The one, true church
This is reason No. 4 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.
It’s Sunday, and all over the world Christians of every denomination and none are gathering together to worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. Churches in China, Ethiopia, Israel, and a great many in the United States are lifting up their voices in unison in praise to the Almighty. Sometimes as I pray on Sunday mornings I envision Jesus smiling as he listens to and receives the praises of his people. He must be pleased with such an offering.
Many of these churches are Catholic; many are not. Is Jesus looking more fondly on those which are? If you read only Catholic literature, I believe you’d come away with the impression that he is.
And that’s one of the reasons I left the Catholic Church. As I read and studied what Jesus and the apostles taught, I saw that his church is made up of all those who believe and trust in him, no matter if they align themselves with a particular denomination or not. A Christian is a Christ-follower, and one can be a full-fledged member of his church as a solitary, unaffiliated believer. But though the Catholic Church recognizes as Christians “All who have been justified by faith in Baptism” (818), those who do not “accept all the means of salvation given to the Church” nor submit to the “Supreme Pontiff and the bishops” (837) are considered as second-class citizens in the kingdom of God. And that’s not right.
Perhaps most of the Catholic faithful in the pews do not see their “separated brethren” this way, but I suspect otherwise. Relatively recent interactions with Catholics bear this out, as well as my clear recollection of “holier than Protestants” attitudes and teaching I received from the nuns at my Catholic elementary school. But whether they do or not, it is the official teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, which brands itself as the “one, true church.”
But while affirming on one hand the appropriateness of the moniker “Christian” on non-Catholic believers in Christ, on the other hand they in effect damn us to Hell. As recently as 1964, the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church Lumen Gentium, formulated at the second Vatican council, stated, “they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it or to remain in it.”(846)
Now, I imagine my Catholic family and friends, whom I love and, praise God, love me back, would want to reassure their separated brethren – me – that I’m not among the damned because I don’t believe, and hence, don’t “know” that Church membership is necessary. Besides, I was baptized into it and so, technically, am still part of it. (Baptism as a means of entry into Christ’s church is a topic for another post.) But even if that were true, I had the primacy and necessity of the Catholic Church drilled into me, and I refused “to remain in it.” I’m not so sure I’m not included in that group.
The superiority the Catholic Church claims for herself is a false claim, and there’s a lot more that can be said about that (and I imagine will be by some of my readers). But here’s what I want to claim:
- For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. – John 3:16
- Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. – John 3:18
- Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life. – John 5:24
- For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. – John 6:40
- Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live.” – John 11:25
- And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” – Acts 16:31
- For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. – Romans 1:16
- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. – Romans 3:23-24
- Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. – Romans 10:9
- Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. – Galatians 2:16
- In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 1:13
- Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life – 1 John 5:12-13
- But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. – John 20:31
All numbered references in parentheses are source paragraph numbers from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
How many churches did Christ establish? One or many? Your statement that his church is made up of all those who believe and trust in him, is no where to be stated in the Bible – it is neither taught by Christ nor by the apostles. You quoted only a portion of # 818 and # 837 – one should read # 817 to #820 and # 836 to 838 to see the context. # 836 and # 838 explain who belong to the Catholic Church. When I was evangelical, contrary to what you wrote, I got the impression that evangelicals consider themselves to be holier and better than Catholics and to be true Christians, while Catholics are just kind of pseudo-Christians and there are some who consider Catholics to be non-Christians at all.
In 1 Tim 3:15 Paul wrote that the church (singular) is the pillar and ground of truth – which church do you think he referred to? According to Scripture the Church is the Body (Singular) and the Bride (singular) of Christ and yet you think belonging to this one Church is just optional. “No salvation outside the Church” is always the teaching of the Catholic Church (# 846) yet it is not applicable to those who through no fault of their own do not know Christ and His Church (# 847), i.e. salvation is possible for those outside the Church, including even non-Christians, something that for sure would be very hard for you to swallow.
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