In Search of the True Church

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you (Romans 16:16).

Before we get started, I wanted to give a shout-out to WordPress blogger Altruistico. He writes that he is a re-born Christian of non-denominational faith. Serving the one true church, that of Christ Jesus, upon whom the true Church is built.

I believe the Holy Spirit crossed our paths for that has been a theme in my current series of articles — what is the true church of Christ? In this anniversary year of the Reformation I’ve been taking a closer look at the institutional church.

In my last post I asked the question:

If the Pope is the Man of Sin, and Martin Luther an anti-Jewish nationalist then where does the disciple of Christ go to worship? Hint: God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24).

The church is the bride of Christ. It is not an institution, but a spiritual body of people like you and me who have been saved by grace through faith.

There was no Baptist church in Ephesus, nor Methodist church in Corinth. There were no Presbyterians in Galatia, nor Catholics in Thessalonica. Christians met in their homes to worship God, break bread and fellowship. You might say that the house church is the true church of God. They weren’t even called Christians, but were disciples of Christ – a sect of the Nazarenes — who followed the Way (Acts 9:1-2, Acts 11:26).

In this series of articles I have been rather kindly towards the Catholic Church, and admittedly critical of the Protestant Church. My charge against the Reformation is that it split the Church in two. It unleashed confusion and division — opening the door to a flood of heresy and false teaching. The shortcomings of Roman Catholicism were only magnified in Protestantism. One might conclude that neither represents the true body of Christ.

The New Testament ecclesia was not an institutional church. I think it interesting that Protestants view the Pope as the Man of Sin while Catholics see Martin Luther as the false prophet. Will Jesus spew them both out of his mouth? Consider our Lord’s warning to the church at Sardis:

I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches (Revelation 3:1-6).

The Seven Churches in Asia, to whom Jesus speaks in Revelation, are considered to be representative of the various states of the church during this age of grace. However, these were seven literal churches that existed in the first century. To the extent that they are representative of the modern church is that both share the same faults and failures. Notice that Jesus did not condemn all who were in the church at Sardis:

You still have a few who walk with me in white, for they are worthy.

This also answers the question of eternal security. Those who believe in predestination typically hold the doctrine of once saved, always saved. That is false teaching.

Jesus taught:

If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned (John 15:6).

A Calvinist will suggest that the one who is lost was never saved. Judas Iscariot was saved, but he did not abide. If he had repented he would have been forgiven, but he could not live with the heavy burden of unrepentant guilt. A person can be in Christ, but if they don’t remain they will be cut off.

What if I backslide? I would not want to be in a fallen state when Christ returns, but consider the parable of the Prodigal Son. He fell from grace, but recognized his sin and returned to his father. If you have fallen away, as long as you have breath, God will welcome you back.

Sardis might resemble your church. Not everyone who attends will be saved. Some are like spiritual zombies — their faith dead like a tree that bears no fruit. This is the distinction between justification and sanctification. We are justified by faith, but sanctified by the Spirit. Sanctification is manifested by the fruits of the Spirit, and good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

This was the stumbling block for Martin Luther. He saw himself as a wretched man, lost and hopeless, vainly seeking solace through the many hours of prayer and meditation. In 1510, he journeyed to Rome and crawled on his hands and knees up the 28 stone stairs that Jesus climbed when he faced Pilate’s judgment. (The stairs were moved there from Jerusalem.)

Luther reached the top with bloodied knees and a yearning spirit. He found no comfort in works of the flesh, and returned to Germany downcast and sullen.

Luther was not a Calvinist — if only for the fact that John Calvin wasn’t born until 1509 — but he framed the theology that would later become Calvinism.

Man is totally wretched and depraved. That’s how Luther viewed himself. He discounted good works (including prayer and study) because they left him feeling unjustified. He wrote that good works were as good as sin. Whatever good deeds we do are stained by our inherently evil state.

Paul rang in his ears:

For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate (Romans 7:14-15).

This set Luther at odds with the Catholic Church and Scripture itself (James 2:24). He couldn’t harmonize Paul with James so he simply dismissed what James wrote. This is not rightly dividing the Word of God.

Pastor David Jeremiah said that Christians have to be careful with the doctrine of justification. “Some just let it fly,” he said. “They go on living in sin thinking there’s no work involved.”

I had to walk away from a recent sermon where the pastor was pounding the theme of salvation by faith alone. Orthodox Christians do not disagree in the sense that Jesus did all the work necessary to redeem us, but this is not what he was talking about when he told the church at Sardis that their works were incomplete. We are told to abide in Christ, to manifest the fruit of good works, and to persevere:

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments …

Well, there’s so much more to say, but I have exceeded my 1000 word limit. In closing, I would like to give the last word to Altruistico. They’ve posted some great articles on church history (click on their Church tab). In this article they discuss what is the true church:

The ability to trace one’s church back to the “first church” through apostolic succession is an argument used by a number of different churches to assert that their church is the “one true church.” The Roman Catholic Church makes this claim. The Greek Orthodox Church makes this claim. Some Protestant denominations make this claim. Some of the “Christian” cults make this claim. How do we know which church is correct? The biblical answer is – it does not matter!

The “first church” is the church that is recorded in the New Testament, especially in the Book of Acts and the Epistles of Paul. The New Testament church is the “original church” and the “one true church.”

Written by Donnie Skaggs, Leann Hart, Don Poythress • Copyright © Capitol Christian Music Group, BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ

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Luther — Sinner or Saint?

In this anniversary year of the Reformation (31 October 1517), I’ve posted several articles examining Roman Catholicism through a somewhat apologetic lens.

Today, I wanted to discuss those obvious traditions that Protestants find so … unfamiliar:

  • Making confession to a priest
  • Calling the Pope, Father
  • Transubstantiation
  • Praying to Mary
  • Purgatory

However, I posted a rather lengthy comment on a previous article discussing some things I was saving for a future post, and feel it appropriate to share those thoughts in blog format. The comments are relevant to this series of articles on the post-Reformation schism that exists between Catholics and Protestants. (Following the reprint I will have some closing thoughts.)

I take no sides here except as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Begin Comments

Of course, my prejudice — for what it’s worth — is that I relate the Holocaust to German nationalism fueled by the anti-Semitic overtones of the Reformation. For me, this is a very sensitive issue not understood by the Protestant laity which holds Martin Luther in high regard.

When Luther went to Rome, ostensibly seeking reform, he initially said nothing about the peculiar traditions of the Catholic Church — many of which were gleaned from the Apocryphal books written during the Intertestamental period. For example, the German church profited handsomely from the indulgences paid by the wealthy aristocracy. Luther wanted to keep that money in Germany, and out of the hands of Rome.

On a related issue, Luther saw the banking system as a threat to German autonomy. The bankers, by chance, happened to be Jews who were profiting (across Europe) as capitalist financiers.

Luther’s mission was this: Liberate Germany from the Catholic Pope and Jewish bankers.

Much has been written about Luther’s anti-Semitic nationalism, but this history is unknown, or not taught in the Protestant Church. We must understand Luther’s motivations in order to judge the righteousness of his movement.

Reviewing Martin Luther’s book, On the Jews and Their Lies, author Jim Walker commented:

Although Luther did not invent anti-Jewishness, he promoted it to a level never before seen in Europe. Luther bore the influence of his upbringing and from anti-Jewish theologians such as Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). But Luther’s 1543 book, “On the Jews and Their Lies” took Jewish hatred to a new level when he proposed to set fire to their synagogues and schools, to take away their homes, forbade them to pray or teach, or even to utter God’s name. Luther wanted to “be rid of them” and requested that the government and ministers deal with the problem. He requested pastors and preachers to follow his example of issuing warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to claim that “We are at fault in not slaying them” for avenging the death of Jesus Christ.

So vehemently did Luther speak against the Jews, and the fact that Luther represented an honorable and admired Christian to Protestants, that his written words carried the “memetic” seeds of anti-Jewishness up until the 20th century and into the Third Reich. Luther’s Jewish eliminationist rhetoric virtually matches the beliefs held by Hitler and much of the German populace in the 1930s.

Luther unconsciously set the stage for the future of German nationalistic fanaticism.

Walker cited author William L. Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) who wrote that Luther created a new Protestant vision of Christianity by a fervent German nationalism.

Author Eric W. Gritsch (Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment) wrote that the “missionary Luther” was a propagandist for German nationalism — a political reformer whose patriotism should have created a substitute for the rule of Roman Catholicism. He further wrote that German nationalism, unconditional patriotism and conditional theology propelled the Reformation.

Hitler called Martin Luther one of the greatest reformers. Against the historical backdrop one might doubt the righteousness of Luther’s reforms.

Here’s what I think.

First, let me say that the Catholic Church is not without sin. Having said that, I believe that confusion and division are from Satan. Nothing has caused so much confusion and division than the Protestant-Catholic split.

I believe that Luther’s theological differences were intended to conceal his nationalistic intentions. He was politically motivated to break from Rome, and his 95 Theses served as a formal declaration of German independence.

He split the Church in two, and the Church has suffered consequentially.

Luther’s theology, I believe, does rise to the level of heresy. On Sola Fide, alone, he mishandles the word of God (if only to incite disagreement with Rome).

This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness … if this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls. — Martin Luther

Catholics do not disagree that we are saved by faith. The issue, as I pointed out in the article, is the Book of James (see notes). Luther didn’t like what it said so he disputed its canonicity. He also didn’t like Hebrews and Revelation because they were too Jewish.

I look at the fruit of the Reformation and I see the Holocaust, and tens of thousands of Protestant Churches that teach every kind of oddball theology.

End Comments

On that last comment about oddball theology I’m reminded of the Quaker Church that abolished the sacraments of baptism and Communion because the Bible teaches that we are not saved by works.

There are many books and articles that discuss what motivated Martin Luther. Indeed, Luther’s own writings are sufficient to cast doubt on whether he was inspired by God, or his own personal interests. The Reformation must be examined in light of this knowledge. For example, following are excerpts from Luther’s book, Of Jews and Their Lies:

My advice, as I said earlier, is: First, that their synagogues be burned down, and that all who are able toss sulphur and pitch; it would be good if someone could also throw in some hellfire. Second, that all their books — their prayer books, their Talmudic writings, also the entire Bible — be taken from them, not leaving them one leaf, and that these be preserved for those who may be converted. Third, that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God, to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country. Fourth, that they be forbidden to utter the name of God within our hearing. For we cannot with a good conscience listen to this or tolerate it.

He who hears this name [God] from a Jew must inform the authorities, or else throw sow dung at him when he sees him and chase him away.

Burn their synagogues. Forbid them all that I have mentioned above. Force them to work and treat them with every kind of severity, as Moses did in the desert and slew three thousand. If that is no use, we must drive them away like mad dogs, in order that we may not be partakers of their abominable blasphemy and of all their vices, and in order that we may not deserve the anger of God and be damned with them. I have done my duty. Let everyone see how he does his. I am excused.

If I had to baptize a Jew, I would take him to the bridge of the Elbe, hang a stone round his neck and push him over with the words I baptize thee in the name of Abraham.

The Jews deserve to be hanged on gallows seven times higher than ordinary thieves.

It is not difficult to understand why a son of Abraham would be suspicious — even afraid — of that kind of Christianity. Compare the writings of Paul with Luther, and ask yourself which man was inspired by God. The greater question is this: What is the Church of Christ?

If the Pope is the Man of Sin, and Martin Luther an anti-Jewish nationalist then where does the disciple of Christ go to worship?

Hint: God must be worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:19-24).

Notes:

In context of the previous article (wherein I discussed the doctrine of justification), the following quotes (intended to refute James 2:24) are presented to support my claim that Luther’s theology was heretical.

It is more important to guard against good works than against sin. [1]

Good works are bad and are sin like the rest. [2]

There is no scandal greater, more dangerous, more venomous, than a good outward life, manifested by good works and a pious mode of life. That is the grand portal, the highway that leads to damnation. [3]

1. Trischreden, Wittenberg Edition, Vol. VI., p. 160.
2. Denifle’s Luther et Lutheranisme, Etude Faite d’apres les sources. Translation by J. Paquier (Paris, A. Picard, 1912-13), VOl. III, pg. 47.
3. Ibid, pg. 128.

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ

A Plea for Unity

I wanted to clarify something I stated in my last post suggesting that the Catholic Church is the true church of Christ which might cause some Protestants to infer that they are not true Christians.

Please understand, Protestants are true Christians. The Catholic Church recognizes that those who are baptized according to Protestant faith are, indeed, brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is true that the Catholic Church traces its roots to the apostolic age while the Protestant Church had its origins in the Reformation. Churches that follow Protestant doctrine were only established in the last 500 years. To suggest that the Catholic Church is not of God is to claim that the disciples of Christ believed a lie for 1500 years. That is an inconceivable proposition to which I do not subscribe. If the Pope is the Man of Sin then the Church was deceived for fifteen centuries until Martin Luther received enlightenment from the Holy Spirit.

Young’s Literal Translation reads:

And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock (Πέτρος, Petros), and upon this rock (πέτρᾳ, petra) I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

Notice that the Greek uses two different words for rock. Very simply, it recognizes one as a proper name while the other as a common noun. In addition, Jesus spoke in Aramaic so that Young’s translation is, well, quite literal.

In the language spoken by Christ, rock is the same word whether used as a name, or noun. Peter is told that he is a rock upon which Christ will build his church. That is the literal meaning of the verse. Notice that Jesus calls himself the builder while Peter is a foundation stone.

Together, we are God’s house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself (Ephesians 2:20).

In Revelation 21:14 we read:

The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

There is no need to force any other interpretation as do Protestants who teach that the rock is a reference to Christ himself, or a metaphor for Peter’s confession of faith. Understanding that the apostles are foundation stones, and that Jesus is the chief cornerstone, it therefore is unnecessary to impose an awkward interpretation of what is a simple declaration.

Protestant interpretation is intended to challenge the Romish claim that the Pope is Peter’s successor. To disprove that claim might cast doubt on the assertion of Papal authority, and the legitimacy of the Catholic Church.

Did Peter fulfill the charge of Christ? Did the Apostle serve as a foundation stone in the apostolic age?

Most definitely, yes.

It was Peter who spoke to the crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost — the birthday of the church when the Holy Spirit was poured out, and 3000 people were baptized (Acts 2:14-41).

It was Peter who opened the church to Gentiles (Acts 10).

It was Peter (and James, the brother of Christ) who oversaw the church at Jerusalem.

When Jesus said to Peter, You are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, the Apostle clearly fulfilled this mission.

Is the Bishop of Rome in the line of Peter? Did the Apostle confer his role to succeeding Popes? Did Peter establish the church in Rome? Was Peter ever in Rome?

We know Paul was in Rome, but there is no scriptural evidence that Peter was ever in Rome. Author Loraine Boettner wrote:

The remarkable thing about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it … and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to the city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend. (Roman Catholicism, p. 117)

Catholics cite 1 Peter 5:13 as scriptural evidence that Peter was in Rome, but is this a correct interpretation?

Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.

Babylon is said to be code for Rome, but in the context of Peter’s letter (written to the churches in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey) the Apostle had no reason to be cryptic. John Calvin, who favored a literal interpretation, believed that Peter actually meant Babylon.

The Jewish Encyclopedia estimates that 800,000 Jews lived in first century Babylon. Josephus, the Jewish historian, noted that tens of thousands of Babylonian Jews visited Jerusalem to celebrate the feast days. Many of them heard Peter’s sermon and witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Regardless of the meaning of Babylon there is sufficient extra-Biblical evidence that Peter not only visited Rome, but established the Holy See — ordaining Clement of Rome who later was consecrated as Pope. Irenaeus (Against Heresies) wrote that Peter and Paul set the foundation of the church in Rome. Clement of Alexandria wrote that (in Rome) Peter preached the word and declared the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit (from which we received the Gospel of Mark). Dionysius of Corinth, in a letter to Pope Sorter, noted that Peter and Paul planted the church in Rome. Tertullian (Against the Heretics) affirmed that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. There are many other ancient sources who documented Peter’s connection to Rome so that by the time of Augustine it was widely accepted to be factual.

It is not even necessary to establish a succession between Peter and the Popery. Indeed, if the Romish Church sought validation it could rightfully claim apostolic succession through the Apostle Paul. Irenaeus (Against Heresies) wrote:

After the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul) had founded and set the Church in order (in Rome) they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:21).

How does this all relate to the Catholic-Protestant rift?

To Martin Luther, the doctrine of faith alone (Sola Fide) was the essential underpinning of Christian theology. Luther opposed what he called merit-based salvation. Protestant doctrine correctly proclaims that a person is saved by simple faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that people are saved by grace through faith — that no one can earn their salvation. The disagreement hinges on this passage from the Book of James:

You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24).

There is a fine distinction between justification and sanctification that, quite frankly, Luther failed to grasp. James, the brother of Jesus, was writing to Jewish Christians. They believed that simple faith absolved them of any Christian duties. Freed from the law of Moses they could go on sinning. Good works were deemed non-essential and irrelevant to the doctrine of saving faith.

Is this what Christ taught? Read again the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). See also Matthew 7:19Matthew 21:18-19, John 15:2.

James rightly taught that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Make no mistake, a dead faith will save no one. Where Luther saw conflict between Paul and James there was none. Their teaching is consistent with our Lord’s.

Luther insisted that the church stands or falls on the doctrine of faith alone. He rejected the apostolic authorship of James, and relegated the book to the index of the Lutheran Bible.

Is Luther’s theology heresy? At the very least it borders on false teaching. If the church stands or falls on the doctrine of Sola Fide then Protestantism might lead people astray. I see it in the witness of so-called Christians who lead a fruitless, sinful life. They invariably say, “Oh, but I’m covered by the blood of Jesus.”

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)

To be saved by faith does not mean a life void of good works. Catholics point to James to affirm that we are not saved by works, but saved for good works — mischaracterized by Protestants as merit-based salvation.

This is Catholic doctrine:

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:18)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

The Catholic Church, whatever its faults, has withstood 2000 years of spiritual warfare both internal and external. Pray for Christian unity as division is not a good witness. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical UT UNUM SINT (That They May Be One), wrote:

… I think of the grave obstacle which the lack of unity represents for the proclamation of the Gospel. A Christian Community which believes in Christ and desires, with Gospel fervor, the salvation of mankind can hardly be closed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who leads all Christians towards full and visible unity. As Pope Paul VI wrote … “May the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind”.

It is worth noting that the Pope signed the 2500 word encyclical … servus servorum Dei … which is Latin for servant of the servants of God — a humble title for one who supposedly represents the seat of Antichrist.

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ