Sometimes I am very glad for questions sent to me by email. Occcasionally I write an answer, look at it, and say,”That expresses very well what I think. Finally, I got something across the way I wanted to.”
Someone emailed me two questions from a Catholic friend concerning my postion on the Roman Catholic Church (RCC). I think the answer I sent her expresses my position as accurately as anything I have ever written.
First: I really enjoy RC discussions when they remain friendly and when the other person isn’t saying the same things over and over. That happens a lot. Also, I find that with many people, not just Catholics, the other person will change the topic when I make an argument they can’t answer. When that starts happening, I don’t want to have the discussion anymore. Right now, though, I really enjoy looking at your friend’s arguments.
I promise I won’t do what I don’t like done to me. I won’t argue the same thing over and over without listening to an answer. And I won’t ignore his arguments, though I may have to repeat my basic position over and over because it is unusual. I am closer to the RCC than the Protestants on baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I am pretty much agreed with the RCC on faith, works, and grace, except I find their position on indulgences bizarre.
So, with that said, here’s my answers to the two questions.
Question 1: Can what you believe now match up to what the early Church fathers believed? (ie. Pope, Tradition, Bible Alone, Faith Alone, Eucharist, Salvation, the Church, the Protestant or Catholic Books of the bible—73 or 66? Etc..)
I think so. It would be pretty boastful for me to just say “yes,” but that is what I want to say. And I hope, that with the input of all who might have reason to know the teachings of the early (for me, that’s pre-Nicene) fathers believed, that I am getting closer to believing what they believed.
Question 2: If Christ promised that his Church would never end “the gates of hell shall not prevail against it…” (Matthew 16:19), which church’s teaching 100% match up with historical/unchanging Christianity—as proved by historical Christianity’s writings?
After 25 years of reading the Bible, the ante-Nicene Fathers, studying and writing a book about the Council of Nicea, talking with LOTS of Roman Catholics and now a number of knowledgeable Orthodox believers, and reading several recommended works concerning both Orthodoxy and Catholicism, I would say that there is no church whose teaching match up 100% with historical/unchanging Christianity.
To elaborate on question 2, I would say that the Roman Catholic Catechism agrees with me on this by declaring that the church has the right to adjust (my word) the teachings the apostles handed down. The Catechism has a great section around paragraphs 50-70 on the apostolic tradition. I even agree that the tradition has to be interpreted by each church in each age in the culture in which each church finds itself.
I do not agree, however, that any such ongoing interpretation should become dogma. Par. 88 of the Catechism says, “The Church’s Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.”
Paragraph 2035, which talks about infallibility, and other such statements just illustrate what we all know to be true. The RCC creates dogma that cannot be found in the Scriptures or in early Christian history.
For example, you will never find the teaching that Mary was sinless, that she was “immaculately conceived,” nor that she was assumed into heaven in Scripture or in any pre-Nicene writings. Yet now it is official dogma of the RCC, sealed by “infallible” proclamation of various popes.
In things like this, I say the RCC does not match up 100% with historical/unchanging Christianity.
As far as “the gates of hell shall not prevail” against the church, I believe that is a battle promise, not a promise that an overarching, worldwide church hierarchy, nor a a local hierarchy, is guaranteed never to distort or fall away from the faith.
The church–any local church and even more so a conciliatory of local churches–that lives out the faith together, is promised that their assault on the gates of hell will be successful. They will deliver people from the dominion of the devil, and they will bring a message that will successfully transfer hearers of the Gospel to the Kingdom of God’s beloved Son.
Lose the faith, and the church loses the promise. This is what Jesus threatened the church in Ephesus and the church in Laodicea with when he told them that we would remove their candlestick and spew them out of his mouth.
If Matthew 16:18 is a promise that the corporate, extra-local hierarchy of the church will never depart from apostolic truth (especially if it means 100% preservation), then sadly it is the only promise of God that has been broken because a tremendous, empire-wide falling away of the churches happened when Constantine “gave his flock to the church” (Eusebius, Life of Constantine).
Of course, I don’t believe Jesus’ promise failed. I believe the RCC misinterprets it because they refuse to acknowledge that there are periods in its history that it all but abandoned the faith of God, Jesus, and his apostles.
The difference between the churches of the fourth century and the churches of the third century is phenomenal. They are hardly recognizable as belonging to the same religion. (I base this on reading Eusebius’ history, leading up to Constantine’s reign, and Sozomen and Socrates’ history which both take up where Eusebius left off. It is like reading about two different religions.)
I believe God’s eye is on local churches, where saints can unite their hearts, be family, and take care on one another. In the local church, shepherds can really shepherd, guarding the souls of the faithful and enforcing the disciplines taught by the apostles. It is MUCH better if these local churches are united, the churches consulting among themselves, ensuring that they are walking in the one faith handed down at the beginning from the apostles. Sadly, that doesn’t really seem to be happening today, and I certainly can’t make it happen myself, so I just do my part to build up and serve my brothers and sisters around me, trusting God to protect us from erroneous teaching (Eph. 4:11-16; 1 Jn. 2:26-27).
In that, we don’t reject the ancient churches with apostolic succession. In fact, we do quite the opposite. We love them, and we seek to learn from them. Because of this, I confidently assert to evangelical churches around us that they are way off on the Eucharist and baptism. I don’t have to rely on just what I see in Scripture or in the writings of Ignatius and so many others. I can look and see that the Oriental Orthodox (excommunicated at the Council of Chalcedon in 451), the Assyrian Orthodox (excommunicated at the Council of Ephesus in 432), the Eastern Orthodox (split from the RCC in 1054 in a mutual excommunication), and the Roman Catholics have all preserved the same teaching. Surely between Scripture, the writings of the early churches, and the united preservation of four apostolic lines, we can confidently teach on the subjects of the Eucharist and baptism. (Admittedly, there are nuances of RCC teaching on the Eucharist that neither we nor the Orthodox would accept.)
On the other hand … well,
let me attach the handout I passed out to the discipleship class I lead on the 2nd and 4th Thursdays of each month. (I can’t “attach” a document to this post, but many of the early Christian quotes I used are on this page of Christian-history.org.) It is on the subject of war. There are a few Scriptures on it and a sampling of quotes from 2nd century Christians. I could have produced a much longer list of early Christian quotes. It is on a subject that the RCC has not preserved, and I don’t think the Orthodox have either, but I don’t know that.
In fact, one of the canons of the Council of Nicea (canon 12), a council regarded as authoritative by Catholics and Orthodox alike, is that if a Christian joins the military, “like a dog returning to his own vomit,” he is to be excommunicated for 13 years. The 13 years are to be divided between sitting with the penitents and sitting with the catechumens. That is definitely a tradition that the RCC has forgotten, and with all the early Christian testimony and the affirmation of the Council of Nicea, it must be regarded as handed down to the church by the apostles.
That, I think, gives you a thorough overview of where I am coming from. I am very willing to give answers to challenges and questions.