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. 

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Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books and a columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com.' Your support is what makes essays like this possible. This essay and all of Shane's Internet resources come to you (ad-free) thanks to the generosity of benefactors. Please consider becoming a benefactor.

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