No, Not One

Jesus founded only one church and no other communion in the world is a church, not even the Eastern churches which actually came before Peter and Paul died in Rome.

Now, in this apologetics series we have seen that none of the Protestant churches (among the thousands of them) is the Church of Jesus Christ, and none can be. Neither can Anglicanism be, nor the Orthodox churches. There is only one left to fit in the marks of being One, Holy, Catholic, Apostolic, etc. And you will get not a single brownie point for guessing which one I am referring to.

Why is the Roman Catholic Church the Church founded by Jesus Christ? Not merely because it is the last one left in the list of our considerations, not at all.

First of all, she is one in faith: Faithful Catholics the world over — whether they live in America, Europe, Africa, Asia, or Oceania — share the same Creed, and believe the same articles of faith. (Please note: I mean the faithful Catholics, not the superficial, relativistic, modernist folks you find in many places today. They do not represent the Catholic Church, only themselves. An organization is properly represented by its faithful members, not by its unfaithful ones.)

The faithful ministers of the Catholic Church bear the message of Christ in its entirety, without any adaptations to the worldly culture of our days.

Does that apply to the German bishops?

She is one in government. Faithful Catholic people are joined to their priests, the priests and people to their bishops, and all are subject to the Pope, the center of authority, the bond of apostolic unity, the Successor of St. Peter, and the Vicar of Christ. The Code of Canon Law acts like a “constitution” for the Catholic Church, and all are subject to its ordinances. There is unity in government.

Does that include the Vatican curia who leak documents and information to Italian reporters?

The Catholic Church bears the message of Christ, and her faithful members, courageous and plain-spoken as Christ Himself, insist that it be received in its integrity. She shuts her ears to the sensual who look to her in vain for an accommodation in her moral doctrine; those unfaithful members of the Church at times attempt to change her moral doctrine, but always without success. They either leave the Church in a schism or deny her truth as a new heresy.

What about Cardinal Law?

Since Luther’s revolution, countless new Protestant groups, as well as semi-Christian sects, have arisen. Some of them, e.g., Assembly of God, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God, are not named after any particular person, place, or doctrine — but one thing they, and all Protestant bodies, have in common is that the date of their foundation can be given. Before Luther there was no Lutheranism, before Calvin there was no Calvinism, before Henry VIII there was no Anglicanism, before Ellen White there were no Seventh-day Adventists, before Joseph Smith there were no Mormons. And so on and so forth.

The Catholic Church — it is a fact of history — was founded by Jesus Christ in the year 33. Only the Catholic Church goes back in every respect of her foundation to Jesus Christ Himself. No other person can be adduced as her founder.

So why not relocate and call the church, the Jerusalem Catholic Church?

Here I thought Lutherans and Calvinists were separated brethren and sistren.

Postscript: Program Notes on the Church Jesus Founded

Acts 1: Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers (a group numbering about a hundred and twenty) 16 and said, “Brothers and sisters, the Scripture had to be fulfilled in which the Holy Spirit spoke long ago through David concerning Judas, who served as guide for those who arrested Jesus. 17 He was one of our number and shared in our ministry.”

Acts 2: When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.

Jerusalem envy, anyone?

Humble Beginnings, Proud Endings

Can someone explain to me how you look at the Roman Catholic Church as a poor church for the poor? It’s as if Roman Catholicism was the Italian version of the Amish, and oh, isn’t so remarkable how different those believers live, how unattached they are to worldly things, how unencumbered they are by maintaining large institutions and edifices.

Has anyone been to Rome? 1362057705627

What set me off today was a piece about the humble homes in which John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis grew up. Fine. They may have had humble origins, but did the live on the streets of Rome outside Vatican City while occupying the office of pope? If indeed the papacy is an office, which it is, and the office transcends the man, then the phrase “papal apartment” should go with the residence of the Bishop of Rome, not the family residence back in the day of the man who occupies the office.

And to add a few pounds-per-square-inch to my tight jaws, Vatican News reported — aren’t journalists supposed to ask hard questions — gleefully Francis’ speech in which he distinguishes the common good from prosperity:

Francis then explained the difference between common good and prosperity. “It is so easy for us to become accustomed to the atmosphere of inequality all around us, with the result that we take it for granted. Without even being conscious of it, we confuse the ‘common good’ with ‘prosperity’, especially when we are the ones who enjoy that prosperity. Prosperity understood only in terms of material wealth has a tendency to become selfish, to defend private interests, to be unconcerned about others, and to give free rein to consumerism. Understood in this way, prosperity, instead of helping, breeds conflict and social disintegration; as it becomes more prevalent, it opens the door to the evil of corruption, which brings so much discouragement and damage in its wake.”

Again, what about consumerism in Rome, Vatican Museum shops, the postcards at the Vatican post office? Or what about the inequality between Vatican City and its residential neighbors? Or what about your own material well-being, and the fact that people treat the pope like royalty (which the popes themselves cultivated)? I understand that Pope Francis is trying to do without the papal grandeur. But is he flying coach?

If you don’t see that you may stand implicated in your own words, isn’t that a sign of limousine liberalism?

If It Could Happen to Jerusalem . . .

Why not to Rome (thoughts after a sermon this past Sunday on Rom 11:27-32)?

Lots of those who — come the nuns (hell) or extraordinary synods (high water) — claim that the gates of hell will not prevail against the Roman Catholic Church never seem to account for what happened to Israel. After all, didn’t God make promise after promise to the Israelites that their chosenness would last forever? Remember what God said to David:

Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” (2 Samuel 7:8-16 ESV)

The apostle Paul spent a lot of time trying to account for the inclusion of Gentiles into the promises to Abraham, Moses, and David and one way he wound up doing so was by taking the promises to OT Israel in a spiritual sense. If you were looking for the persistence of outward Israel with the Temple, palace, and king, then you were in for serious disappointment. But if you thought of the promises as guaranteeing a spiritual kingdom and pilgrim people, then you could have an Israel that descended from Abraham and that included those not related by blood as Abraham’s offspring through faith (Gal 3:28-29).

So why would it be wrong to think about Protestantism’s relationship to Western Christianity in a fashion similar to what Paul wrote in Rom 11?

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.(Romans 11:17-24 ESV)

It is a bit of a stretch, but one could say that Protestants were grafted on to the olive tree of Western Christianity in ways comparable to the inclusion of Gentiles within a faith dominated by Jewish people. And just as the Israelites doubled-down on the formal aspects of their faith, so Roman Catholics insisted (and still do) on papal supremacy and apostolic succession and Vatican Bank Institute for the Works of Religion in ways that compromised a clear articulation of the gospel in the hands of Luther and Bucer. As if God’s people never go wrong, even when the Christian religion wouldn’t exist unless something went wrong in the Old Testament expression of salvation.

So when Paul adds,

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all. (Romans 11:28-32 ESV)

meaning that Christians and Jews were enemies because of the message of the gospel (embraced by the former and reject by the latter), he also suggests a way that Protestants should recognize the debt we owe to Roman Catholicism, the only game in town when it came to Western Christianity for at least a millennium. Protestants should — gulp — love Roman Catholics because they are forefathers in the faith. No Roman Catholicism, no Protestantism.

But with that love comes the recognition that Rome, like Jerusalem, failed.

Worship in Spirit and Truth or Place

On Sunday, with English-speaking Protestant churches in short supply in The Eternal City, I took advantage of streaming audio but also decided to observe the 10:00 Mass at the Basilica of St. John Lateran. When in Rome do as some of the Romans do (I say some because the Saturday before Pentecost Sunday, Romans turned out loudly and brightly for a gay pride parade). While observing the proceedings, which included a Cardinal and about 25 assistants with the liturgy (how do they pay them all?), a choir that sang better than the liturgical music I’ve heard in U.S. Roman Catholic parishes but that did not hold a candle to the evensong performances in Christ’s Church Cathedral (Dublin) or St. Mary’s Cathedral (Edinburgh), and a surfeit of images (statues, paintings, tile work in the ceiling, I couldn’t help but think that U.S. Roman Catholics who worship in Rome must feel a tad underwhelmed when they return to their home parish. Rome simply has more stuff than Lansing, Michigan. In fact, place seems to matter for Roman Catholicism in ways that rival Judaism and Islam — certain locales are holy and function as the spiritual capital for the faith.

In comparison, I can return to the States (in a week or so) after worshiping with Presbyterians in Dublin and Edinburgh and not think twice about missing the liturgical bling — and I can say that even while admitting Presbyterianism’s debt to the Scots, and to the charms of what might qualify as Presbyterianism’s capital city — Edinburgh. For Presbyterians, worship doesn’t depend on the tie between the minister and another church official, nor does it include relics or objects that point to holy persons who inhabited that space. The services in Dublin and Edinburgh were not any more special or meaningful because they were closer to Presbyterianism’s original space.

That would seem to confirm Jesus’ point to the Samaritan woman at the well that Christian worship depends not on place or space but on word and Spirit. Sure, that’s a root-for-the-home-team point. But it does account for the lack of liturgical envy among New World Presbyterians. On the other side of the Atlantic, the Spirit and the word are just as much a part of worship as in the Presbyterian heartland.

Today I Crossed the Tiber (or, I didn't walk where Jesus walked)

I didn’t get wet and I remained a Protestant. Amazing how handy those bridges are.

Since the river runs through the city, it is hard not to cross it when navigating Rome. This makes me wonder why the phrase is supposed to signify converting to Roman Catholicism.

This answer likely makes the most sense:

I don’t know where the phrase was first used, but it’s based on the geography of Rome. St. Peter’s Basilica & Vatican City are located on the opposite (west) side of the Tiber River from classical Rome (on the east) with its famous seven hills, Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Imperial Palace, Circus Maximus, and whatnot.

I would guess part of the idea in the language is that a Gentile crosses from paganism (represented by classical Rome) to Christianity (represented by St. Peter’s) through the waters of baptism (represented by the Tiber). Of course, not everyone who now “crosses the Tiber” was a pagan before doing so. Some are Christians, some are Jews. But I do think it’s a possible dimension of the metaphor.

But given the way that Roman Catholicism incorporated pagan philosophy (read Aristotle), does this make sense?

Haven't I Seen These Ruins Before?

Out for my Sabbath stroll yesterday, I got a little lost though the statues atop the Basilica of St. John Lateran worked as my compass, I found my way to the Palatine Hill, which made the German Reformed side of me feel a little at home (though I now know “Palatine” has little to do with Germany and lots to do with an official’s status within the empire). As I progressed to the Foro Romano (Roman Forum for those mentally challenged) and looked out over the ruins to the Colosseum all I could think of was Ephesus. The temperature was as torridly hot as last year’s trip to Turkey, the sun as bright, the air as dry, my throat as parched, and the tourists as numerous.

The big difference is that Ephesus died. The city that was there — it was only second to Constantinople in the Byzantine Era — dried up as the harbor filled with silt and thereby cut of commercial access to the Aegean Sea. An earthquake in 614 did not do Ephesus great favors either. But to my untrained archaeological eye, the Turks have done a better job at restoring Ephesus’ ruins than the Romans have with the Roman Forum and its surroundings.

But that is not a knock on the Romans (as if I’m siding with Muslims over Roman Catholics) since they had matters to keep them preoccupied other than ruins and how to preserve them (and how to attract tourists to them). They had a major European capital city to build and maintain. So for all the money that may have gone into preserving the Colosseum in a way that would make it scaffolding-free for ME during MY trip, Rome’s citizens and officials also needed to worry about roads, a metro system, modern art, and pizza.

This means (at least for today) that the ruins in Rome are a lot more ho hum than in Turkey. Even though the Roman ruins are even more Roman than the Roman ruins in Turkey, they have a lot more to compete with in contemporary Rome. Thus far on this journey into one of the world’s ancient cities, I enjoy the competition.

The European Roots of American Christianity

As I walked around Rome this morning I could well understand the appeal of Roman Catholicism to Christians in the U.S. who desire a faith more profound than James Dobson’s or even Tim Keller’s. (TKNY’s historical vibe does not seem to be any older than 1990s New York, despite the comparisons of him to C. S. Lewis.) Heck, part of the appeal to me of Reformed Protestantism was that it situated me in a set of debates and a system of Christian reflection and ministry that went well beyond 1938 — the year my parents’ Baptist congregation started (we had no clue about Roger William and Rhode Island). So with Zwingli and Bucer I get almost five hundred years of tradition (or records, anyway). And for a U.S. Presbyterian who just spent a week in Edinburgh, arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the world with a population of less than 600,000, to walk through the streets and read through the archives and be reminded of arguments and assertions that still hold sway in some American communions sure beats following a trail that ends in some recent odd American locale.

Even so, with Rome, you get a lot more and a lot more grandeur, and if you are simply in the who’s-got-the-oldest-church-cornerstone mode, Rome beats Geneva and Edinburgh (though the latter has more polish than Rome which seems to suffer, along with Istanbul, from being too old; when you get used to having ruins around, you may also become accustomed to a place being a tad disheveled). Still, I’m not sure how Rome beats Jerusalem or Antakya except that western Europe has more cultural cache in the U.S. than Asia Minor (Turkey).

Amid these reflections on Europhilia, David Robertson came to the rescue to keep European Christianity real:

Put any group of Christians together and you will get a wide variety of opinions – some of them contradictory. That is particularly true when we are trying to assess the state of the Church in Europe today. On the one hand there are the doom and gloom merchants, the Jeremiahs, full of facts and figures about numbers and visions of the past, pointing out that the church is dying and we are all “doomed, doomed”. On the other there are the “God is doing a new and greater thing” brigade, the revivalists who are also full of facts and figures but their visions are visions of the future. They assure us on the basis of what is happening in a couple of churches, and a dream that they had that victory is just around the corner, revival is on its way and all we have to do is help their ministry. Isn’t it strange how both the “realists” and the “revivalists” seem to be able to justify their own ministeries because of their prophecies? We are told that we need to support the realists because only in that way will the remnant hang on until the Lord returns. On the other hand we had better support the revivalists because we don’t want to miss out on the revival.

So maybe European Christianity isn’t all that we Europhilic Christians in the U.S. make it out to be. It sure has more history, better architecture, and civilizational presence. But freed from all the baggage of Christendom, perhaps Christianity is better off. That’s not an expression of American Christian exceptionalism. Nor is it an assertion that American Christianity is somehow independent from Europe’s churches. Unmoored from Europe’s tragedies and buoyed by America’s can-do (Pelagian) spirit, mixed with a blasphemous belief in the nation’s divine purpose, American Christianity (Protestant and Roman Catholic) has no room to gloat (even though we usually gloat in spades). At the same time, returning to Europe and its Christian ways won’t do either.