Archive for September, 2012

The One True Church

Posted: September 7, 2012 in Church History
Tags: , , ,

What is truth? Is there one true religion founded by God? Is there a single church established by Jesus Christ? 20120907-210912.jpg These are hard questions that Christians must ask — and answer — if they are to find the full joy and love of God the Father through the Son.

During my time outside of the Catholic Church, I became convinced that truth was relative. I knew that the church I was attending wasn’t doing it for me. The best way I could describe it is to say that my flame wasn’t being fanned. The fire was lit, but it wasn’t burning very bright. I also knew, intuitively, that this shouldn’t be how a deep love for God should be expressed.

Truly, Madly, Deeply

As a happily married man, I know all about love and what it should feel like. The longing, the desire, the need. I want to be with my wife all the time, at all hours of the day. I need her. I desire her. I long to spend as much time with her as possible. I also knew that, if marriage was an extension and expression of God’s love for us, a profound love of God should manifest itself similarly. But I wasn’t feeling that.

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No discussion of Catholic teachings and practices would be compete without mentioning saints.

20120903-175220.jpgFive hundred years removed from the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the Saints of the church are the subject of mass confusion, false accusations, and charges of paganism and polytheism against the Catholic faithful.

What Saints Aren’t

Perhaps the best place to start, then, is to talk a little about who the saints aren’t. They are not demons. They are not lesser gods. They are not subjects of worship or adoration. And they most certainly are not unbiblical or unorthodox.

So What is a Saint

So who exactly are these saints, then? The word “saint” is a shortened and transliterated form of “sanctified,” which means “set apart.” In English, as in other languages, we understand this to mean a holy person. In our Christian understanding, anyone who is in Christ is a saint.

Saints are all around us; our family, our friends, the people with whom we worship. If they are truly in Christ, then they are bound for heaven and are therefore a saint in the sense that they are a faithful believer. On this point, almost all Christians agree.

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All across Christendom, there are a variety of thoughts and ideas of how the church, the body of believers, should be organized.

20120903-162104.jpgMainline Protestants, such as Lutherans and Anglicans, favor an episcopalian model; that is to say that they recognize, at least on some level, the necessity of an ecumenical body to safeguard faith. They maintain that the scripture alone are the sole authority, but they also acknowledge the importance of the uniformity of interpretation of these scriptures.

Maintaining Doctrinal Unity

In many respects, these churches maintain much of the identify of their Catholic origins. They’ve downplayed the role of tradition, but they still maintain it’s value as a teaching tool, if not an authority. For these churches, the question of church organization comes down to the degree of authority that a governing body has.

Even mainline fundamentalist churches, such as Southern Baptists, appreciate the efficacy of a convention to act as a source of doctrinal guidance. Though the Southern Baptist Convention encourages the self-governing model of church organization, it exists to help maintain a consistency of theology among those churches.
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The great Catholic Cardinal John Henry Newman is often quoted as saying “To be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.”

20120903-103549.jpgCardinal Newman should know. He began his religious career as a prominent priest in the Church of England. He set out with the purpose of reforming the Anglican Church and returning to it the doctrines, practices and beliefs of the early Christian church. As he studied history and the beliefs of Christians throughout history, he became compelled to enter into full communion with the church of Rome.

He is not alone. Countless bible-believing Christians year after year are faced with the same wonderful truth when they study history. Despite what many fundamentalist churches teach and what so many non-denominational Christians want to believe, the historical evidence is overwhelming that the Catholic church is in fact the very same church that has continued through the ages, from before Jesus’ death on the cross even until today.
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No discussion with protestants about the Catholic Church would be complete without mentioning the successor of Saint Peter, the Pope.

20120903-083105.jpgDepending on who you talk to, he’s the antichrist, the devil, the ruler of the Whore of Babylon, or just a harmless old man and a representative of a misguided, apostate and archaic religion.

For many Protestant Christians, he’s the symbol of the corrupt and evil remnants of the Roman Empire, the embodiment of the wolves among the sheep. For catholics and, perhaps more importantly for non Christians, though, he is the symbol of Christian unity throughout the world.

Where’s That in the Bible?

Whatever non catholics tell you the pope is, the one thing they’ll all agree on is that he isn’t is the head of the Christian church. “Where in the Bible,” they’ll demand, “do you find the word ‘pope’?” Now, this may come as a shock to many cradle Catholics, but the answer is, you won’t find the word “pope” anywhere in the Bible. Unfortunately, Protestants have us on that one. Or do they?
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The Communion Controversy

20120903-073641.jpgOne thing that has been a common refrain in my conversations with fundamentalists is a criticism that the Catholic Church forbids communion or participation in the Eucharist by non Catholics. They seem to view it as a personal affront and a suggestion that the church does not view them as christian.

Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, I would submit to you that it is the height of charity to deny communion to those who do not recognize it for what we as Catholics see it to be: the real flesh and blood of God’s Incarnate Son.

Saint Paul is very clear in saying that when we participate in communion without discerning the flesh and blood of Our Lord, we eat and drink judgement on ourselves (1Corinthians 11:29). The Catholic church takes the sacrament of Holy Communion extremely seriously. In all loving kindness, the church seeks to prevent fellow christians from what they believe to be calling judgement on themselves.

Respect for Beliefs

On another, more relatable note, consider this: in my earlier years, as a non practicing catholic, I would attend church with my wife at her independent bible church. I knew that they did not consider my catholic baptism to be valid. Out of respect for them, and their beliefs, I declined to receive communion there. At the time, I believed I was a baptized Christian even thought they did not, and I believed that I was entitled to receive communion. However, because I respected the fact that they were entitled to their beliefs, and because I knew it was important to them, I refrained. The question arises, then, why would one desire to receive communion at a Catholic church to begin with if they do not believe the same things about it?
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20120902-225304.jpgSo many non Catholics, especially fundamentalists and “Bible Christians,” point to Matthew 6:7, in which Jesus condemns vain and repetitious prayer, to show yet another area in which the Catholic Church violates what seems to be a crystal clear teaching.

Catholic practices and prayers are full of repetition. The Lord’s Prayer, the Glory Be, Grace Before Meals, all of these are memorized and repetitious. Of course, that’s just scratching the surface for us as Catholics. There’s the Divine Office, novenas, and of course the Rosary and Hail Marys. These can easily be seen by the outsider or the uninformed as vain and repetitious.

For Protestants who are contemplating Catholicism, and even for those who have chosen to take the leap, this can be a tremendous obstacle to overcome. Fundamentalist Christians have had it ingrained into their minds that Matthew 6:7 forbids repetitive prayers. This is yet again an unfortunate fallacy and a result of reading scripture out of context. Too often, we read the Bible on our own without an appreciation for the time and the culture in which they were written.
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