One church, two church, old church, new church
“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple. Open the doors and here’s the people.”
Slightly ungrammatical, but I believe that’s how I learned the children’s finger game. “Here ARE the people” just doesn’t flow as well. In this little tactile exercise the church is the building and the people are inside it. But as all Christians know, that’s not the meaning Jesus had when he said he would build his church. He wasn’t thinking mortar, block and wood; he was thinking flesh and blood. The fingers…the people themselves. Christ’s church is the assembly of God’s people under the new covenant, as the Jews were the assembly of his people under the old.
The Roman Catholic Church, however, sees Jesus’ promise of his church as being fulfilled in her singularly…or at least in a very singular way. According to Catholic doctrine, all true followers of Christ may be included in his church, but unless they submit to Catholic teaching and the authority of the Catholic Church as THE one, true church they are missing out on some important elements. If this is true, it would be good for all of us to know it. And even more so if it’s not.
I’m continuing my examination of the Catholic Church’s claim that Jesus founded an institution known as the Church with an earthly supreme ruler and that she is it. I’ve looked at some of the New Testament evidence but there is Old Testament evidence as well. As I mentioned, before the time of Christ God had a people for himself in the nation of Israel. They were his church before Jesus’ redeeming life, death, and resurrection brought in the Gentiles to “create in himself one new man in place of the two.” (Ephesians 2:15) In fact, the same word translated “church” in the New Testament is used of the nation of Israel in Stephen’s speech to the Jewish leaders in Acts 7.
When God chose Abram to be the father of his people, his church, he made a covenant with him and changed his name to reflect the distinction he was bestowing on him. He was called Abraham, “father of a multitude of nations.” (Genesis 17:5) But in doing so God did not give him a leadership position which he would eventually hand over to another so that his church always had a visible, earthly head. God himself was the head of his church then as now, and as I wrote about before here, when his people demanded an earthly king to rule over them he was displeased because, “they have rejected me from being king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:7)
Similarly, when Jesus was preparing to transition his church from the Old Covenant to the New, he declared that those who would comprise his church, God’s people, were all who claimed him as their Messiah God. And he distinguished Simon as representative of that group by changing his name to Peter, signifying the rock-like foundation of saving faith. But I don’t believe we can find in Scripture any evidence that in doing so God was now establishing a visible institution with an earthly head any more than he was when he singled out Abraham. As he was displeased with the Jews for demanding a king, I believe he is displeased with the Catholic Church for effectually rejecting him as their head and enthroning a pope.
It’s worth noting that both Abraham and Peter were chosen because of their faith, giving evidence that membership in God’s church is and has always been by faith and not by baptism, adherence to a set of rules, or submitting to the authority of an earthly magisterium. Abraham was credited as righteous because of his faith (Romans 4:3)…as was Peter…as are we.
Though I dispute the Catholic Church’s designation of Peter as pope, I believe it’s appropriate to look on him as the father of the New Testament church as Abraham was the father of the Old. He was a pillar, leader, evangelist, and martyr and is worthy of honor and recognition as a founding father of the faith. But there is only one Holy Father and his reign is eternal and from ancient days (Micah 5:2).
Because the Scriptural evidence for the Catholic Church’s claim to be Christ’s visible authority on earth is inconclusive at best, they appeal to church history for supporting evidence. That’s what I’ll address next time.