“In the supremely wise arrangement of God, Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls.” — The Venerable Fathers of the Twenty First Ecumenical Council — Dei Verbum
In a recent issue of Gospel Truths magazine, it was reported that one of Jehovah's Witnesses had recently converted to the Protestant sect, the Church of Christ. I sent the lady my congratulations, offering her encouragement on her continuing journey of faith. Shortly thereafter, her husband, Mr. Jediah Logiodice, contacted me, challenging my Catholic faith. The basis of Mr. Logiodice's arguments was the doctrine of Sola Scriptura: that authority in religion exists in the scripture alone.
In response, I sent this letter to Mr. Logiodice. The letter consists of 11 separate reasons why Sola Scriptura must be rejected as heresy. The first 9 points deal with Sola Scriptura in general, while the latter 2 deal with the way the doctrine is interpreted by the Church of Christ.
Readers should be aware that the Church of Christ is a radical Protestant sect. It's origins are in the nineteenth century Restoration Movement of Alexander Campbell and Barton Warren Stone, the first purely American religious movement in all of history. The Church of Christ teaches that it is just that: THE Church of Christ. All others abuse, add to, and pervert the Word of God, thus consigning themselves to eternal damnation.
I'm sorry that this letter took so long to get to you, but it took a while to write. I think I'd be doing both of us a disservice by hastily throwing something together. Instead, we should always take time to prayerfully consider each other's points before attempting to respond.
To begin with, I will restate the description of Sola Scriptura to which we have both agreed:
Jesus Christ came to the earth with the full authority of God. He appointed apostles, and gave them the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. They spread through the world, teaching the truth that the Holy Spirit gave them. This truth was all recorded in the Scriptures of the New Testament. Since the only sure guarantor of truth is the Holy Spirit, and since the Holy Spirit can only be given by the hands of an apostle or a miraculous outpouring accompanied by undeniable miracles, the only guarantor of truth today is the inspired apostolic scriptures of the New Testament.
Anything not found in the New Testament is a tradition of man. Traditions of man constitute vain worship, which is condemned by Jesus. Adding anything at all to the deposit of faith which is recorded in the inspired apostolic scriptures of the New Testament renders one liable for the curses of Revelation.
Now, I'll give a brief explanation of the Catholic doctrine. This is not a defense, just a description. This way, we both know where the other stands:
Jesus gave his authority to the apostles, promising them the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost, they were given the whole revelation of God, the Depositum Fidei (deposit of faith). They spread the faith and established churches, over which they ruled. To aid them in shepherding the flock, they appointed successors. These successors, the presbyters and bishops, inherited their authority by the gift of the Holy Spirit, received by the laying on of their hands. Some of the Depositum Fidei was recorded in the various letters which we eventually recognized as the Church's inspired Scriptures, that is, the written word of God which could be read aloud at the Liturgical assembly. These successors also ordained successors, and this has continued through this day. These successors, the bishops in union with the successor of St. Peter, the pope, are guided by the Holy Spirit to infallibly teach the very same Depositum Fidei which was once and for all handed down to the saints. As time goes by, the Church grows in her understanding of doctrines already revealed. When the bishops or the pope makes a decision about a doctrine which is part of the depositum, intending for that decision to be obeyed by the whole Church, the decision is infallible. In areas not pertaining to doctrines or morals, but to discipline and laws of the Church, the bishops and pope are not infallible, but the Christian is still bound to obey. Jesus has promised that his Church will continue to exist and to teach infallibly until the end of the world.
At one time I believed Sola Scriptura as much as anyone else. I was opposed to Catholicism 100%. However, I came to learn that Sola Scriptura is unscriptural, unhistorical, and untenable. I will attempt to establish that by making the following points:
Sola Scriptura contradicts itself, because it is not taught in scripture.
Sola Scriptura is an example of the logical fallacy of begging the question, inasmuch as the canonical scriptures never identify what is and what is not scripture.
The Bible teaches that oral tradition is a source of revelation.
The Bible shows the Catholic system of authority.
The writings of the earliest Christians show the Catholic system of authority.
The legitimate practices of the Jews developed, and the scriptures were not viewed as an exclusive guide.
The infant Church in Acts is in a constant state of development.
Sola Scriptura was not believed by anybody until the Reformation, and is thus a tradition of man, condemned by Jesus.
The Bible prophesies the rise and growth of the Catholic Church.
The Church of Christ has no historical connection to the Church established in Jerusalem in 33 AD.
The Church of Christ only teaches Sola Scriptura because she split from Calvinism and is, therefore, a Protestant denomination or sect, and not the Universal Church of the Bible.
1. Sola Scriptura contradicts itself, because it is not taught in scripture.
The doctrine that the Bible alone is our only religious authority is not taught in the Bible. There is no book, chapter, and verse that demands book, chapter, and verse authority for every doctrine and practice. Don't get me wrong — I believe that the 27 letters which are in the New Testament are inspired. I believe that they are inerrant. I believe that they are authoritative. However, they never claim to be our only authority. The entire doctrine collapses because it contradicts itself.
Dr. Scott Hahn relates a telephone conversation he had with a professor when he was first discovering the Catholic faith:
To one professor I said, “Maybe I'm suffering from amnesia, but somehow I've forgotten the simple reasons why we believe the Bible is our sole authority.”
“Scott, what a dumb question!”
“Just give me a dumb answer.”
“Scott,” he responded. “You really can't demonstrate Sola Scriptura from Scripture. The Bible doesn't expressly declare that it is the Christian's only authority.”
You see, Jediah, without the express command of the Bible to follow the Bible alone, Sola Scriptura becomes this monstrously illogical rule: All religious truth must come from the Bible alone, except for the truth that all religious truth must come from the Bible alone.
When Jesus promised his apostles the Holy Spirit, he told them that they would preach the truth to all peoples. He never said anything to them about writing any scriptures! Jesus never alluded in any way, shape, or form, to the fact that his followers would be bound solely to a book which would later be produced. The only time Jesus every commanded anyone to write was when he appeared in a vision to St. John, and commanded him to write the seven letters which we know as the Book of Revelation.
None of the books of the New Testament, with the exception of Revelation, ever claim to be inspired. (In a couple of St. Paul's letters, he makes statements which may imply inspiration. I certainly won't argue against that.) The Biblical letters — supposedly our only authority — seldom comment on their own authority, and never insist that they are the only authority.
I challenge you — and I mean this entirely in a friendly way — to provide a passage which tells us that we are limited to the New Testament. (You won't even find a passage that tells us there is a New Testament.)
What about 2 Timothy 3? You'll find that in context, this passage is speaking only about the Septuagint Old Testament. St. Timothy was a Greek Jew, whose Scriptures were the 72 books of the Greek Old Testament. St. Paul speaks of the “sacred writings” which Timothy had known “from childhood.” Those writings did not include the New Testament. Such a Testament had not existed from Timothy's childhood (and would not exist in compiled form for another 300 years).
The Apostle then states that all of this scripture — all 72 of the Books of the Alexandrian Canon (identical to the Catholic Old Testament) — are inspired and profitable. Notice that one word: proftable. It does not say sufficient. John Calvin, Thomas Campbell and Roy Cogdill say sufficient, but St. Paul says profitable.
What about Revelation 22:18? Doesn't St. John say not to add to or take away from the Bible?
No, but even if he did, this would not prove Sola Scriptura. A Catholic would object to tampering with the Biblical text as much as anyone else. When Jehovah's Witnesses pervert the Sacred Writ, the Catholic Church is angered, for she loves the Scriptures. Forbidding tampering with the text is not the same as calling the text your only authority. If I lend you a dictionary, I hope you don't rip out any pages or add your own definitions; however I wouldn't mind if you used other sources as well. All of these points are moot, though, since the passage is talking only about the Book of Revelation, and not the whole Bible.
If there's a passage which teaches Sola Scriptura, please let me know. If there's not, then the entire concept self destructs. It fails its own test! Sola Scriptura is not in the scriptura.
2. Sola Scriptura is an example of the logical fallacy of begging the question, inasmuch as the canonical scriptures never identify what is and what is not scripture.
Your belief requires that every doctrine you hold be found in the pages of the Scriptures. However, the Scriptures fail to answer one all important question: What is scripture?
When we go to the store and buy a nice leather bound Bible, chosen as our favorite out of a hundred different bound Bibles, it's easy to forget that this is not how the Bible was originally available. The New Testament was originally 27 separate letters sent to separate people about various issues. You believe that those 27 letters, now conveniently collected into one volume, are the sole source of the faith. This leads to a problem. There is no passage in any of the 27 letters which states: “The following books (and only the following books) are scripture: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Acts, Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, Philemon, Hebrews, James, 1, 2, and 3 John, Jude, and Revelation.” Yet you believe just that. So what's your authority? No matter what you say (inner guidance of the Holy Spirit, the testimony of the early Christians, historical evidence, the Catholic Church, etc.) you violate your own rule — that all authority is in the Scriptures.
Few of the letters are even self-authenticating. As mentioned above only Revelation and maybe one or two of St. Paul's epistles claim to be inspired. To claim that any of the other books of the Bible are inspired forces you to violate your own rule — the Bible is silent, yet you speak nonetheless.
Many of the letters are anonymous. To call St. Matthew the author of Matthew or St. John the author of 2 John requires you to violate your rule again — the Bible never says that Matthew wrote Matthew or that John wrote John (or Mark Mark, or Luke Luke and Acts, or John 1, 2, and 3 John, or Paul Hebrews).
The only evidence that the traditional authors of the Gospels and Epistles mentioned in the preceding paragraph are Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul is Catholic Tradition. You reject that authority, so with what do you replace it with?
The only evidence that the 26 books of the New Testament (excluding the self-attesting Revelation) are inspired is the authoritative proclamation of the Catholic Church. You reject that authority, so with what do you replace it with?
The only evidence that only the Old Testament and the 27 letters that are in our New Testament are inspired is the authoritative proclamation of the Catholic Church. You reject that authority, so with what do you replace it with?
The Catholic Church, after three centuries of thoughtful consideration, chose the 27 books of the New Testament. Some of them, like Hebrews and Revelation, were thought by many to not belong, but the Catholic Church put them in. Other works, like 1 Clement, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas, the Epistles of Ignatius, etc., which were thought by many to be inspired, were left out. We even decided to leave out one of St. Paul's letters — Laeodicians — even though he mentions it in Colossians 4:16.
3. The Bible teaches that oral tradition is a source of revelation.
It is very true that Jesus condemned the Pharisees for the way they treated their traditions. Notice, however, that is was not the fact that they had traditions that was wrong — it was the fact that they were “teaching as doctrines” what were merely “traditions of men.” (Mark 7:7) The crime of the Pharisees was that they elevated their own custom — washing of hands, Sabbath laws, etc — above the Law of God. In much the same way, they were able to assassinate the Son of God, but still remain ritually pure. Pharisaism, then, is focusing on the letter of the Law to the exclusion of the spirit of the Law.
It is also true that St. Paul condemns in his Epistle to the Galatians anyone who “preaches another gospel.” About whom is the Apostle warning? It is Jewish Christians, probably former Essenes, who were preaching that man is justified only by following the Torah. St. Paul asserts that man is not justified by works of the Torah, but the grace of Jesus Christ. (Calvinists abuse this passage by teaching that man is justified apart from works. You and I know that the Apostle is referring to works of the Torah.)
We agree that false doctrine and traditions invented by men to subvert the true faith are unacceptable. For something to be taught as doctrine, it must be part of the Depositum Fidei given to the apostles by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost — the Depositum once and for all handed down to the holy ones.
Searching the scriptures, one finds that there are several truths which the apostles believed, and which they assumed everyone believed, which were oral traditions. The oral traditions, though not part of the scripture, were just as much the Word of God.
I'll share a few examples, and can provide more if you'd like.
Matthew 2:23 relates some early events in the life of Jesus and the Holy Family. In this instance, after fleeing from Herod, the Holy Family comes to dwell in Nazareth. Matthew contends that this is a fulfillment of a prophecy: “He went down and dwelled in a town called Nazareth, so that what had been spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: He shall be called a Nazarean.”
Matthew quotes this prophecy as a revealed truth, and acts as if his audience were familiar with it. It is obvious that this prophecy was part of the Depositum Fidei. Yet, it is a prophecy of oral tradition. Such a prophecy is nowhere in scripture. The scriptures are silent — but Matthew speaks.
In 2 Timothy 3:8, St. Paul compares the heretics of his day to the ancient Egyptian sorcerers who opposed Moses in front of Pharaoh. “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so they oppose the truth — people of depraved mind, unqualified in the faith.” Search the Exodus account and you won't find the names “Jannes and Jambres.” They are part of an oral tradition that, believed by the inspired Apostle, speaks where the scriptures are silent.
If I had believed in praying to saints at the same time as I believed in Sola Scriptura I probably would have appealed to St. Jude, the Patron Saint of Hopeless Causes. Indeed, it is St. Jude's Epistle which shows just how hopeless Sola Scriptura is. In his very short letter, he twice appeals to an oral tradition outside of the scriptures as if it were revealed by God. In speaking of the heretics of his day, one of his concerns is the lack of honor that they pay to angels. (I'm not making this up — read v. 8) In contrast to such heresy, St. Jude relays a story about St. Michael the Archangel: “Yet the Archangel Michael, when he argued with the devil in a dispute over the body of Moses, did not venture to pronounce of reviling judgment upon him but said, May the Lord rebuke you.” (Jude 9) St. Jude seems to be fairly sure that his audience knows this story well. If they did, they didn't learn it from scripture, but from oral tradition. Centuries after it happened, that oral tradition was finally recorded in a non-biblical Jewish apocalypse called “The Assumption of Moses.”
The “slave of Jesus Christ and brother of James” isn't through with the bombshells yet. He goes on to tell yet another story as he debunks the heretics who, like Korah, are rebelling against the legitimate authorities in the Church. “Enoch, of the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied also about them when he said, Behold, the Lord has come with his countless holy ones to execute judgment on all and to convict everyone for all the godless deeds that they committed and for all the harsh words godless sinners have uttered against him.” (Jude 14,15)
Notice that this prophecy is not in scripture. It was handed down from the time of Enoch — generations before even Noah — until just 100 years before Christ, when it was finally recorded in the First Book of Enoch, which is not scripture! Jude directly quotes from 1 Enoch 1:9. This is oral tradition about which the scriptures are silent, but Jude speaks.
I could show many other examples, but I know you're a busy man. If you are interested in more examples, let me know.
How could mere men pass along an oral tradition without it being corrupted? They couldn't. It required the guidance of God. Jesus assured his contemporaries that their leaders, despite all their sins, had such guidance. That's why, just before he condemned the priests, scribes, and Pharisees in Matthew 23, he gave an unqualified approval to their teachings. The Jews were to obey their corrupt leaders because God saw to it that they taught the truth: “The scribes and Pharisees have taken their seat on the Chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever that they tell you, but do not follow their example.” (Matthew 23:2,3)
What I hope to establish in my next point is that the scriptures support the notion of Catholic authority — that the Seat of Moses, passed down in succession for 1500 years until the time of Christ and the High Priesthood of Caiaphas — was transferred to the Church where it became the Seat of Peter.
4. The Bible shows the Catholic system of authority.
We agree, I'm sure, that the events which transpired in the land of the Jews in the first century AD are monumental events indeed. The coming of Jesus Christ, the preaching of the Gospel, and the establishment of the Church truly rocked the order of the world. The Roman Empire's fate was sealed by the few faithful men and women who, by their holy lives and holy deaths, turned the world upside down. It is these holy people in this most tumultuous era which produced the 27 letters which we know as the New Testament. As the inspired Word of God, these venerable documents give us a profound insight into answering this all-important question: What was really going on in the first century?
“In times past,” writes the Apostle, “God spoke in partial and various ways to our ancestors through the prophets; in these last days, he spoke to us through a Son, whom he made heir of all things and through whom he created the universe, who is the refulgence of his glory, the very imprint of his being, and who sustains all things by his mighty Word.” (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Elsewhere, he makes the same point: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the Law.” (Galatians 4:4) At the turn of the first century, God the Son, the Divine Logos, the Second Person of the Most Holy Trinity, “God from God, Light from Light, True God from True God, begotten, not made, one in being with the Father, through whom all things were made, for us men and for our salvation,” “came down from Heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, he was born of the Virgin Mary."1 Jesus, the Messiah of Prophecy, “became flesh and dwelt among us.” (John 1:14) Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate”2 and accomplished our salvation by his Blood Atonement on the cross of Calvary.
He came to bring all nations back into relationship with God. To do this, he established the Church. Twelve men were chosen as apostles to lead the Church. They were given a share in his authority. Once he returned to heavenly glory, the Twelve ruled in his place. To those apostles, Jesus declared: “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.” (Matthew 18:18)
Elsewhere, Jesus equates the authority of the apostles with his own, and his own with the Father's. “He that receiveth you receiveth me, and he that receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me.” (Matthew 10:40)
Over the other apostles, Jesus appointed St. Peter. St. Peter was given responsibility to guide the other apostles. “Simon, Simon, behold Satan has demanded to sift all of you like wheat, but I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31,32) Matthew 10:2 specifically states that St. Peter is the Chief of the apostles, as the list of apostles begins like this: “first, Simon called Peter.” Using the Greek word protos, which is often translated “chief,” St. Matthew refers to St. Peter's authority. Numerically, of course, St. Andrew, Peter's brother, is the first apostle.
St. Peter exercises his leadership over the apostles in Acts 1, where, at his order, a new apostle is chosen. In Acts 4, when the apostles are arrested, it is St. Peter who is forced to testify on their behalf. St. Peter in Acts 5 sentences Ananias and Sapphira to death for, by lying to St. Peter, “lying to the Holy Spirit.” As Prince of the Apostles, St. Peter is Head of the Church. This does not take away from Christ's headship. Under the Old Covenant, the Davidic kings had Major Domos who ruled with the authority of the king while the king was away. (See Isaiah 22) The kings remained heads of the kingdom. Likewise, while the final Davidic king, Jesus Christ, is away, St. Peter rules as his Major Domo. The Prince of the Apostles was given the commission to shepherd, not just the sheep among him, but all of the Lord's sheep.
“Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
So important is the role of Simon Bar Jonah in the Church, that Jesus gives him a title making him Vicar of Christ. That title is “Rock,” for only God is a Rock. Christ is God, and authorized to grant the Divine title to whom he will. Only once before had that title been given, and that's to St. Abraham the Patriarch. (Is. 51:1) Jesus takes the Divine title and grants it to Simon Bar Jonah to use in place of his name. Then, Jesus the Chief Cornerstone, goes even further and promised to build his new community of faith on Simon. “And so I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this Rock I will build my Church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.” Jesus establishes St. Peter's role as Major Domo: “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.”
The authority which belongs to all of the apostles together belongs to St. Peter by himself, for the Lord continues: “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:18ff)
To the apostles, Jesus promised to entrust the Depositum Fidei. “I have much more to tell you,” said Jesus, “but you cannot bear it now. But when he comes, the Spirit of truth, he will guide you to all truth.” (John 16:12,13) The Holy Spirit did come upon the apostles on the day of Pentecost, instilling in them the entire Word of God.
Jesus had commissioned the apostles to “go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature.” (Mark 16:15) So that “everyone (could) be saved and come to knowledge of the truth,” Jesus granted to the apostles the charism of infallibility. (1 Timothy 2:4) It was not enough for the Holy Spirit to give the apostles the true faith, the Depositum Fidei, but he would also see to it that the apostles continued to teach the truth without doctrinal or moral error. Said our Blessed Lord, “The Advocate, the Holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name — he will teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” (John 14:26) Only if it was assured that the apostles would teach truth would it be possible for Jesus to tell his apostles: “Whoever receives you receives me.” (Matthew 10:40)
The infallibility of St. Peter and the Twelve is not the same as impeccability, or sinlessness. The only one who was by nature sinless was Jesus himself. (The Blessed Mother was also without sin, but not by nature. She was preserved from sin by the grace of God, of which she was perfectly full, that she might be worthy to carry the Incarnate God in her womb.)
The apostles were great men, but still only men. They had the same temptations and weaknesses that all men do. St. Peter and the Twelve were not infallible because of their innate holiness. Rather, they were infallible because of a gift of God in spite of their sins.
The apostles spread the gospel to the nations, sacrificing their lives for the cause of Christ. They preached the whole Depositum Fidei, so that St. Jude could rightly describe the faith as “once and for all handed down to the holy ones.” (Jude 3) From time to time, certain specific problems arose in the infant Church requiring direct apostolic intervention. When an apostle was unable to come to the aid of the specific local church or churches affected, he wrote an epistle. So that this epistle would be just as reliable as his preaching, God the Holy Spirit inspired the author. The written epistles were to be considered every bit as binding on the Church as the preached word. Both were part of the Depositum Fidei; both were the Word of God. St. Paul commands: “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.” (2 Thessalonians 2:15) (Some have claimed in recent centuries that we are only to follow the traditions taught in “a letter of ours,” the Scriptures, and not those taught “by an oral statement.” Some claim that all of the “oral statement[s]” were eventually recorded in letters. These claims can not be supported by scripture, tradition, or history.)
The apostles were not alone in spreading the gospel throughout the world.
All Christians, by virtue of their baptism, share the responsibility of evangelization. Certain men were chosen by the apostles to share in the leadership of the Church. These men were called deacons, presbyters, and bishops. (The Greek term “presbuteroi” is translated sometimes as “presbyter,” sometimes as “elder,” and sometimes as “ancient.” It is the etymological origin of the English “priest,” and is often rendered such by the Douay-Rheims Bible. “Bishop” is the English translation of “episkopoi,” also translated as “overseer.") These three orders of successors to the apostles were ordained by the laying on of the apostles’ hands and the reception of the Holy Spirit. Deacons are called to a ministry of service. (See Acts 6:1-6) In fact, the Greek “diakonos” is still used today to refer, not only to deacons, but to waiters. The presbyters are the delegates of the bishop. They share in governing the Church. Often, there are several of them in each local church. They inherit from the apostles, by the gift of the Holy Spirit, the power to turn bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ and the power to forgive sins. (See Acts 15:2, Titus 1:5, John 20:22,23) The bishops are the leaders or shepherds of the Church. They have authority over all congregations in their area. They ordain presbyters and deacons, and have the authority to excommunicate. (See Titus 1:5, 3:20) Those who succeeded the apostles by the laying on of hands shared in their authority. These men were guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. Their preached message and their inspired writings are the very Word of God. (It is important to note that of the twelve apostles directly promised the Holy Spirit, only three chose to write what is now recognized as Scripture.)
Scripture shows, Jediah, that it was not only the apostles and those on whom they laid their hands that were guided by the Holy Spirit into all truth. The line of succession has continued to this day in the deacons, priests, and bishops of the Catholic Church. You have objected to this, citing Acts 8. In Acts 8, St. Phillip converts and baptizes many Samaritans. When it comes time for them to receive the Holy Spirit or, in Catholic terms, the Sacrament of Confirmation, Phillip is unable to do this. He sends for Ss. Peter and John from Jerusalem, who come and lay hands on the Samaritans. From this you argue that only the apostles could confer the gift of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands. The Church of Christ, Baptists, and other non-Charismatic Protestants use this to argue against Pentacostalism and Catholicism, both of which involve the transmission of the gift of the Holy Spirit by laying on of hands. To the Catholic, Jediah, this passage does not prove anything. You see, St. Phillip was a deacon. Deacons do not have the power to anoint people with the Holy Spirit. Priests and bishops, like the apostles, do have that power. We use this passage to demonstrate that the power to Confirm belongs only to rightly ordained priests and bishops.
There is substantial scriptural evidence that the apostolic succession was intended to continue. First, let's consider St. Timothy. As a co-author of Sacred Scripture (2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, and Philemon) and close companion of the Apostle, I'm sure you'd agree that he received the gift of the Holy Spirit by the hand of St. Paul. 1 Timothy 4:14 speaks of this occasion. Catholics generally interpret this as Timothy's ordination as Bishop of Ephesus. However, the passage could technically refer to any situation in which St. Timothy received the Spirit — Confirmation, ordination as deacon or presbyter, or to receive miraculous power. Notice how the Holy Spirit was given: “Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word and the imposition of hands of the presbyterate.” The NAS and KJV have: “the laying on of hands of the presbytery.” The NRSV has: “the laying on of hands by the council of elders.” The Douay-Rheims has: “imposition of the hands of the priesthood.” The NIV has: “when the body of elders laid their hands on you.”
This leaves us, Jediah, with two possibilities.
- St. Timothy received the Holy Spirit from presbyters and not apostles.
If this is the case, then your objection has fallen completely apart. With early presbyters/elders/priests conferring the gift of the Holy Spirit without apostles, it is proven that not only apostles can give the gift of the Holy Spirit. The apostolic succession did not end with the death of the last apostle. Rather, those on whom the apostles laid their hands also laid their hands on people, with the same effect
- St. Paul was among the “council of elders” which gave Timothy the Spirit.
Personally, I agree with this interpretation. 2 Timothy 1:6 appears to back it up. It's also the less embarrassing of the two for you. Still, it does not support your view. You see, Jediah, the Scriptures attribute the giving of the Spirit not only to the (unmentioned) apostle, but to all of the presbyters. Also, if St. Paul was a presbyter/elder/priest, that disproves the Church of Christ‘s notion that an elder must be married with children. (The historic Catholic interpretation of “husband of one wife” is married only once.)
Another scriptural example is that of St. Titus, Bishop of Crete. The Scripture is very clear that St. Titus, who inherited his authority from the Apostle Paul, had complete authority in Crete. St. Paul urges him: “Let no one look down on you. Exhort and correct with all authority.” (Titus 2:15) All authority: What a powerful phrase! There is no implication in the text that Titus served either as an elder or a preacher in the sense understood by the Church of Christ. He neither shares his authority with other Cretan elders, nor works as a preacher under the Cretan elders. In fact, elders are subject to his authority: “For this reason I left you in Crete that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town.” (Titus 1:5) The KJV has: “ordain elders,” and the Douay-Rheims has “ordain priests.” Officials are not appointed by those under them. You don't choose your boss at work.
Likewise, St. Timothy also has authority over his elders, so much so that he is the one who hears and judges the crimes committed by them. If your boss were to commit tax fraud, would it be your place to remove him from office? Of course not! But listen to these words of St. Paul to Timothy: “Do not accept an accusation against a presbyter (KJV, ‘elder,’ Douay-Rheims, ‘priest’) unless it is supported by two or three witnesses. Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest will also be afraid.” (1 Timothy 5:19,20)
Right after explaining to Timothy how to handle unworthy presbyters, St. Paul offers definitive proof that men other than the apostles could practice the laying on of hands: “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another's sins.” (1 Timothy 5:22) The Scriptures are clear that those who serve as leaders of the Church — deacons, presbyters, and bishops — do so by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Hence, St. Paul commands the Macedonian bishops: “Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops, to rule the Church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) Jediah, you believe that the elders of the Churches of Christ are the “bishops” or “overseers” that the Apostle mentions. Yet, you also deny the power to confer the gift of the Holy Spirit to all but the apostles.
Unless one of the apostles visited Maine to lay hands on your elders, then how can you say that the Holy Spirit made them overseers? (And if the Holy Spirit did not make them overseers, they are not really overseers.)
Even during the life of the apostles, the ordained presbyters and bishops shared in governing the Church. For many years, St. Peter and the Twelve remained at the Mother Church, Jerusalem, while St. Paul exercised his authority in transit. When the first grave heresy arose, that of the Judaizers, St. Paul came to meet with the apostles in Jerusalem. It was not, however, the apostles alone who made the decision. Paul brought with him St. Barnabas, who is called an apostle but is not of the same rank as the Twelve and Paul. In Jerusalem they met with “the apostles and presbyters.” (Acts 15:2) After grueling hours of unrecorded discussion, St. Peter decided the matter.(Acts 15:7-11) St. James the Righteous, who had sympathized with the Jews, spoke, granting assent of will to the decision of St. Peter and the council. When the decision was codified in a letter, it was written in the name of “the apostles and presbyters,” and stated that it's ruling was “the decision of the Holy Spirit and of us.” (Acts 15:23,28)
Since the line of succession was intended to continue, so was the charism of infallibility. Indeed, the second, third, tenth, and ten thousandth generation of Christians is every bit as important to our Lord as was the first. That is why he has guaranteed to preserve his Church from teaching error. Since the bishops of the Catholic Church enjoy a direct traceable succession from Christ and the apostles, when they speak together on matters of faith and morals, they cannot err. Also, since Jesus appointed St. Peter to be his Vicar and the visible head of the Church on earth, his successors, the Bishops of Rome, enjoy the same authority.
Notice, Jediah, what Jesus said when promising the apostles the Holy Spirit: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you always.” (John 14:16)
Elsewhere, the Lord promised, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the world.” (Matthew 28:20) Or, as St. Isaiah foretold, “My Spirit which is upon you and my words that I have put into your mouth shall never leave your mouth, nor the mouths of your children, nor the mouths of your children's children, from now on and forever, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 59:21) Because the Spirit continues to remain with the Church and continues to guide our leaders into all truth, we can be confident that, as St. Paul says, “the Church of the living God (is) the pillar and foundation of truth.” (1 Timothy 3:15)
Next, we will look at how the first Christians after the apostles interpreted their words. Did they believe in and adhere to the Catholic system, or did they believe in Sola Scriptura?
5. The writings of the earliest Christians show the Catholic system of authority
The apostles took the Word of God to the nations, spreading the Catholic Faith and establishing churches for the Catholic believers. All of these apostolic churches adhered to the same Faith.
Dearly beloved, taking all care to write unto you concerning your common salvation, I was under a necessity to write unto you: to beseech you to contend earnestly for the faith once [i.e., once and for all-Ed.] delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
Of course, the apostles weren't alone. They laid their hands on men, empowering them to authoritatively teach the same Word. Indeed, the world was turned upside down by these men who spread this same gospel to all peoples.
The early Catholic leaders who had been taught and appointed by the apostles were determined to keep the Faith unchanged. Since they had known the holy apostles and seen them die for the Faith; since they themselves were in constant danger of dying for the Faith, they strove to preserve that Faith. When heretics arose, the early Christian leaders treated them harshly. They were extremely cautious to allow those who had fallen away to return to the Church.
Their faith was not based on Scripture alone. The generation of Christians who were taught and appointed by the apostles did not believe in Sola Scriptura. Often, they were divided over what was and was not Scripture, but in any case, they all believed in the authority of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church.
St. Clement I was a companion of St. Paul. From him Clement received the laying on of hands and the priesthood. St. Paul gives testimony to Clement's character:
And I entreat thee also, my sincere companion [this “companion” is not identified, thereby leading most to believe that it is a proper name meaning “companion."-Ed.], help those women who have labored with me in the gospel, with Clement and the rest of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life (Phil. 4:3).
Early testimony has it that Clement was ordained bishop by St. Peter in Rome. Several decades later, St. Clement became the fourth pope. In 97 AD, Pope Clement wrote a letter to the Church of Corinth. Their many problems had continued after the death of St. Paul. In this particular instance, laymen of the Catholic Church in corinth had thrown from office some of their validly ordained priests. At this time, the Apostle John was still alive, who in view of his writing of The Apocalypse, would have had an efficient network of information on the world churches. It is notable that St. John did not intervene, however. St. Clement did, however, speaking with authority to intervene in the affairs of a foreign church. In his letter, St. Clement commands the Corinthians to obey him, demanding that they “learn what Christ has spoken through us.” This is an early testimony to the acceptance of papal authority. St. Clement also expounds on the doctrine of apostolic succession:
Through the countryside and city they preached [i.e., the apostles-Ed.]; and they appointed their earliest converts, testing them by the spirit, to be the bishops and deacons of future believers. Nor was this a novelty: for bishops and deacons had been written about a long time earlier. Indeed, scripture somewhere says: “I will set up their bishops in righteousness and their deacons in faith."… Our Apostles knew through our Lord Jesus Christ that their would be strife for the office of bishop. For this reason, therefore, having received perfect foreknowledge, they appointed those who have already been mentioned, and afterwards added the further provision that, if they should die, other approved men should succeed to their ministry. As for these, then, who were appointed by them, or who were afterwards appointed by other illustrious men with the consent of the whole Church, and who have ministered to the flock of Christ without blame, humbly, peacably and with dignity, and who have for many years received the commendations of all, we consider it unjust that they be removed from the ministry (First Letter to the Cornithians [42,1]; [44,1], written ca. 80AD).
In decrying the sin of the Corinthians, which is the same as the sin of Core of old and of all schismatics. This Letter of Pope Clement also shows that, as early as 80 AD, Christians accepted the scriptural doctrine that the Holy Eucharist is a sacrifice:
Our sin will not be small if we eject from the episcopate those who blamelessly and holily have offered its Sacrifices. Blessed are those presbyters [i.e., priests who have already finished their course, and who have obtained a fruitful and perfect release; for they have now no fear that any shall transfer them from the place to which they are appointed, obtained a fruitful and perfect dissolution (First Letter to the Corinthians [44,1]).
The letter of St. Clement I to the Corinthians, otherwise known as I Clement, was considered inspired Scripture by many well into the fourth century. St. Clement was arrested by the Romans. Refusing to give up the Catholic Faith, a millstone was hung around his neck and he was thrown into the Tiber River.
Two other important figures are Ss. Polycarp of Smyrna and Ignatius of Antioch. Both were disciples of the Apostle John, and received their ministries from him. St. Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna, a church for which our Lord Jesus Christ had nothing but praise [see Apoc. 2:8-11]. St. Polycarp is known for his intolerance for heresy.
In 155 AD, at the age of 86, he was arrested and publicly burned at the stake for being a Catholic. Not wanting to kill an old man, the appointed executioner offered to spare his life if he would renounce Christ. The bishop replied: “For 86 years I have served Jesus, and he has never wronged me in any way. How then can I deny my very King and Savior?” The Church of Smyrna, confident that “the victor shall not be harmed by the second death,” gathered up the remains of St. Polycarp and venerated them as the relics of a saint. One of Polycarp's disciples was St. Irenaeus of Lyons, about whom we'll speak in a moment.
The other of St. John's disciples was Ignatius. After studying under the apostle, Ignatius was appointed to the Church of Antioch. It was at this very church that “the disciples were first called Christians.” A close friend of Polycarp, St. Ignatius ruled as Bishop of Antioch for many years.
During that time, he wrote several letters to churches admonishing them to keep the Faith. In his writings, he does not claim authority over other churches, but insists that the faithful follow their own bishops, priests, and deacons. In 107, he was arrested and sent to Rome, where, refusing to renounce his faith, he was fed to wild animals.
From his writings, much can be learned about the bishop's character. He was not a man consumed with power or greed, nor did he allow changes to the Faith. In his letter to the Romans, he writes:
Only pray for me that God would give me both inward and outward strength [in the face of execution], that I may not only say, but will; nor be only called a Christian, but be found one…. Let fire and the cross; let the companies of wild beasts; let the breakings of bones and the tearing of members; let the shattering of the whole body and all the wicked torments of the devil come upon me; only let me enjoy Jesus Christ. All the ends of the world, and the kingdoms of it, will profit me nothing: I would rather die for Jesus Christ than rule to the utmost ends of the earth. Him I seek who died for us; him I desire that rose again for us. This is the gain that is laid up for me.
Through his many letters, Jediah, we gain a great insight into what the early Church, which had to fight to the death for the Faith, believed and practiced. We hear in the voice of St. Ignatius the voice of St. John, and in the voice of St. John, the voice of our Blessed Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Ghost, as one God forever and ever. Amen.
St. Ignatius gives evidence, in his letter to the Roman Church, of papal primacy. He refers to the Church of Rome as “presiding in love” over the entire Church.3
In his letter to the Trallian Church, he acknowledges the three-tiered hierarchy [i.e., bishop, priest, deacon-Ed.] and apostolic succession.
In like manner, let us reverence the deacons as Jesus Christ, and the bishop as the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrin of God and college of the apostles. Without these, there is no Church.1
Later in the same letter, St. Ignatius offers this exhortation:
Continue inseparable from Jesus Christ our God, and from your bishop, and from the commands of the apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without, that is, he that does anything without the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, is not pure in conscience.2
Writing to the Magnesians, St. Ignatius again affirms that the bishops and presbyters inherit apostolic authority.
I exhort you that ye study to do all things in a divine concord: Your bishop presiding in the place of God, your presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and your deacons, most dear to me, being entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ.4
Knowing that vile heresies were spreading, St. Ignatius offers a solemn warning in his letter to the Church of Philadelphia. In that letter, he affirms that the only sure test of truth is unity with the bishops of the Church.
Be not deceived, brethren; if anyone follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the Kingdom of God. If anyone walks after any other opinion, he agrees not with the passion of Christ. Wherefore let it be your endeavor to partake all of the same Holy Eucharist. For there is but one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the unity of his blood, one altar, as also there is one bishop, together with his presbytery, and the deacons, my fellow servants, that whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to the will of God.5
In his letter to the Church of Smyrna, over which St. Polycarp presided as bishop, St. Ignatius makes this statement:
Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people also be: as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.6
The last of many other possible early Christian leaders I'd like to quote for you is St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a student of St. Polycarp (who, in turn, was the student of St. John the Apostle). He took it upon himself to combat all of the false teachings of his time.
Toward the end of the second century, he wrote his famous work, Against Heresies: Detection and Overthrow of the Knowledge Falsely So Called. Consider the following passage from that influential document:
When [heretics] are refuted out of the Scriptures, they betake themselves to accusing the Scriptures themselves as if there were something amiss with them and they carried not authority, because the Scriptures, they say, contain diverse utterances and because truth cannot be found in them….
Yet when we appeal again to that tradition which is derived from the apostles and which is safeguarded in the churches through the succession of presbyters, they then are adversaries of tradition, claiming to be wiser not only than the presbyters but even the apostles, and to have discovered the truth undefiled….
Those that wish to discern the truth may observe the apostolic tradition made manifest in every church throughout the world. We can enumerate those who were appointed bishops in the churches by the apostles, and their successors down to our own day, who never taught, and never knew, absurdities such as these men produce. For if the apostles had known hidden mysteries which they taught the perfect in private and in secret they would rather have committed them to those to whom the entrusted the churches. For they wished those men to be perfect and unblamable whom they left and their successors and to whom they handed over their office of authority….
This we do by pointing to the apostolic tradition and the faith that is preached to men, which has come down to us through the successions of bishops; the tradition and creed of the greatest, the most ancient church, the church known to all men, which was founded and set up at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul. For with this church, because of its position of leadership and authority, must needs agree every church, that is, the faithful everywhere, for in her the apostolic tradition has always been preserved by the faithful from all parts.
So, you see that we have the Catholic Church spread throughout the world at the very outset. There is no proof in the historical record for your theory of apostasy and restoration. Unless every church in the world fell away in the exact same way at the exact same time, and this centuries before mass communication, your theory falls apart.
6. The legitimate practices of the Jews developed and the scriptures were not viewed as an exclusive guide
The Catholic Church teaches a true development of doctrine and practices. All of the truth was revealed to the apostles, but as the centuries progress the Church grows in wisdom and gains insight and understanding. While we may express the Faith in different ways, none of those ways touches the unchanging essentials of the Faith which is always one and the same.
You object to the development of doctrine and practice, arguing that we should take the Bible as our standard and guide. The Christian should, you would say, limit his beliefs to those of the Bible and limit his religious practices to those of the Bible. This aversion to the development of doctrine and practice is unscriptural. The Jews had Sacred Scripture which they were bound to follow. However, as time progressed the Jews’ understanding grew and their doctrines and practices developed.
One example is the synagogue. In the time of Christ, every city with a Jewish population had a synagogue, where the people would meet on the Sabbath for liturgical services. But if you search the Jewish Scriptures, Jediah, and you won't find any authority for synagogue worship. Worship, according to the Old Testament, is supposed to be in Jerusalem. Yet Jesus and the apostles met in synagogues without qualm. Why? Because as the years progressed, the Jews developed a legitimate unscriptural practice.
Another example is the Jewish leadership. Jews of Christ's time were led by the Sanhedrin. Under the Sanhedrin were elders, i.e., priests, scribes, and Pharisees. Jesus affirmed their authority, stating that they had inherited it from Moses. However, with the exception of the Levitical priests, the Hebrew Bible does not speak of such authority figures, or of Mosaic succession.
You object to the Catholic Church establishing Holy Days of Obligation that are not in the Bible. However, the Jews established numerous such days. One of them is Hanukkah or the Feast of Dedication, commemorating a miracle from the Maccabean revolt and foretelling the Messias yet to come. The Hebrew Bible never mentions the feast, yet Jesus celebrated it [see Jn. 10:22ff]. In fact, it was while celebrating the Feast of Dedication that our Lord stated, “I and the Father are one.”
Even within the Scriptures, the Jewish faith was in a constant state of development. The Jews went from slavery to the leadership of priests and judges to kings to prophets to warlords. Early parts of the Bible seem more fatalistic, with little evidence that they understood resurrection and eternity. By the end of the Old Testament times, in II Maccabees, they had come to believe in resurrection, eternity, and purgatory.
“Okay,” you might say, “the Jewish faith and practice developed. But once Jesus came and preached the full truth, there was to be no further development.”
You will add, “We have in the New Testament, especially in Acts, a pattern of what the Church should be. We need to imitate that pattern, without perverting it in the name of development.”
What you'll find, however, is that the Catholic Church in the New Testament is in a constant state of development, too.
7. The infant Catholic church in the book of Acts is in a constant state of refinement
To demonstrate that the New Testament Church is intended to refine, let me refer to a paper I wrote:
The Sacred Scripture closes with a stern warning: “For I testify to every one that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book: If any man shall add to these things. God shall add unto him the plagues written in this book. And if any many shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from these things that are written in this book (Apoc. 22:18,19).
This passage is used by the Church of Christ to forbid the teaching and practice of anything not found in the Bible. But, the warnings of Apocalypse do not claim to speak for the rest of the Bible, and in any case do not deal with specific practices of the Catholic Church. It is an anti-Roman message to persecuted Christians encoded so that the Romans, through whose hands it had to pass, would not likely understand it. To use this passage to condemn any Church practices not found in the Scripture is taking it far out of context.
What the Church of Christ considers the Great Apostasy, that is, the so-called falling away from the true Faith of the apostles which made the Catholic Church out of the original Lord's Church, is traced to the origins of Catholic practices. A chronological chart prepared by Eldred Stevens lists the Apostasy in this order: holy water, intercession of saints, penance, cross and crucifix, relics, Catholic Church [i.e., a new title for a new Church-Ed.], infant baptism, incense, Agnus Dei, daily Mass, blessing cemeteries, veneration of images, Purgatory, the office of archbishop, the celebration of the Ascension of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Transubstantiation, etc.77
For adherents to the Church of Christ, any refinement of their imaginary New Testament Church is considered apostacy. Rather than believing in the Catholic Church which progresses truly and without contradiction under the guidance of the Holy Ghost Who preserves her from error in gaining insight into the “faith once [and for all] delivered to the saints,” the Church of Christ claims that the Church should remain exactly as it was in the Bible.
One can either have a Church which “flowers” or a “constant” Church. The Holy Scriptures do not give a picture of a constant Church. Even during the roughly three decades of the history of the Catholic Church contained in the Bible, the Church is advancing. Beginning in 30 AD, the Church consisted of all Jews who continued Jewish worship in the Temple.
And they were persevering in the doctrine of the apostles, and in the communication of the breaking of the bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders also and signs were done by the apostles in Jerusalem, and there was great fear in all. And all that believed, were together, and had all things in common. Their possessions and goods they sold, and divided them to all, according as every one had need. And continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they took their meat with gladness and simplicity of heart; Praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord increased daily together such as should be saved (Acts 2:42-47).
It is not until four years later that the office of deacon is created.
And the saying was liked by all the multitude, and they chose Stephen, man full of faith, and of the holy Ghost, and Philip, and prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles; and they praying, imposed hands upon them (Acts 6:5,6).
Only in 35 AD are any congregations started outside of Jerusalem. They, too, are all Jews, worshiping with Jews in the synagogues.
And at that time there was raised a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all dispersed through the countries of Judea, and Samaria, except the apostles (Acts 8:1).
In 41 AD, Gentiles are allowed into the Catholic Church, but only on condition they conform to the Law of Moses.
Then Peter answered: Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, who have received the Holy Ghost, as well as we? (Acts 10:47)
In 49 AD, a council of the Catholic Church was held with Paul, Barnabas, the apostles, and the priests in attendance. At this Council of Jerusalem it was determined that the Law of Moses need not be imposed upon on Gentile converts.
For which cause I judge that they, who from among the Gentiles are converted to God, are not to be disquieted ….For it hath seem good to the Holy Ghost and to us, to lay no further burden upon you than these necessary things:…(Acts 1.5).
Christians continued to worship in the Jewish Temple [see II Thessalonians 2:4] until its destruction in 70 AD. It was not until 84 AD that Christianity and Judaism made their final split, with Christians being excommunicated from the synagogues. If the Church is to remain constant to the pattern of Scripture, which pattern shall it be? If we may not progress, which point in the Catholic Church's New Testament progression shall we arbitrarily choose as a cutoff point? Should we glean from each period what we choose, and establish that as New Testament Christianity? Or, do we trust the voice of the Church of the living God to progress without changing the true teachings of Christ and the apostles?8
In a letter I sent to another gentleman some time ago, I addressed a particular aspect of development: changing the rules. This is probably a sore point with you. Before my conversion to the Catholic Church, my mentor in the Church of Christ used to lure prospective converts with a pamphlet titled, “Why Does My Church Keep Changing the Rules?” First of all, rules and doctrines are not the same thing. Doctrine is unchanging. We may develop in our understanding of doctrines, but they never change in any essential way. Rules — disciplines — however, may change as the Church sees fit. Yes, there are examples in Holy Scripture of “rule changing.”
One is from St. Paul:
Otherwise, what shall they do that are baptized for the dead, if the dead rise not again at all? Why are they then baptized for them (I Cor. 1,5:29)?
The Church has always taught as her most important dogma that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. According to the above reference, it seems that, based on the dogma of the Resurrection, friends of persons (at least in Corinth) who desired to become Christians but had died before they could be baptized were allowed to undergo a symbolical baptism to show that the dead were counted as Christians. This practice, apparently given scriptural approval, was soon dropped by the Catholic Church for fear of misunderstanding. It was proper that it do so, don't you think? Even though appearing to have scriptural approval, it was proper for the Catholic Church to use its authority to stop this practice, don't you think? Today, as far as I know, only the psuedo-Christian Mormons follow this practice, authoritatively changed by the Catholic Church.
Another example is the dietary restrictions placed on the Church by the Council of Jerusalem (49AD).
That you abstain from things sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled,… (Acts 15:29).
Finally, there is the celebration of the Holy Eucharist in the context of a common meal known as the agape, or “love feast.”
For every one taketh before his own supper to eat. And one indeed is hungry and another is drunk. What, have you not houses to eat and to drink in? Or despise ye the church of God; and put them to shame that have not? What shall I say to you? Do I praise you? In this I praise you not (I Cor. 11:20-22)
Additionally, St. Jude uses a series of metaphors comparing the shameless behavior of heretics with the unacceptable conduct of those abusing the agape before reception of Holy Communion.9
Woe unto them for they have gone the way of Cain:…. These are spots in their banquets, feasting together without fear, feeding themselves, clouds without water, which are carried about by winds, trees of the autumn, unfruitful, twice dead, plucked up by the roots (Jude 3:11a,12).
God did not intend His Church, Jediah, to stay frozen in time. Instead, it was supposed to grow and flourish and develop. The Catholic Church is like a full-grown plant which looks nothing like its seed but is essentially the same. Everything the Church believes was contained essentially in the first kernel of truth.
Another parable he proposed unto them, saying:
The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Which is the least indeed of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come, and dwell in the branches thereof (Mt. 13:31,32).
8. The Bible prophesies the rise and growth of the Catholic church
The theory of Apostasy and Restoration adhered to by members of the Church of Christ sect is further debunked, Jediah, by the fact that the Sacred Scriptures foretell the rise and growth of the Catholic Church. All those sectors of Protestant thought, such as Mormons, Jehovah's Witness, and Islam, which adhere to some variation of the Apostasy/Restoration Theory can be classed into two mutually exclusive schools of thought. I don't know which one is the favorite of your Church of Christ, but one will be preferred over the other.
The first school of thought is the “Total Apostasy” school. Those believing in Total Apostasy accept that the true Church entirely ceased to exist on the earth for a period of time. David J. Riggs advocated this idea:
Some claim that a Church must be able to authentically trace its history back to Christ in order to be the true Church. However, we do not need a continual succession back to the original Church for that same Church to exist today. We need only to plant the word of God in the hearts of individuals. Those who believe and obey the word constitute the Church in any given locality.10
The second school of thought is the “Faithful Remnant” school. Those who teach this assert that a small remnant of true Christians existed underground in a continuous succession from the time of Christ. One advocate of this theory is Florida College's Brent Hunter:
During all these changes [in Christian doctrine and practice-Ed.], most of the people in the Church simply went along with the departures from the New Testament teaching and allowed the innovations and human ideas. Some remained faithful fought against the apostasy and were excommunicated (or worse).
Mr. Hunter neglects to offer any evidence to back up this claim. Why is it, Jediah, that such statements against the Catholic Church are not substantiated? Historically, in fact, the Catholic Church founded by Christ has never ceased to exist, no matter how obscure it may have become at times in history. The Church applies these verses to herself:
But in the days of those kingdoms the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, and his kingdom shall not be delivered up to another people, and it shall break in pieces, and shall consume all these kingdoms, and itself shall stand forever (Dan. 2:44).
Whose voice [i.e., God's-Ed.] then moved the earth; but Noe He promiseth, saying, “Yet once more, and I will move not only the earth, but heaven also [a quote from Deut. 4:24-Ed.]. And in that he saith, “Yet once more,” He signifieth the translation of the moveable things as made, that those things may remain which are immoveable. Therefore receiving an immoveable kingdom [i.e., the Catholic Church-Ed.], we have grace [meaning in the original Greek, “let us be grateful”-Ed.]; whereby let us serve, pleasing God, with fear and reverence. For our God is a consuming fire [Heb. 12:26-29].
While there are basically only two interpretations of your Apostacy/Restoration Theory. Either the Church founded by Christ entirely fell away for a period of time, or it remained underground in a small faithful remnant. The Biblical picture eliminates both possibilities. Scripture portrays the Church as destined to grow in splendor. The Church is to have as subjects all nations of the world. The kings of the earth are to belong to her ranks. She is to stand as a beacon for all the world to see, not exist in historical obscurity.
Consider the words of the Prophet Isaias:
And there shall come a redeemer to Sion, and to them that return from iniquity in Jacob, with the Lord. This is my covenant with them, with the Lord: My spirit that is in thee, and my words that I have put in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, not out of the mouth of thy seed's seed, with the Lord, from henceforth and forever. [The Church makes use of the following verses for the Epistle of the Mass on the Feast of Epiphany, for she sees in them symbols of her universality.-Ed.] Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem: for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For behold darkness shall cover the earth, and a mist the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentile shall walk in they light, and kings in the brightness of they rising. Lift up thy eyes round about, and see: all these are gathered together, they are come to thee: thy sons shall come from afar, and they daughters shall rise up at thy side. Then shall thou see, and abound, and they heart shall wonder and be enlarged, when the multitude of the sea shall be converted to thee, the strength of the Gentiles shall come to thee….The least shall be come a thousand, and a little one a most strong nation: I the Lord will suddenly do this thing in its time (Is. 59:20,21; 60:1-5,22].
The passage cited by Mr. Hunter (see Dan. 2:44 above) to establish his thesis that the Church for a period remained in historical obscurity, constantly persecuted by the authorities of an apostate Church which sold out to pagan Rome, actually portrays the Catholic Church crushing the nations, and Rome in particular. The Catholic Church turned the world's largest pagan empire into a Christian empire, eventually conquering the pagan establishment which for so long persecuted the Catholic Church founded by the Messias.
Isaias also foretells the rise of the Messias and the Church:
I beheld, therefore, in the vision of the night, and lo, one like the son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and he came even to the ancient of days: and they presented him before him. And he gave him power, and glory, and a kingdom: and all peoples, tribes, and tongues shall serve him: his power is an everlasting power that shall not be taken away: and his kingdom that shall not be destroyed. [The reason that our Lord Jesus Christ is prophesied as “the son of man” is to contrast Him with the worldly kingdoms opposed to God, symbolized as brute beasts, with the glorified people of God, symbolized by human form, that will build His kingdom on earth. In the New Testament, our Lord made the title “Son of Man” His most characteristic way of referring to Himself, as the One in whom and through whom salvation would be realized.-Ed.] These four great beasts are four kingdoms [symbolically Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome-Ed.], which shall arise out of the earth. But the saints of the most high God shall take the kingdom: and they shall possess the kingdom for ever and ever (Dan. 7:13,14,17,18).
It is not just Christ who reigns forever, but his servants on the earth. How vast is their dominion?
And that the kingdom, and power, and the greatness of the kingdom, under the whole heaven, may be given to the people of the saints of the most High: whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all kings shall serve him, and shall obey him (Dan. 7:27).
This, too, can only be fulfilled by the Catholic Church who, in the height of her glory, judged all of Christendom, and not in a nonexistent or historically obscure faithful remnant.
Prophecy abounds with this kind of stuff, Jediah, which has no other application than to the Catholic Church of All Time. If the Church founded by Christ fell away so far so that men became unsure of what to do, all would be lost. Our Lord keeps His promises and this is our assurance: “You are the light of the world. A city seated on a mountain cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but upon a candlestick, that it may shine to all that are in the house….Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill (Mt. 5:I4,15,17).
9. Sola Scriptura was not believed by anybody until the Reformation. It is a tradition of man condemned by Our Lord
Legitimate development of doctrine is only that development which is guided by the Holy Ghost, which is not in contradiction with itself, and which is a natural expansion of understanding. Doctrines which individuals make up from time to time, which represent substantial breaks with the Christian tradition, are heresies. From the aspect of winning your wife away from the Jehovah's Witnesses to your own Church of Christ heresies, Jediah, you are at least familiar with the phenomenon. Many of the doctrines of the Jehovah's Witness are heresies. On this, we would agree. Their doctrines were invented by particular men at particular times which were essential breaks with Catholic Tradition. It is heresy to teach that, Jesus Christ is not co-equal to God the Father, that He is really St. Michael, that there is no spiritual soul, and that there is not Hell.
Sola fide is heresy, that is, that “only faith” saves us, is heresy. On this the Catholic Church and the Church of Christ agree. The idea that one is saved by “faith alone” was invented by Martin Luther, an apostate Catholic, and represents a substantial contradiction of and break with Christian tradition. It is not a legitimate development of doctrine.
Applying the same principle, Sola Scriptura is heresy as well. Nobody ever taught it during the first 1500 years since Christ founded the Catholic Church. It, too, was invented by Luther. In fact, its origin is rather embarrassing. Luther was called by the Church to answer for his bizarre teachings on salvation by faith. He was confident that he could find support in the teachings of the popes and councils. When the authorities of the Catholic Church demonstrated that the popes and councils did not support him, he invented Sola Scriptura to save face. By inventing Sola Scriptura, Luther caused a substantial break with Christian tradition. If a doctrine was never taught until the 1500's, we can be confident it is not part of the apostolic Depositum Fidei. Luther did the Sacred Scriptures a grave disservice by calling on them to play a role which they were never intended to play. We should reject Sola Scriptura, Jediah, as an invention, a heresy, and a tradition of man.
10. The Church of Christ has no historical connection to the church established in Jerusalem in 33 AD
You believe that the Church of Christ is the one true Church. Scriptures already cited demonstrate that the true Church must remain alive and active all throughout history. If you study history, you will find that the Church of Christ only exists because a Baptist preacher, Alexander Campbell, and a Presbyterian preacher, Barton Warren Stone, merged their small splinter groups into a new Church. That new group, the Disciples of Christ, has split several times. Today's Disciples of Christ, Christian Church, and Church of Christ all have a common origin in the Restoration Movement. What you won't find is any logical connection between this product of the Restoration Movement and the Church established by Christ. I challenge you to offer evidence that the Church of Christ can be traced back to the first century.
11. The Church of Christ teaches Sola Scriptura only because it is a Protestant sect and not the Catholic church of Scripture
Why does the Church of Christ teach Sola Scriptura? Because it was born out of a 300-year-old Calvinist tradition. Her founders rejected some Calvinist doctrines and kept others. There are 20,000 plus denominations claiming to follow the Bible alone. The Church of Christ preserves itself by acting as if its interpretation of the Scriptures was Scripture itself. It is, however, no less a denomination, no less a part of the embarrassing division within Christianity, than any other sect.
It doesn't matter that the Church of Christ wasn't intended to be just another sect. Campbell envisioned he was working toward the ultimate unity of all Christians.
I have no idea of adding to the catalogue of new sects. This game has been played too long. I labor to see sectarianism abolished, and all Christians of every name united upon the one foundation on which the apostolic Church was founded. To bring Baptists and Paedo-baptists to this is my supreme end.11
Campbell failed. His new Church, like scores of new Churches before it, split and divided and split again. Today, even within the Church of Christ, there are churches which are arch-conservative and anathematize everyone, churches which are semi-conservative and anathematize liberals, churches which are liberal, churches which are ultra-liberal, and churches which are no different than the common Evangelical Protestant church of the likes of Max Lucado.
Why did he fail? Because he did not build his new Church on the Rock which is St. Peter. St. Paul says:
According to the grace of god that is given to me, as a wise architect, I have laid the foundation; and another buildeth thereon, but let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation no man can lay, but that which is laid; which is Christ Jesus (I Cor. 3:10,11).
Alexander Campbell built his house upon the unsteady sand of his own personal interpretation of the Sacred Scriptures only. Our Lord Jesus Christ, Wisdom Itself, built His house upon a Rock.
And Jesus answering, said to him: Blessed are thou, Simon Bar Jona [Peter]: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou are Peter; and upon this rock [i.e., Christ declares Peter to be “the Rock” upon which the Catholic Church was to be built: Christ Himself being the principal foundation and founder of the same.-Ed.] I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [i.e., securing it against all storms and floods like the wise builder of Mt. 7:24,25-Ed.].”
Ibid. to the Trallians 1:8,9. ↩︎
Ibid. 2:4,5. ↩︎
St. Ignatius (of Antioch) to the Romans 1:1. ↩︎
St. Ignatius (of Antioch) to the Magnesians 2:4,5. ↩︎
Ibid. to the Philadelphians 1:9-12. ↩︎
Eldred Stevens and Eric Beevers. The Stevens-Beevers Debate on the New Testament and Roman Catholicism. Nashville: Williams (1953). ↩︎
Jeff Childers. “The Roman Catholic Church and the Church of Christ,’ unpublished paper (1997). ↩︎
Ibid. Letter to Mr. Jack Meier. April 24, 1998. ↩︎
David J. Riggs. “Succession Necessary?” Catholicism Examined. Vol. I, No. 6, June, 1984. ↩︎
David McClister and Brent Hunter. “Where Did All the Denomination Come From?” ↩︎
Alexander Campbell. Christian Baptist, Vol. III, No.7, February 6, 1826 ↩︎