Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Jesus and the Church

A recent discussion in the comment box at Shameless Popery, plus a recent Facebook discussion led me to what I want to talk about today. To catch everyone up on my train of thought, essentially Joe asked a commenter the following: did Jesus found the Catholic Church, and is it His Will for His flock to be in that Church, visibly?

What a great question right? So without further ado, let's dive into it. I will break the question up into two distinct parts.

I. Did Jesus found the Catholic Church? 

Of course He did. Next... Ok so obviously as a Catholic I believe he did, but let's investigate some of the Scriptural and historical evidence.

First off there are many references in the Old Testament to God giving His people a shepherd (The Pope) so they didn't wander off. Take a look at Numbers 27: 15-17, which tells us God doesn't want His people to be like sheep without a shepherd (h/t Joe). Jeremiah 3:15 tells us that God will send us shepherds (pastors in the DR translation) who are after His own heart to feed us with knowledge and doctrine.

So from just these two references alone we see that God desires His people have some sort of leadership to follow. Continuing in Numbers 27: 18-20 we see Moses anointing Joshua as the successor in authority over the Israelites. This is the succession of authority Christ references in Matt. 23:2. So we have in the Old Testament numerous examples of an authority to lead being handed down from one generation to the next. Through laying on of hands and anointing.

All of which brings me to Matt. 16:13-20. The great threefold blessing of Simon soon to be forever after known as Peter. Christ brought the Apostles to Caesarea Phillipi. As Deacon George pointed out at Mass last month when this was our Gospel reading this wasn't the most hospitable place.

"They are in Caesarea Philippi, a pagan area about 25 miles distant from Jewish territory, with at least 14 pagan temples representing Syrian, Canaanite, Greek and Roman deities. But, in the same location is a mountain; from a cave in it the Jordan River begins, making this location also holy to the Jews."

What an odd place for Jesus to reflect on what the crowd thinks of this "carpenter's son." The Twelve venture as to what the consensus of the crowd is. Jesus is Elijah, or Jeremiah, or John the Baptist. Hebrew tradition maintained that Elijah would return to Earth as the Herald of the Lord. We know Jesus isn't the Baptist (John 1:29) for the two are seen together on more than one occasion.

Jesus presses again "But who do you say I am?" None of the Twelve responds for a moment. Finally Simon blurts it out. "You are the Christ." Indeed Simon. Now Jesus does a couple of things.
  • Gives Simon a new more meaningful name. Kephas. Rock. 
  • Tells the Twelve that upon this wonderful Rock He would build His church. One of only two recorded times Jesus uses the word church.(Matt. 18:17 being the other)
  • Gives Peter the keys of the Kingdom (which we know from Isaiah 22:20-23 means that Peter is now a sort of Prime Minister with the full authority of the King) and tells him whatever he binds on Earth will be bound in Heaven and whatever he looses on Earth will be loosed in Heaven.
So Jesus will build a Church. And as Archbishop Sheen pointed out this passage reveals a lot about church governance. Consensus of the Crowd doesn't work, they didn't get it right. The unheaded episcopacy doesn't work, they all stood around waiting for a leader. So what does work a Divinely protected leader over the episcopacy. And because he said it better than I could and it would be a disservice to try and rewrite his words here is the point Joe made in a phenomenal post over at Shameless Popery:

"The comparisons to non-Catholic Christianity should be obvious.  Protestantism typically follows (i), and splits into innumerable factions as a result.  On even fundamental issues, they can't form a unified response: some say regenerative infant Baptism, others symbolic infant Baptism; still others symbolic adult Baptism. Orthodoxy tends to follow (ii), and like the other Eleven, largely stays quiet in the face of modern controversies. Without a unified head, it's hard to unify and mobilize the Body, so it too often lies dormant. Certain other groups, like Mormonism, fall into category (iii).  They have a single head, but because he's not protected by the Holy Spirit, he can't get the answers consistently right.

So Christ has just shown us why Protestantism, Orthodoxy, and Mormonism won't work. And He's shown us the necessity of a Divinely-protected papacy, in order to keep Christianity (i) unified, (ii) mobilized, and (iii) orthodox.  But then He does something even more remarkable: He establishes His own Church."

So Christ has now told the Twelve He will establish a Church. Now we are getting somewhere. 

Psalm 127:1 tells us that unless the Lord built the house it is a house built in vain. Jesus just told us He was building a church, so it is precisely because the Lord built the house that it will in fact never see the gates of hell overtake it (Mt. 16:18).

Which all brings us back to our opening question, did Christ build an Earthly church? He says He did, so I take Him at His word. And since no Protestant church claims founding by Christ; Catholicism comes out looking like it might be the clubhouse leader for the church founded by Christ.

Tomorrow I will look at the second part of the question? Does Jesus desire for His flock to be visibly in the church He founded. Also we will debunk some of the popular myths surrounding other founders of the Catholic Church.

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