"The evangelical world obviously has much corruption. Wouldn't you be better off converting to Catholicism? If you look at the 'church fathers,' (and I know you mention them quite a lot), you will see something very close to today's Catholicism and nothing at all like modern evangelicalism. Didn't they get it right? They lived much closer to the time of Jesus than you or I."
UK Apologetics Reply:
Yes, if you look closely at the 'church fathers' of the first few centuries of the church, they are closer to Catholicism than to modern evangelicalism. I do not deny that. But - there again - the early Calvinists were nothing like modern evangelicals either and would now seem much closer to Rome! But how much does all that really tell us? I think one of the troubles in your e mail is that you are looking at these problems institutionally. Ultimately, we must look beyond the institutional church whether we speak of Catholicism, the Baptist movement, the Church of England, or anything else. Our bottom line must be the spiritual Body of Christ. Jesus made a very important statement on this subject:
23. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.
24. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth." (John 4:23-24. NIV throughout).
The comment is interesting in view of the context. Jesus was addressing the Samaritan woman and was discussing some elements of the Gospel. She had a big 'is the work of God here, or is it there?' sort of rationale.
19. "Sir," the woman said, "I can see that you are a prophet.
20. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem."
Jesus made it clear that it no longer mattered where the work of God is, it was no longer about geographical location; the important thing being whether God was truly involved in it or not.
In similar manner, at one point the disciples seemed to assume a single institutional structure for the future Church of God, but Jesus rejected the idea:
49. "Master," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us."
50. "Do not stop him," Jesus said, "for whoever is not against you is for you." (Luke 9:49-50).
This verse tells us a whole lot! No one Christian institution would have exclusive rights to the Gospel of Jesus Christ! So if people say to me, 'Aren't you worried because the very early church was much more like Catholicism than like evangelicalism I don't worry.
So, the Church is not about geographical location nor is there any exclusive denomination: We have Jesus' own authority for stating this!
Then again, the 'messages to the seven churches' of Revelation 2-3 tells us quite a lot. Obviously, those messages are not addressed to the pure, 'body of Christ' 144,000 'elect of God' 'Book of Life' entrants as seen from Heaven at all, rather, the messages are addressed to seven specific, operating local congregations of Christians which were assembling in Asia Minor right back in the first century. We see them confronted - warts and all - nothing is hidden; this, for sure, is not 'Donatism.' This is the 'church in the raw' at organisational, institutional level. It is interesting because it shows us that local congregations of believers of not always perfect understanding with perhaps only a certain percentage of attenders truly converted people of God, is accepted by Christ. Perhaps that is how God can learn most about us, when He sees us operating in such a context. There are some terrible compromises within a few of those seven churches, yet Christ still recognises the true believers within them and, loosely at least, seems to recognise the groupings as physical, operating bodies of believers. While the seven churches do not, perhaps, portray the denominations, it does not take too much imagination to see those messages in that particular light. One might even say that one of these seven seems somewhat suggestive of Catholicism. But this shows that the Donatists were wrong and that Augustine was right in his argument with them. The Donatists said, we must have an utterly pure church. Augustine responded by pointing out that we can never have a 'pure' church while on this earth even though God keeps a Book of Life in Heaven and no nominal Christians will get in there. He was exactly right.
I have no doubt that there are many true believers within Catholicism. That denomination appeals to people who like their religion with a capital 'R.' Yet, between them, Jesus and Paul say enough in the New Testament for us to understand that true Christianity is not all about 'religion' at all, it is about ultimate spiritual truth which can lead to Eternal Life. Ritual, reciting the rosary, coping with the incredibly complex Catholic understanding on sin, both mortal and venial, penance, the sacraments and numerous repetitions in worship will always appeal to a certain type and maybe that is the only way that some people can ever give their lives to God, but it is just not for many of us who are able to have a relationship with God without all of the ritualistic trappings. Moreover, a very careful reading of the New Testament will reveal that under the New Covenant people should confess their sins to God, not to priests within a newly established priesthood.
It is true that there is far too much corruption, greed, envy and unbiblical teachings within the evangelical world and, because of it's fairly solid magisterium, one can appreciate that certain problems just about never occur within Catholicism. We Protestants can appreciate that stability, mainly because we often have so little of it! But that does not make Catholicism right, moreover, Catholicism has had it's own periods of incredible corruption, even periods of 'simony' (buying the office of pope for money).
Some believers have this black and white view of the denominations, you know, that one is evil, that one is not quite as evil, but mine is the best. Is it not more likely that a merciful and patient God can send His Spirit to work in various environments as long as the gospel is being faithfully preached? Paul the Apostle seemed to underline Jesus' non-exclusive gospel approach:
14. Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15. If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
16. And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.
17. If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?
18. But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.
19. If they were all one part, where would the body be?
20. As it is, there are many parts, but one body.
21. The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
22. On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,
23. and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty,
24. while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it,
25. so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.
26. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.
27. Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1 Corithians 12:14-27).
Since Vatican II (1962-1965), the Roman Catholic Church has accepted that there are true Christian believers in other denominations besides their own, although they continue to believe that such believers would be better within their own organisation. Also, Catholicism now accepts baptisms carried out within other denominations. All of that is good, yet I still see some horrendous problems within Catholic teaching and practice.
Robin A. Brace. February 12th 2010.