Friday, January 05, 2007

Acts - The Beginning of the Catholic Church

Typically, the sentiment amoung many Christians seems to be that the early Church had no structure and certainly no hierarchy (God forbid). Some even contend that Christ came to preach against hierarchy and authority and religious structure. There seems to be many (especially amoung teenagers) who even think that Christ was against organized religion. (I'd be curious to know why He organized one if so)...

However, a quick reading of the book of Acts will dismiss any of those fantasies one might have.

Home Churches
It's not hard to see where some of these notions came from though. They sometimes did meet in homes. That implies a much more casual atmosphere than say a church or synagogue. But it does not logically follow that since they met in homes (sometimes) they had no authoritative structure. Furthermore, there aren't but a few mentionings of homes being used as meeting places for Churches so it is not necessarily the case that they were always (or even usually) in homes for very long. Finally, they were in houses to begin with out of necessity. They couldn't exactly build Churches overnight especially when it was often a crime to be seen or heard preaching in the name of Jesus.

Jewish Origins & The Wrath of God
Today, the Jewish origins of Christianity seem to be largely forgotten. Reading Acts, the Judaic elements in the early Church are very strong. Paul takes Timothy and circumsises him. We also begin to realize that while yes Christ revealed God as 'our Father', we can see He is still the same God of Abraham and Isaac. Yes He is the God of boundless mercy which the prophets understood and wrote about, but He is also the God of justice and of power. His sword is still swift and terrible, just ask Ananias.

Women in the Early Church
Another thing Ive noticed while going through the Acts again recently is the significant number of women involved in the accounts and their roles which they played. It is important for non-Christians and those Christians who have deviated from orthodox Christianity and are ordaining women to realize that the Church never has precluded women from ministry or demeaned their role. In fact, Christianity has raised women up to a much greater role than any other major religion. It's especially hard to miss their role in the early Church as not only equal members of the Body of Christ but also as teachers(1). However, it is important to distinguish a teaching role from the role of a priest.

Council of Jerusalem
Catholics love history since it is on their side. What we know from indisputable history is that the Church has always been on the same side theologically as the Catholic Church is today. Case in point - sola scriptura & the council of Jerusalem. When the early Christians had disagreements, what did they do? Pull out their pocket bibles and start arguing their own opinions while quoting Scripture? (Nevermind the fact that bibles as we know them didnt even exist until about 1400 years later).. No. They went to the bishops & priests (which at this time were the originals - the apostles).

When the significant issues regarding the conversion of gentiles and their keeping of the law arose, the great council of Jerusalem was held. In this council we have two things clearly taught. Although much of Christianity has now rejected part of the council's holy and infallible declarations (if you don't believe me just have a group of Christians over for steak), we have learned that the authority of the Church is binding and the 'pillar and foundation of the truth' as St. Paul correctly said by the Holy Spirit(2). In this infallible book of Acts we also see St. Peter speaking as the authoritative head of the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit and acting as the first pope (which he was). There was much debate on the subject and it apparently would not have been settled short of the Holy Spirit's intervention. Thanks be to God that the Church has the pope who can act as the authoritative head of the Church. Thanks be to God that we are not all "our own popes" as Martin Luther mistakenly asserted.

I cannot stress how significant the council of Jerusalem was. But to anyone who it was not already plainly obvious that the early Church relied on oral tradition and the living words of the apostles and the hierarchy of the visible Church as authority rather than Scripture alone, this further piece of irrefutable evidence is unlikely to do any good. It's not that they didn't view Scripture as authoritative, they most certainly did and we still do of course. But we Catholics then and now profess that the Church authoritatively interprets the Scripture not me individually.

So it's significant to recognize that at Antioch, even though they had the blessed St. Paul and St. Barnabas right there in their midst, when this dispute arose, they went immediately to the Church and not to the Scriptures. What's even more important to notice... they didn't schism!

Many outside of the graces of orthodox Christianity are strongly suspicious and antagonistic towards relics and icons. Specifically on the topic of relics, we see in Acts that the earliest Church did indeed make use of relics and holy items and not only that... but they worked!(3) Now if it were the case that these things were of man and evil as the opponents would like us to believe, how is it that God allowed them to work? I am reminded of when Christ asked the teachers of the law and the elders, "John's baptism, was it from heaven or from men?" So to those outside the Church, are relics from heaven or from men?

Now the receiving of the Holy Spirit, the seal is also a clear and distinct event from baptism or initial salvation according to Acts(4). We can see this sacrament as maintained by the Church clearly taught although John Calvin reduced the sacraments to only two (but really only one since holy orders were nullified).

I had a conversation the other day with a former Catholic who had fallen away and was now a Protestant. I was utterly baffled at her complete lack of understanding about Catholic doctrine. If I throw a rock into a crowd of Protestants, I can sleep well knowing I hit one who understood Catholicism much better than 95% of those who have fallen away from it (or at least that's been my experience). Most Protestants are very ignorant of Catholicism (as I was) and what it teaches. But they at least have some clue as to what's going on. This woman (and she is not an anamoly) was terribly confused and insisted that the Church taught we are saved by receiving confirmation which she also maintained was not Scriptural. I have shown that confirmation is Scriptural and as for being saved, we teach and always have that we are saved by God's grace. Yes confirmation is a step in the process of salvation but it is not the means by which we are saved neither is anyone considered "unsaved" before they receive the seal. Catholics and Protestants also have a different concept of salvation altogether so therein lies some of the confusion.

For these and other reasons I believe confidently that the early Church was most certainly Catholic in the modern sense of the word. No, they didnt have confession booths, they didnt pray the Rosary, they didnt view Peter as 'the pope' per se, and they didnt have celibate priests.

But they did have hierarchy. They did have authoritative structure visibly by His apostles who spoke by the power of the Holy Spirit and guided the Church into truth. St. Peter did act as the head of the apostles and his overwhelming prominence which was observed throughout the gospel accounts of the life of Christ continues into Acts. The earliest Church was sacramental. They certainly and without question had no concept of sola scriptura. Sola fide is up for debate but it's not likely that anyone believed in this heresy so early being so close to the teachings of Chirst which were strongly anti-'sola fide'.

We also know by the writings of St. Justin Martyr that by 150AD (and probably much earlier), the Church was celebrating Mass in EXACTLY the same way as we celebrate in now in 2007AD.


Chad said...

About being saved at confirmation:

It is a common catechetical quip to say: "Since you've been confirmed, now would be a good time to get hit by a bus, because you'd go straight to heaven." My priest said it to me, with a wink. A fallen away catholic told me his bishop told him the same thing 20 years ago.

Maybe part of the confusion comes from statements like that, that while true, are somewhat incomplete.

TheGodFearinFiddler said...

Could be. But if you think about the statements by the priests / bishops, they dont teach us anything about the salvation process and arent intended to. They merely explain that we are in a state of grace having received confirmation and (usually) first communion. Of course this would also be (usually) not long after the sacrament of reconciliation and at any rate you would be expected not to be in a state of mortal sin at the time.

So, while there probably isnt really any good time to be hit by a bus... if there was.. just after confirmation would be one of those times. But you could say the same thing about any of the sacraments.

Like you said, it is not a complete understanding of salvation to say "we are saved by confirmation". This lady said that the Church teaches that confirmation was the principle and sole means of salvation. Furthermore she said it was entirely unscriptural which was my real beef with what she said.

NotMyOpinion30 said...


Just a quick shot. The Fathers teach that when St. Paul curcumsized St. Timothy, it was not because he was continuing to follow Jewish law, as he himself makes clear in his epistles regarding curcumcision. Rather, he did so because they were about to go on an evangelization mission to learned and devout Jews. It was done to prevent scandal amongst the Jews they were going to be teaching.

Like St. Paul said "to the Jews, I became a Jew, and to the Gentiles, I became a Gentile". All things were done for the glory of Christ.

I liked your post alot.

Tiber Jumper said...

A nice discussion GFF!
It's amazing the clarity that one gets once you are willing to look at history with the reformation colored glasses removed!

Pilgrimsarbour said...


Just as a point of clarification: when Christians had questions about faith and practice, they went to their bishops and priests (apostles). The apostles then never went to the Scriptures in order to discover what they should teach regarding the matter? The Bible indicates that it certainly was their practice in evangelism, especially to the Jews. "Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.' And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women." (Acts 17:1-4) Paul proved and persuaded from the Scriptures (Old Testament, of course). And again, "The brothers immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea, and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men." (Acts 17:10-12) It's absolutely true that the Holy Spirit guides His church into all truth. The apostles received that truth directly from the words of Christ during his earthly ministry. He quoted to them constantly from the Old Testament as He ministered to them. They also received instruction directly from Christ after His resurrection while on the road to Emmaus: "And he said to them, 'O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?' And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." Since the apostles and close associates wrote the New Testament by the Holy Spirit, it bears their official stamp of authority, since they were in direct contact with Jesus, as was Paul while on the road to Damascus. I think your article was quite good and well written as are all your works. However, it may be worth considering whether an unintended impression is left regarding how the apostles (bishops and priests) received their truth. When I read your article, it came across to me as a bit overly mystical in that regard. It was if they always knew at all times how to give answers to the brethren, without "examining the Scriptures daily" like the Berean Jews did.

All God's Best,


TheGodFearinFiddler said...

pilgrim - Thanks for the comments. If I gave the impression that the apostles and Church leaders didnt make extensive use of the Old Testament Scriptures I didnt intend to.

You are right in saying that they reasoned from the Scriptures and showed how Jesus was the Christ by the Scriptures.

I don't mean to imply at all that the Scriptures werent viewed as authoritative. Christ certainly proved that on a number of occasions.

The distinction I wanted to make is this: those at Antioch had a dispute with an apostle (Paul) and another Church leader (Barnabas). But they didnt both get out the bible and argue until they were blue in the face and then schism. They went to the Church.

Now we don't have any indication from the text that the council of Jerusalem spent the time in Scripture. Although I think it is a reasonable assumption to say that they made wide use of Scripture in the debate. The main point I wanted to make was that it was the apostles; the Church who interpreted the Scriptures and not the individuals. Even a local priest does not have the authority to have a personal interpretation of Scripture which deviates from Church teaching.

But because of the current mindset in Churches, from the time I started this post until now, there have probably be a couple schisms from churches around the world. There are probably more denominations now than there were when I started. That is why to me, this premise is so important.

Here is a good article from Michael Joseph posted recently on the subject of sola scriptura. Thanks again for the comments.

Anonymous said...

Nice discussion boys.
I think, as Catholic apologists, in our offense of sola scriptura, we sometimes can give the impression that the Scriptures are less important and that all revelation proceeds out of Rome, bypassing Scripture.
Truly Protestants and Catholics together revere and look to the Word of God for answers. But as Michael Joseph on his blog so aptly points out, it all comes down to the issue of authority. It's the famous both/and of Catholicism vs the either/or of Protestantism. Catholics believe both the Bible is the authoritative Word of God and that the Church is ultimately the pillar of truth given the ultimate authority to "rightly divide the word of truth."

NotMyOpinion30 said...

Good discussion from a good post. It is true that to evagelize to the hard-hearted Jews, who were learned in the Septuagint (Hellenists) and the Hebrew Scriptures, it was important for the Apostles to use Scripture to demonstrate how Christ fit all of the prefigurements and all of the prophecies contained in them. The Jews could not logically disprove Christ as the Messiah without [mis-]interpreting them.

But, the manner in which the Apostles came to the knowledge of what was in the Scriptures was, in fact, "mystical". As tax collectors and fishermen, they had much less experience with the Scriptures than many of the people they converted since theology was not their field of expertise (except for Paul, maybe, since he was a Pharisee at one time). Yet it was only by Christ's Spirit that they were given the understanding of the Scriptures, not by consistent study of them.

After the Resurrection, when Christ passed through the locked doors in the upper room where the Apostles were hiding, he gave them the knowledge of all things in the Scriptures that pointed to Christ (the Old Testament in its entirety).

St. John 20: 19-23, 30 - "Now when it was late that same day, the first of the week, and the doors were shut, where the disciples were gathered together, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them: Peace be to you. And when he had said this, he shewed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad, when they saw the Lord. He said therefore to them again: Peace be to you. As the Father hath sent me, I also send you. When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained (one of the Scriptural references to the Sacrament of Penance and the authority of the Apostles, and their successors to hear confession). Many other signs also did Jesus in the sight of his disciples, which are not written in this book (this last verse demonstrates that not everything Christ taught or showed the Apostles were written down)."

St. Luke 24: 36, 44-49 - "Now whilst they were speaking these things, Jesus stood in the midst of them, and saith to them: Peace be to you; it is I, fear not. And he said to them: These are the words which I spoke to you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then he opened their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures. And he said to them: Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise again from the dead, the third day: And that penance and remission of sins should be preached in his name, unto all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And you are witnesses of these things. And I send the promise of my Father upon you ("The promise of my Father"... that is, the Holy Ghost, whom Christ had promised that his Father and he would send, John 14. 26, and 17. 7): but stay you in the city till you be endued with power from on high."

As you can see, the Apostles were given the knowledge and understanding of the Scriptures, not through studying them intently, but by the grace of the Holy Spirit, given to them directly from the Son of God. They were also given the authority to teach what they had been given.

It is well known that the Gospels had not been written until later that century and the New Testament wasn't officially compiled until the 4th and 5th centuries. Most, if not all, of the Epistles were written before the Gospels had been completed and those were instructional letters to Churches that were having some troubles staying true to Apostolic Teaching and falling into heresy.

This shows that the Gospels were Apostolic Tradition first, as there were no written accounts of the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Our Lord. It was only by the authority given to the Apostles and the knowledge of the Holy Spirit that the Apostles could extend this Tradition.

The Apostles were given the grace to interpret the Old Testament to the Jews, something that they could not do very well since they were not given the same grace. The Apostles didn't do this with the New Testament, they did it through Apostolic Tradition. The Acts of the Apostles also shows us that the Apostles and those that they "ordained" were given the same Authority to interpret the Scriptures and continue to teach the flock according to the Traditions that Christ had given them. Those that they had ordained were also instructed by them. The Apostles passed their knowledge on to them. So, we have in the Gospels and the Acts indicators of the triune Church (Scripture, Tradition, and Magisterium or Teaching Authority) and Apostolic Succession. There is a wealth of pre-Nicene Early Father writings that confirm that this was believed at that time. I specify pre-Nicene because that is before the New Testament was compiled.

The most interesting Early Father writing I found, in my opinion, on the interpretation of the Old Testament was the "Dialogue between St. Justin Martyr and the Jew Trypho (early 2nd century)". Clearly, St. Justin did not have his hands on a bible as we know it today. So, how, in the first part of the second century, would he have been able to debate with a Jewish theologian about the prefigurements and prophecies of Christ in the Old Testament if it had not been for Apostolic Tradition? And with the Apostles already many years gone to heaven, how did the Tradition continue to flourish without the bible? He must have been instructed by someone. I find that many modern-day self-proclaimed bible scholars plagiarize from this dialogue (I'm only referring to the so-called scolars who knowingly borrow from these writings and claim the exegesis as their own).

I'm not saying it is impossible to be enlightened by reading Scripture. However, the fullness of Scripture cannot be truly understood without Tradition and Magisterium, because it was through Tradition and Magisterium that we have the Scriptures to begin with. The Church teaches, and has always taught, that the three are inseparable.

Of course I concede that our Protestant brothers and sisters interpret the Scriptures differently, I only intend to show how the Church interprets them.

Pilgrimsarbour said...

Good thoughts, one and all. And thank you. Of course, the term "unlearned" is an academic standard, not one which connotes a lack of intelligence. I did not mean to convey the impression that anyone could understand the Scriptures in a salvific way apart from the "mystical" operation of the Holy Spirit. God permits unbelievers to understand quite a bit, but it will never lead to grace without the direct intervention of the Holy Spirit in the life.

NotMyOpinion30 said...

Hi pilgrimsarbour,

You're definitely right. I'm just a computer programmer who can't even calculate simple mathematical equations any longer, so there is no way on earth I could put together two sentences that are grammatically correct or use the correct words. I didn't mean to imply that the Apostles were unintelligent. "Unlearned" definitely would have been a much better word to use. But I know nothing of academics, so how could I know anything about academic standards. :)

I also wasn't intending to sound like I was correcting you, I respect your opinion. I just was trying to make a point. I guess what I was trying to say wasn't clear or it was incomplete, which is often a problem I have. I'm no one to even be posting, but the conversation interested me.

NotMyOpinion30 said...

Forgive me. I forgot to add, God bless you all!

Pilgrimsarbour said...


Mr. Myagi say: "Nothing to forgive." Your post was excellent. I was afraid I had left the impression that I think that a good hard study of the Bible is the answer to all questions. It is not. Nor would the Reformers think that. They and I agree with you completely that no one can fully understand nor believe the Word of God except the Holy Spirit release the heart and enlighten the mind. And, GFF, I read Michael Joseph's article. Very, very good. I'm going to spend some time at that site too.

Blessings to all,


Anonymous said...

You remind me of an Evolutionist who takes 150 years of thoery and a vocabulary that was built around evolution and then expects a creationist to debate using that same dialogue. The Catholic Church has 1800 years of tradition and a language that is totally distinct from the teaching, concepts and language of the Bible.When I look at a Catholic Catachism I feel like I've gone into the twilight zone. It's so far removed from the
language of the bible,it's hard to believe they have a common link.For instance "The Immaculate heart of our blessed mother mary,
eucharist,transubstantiation,devotion to the saints,prayers to the saints,purgatory, Papal infallability, Celibacy of the Priest,Sunday worship, Christmas"
The list could go on forever. Where did this come from? It wasn't from the Bible.I know you are agaist "solo scripturo" so I guess your not bothered by any of this.It's like once you do away with the Bible as the sole authority then it's whoevers got the loudest voice or the sharpest sword,which,by the way, was well used in the inquisition. Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life ,no man comes to the Father but by me. There is no mention of popes and priest and
saints or the mother mary. There is no mention of penance or fasting.You take the Mass and make it into something dark and mysterious ,when all Jesus said was do this in rememberence of me.
I've never been to a Catholic service and I'm sure you could point out a lot of good points
about the church but it could never outway the obvious conflict with the Bible. Thank you, Jim

Tim A. Troutman said...

Jim - I responded to you here since this thread is old.

beth said...

Many, many of the Catholic close friends that I have had over the years knew surprisingly little about the Catholic faith - other than able to tell me "If you are basically a good person - you will go to heaven". Many of the "moms" that I interact with in my community seem to only be Catholic during their childrens confirmation. That is where I see it end again and again. These children are told they must be Catholic and be confirmed - but after that there is no growth - no attendance until their own children - again - must be confirmed and be "raised" in the Catholic church (but I have seen that this statement does not mean attending before or after confirmation.) I do believe that there are many Catholics that believe in the salvation that comes through the death and resurrection of Christ - but most of the Catholic families I have met along my journey - have held on to "a good person will go to heaven". I am thankful to have the Holy Spirit in me - and thankful for this ever present guidance.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Beth - A good person will go to heaven :) But the problem, as you know, is that none of us are good.

You bring up a good point about these nominal Catholics. And there are millions of them unfortunately. But they are not following their own faith. They do not take it seriously and so you shouldn't take them as a serious representation of the Catholic faith. There are also millions of Catholics who are following Christ closely.

Thanks for stopping by!

ABrotherJohn said...

How could you change christianity for mary worshipers and saint worshippers? The evidence of anti christ is heavily upon the catholic church that you must have lost your eyesight. I'm sorry for you, for once to have been a sheep now you have become a goat.

Tim A. Troutman said...

Hi John,

Your statements are mere assertions and accusations. Do you have something substantive to say or are you just interested in bad mouthing the Catholic Church?

Anonymous said...

When I look at the church as described in the new testiment and what I see in the Catholic church I
don't see any resemblance.In the modern church I see a system of rituals and mantra's and legalism.I see hints of pagen ideals and practices mixed in with supposed church tradition.You lift up Christ as the Messiah but to get to Him you have to go through various filters or methods, a few being Mary,the saints,the priest,
counting rosary beads,mass,ect.
Also I see a history of bloodshed in the name of building the Kingdom of God,that to my knowledge has yet to be repented of.Sure that was long ago but it was still the catholic church and I here things like"the Catholic church has remained the same unlike the protestants who have changed so much through the centuries".Well if they are the same church that slaughtered millions in the inquisitions, does that mean that they are still capable of similar behavior?

jimothy said...

Was the thief on the cross confirmed?
Was the ethiopian eunuch? All I hear
in the gospel's is believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. Even baptism isn't required as evidence with the thief on the cross. So why confirmation when it isn't even referred to as essential in a believers conversion experience?