Monday, June 7, 2010

Lord, To Whom Should We Go? Reflections on Mistrusting the Church

66 As a result of this, many (of) his disciples returned to their former way of life and no longer accompanied him.

67 Jesus then said to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?”

68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.

69 We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:66-69).


There are times when those who should be defending the Faith strongly seem to give up too easily or express themselves poorly.  There are those in the Church who seem to have fallen into obstinacy or error.  At times like this, I have people ask me why I remain in the Catholic Church instead of go elsewhere.

Some who ask are the typical Anti-Catholics seeking to persuade me.  Some are co-religionists who have lost their faith themselves and are looking for a new place to satisfy them (such as the SSPX or the Eastern Orthodox churches).  In doing so, they point to the scandals within the Church and the (perceived) lack of scandals in these other places.

Some argue that the existence of scandals proves the Catholic Church never was the Church established by Christ to begin with.  Others claim that whether or not it once was, it no longer is.

The reason I remain unconvinced by such arguments is not that I have faith in men, but because I put my faith in Christ.

Reflections on Matthew 28 and Matthew 16

In Matthew 28, Christ tells His disciples:

18 Then Jesus approached and said to them, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the holy Spirit,

20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

"The end of the age" in Greek is συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος. (sunteleias tou aiōnos) which does not mean merely a finite period and then expires, but refers to the full completion of making the disciples of all nations.  So in other words, Christ will not abandon them to be defeated.  He is not merely sitting up in Heaven watching things fall apart.

Matthew 16 tells us:

18 And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.

19 I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

When Scripture speaks of the gates of Hell (in Greek: πύλαι ᾍδου or pulai Haidou) it is not merely referring to death as a natural end.  Sin and death are equated in Scripture, and the Gates of the underworld/Hades/Hell are often viewed as a sort of prison in which the wicked are contained.  This is not merely a Christian view.  πύλαι ᾍδου has been understood in this sense with the Odyssey, in Aeschylus, and in Euripides.

So it seems if Christ has promised he would be with the Disciples συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος and that the πύλαι ᾍδου will not prevail against it, then the Church He intended to build would not have the gates of Hell prevail against it and He would not forsake it.

If He broke either promise, it would seem to follow He either did not speak truthfully (and thus could not be God) or else did not have the power to back up His words (and thus could not be God).  I suspect the atheist or non-Christian reader would have no problem with the claim that Jesus would not be God, but for the Christian [one who believes Christ is God], this is not an option.  So when it comes to looking for the Church which Christ willed, the Christian must keep this in mind.

What this Church cannot be

First of all, the Church cannot be some sort of "invisible body of Christians."  We must recognize that Christ has spoken about it in a way that indicates it is visible and noticeable:

14 You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden.

15 Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house.

16 Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Christians are not to have a private faith which does not affect anything in the real world.

Nor can the Church be a mere gathering of believers without authority.  Christ has indicated there is a place where the final line is drawn:

15 “If your brother sins (against you), go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have won over your brother.

16 If he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, so that ‘every fact may be established on the testimony of two or three witnesses.’

17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell the church. If he refuses to listen even to the church, then treat him as you would a Gentile or a tax collector.

18 Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  (Mt 18:15-18)

There may indeed be disputes between Christians over what is right and just.  However, once the Church speaks, there is no further appeal.  So we see that the true Church cannot be autocephalous or invisible.  We must need to know where to go and that we cannot merely go elsewhere if we don't like what the Church has to say.

Moreover we can see that the idea of a divided Church cannot be Christ's will either.  At the Last Supper, he prayed:

11 And now I will no longer be in the world, but they are in the world, while I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one just as we are. (John 18)

Indeed, Paul warned of the factions which divide as well.  In speaking of those who will not inherit the Kingdom of God, Paul lists factions among others (See Galatians 5:20)


So to sum up some things we know of the Church established of Christ:

  1. Christ promised to be with it always
  2. Christ promised that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against it
  3. Christ said it must be visible to all and be for all (not merely for a certain ethnicity)
  4. Christ said it must be heeded
  5. Christ did not wish factions, and St. Paul listed those who make factions as those who will not inherit the Kingdom.

So if we as Christians believe that Christ is God and does not lie, then it seems to follow that the Church He established exists in some place, and has existed continuously since the time of the Apostles.

I believe this Church is the Catholic Church.

I don't doubt that many (perhaps even most) of my readers will disagree with me on this, but this is where I stand.  This is why I do not find my faith shaken even when someone brings up Scandal X or some bishop saying something stupid.

I trust that God protects the Church from formally teaching error.  Some who dissent may err.  I believe that staying with the ship rather than abandoning it is to do as God wills.

(The 1935 comic by David Low isn't a religious comic, but I find the image to be quite representative)

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