By Bill Imrisek
In man’s quest for truth he must always recognize the usefulness of Paul’s maxim, “Test all things; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thess. 5:21). Truth has nothing to fear from investigation. And a man has nothing to lose by putting his faith to a test. If his faith is built upon truth, he can only strengthen his faith as he sees it withstand the challenge. It will endure; he cannot lose it. And if, perchance, his faith proves to be false, he still comes out the winner, for the exposure of error manifests truth, and he has truth to gain.
But truth must be measured by some yardstick. For the Christian, that yardstick is God’s word (John 17:17). To test all things and hold fast to what is good, as Paul commands, we must look to the depository of truth, the Holy Scriptures, which will equip us “for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If the Scriptures can lead us to identify “every” good work, whatever is “good” will be authorized in its pages. Likewise, whatever cannot be found authorized in the Scriptures must be discarded as false, and cannot be considered “good” from the viewpoint of the Author of truth, God Himself. By this yardstick we must measure our faith. This is a test that no man should fear to make, for he has nothing to lose and only truth to gain.
The belief that will come under our investigation in this study is the claim of the Roman Catholic Church that it is the one church that Jesus founded. Let us notice this claim as it is presented by one of its own writers.
Jesus Christ founded one Church and defined and described it so plainly that it can be recognized at any time, at any place in the whole world, That Church is the Catholic Church (What Every Catholic Should Know, by Hugh J. O’Connell, p. 7).
That Christ founded one Church – and that the Catholic Church – is simply proved by matching the description which Christ gave of the Church He was founding with the Catholic Church as it has stood for more than nineteen hundred years. Here, again, the least talented and least educated human being can find the proofs and be convinced by them, provided he be of good will and open mind (O’Connell, p. 8).
This is the claim as presented by the Catholic Church, and as such we wish to examine it and to see if it is true. We feel fully qualified to meet this task, believing that none will class us below the “least talented and least educated,” and seeing that we have no desire but to examine this claim with “good will and open mind.”
Allowing the Scriptures to be our guide, we will not deny the assertion that Jesus founded only one church. This is a true statement (Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-6). And since Jesus is the Savior of that church (Eph. 5:23), we must determine which church is the church that Jesus built. Is it the Roman Catholic Church? Or is it another?
Matthew 16:15-19 marks the first time that Jesus mentions building a church. Here He describes the very foundation upon which this church was to be built. As He converses with Peter, Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am? Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Then Jesus ansered and said, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”
“Upon this rock I will build my church.” It has been the claim of Catholics that this “rock” was Peter. Others claim that the rock referred to is to be understood as being the subject of Peter’s confession, Jesus Christ. Which is it? In a passage such as this which has produced much controversy, it should not be our intention to force the passage to say that which we wish for it to say, but rather to examine it intelligently in the light of other Scriptures which touch on the same point. Truth will not contradict itself.
The apostle Paul assists us by telling us, “For other foundation no one can lay, but that which has been laid, which is Christ Jesus” (1 Cor. 3:11). This passage is explicit and clear, and it leaves no doubt as to the nature of the foundation upon which the church is built. If the church is built upon the “rock” and the foundation upon which the church is built is Jesus Christ, then the necessary conclusion is that Jesus is the “rock” of Matthew 16:18. This excludes Peter from being the foundation of the church.
Again, Paul explains to us that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph. 2:20). Since Jesus has already been described as constituting the only foundation, Paul is here speaking of the apostles and prophets as being instrumental in laying that foundation (see 1 Cor. 3:10). It is this foundation upon which the church is built.
Rather than Peter being the “rock” upon which the church is built, he is described as the holder of the keys (Matt. 16:19), as were the other apostles (Matt. 18:18). Keys are a symbol of authority and also provide the means of admittance. To the apostles was committed the responsibility of proclaiming the gospel (laying the foundation) and, thus, directing people of the means by which to gain admittance into the Lord’s church.
The manner, therefore, by which we can determine which church is the church that Jesus founded is by determining and recognizing which church is built upon the foundation laid by the apostles and prophets. This foundation of faith has been laid once for all (Jude 3). The curse of God is upon all those who would tamper with it in any way (Gal. 1:6-9). We must determine which church is built upon the apostolic foundation.
In examining the claims of the Catholic Church we do not wish to misrepresent its beliefs and practices in any way. We desire to be honest. The Catholic Church has felt that it has been a subject of misrepresentation many times in the past. To the degree that this is true, the cause of truth has suffered. Truth cannot be arrived at until the whole truth is presented. We should always strive to be as honest as possible with all men, especially when truth is at stake. To guard against misrepresentation we shall accept the suggestion of the Catholic Church that we represent its doctrines by stating them in its own words.
The dogmas and practices of our Church are not hidden things. They may be found clearly set forth in hundreds of easily accessible books-in the elementary catechism and in the popular explanations of Catholic belief as well as in the works of learned theologians. Why is it, then, we wonder, that the literary genius who contributes to our current magazines does not prepare himself for his task by trying to ascertain precisely which the Catholic Church teaches before he attempts to criticize her teachings or to write a description of her rites and ceremonies? Why is it that the great minds that are called upon, as infallible authorities, to explain matter Catholic for certain encyclopedias do not first acquire a definite and accurate idea on their subject. Why is it again, that hardly a minister of religion can be found in the churches of our separated brethren who can give a clear and truthful statement of the Catholic beliefs and practices which he unsparingly condemns in his Sunday sermon? It would seem reasonable to expect that a man who poses as an expert in any particular line would not fall into gross error everytine that he writes or speaks about his speciality (The Externals of the Catholic Church, John F. Sullivan, p. 248).
The criticism of this writer may be justified. But so that we will not fall into this error we will seek to represent the Catholic position by quoting from only Catholic sources to identify its doctrines. These quotations will be made from Catholic publications which bear the “imprimatur” of the Catholic Church. This Latin word means “let it be printed,” and is its official declaration that a book or pamphlet is free of doctrinal or moral error from the viewpoint of Catholic doctrine. Thus, we can be sure that what we read represents their true teaching. Likewise, all Biblical quotations will be from a Catholic Bible (the Confraternity Version), lest anyone charge that a Catholic Bible reads differently. All the books from which I quote are books which I have in my own personal possession.
We therefore ask, “Is the Roman Catholic Church apostolic?” We shall pursue this question at some length in the articles to follow.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 5, pp. 86-87
February 1, 1979