Saint Paul on the Unity of the Catholic Church (An Argument Against the Terms “Lutheran” and “Calvinist”)Jan 18th, 2010 | By Taylor Marshall | Category: Blog Posts
Non-Catholics (and yes, even the Eastern Orthodox) do not enjoy the ecclesial unity Saint Paul prescribed for the Church of Jesus Christ. Saint Paul is resolute in his conviction that the Church of Christ must be one. Most of his epistles specifically speak against disunity within the Church. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians seems to have been written for the very purpose of encouraging church unity against the tendency of “church splits”:
I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Peter,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:10-13).
The Apostle’s purpose in writing to the Corinthian Christians was, “that there be no divisions” in the Church. Paul could not conceive of Christians naming themselves after human church leaders. Paul exhorted the Corinthians not to tolerate those who claimed to be “Pauline” Christians. Nor should there be any “Apollonian” or “Petrine” Christians. Given Paul’s insistence against name-bearing sects, we might safely conclude that he would fiercely condemn the practice of certain Christians who identify themselves as “Lutherans” or “Calvinists.” Even the word “denomination” comes from the Latin de nomine meaning “of a name”. This denominational arrangement is completely foreign to the teachings of Paul. For this reason, the Catholic Church never has accepted a “denominational” understanding of Church.
Notice also how Paul associates “name-calling” with salvation.
Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1 Cor 1:13)
Recall how Paul understands the Church as a participation in the person and life of Christ. To call oneself “Pauline” or “Lutheran” is to claim participation in the one whose name you bear. To be a “denominational Christian” is tantamount to identifying “Paul” or “Luther” as the redeemer and founder of one’s faith. In fact, Saint Paul specifically instructed Christians in every case to “avoid those who cause schism” (Rom 16:17). Even if the Church requires renewal, Paul believes that division is not the means to achieve it.
Saint Paul further identifies the unity of the Church with the Holy Spirit. In his Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul identifies the unity of the Church with the unity of the Holy Spirit, the unity of Christ, the unity of the faith, the unity of baptism and finally the unity of God the Father. It is difficult to imagine a more compelling argument for the unity of the Church:
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).
Paul asks Christians to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit”. Only the Catholic Church has maintained the unity that Christ established before He ascended into Heaven. No other “denomination” is able to claim Paul in this regard. Paul was, and remains, Catholic in every regard.
Please look for Taylor Marshall’s new book The Catholic Perspective on Paul later in 2010 or visit PaulisCatholic.com to read other essays and listen to podcasts about Saint Paul and Catholic doctrine. Taylor is also the author of The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity.