The True Church

Many of my friends will wonder why I’m writing about the true church and apostolic succession again.

Well because there’s hardly a week that goes by that I’m not presented with arguments either that I should join the Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church or explanations from someone who is going to join them.

I think that many people, even ones who oppose apostolic succession with me, don’t understand the church, the Scriptures about the church, nor why they are part of the church.

So that’s why I’m writing about it again.

This is a shortened version of a longer page that has many more references.

The True Church Is the Local Church

The true church is supposed to be able to do some things:

  • Be delivered from seducers by revelation from the anointing. (1 John 2:27)
  • Possess and diligently maintain a unity of Spirit. (Ephesians 4:3)
  • Grow together into the fullness of Christ, come to unity of faith, and be delivered from men who are skilled in deceit by speaking the truth in love to one another, something they are trained to do by leaders appointed by God. (Ephesians 4:11-16)
  • Be the pillar and support of the truth (which I believe happens from the first 3 points — 1 Timothy 3:15)

The local church can do all these things. An organization uniting many local churches can’t do any of them except possibly the last one if it’s interpreted as holding to a dogmatic statement of beliefs.

Thus, it is more than a waste of time for a local church to join an organization uniting it to other local churches; it is a grave danger. There is a danger of losing the ability to seek and trust answers given by “the anointing” and trusting decrees from the organization instead, and there is the danger of replacing the guidance of the Spirit with confidence in some set of interpretations of the Scriptures.

Remember, no one–not even any righteous people–were able to interpret the Scriptures well enough to recognize Jesus from the Scriptures. The Pharisees used the Scriptures to reject Jesus, something he rebuked them for (John 5:39-40), and others recognized him by a recognition provided by God (Matthew 16:17).

That really ought to be enough said, but I want to attack two things: the false interpretation of apostolic succession by the Orthodox and Catholics and the false and, let’s face it, bizarre interpretation of Matthew 16:18 by the same groups.

Apostolic Succession

I harp on this all the time. No sense banging heads with those who can’t be honest enough to see the obvious. For those of you who can, it’s better if you read it yourself.

The following link is Irenaeus’ argument from apostolic succession, for apostolic succession is an argument, not a doctrine. Irenaeus (c. A.D. 185) and Tertullian (c. A.D. 210) are the only early Christian writers to argue from apostolic succession.

Irenaeus’ most well-known passage is in Against Heresies III:1:1 and forward. Read it for yourself and determine whether he is arguing for truth or promoting an organization whether it holds to the truth or not.

Tertullian addresses the subject throughout a whole book called A Prescription Against Heretics. I think chapter 28 makes it clear what he’s talking about. And if there’s any doubt about what constitutes a true church, those who hold the truth or those who hold to an organization, try chapter 32.

(Just to add a little more, try reading Cyprian’s 67th epistle (as numbered by The Ante-Nicene Fathers set. The 3rd paragraph addresses what to do when the leaders of the church are sinful. Then try reading about the 7th Council of Carthage, called by Cyprian and attended by 87 bishops who got together solely to reject the bishop of Rome’s claim to be a “bishop of bishops.” You won’t have to read far to see what they think of that claim.)

Matthew 16:18

“You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.”

First, let’s address the Protestants. The fact that Peter is petros and rock is petra does not matter. Peter is a man, and so in Greek his name has to end in -os. He can’t be called petra. It doesn’t matter if there’s a difference in definition between the two words, Jesus is obviously calling Peter the rock, and we sound pitiful when we say he’s not. It’s embarrassing.

However, this is in no way a promise that “the church” will never fall.

Gates are not offensive weapons. The church is not in danger of being attacked by the gates of Hades and collapsing.

Jesus is saying that the church will be able to overthrow death (however you want to interpret “death” here).

Amen. It will. But only if it is healthy and thriving.

If it is not healthy and thriving, then Jesus might “remove its candlestick” or “vomit it from his mouth” as the letters in Revelation 2 and 3 put it. Even Ephesus, the great church founded by Paul, was in danger of no longer being a church.

And the fall of a church, many churches, nor even all churches does not contradict Matthew 16:18.

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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2 Responses to The True Church

  1. paulfpavao says:

    Hi Ben,

    Thanks for commenting. I think that the suggestions to remove the limitations on what I’m willing to consider might terrify everyone around me. I’m part of a Christian community of about 150 people. (Well, sort of; I’m part of an outreach in Memphis now.) I think if you asked any of them about me, every one would say, “He doesn’t leave anything alone. He looks at everything!”

    My wife would tell you about my study on infant baptism, which went on long enough to terrify her. She brings it up regularly. I followed that by yielding in an argument with evolutionists and dropping my young-earth creation belief.

    I have to leave room to doubt myself. The person who can deceive me the easiest is me, but I think if you came to one of our gatherings and suggested that the reason I’m not Catholic is because I’m not willing to consider that it might be true, every adult in the place would burst out laughing. Based on their testimony, I think I can be confident that’s not true.

    I read about an Orthodox community in Colorado recently. I suspect that if they were in Memphis, I’d ask our little house church to try to join with them. I have more research to do on them, but if they didn’t require me to bow to icons, it’s hard to imagine what would stop me.

    One thing on writing about Roman Catholicism. Except on my web site, where I had to cover it, I am almost certain that every post about the RCC has been prompted by an email or letter I received. When I don’t get letters, or comments in this case, I don’t write about it.

    Here’s really the bottom line for me. I make a case at that there was no thought of any pope at all or papal primacy in the second century church. I have battled that case with those who disagree with me for at least 15 years. I think that argument–huge as the topic is–is one of the most solid things I teach.

    I was pretty excited when I found out that there are Roman Catholic scholars who agree with me. Father Richard McBrien wrote a book called The Church: The Evolution of Catholicism. I have a lot of quotes from him on my Roman Catholicism Quote page. However, I find the lecture on the medieval papacy at the Institute for Catholic Culture by Dr. McGuire ( to agree with how I would see things, too.

    Have you ever seen my video on the development of the apostolic churches? It’s long, but I wanted to be thorough. It’s not just me talking. There are maps and quotes and a keynote presentation. It’s at

    Finally, I’m pretty sure I own the Catholic catechism, and I intend to do more reading in it, though I was a very good CCD student just like I was a very good public school student. I’m not in unreality about what the RCC believes. I’m not really interested in what people say they believe, though. I’m more interested in what they are doing because that is what really expresses their beliefs.

  2. Ben says:

    Hi Paul,
    I’ve been going through some of your older posts, and I’m quite sure you have one of the most reasonable non-Catholic positions I’ve yet encountered. If more Protestants could work comfortably with the subjects that you tackle, they would give Catholic apologists a bit more of a challenge. It seems I’m arriving a bit late in the game to bring up the Catholic perspective on your blog, and my input would probably be redundant because it looks like you’ve already stated your position regarding many subjects. Besides, the Catholic position on things is universal and easy to find… for people who want to understand.
    I think the only way you are able so magnificently to stay non-Catholic while studying history in such depth is because your personal starting premise to all your work is that the Catholic Faith cannot possibly be true. This combined with all the years you’ve invested away from the Catholic Church and your desire to recreate Acts 2 in your own way motivates you very strongly to conclude things against Catholicism that others see as being at least as much of a stretch to avoid Rome as to go there.
    It’s amazing how much you have written on this blog showing in fine detail how the Catholic Church surely can’t be legit, while most others are much more content to shrug their shoulders and choose not to think about it.
    I think that if you removed the limitations on what you’re willing to allow yourself to consider, you might slowly find the Catholic perspective to be the most reasonable (yes, even including Marian doctrines). Have you read the Catechism with an open mind?
    Do you ever wonder if the Catholic Church is indeed protected by God, and the rules of that protection do not need to meet your standards of legitimacy?
    I know you’ve invested a lot against the Catholic Church, but I and many others have found that the truth will set you free.

    May God bless you.


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