By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM
Evidently, Jesus did not stay with the apostles and disciples for long after the Resurrection. He founded a Church, His Church. Now, did He found it as a visible Church, with authority to guide, teach, and sanctify the people? Or didn’t He? Either He did or He didn’t. It is one or the other.
And what is meant by a visible Church? Just a building upon a hill? Or a congregation sharing unity in one Lord, one faith, one Baptism (Eph. 4:5), under the same government, being taught the same truths, obeying the same Commandments, following the same moral laws, being sanctified by the same sacraments, in short, the one Church of God, the pillar and mainstay of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15)?
Or perhaps Jesus founded many churches, and left it up to us to decide which denomination we should belong to, regardless of its different creeds and practices, based upon our individual interpretation of the Bible?
The very concept of having “Christian denominations” holding different articles of faith and morals is thoroughly unbiblical and completely unknown to the early Christians. Unity in faith, morals, and government was the characteristic of the early Church, and no Christian ever believed in Sola Scriptura until Martin Luther came up with the novelty. A trifle too late, I’m afraid. Nearly 1,400 years after Pentecost.
If you were to ask any believer in Sola Scriptura this simple question, “What is the pillar and mainstay of the Truth for Christians in the New Testament,” what would they say?
“The Bible, of course!” will be the immediate reply. But unfortunately for them, the Bible does not say so. The Bible says that the pillar and mainstay of the Truth is the Church. You may blame St. Paul on this one:
“I write these things to you hoping to come to you shortly, but in order that you may know, if I am delayed, how to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the Church of the Living God, the pillar and mainstay of the truth” (1 Tim. 3:15).
How, then, did Jesus build His Church: with a structure of authority, or without one? Did He give to His apostles authority over the flock, with one of them at the Head? Or did He simply ask the people to accept Him in their hearts as their personal Lord and Savior and gave them the Bible interpret as they understood it?
We can’t have it both ways. As ol’ Shakespeare would say, “To be or not to be, that is the question.” Either Jesus established an authority to guide, teach, and sanctify the people, or He didn’t. If He did not, no amount of Catholic belief in it will ever make it appear. Conversely, if He did, no amount of Protestant denial of it will ever make it disappear. Opinions and individual interpretations of Scripture do not change reality.
Let us hear Him: “If your brother sin against you, go and show him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take with you one or two more so that on the word of two or three witnesses every word may be confirmed. And if he refuses to hear them, appeal to the Church, but if he refuses even to hear the Church, let him be to you as the heathen and the publican” (Matt. 18:15-18).
So His Church has authority to judge disputes and exercise government.
Did He give to the apostles the mission to continue His preaching with His authority? Yes, He did: “He that hears you hears me; and he that despises you, despises me; and he that despises me, despises Him that sent me” (Luke 10:16).
Did He compare the apostles’ mission with His own? Yes, He did: “As the Father sends me, so I also send you” (John 20:21).
And where and to whom were they to speak in His and His Father’s name? “Go into the whole world and preach the Gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he who does not believe shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16).
How much authority did He give the apostles? “Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18).
And to Peter, whom He placed at the head of the Apostolic College, what extra authority did He give? “And I will give you [thee, singular] the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever you shall bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 16:19).
Did He promise Peter that his faith would not fail, because of His (Jesus’) prayer? Yes, He did: “Simon, Simon, behold that Satan has desired to have you [plural] that he might sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for thee [singular] that thy faith may not fail. And when thou hast converted [turned again] confirm thy brethren” (Luke 22:31-32). That’s the promise of papal infallibility, which we will look into in a future article.
Jesus gave to Peter the specific command to be the shepherd of His flock: “Feed my lambs, . . . feed my lambs . . . feed my sheep” (John 21:15-18).
To “feed one’s sheep” in Hebrew/Aramaic culture does not merely mean to give food to, but to lead into the pastures, to protect, to guide, to shepherd over — that was the mission of the Judges and later the kings of Judah, in the name of God, and this is precisely how Peter understood it, as he exhorted his fellow bishops:
“Now I exhort you the presbyters among you – I, your fellow presbyter . . . tend the flock of God which is among you, governing not under constraint, but willingly, according to God” (1 Peter 5:1-4).
Did Jesus promise to remain with His Church till the end of time? Yes, He did. “Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world” (Matt. 28:20). It was the last saying of our Lord as recorded in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and its very last verse as well.
Parting words have special meaning in any relationship. Jesus wanted to ensure that His very last promise — I am with you — would be a certitude that He would remain with His Church. This phrase is cited nearly 90 times in the Bible, always meaning a special divine assistance to ensure the fulfillment of the mission.
Conclusion: Jesus founded a Church to guide, teach, and sanctify the people in His own name, the sole authentic interpreter of the Bible. He did not give us the Bible for us to interpret as we think the Holy Spirit is guiding us, creating thousands of contradictory denominations. He did not suggest the formation of a Bible printing society.
Next article: True and false tradition.
+ + +
(Raymond de Souza is director of the Evangelization and Apologetics Office of the Winona Diocese, Minn.; EWTN program host; regional coordinator for Portuguese-speaking countries for Human Life International [HLI], president of the Sacred Heart Institute and a member of the Sovereign, Military, and Hospitaller Order of the Knights of Malta. His web site is: www.RaymondeSouza.com.)