P (Roman Catholic): Opening Statement
"We Catholics acknowledge readily without any shame, nay with pride, that Catholicism cannot be identified simply and wholly with primitive Christianity, nor even with the gospel of Christ, in the same way that the great oak cannot be identified with the tiny acorn. There is no mechanical identity, but an organic identity. And we go further and say that thousands of years hence Catholicism will probably be even richer, more luxuriant, more manifold in dogma, morals, law, and worship than the Catholicism of the present day." (Karl Adam, The Spirit of Catholicism [Franciscan Univ Press, 1996], page 2)
I thank J for accepting my challenge to this online debate. The resolution I will be defending is "The Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures." To save words, the acronym TC will stand for true Church of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures, and RCC will stand for the Roman Catholic Church, what in the earliest centuries was called simply "the Catholic Church" (St. Ignatius of Antioch 110 AD forward).
It is not my purpose here to defend every single doctrine of the RCC from the Scriptures, but if challenged by J I will produce at least some explicit or implicit biblical defense of doctrine. What I want to concentrate on is the nature, authority, and promises made to the TC, and demonstrate that the RCC is indeed the true heir to this original Church. If that is true, all her dogmas are true by definition and we should believe them as we believe Christ. To hear Christ's Church is to hear Christ (cf. Luke 10:16; Matt 18:17).
I will also not attempt to defend the entire concept of the "development of doctrine" as championed by Cardinal Newman (or St. Vincent of Lerins well before him) although such developments are undeniable in the history of the Church. The Holy Trinity, Christology, and the 27-book NT canon are examples of developments which are accepted by Evangelical Christians (such as J) today which were not defined in explicit language (i.e. to exclude all heretical formulations) until the fourth and fifth centuries AD. Similarly NT revelation and doctrine is a fuller development or fulfillment of OT revelation without being a repudiation of it (Matt 5:17; 2 Peter 1:19). Our Lord Himself described the kingdom of heaven as a mustard seed that is planted and grows and develops (Matt 13:31-32) which is analogous to the Church since she, through the apostles and their disciples and successor bishops, spread to the "ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). As the Church develops, so does her doctrine by the "Spirit of truth" (John 16:13; 14:16f).
What I want to do now is describe in detail what we find in the Scriptures about the "true Church."
THE WORD "CHURCH" AND THE BIBLICAL DATA
The English word "church" is derived ultimately through the Gothic, from the Greek for "thing or place pertaining to the Lord." The words for church in the Romance languages (French, Italian, etc) come from the Latin ecclesia, an exact transliteration of the Greek and NT term ekklesia. In the Septuagint (the Greek OT) this word is used some 85 times to translate the Hebrew term qahal (or kahal) which meant in most cases a religious assembly. In the NT ekklesia is found 61 times in Paul's writings (including Hebrews), 23 in Acts, 20 in Revelation, and 11 in the remaining books (source: New Catholic Encyclopedia on "Church," volume 3, page 678). By calling itself the "Church" the first community of Christians recognized themselves as the new qahal, the new People of God (1 Peter 2:9f; cf. Exod 19), the heirs to that original visible Jewish assembly. To summarize the Catholic position, the Catechism of the Catholic Church states:
752. In Christian usage, the word "church" designates the liturgical assembly [Cf. 1 Cor 11:18; 14:19,28,34,35], but also the local community [Cf. 1 Cor 1:2; 16:1] or the whole universal community of believers [Cf. 1 Cor 15:9; Gal 1:13; Phil 3:6]. These three meanings are inseparable. "The Church" is the People that God gathers in the whole world. She exists in local communities and is made real as a liturgical, above all a Eucharistic, assembly. She draws her life from the word and the Body of Christ and so herself becomes Christ's Body.
771. "The one mediator, Christ, established and ever sustains here on earth his holy Church, the community of faith, hope, and charity, as a visible organization through which he communicates truth and grace to all men." The Church is at the same time:
-- a "society structured with hierarchical organs and the mystical body of Christ;
-- the visible society and the spiritual community;
-- the earthly Church and the Church endowed with heavenly riches." [Vatican II LG 8]
779. The Church is both visible and spiritual, a hierarchical society and the Mystical Body of Christ. She is one, yet formed of two components, human and divine. That is her mystery, which only faith can accept.
So in Catholic understanding the Church is a visible society and organization on earth, but has spiritual and heavenly components; she is both hierarchical and the Mystical body of Christ. And according to the Bible, there is only one Church and one Faith (Matt 16:18f; Eph 4:4f), not multiple churches teaching different doctrines and contradictory faiths.
And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church [singular], and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (Matthew 16:18-19 RSV)
There is one body and one Spirit -- just as you were called to one hope when you were called -- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:4-6 NIV)
While there are many local churches (e.g. "the church of God in Corinth," 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; "the churches in Galatia," Gal 1:2; etc), they are united as ONE universal or Catholic Church according to Christ, teaching ONE universal or Catholic Faith (Eph 4:5; Jude 3). That is the Church Christ founded against which He promised the powers of death (or gates of hell) cannot prevail. There are not many Christian "faithS" -- division and schism is sin and utterly intolerable in the universal Church according to the Scriptures (Matt 12:25; John 17:20-23; Acts 4:32; Rom 16:17ff; 1 Cor 1:10ff; 3:3f; 14:33; Gal 5:19ff; Philip 1:27; Titus 3:9f; etc).
Images and symbols of the TC are the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16f; 12:12ff; Rom 12:4ff; Eph 4:4ff; 5:29f; Col 1:18,24; 2:19; 3:15) with Christ as the head and Christian believers as members; believers are branches in the true vine of Christ (John 15:1ff); the Church is the Bride of Christ (Eph 5:22-33; Rev 19:7; 21:2,9; 22:17); "she is our Mother," the heavenly Jerusalem (Gal 4:26; Heb 12:22ff; Rev 21); the new "Israel of God" (Gal 6:16 and NT passim contra Dispensationalism); the one sheepfold with one Shepherd (John 10:1ff; cf. 21:15-19); a Kingdom which, according to Jesus' parables, clearly includes believers and unbelievers, saints and sinners, while on earth (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43, 47-50; 18:15-35; 21:33-43; 25:31-46). Therefore the idea of most Protestants that the true Church is merely "the elect" is clearly wrong.
From the popular Easten's Bible Dictionary (free online) on "kingdom of God/Christ/heaven" --
"All denote the same thing under different aspects, viz.: 1. Christ's mediatorial authority, or his rule on the earth; 2. the blessings and advantages of all kinds that flow from this rule; 3. the subjects of this kingdom taken collectively, or the Church."
Other descriptions include temple, building, household, cultivated field, a "city set on a hill" which "cannot be hidden" (Matt 5:14f; 1 Cor 3:9-17; 1 Peter 2:4-10; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Tim 3:14f; cf. Catechism 753ff). All of these symbols are clearly visible images for the Church. This brings us to the nature of the TC.
I. THE NATURE OF THE TC
The TC is a visible, locatable, identifiable, concrete Church in history, and is not invisible or purely "spiritual." J mistakenly writes in his online article on "the church":
"There are only two types of church in the New Testament. The first type of church is a spiritual entity consisting of all believers...[the] second type of church is the local church, which consists of believers and non-believers...Matthew 16:18 seems to be referring to the first type of church, the spiritual entity consisting of all believers. 1 Timothy 3:15 seems to be referring to the second type of church, the local church."
I assume that by "spiritual entity" J means "the invisible church" (or the "elect" known only by God) since that is the classic definition of the "true church" in Protestantism. He can explain what he means more precisely in his opening statement or rebuttals. This will be key in our disagreement on the true Church. The Westminster Confession, which is accepted by many Protestant Christians, states in chapter XXV of the Church:
"The Catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect....The visible Church, which is also Catholic or universal under the Gospel, consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion..." (from Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church [Oxford, 1963], page 348)
The true "Catholic Church" according to classic Protestant understanding is "invisible" since it consists of the "elect" only. That is not how Jesus sees the kingdom of God, the Church (above); nor does that square with all the visible symbols and images of the true Church in Scripture (above). As for those who "profess the true religion" in the "visible Church" it is impossible to know who these people are or what that "true religion" (or true "Gospel") is in Protestantism given the thousands of different Protestant denominations, sects, and cults that disagree on so many points of doctrine, the gospel and salvation, church government, the sacraments, worship, etc. Who knows what is "true religion" in Protestantism? So this distinction between the "invisible" and "visible" Church is not only non-existent and contradictory to the Scriptures, it doesn't work in practice.
The TC is clearly a visible body, a hierarchical organization teaching with Christ's authority what we are to believe from the apostles and the Scriptures (see II. below). She has spiritual elements (since the Holy Spirit Himself is invisible) but the Catholic Church herself is not (and never has been in the history of the Church) purely "spiritual" or invisible, or unidentifiable, or non-locatable.
Evangelicals in writing against Catholicism seem to disagree with this classical Protestant conception of the "spiritual" or "invisible" church. Norm Geisler/Ralph MacKenzie admit:
"Evangelicals also believe that the church is visible, existing now in the world. What is at issue is the claim that the Roman Catholic jurisdiction is the only true manifestation of the body of Christ on earth. This is the question of authority over which Catholics and Protestants disagree.....it is true that when the body of Christ began it was all visible since no believers had died and gone to heaven, so of course it was a visible church when Christ founded it. The invisible church only grew as Christians died and went to heaven. Protestants do not deny that there was a visible Christian church on earth that traces back to the apostles who exercised authority over it, including excommunication. What Protestants object to (and Catholics have not proven) is that [the] Roman Catholic jurisdiction is the sole heir to this original visible church that began with the apostles and will continue until Christ comes without the gates of hell destroying it." (Geisler/MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals [Baker, 1995], page 112, 276-277)
Geisler/MacKenzie admit "the church is visible, existing now in the world"; the original Church, the body of Christ, was "all visible...of course it was a visible church when Christ founded it"; and even Protestants do not deny there is a visible Church that traces back to the apostles who exercised authority, including excommunication. My question: where is that Church today? And where was that Church in the history of Christianity? Geisler/MacKenzie obviously won't concede it is the RCC or else they would be Catholics. Then what Church is it? Where is it? Can you please identify it, now or in history? They also seem to suggest (strangely) that the "invisible church" is only in heaven (what Catholics would call the "Church Triumphant" e.g. Heb 12:22f; Rev 4-5; 19:7f; 21:1ff), not on earth which appears to contradict classic Protestant understandings.
Former Catholics turned anti-Catholic Evangelical apologists, Robert Zins and Eric Svendsen both admit Christ established a visible Church on earth.
"But he [Karl Keating] goes too far in thinking that we think that Christ did not establish a visible Church. Christ most certainly did!" (Robert Zins, Romanism , page 139); and "Catholic apologists misrepresent the Evangelical as teaching only a 'spiritual' church, one that is essentially 'invisible.' However, although the Westminster Confession does use the term 'invisible' to describe the universal church, what is meant by the term is not that the church cannot be seen (as so many Catholic apologists mistakenly assume in their arguments against this notion), but that the church transcends time and geographic locale. That is to say, Evangelicals view the church as the body of Christ composed of all believers irrespective of their era, location or denominational affiliation." (Eric Svendsen, Evangelical Answers , page 75)
Evangelicals view the church as the body of Christ but irrespective of the beliefs of those "believers" as well (i.e. their "denominational affiliation"), which is clearly contradicted by the Scriptures that there is only one true Faith, one teaching of Christ proclaimed in the one body of Christ (Matt 28:20; Eph 4:4f; Jude 3). We cannot "pick and choose" our doctrine. Neither is the Catholic Church a "denomination" according to Scripture. The Church founded by Christ is both organism and organization; she lives in and by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12; Eph 3:5ff) but has a definite hierarchy, structure and authority (see A. below). Catholics agree the Church transcends time and geography, that is one of the meanings of "Catholic" (universality). She also transcends history by faith:
770. The Church is in history, but at the same time she transcends it. It is only "with the eyes of faith" that one can see her in her visible reality and at the same time in her spiritual reality as bearer of divine life.
A recent Evangelical book on the nature of the Church by Craig Van Gelder admits even more about the visibility of the TC:
"The authors of the New Testament did not distinguish between the visible and invisible church. To them, the church that existed in the world was the only church there was....This visible church was the church.....we do an injustice to the teaching of the New Testament authors if we impose this conception of an invisible church on the ideas they formulated. These authors were describing the concrete, historical, visible church that had come into existence in their day, and which was rapidly spreading throughout the Mediterranean world. It is this church that they chose to label the ecclesia." (Craig Van Gelder, The Essence of the Church [Baker, 2000], page 105,106)
This Evangelical scholar (with many endorsements) confirms what Catholics (and Orthodox) have said all along to Protestants: there is no distinction in the Scriptures themselves for this "invisible" vs. "visible" Church. The Church is one, and she is "concrete, historical, visible." That is the Church Christ founded against which the gates of hell cannot prevail (Matt 16:18).
From the standard scholarly Greek source Theological Dictionary of the New Testament edited by Kittel/Bromiley:
"...this ekklesia as the assembly of God in Christ is not invisible on the one side and visible on the other. The Christian community, which as the individual congregation represents the whole body, is just as visible and corporeal as the individual man." (TDNT, article on ekklesia ekklesia, 3:534)
The TDNT goes on to say even Martin Luther (who in principle distinguished between the "visible" and "invisible" Church) "shows that the visible ekklesia is the object of faith and not an essentially invisible" Church. The old Catholic Encyclopedia puts it more plainly:
"Indeed for this distinction between a visible and an invisible Church there is no Scriptural warrant." (CE, article on "Church", page 754)
Again, if there is no evidence in the Scriptures for this "invisible" or purely "spiritual" church, where and what is the original visible Church that is said even by anti-Catholic Evangelicals to exist today?
A. The TC is a Hierarchical Church
We discover more about this visible Church in the Scriptures. We see she is a hierarchical Church, meaning she has a definite structure and organization. Christ does not write new Scripture, nor does He tell others to write Scripture. To pass on His truth Jesus selects twelve men to carry on His mission, gospel, and message of forgiveness and reconciliation (Matt 10:2ff,19f,40; Luke 10:16; John 20:21ff; Eph 2:19ff). One of these, Simon, Jesus would build His Church upon, renaming Him Peter whose name means Rock (Matt 16:18f; John 1:42). In order that the apostles' mission would continue -- to teach the truth of Christ, preach the Gospel, sanctify and govern the Christian faithful by the power of the Holy Spirit -- they appointed bishops and elders/presbyters (through the "laying on of hands") as their successors (Matt 28:18ff; Luke 10:16; John 14:16f; 16:13; Acts 15:1ff; Eph 3:10; 4:4f,11; 1 Tim 1:3; 3:1ff; 4:11ff; 5:17,22; 6:2f,20; 2 Tim 1:6,13f; 2:2; 4:2; Titus 1:5ff; 2:1,15; 3:1; etc and St. Clement of Rome; St. Ignatius of Antioch; St. Irenaeus of Lyons, see IV. below).
While there was some fluidity in terminology, the bishops, the presbyters/elders/priests, and deacons are the permanent and continuing offices in the Church. They perform all the duties of modern Catholic bishops, priests, and deacons today. We are told to obey our leaders, those who passed on the Word of God to us, and submit to their authority (Heb 13:7,17). There was no break, no discontinuity, no apostasy that can be pointed to between the founding of the original universal Church at Pentecost described in the Scriptures and the Catholic Church we see in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, and later centuries. There is an organic not a mechanical identity.
B. The TC is a Sacramental Church
This leads us to the next point, that the TC is a sacramental Church, meaning Christ instituted specific sacred rites so His followers could continue in His grace, sanctification, and salvation. There was first a sacred rite called Baptism where believers received the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, thus entering the Church, the body of Christ (Matt 28:19; 1 Cor 12:13; Acts 2:38,41,47; cf. John 3:5; 1 Peter 3:21). There was a sacred meal called "the Lord's Supper" (or the Eucharist) where believers fed on the flesh and blood of Christ, called a participation or "communion in the body and blood of Christ" (Matt 26:26ff; 1 Cor 10:16ff; 11:23ff; John 6:51ff). There were also sacred prayers and a Liturgy (Acts 2:42f; Luke 22:19ff; Revelation passim cf. Hahn's excellent study The Lamb's Supper; later St. Justin Martyr c. 150 AD). There was an anointing of the sick (James 5:14ff), a power given to the apostles for the forgiveness of sins that are confessed, or a "ministry of reconciliation" (John 20:21-23; 2 Cor 5:19ff; 1 John 1:7-9), and other sacraments (from the Greek word for mystery cf. Eph 5:32) whereby invisible grace is conferred by visible matter (e.g. the laying on of hands, water, bread and wine, oil, etc).
Besides these sacraments, there was of course also faith in Jesus Christ as the only Savior (John 3:16f; 5:24; Acts 4:12; 16:30f; etc), and the good works that must accompany that faith for salvation (Matt 7:21ff; 16:27; John 5:28f; James 2:14-26; Rom 2:5-10; Gal 5:6; 1 Peter 1:6-9; Rev 22:11ff; etc).
There is no doubt this is the same visible Church described in the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th centuries.
II. THE AUTHORITY OF THE TC
The TC spoke with divine authority concerning doctrine and morals (faith and practice). What the Church taught through the apostles was infallible. That is very clear from the Scriptures. St. Peter, the Rock and foundation of the Church according to Jesus (Matt 16:18; cf. Eph 2:19f; Rev 21:14), was given personally the "keys of the kingdom of heaven" and the power of binding and loosing (Matt 16:19). Later the binding/loosing power was given to the apostles as a whole (Matt 18:18). This was rabbinical terminology that what the apostles taught on earth would be confirmed, ratified, sealed by God in heaven. If God and Christ have all authority in heaven and earth (Matt 28:18) and cannot err (Hebrews 6:13-18), neither can God's Church, being Christ's Body on earth imbued with the Holy Spirit of truth (John 16:13; 14:16f) to continue the mission and authority of Christ and His apostles (Matt 28:20). The Church is "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15 NIV), and we must "listen to the Church" (Matt 18:17; cf. Luke 10:16) and make our appeal to her when there are disputes between Christian brothers. This makes no sense of an "invisible" or "spiritual" Church that ultimately could fall into error and apostasy on doctrine or morals.
The original gospel and tradition of the Church that was preached, taught, and passed on from Christ to His apostles to their successors (Timothy, Titus, etc) was inspired by God and infallible (1 Thess 2:13; 2 Thess 2:15; 3:6; 2 Tim 2:2) and therefore binding on the people of God. David King in his new defense of "Sola Scriptura" admits:
"Contrary to persistent charges by Roman apologists, Protestant Evangelicals do affirm the binding authority of apostolic tradition as delivered by the apostles. What they preached and taught in the first century Church was authoritatively binding on the consciences of all Christians....To be sure, all special revelation given by God is authoritative and binding. There can be no doubt that the oral teaching of the apostles and their approved representatives was both (1 Thess 2:13)." (David King, Holy Scripture  volume 1, page 55,145)
Evangelical pastor John MacArthur, in his contribution to the book Sola Scriptura: The Protestant Position on the Bible (1995) edited by Don Kistler, responding to Catholic apologists, admits the same:
"Let it be stated as clearly as possible: Protestants do not deny that the oral teaching of the apostles was authoritative, inerrant truth, binding as a rule of faith on those who heard it....the apostolic message...was as inspired and infallible and true as Scripture itself....So the written words of Scripture are binding. Apostolic preaching was equally binding for those who heard it from the apostles' own mouths." (MacArthur in Kistler, page 171,178,182)
At first it was an entirely oral message where the apostles preached the Word of God to the early believers and handed down the gospel (Matt 10:19-20; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor 2:4,7,13; 11:2,34; 15:1-8; 2 Tim 1:13f; 2:2). Later the message was written down which also became an authority for the Church (1 Cor 14:37; 2 Peter 3:16). The early Church had the OT Scriptures to guide them (2 Tim 3:16f; 1 Cor 15:1-8; Rom 15:4) and these were confirmed as authoritative throughout Jesus' ministry (Matt 4:4ff; 22:29ff; John 10:35). The NT Gospels and epistles once written were never handed to the saints individually so they could interpret them for themselves; rather, they were required to obey their bishops, elders and leaders over them who mediated God's Word and teaching to God's saints (1 Tim 4:6,11,16; 1 Tim 5:17; 1 Tim 6:3ff,20f; Titus 1:3,9; 2:1,15; 3:1; Heb 13:7,17; Philip 1:1; Eph 3:1-10; 4:11-16; Acts 15:2,4,6,22,28; Matt 18:17f; 28:18-20; Luke 10:16; Rom 10:14-17; Jude 3; etc).
Therefore, there was no notion of "Sola Scriptura" in the early Church. The apostles teaching and tradition was inspired and infallible, whether or not it was ever written down. And that message was never privately interpreted (cf. Acts 15). During times of enscripturation and revelation, it was impossible to follow "Sola Scriptura" as the rule of faith because that rule of faith did not exist. As the NT Scriptures were gradually accepted by the Catholic Church, they became an authority for the Church. This process of acceptance and recognition by the bishops of the Catholic Church took centuries and was not completed until the fourth century AD where we finally see the 27-book NT canon emerge.
There is never a suggestion from the NT writings themselves that the written Word of God would entirely supplant or replace or rescind the command to pass on the tradition of the apostles in oral form (for example, 2 Thess 2:15 and 2 Tim 2:2 are quite explicit that the oral teaching of the apostles is to be maintained). Without such a suggestion from Scripture itself, "Sola Scriptura" (that the written Word of God is the only infallible rule of faith) is shown to be unbiblical. Any Church that claims today to follow "Sola Scriptura" therefore cannot be the TC. The rule of faith for the early Catholic Church was clearly Apostolic Tradition, the Scriptures, and the teaching Church (e.g. meeting in Council, Acts 15), as it has always been in the Catholic Church.
The early Church did not and could not practice Sola Scriptura. James R. White writes in an online article on the Bereans (Acts 17) and Sola Scriptura:
"...the doctrine [of sola scriptura] speaks of a rule of faith that exists. What do I mean by this? ...You will never find anyone saying, 'During times of enscripturation -- that is, when new revelation was being given -- sola scriptura was operational.' Protestants do not assert that sola scriptura is a valid concept during times of revelation. How could it be, since the rule of faith to which it points was at that very time coming into being? One must have an existing rule of faith to say it is 'sufficient.' It is a canard to point to times of revelation and say, 'See, sola scriptura doesn't work there!' Of course it doesn't. Who said it did?"
Therefore Protestants should stop quoting 2 Timothy 3:15-17, 1 Corinthians 4:6, or any other text for "Sola Scriptura" since all of this was during times of enscripturation and revelation. During his 1997 debate with Gerry Matatics, White was emphatic in cross-examination that neither Jesus, nor His apostles, nor their immediate successors (Timothy, Titus) believed in or practiced Sola Scriptura since this too was "during times of enscripturation." If J would like to resurrect the concept of "Sola Scriptura" after White has already declared it dead and buried according to the Scriptures, he can attempt to do so. He needs to show me when "Sola Scriptura" became true in the history of the Catholic Church since according to White it did not exist in the original Church, was not a valid concept, was not practiced by Jesus, His apostles, or their successors.
III. THE PROMISES MADE OF THE TC
The TC was promised by Jesus to be indestructible or indefectible, that she could never fall away, that the "gates of hell" cannot prevail against His Church founded on the Rock of Peter (Matt 16:18). Jesus promised as He was leaving this earth to be with His Church to the end of time thus ensuring faithfulness to His teaching (Matt 28:18-20). He also promised the Holy Spirit of truth would guide His apostles "into all truth" and be with them "forever" (John 16:13; 14:16f). That must include their successors in the visible Church since Jesus knew His Church would continue.
Therefore, there can be no total apostasy of his visible Church from the teaching of Christ. There is also no evidence of a total apostasy in the Scriptures. There were individual heretics Yes (2 Peter 2:1; 1 Tim 4:1ff; 2 Tim 4:3f; Acts 20:29ff; Rev 2; etc), but in Christ's Church, "the pillar and foundation of the truth" (1 Tim 3:15 NIV), a "kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Hebrews 12:28; cf. Daniel 2:35,44), a total apostasy is impossible if Jesus' promises are true.
Orthodoxy and true doctrine must exist and remain in Christ's Church to know what is heresy and false doctrine. An appeal to the mere text of "Scripture alone" (which all the heretics did) was never enough.
Jaroslav Pelikan writes on tradition and the early Catholic Church:
"Together with the proper interpretation of the Old Testament and the proper canon of the New, this tradition of the church was a decisive criterion of apostolic continuity for the determination of doctrine in the church catholic. Clearly it is an anachronism to superimpose upon the discussions of the second and third centuries categories derived from the controversies over the relation of Scripture and tradition in the sixteenth century, for 'in the ante-Nicene Church...there was no notion of sola scriptura, but neither was there a doctrine of traditio sola'....
"To identify orthodox doctrine, one had to identify its locus, which was the catholic church, neither Eastern nor Western, neither Greek nor Latin, but universal throughout the civilized world (oikoumene). This church was the repository of truth, the dispenser of grace, the guarantee of salvation, the matrix of acceptable worship. Only here did God accept sacrifices, only here was there confident intercession for those who were in error, only here were good works fruitful, only here did the powerful bond of love hold men together and 'only from the catholic church does truth shine forth.' " (Pelikan, The Christian Tradition, volume 1, page 115-117, 334-335)
Further, one of my favorite quotes on the visible Church from Anglican Canon AJ Mason:
"The society was well known and unmistakable. Its doctrine was everywhere the same; its worship, with rich diversity of forms, centered around one Eucharistic memorial. It had an organized hierarchy for worship and for the pastorate of souls. This hierarchy maintained union between the local branches, and did so in the name and by the authority of Christ. However far back the history is traced, no date can be assigned, however roughly, for the appearance of Catholicism in the Church. The Church was Catholic from the outset." (Mason, cited in The Church and Infallibility  by BC Butler, page 37-38)
The TC is the same Church of the early Fathers, the Creeds and Ecumenical Councils said to have the Four Marks of the True Church being One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic. This is the only true visible Church that passed into the 2nd century forward.
870. "The sole Church of Christ which in the Creed we profess to be one, holy, catholic, and apostolic...subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him. Nevertheless, many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside its visible confines" (Vatican II LG 8).
Will Durant is quite clear that the "Roman Catholic Church" goes back to the first century:
"If art is the organization of materials, the Roman Catholic Church is among the most imposing masterpieces of history. Through nineteen centuries, each heavy with crisis, she has held her faithful together, following them with her ministrations to the ends of the earth, forming their minds, molding their morals, encouraging their fertility, solemnizing their marriages, consoling their bereavements, lifting their momentary lives into eternal drama, harvesting their gifts, surviving every heresy and revolt, and patiently building again every broken support of her power." (Durant, Story of Civilization: The Age of Faith [volume 4, 1950], page 44)
The secular World Book Encyclopedia (2000) also states the obvious under "Roman Catholic Church":
"The Roman Catholic Church traces its beginnings to about A.D. 30, when Jesus Christ instructed the apostles, His followers, to spread His teaching about the Kingdom of God." (volume 16, page 403)
This simply states the historical fact that the RCC traces back and is identified with the original visible historical Church established by Christ.
In summary, which Church today fits the NATURE, has the AUTHORITY, fulfills the PROMISES of the TC? Which visible Church today traces back in an unbroken descent to Christ's first apostles? Kenneth Whitehead asks the obvious and necessary question in his wonderful apologetics book One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic: The Early Church was the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press, 2000) --
"We must ask: What Church existing today descends in an unbroken line from the apostles of Jesus Christ (and possesses the other essential marks of the true Church of which the Creed speaks)? Further, what Church existing today is headed by a single, recognized, designated leader under the headship of Peter? To ask these questions is to answer them. Any entity claiming to be the Church of Christ -- his body! -- must demonstrate its apostolicity, its organic link with the original apostles, on whom Christ manifestly established his Church. Nothing less can qualify as the apostolic Church that Jesus founded." (Whitehead, page 36)
Only the RCC fits all the evidence for the TC. Now for a brief argument.
IV. ARGUMENT THAT THE RCC IS THE TC
Some of this material courtesy of Brent Arias though I tried to improve upon it.
In Scripture the Church and the "men of God" are not separate. If we locate the "men of God" we find the true Church.
The phrase "man of God" (Deut 33:1; Joshua 14:6; 1 Sam 2:27; 9:6ff; 1 Kings 12:22; 13:1ff; 17:18,24; 20:28; 2 Kings 1:9ff; 4:7ff; 5:8ff; 6:6ff; 7:2ff; 8:2ff; 13:19; 23:16f; 1 Chron 23:14; 2 Chron 8:14; 11:2; 25:7ff; 30:16; Ezra 3:2; Neh 12:24,36; Jer 35:4; and in the NT only 2 Peter 1:21 KJV; and 1 Tim 6:11; 2 Tim 3:17 which are significant) refers to prophets (those whose words are equal authority to Scripture cf. 2 Peter 1:19-21), and high ecclesiastical authorities (those who hold office by succession cf. Acts 1:20).
Examples of prophets are Moses, Jesus, Elijah, perhaps an angel (Judges 13:6,8). Examples of high ecclesiastical authorities are the kings (David, Hezekiah, etc), the Aaronic priests, Jesus, governor Nehemiah, the Apostles, and the successors of the Apostles. Prophets are accompanied by miracles and generally do not have succession. High ecclesiastical authorities begin with miracles or the testimony of a prophet, but then continue by succession generally without miracles.
As biblical proof for apostolic succession, Paul refers to both Timothy and Titus as his "true sons in the faith" (1 Tim 1:2; Titus 1:4) indicating dynastic succession based on filial inheritance. Paul passed on his apostolic teaching authority (1 Tim 1:3; 4:6,11-16; 6:2-3,20f; 2 Tim 4:2; Titus 1:5ff; 2:1,15; 3:10-11; cf. Heb 13:7,17). This succession was transacted in an official ceremony (1 Tim 4:14; 2 Tim 1:6).
Another clear example of apostolic succession is the selection by Peter of Matthias to replace Judas:
At this time Peter stood up in the midst of the brethren...For he [Judas] was counted among us and received his share in this ministry...Let another man take his office... (Acts 1:15,17,20 NASB)
The typical Evangelical response is that verse 21-22 rules out anyone who is not a direct eyewitness of Christ's resurrection. However, this was not meant to be a perpetual requirement. The word used in Acts 1:20 for "office" is episkopen which is the word for "bishop" -- not apostolos, the word for "apostle." And Paul who is called an "apostle" (Rom 1:1; 1 Cor 9:1f; 15:9; 1 Tim 2:7) was certainly not one who "accompanied us all the time" (Acts 1:21f) with Christ. The word "apostle" also has a wider meaning (Acts 14:4,14; Rom 16:7; 2 Cor 8:23; Phil 2:25).
Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church of the Thessalonians...For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain...we had the boldness in our God to speak to you the gospel of God...but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who examines our hearts...we [did not] seek glory from men, either from you or from others, even though as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority. (1 Thess 1:1; 2:1,4,6 NASB)
Timothy, a young bishop (1 Tim 4:12) and companion of Paul (Acts 16:1-3), and Silvanus, also Paul's traveling companion (1 Thess 1:1) are identified as "apostles" in 1 Thessalonians 2:6 -- "as apostles of Christ we might have asserted our authority" -- indicating these two shared Paul's own apostolic authority to teach, exhort, and govern. The only people ever said to be "entrusted with the gospel" are the apostles (Rom 1:1; Acts 16:10). Here we see that entrustment clause spoken as pertaining to Silvanus and Timothy who are also called apostles. Paul uses the pronouns "we" and "our" in this epistle (1 Thess 2:3; 4:1) emphasizing the role Timothy and Silvanus had in exhorting the Thessalonians. That bishops (episkopos) are the true successors of the apostles is thus biblical (Acts 1:20; 1 Thess 2:6) and has the unanimous testimony of the earliest Church Fathers (Clement of Rome, St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus forward).
Further, Paul knows that in the Old Testament the phrase "man of God" refers only to prophets and high ecclesiastical authorities. So when Paul reserves the phrase to Timothy he must mean something special by it:
All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work (2 Tim 3:16f; NASB cf. 1 Tim 6:11).
The primary Protestant proof-text for "Sola Scriptura" is actually saying that successors to the apostles are the intended guardians and teachers of Scripture. Further, in Scripture the only people who reform, restore, or change the received doctrines of the Church are prophets or ranking ecclesiastical authorities (the leaders of Hebrews 13:17). Nowhere in Scripture does God approve or allow men to appoint themselves leaders of the faith even in protest to (perceived) abuses by the legitimately appointed leaders. Therefore, Christians, in obedience to Scripture, must have reform, restoration, or change of received doctrines led by prophets or ranking ecclesiastical authorities, i.e. the successors of the apostles.
Given all the biblical data from I to IV and the additional argument above, we can immediately dismiss a number of claimants to being the heirs of the original apostolic Church: Protestantism and its many contradictory churches and sects. They have no authority to teach the Word of God; they contradict each other on doctrine; and they jettison the apostolic succession, the tradition and liturgy of the visible Church from which they took their mission. They are not the "men of God" that Scripture speak about.
St. Francis De Sales whose pamphlets converted 70,000 Calvinists back to the Catholic Church in the 16th century, states quite logically:
"...they [the Protestants] preach things contrary to the Church in which they have been ordained priests; therefore either they err or the Church which has sent them errs; consequently either their church is false or the one from which they have taken mission. If it be that from which they have taken mission, their mission is false, for from a false Church there cannot spring a true mission. Whichever way it be, they had no mission to preach what they preached, because, if the Church in which they have been ordained were true, they are heretics for having left it, and for having preached against its belief, and if it were not true it could not give them mission." (De Sales, The Catholic Controversy [Tan, 1989], page 17-18)
We can also immediately dismiss the thousands of recent groups that claim to be the original Church by a mass "apostasy" theory: the Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, various "Church of Christ" or SdA sects, along with other "pseudo-Christian cults." There cannot be a total apostasy from the teaching of Christ, so these new sects cannot possibly be the true Church. The much older heretical sects (where modern ones inherited their beliefs) such as the Gnostics, the Manicheans, the Monarchians/Sabellians, the Arians, the Monophysites, etc most Evangelicals (such as J) would agree are not the true Church since they were excommunicated by the early Catholic Church. So we can dismiss them as well.
That leaves the Anglican churches, the Orthodox churches, and finally the RCC as possible true heirs to the original visible Church established by Christ. Each claim some form of "apostolic succession" and at least resemble in appearance the early Catholic Church. Anglicans are hopelessly divided among themselves and can be shown to have arisen in the 16th century with King Henry VIII's protest, so they are no better off than any other Protestant group. The Orthodox apostolic succession and priesthood is accepted by Catholics and since we have so much in common it is really a moot point whether or not they are the true Church. For the sake of discussion, I will include them as part of the RCC. We have our differences, but they are very minor compared with most Evangelicals. If J wants me to cover Orthodox vs. Catholic claims I will have to do that in rebuttal as I am out of words.
6900+ words approx
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