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. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one"-John 17:20-22
It wasn't until later in 2004 or early 2005 when that whole concept began to raise questions with me. At that time, Rob and I had began to have lunches on a semi-frequent basis and I remember asking him this question: "Rob, if somebody disagrees with the elders or if they are punished by the leaders, they just leave and join another church...why is that?" It seemed to me that not just the Presbyterian church, but all churches had an issue with the members not submitting the authority that their church held and their commitment to their church. Growing up in the my whole life, I have seen the scenario happen over and over. What generally happens is that someone gets some epiphany, revelation, or leading of the Spirit on a certain direction, or teaching. At that point, if it is not accepted by the leadership of the church they are a member of, they will proceed (if they feel strong enough about the issue) to either leave and join another church, or if they have enough charisma, they might start their own church. In another situation, a church leader would be removed from their position for whatever reason, then he would proceed to begin his own church. This had been a serious concern for me due to the fact that sometimes these leaders were gone for reasons that were not pleasant and they had no business in leadership over anybody....but there was no governance...no body to answer to. In addition, this reflects a very widely held view within Western Christianity which is that we all have the Holy Spirit, so therefore we are all "our own Pope" so to speak. There is no true submission to any form of Church government in any denomination, the Catholic Church included. This seems to be more of the fault of the influence of Western Culture on Christianity rather than the churches or denomination themselves. So often as Western Christians we believe that the same chains that we through off with England we can throw off with our spiritual lives. We only need Jesus and what we believe He has revealed to us. We don't need to submit to any other authority if we don't agree with them or they cross our beliefs. Our freedom and pleasures often rule supreme...even in our spiritual lives. When these splits occurred, I would hear: "Well God used what is bad to create another body of believers" and I personally believe that is complete hogwash! God would NEVER divide his body, which brings me to the subject of this post.
I really never had contemplated denominations previously to this point in my life, it was just a fact of reality. I knew that we weren't Baptists, Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopal, Church of God, Church of Christ, Assembly of God, Lutheran, Seventh Day Adventist or any of the other denominations...we were in fact NON denominational. I was always told that all of us "agreed on the major issues", but I never did stop to think....who was the "governing body" that determined what issues were MAJOR and which ones were MINOR. Was baptism, for example necessary for salvation, or was it just a symbol? Did you HAVE to go to church, or was it just a nice thing to do? Were the charismatic gifts of the Spirit "extra" and if you didn't have them, did you have a lesser share in the Kingdom of God? All these were questions that I pondered during this time, but this time, there was more of an answer. Again, the New Testament can never be fully understood outside the context of the Covenant that God had through the Children of Israel and the Old Testament. The structure that God intended was for ONE people united. He started with a couple in Adam and Eve. That covenant expanded to a family with Noah. A tribe received the covenant through Abraham and finally a nation received the Covenant through Moses. It was God's desire to bring the entire world into the Covenant and He did so through Christ. Look at Christ's words again in John 17:
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. And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one,
Read it again, and again, and again. Put aside your denominational walls and read the words of our Lord. Just like the Father and the Son are one in the same, they cannot be divided...That is Christ's desire for His Church, His Body. Christ's body is not meant to be split into thousands of different shapes and forms. There is nowhere in Scripture that God has given us the concept of an "Invisible, Universal Church" . Quite the contrary, Christ prayed that we would be visible, a "light on the hill". Paul said it 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;
Are there any other references in Scripture to just "one" Church? Let's look at the Gospels and how Jesus tells us to handle "conflict resolution" in Matthew 18:15-18:
"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. 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.' 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. 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. "
Now this is quite an interesting instruction here in the modern day. If I am a Catholic, and you are a Baptist we have a conflict of some sort, I steal your car, knock you in the face, or something that nature. According to Our Lord, if I refuse to listen to you, we are to go to the church. But what church would that be? Your Baptist church has no hold on me and my Catholic Church has no hold on you. So what happens, we wind up going to see Judge Wapner in civil litigation. Is this what Christ intended?
The reason that the Christan Church as a whole doesn't have "power" as some like to speak of is not due to the fact that we don't have enough "faith", but a major reason (in my opinion) is that all the outsiders see is us fighting among ourselves and all the thousands of denominations we have. Look at your individual church for a moment and study the history. How long has it been around? 30 years? 50 years? 150 years? When you look at this I guarantee that what you will find is that your denomination was formed out of disagreement with the previous denomination and their interpretations of Scripture. When you run history in reverse..All roads lead to Rome. Until the time of the Reformation, you had NO choice. If you were a Christian, you were a Catholic...PERIOD. There is nowhere in Scripture that God has ever given precedence for us to become cafeteria Christians--including Catholics. The Catholic Church has its share of issues, believe you me, and I could give you a litany of them. By no means is it perfect and it is also not monolithic in it's teachings. You do have rogue priests who don't adhere to the teachings of the Church, and you have the same with Bishops. But Jesus foretold of this in his parable of the wheat and the tares:
The slaves of the householder came to him and said, 'Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?' He answered, 'An enemy has done this.' His slaves said to him, 'Do you want us to go and pull them up?'He replied, 'No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, "First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn."--Matthew 13:27-30
Contrary to what you may think, this parable is about the Kingdom of God, not the world in general. There will be weeds (tares) in the Church and at the end of the day, they will all be sorted out by Our Lord. Our responsibility is to follow him.
"there are now as many doctrines as there are heads"--Martin Luther
This was a quote that was made by Martin Luther towards the end of his life, and how true it is. No matter what your stance is on the Catholic Church, whether you are a lover or a hater, or somewhere in between, there is no mistake on what the Church believes and what it teaches. On the issues of Christ, Salvation, Scripture, The Eucharist, Marian doctrines (not taking that on right now ;-) ) and most importantly on Life, the Church has NEVER, NEVER moved. PERIOD! As an example, did you know that until 1930 EVERY Christian Church denounced artificial contraception as a sin? Now there is ONLY the Catholic Church and maybe a handful of others that have maintained the stance. And now we see the slope getting even more slick. So called Christian Churches accepting same sex "marriages", Divorce is rampant in all Christian Churches (Catholic included). But what we must look at is what does each church teach? Why has the Catholic Church been so steadfast on her teachings? Because for 2000 years we have had the guidance of the Holy Spirit through Apostolic Succession. This means that the Catholic Church is the ONLY Church that can trace it's roots back to Peter. (There are some other Eastern and Orthodox Churches that claim some form of Apostolic succession, that are in communion with Rome, but that is also another conversation for another time.) The same anointing that Christ gave Peter has been passed down through these 2,000 years to each Pope, ensuring that there is One head, One Body, One Teaching. The Holy Spirit has continued and will ALWAYS continue to guide her until Our Lord returns for His Bride.
Finally, I had to come to ask myself one question when I was discerning the direction I was to go on my journey: What church did I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, was teaching 100% correct doctrines, no questions asked. And to take it one step further, was there any pastor that I knew of that was teaching 100% truth. Was there any? I knew that I had found it. Once I saw and realized what Christ had intended, I had no choice. I had to humble myself to Christ and the one He had left at the helm in his absence. I knew I was on the way Home, sooner rather than later.