Unity and the Roman Catholic Church

I got two more emails, one yesterday and one today, from men who think that the only route to unity is joining the Roman Catholic Church. (I have to assume that they wouldn’t have a problem with the Eastern Orthodox Churches, either, since every one of their arguments would apply to them as well … only better.)
It’s apparently impossible for me to communicate the importance of the local church to people like that, and so I keep trying to find different words with which to do that.

What I’m about to say is as important for Protestants to consider as for those seeking unity by apostolic succession because so many of them seek unity by denomination, which is no different.

The only unity that matters is one that can express itself in visible love. Thus, the primary unity that matters is local unity.

God wants a unity that is real, not one that can be justified with words.

If Jesus wanted a unity that was based on agreement among all ecclesiastical leaders that is mandated to all members, without regard to whether that unity produces holiness among those who adhere to it, then why bother with Christianity? Why bother dying? The Pharisees already had that unity.

The unity desired by those who want it through apostolic succession and through all of us joining an organization that already has well over a billion members is what I just described. I’m sure they wish that unity produced holiness, but since it has a long history of mostly members whose religion only barely affected their daily lives, they have to hold to that unity even when it doesn’t produce holiness (which is always).

So, two issues:

Should the Christians in Selmer, Tennessee Become Members of the Church in Rome, Italy?

It seems bizarre to me that anyone would suggest in order to have unity, the Christians in Selmer, Tennessee—or any other place, of course—should officially become members of the church in Rome, Italy. Or, if the issue is the Eastern Orthodox apostolic succession, that they should members of the church in Istanbul, Turkey; Antioch, Greece; or Moscow, Russia.

Where’s that in Scripture? Where’s that in any apostolic tradition found in the early Christian writings?

Apostolic succession, according to those who wrote about it in the 2nd and 3rd century, was a way to preserve the truth unchanged. That works for a while, but as we all can see, after 2,000 years it’s pretty ineffective.

Those early churches consulted one another to help stick with what the apostles handed down. Thus, it would have been typical to consult important apostolic churches like Rome, Ephesus, and Philippi. Fortunately, we live in the information age. We can consult what the church in Rome handed down, and we can compare it to earlier writings of the church, and help sort what’s true and what’s been added or taken away over the last 2,000 years.

I recommend doing that. But I don’t recommend joining a church that’s 5,000 miles away. That’s certainly not apostolic.

Bad Fruit Is Only Produced by Bad Trees

The other fortunate thing is that unity by apostolic succession, agreed upon by everyone, has been tried by an entire continent for hundreds of years. The continent is Europe, the church it submitted to was the church in Rome, and the time period is known as "The Dark Ages."

According to Christ, bad fruit only comes from bad trees.

So, you tell me. Is this a good idea?

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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7 Responses to Unity and the Roman Catholic Church

  1. Leonard says:

    This is the usual fundementalist stuff, Boettner style, ignoring the truth with false claims of what the RCC really believes. St Francis Se Sales explains clearly the true universality of the RCC, so much for the silly notion that the Roman Catholic Church is called so because is centred in Rome. The name Roman is just related with the see of Rome which has its center in Rome, represented by the Pope, but its universality reaches to the ends of the earth.


    THAT great Father, Vincent of Lerins, in his most useful Memorial, says that he must before all things have a great care to believe "that which has been believed by all [always and everywhere] " . . such as the jugglers and tinkers; for the rest of the world call us Catholic; and if we add Roman, it is only to inform people of the See of that Bishop who is general and visible Pastor of the Church. And already in the time of S. Ambrose to be Roman in communion was the same thing as to be Catholic.

    But as for your church, it is called everywhere Huguenot, Calvinist, Heretical, Pretended, Protestant, New, or Sacramentarian. Your church was not before these names, and these names were not before your church, because they are proper to it. Nobody calls you Catholics, you scarcely dare to do so yourselves. I am well aware that amongst you your churches call themselves Reformed, but just as much right to that name have the Lutherans, and the Ubiquitarians, Anabaptists, Trinitarians, and other offshoots of Luther, and they will never yield it to you. The name of religion is common to the Church of the Jews and of the Christians, in the Old Law and in the New; the name of Catholic is proper to the Church of Our Lord; the name of Reformed is a blasphemy against Our Lord, who has so perfectly formed and sanctified his Church in his blood, that it must never take other form than of his all lovely Spouse, of pillar and ground of truth. One may reform the nations in particular, but not the Church or religion. She was rightly formed, change of formation is called heresy or irreligion. The tint of Our Saviour's blood is too fair and too bright to require new colors.

    Your church, then, calling itself Reformed, gives up its part in the form which the Saviour had established. But I cannot refrain from telling you what Beza, Luther, and Peter Martyr think on this. Peter Martyr calls you Lutherans, and says you are brothers to them; you are then Lutherans; Luther calls you Zwinglians and Sacramentarians; Beza calls the Lutherans Consubstantiators and Chymists, and yet he puts them in the number of Reformed churches. See then the new names which the reformers acknowledge for one another. Your church, therefore, not having even the name of Catholic, you cannot with a good conscience say the Apostles' Creed; if you do, you judge yourselves, who, confessing the Church Catholic and universal, obstinately keep to your own, which most certainly is not such. If S. Augustine were living now, he would remain in our Church, which from immemorial time is in possession of the name of Catholic.

    • shammahbn says:

      1. Because you're wrong, and this is not the usual fundamentalist stuff, it's not really possible to reply to this except to say that it's all irrelevant as far as my post is concerned.
      2. I barely touched on what the RCC believes, and what I said is accurate.

    • shammahbn says:

      On the topic you brought up, which is the bishop of Rome as universal bishop of the church:

      a. That's never been accepted in the east, so it doesn't qualify as tradition at any time in history. Rome's status as "general bishop and pastor," as you put it, is purely self-proclaimed.
      b. The idea of a pope in Rome never entered anyone's mind until the 4th century.
      c. We tried letting the pope run the church in Europe for centuries, and we got corrupt "church leaders," who were really just corrupt politicians and not church leaders at all, and an ignorant, superstitious, unhealthy, and starving population.
      d. Finally, on the one issue that's on the topic of my post: he gets his say, anyway. Everyone knows what the pope teaches and believes. We just ignore a lot of it because it's divisive and doesn't help anyone walk with God, and Jesus told us to judge by fruit.

  2. John says:

    "Or, if the issue is the Eastern Orthodox apostolic succession, that they should members of the church in Istanbul, Turkey; Antioch, Greece; or Moscow, Russia."

    This statement is actually a strawman against the Eastern Orthodox position. These various jurisdictions are located in the East, but there are Orthodox Churches in America, Mexico, Canada, South America, Europe, etc.

    Unlike Rome, unity in Orthodox Christianity is not based on allegiance to a single hierarchy in a city in Italy, 5000 miles away. In Rome, for one to be a member of the "One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church", one must be in communion with Rome. In Orthodoxy, unity is expressed in the bishop, with the clergy and laity gathered around the Eucharist. There are bishops other than the Patriarchates 5,000 miles away in Russia, Antioch, Istanbul, etc.The fullness of the Christian faith is available in each and every parish, therefore catholicity (here meaning fullness, or the whole, not universal as with Rome) is expressed in the parish. Whereas in RC, every parish is a part of the whole, instead of containing the whole.

    This Orthodox view (as badly as I have expressed it here, I apologize for any misunderstandings that result from my explanation) flows from the catholicity of the Godhead. The Father is not one third God, the Son the next third, and the Spirit the final third. Each person is fully God, or has the fullness of the essence of God. So it is with each parish in relation to the Body of Christ and the Christian faith. This is a radical departure from RC ecclesiology and substituting the word "Rome" in an argument for "Constantinople" or "Russia" does not make the argument valid when talking with Orthodox Christians about apostolic succession, Holy Tradition, or (insert something that looks similar in RC and EO but in reality is miles apart).


    • shammahbn says:

      Is this the John I know from other conversations? If so, I would much prefer if you said something like, "You're mistaken," or, "What you said is not accurate." When you say, that's a straw man, then it sounds like I'm purposely presenting an argument that isn't valid. I would never do that. I've devoted a lot of effort and gone through a lot of personal pain to put myself in a position where I would never have to do that.

      I said what I said based on something I was told by someone who was joining an Orthodox church. I also based it on the fact that even in America, Orthodox churches are often identified as Greek Orthodox or Russian Orthodox. Finally, there was a group of 2,000 former Evangelicals that joined the Greek Orthodox church (maybe you can clarify what that means for us) and became known as the Christian Orthodox Church. (I think; it was definitely COC.) That group was turned away by the bishop of Istanbul despite flying to Turkey to talk to him. He changed his mind and refused to meet with them. (I may not have the location correct. I read the story a long time ago, but I think I'm correct in saying that the bishop of Istanbul/Constantinople is one of the patriarchs.)

      I thought that was pretty reliable, but none of that is firsthand experience, so I will take your word for what you say. There's nothing really for me to retract because my point was not "The Orthodox Church is bad," and any correction of facts you've already done.

      Thank you for your correction.

  3. jeremiahbriggs says:

    When it comes to the local church; you're in for a job in explaining its importance and function. Many have never heard of such a thing. Many others have never seen such a thing. This task is like describing a beautiful blue sky to someone who has never had the use of their eyes. Or perhaps explaining the overlapping harmonies in a Mozart sonata to the hearing impaired. Keep throwing out seed there is good ground still to be found.

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