices of priest, prophet and king. Each of these offices had a specific function: the king ruled the people; the prophets taught the people truths about God and their relationship with Him and the priests sanctified the people and offered sacrifices on their behalf. Christ infuriated the Jewish authorities by appropriating all three of these offices to Himself. And Christ went to great pains to bestow all three of these offices upon His Church, so that His Church would have exactly the same mission as He had. Consequently, just as there can only be one Christ, so there can only be one Church.
Christ bestowed His priestly office upon His Church
Prior to His crucifixion, Christ inaugurated the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in the course of celebrating the ritual of the Jewish Passover festival with the Apostles, the first bishops of His Church: “And while they were still at table, Jesus took bread, and blessed and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, ‘take, eat, this is My Body, given for you; do this for a commemoration of Me.’ Then when supper had ended, He took a cup, and offered thanks, and gave it to them, saying, ‘Drink all of you, of this; for this is My Blood, of the new testament, shed for many, to the remission of sins. Do this, whenever you drink it, for a commemoration of Me’” (Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24, Luke 22:19-20). For the last 2,000 years every Catholic priest in the world has obeyed this command by daily offering the holy sacrifice of the Mass.
Three days later, Christ gave these same men the power to absolve men from their sins. St John records the scene: after the Resurrection Christ suddenly appeared to His Apostles in a locked room. Christ then said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit: when you forgive men’s sins, they are forgiven, when you hold them bound, they are held bound” (John 20:21–23). Again for the last 2,000 years Catholic priests have obeyed this command by hearing confessions and absolving penitents from their sins.
Christ bestows His kingship upon His Church by giving it a clear
chain of command and genuine authority.
Just over a year after Christ had completed the selection of His Apostles, He asked them who they thought He was. Simon, the man Our Lord had renamed Rock (Peter in English), responded, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God."
To which Christ replied, “… And I tell you this in My turn, that you are Peter [Rock], and it is upon this rock that I will build My Church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;” and then added, “and I will give to you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” ( Matthew 16:13-20). Later He told Peter, “I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail; when, after a while, you have come back to Me [Christ is alluding here to the fact that Peter would betray Him at one point] it is for you to be the support of your brethren” (Luke 22:32).
The power of the keys and the power to bind and loose are Jewish legal jargon for the power to admit or exclude people, and the power to make laws and to abrogate laws. To give such sweeping powers to one man, if the Church was to be a mere vague spiritual kingdom, would make absolutely no sense. The bestowal of such an astonishing, sweeping, plenitude of powers upon one man irrefutably proves that Our Lord was putting a real organization into place to carry on His work after He had returned to His Father in heaven.
The statement, “… and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” obviously means that what I am here organising will survive come what may. It is therefore very significant that the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter, the man Our Lord renamed “Rock”, is still ruling the Church 2,000 years later; for no mere human dynasty has survived even half that long.
A couple of months later, Our Lord extended the same powers that He had bestowed on St Peter personally, to the Apostles as a college. Christ was explaining how disputes should be settled in His Church: after exhausting sensible measures such as speaking privately to the individual causing problems, if all else fails, He states that one should “speak of it to the Church”(Matthew 18:15-20). Our Lord then goes on to say that if the individual concerned refuses to listen to the Church, he should be treated as an outcast. He concludes, “I promise you, all that you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and all that you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Again it must be emphasised, if Christ was speaking of a mere spiritual kingdom, how could He logically instruct us to “speak of it to the Church”?
Christ bestowed His prophetic office upon His Church
Prophet has come to signify someone who accurately foretells the future, but that is a very minor part of the prophetic office.
A prophet in Scripture is someone who speaks on God’s behalf; he instructs the people in the things of God and in their moral obligations.
On the day before His crucifixion, a Thursday, Christ assured the first leaders of His Church that they would not be abandoned after His death to their own resources. He told them that He still had much to teach them, but that they could not be expected to take it all in at this time. No less than three times that evening He made the following promise: “God will give you another to befriend you, the Holy Spirit; He is the truth-giving Spirit and He is to dwell continually with you for ever. He will recall to your minds everything I have said to you, He will make everything plain, He will guide you into all truth and will make plain to you what is still to come” (John 16:12-13). The Apostles would have recalled that Christ had said to them earlier, “He who listens to you, listens to Me; he who despises you despises Me; ….” (Luke 10:16). Here Christ equates listening to the future leaders of His church with listening to Him personally!
Three weeks after Our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, there is another moving encounter between Christ and Peter.
Peter and four of the Apostles had been out in a boat fishing all night and had caught absolutely nothing. They were approaching the shore, their spirits no doubt somewhat despondent, when through the early morning mist they spotted Jesus standing beside a fire. He called to them to cast out their net on the right hand side of the boat. They obeyed and were astonished to find that they had such a large catch that they could scarcely drag the net ashore. Christ then cooked their breakfast, and after the sun had risen over the lake, He called Peter aside and the following conversation ensued:
Christ: “Simon, son of John, do you care for Me more than these others?”
“Yes Lord,” Peter responded, “You know well that I love You.”
Then Christ said to him, “Feed My lambs.” Then a second time Christ asked Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you care for Me?”
“Yes Lord,” Peter responded again, “You know well that I love You.”
Christ said to him, “Tend My shearlings.” Then Christ said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?”
Simon was deeply moved at this point and responded, “Lord, You know all things; You can tell that I love You.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17).
This exchange further clarifies the sort of office that Christ was putting in place to govern His Church: the future papacy. Peter had not been merely given the power to bind and to loose, he was also required to be a shepherd, to take care of Christ’s followers, to lead them and feed them spiritually: the papacy was to have a pastoral role in Christ’s Church that was every bit as important as its governing role.
Rite of Entry
A few weeks after the above encounter with Peter, Christ arranged to meet all His Apostles somewhere in Galilee. He had this to say to them: “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to Me; you, therefore, must go out all over the world, and preach the gospel to the whole of creation, making disciples of all nations, and baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost, teaching them to observe all of the commandments that I have given you: he who believes and is baptised will be saved; he who refuses belief will be condemned” (Matthew 28:16-20, Mark 16:15-18, Luke 24:44-48).
Christ’s Church now has a clear divine mandate, plus a specific rite of entry, namely baptism in the name of the Trinity.
Note: because Christ said “all nations” the Church calls itself “Catholic”. The word “Catholic” emphasises the truth that Christ’s Church is for all people and all times.
United in Faith and Morals
A couple of hours before His arrest, one of the very last things Christ did was to pray for the unity of His Church in these words, “It is not only for them [the Apostles, the first leaders of His Church] that I pray; I pray for those who will find faith in Me through their word; that they may all be one; that they too may be in Us, as You, Father, are in Me and I in You; so that the world may come to believe that it is You who has sent Me. And I have given them the privilege which You gave to Me, that they should all be one, as We are one …” (John 17:20-24).
Note: Christ did not merely pray for the unity of His Church, He bestowed unity upon it, “And I have given them the privilege which You gave to Me, that they should all be one.” For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has maintained its unity in faith and obedience to Peter. The Catholic Church has never trimmed its sails to accommodate the spirit of the age.
Some individual shepherds (those hirelings Christ warned us about) may have done so, but never Christ’s Church as an institution.
Signs and Wonders
In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus commands His apostles: “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils: freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8).
Throughout history miracles and healings have been a constant witness in the life of the Catholic Church. Visit the website www.miraclesofthesaints.com and explore, for examples, the lives of St Vincent Ferrer and, more recently, the life of St Pio, and investigate the phenomenon of the bodies of many Catholic saints remaining incorrupt for centuries to this day.
When the mother of Jesus appeared to the three little children at Fatima, the Miracle of the Sun was testimony to the truth of the apparitions. This miracle was witnessed by some 70,000 people and resulted in atheists and skeptics converting on the spot.
Are non-Catholic churches true churches?
This is best answered by an analogy, a parable if you like. Let’s suppose for the sake of the argument that I do not like some of the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, so I decide to found an American Supreme Court more to my personal taste. I convert my front room into a replica of the American Supreme Court and I buy myself and my friends sets of judges’ robes. We then regularly sit together dressed in these robes in my front room and decide important issues of law and publish our decisions.
Will my personal American Supreme Court have any real purpose or authority? Of course not; it is simply not within my power to found an American Supreme Court. Indeed, what I have done can never be anything more than a comic farce. And that remains true no matter how sincere I am in my dissent from the decisions of the real American Supreme Court. Indeed, it remains a charade even if I was morally right in my initial opposition to the decisions of the real American Supreme Court.
Likewise, no mere man can found a church. It is simply not within the power of man to do such things – even if he be the King of England. The Church has a divine mission and sacerdotal powers to fulfill that mission. No mere man can either assume or bestow such awesome authority or powers.
Immediately after Our Lord’s Ascension we see the Church acting as an organization. For example, the Apostles immediately set about choosing a man to fill the vacancy left by the apostasy of Judas (Acts 1:15-26). And the Scriptures repeatedly refer to others joining their fellowship, never to others going off to found their own ecclesial communities.
One of the very last things Christ said to the Apostles, the first leaders of His Church, was, “And behold I am with you all through the days that are coming, until the consummation of the world” (Matthew 28:20). What further guarantee do we need before approaching the Church Christ founded and humbly seeking membership?