Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Where Do Methodists Go From Here?

Holy Mass Procession According to Divine Worship
Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church, San Antonio, Texas

About a year ago I wrote an essay entitled "Where Do Episcopalians Go From Here?" It chronicled the demise of The Episcopal Church (TEC), the American branch of the Anglican Communion, which centres around the issue of acceptance of homosexuality. Early in this century, 2003, The Episcopal Church made history by consecrating its first open and practising homosexual man as a bishop. This particular man, Gene Robinson, left his wife and children to eventually "marry" his same-sex partner. Some years later, 2010, The Episcopal Church would make history again by electing its first open and practising lesbian woman as a bishop -- Mary Glasspool. These acts, combined with the general liberal trajectory of The Episcopal Church over the last four decades, have gutted the denomination of its membership, and ultimately resulted in some disciplinary action from the worldwide Anglican Communion.

Now, so it would appear, the United Methodist Church (UMC) has embarked on the same trajectory of The Episcopal Church. In essence, the UMC is about where TEC was in 2003. The biggest difference however is the size of the denomination. The Episcopal Church was a relatively small US denomination when it embarked on its liberal trajectory back in the 1970s at only about 3.5 million members. That number has declined significantly over the last four decades. The United Methodist Church, however, currently has a membership of about 7.6 million members, over double the size of TEC in the 1970s. So the effect of this recent decision will have a much larger impact. What is that decision? On June 15, 2016 the Western Jurisdiction Conference of the UMC elected Karen Oliveto, and open, practising and "married" lesbian, as a bishop. As a result, the UMC has just found itself in a crisis. Where it goes from here is unknown, but it would be fair to speculate that the UMC is following TEC along the same path.

So what is Methodism exactly? Where did it come from? Why does it appear to be following the same path as Anglicanism? From a Catholic perspective, it's not really that far fetched. Methodism is itself a direct offshoot of Anglicanism. Methodism sprang forth from the Church of England in the 18th century, under the teachings of John Wesley, his brother Charles Wesley, and George Whitefield. Both John and George were Anglican clergy. What began as a reform movement within Anglicanism eventually became its own denomination apart from the mainstream Anglican churches. The name "Methodist" communicates exactly what the movement was about. They lived the faith according to a "rule" or "method." What was originally a word of mockery was embraced by John Wesley as a title of honour.

Methodists fall under the umbrella of Evangelical churches, and it was one of the first churches to start the Evangelical movement. The distinguishing characteristics of Methodism include...
  1. Assurance of salvation,
  2. Priesthood of all believers,
  3. Primacy of Scripture,
  4. Works of Piety,
  5. Christian Perfection.
Like Anglicans, Methodists have both high-church and low-church traditions. Some churches will put a heavy emphasis on liturgy, others will not. In a lot of ways, Methodism could be looked at as a more Evangelical form of Anglicanism, and historically speaking, that would be a correct assessment.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) has been trending in a more liberal direction for the last couple decades now, and it's clearly following the trajectory of The Episcopal Church. That being said however, it should be noted that while the UMC represents the largest Methodist denomination in the US, it is not the only one. Some alternate examples include: African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), Free Methodist Church (FMC), and Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME), just to name a few. However, the UMC is the flagship of Methodism in the US, and while this decision to consecrate a homosexual bishop probably won't garner the same media attention as did the same decision in TEC, the long term impact won't be much different.

A great deal of the future depends on what the national leadership of the UMC does in response. If they respond assertively by breaking with the Western Jurisdiction Conference, they may be able to prevent a much wider schism in the long term. However, such assertiveness is not likely. What we can more likely expect is a wrist slapping, if even that, which won't be enough. Our experience in the Anglican Communion tells us that problems like this don't get better. They only get worse, as is their nature. Because once they've gone this far, they demonstrate a completely unwillingness to turn back.

In the long run, this will result in a much wider schism, but its not the kind of schism one would think. Methodists will just "vote with their feet," to use an American expression, and leave the UMC. Some will go to other Methodist denominations. Some might try to start their own. The vast majority, however, will just go shopping for a whole new denomination entirely. Granted, not all of them will do this. Indeed, a good number of Methodists actually agree with the decision to consecrate active homosexuals, and are quite pleased that its finally been done. At the same time, however, sitting in the pews next to them, are fellow Methodists who know this violates God's will, as revealed through Scripture and Tradition, and will not likely be able to abide by it for very long. So what I'm saying here is the type of schism the UMC can expect is the same type we saw in TEC. It's not so much a mass exodus of people in the pews, but rather a slow trickle of people leaving, much like a leaky faucet. Gradually, over time, the congregations will thin out. Those who remain in the pews will get older. Blonde and brunette hair will turn grey. Children will become more sparse, and slowly, the UMC will cease to grow and eventually begin to shrink.

In the city of Springfield Missouri, where I live, there are no less than 14 UMC churches. Some of them are pretty good size. Members of these congregations often fancy themselves as more liberal than the surrounding Baptist and Pentecostal churches. However, while most Methodists might consider themselves more liberal than other Protestants, there are probably a good number who disapprove of the election of openly homosexual bishops. Currently, there are no Free Methodist Churches (FMC) in Springfield, that I am aware of, but I would surmise that it won't be long before one is planted now.

The FMC is generally thought of as more conservative than the UMC. Worship style, however, is much more Evangelical in nature, less liturgical and ceremonial. Some might consider this another step away from classical English Christianity. They would be right.

Might I suggest there is another way? What is transpiring right now in TEC and the UMC is a tragedy, and usually tragedy results in schism, but there is a way to turn a tragedy into triumph.

In 2009, Pope Benedict XVI created a means for Christians to be reunited in ecumenical unity, under the doctrinal protection of the pope, the Bishop of Rome. The provision was originally designed for Anglicans, but Methodists were kept in mind too. In fact, the provision can just as easily apply to Methodists, and a good number of Methodists are already starting to take advantage of it. The provision is called Anglicanorum Coetibus, which means "groups of Anglicans," and it is an apostolic constitution that allows Christians of English heritage (Anglican Patrimony), which is a heritage that Methodists share, to come into the Catholic Church under their own canonical jurisdiction. While still under the Roman Rite, and the Roman Code of Canon Law, these converts have their own bishop, their own parishes, and their own English traditions, as well as their own unique pastoral approach. Many of the priests in this jurisdiction (called an "ordinariate") are married and have children. They were former Anglican clergy who have been ordained as Catholic priests now. All of this functions directly under the pope and the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF).

Could Methodist individuals, groups, or entire congregations take advantage of this? Yes, they most certainly could. So far it's just been individuals, but groups and congregations could as well. For example; it is certainly possible for a male Methodist minister, who is married and raising a family, to take advantage of this apostolic constitution, along with his entire congregation. The whole congregation could come into the Catholic Church together, as a unit, and be made a parish within this ordinariate. The minister could then be ordained a Catholic priest.

Is it possible? Yes, it most certainly is, as this was the very thing Anglicanorum Coetibus was designed for. Granted, it was originally foreseen that Anglicans would be the first to take advantage of this provision, and they most certainly have. Three ordinariates have already been created: the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of Walsingham for the UK, the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter for North America, and the Personal Ordinariate of Our Lady of the Southern Cross for Australia and Oceania. Within these ordinariates we are not only seeing the reunification of Protestants with Catholics, but also the reunification of Protestants with each other. Anglicans and Methodists now worship together under the same roof again, united with Baptists and cradle Catholics, all within One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. It is the completion of the ecumenical movement -- realised! The ordinariates were specifically designed for Christians of English heritage, which is something that Anglicans and Methodists share in common.

Six years ago I embarked on this mission to bring the ordinariate to my home in the Springfield Missouri area. Today that dream has materialised in the form of Saint George Catholic Church. This is because I used to be an Anglican, and my wife was baptised Methodist. We loved the liturgy and tradition of English Christian heritage, and we didn't want to see it lost. We understood that the only way to preserve it was within the doctrinal safety of the Catholic Church. It is a doctrinal framework that is merciful and compassionate to people struggling with homosexual temptations, but at the same time does not cave in to the pressures of sentimentality and moral relativism.

What I'm saying is this. It can be done. There is hope. All is not lost. The Catholic Church has given us a way. We can turn tragedy into triumph. We can turn schism into unity. We can turn crisis into serenity. We can put aside this sexual revolution and get back to the business of preaching the Gospel and building the Kingdom of God. It can be done. There is hope. We now have the tools. And to be quite honest with you, it's a whole lot of fun too. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing God's plan for this world and your place in it.

So I'm encouraging those Methodists in the UMC, who are discouraged by what they see going on in the national denomination, to take courage and be strong. There is hope. You don't have to sacrifice your beliefs and principles on the altar of political correctness. Nor do you have to wonder off into another Methodist denomination, or some other denomination. Nor do you need to start a new Methodist church under the "Free Methodist" banner or some other banner. You can turn this whole thing around and do something positive with it. You can use it to help heal the divisions in Christianity, rather than further them. This is especially true if you are male clergy within the UMC. There may even be a place for you within the Catholic priesthood, and you can lead your congregation to greener pastures in the process.

You'll never know until you investigate and see for yourself. I would like to encourage my Methodist brothers and sisters in Christ, particularly those in the UMC, to look into the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of Saint Peter discretely. You can rest assured your privacy will be protected. Find out what the process is, then pray about it, and maybe even tell a friend.

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

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Catholicism for Protestants

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

The Only Good Catholic is a Bad Catholic

An anti-Catholic cartoon shows Cardinal Francesco Satolli, who was appointed in 1893 as the first Papal Delegate to the United States, casting an evil shadow of Pope Leo XIII across America.

Let me tell you how it is really is in America. I converted to Catholicism in 2000 for very strong religious convictions, and those convictions cause me to believe what the Catholic Church teaches is true. That belief causes me to try my best to act in accordance with Church teaching, and that belief means that I don't try to change Church teaching to accommodate my own personal vices, or my own personal gain. This is what it means to be a "good Catholic." Notice I didn't say "perfect Catholic." I said "good Catholic," and that means one who sincerely tries to live by the faith, confesses when he fails, and never, EVER tries to change or twist the Church's teachings to accommodate his own personal vice or gain.

1875-Thomas Nast anti-Catholic cartoon
from Harper's Weekly magazine.
Early Colonial America was a rough place for Catholics in the 16th through 18th centuries. It wasn't nearly as bad as Britain of course, which is why so many English and Irish Catholics gave up everything to move to this continent. Still, it wasn't very hospitable for Catholics here either. In many of the English colonies, being Catholic was literally illegal, just like it was in Britain, and Catholic worship was absolutely forbidden. Eventually however, and gradually, religious tolerance prevailed in the colonies, until around the time of the American Revolution, when Catholics were free to exist (not flourish but exist) in the emerging United States of America. Catholics were by no means considered equal, of course, but they were tolerated - barely - even though King George III's toleration of Catholicism in Quebec was part of the reason why the colonies chose to rebel from the empire in the first place (read more on that here). Yes, English colonists (early Americans) tolerated Catholics -- barely. Which means they didn't try to kill us -- usually. They didn't burn down our churches -- most of the time. Nor did they bring harm to our families -- on an average day. However, it was permissible to deny Catholic men a good job, and you could legally keep Catholics out of your neighbourhood. Hate speech against Catholics was common, typical and expected in 19th century America, especially from behind the pulpit in many Protestant churches. In fact, there was even a political party in early 19th century America, called the "American Party" which was staunchly dedicated to anti-Catholic prejudice. This party was unofficially called the "Know-Nothing Party" because members were instructed to say "I know nothing" when asked about its inner workings. By the late 19th century, anti-Catholicism was enshrined into most state constitutions, in what are called Blaine Amendments, still a part of forty out of fifty state constitutions to this very day.

Conditions for the average Catholic in North America were so bad by the middle to late 19th century, that the life expectancy of an average Catholic man was about 30. This is because the only jobs they could get were in coal mines, dockyards, sweatshops and other places where the working conditions were so poor that men usually died prematurely. Thus a disproportionate number of Catholic women in America were widows, often forced to work themselves, along with their young children, in similar sweatshops, just to survive. This was the primary reason why the Knights of Columbus was formed, as a means for Catholic men to care for their brother's widows.

Anti-Catholic cartoon, from Guardians of Liberty, 1943,
Published by the pillar of Fire Church in Zarephath, NJ.
One would think that, by the 20th century, things would get better for Catholics. Indeed, they did, but anti-Catholic prejudice still remained in a very nasty way. With the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s, Catholics became the target of cross burning, church vandalism, personal assault and anti-Catholic propaganda. In 1928, a popular New York politician, himself a Catholic, dared to run for President of the United States. Governor Al Smith lost his bid for the Whitehouse, in part because of a nasty lie, concerning a bogus oath, the Knights of Columbus allegedly recite, which swears to kill Protestants and overthrow America in obedience to the pope. The scandal got so big that the bogus oath was read into the United States Congressional Record, and investigated by the U.S. government. It was determined to be a outright lie. (As a side note, I am a 4th degree Knight of Columbus myself, and I can testify the alleged oath is totally bogus and an affront to everything the Knights stand for. It is still circulated on the Internet today by anti-Catholics of various types.)

By the middle 20th century, mainstream anti-Catholicism changed in America. Oh sure, one can still find the old-school anti-Catholic propaganda among some Protestant fundamentalists and hate groups. However, the majority of anti-Catholics managed to get smarter. They figured out how to oppose Catholicism, without looking like bigots. It's really quite brilliant actually. It was built on the old Blaine Amendments from the previous century, and its principle is what allowed this nation to elect its first "Catholic" president in 1960 -- John F. Kennedy. The principle is simple, and JFK defined it succinctly in his speech to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960. You see, in order to be accepted by the political establishment in America, all a Catholic need do is accept the premise of the Blaine Amendments, and divorce his religion from his political conscience entirely. Kennedy put it as follows...
But let me stress again that these are my views. For contrary to common newspaper usage, I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for president, who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters, and the church does not speak for me
Whatever issue may come before me as president — on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject — I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise.
This was the foundation of the new Anti-Catholicism which would plague American Catholics from the 1960s onward. In it, Catholic politicians are judged by how well they subscribe to the teachings of the Catholic Church. So long as they are willing to disobey the Church, break its precepts and laws, and do so in the name of this nebulous idea of "the public interest," they are smiled upon by the political establishment, especially the Democratic Party. However, to his credit, John F. Kennedy said something else that is generally not adhered to by many Catholic politicians today...
But if the time should ever come — and I do not concede any conflict to be even remotely possible — when my office would require me to either violate my conscience or violate the national interest, then I would resign the office; and I hope any conscientious public servant would do the same.
That is something a good number of Catholic politicians never do. They almost never resign over conscience violation, but rather promote the idea that they are "personally opposed to," a certain issue, "but, they will not force their views upon the public interest." They do this for their own political gain, allowing themselves to adopt positions that will further themselves in politics, while simultaneously distorting the teachings of the Church in the process, and bringing great harm to American society. This is called the "Mario Cuomo Position," the former governor of New York and also a Catholic, who is most remembered for saying he was "personally opposed to abortion," while supporting public laws that favoured abortion on demand.  Since then, the Democratic Party has lavishly rewarded Catholics who held to this mindset. So in short, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who can give some mental recognition of the teachings of the Church, but never act upon them in any concrete way. In fact, he may even act against them, in the name of the "public interest," with no mind to his conscience at all.

Today, in the Democratic Party, the only good Catholic is a bad Catholic, meaning one who is willing to violate the moral teachings of the Church. Those willing to do this are rewarded with appointments and nominations to high-ranking government positions. Meanwhile, Catholics who are faithful to the teachings of the Church are typically derided as a "threat" and a "danger" to democracy, freedom and civil rights, much in the same way Catholics were derided by anti-Catholic propaganda in the 19th century. We saw this scenario play out in the 2004 presidential election with the nomination of John Kerry to the presidency. Then again in 2008 and 2012, with the nomination of Joe Biden to the office of vice president. Alas, we're seeing it once again in 2016, with the nomination of Tim Kaine to the office of vice president by Democrat presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

From court appointments, to presidential nominations, modern anti-Catholicism has materialised in the form of coddling Cafeteria Catholics. Promising rewards for not following the teachings of the Church. However, if you're one of those "dangerous" Catholics who actually does believe and obey the teachings of the Church, you will be shunned and shamed, regarded as unfit and unworthy for government office.

Sadly, this form of prejudice could not prevail without the assistance of Catholics. By that I mean Catholics who have sold out their consciences, and their souls, usually for political gain or personal vice, and there are plenty of them to go around. Without "Catholic" politicians like Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi, Mario Coumo, Joe Biden and Tim Kaine; this form of prejudice would fail. In order to work, you need "useful idiots," willing to sell their souls, enabled by complicit clergy, willing to silently let them do it.

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

AUTHENTIC CHRISTIANITY

The first Eucharist, depicted by Juan de Juanes (AD 1562)
How do you know the church you attend is really the Church Jesus Christ established? Many Christians believe in this nebulous idea of the "invisible Church," which is a notion that there really is no visible Church in the world today, but rather, all "true" Christians are bound together in an invisible way, via the Holy Spirit, and only God knows who belongs to this "invisible Church." This is how most Christians deal with the fact that there are so many different denominations, and each one teaches different things. In a way, the "invisible Church" notion has an element of truth to it, but it is not "the truth" in total. To rely on it entirely is a cop out. It's a way of saying that there is no answer, and we just have to settle with the idea that there is no visible representation of the Church of Jesus Christ.

But is that true?

Could it be we're missing something? The Bible says that Jesus Christ founded just one Church -- not two, not three, or four-thousand, but one. And in his time, the Church was very visible. So is there a way we can determine what is really Christ's authentic Church, meaning the one he actually established? I think so. In order to figure that out, however, we're going to have to look at what Jesus actually taught us in the Bible. I encourage you to look up each verse I cite here in the Bible, to make sure what I'm telling you is true and accurate. I've hyperlinked them to three parallel Bible versions for simplicity and ease: The King James Version (KJV), the New International Version (NIV) and the New American Standard Bible (NASB)...

A Visible Authority Structure

In John 15:16 we read that Jesus chose special men to be his apostles. He didn't say that everyone could be his apostles. Rather he specifically chose certain men. Then in John 20:21 we read that Jesus gave those apostles his own special mission. In Matthew 28:18-20 we read that Jesus had all authority, and he delegated the authority of this mission to these apostles. Notice he didn't delegate it to anyone else, just to these twelve men. What did that authority include?

For starters, it included the authority to forgive sins, which we read in John 20:22-23. Stop and consider that. This was one of the biggest criticisms Jesus got from the Pharisees. Jesus would forgive people's sins, and then the Pharisees would say; "who can forgive sins but God?" Then Jesus proved he had the authority to forgive sins by performing a miracle. Here in John 20:22-23 we read that Jesus specifically shared this authority (to forgive sins) with his apostles. Notice he didn't share it with just anybody, but only his apostles. In 2nd Corinthians 5:17-20, the Apostle Paul states that this "ministry of reconciliation," meaning the authority to forgive sins, has been passed on to the apostles, and they now exercise this authority in Christ's name. In James 5:13-16, the Apostle James instructed the early Christians that the "elders" of the Church, and the Greek word for "elder" is "presbyter" here, also had the authority to forgive sins.

Wait a minute! 

How did the "elders" or "presbyters" suddenly acquire the authority to forgive sins? I thought that was reserved only to Jesus and the apostles, right? Well, it was initially, but the Bible tells us in Acts 1:12-26 that the apostles, having been given all authority by Jesus Christ himself, were permitted to choose replacements for themselves, giving them the same authority. They replaced Judas with Matthias, and they did this by their own authority, which Jesus had given them. After being chosen, Matthias was counted as having equal authority with the original apostles that Jesus had chosen. We also learn in Acts 14:23 that it was the habit of the apostles to appoint elders (presbyters) of the Church in each city they visited. However, it appears the apostles weren't the only ones with this authority. In Titus 1:5, Paul instructs Titus (a bishop) to appoint elders (presbyters) too. This is important, because in 1st Timothy 4:14 we learn that this authority to forgive sins, among other things, is passed through the "laying on of hands," and Paul warns Timothy in 1st Timothy 5:22 not to "lay hands" just on anyone, but he must be careful and selective. Then Paul specifically lays out the qualifications for this "laying on of hands" in 1st Timothy 3:1-8, where he designates the bishop in Greek as epĆ­skopos, and deacons in Greek as diĆ”konos. In 1st Timothy 5:17 Paul uses the Greek word presbyteros (or presbyter) for what is commonly translated as "elder." So from these two passages we see that the authority structure in the early apostolic Church was divided into three categories. The first is called apostle/bishop/overseer. The second is presbyter/elder. The third is deacon/servant. I will simplify by calling the first office "bishop," the second office "presbyter," and the third office "deacon." The Scriptures seem to indicate here that the office of bishop is equal to that of an apostle, and shares the same full apostolic authority with it. The second office of presbyter appears to be a lesser office, which shares some of the apostolic authority, but not all of it. While the third office of deacon seems to share the least apostolic authority.

So back to 2nd Corinthians 5:17-20, in which we learn that the apostles had vested authority to forgive sins into certain appointed men, and these are not just anybody, but certain and specific appointed men. Then we see these include the bishops, who's authority is equal to the apostles, and the elders (or presbyters), in James 5:13-16, who act as assistants to the bishops, and have been given the authority to forgive sins.

Now does this disturb you? Does this go against everything you've been taught? Well, it's in the Bible, and it's pretty plain and simple for anyone to see. If we say that anyone has the authority to forgive sins, we deny the plain teaching of Scripture which limits this authority to just some individuals. At the same time however, if we say nobody but Jesus has the authority to forgive sins, then we commit the same error as the Pharisees, and we deny the plain teaching of Scripture which says that Jesus shared this authority with specific men, who in turn shared it with other specific men. If you say you believe in the Bible, you cannot deny this. However, you need not take my word for it. Read the Scriptures I've linked to and see for yourself.

So does your church teach that only specific men (bishops and presbyters) have been given the authority to forgive sins? Is your church arranged in an authority structure of bishops, presbyters and deacons? If not, then your church is not following the Bible, and dare I say, it's probably not the Church Jesus originally founded.

Now this visible authority structure Jesus established doesn't stop there. Ephesians 4:11 tells us the Church Jesus originally founded was very hierarchical, and that there are different layers of authority. The bishops share full authority with the apostles, while the presbyters share partial authority and work for the bishop. Lastly the deacons share the least authority and also work for the bishop, usually assisting a presbyter. The bishops and presbyters have the authority not only to forgive sins, but they have other authorities too. The bishops, in particular, who are equal to the apostles in authority, also have the authority to speak with Christ's voice (Luke 10:16), authority to legislate rules of conduct within the Church (Matthew 18:18), as well as the authority to discipline members of the Church when they disobey and refuse to repent (Matthew 18:17).

Yet a Church with multiple leaders, and no singular voice to round them all up, would be a divided Church indeed. Jesus Christ is the King, right? So what is he the King of? If you said "the universe" you would be correct, but during his whole ministry he spoke of this thing called the Kingdom of God. Luke 22:29-30 tells us that Jesus is the King, and his Church is the beginning of the Kingdom of God. So Jesus is the King of his Kingdom the Church, and like any King, he appointed a prime minister to act on his behalf. In Matthew 16:18-19 we see where Jesus appointed Peter to be his prime minister. The "keys" in this passage are symbolic of power, and they are very reminiscent of the "key" of power given by Hebrew kings to their prime minister servants in Isaiah 22:21-22. Jesus is using the same imagery here. The Apostle Peter was given the symbolic "keys" of authority to Christ's Kingdom (The Church), and because of this he received the fullness of authority as Christ the King's prime minister. In Luke 22:32 we are told that Peter's faith would strengthen the other apostles. In John 21:17 we are told that Peter is Christ's chief shepherd. In Mark 16:7 the angel is sent to announce Christ's resurrection to Peter by name. In Luke 24:34 the resurrected Christ appeared to Peter before any other apostle. In Acts 1:13-26, Peter acted as the leader in the first meeting of the apostles after Christ's ascension. In Acts 2:14 Peter led all the others at Pentecost. In Acts 2:41 it was Peter who received the first converts to Christianity. In Acts 3:6-7 it was Peter who performed the first miracle after Pentecost. In Acts 5:1-11 it was Peter who judged the evil doers, and inflicted the miraculous judgement upon them. In Acts 8:18-21, it was Peter who excommunicated the first heretic -- Simon Magus (Simon the Magician). In Acts 10:14-44 it was Peter who received the revelation to admit Gentiles into the Church. In Acts 15:1-35 it was Peter who headed the first Church Council and pronounced the first dogmatic decision. In Galatians 1:18 we learn that Paul had to visit Peter as the Chief of the Apostles. While the Scriptures tell us that Peter was far from perfect (Galatians 2:11-14), they mention his name 195 times, more than the rest of the apostles combined, and when the other apostles are mentioned, it is often as "Peter and his companions" (Luke 9:32; Mark 16:7). Peter spoke on behalf of the apostles on multiple occasions (Matthew 18:21; Mark 8:29; Luke 8:45; Luke 12:41; John 6:69).

So the Bible tells us clearly that Jesus originally established a hierarchical Church, in which he placed Peter at the top as his prime minister. It also tells us that the apostles, including Peter, could pass on their authority to successors through the "laying on of hands."

Is your church hierarchical? Can your church leaders trace their ordination back to the apostles? Is there somebody in your church functioning in Peter's position as his successor, a prime minister to Jesus Christ the King? If not, then your church is not following the Bible, and is probably not the original Church founded by Jesus Christ.

So we have seen above how the Church Jesus Christ established was clearly visible through the authority structure he created for it, and could be experienced by their authority to forgive sins, legislate, discipline and appoint new authorities to follow the old. For a supposedly "invisible" Church it certainly has some very clearly visible characteristics. However, not all organisations that call themselves "churches" fit the Biblical description I outlined above. That doesn't mean they're not Christian organisations. They can be. However, while the Church may be an organisation, not every organisation is the Church. There are lots of Christian organisations, and communities, and fellowships, but there is only one Church established by Jesus Christ. Organisations that claim to be this Church must demonstrate that they are following what the Scriptures say about the Church. Unfortunately most church-like organisations simply do not.

Again, I'm just using the Bible here. We must stick to the Bible. Right?

A Visible Sign of Christ's Presence

Christ promised that his Church would not be left orphaned. We are all familiar of the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is of course invisible. However, In 1st Corinthians 11:23-26, we see that the Apostle Paul tells us that Jesus promised a visible manifestation of his own body and blood, which would be with the Church until he returns at the end of time. This is a visible and physical manifestation of Jesus Christ. Now the Bible also tells us that this manifestation in The Lord's Supper is not just symbolic, but that it is real. You see in John 6:35-69 Jesus foretold that he would send his body and blood under the appearance of bread and wine. Notice in this passage that Jesus did not say the bread and wine would just be symbolic of his flesh and blood, but that it would be his literal flesh and blood, and that it would just appear to be bread and wine. For this the Pharisees thought he was crazy, and many of his own disciples left him. Jesus didn't go running after them to explain himself further, or correct some "misunderstanding" on their part. Nor did he ever bother to further explain this mystery. He simply said the bread would become his flesh and the wine would become his blood, that his disciples must eat and drink of it, and that was that. In every other case, when Jesus spoke in parables and symbolism, he always explained what these parables and symbols meant to his apostles. He didn't do that concerning his command to consume his body and blood. He simply told them to do it, and that was that.

Then in Matthew 26:26-28, Mark 14:22-24 and Luke 22:19-20, Jesus instituted his supper as his literal body and blood. You will notice that in each of the synoptic descriptions of the Last Supper, all three of them use the verb "is" to describe what the bread and wine become. In each Biblical citation, Jesus specifically said: "this IS my body" when speaking of the bread, and "this IS my blood" when speaking of the wine. He didn't say: "this represents my body" or "this represents my blood." No. He said "is," and last time I checked the dictionary, "is" means "is." Webster's Dictionary defines the word "is" as: equal, homogeneous, uniform, for or from different individuals of the same species. In other words, it means "the same."

"Is" means "is."

It cannot mean anything else. Jesus said "this IS my body" and "this IS my blood." If we say that Jesus really meant that it "represents" and he didn't really say what he really meant, then we make ourselves out to be higher than Jesus, because we imply that Jesus didn't know what he was really saying.

The apostles sure knew what he was saying, for in John 6:35-69 they almost left him over it. Then in 1st Corinthians 10:16, the Apostle Paul clearly spelled out what Jesus meant. He asks rhetorically; is it not participation in his literal flesh and blood? Then he spells out very clearly the penalty for those who do not believe it in 1st Corinthians 11:27-29.

There is no mistake about it. Jesus told us the bread and wine would become his literal body and blood when we celebrate the Last Supper. The early Church had to be reminded of this, which means that part of the miracle is that their senses were restrained in such a way as to not see or taste it, but the reality of Christ's flesh and blood is present anyway.

However, it wasn't just something anybody could do. A certain type of person had to be selected to ask for this change to occur, and in 1st Corinthians 11:23-24 we see that Paul says: "I received what I passed on to you." Likewise, in the synoptic gospels, we see that Jesus passed this on to his apostles only, not to his average disciple in the crowd. So the authority to call upon God, to transform the bread and wine into Christ's body and blood, was given to the apostles alone. They in turned passed it on to the bishops, who in turn share it with the presbyters. Nowhere does the Bible say that common everyday Christians can do this. They must have received the "laying on of hands" by the apostles and/or their successors (the bishops).

Lastly, Luke instructs us in Acts 20:7 that the practice of the Apostolic Church was to celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly, on the first day of the week, which is Sunday. Yet many churches today only celebrate the Lord's Supper monthly, and some even less often.

Does your church celebrate the Lord's Supper weekly like they did in the Bible? Does your pastor have succession from one of the apostles, so that he may call upon God to make the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ? Does your church even teach that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Christ? Or does your church teach that it is only symbolic? If your church teaches that communion is only symbolic, your pastor has no succession from the apostles, and your church celebrates the Lord's Supper less than once a week, then it is clearly not the original Church founded by Jesus Christ we read about in the Bible.

Invisible Church?

For a Church that is supposed to be invisible, it sure has some very visible signs that anyone can clearly see. According to the Bible, the original Church, founded by Jesus Christ, has a hierarchical authority structure of bishops, presbyters and deacons. It is headed by a bishop who is the successor of the Apostle Peter. The bishops and presbyters have the authority to forgive sins. They also have the authority to call upon God to ask for him to change the bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Christ. Then we have the body and blood of Christ itself, again another very visible sign of the Church. It doesn't look very invisible to me. In fact, it seems that the authentic and original Church, established by Jesus Christ and his apostles, is very visible and easy to see. All we need to do is look for the Church that has these characteristics.

Can you think of a Church that has these characteristics? There are literally thousands of churches today, but among them, which one has these characteristics? Is it any of the following...

  • Lutheran Church -- founded AD 1517 -- Martin Luther
  • Reformed Church -- founded AD 1520 -- Ulrich Zwingli
  • Anglican Church -- founded AD 1534 -- King Henry VIII
  • Presbyterian Church -- founded AD 1560 -- John Knox
  • Baptist Church -- founded AD 1605 -- John Smyth
  • Methodist Church -- founded AD 1739 -- John Wesley
  • Pentecostal Church -- founded AD 1900 -- Charles Fox Parham
  • Assemblies of God -- founded AD 1914 -- multiple ministers

The list goes on and on, but none of these organisations bear the marks of the authentic, original and visible Church founded by Jesus Christ in AD 33. Only one Church bears these marks, outlined clearly in the Bible, and that is the Catholic Church. 

That's not to say these other churches aren't fine Christian organisations. They are, and indeed, God has used them to bring the gospel to millions. But it's not the complete gospel -- is it? There are some things missing; some important things left out. I've spelled out a few of the big ones above, but there are more, much more.

To learn more about some specific issues, feel free to browse my Apologetics Page, or read my book Catholicism for Protestants. Beyond that I recommend you call the pastor of a local Catholic Church for more answers. You can find one easily with a simple Google Maps search, or browsing through the yellow pages of your phone book. If you're having difficulty, this map might help.

Sometimes talking to a Protestant who converted to the Catholic Church can be helpful too. So if you're looking for a Catholic Church made up almost entirely of converts, with a pastor who is himself probably a convert, I recommend this map here.

Lastly, this essay is specifically directed toward Christians who live in my immediate area. If, and only if, you live in the Springfield Missouri area, and you would like to learn more about the original Church that Jesus Christ founded, you may contact me privately by email: Shane (at) CatholicInTheOzarks (dot) com. Or you can private message me through my Facebook Page. Remember, I'm extending this offer to local people only. I can't possibly respond to inquiries from all over the country and the world. So if you live in the Springfield Missouri area, you may contact me personally if you wish. State your name, the town you live in, and a short question or two. 

END.

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'FullyChristian.Com -- The random musings of a Catholic in the Ozarks.'

BOOKS BY THIS AUTHOR...
Catholicism for Protestants

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