Is there such a thing as One True Church?
Protestants dismiss the idea, Catholics may not even know what it is even though they are members of it. But yes, I do believe that there is such a thing and I’d like to explain why I believe that this is so.
Perhaps we should start by looking at just how many protestant denominations there are in the world.
The World Christian Database estimates a conservative figure of over 9,000 Christian denominations and over 13,000 ethno linguistic peoples of distinct ethnic and cultural faith practices and beliefs. A further source suggests that their are in excess of 33,000 protestant denominations alone. However, this figure rises daily in view of man’s penchant for creating new faiths, new denominations.
Do a Google search and you will see such figures for yourself. The disunity of God’s people is no secret despite some seeing this lack of harmony as a celebration of our diversity, I make no apologies for saying that it makes me very sad and it expressly contradicts what Christ repeatedly spoke of and to the Church.
I am reminded here of our recent conversation on the post about why non-Catholics can not receive the Eucharist. When it came down to it’s epicentre, the root of the disagreement lay in Scripture in that we Catholics actually believe Christ’s words when he tells us that the bread he shared at the Last Supper was his actual Body and Blood…while the non- Catholics in the thread chose to explore other more creative avenues of interpretation, despite perhaps a tenet of their faith being that they ascribe to sola scriptura (scripture alone).
So what will be said about this passage and all the others which blatantly state that there is but One Church, and that further still, she is Holy and that she is Catholic? Are we really free to interpret scripture as we want to even when that interpretation is erroneous?
When the Lord said;
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me.” – John 17:20-21
What did Jesus mean if not that we are to be united in faith and not divided? Or to the non-Catholic is this another case of “Well, he didn’t actually mean that…” – like when Christ said;
‘This IS my body, this IS my blood”
But Jesus meant something else entirely?
Jesus further said;
“Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.”
the naysayer’s recoiled in horror, saying,
“This saying is hard; who can accept it?”
Jesus didn’t hold up his hands and say ‘You know what guy’s, I didn’t mean it to come out that way, get back here and eat bread with me’….instead he further declared that YES, this was indeed his flesh and blood.
Jesus then turned to the Twelve, saying;
“Do you also want to leave?”
I imagine myself to be one such Christ follower and I believe that as disciples, we too are asked that same question. I don’t want to ‘leave’,I will not deny the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Are you a modern day disciple? What will you say when Jesus asks you if this is too hard for you to believe?
But we don’t disagree on this alone, do we…
The division deepens amongst us daily as more and more people find this teaching too difficult to swallow.
St. Paul, the hero of so many a protestant writes unequivocally about the necessity of unity, in his letter to the Church;
“I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose.” – 1 Corinthians 1:10
Clearly, when there are thousands of religions and Christian denominations in the world, we are not one in belief. Within Protestantism alone there are many denominations, each one of which has sub-denominations that differentiate somewhat from the parent denomination. Luther really started something didn’t he? – Though surprisingly, he had a particular devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary… how many Lutherans emulate the devotion of their churches founder?
The fact of the matter is that Christ only founded One Church. He didn’t found 33,000+ churches. It’s not good enough to say that there is one faith practiced in 33,000+ ways and that it is the way God intended us to be. We know that people church hop because of disagreements about practices, traditions, stances, music or worship style differences etc.. The truth is that there is NO good reason to church hop when you are a member of the One Church that Christ founded; the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church.
Catholics may have disagreements with the Catholic Church, some of them may indeed be valid (never on doctrine or tradition or what is infallibly defined, but at parish level? Most certainly there may be instances of liturgical abuse for example). But leaving isn’t an option. Not for anyone who has genuinely known, understood and believed the truths of the Catholic faith.
The importance of unity in the Church is spoken of again in Ephesians 4: 3-5
“striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call;one Lord, one faith, one baptism”
Do we who believe in Christ share one faith?
It isn’t good enough to say that we share a faith when we are each free to believe whatsoever we choose about the Lord and about his teachings. How can one protestant church be pro-abortion and another pro-life? Is that unity? How can one teach infant baptism and another not? How can one profess the sanctity of human life and another espouse support for euthanasia? Is that unity?
Time and again we read in scripture the call to unity and yet daily new groups, new denominations are formed. What unites us as Christians then? Is it merely a belief in the name of Jesus ? It just might be, because denomination to denomination can not agree on Christ’s divinity, his humanity, his chastity, his relationship with his mother….where is the unity? It can be in name only that we who call ourselves Christians, share anything. We can agree that we believe in Jesus. But so does the evil one, so that’s nothing really earthshatteringly unifying either, is it?
How can we know that the One church Christ founded is the Catholic Church?
- We can know that the Catholic Church is the one church that Christ founded because it alone has all four marks of the one true church.
That is, that it is that which we who believe and adhere to the Nicene Creed, profess – that the Church is;
The Church is One
“Because the loaf of bread is one, we, though many, are one body, for we all partake of the one loaf.” – 1 Corinthians 10:17
Do we share one loaf? As Catholics we do, but do protestants? No. There is no definitive protestant understanding of the ‘one loaf’ and thus they can not all partake of’one loaf’.
- We can know that there is meant to be only one church because in scripture the Church is referred to as being the bride of Christ…if the Church is not one, then Christ would be a bigamist were we all to be his ‘brides’ and that is a nonsense.
- If we are one, then we profess one belief, one faith, one set of teachings. This is clearly not the case when we look outside the Catholic Church and 33,000 + denominations each have their own ‘man-made’ teachings and beliefs.
- We are to be a Church united under the one visible head of the Church on earth, the Pope. Just as the early church was united under the one visible head of the church, Peter, the first Pope, who alone was given the authority to lead the church.
- The Catholic Church alone has this mark of unity, while all protestant denominations trust in their own judgement, which is by it’s nature, erroneous. Catholics recognize the authority of the Pope, the bishops of the Church and their successors.
The Church is Holy
“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church and handed himself over for her to sanctify her, cleansing her by the bath of water with the word, that he might present to himself the church in splendour, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.” – Ephesians 5:25-27
- The Church is holy because it was founded by Christ who himself is holy.
- The Church is not made holy by its members who make up the Catholic Church but by the Deposit of Faith that was given to the Catholic Church alone. The Church is made holy then because of the grace poured out by God, upon it.
- The Church is holy because of its Sacraments through which we are able to receive an outpouring of the grace of God, and through which we may become holy.
- Through the Churches doctrines, the church is holy.
The Church is Catholic
“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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” – Mathew 28:19-20
- Churches come and churches go but the Catholic Church will stand forever.
- The church is ‘Catholic’, because it is universal, ie it is open to everyone.
- The Catholic Church fulfils the scripture that disciples should be made of all nations. To this day catholic missionaries travel the far reaches of the earth to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to know Christ. (over a million africans each year convert to the Catholic faith)
- Christ promised to be with the Church (note, not churches) and its members, until the end of time. Hence, Jesus can now – and always will be – found in the Catholic Church.
The Church is Apostolic
“So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone” – Ephesians 2:19-20
- Jesus himself appointed the Apostles and gave them the authority to lead the church. Jesus didn’t start something to let it fizzle out, he knew that the Apostles would ordain successors who would in turn ordain successors, thus ensuring an Apostolic lineage that would span nigh on 2,000 years, and for all the years to follow. In the same way, Jesus did not leave his church bereft of a visible leader. He gave St. Peter alone the authority to lead the church and that same authority and power has been passed on to each of St. Peter’s successors.
- Since the Church’s foundation it has believed in Christ’s Resurrection, in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, has celebrated Mass, has forgiven sins via the Sacrament of Reconciliation, has baptised its members, has venerated Mary and has accepted the authority of the Pope and the bishops of the Church etc. To this day, it still does so. This can not be said for any other church.
- There is a wealth of written evidence to support this in the early Christian writings and scripture itself attests to it.
In summary then, what does this all boil down to?
For the most part, I think it boils down to one thing and one thing alone. If God founded one church and one church alone, what businesses have any of us to be anywhere but in it?
If you knew that the source of life in physical matter was food and water, what wouldn’t you do to ensure that you received it and that you could provide your family members with it?
In the same way, a person can come to realise, through prayer, discernment, research and revelation that the source of spiritual lifegiving is to be found in the Eucharist, which can be received validly, only in the Catholic Church. If you knew that the source of spiritul and eternal life resided in the Catholic church what wouldn’t you do to ensure that you received it and that you provided your family members with a means to it?
The Catholic Church is unified, speaks with one voice, professes one faith; in her alone resides the four marks of the Church with which she can be identified. The Church recognises that God’s grace is given to non-Catholics, but that the Truth of Christian Faith can only be found in the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church that Christ himself founded and in which Catholics alone, can live in the fullness of Faith.