Friday, June 09, 2006

Is the Roman Church the One True Church?

A large part of my blog is basically an attempt at answering that very question: Is the Roman Church the One True Church? I've made other posts already on Apostolic Succession, Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide that have given some insight on how I feel we might go about answering that question but this post is of a slightly different nature. It is a little out of order chronologically but I'd like to examine the question: why do we care? In other words, what does it mean to me whether or not the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church or not?

In my early stages of Catholicism, I am looking at what I view as evidence for and against the concept that the Catholic church is exclusively the true church.

So what are the implications of each possibility? If the Catholic Church is not the one true church, then (for all practical purposes) there is no ‘one true church’. This concept would only exist (as Protestants insist) in a general, abstract sense as applied universally to every true believer regardless of denomination. In other words, there is no ‘visible church’ or tangible representation of the body of Christ on Earth. If it’s not the one true church, then what do we make of verses like:

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”

As a Protestant, I was taught to systematically toss out and ignore such passages. Protestants have no qualms about preaching on the verse, but they will only exegete what it does not mean and not what it does mean. (They do this with other passages as well such as James chapter 2 but I digress).

Next, without the Church we do not have the bible. If the Catholic Church has no authority, then it could not authoritatively declare which books were inspired. (Again there is no one true church so my opinion is just as valid as anyone else’s and I might choose to think that… say… Barnabas was inspired and Jude wasn’t).

Without the bible having any real authority (of course we’re still assuming general truth because it is valid history) then what about statements that Jesus made like the one mentioned above and others like:

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

What truth did He guide them into? I guess it doesn’t matter if only the apostles were privy to it. Without Apostolic Succession, apostolic authority and apostolic benefits (such as the truth that Christ prophesied that the Holy Spirit would lead them into) ends with … the apostles. That is to say: without an heir to the throne the dynasty ends. Without a survivor, the estate of the deceased is separated from the family lineage.

Now what does it mean if the Catholic Church is the same church we speak of in the Nicene creed? Both Catholics and Protestants (most Protestants) accept the creed that states:

“We believe in one holy and Catholic and Apostolic church”

Of course, Protestants believe Catholic in the sense of the original meaning of the word “Universal” whereas I’m speaking in terms of the Roman Catholic Church. Protestants don’t really have much footing to stand on when it comes to the word “Apostolic” since the apostles handed down no traditions of any value. Only the ones who participated in writing the New Testament had any contribution besides their initial evangelism according to the Protestant world view. As previously stated, without the church there is no Apostolic succession of authority or privilege.

On the other hand, if the Catholic Church that remains today is the same one started I think it has several significant implications. First, all the Scriptures above are now fulfilled and have valid meaning. That is, passages like Matthew 16: 18-19, John 16: 12-13, John chapter 6, and James chapter 2 mean precisely what is (apparently) stated. No need for advanced theological degrees or in depth exegetical study. If the church is true then we can accept (what should be obvious) that the authors were quite capable (as you and I are) of conveying their intended concepts in plain language. At this point I’d like to appeal to Ockham’s razor:

Entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem or “Entities should not be multiplied beyond necessity.”

William Ockham was a Fransciscan Friar (c. 1295–1349) and noted logician. His famous quote above basically means:

“The simplest explanation is usually the best”

So I like to refer to that often; especially when dealing with scriptural exegesis. Without heading off topic too deeply in apologetic territory, suffice it to say we can liken this to the concept that to reject Christianity requires a lot of far fetched theories (in my opinion) when to assume Christianity as taught by the bible and church tradition is true, is so much more simple & is an adequate explanation for every aspect of life. Therefore according to Ockham’s razor, the best explanation is probably that Christianity is true.

In the same light, in the scriptures quoted above (among others), it seems to me the best explanation is that they mean what they say. The concept that the Catholic Church is the true church affirms this theory. Assume for just a minute that it is the one true church. Now go back and read those scriptures.

The next implication is that the Holy Spirit is still actively involved in a tangible way on earth. Through the guidance of the Catholic Church, man kind is being shown the true light of Christ continually. The Protestant church also has truth and displays this truth of Christ but remember, it learned every true thing it knows from the Catholic Church.

Next, if we admit that the Catholic Church has authority, we can now say with some level of honesty and intellectual integrity that the canonical bible has authority (of course we’re talking about the Catholic canon not only the 66 Protestant books). We are of course by no means affirming sola scriptura. There is no logical framework in this world or in any fictional world that would allow for such an idea. (We will discuss this more in depth later). I realized the beauty of this concept shortly after joining the church. I had struggled for so long not understanding how the bible could have any real authority but now the church makes perfect sense out of it.

Now assuming that the Catholic Church is the true church, we of course have real Apostolic Succession. That is, Jesus directly gave the apostles authority on several occasions. This authority was passed down through the church and continues today. In addition to those scriptures above, read John 20:21-23 with the Catholic teaching of confession in mind and see how the assumption that the Catholic Church is true completely validates this reading. Again, you don’t need to be a Greek scholar, just read the text. What does it say?

This is not to say that the church hasn’t had dark times in it’s past but of course, the nation of Israel has a very tainted history as well. In fact, its very arguable that the darkness of Catholic history pales in comparison to that of God’s chosen people, the Israelites. Furthermore, the Christian alternatives are basically Protestantism & Eastern Orthodoxy; both of which have equally dark if not darker histories.

It’s also not to say that the church is or ever has been without error. This is probably one of the most perpetuated misconceptions of the Protestant attack on Catholicism; that the church or even the papacy considers itself inerrant which is simply not the case.


Tiber Jumper said...

This is an excellent post I just came upon. Would that more Protestants could do as you suggested, go back and read those particular Scriptures and suspend all disbelief and imagine the Church is the True Church while reading those Scriptures.
God bless you

Kevin Allen said...

For another perspective on the question "Is the RCC the One true Church?", you might be interested in the two pod casts recently done with Fr Thomas Hopko, an Orthodox theologian, who makes the same caim for the EOC!


Tim A. Troutman said...

Thanks for the link. I love pod casts. EOC can be truly called "Church" also. The "one true Church" ness of the Catholic Church doesn't exclude the Eastern Churches from being part of the Church as well. They are simply not in full communion.

I will listen to the podcasts, thanks again. Glory to Jesus Christ.

Tim A. Troutman said...

I just listened to them. I learned a few things! I attend a Ukrainian Catholic mass which also celebrates the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom as regularly as I can. I absolutely love it.

The Eastern Churches have done a much better job of maintaining the liturgy than the West has that's for sure. But I see no way around primacy of Rome. In my studies I've seen quite a bit of early support for the papacy in the writings of the early Church Fathers.

We should continue to pray for the reunification of the two Churches East & West.