Who Founded Your Church?
“I do not pray for these only, but also for those who believe in me through their word,
that they may all be one…
The glory which thou hast given me I have given to them,
that they may be one even as we are one,
I in them and thou in me, that they may become perfectly one…”
The Gospel According to St. John
This week marks the beginning of the annual week of Prayer for Christian Unity. It seems a remarkably difficult task and the accomplishment of it seems ever more impossible as the years and divisions seem to multiply in the ranks of Christianity. It seems that new (or reintroduced) theology springs up every day. In some places there is even a reintroduction of ‘archaic’ sounding titles for the ministers like “bishop”, “apostle”, and “prophet” preceding their names. In some circles there is a desire to imitate the early or primitive church and in some a reach back even further to celebrate and imitate elements of Judaism as a way of “connecting with our roots”. Some churches (including those with very well known names) do not even hold to Trinitarian doctrine and claim they are Christian. Some incorporate New Age ideas and practices. Some which claim Christian titles eschew traditional ideas about God and insist on calling Him both Father and/or mother or still further, refusing to acknowledge the Trinity by Who They Are but rather categorize only by one task – Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer.
With this ever more fractured construction upon the ideas of Christianity how are we ever to “be one” as Christ prays? St. Paul tells us, “So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household [the church], having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20) St. John tells us in Revelation, “And in the Spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb. ” (Rev 21:10,14) We also have the Gospel of St. Matthew which Jesus states to St. Peter, “Thou art Peter [“Rock”, “Kepha” Aramaic, “Cephas”, anglicanized] and on this Rock [Kepha/Cephas] I will build my church. (Matt 16:18) The idea laid out here is that the foundation which has been laid by Jesus Christ establishing His Kingdom here on earth and which, the verse goes on to tell us, “the gates of Hell shall not” either “overpower it”, “conquer it” or “prevail against it” depending on which translation you read.
Which Church was founded by Jesus Christ, has withstood the test of time (since it cannot be overpowered, conquered or prevailed against by the forces Hell), and was laid on the teachings of the apostles with Christ as their cornerstone? This foundation cannot be laid again. If the Church was re-founded it cannot be re-founded on the Rock which was Peter upon the Rock which is Christ. Instead of being re-founded, it is reinvented. Because of the diversity and disunity within the Protestant faith there comes an idea that the Church has to be an invisible entity since unity within the Protestant faith is found only in core beliefs such as the Trinity and Trinitarian formula Baptism along with the belief in the life, death, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Similar though many faith traditions are to each other, there is still division, even on the slightest of points, but which caused enough of a rift to form a separate church and a refusal to remain associated together. From these branches sprang other branches whose main theology differs no so much from their association with a church but enough to separate within the church. There are any number of different governing bodies which a Protestant may choose to adhere to yet still remain in their denomination. Mostly these fall along the lines of a “liberal”‘ and “conservative” posture. Rather than an invisible entity, Catholicism argues for a visible rather than an invisible organization with a clear head and governing body. (You can read more about that in my entry “What is the Church?“)
This brings us back to our question, which church was founded by Jesus Christ? Do you know who founded your church? Was it founded by Christ or by a man? How far back does your faith lineage go? In whom do you put your trust for your immortal soul – the guidance and interpretations of self-proclaimed fallible men – or those who have been told by Christ, “I will not let evil (the characters of which are lies, error, fallibility, and corruption) overcome you”?
To me, if historical documents and lineage can verify the latter and one choses not to investigate and verify it and stay with the former then does that make a case for willful ignorance? Especially if the former is chosen for the sake of comfort, personal tastes, or the church’s stance on issues which the believer already adheres to (in other words, you chose the church for these pre-believed ideas which you were not willing to forfeit).
There is only one Church in existence that makes the claim that they are founded by Jesus Christ Himself. There is only one Church in all of existence that claims they are descended directly from the Apostles themselves. One Church that claims by the power of the Holy Spirit that they are protected from error and are thus infallible when teaching or proclaiming matters of faith.
I’m excluding certain Baptists claim and any other evangelical or non-denominational church’s claim that they were there from the beginning or “hidden”. As Thomas Howard or Cardinal Gibbons says (and I’m paraphrasing), “Indeed! You were so hidden that no trace or proof of your existence can be verified or found nor has any scrap of it ever been!” I’m excluding those who take “by force” the titles given to predecessors and/or claim apostolic link. I say “by force” because they cannot provide any clear lineage of succession and in this no valid Holy Orders exist. As Tertullian said:
“But if there be any [heresies] which are bold enough to plant [their origin] in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down by the apostles, because they existed in the time of the apostles, we can say: Let them produce the original records of their churches; let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that [their first] bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the apostles or of apostolic men—a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the apostles. For this is the manner in which the apostolic churches transmit their registers: as the church of Smyrna, which records that Polycarp was placed therein by John; as also the church of Rome, which makes Clement to have been ordained in like manner by Peter” The Prescription of Heretics, 200 AD.
I’m also excluding those who are staunchly anti-Catholic since they are simply decidedly dead set against any claim of Catholicism and will stubbornly deny, even in the face of bald-faced facts, that such validity exists at all in the Church or her claims and therefore the aforementioned claims speak not of authority but confirm madness. There’s no point in arguing with such people and no point in wasting time proving the truth.
However, those that do acknowledge at least some form of validity in the Catholic faith have to, I think, examine these claims seriously. Examine the claims and history of their own faith tradition, especially in light of the entire scope of Christian history which predates their own sect’s foundation. For if Christian history cannot be trusted, or is suspect to corruption, then what faith can one have that they are truly on the right path at all? Simply put, mankind armed with only their Bibles and their willpower have not been able to either validate a common truth we could all agree on nor could they arrive at a unity prayed for in Our Saviors last hours.
As the week of Prayers for Christian Unity proceeds, even though the path to that unity seems more fragmented by the passage of time, I pray that understanding and a willingness to follow wherever the truth leads will at least bring us closer to that goal.