Sometimes the prevailing emotions of our day prompt some interesting theological questions. What is theology? Simply put, it’s merely “faith seeking understanding.” We all do it to some extent. Even self-professed atheists and agnostics have to put in some sweat equity into their firmly held ideologies.
One recurring theme in my own theologizing is; does the Church we (each individual) are in really matter? I mean in the grand scheme of things, what difference does it really make? Is one church right and all the others wrong? Considering the FACT that there are literally thousands of different Christian sects and denominations, how can any of them seriously believe they have a corner on the TRUTH?
At this point, you’re saying to yourself, “self, why should anything this guy has to say be any better than that nut down the block?” Good question. Hopefully, I’ll be able to provide some valuable insight in the next few paragraphs.
Many Protestants will tell you that the Roman Catholic Church is definitely on the wrong side of history, while Roman Catholics still persist in claiming they alone hold the “fullness of faith.” Modernist, contemporary theologians (including many Roman Catholics) assure us that we needn’t worry because after all, we have a “reasonable hope that hell will be empty.”
Some tell us that salvation is a simple, onetime decision and after that, you’re in — nothing more to be concerned about. Other well-meaning folks insist that God requires a bit more effort on our part. Who is right? They can’t all be correct?
The Protestant Reformers insisted that scripture alone was sufficient to unravel the mysteries of faith, yet in the ensuing centuries following the Reformation, there seems to be more confusion than firm foundation. I’ve found that this is symptomatic of a lack of spiritual authority. In modernism, everyone becomes the final arbiter of truth. In this manner of developing theological beliefs, who is it that decides which position is correct? The idea that scripture interprets itself then becomes a sort of a slapstick comedy of errors.
Is it just legalism to suggest that there be some external authority outside of our own individual reasoning to interpret the words of Scripture? After all, what did the church rely on for the first five hundred or so years without an official canon of scripture? It was another thousand years before the printing press began to make bibles accessible to the laity (non-Clergy).
While we’re on the subject, of various churches and those differing theological understandings, is ecumenism the way to go? Why don’t we all just agree on the essentials and form a one-world belief structure? Would it surprise you to learn that there has been division and difference of opinion regarding the Christian faith throughout church history?
From the very beginning, there have been folks stirring up troubles. We read about such divisions in the writings of Saint Paul in particular. In the book of Acts, there was a particular controversy that threatened to split the Church. In this dispute one side was saying that non-Jewish converts to Christianity were obligated to keep all the Old Testament laws. The other side disagreed. This set the stage for what has been traditionally referred to as the Council of Jerusalem. At this meeting, the apostles and other leaders of the infant church gathered under the leadership of James, the “brother of our Lord.” The council decided that Gentile converts to Christianity were not obligated to keep most of the Law of Moses, including the rules concerning circumcision of males. The Council did, however, retain the prohibitions on eating blood, meat containing blood, and meat of animals not properly slain, and on fornication and idolatry, sometimes referred to as the Apostolic Decree or Jerusalem Quadrilateral.
I bring up the Council of Jerusalem because it depicts a significant development and one which would guide the church for the next thousand years. The model of this Council became the prototype for how the Church would overcome division, defend against controversial and false doctrine. This paradigm was so significant that we have church councils to thank for the development of virtually all Christian doctrine. From codifying our understanding of Jesus‘ human and divine nature to defining scripture itself, we cannot understate the importance that the early church councils played in the development of Christian thought.
These councils of bishops were, in fact, the ultimate authority in the Church. Individual bishops did, in fact, have authority over their particular jurisdictions, but, the ultimate authority was the unified proclamations of these councils of bishops.
Uniformity of doctrine and theological beliefs took shape over several hundred years, and seven major councils of the entire church of that time. These bishops didn’t just make up these doctrines out of whole cloth, they consulted the writings of the apostles and others who were contemporaries and disciples of the apostles — who’ve Come to be the respected fathers of the Church. What came from these great meetings of faith have become for many the baseline rule of orthodoxy to this very day. We ignore these lessons from history at our own peril.
Before scripture itself was codified, Holy men of God, relying on prayer, oral traditions and incomplete apostolic texts formed and fashioned the fundamentals of the Christian Faith. This was why the Apostle Paul felt it was so important to tell us to follow teachings that were passed along in both written and oral forms. In a society without printing presses, oral traditions were not simply highly effective — they were necessary.
Right about now you’re probably thinking to yourself, “self, where is he going with this?” My point is that the early church took great effort to preserve the faith as it had been handed down to them directly via Christ, his Apostles and other early church leaders. Much of what was written was dogmatic in nature. This means that these teachings were considered non-negotiable, to the extent that they even impacted your very salvation. People who persisted in teaching differently were removed from fellowship— they were no longer considered Christian, or even considered to be saved at all.
In the minds of the early church, there was no other Church. You were either in or you were out. In this understanding, your spiritual choices really had an impact. There was virtually no room for spiritual relativism. So when people ask me “what difference does it make,” I cringe reflexively.
I know this is an oversimplification, and I’ve skipped over many centuries, but, sixteen centuries after Christ, the Roman Catholic branch of the Church was playing fast and loose with some issues, namely, selling indulgences. They were literally selling “get out of hell free” cards to finance the Church. Certain clerics became incensed over this ecclesiastical abuse and protested. This resulted in a fracture in the Church which is having repercussions to this day. The long and the short of it is that what ensued was the abandonment of virtually everything Catholic, by a vast number of churches. It didn’t matter that Rome eventually said that selling indulgences was wrong. The damage was done.
More to the point along with the essential doctrine that Protestantism abandoned, was the particular sense of authority that those ancient teachings represented. The sin of pride is responsible for so much division. According to ancient orthodoxy, the Protestant reformers separated themselves from Christ and His Church. Therefore, they are outside of salvation itself.
“Wait a minute,” you may be asking yourself, “isn’t that pretty harsh? After all, don’t all Protestant Churches preach the gospel of Jesus Christ?” Well, thankfully, it’s not for me to judge. The best I can do is teach what I’ve been taught and have discovered via my own studies. No, I’m clearly not teaching that you must be Roman Catholic to be saved. I’m not Roman Catholic, and I believe I have the blessed assurance of salvation. And, no, I’m NOT saying that all Protestants are going to hell!
The bottom line is that each of us, through the grace of God, is ultimately responsible for our own life choices. Are the choices you make or have made placing you within the narrow path to salvation? Remember, Jesus did say that relatively “few” would find that path. He also said that not everyone who called upon the name of the Lord would be saved!
If you “believe,” wouldn’t it be prudent to truly understand why so few will make it into heaven?
The church I belong to is sort of a “reformed” Catholic Church. We are attempting to be faithful to the teachings of the first thousand years of the Church. We don’t claim any sort of infallibility, though we do believe that the early accepted teachings of Christianity are accurate and free from error.
We believe it is incumbent upon each person to make a faith-based decision for Christ. The particular semantics of language you use is irrelevant. The important thing is that we realize that each of us has fallen short of God’s ideal and are in desperate need of a savior and that Jesus is the only name by which we must be saved. We believe that, as the earliest Christians taught, that repentance followed by baptism is the normative means of salvation. We believe with our hearts, confess with our mouths, and follow Jesus through the waters of baptism, and rise, cleansed of our sins.
Contrary to many teachings, the ancient church didn’t teach that was all we had to do. We MUST continue to do the will of the Father, throughout our lives, even to the point of carrying our own cross, being willing to sacrifice everything for our faith. This is the witness of the ancient Church. Church history is littered with the souls of the martyrs who refused to compromise.
The good news is that for those who are unwilling to compromise, the authoritative teachings of the historic church remain just as valid today as they were when first penned. The truth of yesterday is still true today. Truth is immutable — unchanging.
Today’s mainstream church seems more willing to compromise than seek authenticity. Does your choice of Church matter? What do you think?
What authority does your church look to for spiritual conflict resolution — scripture alone? That’s always a good place to start. But, if that proves insufficient; what next?
What does it matter at this point? The choices you make will have eternal ramifications.
Peace and blessings +++
The International Catholic Confederation
is actively seeking men of good faith and morals to join us in our mission to preach an authentic Gospel message to our generation. How will the next generation know the truth without men of God committed to authentic teachings. Message me if you are interested in joining us.