A Reflection on PCA Pastor Terry Johnson’s “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology”

Aug 7th, 2011 | By | Category: Blog Posts

Terry Johnson

Terry Johnson, senior minister of Independent Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Savannah, Ga., wrote an article titled “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology” in the March issue of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s magazine New Horizons. The article is well worth reading, because it examines the recent trends in Evangelicalism away from attendance in Sunday morning services, even away from organized institutional church altogether. It cites George Barna’s announcement of the “New Church,” which is “without structure, organization, clergy, officers, accountability, or discipline. It has no location, commitments, or physical presence. It is merely an informal, ad hoc, uncovenanted association of believers.” According to this view “the local church ceases to exist. The requirement of Hebrews 10:25 (that believers assemble together) could be fulfilled … “in a worship service or at Starbucks.” In the mind of these Evangelicals, “I am not called to attend or join a church. I am called to be the church.” For them, writes Terry, “Church … is like the YMCA, except that one actually has to join the YMCA. It’s good to go there to exercise, but sometimes one can do just as well at home—or maybe somewhere else. “Do what feels right for you,” we hear said. “Go where your needs are met.”

For Terry, this Evangelical conception of ecclesiology is deeply flawed, and he contrasts it with the ecclesiology in the Reformed tradition. He writes:

Thankfully, we have a strong ecclesiology in the Reformed tradition. Calvin endorsed Cyprian’s statement that there is no salvation outside of the church. The Westminster Confession of Faith warns that outside of the visible church “there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25.2). Jesus gave to the church the keys of the kingdom of heaven, the power of binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19), and the authority to forgive and retain sin (John 20:23). He appointed apostles, who appointed elders, who are responsible for calling the church to assemble on the Lord’s Day, for conducting public worship, for administering the word and sacraments, and for maintaining a disciplined membership (Matt. 18:15-20; 28:18-20).

As a Catholic, I’m very glad to see interest among Reformed Christians in ecclesiology. I say that because I believe that Terry is absolutely correct in his evaluation of Evangelical ecclesiology and the “Revolution” Barna is describing. The rejection of the local church is a mistake, and the consequence of that rejection is, I suspect, that in one or two generations the children of such Evangelicals will mostly not even identify themselves as Christian. Watching the collapse of Evangelicalism is like watching a trainwreck in slow-motion, but in this case the wreck is the rapid de-Christianizing of a significant percentage of the Christian population. So I affirm the desire of Reformed Christians to separate themselves theologically from the ecclesial desert that is Evangelicalism. And I agree with much of the above cited paragraph.

At the same time, I wish to show here that the ecclesial problem Terry is pointing out in Evangelicalism is not limited to Evangelicalism, but is intrinsic to Protestantism as such. Evangelicalism is only the further inevitable stage in the outward expression of the essence of Protestant ecclesiology. According to that essence, there is no sacramental difference between laity and clergy, the individual ultimately has highest interpretive authority,1 and there is no visible catholic Church, even though reference is made to such a thing. Terry claims that commitment to “the visible institutional church” has become optional among Evangelicals. But there is a certain sort of irony here, because as I have shown in “Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church,”” there is no “visible catholic Church” into which the various Protestant denominations are fully incorporated. Given Protestant ecclesiology, if the alleged entity “the visible catholic Church” were removed and we were left only with embodied Christians, congregations, denominations, and an “invisible catholic Church,” nothing at all would change in reality. And this shows that in Protestant ecclesiology, the “visible catholic Church” is only an idea, not an actual entity; in that respect it is like the clothes in the story of “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” The child can know that the Emperor isn’t wearing any visible clothes, because the Emperor’s appearance is in every way identical to what it would be if he were not wearing any visible clothes.

That there is no “visible catholic Church” into which the various Protestant denominations are fully incorporated is also shown by the fact that within Protestantism there is no way of distinguishing between a schism from the visible catholic Church and a branch within the visible Catholic Church. And yet the Church Fathers distinguished between heresy and schism, and they condemned schism from the Church. St. Cyprian, for example wrote against the Novatian schism from the Church, and St. Optatus and St. Augustine wrote against the Donatist schism from the Church. These saints [i.e. St. Cyprian, St. Optatus, and St. Augustine] saw Novatianism and Donatism as schisms from the Church, not as mere denominations or ‘branches within’ the Church. And the reasons to which they appealed to make this determination would entail that the various Protestant denominations are schisms from the Church, not branches within the Church. (See my post titled “Branches or Schisms?“)

Of course I agree that the Church Christ founded is visible.2 But the only visible catholic Church is the Catholic Church in communion with the bishop of Rome.3 But Protestant denominations are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. At the Reformation Protestants made commitment to the “visible catholic Church” optional, by separating themselves from the only visible catholic Church there is. Hence the irony mentioned above, in Terry’s claiming that Evangelicals now are making commitment to “the visible institutional church” optional.

Reformed Ecclesiology vs. Evangelical Ecclesiology

The relation between twenty-first century Evangelicalism and traditional Protestantism in certain respects parallels the relation between sixteenth century Protestantism and the Catholic Church. Terry writes:

Church, as “traditionally” understood, was for Barna a human institution, not a biblical one. The new church, as he construes it, is without structure, organization, clergy, officers, accountability, or discipline. It has no location, commitments, or physical presence. It is merely an informal, ad hoc, uncovenanted association of believers.

Terry points out that for Barna and like-minded Evangelicals, the Church has no structure or hierarchical organization. For Barna, the “visible institutional Church” to which people like Terry refer is merely a set of man-made institutions. And regarding all the Protestant denominations, it is relatively easy to see why Barna could reach that conclusion; they were each founded by mere men, not by Christ Himself. (See “How old is your church?.”) But the “the visible, institutional church” to which Terry refers likewise has no structure or hierarchy. Reformed Christians cannot identify the boundaries of “the visible catholic Church.”4 To the question, “What would be different if there were no visible, catholic Church, but only embodied Christians, visible local churches, denominations and associations of denominations?” the Reformed Christian must answer, “nothing.” And this shows that the term does not refer to anything actual in reality, but that in Protestant ecclesiology, the “visible catholic Church” is only a concept in the mind, a mental category under which all Christians are mentally placed.

The collapse of ecclesial structures in Evangelicalism is the logical consequence of this Emperor-has-no-clothes version of Protestantism’s “visible, catholic Church.” If, as Reformed ecclesiology entails, the Church is fundamentally invisible at the universal level, then the Church is essentially invisible all the way down to the local level. In that case the man-made structures at the local level are just that, merely man-made and therefore not only dispensable, but rightly dispensed with, since they were not instituted by Christ. If they are merely man-made ecclesial organizations, then they are instances of the use of human power, control, and manipulation, since the persons who control them have no more divine authority than Joe Protestant. So with respect to authority, there is no reason for these Evangelicals to submit to traditional Protestant denominations or local hierarchies.


Terry claims that people like Barna helped create “the purpose-driven, market-driven church.” He laments the “ipodization” of Christian ministry, in which particular segments of the demographic are ‘targeted,’ leading to “cowboy churches” and “hip-hop churches,” and the endless pursuit of novelty. He adds:

The eccentricities of the highly influential Barna are matched by the commonplace practices of a growing number of unaffiliated and nonattending believers. Church, for many, is like the YMCA, except that one actually has to join the YMCA. It’s good to go there to exercise, but sometimes one can do just as well at home—or maybe somewhere else. “Do what feels right for you,” we hear said. “Go where your needs are met.”

Again, the irony is that going where they believe their needs are being met is precisely why all the members of Terry’s church attend his church. They are going where they believe their needs are being met, according to their own interpretation of Scripture. Protestantism is the “purpose-driven, market-driven church,” as I showed in Ecclesial Consumerism, where I argue that ecclesial consumerism belongs to the very nature and essence of Protestantism. What Barna is talking about as a future Revolution is just another step ‘forward’ in the very same revolution Protestants are living in from five centuries past. Barna’s is the fruit of Protestantism’s ecclesial seed. Terry, however, is making an arbitrary distinction, criticizing the ecclesial consumerism of Evangelicals, but accepting it when his own congregation does it.

There is no principled difference between the ecclesial consumerism that targets a specific demographic or makes itself attractive by following a popular trend, and an ecclesial consumerism that targets a specific “ecclesiastical culture,” or a particular interpretive framework or doctrinal system. The latter is the father of the former.

Concerning the Evangelical pursuit of novelty and trendiness, Terry writes:

Trendy, culturally driven, market-driven churches sow the seeds of their own irrelevance. As the saying goes, “He who marries the spirit of the age will soon find himself a widower.” Their claim upon their audience is temporary: personal preferences expressed, personal needs met, and personal desires fulfilled. Treat the congregation like a market where the consumer is key, where the market’s fickle whims are sovereign, and expect transitory commitments or no commitments.

Terry is right. But what he says applies just as much to ecclesial communities that exist because they preach and teach according to a novel “interpretation of Scripture,” such as the ones Luther and Calvin proposed in the sixteenth century.5

Terry wants to put the brakes on the movement of Protestants into the full-blown invisible-Church ecclesiology Barna describes. But this movement is the consequence of the universal acid the first Protestants unleashed in the sixteenth century, the universal acid of the supremacy of the individual’s interpretation of Scripture over against that of the Church. What Barna is describing is that universal acid eating away at Protestantism’s own confessions and denominational structures. If in the sixteenth century Luther and Calvin were justified in rejecting Catholic doctrine, Catholic tradition and the Catholic hierarchy on the basis of their own interpretation of Scripture, then it logically follows that their tradition’s descendants in the twenty-first century may do the same with the Calvinistic/Lutheran/Wesleyan etc. traditions. Protestantism can’t have it both ways. If it wants immutability of doctrine, it needs ecclesial infallibility. But because Protestantism rejected ecclesial infallibility in the sixteenth century, confessional Protestants have no authority to prevent their contemporary heirs from remaking ‘church’ in their own image, each man doing what is “right in his own eyes,” according to his own interpretation, and fashioning a religious practice that Calvin wouldn’t even recognize.

Privately defined marks of the Church

Concerning Barna, Terry writes:

He announces the emergence of the “New Church,” which in fact is no church at all.

Any Catholic bishop in the sixteenth century could have said the same about what Protestants at the time were doing. So in a way, what Terry is criticizing is a case of Protestantism applied to itself. Because the rejection of the sacrament of Holy Orders is intrinsic to Protestantism, each version of Protestantism can define ‘the Church’ according to its own interpretation. Terry, according to his definition (derived from the early Protestants) judges the new Evangelicals not to be a church. But these Evangelicals, by means of their own interpretation of Scripture have arrived at different criteria regarding what is and isn’t a church, and could just as easily judge Terry’s not to be one, or could judge his to be one along with theirs. In Protestantism, no one person or group’s ecclesial criteria (i.e. determination of what is or isn’t a church) has any more authority than anyone else’s. So any person’s “You’re not a church” charge is not only question-begging, but is also a form of theological bullying, because it seeks to impose by stipulation one’s own judgment concerning the marks of the Church over such judgments by other persons, as though one Protestant has authority over the others, when, given Protestantism, no one has the authority to bind anyone else’s conscience regarding the interpretation of Scripture and thus the marks of the Church.

According to Terry, on Sunday morning we are to:

Do what the Scriptures require and what Christians have done for two thousand years. Go to the public assembly, gathered under the discipline of Christ’s appointed officers to be ministered to by the word read, preached, sung, prayed, and administered. God’s people should consider no other alternative, nor desire any other option.

Again, I agree with Terry that God’s people should go to the public assembly on the Lord’s Day. But during the first fifteen hundred years of those “two thousand” years, to all the Christian ancestors of Protestants what was meant by “Christ’s appointed officers” were those having apostolic succession. In the sixteenth century, Protestants redefined ‘apostolicity’ as ‘the Apostles teaching,’ which in practice means, “agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture.” So long as Protestantism determines “Christ’s appointed officers” as those who agree with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, rather than those who received authorization from the Apostles, the ecclesial error Terry is addressing in Evangelicalism will only get worse, because the Barna-type ecclesial consumerism is only the more explicit outworking of the same ecclesial consumerism intrinsic to Protestantism itself, where each person chooses who counts as “Christ’s appointed officers” based on the agreement between what those potential officers believe, and one’s own interpretation of Scripture. (See “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.”)


Terry argues that Evangelicals are abandoning ‘catholicity.’ He writes:

The Reformers and their children took catholicity seriously. John Owen, Richard Baxter, and other mainstream Puritans embraced the titles of “Reformed catholic” or even “mere catholic.” They sought continuity with the catholic tradition, which they accused the Roman Catholics of abandoning in favor of medieval novelties. They rooted their reforms in both Scripture and in catholic practice, particularly as found in the church fathers and the best medieval theologians, such as Bernard of Clairvaux. Universal practice, the established practices of all the churches, was an apostolic ideal (see 1 Cor. 1:2; 4:7; 11:16; 14:33) that the Reformers sought to honor. It matters what “the churches of God,” or “all the churches,” believe and practice. The apostles expected that individual churches would conform to universal (i.e., catholic) norms.

I agree that the early Reformers applied the term ‘catholicity’ to themselves, and wanted to be ‘catholic.’ But in doing so they emptied the word ‘catholic’ of meaning, because in their mouths what counted as ‘catholic’ in the tradition was only what agreed with their own interpretation of Scripture. And so anyone could in that way claim to be catholic. The first Protestants proposed doctrines that were novel and not held by the other local Churches throughout the Catholic Church of that time, and had never been universally held throughout the history of the Catholic Church. Concerning the early Protestants, Terry writes, “Their public ministry was historic—what the church, more or less, had always practiced.” Except without apostolic succession, Holy Orders, Confirmation, Eucharistic Adoration, exorcisms, holy water, relics, penance, absolution, bishops, religious orders, the liturgical calendar, fast days, icons, the sacrifice of the Mass, prayer to the saints, etc. The Protestant movement has been an exercise in historical eclecticism by each of the founders of each Protestant tradition.

And this has left us with an ecclesial mess — there are presently forty-four Reformed denominations just in North America. Catholicity becomes a meaningless word the way it is used in the paragraph just cited, because even the most provincial denomination or Protestant tradition could have written the same paragraph. When one picks and chooses from the Church Fathers according to one’s own interpretation of Scripture, and dismisses everything between St. Ignatius of Antioch and Martin Luther that doesn’t fit with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, the claim to historical catholicity is just empty semantics, because what took place between St. Ignatius of Antioch and Luther wouldn’t look any different if the Reformed system of doctrine is not in fact ‘catholic’ at all, but is a novelty never before believed by any Christians.

Part of Terry’s conception of catholicity is not attempting to appeal to any particular culture or demographic. And again, I agree with him. There should be only one local church in each geographical parish, and all Christians of every age, race, and ethnicity who live in that parish should worship together in that parish. It is the Protestant experiment that has left us with churches of all different denominations in a square-mile area, even across the street from each other, dividing Christians on Sundays by every conceivable doctrinal system, style of worship, and cultural tastes. Terry writes:

Churches ought not to adopt the cultural preferences of any single demographic in the church. To do so is to give an unwarranted preference to one group and unnecessarily alienate everyone else. What should the church do? What did Protestant churches do for the last four hundred years? Or two hundred years? Or one hundred years prior to 1980? Their public ministry was catholic. They ministered and worshiped in the forms of their own ecclesiastical culture, founded on Scripture and tested by time. … A resilient ecclesiology honors catholicity and the communion of all the saints. It maintains universal practice over against the latest thing

There has never been universal practice within Protestantism, since Luther thrust his knife into the table during his unresolved dispute with Zwingli over the Supper at the Marburg Colloquy in 1529. As soon as Protestants left the Catholic Church, they began to become provincial. At first the divisions were based only on differences of interpretation, but soon the differences were based on style, culture, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, etc. All those differences became factors in determining where and how and with whom one would worship on Sundays. Terry is a member of the Presbyterian Church in America, itself a member of NAPARC, i.e. the North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council, which is not itself a member of some international body of Christians encompassing all the nations and ethnicities of the world (except the invisible catholic Church). That’s not catholicity; that’s regionalism and provincialism.

But in the prospect of the collapse of Evangelicalism, Terry is advocating a qualified ecclesial uniformity among Protestants:

Do the public ministries of any two churches anywhere look alike? Absolute uniformity is not necessary, to be sure, but how about some measure of uniformity? Churches ought not to design their public ministries in isolation from the rest of the church, past, present, and future. No public ministry should be idiosyncratic. … A church that targets a specific demographic, be it the young or the old, cowboys or surfers, rockers or hip-hoppers, forfeits apostolicity. Why? Because the apostles did not target specific kinds of people. They cast their gospel nets widely, and their churches, as a consequence, were heterogeneous.

I’m reminded of what the Hebrew said to Moses prior to his divine calling: “Who made you judge over us?” Terry wants uniformity, and calls for it, but he has no more authority to effect it than any other Protestant pastor. So his voice is merely one additional opinion in the sea of competing voices, each offering church-as-he-sees-it, to all the persons seeking church-as-I-want-it. To reject the Catholic Church is to embrace ecclesial pluralism on the grandest scale, because the uniformity Terry wants requires unified authority, which is impossible when, given the “priesthood of all believers” and the rejection of Holy Orders, each man is essentially his own pope, his own conscience being his own highest authority under God.6 For this reason, to choose Protestantism, while calling for ecclesial uniformity, is a performative contradiction.

When the first Protestants chose to depart from the practice of the rest of the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century, that idiosyncracy was perfectly acceptable, from Terry’s point of view. But when other Protestants presently do not conform to Terry’s particular form of Protestantism, then this idiosyncracy is unacceptable to him. And that’s ad hoc. Terry’s opinion about this is no more authoritative than that of those Protestants who disagree with him and seek to take Protestantism in new directions. The authority vacuum created by the rejection of apostolic succession necessarily leads to a pluralism in which promoters of Reformed ecclesiology have no more authority than do Evangelical ecclesiology, and that authority vacuum created by Protestantism’s fundamental principles is precisely what makes possible the Evangelical ecclesiology Terry is calling Evangelicals to reject.

Yes the Apostles as a whole did not limit themselves to any specific demographic. But that is not what defines apostolicity. Protestantism lost apostolicity at its inception, when it abandoned Holy Orders and apostolic succession. Though apostolicity is related to catholicity, the two are not the same. A person having Holy Orders in succession from the Apostles, who is called to evangelize only say, the Gentiles, retains apostolicity even if his ministry is to a specific group of people. He retains catholicity if he remains part of the Catholic Church. But if he forms or joins a schism, he will necessarily lose catholicity, because no schism can be catholic. The root of the problem of provincialism is schism from the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded. Catholicity, like the other three marks of the Church, cannot be removed from the Church Christ founded, because it is part of the very essence of the Church. Just as provincialism is a sign of schism from the Church, so reconciliation to the Catholic Church is the only solution to provincialism, the only way to attain and retain catholicity.

Roots in Tradition

In his diagnosis of the Evangelicalism’s ecclesial problem, Terry advocates a recovery of tradition:

A church without roots in tradition is a church that forfeits the respect that accompanies the voice of historical consensus. It violates catholicity and, as a consequence, forfeits authority. It is perceived as arbitrary, mutable, human, and, ultimately, optional.

Terry is absolutely right. The problem is that merely having “roots in tradition” is not sufficient to give actual authority; it is only sufficient to give the appearance of authority, since any heretical sect could have roots in tradition, either by having originated many centuries ago, or by reading itself back into the Church Fathers through historical ecclecticism, and painting itself as drawing from the past. Terry is telling Evangelicals that by not drawing from the past, they lose the appearance of having authority, and are perceived as merely optional. They can present themselves as having authority (though having no actual authority) only if they sufficiently portray themselves as having roots in the tradition.

It would not be difficult for the new Evangelicals to have their cake and eat it too. So long as they can lay claim to a few phrases or captions from Church Fathers (see “Ligon Duncan’s “Did the Fathers Know the Gospel?“), they can lay claim to those same roots, and avoid this appearance-of-rootlessness problem. It is a very easy solution, since the problem of not having roots in tradition, as Terry describes it, is merely a cosmetic problem. Terry is not saying that the problem with Evangelicalism is that it is not the Church Christ founded, only that its disregard for the tradition in history makes it be perceived (by certain people) as having no authority, and thus to lose the respect of those people.

But the Evangelical rejoinder could just as well be a de-masking of confessional Protestantism as Evangelicalism with window-dressing drawn from Christianity’s past to make itself seem authoritative, but giving it no actual authority. These Evangelicals might just be seeing through the window-dressing, and no longer cowed into submission by it. If it all comes down to a relationship with Jesus, and no man has any more interpretive authority than does anyone else, then, they might say, “we don’t need the window-dressing of tradition; that’s still other men, with no authority over us, trying to control how we ‘do church.'” What is needed for actual authority is not merely “roots in tradition,” but to be, in fact, the very Church Christ founded.

Terry is objecting to what these new Evangelicals are doing, namely, stripping away the appearance of transcendence and authority in what among Protestants has been treated as “the church.” He writes:

In the process, the transcendent reality of the church as Christ’s church, to which respect is due and where authority is recognized, will be lost.

That’s just what Protestantism did in the sixteenth century, by constructing ‘church’ according to each individual’s interpretation of Scripture concerning what are the marks of the Church. Terry accepts that revolution, because he himself works in it; but he objects to the application of it to his own Protestant ecclesial practice. He does not place these new Evangelicals outside the Church. (Notice the title of his article: “Our Collapsing Ecclesiology.”) Instead, he claims that their ecclesiology hides the transcendent reality of the Church. But if respect and authority are due to every part of the Church, including the part which is the new Evangelicalism, then why think that those who wish to emphasize ecclesial transcendence and ecclesial authority have more authority than those Christians who prefer not to emphasize these things, such that the former can tell the latter how to organize and run their churches?

The new Evangelicalism is exposing the chimera of Protestant ecclesial authority. Because anyone can leave any Protestant church at any time and join or form another, while remaining a “branch within,” the ‘authority’ of these communities is only an illusion. The form and practice of the new Evangelicalism is making that explicit, unmasking the illusion of ecclesial authority in the more traditional Protestant churches.


Terry concludes his article with this:

Ecclesiology is collapsing all around us. Our Reformed foundations are sound. However, if we get swept up in the ecclesiastical trends, we too may find our people perceiving the church as something less than the indispensable institution that it is meant to be.

The “Reformed foundations” are Protestantism’s foundations, which are the very foundations upon which the ecclesial consumerism Terry decries are built. Terry is concerned that confessional Protestants may be swept up in the ecclesial consumerism rush. The problem is, they already are, simply by being Protestants. Barna Evangelicals and Emergents are merely taking Protestantism to its logical conclusions. They do not even pretend that there is some “indispensable institution” which Terry still thinks there is. The PCA isn’t indispensable; it only came into existence in 1973. So, what is this indispensable institution of which Terry speaks? NAPARC? No. It is this supposed visible, catholic Church, which as I have shown in Why Protestantism has no “visible catholic Church” is nothing at all.7

In Protestantism, if I don’t like a denomination, I can simply start my own, or start my own congregation, or my own house church. In Protestantism ordination does not require apostolic succession; it requires only congregational approval. That is what ordination is in Protestantism, the permission by a congregation (or denomination) to serve as a minister in that congregation or denomination. That’s because one of the fundamental principles of Protestantism is the priesthood of all believers and the rejection of the sacrament of Holy Orders and apostolic succession. Any group of Christians therefore can lay hands on someone, and ‘ordain’ him or her. And the Reformed denominations are the products of just this sort of thing. So the supposed distinction in authority between pastor and laity is, in Protestantism, only a useful fiction. For this reason, there is no principled difference between the Barna Evangelicals who are less formal and structured, and Reformed Protestants, who maintain the illusion of pastoral authority.

Some Evangelicals are beginning to see that the Emperor has no clothes, that “visible catholic Church” language is just that, mere semantics. Though the collapse of ecclesiology in Evangelicalism is in appearance a movement away from Catholicism, yet it is a more transparent expression of Protestantism’s essence as such. And because self-understanding is crucial for ecumenical progress, in that respect the collapsing ecclesiology to which Terry refers might perhaps make possible a more fruitful dialogue between Protestants and the Catholic Church in the pursuit of unity and reconciliation.8

  1. See “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  2. See the article I co-wrote with Tom Brown, titled “Christ Founded a Visible Church.” []
  3. See the Catholic Encyclopedia article on “The Church for an explanation of the reason why only the Catholic Church possess the four marks of the Church listed in the Nicene Creed. []
  4. See, for example, the discussion starting at comment #100 in this thread. []
  5. Alister McGrath writes, “[I]t will be clear that the medieval period was astonishingly faithful to the teaching of Augustine on the question of the nature of justification, where the Reformers departed from it,” and then later he writes, “The Reformation understanding of the nature of justification – as opposed to its mode – must therefore be regarded as a genuine theological novum.” (Iustitia Dei, pp. 185-187.) []
  6. Again, see “Solo Scriptura, Sola Scriptura, and the Question of Interpretive Authority.” []
  7. Regarding “small-c catholic,” there is no such thing as a “small-c catholic,” because there is no such thing as the “small-c catholic” Church. The term is an abstract concept, having no actual referent. It denies the visibility of the Church, as Tom and I argued in “Christ Founded a Visible Church,” and thus reduces the Church to an invisible entity to which even those in schism from the Church (e.g. Novatians, Donatists) could claim to be in full communion. Anyone can claim to be in full communion with an invisible entity. So this [“small-c catholic”] is a useful (though deceptive) term for schismatics and heretics, to make it seem that they are in full communion and orthodox, when in fact they have departed from the Catholic Church Christ founded, and rejected the faith she believes, teaches and proclaims to be revealed by God. []
  8. See “Trueman and Prolegomena to How would Protestants know when to return?” []
Tags: , ,

Leave a comment »

  1. First off, great article – many important points well-articulated. I have one question though – this comment really resonates with me:

    Part of Terry’s conception of catholicity is not attempting to appeal to any particular culture or demographic. And again, I agree with him. There should be only one local church in each geographical parish, and all Christians of every age, race, and ethnicity who live in that parish should worship together in that parish.

    however, I have a hard time seeing how this could be accomplished in the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural context in which most of us live today…unless, perhaps, the Church were to return to using the language of it’s Catholic Liturgical Heritage – Latin. Because, of course, any other language choice automatically creates exactly the cultural, linguistic, and even subtle political, biases, that are exactly the opposite of “Catholic”. As far as I can see, the only liturgical language which has any tenable claim to the term “Catholic” across the divides of time, space, and culture, is the language in which the Catholic Church offered it’s Worship to the Almighty for almost two millenia.

    Just curious whether this thought has occurred to anyone else while reading this excellent article…

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  2. Bryan,

    Fantastic article.

    You successfully prove that evangelicals are following Protestant principles to achieve the collapse of ecclesiology. This collapse, though and unlike original Protestantism, is the deconstruction of something that doesn’t in fact exist: visible Protestant ecclesiology. Whereas Reformed ecclesiology undermines the real thing (visible Catholic Church), evangelicalism destroys what never existed to begin with.

    Evangelicalism is the baby of Reformed Protestantism–and its hard to say they are illegitimate if the seed was there to begin with (naked emperor). Moreover, I think evangelicals “get it” in a profound way that should be acknowledged (by Catholics) not as a type of disaster but as a reasonable movement towards the Truth. Why stick around and pretend the emperor has clothes on if, in fact, he doesn’t? Of course a PCA pastor (or you can fill in the denomination) won’t acknowledge that, but I think it is worth acknowledging. Further, I think this is a great opportunity for the Catholic Church to reach out to evangelical Christians who notice the naked emperor, but who have had a profound conversion to Christ and know intuitively, even tacitly, that the emperor shouldn’t be naked (e.g., Christian Smith at Notre Dame).

    If Protestantism got off the path 500 years ago, it is reasonable to believe that to get back on the path, most won’t simply be able to trace their steps backwards to get back home. Instead, we should expect the Holy Spirit to blaze a new trail towards Christian unity, revealing that which is not true, so that all those who long for Truth can see a clear path toward the fulfillment of our Lord’s prayer that “they might be one”. Undoing the belief in a non-real mental concept is an important first step, I think.

    [As an addendum to the idea of the necessity of meeting together, before I was Catholic I came to a place where I couldn’t figure out “why” it was necessary to meet in a given building. Even if there was a visible church, what did we “do” in the church that couldn’t be “done” at home? Why couldn’t I give myself communion (which I did)? Now, as a Catholic, I understand. The Eucharist (the breaking of the bread) is the reason we must continually meet together, proclaiming his death until He comes in glory. Anything short of a real participation in Calvary turns Christian worship into the religious version of an Elks Lodge or Service Club–and sola fide sans the sacraments, particularly the Eucharist, individuates the exercise of faith to such a degree that community worship is superfluous]

  3. Jeff,

    I think that you have a point, but it must be qualified with reference to the fact that the “Catholic Liturgical Heritage” is manifold. It includes the venerable Roman Rite, but also several other ancient Rites, each with its own liturgical tradition and language. See Catholic Rites and Churches for a nice synopsis of the ritual (and linguistic) diversity within the unity of the Catholic Church.


  4. Andrew,

    Yes, you are correct – there is a true history of diversity of language and rite within the Catholic Church. And I should clarify that I am in no wise suggesting that the Church does not have the freedom or right to use any language it wishes – clearly it does have this right and has exercised it over the centuries in a variety of legitimate ways for various reasons, be they pastoral or otherwise.

    However the point I am getting at is that none of the other languages have any tenable claim to be “the” language representing the specifically “Catholic” (across time, space, and culture) unity within the diversity of the Church’s Liturgical Heritage. None of the other languages in which the Church has in the past, and continues in the present to offer her legitimate worship can be either the single point of reference for the rest, nor the sign of unity amongst the diversity. And make no mistake, we *do* need such a sign of unity. How can a truly Catholic (universal) Church even conduct it’s business on a global scale without a common language? How can a truly Catholic (universal) Church hold an ecumenical council if it has no common language? We certainly can’t use English point of reference – nor any other “living” language for that matter – because English, and any other “living” language is by definition still “changing” and that would mean that the point of reference would be in constant tension with itself, and in constant need of being updated. This is so not only because living languages are not apt vessels for becoming a single standard of unity and point of reference for the Church across chronological, geographical, and cultural divides, but also because there are subtle racial and political biases which are presented by the use of any language which is currently in use by some ethnic or political people-group. For example, in my sister’s parish, the priest has said that there are 40 different languages represented by the parishoners. There is no way that you can have 40 Masses on a Sunday to “include” all those different languages and make sure that nobody feels “left-out”. To say nothing of the fact that the whole point behind the passage I quoted from the article was not just that there should be only “one parish” within that geographical area, but more importantly that those who live there should be able to “worship together”. Just having even 5 different masses each in a different language is not worshiping “together” but still allowing ourselves to be divided by language and culture. In order to truly be able to worship “together” we need a common liturgical language which is not “owned” by any one sub-group, but represents a “second language” for all members. We need the Church’s “own” language. We need Latin.

    At least that’s the only way I can see it being practical to implement what is described in this article in the passage I noted.

    What do you think?

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  5. Jeff,

    Common worship in the same geographical area is difficult to accomplish when people living in the same area do not speak the same language. And there are times when communities of Catholic immigrants, each speaking a different language, live in the same general urban area, and the Church rightly seeks to provide priests to hear confessions and say mass in their particular language. But, even in those cases they are all under the same bishop of the diocese, in full communion with each other and with the Apostolic See. Yet, that separation by language in a local area is not ideal, and isn’t something to seek to retain or perpetuate. Usually, the children of such immigrants grow up speaking the common language of the area, and so they, as adults, are able to participate in parishes in which the common language of that diocese is spoken. But that takes time, and we need to be hospitable to immigrants, and so accommodate them until they and their families can learn the local language. All that is quite different from marketing to persons of all different cultures, styles, tastes, interpretations, etc., — since that kind of marketing is not about hospitality, and does not seek catholicity; rather it caters to consumerism, and results in fragmentation.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  6. Bryan,

    Thank you for an excellent article! I can tell I’m going to be re-reading this and recommending it to others for quite a while!

    Thanks also for the interaction on my question – what you say is true, though ironically it was much “more” true in the past when travel between different geographical areas was much less common, and people tended to “stay put” for multiple generations as a rule. Nowadays, that is no longer a given for much of the world, and thus, it seems to me, the use of a common liturgical language has largely faded out just when it is most needed. However I think that you may have missed the larger point of my questions, which has to do with the nature of the “Catholic” unity to which the Church should be introducing it’s members. Surely that “Catholic” unity must be represented by something more than just encouraging immigrants to learn the language and culture of whatever their newly adopted country is, mustn’t it? Because this just (again) subjugates the Church’s unity to the existing racial, political, and cultural lines which we already are subjected to in every other aspect of secular of existence. Surely there must be an actual “Catholic” culture to which we can all become heirs – and if there is, then it must have a common language?


    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  7. Bryan,

    After further thought perhaps I should clarify – the point you make regarding hospitality – especially the willingness of priests to learn different languages so as to be able to hear Confessions in the Sacrament of Penance in the penitent’s native language is very important. In fact I would say that the Church always has been and always will need to be in the business of translating into different languages much of the Pastoral Ministry it does. However, it still seems to me that in order to translate, you need something to translate “from” – and it seems to me that in this instance, the linguistic sign of unity and point of reference should be a dead language which isn’t going to be constantly slipping through our fingers as we try to nail it down. And it also seems to me that the ability for all the Church’s members to “own” the Church’s “own” liturgical language is something which, even if that remains, for many, only on a very small scale – say, the Ordinary parts of the Mass – is something which is only going to be a positive step in creating a truly unified “Catholic” identity. And it seems to me that somehow, we all need to recover the sense that when we hear the Latin language used in Mass, it is indeed “OUR own” Mother tongue.

    Let me know what you think!

    Pax Christi,
    Jeff Holston

  8. Jeff,

    The nature of Catholic unity, as the Catechism explains, is constituted by the three bonds of unity. (See CCC #815.) We share the same faith, a common worship (especially the same sacraments), and the same ecclesial government. There is room for diversity within that Catholic unity, hence the different rites Andrew mentioned. The catholicity of the Church is more clearly manifested when there is one Catholic place of worship for any geographical parish, and people of different races, education, age and economic status all worship together in that parish. But the language issues prompted by immigration allows for accommodation to that, though local separation based on language isn’t something to strive to perpetuate, as I mentioned above. The Church is to be the reversal of Babylon, as I argued in “Pentecost, Babel and the Ecumenical Imperative.”

    The Church does have an official language, which is Latin, for reasons explained here. But that is a different issue from the issue I’m addressing in this post, though it is somewhat related.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  9. This is response to a portion of 2.


    Welcome home.

    When I was reading, attempting to figure out what was where, I read Luther, (I believe it was Table Talk) who noted that any man possessed by the Holy Spirit was capable of interpreting and expounding the scripture. (Later Luther figured out that a lot of people grasped that particular tenet of his without grasping his German theology, a fact which he came to hate. He expected great support and found great resistance.)

    As an evangelical Pentecostal, I remember that the Baptists denied us because “the gifts will come to an end,” and from their perspective, the gifts had come to an end. Starting with the Pentecostal perspective, the charismatic gifts were flourishing. This is important because you suggested “we should expect the Holy Spirit to blaze a new trail towards Christian unity” when most of what I saw was a denial of some other version of Christianity, and a justification for the version of Christianity I was involved in. Truth was an exclusive domain, even if there were hundreds (actually tens of thousands) of varieties of the Christian religion, or of a new Christianity “without religion,” and if the megachurches are an example, virtually without tenets of any kind. The Holy Spirit’s ability to bring us to the Truth, a Truth obvious to everyone, doesn’t appear to be working out very well if one accepts tens of thousands of perspectives which are self–justifying.

    Since the offer of Jesus regarding the Holy Spirit was to the Church and not the individual, it was recognition of the Church that brought about my own ability to submit, including both comfort and joy with the sacraments, the rites surrounding the sacraments, Mary, Peter, the communion of saints, etc.

    I won’t fault the sincerity of my old co-religionists and their opposers, but I discovered the practical denial of scripture involved in the thought expressed throughout Protestantism. In the end, my impression was that as a Protestant no matter what Jesus said, it could not be counted on. We glommied on to “you are saved by faith through grace and not by works lest any man boast” and filtered everything, including the words of Jesus, Paul, and James through that phrase.

    Once there, what tenets of an older Protestantism that could be accepted were a practical Tradition and the parts deemed unnecessary were discarded as we trail blazed to the new truths revealed to us and, seemingly, us alone. There was no center in Protestantism except for me and what I was willing to accept or believe.

    The third petition in the Morning Offering is for “the reunion of all Christians.” When I thought about that petition, it struck me that it did not say anything about churches, theologies, or movements. It is the individuals who are being prayed for.



  10. Jeff,

    I think that Latin can serve as a sign of the Church’s unity. It is the liturgical language of what is by far the largest patriarchate within the Catholic Church, the Latin Church (over 98 percent of Catholics belong to the Latin Church, and celebrate the sacraments according to the Roman Rite). Furthermore, the particular Church of Rome, whose peculiar tongue is (historically) Latin, is the “mother of all the (particular) Churches.” Thus, Latin, although one among many liturgical languages, and carrying within itself, as does every language, peculiar cultural, racial, and political biases, is in a sense uniquely poised to serve as a lingua franca for the entire Catholic Church.

    However, it would be amnesiac and ironically parochial to push this point too far. The language of the first Christian version of the Old Testament (the LXX), the New Testament, the Ecumenical Creed, the first seven Ecumenical Councils, and the Byzantine Roman Empire from which comes the majority Byzantine Rite of the Eastern Churches (both those in full communion with Rome, and those currently in a state of impaired communion) is Greek. The linguistic point of reference, liturgically, historically, culturally, for one of the two lungs of the Catholic Church is manifestly not Latin. So, in my opinion, Latin takes precedence with reference to the Holy See, and Greek takes precedence with respect to the ancient sources of our most Holy Tradition. (Remember, the first papal encyclicals were written in Greek, e.g., 1 and 2 Peter, 1 Clement.)

    For practical as well as traditional (and perhaps other) reasons, Latin has long functioned as the lingua franca of the universal Church; e.g., the official texts of the Magisterium, including the Code of Canon Law for the Eastern Churches, are published in Latin. And of course this should be reflected, at least to some degree, in the liturgies of the Latin Church. But it would be foolish, because unhistorical and opposed to the organic development of liturgical tradition, to impose Latin upon the liturgy of the Greek Church. One Church, two lungs.

    The (correct) practical implementation of the call to eschew consumerism, in the form of more or less “off-the-cuff” liturgical adaptations to cultures and sub-cultures, does not consist in conflating one particular Church or Rite with the universal Church. Rather, it consists in the sacramental communion of the particular Churches, with the full integrity of their own traditional Rites intact, within the visible, universal Church, which is

    … identified by the sign of Christ our Rock, the Bishop of Rome, Successor of St. Peter (Mt. 16:18). To be Catholic particular Churches and ritual Churches must be in communion with this Head, just as the other apostles, and the Churches they founded, were in communion with Peter (Gal. 1:18). Through this communion with Peter and his successors the Church becomes a universal sacrament of salvation in all times and places, even to the end of the age (Mt. 28:20). [source]

    The unity and universality of the visible Church is liturgically manifested in every Mass and Divine Liturgy in which the Bishop of Rome is commemorated by name, whether in Greek, Latin, Aramaic, Slavonic, English, etc.

    Kyrie eleison.


  11. Like seeing a pinyata being destroyed and calling it animal abuse, Terry Johnson says “Ecclesiology is collapsing all around us.”

    The good news for Terry is he can stop worrying. The Church is safe and sound, the pinyata getting the beating is just paper mache filled with stale candy.

    I think if he would take his excellent insights concerning the failure of evangelicalism and apply them very carefully and objectively to his Reformed world, he might see that like the train wreck that is evangelicalism, it too is a vine covered ruin. It collapsed long ago and godly men like him need to come home to the Catholic Church.

  12. Great article.

    I actually agree with Barna. I don’t think it’s enough for a Church to be visible, it needs to be sacramental . If sacraments are not required, then you can have a visible group of house churches, each marking themselves as Christian by placing a cross on their doors (in much the same way many Catholic mark their houses a Catholic by placing a statue or picture of a saint at their entrance). You don’t need to leave your home to be part of the “visible Church”. All you need to do is not be ashamed of “being Christian”. Just keep the sabbath “holy” by listening to various podcasts or reading various Christian books and singing hymns with your family or friends and you’re all set. There are some fantastic free podcasts out there, likely better quality than are available at the local church. And rather than waste money on Church amenities to keep you entertained and comfortable, you can use that money to feed the poor as Judas pointed out (John 12:3-8).

    I don’t think this is a case of marrying the spirit of the age. It simply reduces Christianity to praying, music, podcasting, books, and good deeds. It might not be Christianity as Calvin envisioned, but it is as sustainable as the New Age movement and it does fill a need for people who are put off by the New Age movement and know that there is a God and want to praise/serve him.

    If OTOH the visible Church is sacramental, then the mini-pilgrimage to encounter the sacred makes sense.

    I don’t see much middle ground that is sustainable.

  13. Bryan this was an excellent article that is well written. As an evangelical protestant, I found this article to be very fair and challenging. However, I do have one objection. The idea that a clear, visible, catholic Church cannot exist outside of the catholic churches in communion with Rome would seem to be negated by the existence of the Eastern Orthodox Churches who are in communion with each other but not with Rome. This is not an attempt to rehash the East/West divide, but to state you are setting up a false dichotomy. Most (if not all) of the ecclesiastical shortcomings of the Protestant Churches that you purpose are solved by the Roman Church are also solved by the Eastern Orthodox Church. If one were to agree with your criticism of protestantism it should be noted that they (er, we?) would not necessarily end up in Rome. While your ecclesiology is strong, Rome doesn’t have a monopoly on these claims.


  14. Bryan,

    Just a nitpicky thing, but it seems to me that you should refer to those you are seeking to refute in your articles by their last name, not their first. I’m not saying it’s intentional, but calling people “Terry” or “Michael” seems a bit disrespectful. I mean, I wouldn’t write a scholarly article in which I refer to Balthasar as “Hans” or Benedict as “Joseph.”

    Just a thought.

  15. Thanks Jason, that’s helpful to know. My general rule is to write about a person the way I would talk to him to his face, so that I am no less personal and friendly writing about him, than I would be talking to him. When people refer to me in the third person as “Cross,” or “Mr. Cross” it comes across (to me at least) as impersonal, cold and distant, and that’s why I try to avoid referring to others that way, because I prefer to be referred to by my first name. But, maybe my approach is coming across the wrong way. I’ll think about it, and I appreciate the feedback.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  16. Anil,

    I agree with you. I experienced this directly, in my own journey, as I described briefly in comment #32 of the Habitual Sin thread.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  17. Hello Brendan, (re: #13)

    Catholicity is one the four marks of the Church (i.e. one, holy, catholic and apostolic). The Catechism of the Council of Trent says this about catholicity:

    The third mark of the Church is that she is Catholic; that is, universal. And justly is she called Catholic, because, as St. Augustine says, she is diffused by the splendour of one faith from the rising to the setting sun.” Unlike states of human institution, or the sects of heretics, she is not confined to any one country or class of men, but embraces within the amplitude of her love all mankind, whether barbarians or Scythians, slaves or freemen, male or female…. This (note of catholicity), therefore, is to be taught as a most reliable criterion, by which to distinguish the true from a false Church.

    The present Catholic Catechism describes this mark succinctly:

    The Church is catholic: she proclaims the fullness of the faith. She bears in herself and administers the totality of the means of salvation. She is sent out to all peoples. She speaks to all men. She encompasses all times. She is “missionary of her very nature.” (CCC 868)

    Regarding the nature of catholicity, I also recommend the following lecture (located here) by Larry Feingold of Ave Maria University:

    Lawrence Feingold: Catholicity

    The Catholic Encyclopedia also has a more thorough article on the subject of catholicity as a mark of the Church.

    The Eastern Orthodox Churches are presently a communion of 14 (or 15 or 16) autocephalous Churches. They are: (1) Orthodox Church of Constantinople, (2) Orthodox Church of Alexandria, (3) Orthodox Church of Antioch, (4) Orthodox Church of Jerusalem, (5) Orthodox Church of Russia, (6) Orthodox Church of Georgia, (7) Orthodox Church of Serbia, (8) Orthodox Church of Romania, (9) Orthodox Church of Bulgaria, (10) Orthodox Church of Cyprus, (11) Orthodox Church of Greece, (12) Orthodox Church of Poland, (13) Orthodox Church of Albania, (14) Orthodox Church of the Czech lands and Slovakia, (15) Orthodox Church in America,* and (16) Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church.* There is some dispute about the status of the last two. 

    They are in communion with each other, but that doesn’t make their communion catholic. Any group of particular Churches can be in communion with each other (see, for example, the Oriental Orthodox Churches), but that intercommunion is not sufficient for catholicity. (Nor does it constitute visible unity; see “Unity as a mark of the Church.”) The Orthodox particular Churches are catholic only in the sense that they were once Catholic, and still belong in the Catholic Church, but are presently separated from her. See James Likoudis’ article “The Marks of the Church and Eastern Orthodoxy” for a fuller explanation.

    Although geographical spread is not the same as catholicity (since the Church was already Catholic on the day of her birth, i.e. Pentecost, even though located only in Jerusalem), catholicity is reflected in the way the Church grows. The Eastern Orthodox Churches are primarily located in eastern Europe, Russia, and western Asia. They are located where the Catholic Church had spread, before the Orthodox schism. In recent times, immigration has brought some Orthodox to North America and Australia, and conversions in those locations have increased their numbers. Here’s a graphic showing the location of the Eastern Orthodox (in blue) and the Oriental Orthodox (in red). (Source)

    Below is a map of the distribution of Catholics in the world. (Source) The Catholic Church is not nationalized. There is no Catholic Church of the US, or Catholic Church of Canada, or Catholic Church of Spain. This non-nationalized quality of the Catholic Church is part of its catholicity. It allows it to evangelize without one national Church competing with another national Church for converts. As a result there are Catholic Churches in almost every area of the world, even in countries where the percentage of Catholics is low.

    Catholicity means that the Church embraces all peoples, of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and has been in mission to the whole world since her inception at Pentecost, and extends unbroken through the whole of Christian history (i.e. did not come into existence as a schism from the Church at some point after the birth of the Church on Pentecost). Thus the Church is universal with respect to all peoples, and with respect to the whole of Christian history, and with respect to the same faith taught through all those times among all those peoples. Only the Catholic Church has this mark; it is the same Catholic Church that came into being on the day of Pentecost and was never formed by any mere man starting a schism or starting a denomination. This fulfills the prophecy given in Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2:44) that through a stone cut out from a mountain by no human hand, God would “set up a Kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” 

    During the first millennium, when the Orthodox and Catholics were united, it was clear that the Church of the first seven ecumenical councils was the Catholic Church, even though other (particular) Churches (e.g. the Coptic Church and the Assyrian Church) had separated from her. After the Orthodox schism, the Catholic Church continued to be catholic (as shown even by the name), spreading all over the world, not limited to any particular set of ethnicities or provinces, while the Eastern Orthodox Churches tended to remain nationalized Churches, each the Church of a particular people group with its own language, culture, and region.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  18. I like to see on a world map where are all the Reformed Baptist are at…lol

  19. Bryan, (re: #17)

    I first thank you for taking the time and effort in putting forth such a detailed and thought out response to my thoughts. While I would thank you for showing my argument such respect (by deeming it worthy of a serious response) I have a feeling your efforts may have more to do with your respect for your church, which is also commendable.

    Secondly, as I mentioned before I have no intentions to defend the Eastern Orthodox Church. I am certainly unqualified to defend her and moreover I have no dog in that fight. I would like to, however, argue some of the points you made and how you made them. It is my hope this would challenge your thinking, or at the very least, cause you to make your argument stronger.

    You open your argument of Rome’s “catholicity” over and against the claims of the Orthodox, by quoting the Council of Trent, followed by the CCC, then the Catholic Encyclopedia. All three of these documents are post-Great Schism works. You are creating support for Rome’s arguments by quoting Rome’s work. This appears to be the same error the Donatists made when they sought to describe the true marks of the church. As the Catholic Encyclopedia states:

    “the Donatists claimed to represent the one true Church of Christ, and formulated certain marks of the Church, which they professed to find in their own body,”

    I noticed the Catholic Encyclopedia in its attempt to define “Catholic”, relies much more on the work of the Fathers from the united Church, but I’ll leave the Orthodox to argue those points. My point is you can’t use your own testimony to prove your correctness. If you wish to argue that you define “Catholic” correctly over and against both Orthodox and Protestants, you must use sources your opponents find authoritative (at least if you desire a credible argument). Since neither the Orthodox nor the Protestants believe Rome to be infallible, your arguments are a non-starter. However, I do take notice that some of your reference links do argue with the Orthodox on more even ground.

    Next, your argument that the Orthodox aren’t truly unified and therefore aren’t truly catholic, I find somewhat hollow. They aren’t unified in the sense that they would have one human sovereign (a singular Pope) who rules over all, but that’s hardly a fair argument. To argue unity is only legitimately achieved by a singular sovereign (save Christ) is simply not true. To make such a case we would need to return to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings. Reason and history bear out what kind of unjust (and dare I say unholy) suffering commoners and peasants were subjected to at the hands of monarchs and despots. Democratic governments, of both presidential and parliamentary systems, were developed as a safe guard against such tyrants. These democratic republics and confederacies are in fact united people. Though unity is more difficult to achieve, it is only so because subjugation is not as easily perpetrated. I am not arguing that the Church should be democratic, but rather the seemingly confederate nature of the Orthodox (or “synodality” to quote from Kallistos Ware) is clearly a form of unity or oneness. And based on my limited view of Church history, this “synodality” was the form of unity that brought us the seven ecumenical councils. If such a diversity brought about unity, why then must we only trust one person to be sovereign?

    Although geographical spread is not the same as catholicity (since the Church was already Catholic on the day of her birth, i.e. Pentecost, even though located only in Jerusalem)…

    I couldn’t agree with you more, and this statement of yours defeats your argument. I also find your argument of the spread of Roman Catholicism globally to be unfair to the Orthodox as it ignores historical/political/economic factors. Further more it is precisely the nationalized quality of the Roman Church which contributes to its global spread. The Latin West enjoyed considerable more freedom, wealth, and political power over the last millennia in comparison to the East. Western European powers’ ability to politically/militarily subdue other nations and lands is directly related to the spread of Roman Catholicism. For many of these powers, the national religion was Roman Catholicism. This is especially true in the Western Hemisphere. Central and South America were colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese who were nationally Roman Catholic. The spread of Roman Catholicism came on the back of soldiers and sailors of these nations, flying under the national flag. While many good and honorable priests (even Saints) sought to convert the heathens with the Gospel of Christ, we dare not forget the power of the sword which supported them. More importantly we dare not forget the unholy use of this sword which was often fueled by a lust for power and wealth.

    Aside from pure military conquest, Roman Catholicism rose not purely out of conversion but also largely from emigration and integration. Even today, the increase of Roman Catholics in the US is largely due to Hispanic immigration and birth rates. Biological and physical growth, and not spiritual growth, are the culprits. Historically in the US this has been the case. Roman Catholic growth came on the backs of Irish and Italian immigrants with high birth rates, and not from missionary efforts. This explains why historically the Roman Catholic stronghold was in the Northeast, and current growth spots are located in the Southwest…locales of immigration.

    Back to the question of political strength, clearly the Eastern Orthodox did not enjoy this political power after the rise of Islam. While the West could set its sights on conquest, much of the East focused on survival. What’s interesting though, if you take your two maps and subtract the western hemisphere, the balance is much more even! However due to the same factors of emigration and integration, the Orthodox can now be found nearly everywhere. Evangelicalism is also increasing in its global spread, but this is largely due to missionary efforts and not biological multiplication and addition…but that’s another topic.

    Lastly, your insistence that the Roman Church is catholic because its still bears the moniker of “Catholic” is hardly a solid argument. Should I then suppose that she is not “Orthodox”? Or perhaps she is not “Evangelical”? Your affection for St. Augustine is well deserved, but this argument of his doesn’t hold much water. After all, we are all taught as children to “never judge a book by its cover.” What’s in a name? Sometimes, its not the truth.

    There are other points I would like to argue but I fear I have already made this comment too long. If you read all of, I must say I am impressed with your patience and perseverance. Thank you for your time.

    – Brendan Murphy

  20. Brendan, (re: #19)

    And based on my limited view of Church history, this “synodality” was the form of unity that brought us the seven ecumenical councils. If such a diversity brought about unity, why then must we only trust one person to be sovereign?

    But the form of the first seven ecumenical councils weren’t necessarily ‘synodal’ in nature. This claim of yours (borrowed from Metropolitan Kallistos) is not necessarily supported by the evidence. Would you care to produce any evidence regarding the councils ‘synodal’ nature? AFAIK, these councils had to be validated by the pope.

    I would also like to point out that I don’t find it fair to accuse Bryan of using the ‘wrong’ sources, ie. post-schism sources from the Catholic Church, and than go on using post-schism sources from the Orthodox Church. (Kallistos Ware, for instance.) Why is Metropolitan Kallistos’ definition of the nature of the seven ecumenical councils ok, while Roman Catholic sources are not? Here you are doing the exact same thing you are accusing Bryan of doing.

  21. Brendan, (re: #19)

    When beginning a discussion with someone for the first time, there is no way of knowing what he already accepts and what he doesn’t. So, I wasn’t trying to beg the question or stack the deck by referring to the Catholic Catechism and the Catechism of the Council of Trent, in putting forward the meaning of the term ‘catholic.’ I didn’t think those descriptions of catholicity would be controversial or problematic. But, if you are concerned about begging the question, then we can just take a step back, to more common ground. Also, I wish to say that the Orthodox are not my “opponents,” — I know what you meant, but there’s just no need to depict them or our relation to them with that sort of imagery. They are our brothers, though unfortunately separated from us.

    Let’s go back to the Scriptures, where we see the catholicity of the Church shown in its mission to the whole world:

    The catholicity of the Church was prophesied in the Old Testament, in God’s promise to Abraham that by his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. (See Gen. 12; see also Gen 18:17, and 22:18) In Isaiah, the Church is described as a mountain raised up above all the other mountains, and into which all the nations of the earth will stream: “Now it will come about that In the last days the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills; And all the nations will stream to it.” (Is. 2:2) The Church is to be a “light to the nations.” (Is. 49:6) Isaiah prophecies about the catholicity of the Church, when he writes:

    Thus says the LORD: Observe what is right, do what is just; for my salvation is about to come, my justice about to be revealed. The foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, ministering to Him, loving the name of the LORD, and becoming His servants — all who keep the Sabbath free from profanation and hold to My covenant, them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make joyful in My house of prayer; their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. (Isaiah 56: 1, 6-7)

    The Church is the Kingdom founded by the Rock not cut out by human hands, the Kingdom which “filled the whole earth.” (Dan. 2:35) “All peoples, tribes and tongues shall serve Him.” (Dan. 7:13) This Kingdom is perpetual, and indestructible: “The God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed, nor shall its sovereignty be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever.” (Dan. 2:44) So even in the Old Testament, we see prophetically both dimensions of the Church’s catholicity: geographic/ethnic universality, and temporal universality.

    Jesus Himself speaks of the catholicity of the Church:

    Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. (Mt. 24:9)

    The Orthodox are not hated by all nations. They are hated by those who live among them who also hate Christ. But globally, those who oppose Christ direct their hatred against the Catholic Church, because of her size, her organization as a unity (which makes her both more powerful and, from their point of view, more threatening and influential), and because of what she stands for morally, which not even in all things do the Orthodox share (e.g. contraception, divorce-with-remarriage, etc.)

    There are other places where the catholicity of the Church is apparent in Jesus’ words:

    This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Mt. 24:14)

    All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. (Matthew 28:20)

    My House shall be called a House of Prayer for all the nations. (Mk. 11:17)

    Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:46-47)

    “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

    The universality of the Church is also revealed on the day of Pentecost, as a reversal of the Tower of Babel — see “Pentecost, Babel and the Ecumenical Imperative.”

    St. Augustine speaks of this catholicity at Pentecost, writing:

    At the beginning the Church was not yet spread throughout the entire world, making it possible for Christ’s members to speak among the nations [by their presence in Jerusalem for that Feast], and therefore the miracle happened in each person as a presage of what would later be true of all. Today the whole body of Christ does speak in the languages of all peoples, or rather, if there are any tongues in which it does not yet speak, it will. The Church will grow until it claims all languages as its own…. I dare to say to you, “I speak in the tongues of all men and women. I am in Christ’s body, I am in Christ’s Church. If Christ’s body today speaks in the languages of all, I too speak in all languages. Greek is mine, Syriac is mine, Hebrew is mine. Mine is the tongue of every nation, because I am within the unity that embraces all nations. (Exposition of Psalm 147, n. 19)

    St. Paul speaks of the catholicity of the Church as the mystery hidden for ages (Eph. 3:9), namely, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Eph. 3:4-6) “For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14)

    And the Apostle John, in the Apocalypse writes of catholicity as well:

    “Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain, and didst purchase for God with Thy blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” (Apocalypse 5:9)

    “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands.” (Apocalypse 7:9)

    And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people.” (Apocalypse 14:6)

    Consider also the Church Fathers. What do they tell us about catholicity?

    At the beginning of the second century, St. Ignatius writes, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8) St. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. At the time of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp (middle of the second century), he prayed for “all who had at any time come his way — small folk and great folk, distinguished and undistinguished, and [for] the whole Catholic Church throughout the world.” (The Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, c. 8) Notice there that the Catholic Church, by its very nature as Catholic, is spread throughout the world. This is why Catholics began using the term toward the end of the first century to distinguish themselves from the heretics who called themselves ‘Christians,’ but were not in communion with the Church throughout the world, i.e. with the Catholic Church. (I have written about this in more detail in comment #20 of the Doug Wilson on Apostolic Succession article.)

    At the end of the second century, St. Irenaeus, bishop of Lyon and disciple of St. Polycarp, writes:

    As I have already observed, the Church, having received this preaching and this faith, although scattered throughout the whole world, yet, as if occupying but one house, carefully preserves it. She also believes these points [of doctrine] just as if she had but one soul, and one and the same heart, and she proclaims them, and teaches them, and hands them down, with perfect harmony, as if she possessed only one mouth. For, although the languages of the world are dissimilar, yet the import of the tradition is one and the same. For the Churches which have been planted in Germany do not believe or hand down anything different, nor do those in Spain, nor those in Gaul, nor those in the East, nor those in Egypt, nor those in Libya, nor those which have been established in the central regions of the world. But as the sun, that creature of God, is one and the same throughout the whole world, so also the preaching of the truth shines everywhere, and enlightens all men that are willing to come to a knowledge of the truth. Nor will any one of the rulers in the Churches, however highly gifted he may be in point of eloquence, teach doctrines different from these (for no one is greater than the Master); nor, on the other hand, will he who is deficient in power of expression inflict injury on the tradition. For the faith being ever one and the same, neither does one who is able at great length to discourse regarding it, make any addition to it, nor does one, who can say but little diminish it. (Against Heresies, Bk. 1, c. 10, para. 2)

    At the beginning of the third century, St. Clement of Alexandria writes:

    We say that both in substance and in seeming, both in origin and in development, the primitive and Catholic Church is the only one, agreeing as it does in the unity of one faith” (Stromata, VII, xvii; P.G., IX, 552)

    In the middle of the third century, St. Cyprian of Carthage describes the catholicity of the Church in this way:

    If any one consider and examine these things, there is no need for lengthened discussion and arguments. There is easy proof for faith in a short summary of the truth. The Lord speaks to Peter, saying, “I say unto you, that you are Peter; and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatsoever you shall bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven, and whatsoever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” And again to the same He says, after His resurrection, “Feed my sheep.” And although to all the apostles, after His resurrection, He gives an equal power, and says, “As the Father has sent me, even so send I you: Receive the Holy Ghost: Whosesoever sins you remit, they shall be remitted unto him; and whosesoever sins you retain, they shall be retained; ” (John 20:21) yet, that He might set forth unity, He arranged by His authority the origin of that unity, as beginning from one. Assuredly the rest of the apostles were also the same as was Peter, endowed with a like partnership both of honour and power; but the beginning proceeds from unity. Which one Church, also, the Holy Spirit in the Song of Songs designated in the person of our Lord, and says, “My dove, my spotless one, is but one. She is the only one of her mother, elect of her that bare her.” (Song of Songs 6:9) Does he who does not hold this unity of the Church think that he holds the faith? Does he who strives against and resists the Church trust that he is in the Church, when moreover the blessed Apostle Paul teaches the same thing, and sets forth the sacrament of unity, saying, “There is one body and one spirit, one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God? ” (Ephesians 4:4)

    And this unity we ought firmly to hold and assert, especially those of us that are bishops who preside in the Church, that we may also prove the episcopate itself to be one and undivided. Let no one deceive the brotherhood by a falsehood: let no one corrupt the truth of the faith by perfidious prevarication. The episcopate is one, each part of which is held by each one for the whole. The Church also is one, which is spread abroad far and wide into a multitude by an increase of fruitfulness. As there are many rays of the sun, but one light; and many branches of a tree, but one strength based in its tenacious root; and since from one spring flow many streams, although the multiplicity seems diffused in the liberality of an overflowing abundance, yet the unity is still preserved in the source. Separate a ray of the sun from its body of light, its unity does not allow a division of light; break a branch from a tree—when broken, it will not be able to bud; cut off the stream from its fountain, and that which is cut off dries up. Thus also the Church, shone over with the light of the Lord, sheds forth her rays over the whole world, yet it is one light which is everywhere diffused, nor is the unity of the body separated. Her fruitful abundance spreads her branches over the whole world. She broadly expands her rivers, liberally flowing, yet her head is one, her source one; and she is one mother, plentiful in the results of fruitfulness: from her womb we are born, by her milk we are nourished, by her spirit we are animated. (On the Unity of the Catholic Church, 4-5)

    In the early part of the fourth century the Church historian and bishop, Eusebius writes:

    Truth asserted herself, and with the march of time shone with increasing light. For by her activity the machinations of her foes were promptly shown up and extinguished, though one after another new heresies were invented, the earlier ones constantly passing away and disappearing, in different ways at different times, into forms of every shape and character. But the splendour of the Catholic and only true Church, always remaining the same and unchanged, grew steadily in greatness and strength, shedding on every race of Greeks and non-Greeks alike the majestic, spotless, free, sober, pure light of her inspired citizenship and philosophy. (History of the Church, 4.7)

    In the middle of the fourth century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem, in his Catechetical Lectures, writes:

    It [i.e. the Church] is called Catholic then because it extends over all the world, from one end of the earth to the other; and because it teaches universally and completely one and all the doctrines which ought to come to men’s knowledge, concerning things both visible and invisible, heavenly and earthly ; and because it brings into subjection to godliness the whole race of mankind, governors and governed, learned and unlearned; and because it universally treats and heals the whole class of sins, which are committed by soul or body, and possesses in itself every form of virtue which is named, both in deeds and words, and in every kind of spiritual gifts. And it is rightly named (Ecclesia) because it calls forth and assembles together all men; according as the Lord says in Leviticus, And make an assembly for all the congregation at the door of the tabernacle of witness. …

    But since the word Ecclesia is applied to different things (as also it is written of the multitude in the theater of the Ephesians, And when he had thus spoken, he dismissed the Assembly), and since one might properly and truly say that there is a Church of evil doers, I mean the meetings of the heretics, the Marcionists and Manichees, and the rest, for this cause the Faith has securely delivered to you now the Article, “And in one Holy Catholic Church;” that you may avoid their wretched meetings, and ever abide with the Holy Church Catholic in which you were regenerated. And if ever you are sojourning in cities, inquire not simply where the Lord’s House is (for the other sects of the profane also attempt to call their own dens houses of the lord), nor merely where the Church is, but where is the Catholic Church. For this is the peculiar name of this Holy Church, the mother of us all. (Lect. 18.23, 26)

    St. Hilary, bishop of Poitiers and doctor of Church, also in the middle of the fourth century, writes:

    It is the peculiar property of the Church that when she is buffeted she is triumphant, when she is assaulted with argument she proves herself in the right, when she is deserted by her supporters she holds the field. It is her wish that all men should remain at her side and in her bosom; if it lay with her, none would become unworthy to abide under the shelter of that august mother, none would be cast out or suffered to depart from her calm retreat. But when heretics desert her or she expels them, the loss she endures, in that she cannot save them, is compensated by an increased assurance that she alone can offer bliss. This is a truth which the passionate zeal of rival heresies brings into the clearest prominence. The Church, ordained by the Lord and established by His Apostles, is one for all; but the frantic folly of discordant sects has severed them from her. And it is obvious that these dissensions concerning the faith result from a distorted mind, which twists the words of Scripture into conformity with its opinion, instead of adjusting that opinion to the words of Scripture. And thus, amid the clash of mutually destructive errors, the Church stands revealed not only by her own teaching, but by that of her rivals. They are ranged, all of them, against her; and the very fact that she stands single and alone is her sufficient answer to their godless delusions. The hosts of heresy assemble themselves against her; each of them can defeat all the others, but not one can win a victory for itself. The only victory is the triumph which the Church celebrates over them all. Each heresy wields against its adversary some weapon already shattered, in another instance, by the Church’s condemnation. There is no point of union between them, and the outcome of their internecine struggles is the confirmation of the faith. (On the Trinity, Bk 7, chapter 4)

    In the second half of the fourth century, St. Optatus wrote a response to the Donatist schism, because the Donatists claimed to be the Catholic Church. St. Optatus explains how and why the Donatists are not catholic, and therefore cannot be the Catholic Church. I have already written out St. Optatus’ powerful line of argumentation in “St. Optatus on Schism and the Bishop of Rome,” so I won’t write out here what he says.

    Toward the end of the fourth century, we come to St. Augustine, who writes very clearly about catholicity and schism. Here is just a small sample of what he says about catholicity:

    “Whether they wish or no,” he says, “heretics have to call the Catholic Church Catholic” (De vera religione, xii).

    Why? Because no heresy can be universal. Every heresy or schism from the Church must, by its separation from the Church, cease to be universal. No heresy can defeat the Church, or replace the Church. The Church that Christ founded will always be the city set on the hill, for all the world to see, no matter how hard Satan tries to obscure her through forming heresies and schisms. Implicit in the truth of St. Augustine’s statement, is a recognition by faith of the falsehood of ecclesial deism.

    In his work titled “Of Faith and the Creed” which he delivered to the bishops assembled at the Council of Hippo-Regius in AD 393, which was the “general assembly of the North African Church,” he wrote the following:

    Inasmuch, I repeat, as this is the case, we believe also in The Holy Church, [intending thereby] assuredly the Catholic. For both heretics and schismatics style their congregations churches. But heretics, in holding false opinions regarding God, do injury to the faith itself; while schismatics, on the other hand, in wicked separations break off from brotherly charity, although they may believe just what we believe. Wherefore neither do the heretics belong to the Church catholic, which loves God; nor do the schismatics form a part of the same, inasmuch as it loves the neighbor, and consequently readily forgives the neighbor’s sins, because it prays that forgiveness may be extended to itself by Him who has reconciled us to Himself, doing away with all past things, and calling us to a new life. And until we reach the perfection of this new life, we cannot be without sins. Nevertheless it is a matter of consequence of what sort those sins may be. (Of Faith and the Creed, 10)

    It is in his writings against the Donatists, in my opinion, that St. Augustine’s understanding of the Church’s catholicity is made most evident. Because of time limitations I have not quoted here from his work “On Baptism: Against the Donatists,” there too you will find him describing the catholicity of the Church, against the Donatist schism.

    In one of his sermons, he describes catholicity over and against the Donatists, in this way:

    Christ is therefore the Bridegroom of the Church proclaimed in all nations, propogated and extended to the ends of the earth, beginning with Jerusalem. Of such a Church Christ is the Bridegroom. And you, what do you think? Of whom is Christ the Bridegroom? The Donatists? No, a million times no! … Let us consider the marriage, let us read the contract, and let us not argue. If you think that Christ is the spouse of the Donatist sect, I will reread the contract, and I will see that it is the Church, which is dispersed throughout all the earth. (Sermon 183.11)

    Another work of St. Augustine’s, against the Donatists is titled “Answer to Petilian the Donatist,” which is composed of three books. Here are some quotations from Book 1 of that work, pertaining to the catholicity of the Church

    If they [i.e. the Donatists], on the other hand, abstain from charging us with the sins of other men, they have nothing they can lay to our charge, and therefore they are wholly unable to defend themselves from the charge of schism; because it is by a wicked severance that they have separated themselves from the threshing-floor of the Lord, and from the innocent company of the grain that is growing throughout the world, on account of charges which either are false, and invented by themselves, or even if true, involve the chaff alone. (Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Bk. 1, c. 25)

    Here are some quotations from Book 2 of that same work, all pertaining to the catholicity of the Church:

    Therefore those are the sons of the devil who slay men by withdrawing them from the Church. But as by the words of God we know what was the situation of Paradise, so now by the words of Christ we have learned where the Church is to be found: “Throughout all nations,” He says, “beginning at Jerusalem.” Whosoever, therefore, separates a man from that complete whole to place him in any single part, is proved to be a son of the devil and a murderer. But see, further, what is the application of the expression which you yourself employed in saying of the devil, “He was a slanderer, and abode not in the truth.” For you bring an accusation against the whole world on account of the sins of others, though even those others themselves you were more able to accuse than to convict; and you abode not in the truth of Christ. For He says that the Church is “throughout all nations, beginning at Jerusalem;” but you say that it is in the party of Donatus. …

    The prophet says, “All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord.” Behold and see how this is being done, how it is being fulfilled. But you not only close your ears in disbelief against what is said, but you even thrust out your tongues in madness to speak against what is already being done. Abraham heard the promise, “In your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed,” (Genesis 22:18) and “he believed, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” (Romans 4:3) … But what time would suffice me to collect from all the prophets all the testimonies to the Church dispersed throughout the world, all of which you endeavor to destroy and render nought by contradicting them? But you are caught; for “their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words to the end of the world.” I will, however, advance this one saying from the mouth of the Lord, who is the Witness of witnesses. “All things must be fulfilled,” He says, “which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me.” And what these were let us hear from Himself: “Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures, and said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” (Luke 24:44-47) See what it is that is written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning the Lord. See what the Lord Himself revealed about Himself and about the Church, making Himself manifest, uttering promises about the Church. …

    But if nothing is more true than that which Christ said, that His Church should be throughout all nations, beginning at Jerusalem, then there is nothing more false than that which you say, that it is in the party of Donatus. … See then if your feet are not swift to shed blood, when you cut off men from the unity of the whole world, if you were right in saying it of the followers of Maximianus, because they cut off some from the party of Donatus. Are we again without the knowledge of the way of peace, who study to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? And yet do you possess that knowledge, who resist the discourse which Christ held with His disciples after His resurrection, of so peaceful a nature that He began it with the greeting, “Peace be unto you;” and that so strenuously that you are proved to be saying nothing less to Him than this, “What Thou said of the unity of all nations is false; what we say of the offense of all nations is true”? Who would say such things as this if they had the fear of God before their eyes? See, therefore, if in daily saying things like this you are not trying to destroy the people of God dispersed throughout the world, eating them up as it were bread. …

    But if you should ask of me by what fruits we know you rather to be ravening wolves, I bring against you the charge of schism, which you will deny, but which I will straightway go on to prove; for, as a matter of fact, you do not communicate with all the nations of the earth, nor with those Churches which were founded by the labor of the apostles. … Now that voice will sound in my ears which the Lord showed was to be avoided in the false prophets who made a show of their several parties, and strove to estrange men from the Catholic Church, “Lo, here is Christ, or there.” But do you think that the true sheep of Christ are so utterly destitute of sense, who are told, “Believe it not,” Matthew 24:23 that they will hearken to the wolf when he says, “Lo, here is Christ,” and will not hearken to the Shepherd when He says, “Throughout all nations, beginning at Jerusalem?” …

    It remains, therefore, that we should acknowledge that there is no other question requiring solution, except whether you have been pious or impious in separating yourselves from the communion of the whole world. …

    Tell us rather yourself when the power of baptizing was lost by the whole world through which is dispersed the inheritance of Christ, and by all that multitude of nations in which the apostles founded the Churches. You will never be able to tell us—not only because you have calumniated them, and do not prove them to be traditors, but because, even if you did prove this, yet no guilt on the part of any evil-doers, whether they be unsuspected, or deceitful, or be tolerated as the tares or as the chaff, can possibly overthrow the promises, so that all the nations of the earth should not be blessed in the seed of Abraham; in which promises you deprive them of their share when you will not have the communion of unity with all nations of the earth. (Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Bk. 2, c. 13,14, 15, 16, 19, 31)

    And in Book 3 of this same work, he also writes of the Church’s catholicity:

    For if you cling most firmly to what I urge on you with all my might, that every one is cursed who places his trust in man, so that none should make his boast of man, then you will in no wise desert the threshing-floor of the Lord on account of the chaff which either is now being dispersed beneath the blast of the wind of pride, or will be separated by the final winnowing; Matthew 3:12 nor will you fly from the great house on account of the vessels made to dishonor; 2 Timothy 2:20 nor will you quit the net through the breaches made in it because of the bad fish which are to be separated on the shore; Matthew 13:47-48 nor will you leave the good pastures of unity, because of the goats which are to be placed on the left when the Good Shepherd shall divide the flock; Matthew 25:32-33 nor will you separate yourselves by an impious secession, because of the mixture of the tares, from the society of that good wheat, whose source is that grain that dies and is multiplied thereby, and that grows together throughout the world until the harvest. For the field is the world—not only Africa; and the harvest is the end of the world, Matthew 13:24-40 — not the era of Donatus. …

    For the greatest palm of toleration is won by those who, among false brethren that have crept in unawares, seeking their own, and not the things of Jesus Christ, yet show that they on their part seek not to disturb the love which is not their own, but Jesus Christ’s, by any turbulent or rash dissension, nor to break the unity of the Lord’s net, in which are gathered together fish of every kind; till it is drawn to the shore, that is, till the end of time, by any wicked strife fostered in the spirit of pride: while each might think himself to be something, being really nothing, and so might lead himself astray, and wish that sufficient reason might be found for the separation of Christian peoples in the judgment of himself or of his friends, who declare that they know beyond all question certain wicked men unworthy of communion in the sacraments of the Christian religion: though whatever it may be that they know of them, they cannot persuade the universal Church, which, as it was foretold, is spread abroad throughout all nations, to give credit to their tale. And when they refuse communion with these men, as men whose character they know, they desert the unity of the Church; whereas they ought rather, if there really were in them that charity which endures all things, themselves to bear what they know in one nation, lest they should separate themselves from the good whom they were unable throughout all nations to fill with the teaching of evil alien to them. (Answer to Petilian the Donatist, Bk. 3, c. 2,3)

    In Letter 93 [in AD 408] he writes to a person named Vincent:

    You [Vincent] imagine you are saying something clever when you derive the name Catholic, not from its universal membership in the world, but from the observance of all divine commands and all the sacraments, as if we rely on the meaning of the word to prove that the Church is world-wide, and not rather on the promise of God, and on so many and such clear pronouncements of truth itself. Yet it does happen that the Church is called Catholic too, because it embraces all truth, and there are even some fragments of this truth to be found in different heresies. (Letter 93)

    In another work, he writes something well known to many:

    For in the Catholic Church … there are many other things which most justly keep me in her bosom. The consent of the peoples and nations keeps me in the Church; so does her authority, inaugurated by miracles, nourished by hope, enlarged by love, established by age. The succession of priests keeps me, beginning from the very seat of the Apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after His resurrection, gave it in charge to feed His sheep, down to the present episcopate. And so, lastly, does the name itself of Catholic, which, not without reason, amid so many heresies, the Church has thus retained; so that, though all heretics wish to be called Catholics, yet when a stranger asks where the Catholic Church meets, no heretic will venture to point to his own chapel or house. (Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental, 4)

    Again, the name ‘Catholic’ is important evidence, to St. Augustine; it is important because not only does it show continuity with the Catholic Church of the first centuries, but it shows which body is and has always been seen to be the universal Church. Heretics cannot successfully refer to their sects as ‘catholic’ because it simply doesn’t work; the name Catholic has always already been taken (in the usage of the public), such that it already refers to the Catholic Church. And so heresies have to use some other name, in order to distinguish themselves from the Catholic Church.

    Four years after the death of St. Augustine, and three years after the third ecumenical council, St. Vincent of Lérins (AD 434) wrote his Commonitory, in which he goes into detail concerning the catholicity of the Church. I have written about that in “The Commonitory of St. Vincent of Lérins,” so I won’t repeat that material here. But there St. Vincent explains another aspect of catholicity, namely, catholicity of the faith — universally believed in the Church at one time, and through all time since Pentecost, but not so as to prohibit development and deepening in her understanding of that one faith.

    Another aspect of the Church’s catholicity, which follows from her geographical/missional universality, is her capacity to receive whatever is true and good and beautiful in any culture, and to incorporate that people with their culture into the Catholic Church, while preserving whatever is good and true and beautiful in their culture. This facilitates the spread of the Church around the world, because it is an expression of the fundamental Catholic principle that grace does not destroy nature, but perfects it, just as Christ’s incarnation did not destroy His human nature, but perfected it.

    Another aspect of the Church’s catholicity is her that her mission is not just to every man, but also to the whole of man. Karl Adam writes:

    her comprehensive affirmation of the whole man, of human nature in its completeness, of the body as well as the soul, of the senses as well as the intellect. The mission of the Church is to the entire man. According to the teaching of the Church — as that was formulated at Trent against the Lutheran conception — original sin by no means destroyed the natural structure of man’s being, nor is it synonymous with what St. Paul calls the law of our members, that is with concupiscence. It is true that the understanding is darkened by it and the will weakened; but these effects are not the direct and immediate consequences of original sin. They are the direct results of the loss of our original, supernatural union of life and love with God, whereby we were in our whole being diverted from our original, supernatural end. Consequently the natural structure of our being remains fundamentally unimpaired. Though original sin brought a weakening of nature, it did not bring as well a physical deterioration or corruption of our bodily and mental powers. (The Spirit of Catholicism, Chapter 9 “The Catholicity of the Church”)

    In this way, we see the Catholic Church throughout the world addressing not only the needs of man’s soul, but also man’s body, family, society, environment, and labor. See the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. The Church’s catholicity is, in this way, expressed in all the Catholic hospitals throughout the world, the Catholic schools, the Catholic orphanages and Catholic Charities. (Hit ‘refresh’ if the video below doesn’t load the first time.)

    EPIC :120 English from Catholics Come Home on Vimeo.

    If “one, holy, catholic and apostolic” are the true marks of the Church, then necessarily (a) only one body can have all four marks, and necessarily (b) one and the same body must have all four marks, from the day of Pentecost until Christ returns, and (c) some body must now have all four marks. And if that is to be clear to all the nations, as the city set on the hill, then this points to the Catholic Church being that Church.

    Let’s look together at some of what you said. You wrote:

    this statement of yours defeats your argument.

    Actually, it does not. The fact that the Church was born on Pentecost, and on that day existed only in Jerusalem) is fully compatible with it being true that the catholicity of the Church is revealed in her universal diffusion as she grows. We should expect the Church born on Pentecost, since she is truly catholic, to spread diffusely all over the world, more than any other sect or schism.

    I also find your argument of the spread of Roman Catholicism globally to be unfair to the Orthodox as it ignores historical/political/economic factors.

    I’m not ignoring those factors; the catholicity of the Church is revealed in spite of those factors. Those factors cannot remove or squelch the catholicity of the Church. In fact, the more opposition, the more the Church grows, and the more her catholicity is manifest. God’s providence is not subtracted or overcome by historical/political/economic factors, but even works through them.

    Further more it is precisely the nationalized quality of the Roman Church which contributes to its global spread. The Latin West enjoyed considerable more freedom, wealth, and political power over the last millennia in comparison to the East. Western European powers’ ability to politically/militarily subdue other nations and lands is directly related to the spread of Roman Catholicism. For many of these powers, the national religion was Roman Catholicism.

    What you are referring to as “the nationalized quality of the Roman Church” is not a quality of the Catholic Church, but of some of the nation States in which the Catholic Church has flourished. So it is not accurate to refer to it as a quality of the Church. The Eastern Orthodox Churches have been nationalized in the sense of being subject to the State, such that the State appoints or need approve their leaders, or is thought necessary to call their councils. This is also called Erastianism, or caesaro-papism. But the Catholic Church has always rejected Erastianism, because it is an implicit denial of the deity of Christ. Soloviev writes:

    “The fundamental truth and distinctive idea of Christianity is the perfect union of the divine and the human individually achieved in Christ, and finding its social realization in Christian humanity, in which the divine is represented by the Church, centered in the supreme pontiff, and the human by the state. This intimate relation between Church and state implies the primacy of the former, since the divine is previous in time and superior in being to the human. Heresy attacked the perfect unity of the divine and the human in Jesus Christ precisely in order to undermine the living bond between Church and state, and to confer upon the latter an absolute independence.” (The Russian Church and the Papacy, p. 25)

    You wrote:

    However due to the same factors of emigration and integration, the Orthodox can now be found nearly everywhere.

    That’s true, but that doesn’t mean that catholicity is the same. First, there are approximately 1.2 billion Catholics, to roughly 300 million Orthodox. There are about 2.2 billion Christians in the world; and roughly half of them are Catholic. That is what we would expect if the Catholic Church is the city set on the hill, the Church over the gates of hell will not prevail, the kingdom prophesied in Daniel 2, and the tree that starts smaller than all other seeds but grows up to be larger than the other plants, and receives birds of the air into its branches (Mt. 13:32, Mk 4:32, Lk. 13:19). Second, Orthodox Churches, even when they are transported by immigration, tend to preserve the culture and language from which they come, such these Churches tend quite often to be composed mostly of a singular ethnic group, retaining the language of that ethnicity. So the Russian Orthodox bring Russian Orthodox churches to the countries into which they immigrate, and the Greek Orthodox bring Greek Orthodox churches to the countries to which they immigrate. And so on. And in that sense, they show that they are not catholic.

    Because catholicity refers to the universality of the Church’s diffusion in the world, and it is a mark of the Church, it must be visible. That is, catholicity must be visible. The one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church must as it grows spread throughout the whole world, such that it is visibly universal, and not limited to certain geographical areas or ethnicities or cultures.

    Lastly, your insistence that the Roman Church is catholic because its still bears the moniker of “Catholic” is hardly a solid argument. Should I then suppose that she is not “Orthodox”? Or perhaps she is not “Evangelical”?

    Just because the Catholic Church bears the name Catholic, it wouldn’t follow that she is neither orthodox nor evangelical. Two things can be true of something at the same time. Nevertheless, I think you are far too quick to dismiss the evidential significance of the Catholic Church being referred to by the whole world as “the Catholic Church.” I explained the reason above, because one of the first quotations I cited from St. Augustine made use of this very fact. Also, our own Sean Patrick wrote a post about this earlier this year, in which he did his own experiment. See his post titled “Where is the Catholic Church?

    Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote about this as well, when a friend of his loaned him an article containing the phrase from St. Augustine: “Securus judicat orbis terrarum, i.e. the verdict of the world is conclusive. (from Contra Epist. Parmen. III. 24.) The full phrase is: “Quapropter securus judicat orbis terrarum, bonos non esse qui se dividunt ab orbe terrarum, in quacumque parte orbis terrarum, which when translated means, “Wherefore, the entire world judges with security that they are not good, who separate themselves from the entire world, in whatever part of the entire world.” Here’s Newman’s comment:

    St. Augustine in Africa wrote against the Donatists in Africa. They were a furious party who made a schism within the African Church, and not beyond its limits. It was a case of Altar against Altar, of two occupants of the same See, as that between the Non-jurors in England and the Established Church; not the case of one Church against another, as Rome against the Oriental Monophysites. But my friend, an anxiously religious man, now, as then, very dear to me, a Protestant still, pointed out the palmary words of St. Augustine, which were contained in one of the extracts made in the Review, and which had escaped my observation. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum.” He repeated these words again and again, and, when he was gone, they kept ringing in my ears. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum;” they were words which went beyond the occasion of the Donatists: they applied to that of the Monophysites. They gave a cogency to the Article, which had escaped me at first. They decided ecclesiastical questions on a simpler rule than that of Antiquity; nay, St. Augustine was one of the prime oracles of Antiquity; here then Antiquity was deciding against itself. What a light was hereby thrown upon every controversy in the Church! not that, for the moment, the multitude may not falter in their judgment, — not that, in the Arian hurricane, Sees more than can be numbered did not bend before its fury, and fall off from St. Athanasius, — not that the crowd of Oriental Bishops did not need to be sustained during the contest by the voice and the eye of St. Leo; but that the deliberate judgment, in which the whole Church at length rests and acquiesces, is an infallible prescription and a final sentence against such portions of it as protest and secede. Who can account for the impressions which are made on him? For a mere sentence, the words of St. Augustine, struck me with a power which I never had felt from any words before. To take a familiar instance, they were like the “Turn again Whittington” of the chime; or, to take a more serious one, they were like the “Tolle, lege, — Tolle, lege,” of the child, which converted St. Augustine himself. “Securus judicat orbis terrarum!” By those great words of the ancient Father, the theory of the Via Media was absolutely pulverized. (Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Part 5)

    The Anglican via media, as you may know, is the notion of Anglicanism as a middle way, a middle position, between Catholicism on the one hand, and Protestantism on the other. Newman saw that the testimony of the whole Church throughout the world, in each case judges with security that those who have separated from her have erred. In other words, the testimony of the whole Church catholic, is reliable, and it therefore “pulverizes” the Anglican position, which having separated from the Catholic Church and become a national Church (under King Henry VIII) had attempted to justify itself against the whole of the Catholic Church.

    You wrote:

    To argue unity is only legitimately achieved by a singular sovereign (save Christ) is simply not true. To make such a case we would need to return to the concept of the Divine Right of Kings.

    There is a difference between a federation of particular Churches, and one catholic Church having particular Churches as members. Such a federation may have unity in certain respects, say, unity of doctrine, and unity of sacraments, but if it does not have unity of government then it is not a visible unity, just as identical twins who have the same nature and same daily activity are not one, but two. They may have the same nature, and engage in the same type of activity, or even participate together in the same activity, but they are two, not one. Likewise, a federation of Churches remains fundamentally a plurality, not visible unity. Visible unity requires visible hierarchical unity, (see “Christ Founded a Visible Church“). But the agreement of fourteen patriarchs on doctrine and sacraments is not hierarchical unity, for the same reason that the sharing of nature and activity by the identical twins is not hierarchical unity. Agreement on doctrine and sacraments by hierarchs is not hierarchical unity; such agreement can be shared even by hierarchs who are in schism from each other. Nor is intercommunion hierarchical unity, as shown by the case of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. A flock of sheep may have the same nature, and be traveling in the same direction, but if this flock is in actuality the flocks of different shepherds, but they happen to be contiguous, then this flock is not truly one. But Christ teaches that there should be one flock and one shepherd. “and they will become one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

    Every natural plurality needs a unified head, in order to be unified. This is why families have a father as their head. This is why teams have a head coach. This is why Protestant congregations have a head pastor. This is why companies have a CEO. This is why governments have a president. And so on. Likewise, the Church, because she is a visible society, also needs a visible head, in order to have hierarchical unity, and be visibly one.

    Even Metropolitan Kallistos Ware acknowledges that the papacy has a certain primacy. He recognizes that sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum (pastoral care of all the Churches) belongs to the pope by divine right. (See here.) In order to exercise sollicitudo omnium ecclesiarum through the Petrine office, there must be some kind of divinely established jurisdictional authority over all the Churches, established in that Petrine office. If the divinely appointed leader “keeps watch over” those who have been divinely entrusted to him, and will give an account to the Lord for his pastoral stewardship of those divinely placed under his care (Heb 13:17), then he must have divinely established authority over those divinely placed under his care. Otherwise, everyone would have equal “care of all the Churches.” If Christ established Petrine primacy, and gave to it the responsibility of “care for all the Churches” then He also gave some sort of universal authority over all the Churches (i.e. the keys of the whole Kingdom, not merely part of the Kingdom). I could say more, but one of the better Catholic documents explaining how and why this is Satis Cognitum. I recommend studying that document carefully.

    I agree with you that monarchs and kings can be and have been despots, but if Christ gave the keys of the Kingdom to one man (i.e. to St. Peter in Matt. 16), then we can be assured that Christ also provided a charism that protects him from leading the Church into heresy. In other words, we’re not smarter than Jesus, and so we cannot justifiably turn the Church into a democracy, on the basis of Enlightenment political principles, if Christ did not establish the Church as a democracy, but gave the keys of the Kingdom to one man. This requires trust in Christ, in order to trust the form of ecclesiology He established, rather than remake the Church in our own image, according to our own wisdom.

    Mere synodality did not bring unity. To have synodality at the universal level, it is necessary to have a unified visible authority by which true synods are distinguished from false synods. That role in the first millennium belonged to the Apostolic See. It would take us too far off topic in this thread to go through the history of the Church in the first millennium to establish that papal role. If you want to research it further, I recommend the books listed in “The Papacy” section of our “Suggested Reading. St. Augustine wrote the following:

    You know what the Catholic Church is, and what that is cut off from the Vine; if there are any among you cautious, let them come; let them find life in the Root. Come, brethren, if you wish to be engrafted in the Vine: a grief it is when we see you lying thus cut off. Number the Bishops even from the very seat of Peter: and see every succession in that line of Fathers: that is the Rock against which the proud Gates of Hell prevail not. (St. Augustine to the Donatists, AD 393)

    It doesn’t get much clearer than that. By being the Rock of the Church, and thus the principle of visible unity against which schism is defined, the episcopal successor of St. Peter at Rome makes possible the catholicity which is supernatural — supernatural because Babel cannot be reversed by any mere man, for each man is himself subject to the judgment God rendered at the Tower of Babel. Any man who sets himself up to be the next Nimrod, and assemble the next “united nations,” only brings further war and division. (This is the type of the Antichrist.) And likewise, when each man functions as his own authority, we see the fragmentation readily apparent throughout the history of Protestantism. Only if God Himself chose a man, and gave to him the keys of the Kingdom, could such a man truly be that by which Babel is reversed, and the City of God, which is the Church, be truly catholic — that mountain to which all the nations stream. For more on what the Church Fathers taught about the role and authority of the Chair of St. Peter in Rome, see “The Chair of St. Peter.”

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

  22. One step closer,

    Drive-In Churches


    Aaron G.

  23. In an article in today’s USA Today titled “More Americans tailoring religion to fit their needs,” the author cites George Barna:

    The folks who make up God as they go are side-by-side with self-proclaimed believers who claim the Christian label but shed their ties to traditional beliefs and practices. Religion statistics expert George Barna says, with a wry hint of exaggeration, America is headed for “310 million people with 310 million religions.”

    “We are a designer society. We want everything customized to our personal needs — our clothing, our food, our education,” he says. Now it’s our religion.

    Our time urgently needs the truth concerning the fundamental error of ecclesial consumerism, and its only remedy, which I have described in that article. Otherwise, possibly within a generation, much of what was [Protestant] Christianity will be a burned-over post-Christian sector of society. Me-and-my-personalized religion ends with my death. It is not the city set on a hill; it is not a society, it is not the truth; it cannot endure. Only that religion where each individual is not his own interpretive authority, where God bids us all come and die to ourselves, to submit to the magisterial authority Christ Himself established on earth, to believe and profess all that the Church believes, teaches, and proclaims to be revealed by God, can survive the vicissitudes of religious fashions in an age of ecclesial narcissism, until Christ returns.

  24. Well said, Bryan.

  25. In “Where Have all the Presbyterians Gone?” Russell Moore, dean of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY, writes:

    Are we witnessing the death of America’s Christian denominations? Studies conducted by secular and Christian organizations indicate that we are. Fewer and fewer American Christians, especially Protestants, strongly identify with a particular religious communion—Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal, etc. According to the Baylor Survey on Religion, nondenominational churches now represent the second largest group of Protestant churches in America, and they are also the fastest growing.

    More and more Christians choose a church not on the basis of its denomination, but on the basis of more practical matters. Is the nursery easy to find? Do I like the music? Are there support groups for those grappling with addiction?

    UPDATE: See also David French’s “Evangelicals’ Collapsing Cultural Influence.”

  26. Church on Facebook, it was only a matter of time:

    Why we’re doing church on Facebook tonight.


    Aaron G.

  27. From the article by Terry Johnson:

    This is also how we have ended up with “cowboy churches” (reported in USA Today and later by “Christianity Today without comment and with a straight face), hip-hop churches, rock ‘n’ roll churches, jazz churches, and so on. Oh, by the way, now there are two kinds of cowboy churches, rural and urban—the regular kind apparently not being demographically specific enough. This is the reductio ad absurdum of the homogenous church philosophy. We might call it the “ipodization” of Christian ministry, as the demographic target is narrowed down finally to each individual, headset firmly on his ears, dialing up exactly the music, readings, sermon, and prayers that he needs.

    I feel this mans pain! It is sad to see this collapse. But of course as a Catholic I hope the collapse will lead not to a loss of Christian faith for people, but to a plumper Catholic Church. Reading his frustration with the “ipodization” made me think of the new missal coming out soon. For all the complaints Catholics can have about liturgy abuses/music etc, we still are holding firm compared to these colapsing sections of evangelicalism that will soon be simply disappearing. Just the fact that changing “and also with you” to “and with your spirit” is still a big deal to us is a great comfort to me.

  28. “Your Podcast Is Not Your Pastor”


  29. Very well-written article.
    It amazes me how many baby boomer “Reformed” or “Presbyterian” pastors are rejecting Evangelicalism and adopting the views of the Catholic Church on Authority and the church’s relation to salvation..

  30. Mohler: The very next essay in this book you write about the end of Protestantism and that leads me to ask a very personal question: as an American evangelical Christian, do you think that Evangelicalism is in many ways the quintessential representation of the American faith and do you think that even as you write about the church in general – I actually don’t want to put a message in your mouth, I’d rather here it from you, but I get the impression that when you look at American Christianity in general, and American Evangelicalism in particular, you appear to see a church that is looking less and less like the church.

    Hauerwas: That’s true. I have great admiration for evangelicals for no other reason than they just bring such great energy to the faith and I admire that. But one of the great problems of Evangelical life in America is evangelicals think they have a relationship with God that they go to church to have expressed but church is a secondary phenomenon to their personal relationship and I think that’s to get it exactly backwards: that the Christian faith is meditated faith. It only comes through the witness of others as embodied in the church. So I should never trust my presumption that I know what my relationship with God is separate from how that is expressed through words and sacrament in the church. So evangelicals, I’m afraid, often times, with what appears to be very conservative religious convictions, make the church a secondary phenomenon to their assumed faith and I think that’s making it very hard to maintain disciplined congregations.

    Mohler: I have to tell you that one of the statements in one of your books that aggravated me was a statement in which you said that conservative evangelicals should read this book, but they won’t because they don’t read this kind of book. Actually, it aggravated me because I was reading it at the time. But I understood the point you were making, and I want to come back and just press you on this just a bit because, as an evangelical concerned with many of the same things, I just want to come back and ask: When you look at evangelicalism and you look at evangelical churches, what do you see as the particular moment that now presents us with a completely different set of challenges? In other words, be a prophet for a moment. You can do that. In other words, where is evangelicalism going to be given the increasing secularization and the hyper-modernity of our culture?

    Hauerwas: I think evangelicalism is destined to die of its own success and it will go the way of mainstream Protestantism because there’s just—it depends far too much on charismatic pastors, and charisma will only take you so far. Evangelicalism is constantly under the burden of re-inventing the wheel and you just get tired. For example, I’m a big advocate of Morning Prayer. I love Morning Prayer. We do the same thing every morning. We don’t have to make it up. We know we’re going to say these prayers. We know we’re going to join in reading of the psalm. We’re going to have these Scripture readings. I mean, there’s much to be said for Christianity as repetition and I think evangelicalism doesn’t have enough repetition in a way that will form Christians to survive in a world that constantly tempts us to always think we have to do something new.

    Source: “Transcript: Nearing the End – A Conversation with Theologian Stanley Hauerwas

  31. At First Things, Owen Strachan and Andrew Walker write the following in an article titled “The Church is Wrong:”

    But the new progressives have an authority problem. Whether their own family members or martyred apostles, they show no hesitation in correcting those who would—and should—teach them. They do so, furthermore, with precious little confessional and congregational accountability. Ecclesial accountability—though no fail-safe—is given us for our good. Beware Greeks bearing bonds, you might say, and bloggers without churches.

    Strachan and Walker seemingly don’t realize that the “authority problem” to which they refer is intrinsic to every tradition chosen on the basis of its agreement with one’s own interpretation of Scripture, as explained in the post at the top of this page. These “new progressives” are simply making more explicit what has been implicit since the sixteenth century.

  32. Today, in his General Audience, Pope Francis said this:

    In the Church there is no “do it yourself”, there are no “free agents”. How many times did Pope Benedict “describe the Church as an ecclesial ‘we’”! At times one hears someone say: “I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t care about the Church…”. How many times have we heard this? And this is not good. There are those who believe they can maintain a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside the communion and the mediation of the Church. These are dangerous and harmful temptations. These are, as the great Paul VI said, absurd dichotomies. It is true that walking together is challenging, and at times can be tiring: it can happen that some brother or some sister creates difficulties, or shocks us…. But the Lord entrusted his message of salvation to a few human beings, to us all, to a few witnesses; and it is in our brothers and in our sisters, with their gifts and limitations, that he comes to meet us and make himself known. And this is what it means to belong to the Church. Remember this well: to be Christian means belonging to the Church. The first name is “Christian”, the last name is “belonging to the Church”. (General Audience, June 25, 2014)

    By contrast, in March of this year (2014), Barna shows this:

    What, if anything, helps Americans grow in their faith? When Barna Group asked, people offered a variety of answers—prayer, family or friends, reading the Bible, having children—but church did not even crack the top-10 list.

    Although church involvement was once a cornerstone of American life, U.S. adults today are evenly divided on the importance of attending church. While half (49%) say it is “somewhat” or “very” important, the other 51% say it is “not too” or “not at all” important. The divide between the religiously active and those resistant to churchgoing impacts American culture, morality, politics and religion.

    Looking to future generations does not paint an optimistic picture for the importance of churchgoing. Millennials (those 30 and under) stand out as least likely to value church attendance; only two in 10 believe it is important. And more than one-third of Millennial young adults (35%) take an anti-church stance.

    Six years ago, I contrasted the gnostic conception of Church and the sacramental conception of Church here.

  33. Terry Johnson gets the following exactly right:

    It must be that the church that Jesus envisions has standards of belief and conduct, membership from which one may be excluded, a process of discipline, a form of government, meetings at which a matter may be told, and officers who facilitate the whole. Jesus speaks in these two passages of the keys of the kingdom of heaven and the power of binding and loosing (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). The church that Jesus envisions has concrete existence. It is an organization. It is an institution.

    From “Jesus and the Church” (July 1, 2014)

  34. Bryan, hope you and yours are well (33),

    Mr. Johnson is right about what he says about the church being an institution, but not as you might think. In that passage Jesus is speaking of a local church confined to but one community, for He requires that all in the church who publicly hear the now-confirmed accusations against the offender by the witnesses must themselves go and personally “tell it” to the offender (Mat. 18:17a, cf. v. 15). This local obedience rules out the Roman Catholic Hierarchical institution, or even, a Presbyterian presbytery, or even a session.

    However, Mr. Johnson is extremely wrong that Jesus only said the world “church” 2 times:

    How many times does Jesus mention the church? I’ve asked that question in a number of forums (Reformed University Fellowship, Sunday school, Drug Court Bible Study, the pulpit, and so on), and have received answers ranging from thirty-six to six. Surprise is the typical response when I reveal that Jesus mentions the church, the ekklēsia, only twice.

    See if you can figure out where Jesus, the ascended Lord of the Church, said ecclesia in another 18 places in Holy Scripture.

  35. Ted, (re: #34)

    Mr. Johnson is right about what he says about the church being an institution, but not as you might think. In that passage Jesus is speaking of a local church confined to but one community, for He requires that all in the church who publicly hear the now-confirmed accusations against the offender by the witnesses must themselves go and personally “tell it” to the offender (Mat. 18:17a, cf. v. 15).

    Nowhere in the passage (Mt 18) does it say or entail that all in the local Church who publicly hear the accusations by the witnesses must themselves go and tell it to the offender. Nor must the witnesses tell the offense to everyone in the local Church. Nor has any Church Father ever taught such. (Hence you’re digging your ecclesial deism hole deeper.) In fact, the notion that every person who hears the accusation by the witnesses must go to the defender is a reductio ad absurdum of your anti-hierarchical ecclesiology. The better explanation of Matt 18:17b, and the one that has actually been practiced in Church history, is that at this stage of the attempt at reconciliation, the priest or bishop goes to the offender. The priest and bishop represent the Church, and speak for the Church in this capacity, as the ones to whom the members are to submit and obey (Heb 13:17). This is why “tell it to the Church” does not mean, and has never been understood to mean, “tell it to every member of the local Church.” It has always been understood to mean that the priest or bishop is to be told.

    Yes, “tell it to the Church” in Matt 18:17 means “tell it to the *local* Church.” But that does not imply or entail that this local Church is not part of the catholic Church Christ founded, which is “catholic,” for all the reasons I’ve laid out in comments #17 and #21 above, or that the resulting discipline is not an action of the universal Church. Your notion that “the Church” here in Matt 18 cannot be the universal Church presupposes that the local church cannot be part of the universal Church. And that presupposition begs the question, because it presupposes precisely what is in question. Tom Brown and I have explained at the link in my previous comment precisely why excommunication is intelligible as a discipline only if the local Church is part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church Christ founded.

    However, Mr. Johnson is extremely wrong that Jesus only said the world “church” 2 times:

    I agree. But that’s not in the part I quoted approvingly.

    See if you can figure out where Jesus, the ascended Lord of the Church, said ecclesia in another 18 places in Holy Scripture.

    We’ve already been through this before here Ted, in comment #349 of the “Ecclesial Deism.” thread. And I’ve discussed in some detail (in comments #263-355 of that thread) your argument related to those other references. I see no need to go through that argument again.

    In the peace of Christ,

    – Bryan

Leave Comment

Subscribe without commenting