If Christians are all following Christ, why we don’t we all agree about: How we are saved? Who can be saved? Baptism? Communion? The Atonement? What the Word of God is? These are not “non-essentials” of the Christian faith. They are foundational to the Christian faith.
I’ve heard many Christians say, “Doctrine doesn’t matter. All that matters is my personal relationship with Jesus.”. But that’s not what Jesus said.
For example, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life within you.” When Jesus says something is crucial to life or eternal life, wouldn’t we expect him to give us a way to know with certainty what he meant?
The understanding of what Jesus meant was unanimously understood and accepted among all of the very first Christians and all of the church fathers up until the time of the reformation when the reformers separated themselves from the church that Christ gave his authority to came up with their own interpretations. Yes, that’s plural. They departed from 1500 years of church belief claiming to have “rediscovered” the truth and couldn’t even agree with each other on communion.
Jesus commanded that we take disputes “to the church”. Which church would that be? Do we take it to the church of our choosing? Jesus had given his apostles the authority to speak for him and said , “whoever hears you, hears me and whoever rejects you rejects me”. Which church has authority when there is a church split?
Here’s a picture of downtown Tulsa. Its not a large city.
I just did a quick search and there were over 70 churches listed in the downtown Tulsa vicinity alone. I’m not just talking different church buildings. I am talking different churches with different beliefs about the things mentioned above like how we are saved, communion, etc.
This picture is of just a few of the large mainline denominations that are downtown-within sight of each other. There are also dozens and dozens of smaller churches that all interpret scripture differently.
Where is the ONE church that Jesus spoke of? Where is the Unity Jesus prayed for? Each claims to follow Jesus. But, as this chart shows, that people pick denominations based on their own personal beliefs, not on what Jesus said:
The idea that Christians can choose the church which they think is right for them was unknown to early Christians. All of the church fathers submitted to the authority of the one church.
A friend of mine attended a weekend charismatic conference where two different speakers received a ‘word from the Lord’ on two different days. Both of them proclaimed, “The Holy Spirit is saying “x”‘. The problem is, Pastor 1’s statement was in direct contradiction to Pastor 2’s statement. The Holy Spirit can’t lie or contradict himself. That night, my friend recognized that his faith tradition was not equipped to safeguard the truth. His faith tradition had many good things to offer but it taught some truth and some error. Paul wrote, I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
Jesus Prayed For Unity. So Why Won’t We Honor His Request?
Division among Christians has profound consequences. Jesus prayed that we would be One. He asked the Father for us to ” be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.
Let that sink in. Our unity shows the the world what? That God sent Jesus , and loves them.
We are quick to tell the world, “for God so loved the world, that he sent his only begotten Son”, but we are not doing the thing that Jesus prayed would show the world that He loves them!
But, what about, “They will know we are Christians by our love”? Truly, without love, we are nothing. Love is essential. Our love for each other tells the world who we are.
But, the way the world will know that God loves them and sent Jesus for them is by our unity. Both love and unity are essential! They see our love and know we follow Jesus. They see our unity and know Jesus loves them.
What does it say to the world that Christianity has so many denominations and para-denominations that all believe something different? What does it say when Christ followers minimize Jesus explicit commands?
“Astonishingly, two of the things that Jesus explicitly tells us to do are minimized and/or redefined to be “symbolic” by most Protestants. How can this be among people who claim to be Jesus followers? Its a scandal that Christians are divided when Jesus prayed that we would be one.
How can a people who profess to base their faith on Scripture alone ignore the very things — in fact, some of the only things — that Jesus told us explicitly to do?”
… Compared to the rest of His teaching in the Gospels, Jesus gave us few direct, unambiguous commands. Among them are some of the last words he gave us before departing this earth: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mark 28:19) — an explicit imperative to baptize — and His words at the Last Supper: “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (Luke 22:19).
Baptism and the Eucharist are the only two of the Seven Sacraments that Evangelical Protestants have preserved in any form — but even these are relegated to the status of marginal, symbolic acts in very many cases.
One would think that the Apostles and the Early Church would place great emphasis on these things. And in fact they did: they were the very basis of early Christian worship, as St. Justin testifies. –Whatever Happened to the Eucharist?
I began to wonder… Why are there only 2 sacraments in my Protestant churches compared to 7 in the Catholic church? And why do churches disagree about what they mean? So I delved into history.
To Go Deep In History is to Cease to be Protestant
As I shared in my first post I went deep in history, reading original sources, and discovered that Jesus started a church and that Church alone has the fullness of the Christian faith. While other churches offer great things and there are many holy people within them who love and are fully committed to our Lord Jesus Christ, there is only one church that has Jesus authority to teach the truth with no error.
I had so many preconceived ideas about the Catholic Church that discovery took me completely by surprise. I had known “bad” Catholics who didn’t live out their faith. I had heard how boring the mass could be from friend who grew up Catholic. I had heard how dead and empty the rituals were compared to the vibrant “spirit-led” church services. I had been on board to help start a “biblical” Protestant church to take the place of the “dead” Catholic church in our fishing village in Mexico.
I remember the day a Catholic friend told me about Scott Hahn, a reformed Protestant minister that converted to Catholicism. I figured he didn’t know what “former” Catholics say about throwing off the chains of tradition and ritual in exchange for an “alive” church. I figured he didn’t know about all the “unbiblical” doctrines the Catholic church teaches. It turns out I was the one who who was wrong.
Scott recounts the first time he attended a mass to see what it was all about. He slunk down in the back row and was prepared to critique it. First, he was taken back that the mass is soaked in scripture. What?? Aren’t Catholics supposed to be illiterate when it comes to the bible? Why did their liturgy have more bible readings than a Protestant service??
Second, because he was a scholar of Revelation, he began to recognize that the liturgy, the vestments, the candles, the Alleluia, the Amen, the wine, the Lamb of God, etc. came straight out of the book of Revelation. He began to realize that the mass is actually a participation in the liturgy of Heaven! Whoa. Something Holy, something that transcends time and space was going on. The rest of his story can be read in
. Raise your hand if you don’t want to participate in what is going on in Heaven here on earth. I didn’t think so.
This chart shows all the verses that relate in the mass.
When my husband and I became Catholic, most of our Protestant friends and family assumed it was because Catholicism was appealing to us. I get it. Protestants are used to choosing a church that aligns with their personal preferences and beliefs. So, it makes sense that people would assume that we just found a church that appealed to us.
But that wasn’t the case.
We weren’t drawn to Catholicism because it was appealing. In fact, I was so anti-Catholic that I told my husband at one point of our journey , “Anything but Catholic! Orthodox maybe. Possibly even Anglican. Just. not. Catholic.” Shows how much I knew. Thankfully, God didn’t let me have my way!
We didn’t convert because it was easy. It wasn’t.
We didn’t start attending the Catholic church for social reasons. For the first year we attended mass, we had no friends in the church. (We did know one person who had recently converted, but he attended a different parish). We weren’t Catholic yet but we we weren’t attending our former church so we were in the lonely place that exists between 2 worlds. Our friends and family didn’t understand and it caused a lot of heartache.
We weren’t drawn to the Church because we were attracted to the “style of worship”. The liturgy was unfamiliar to us. Like many cradle Catholics who go through the motions every week, with no knowledge of what the mass is really about, we weren’t tuned in (yet) to the profound and glorious mystery that we were participating in. We felt awkward not knowing when to sit and stand what to say and when, or what different motions mean.
So, Why Did I Become Catholic??
The short answer is what G. K. Chesterton said,
The difficulty of explaining “why I am a Catholic” is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen once said,
Not 100 people in the United States hate the Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Catholic Church is.
That was me. That was my family. We had no idea what the Catholic Church really is. We only knew a gross caricature of it. And sadly, some Catholics also only know a caricature of it. The good news is that many of them are learning more about their faith, returning to the church and falling in love with it!
As I wrote before, finding the truth was not an easy journey. As a Protestant who was convinced the Catholic church had corrupted the true gospel, worshipped Mary, wouldn’t allow people to read the bible and had invented man-made traditions and empty rituals, I believed that any true believers in the Catholic church who had a relationship with Jesus did so in spite of the Church. I thought that they were really Protestants at heart-they just didn’t know it. I thought they would be better off worshipping in a church that had thrown off the baggage the Catholic church had picked up over the years.
After my husband and 2 of our children learned what the Catholic Church really is we went through RCIA and came into full communion with Christ and his Church at the Easter Vigil in 2014. It was wonderful! I couldn’t wait to tell our friends and family about what we had discovered! I wanted to explain how we had learned about the myths and lies about the Catholic faith weren’t true and they were keeping us from full communion with our Lord and Savior. I wanted all my family and friends to experience full communion too!
But most people didn’t even ask. Of those who did, most were simply asking out of a polite curiosity, not really wanting more than a fill-in-the-blank answer. There was a learning curve in reading how much people really wanted to know. Often I said way too much. Like turning on a firehose when someone asked for a drink. Some people were hurt and offended.
Other people were sure we had gone off the rails from the historic Christian faith and were concerned for our souls.
There were quite a few in the “whatever floats your boat is good as long as you love Jesus” crowd. They weren’t interested, but they weren’t judging either.
There were the few dear friends who said, “I know you and I know how you research and if you have studied it, then I want to hear more” who were each lights of grace on a hard and lonely journey.
Its not as lonely now. I still long to share the beauty of loving Jesus in His Church with those closest to me, but I found its better to just live it out and let God work in his timing.
I hope it is clear by now, that we can’t have Jesus without his Church. We can’t have the King without his Kingdom.
Many Christians today seem to be content serving a god that requires no religion, no authority to submit to other than their own experience or their own interpretation of scripture.
But Jesus left us an authority to submit to. Jesus prayed that we would be One. Paul said that we are to be of one mind with no divisions between us.
Wouldn’t it be great if we can come together and honor his request after 500 years of anarchy and division? Wouldn’t it be great if all Christians everywhere were in full communion with each other and with the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church?
We have a common creed. Let’s come together in unity in the Church. “The fact that he’s a King means he reigns over our lives and hearts and wills and minds”. Let’s do it, so that the world will know. Let’s set the world on fire for Christ the Lamb, Lion and King.
I can’t begin to express what I have discovered in His church and after two years and I can honestly say I will not be able to fathom the riches offered within in a lifetime. My heart is to have all the people experience those same riches and to receive Christ himself, body, blood, soul and divinity in the Eucharist. So I invite you to check it out for yourself. To come to mass with me. To ask questions, present challenges-bring me your best arguments and let’s compare notes. I love to answer questions but I promise to not to turn on the firehose. 😉
Come Holy Spirit, Fill the Hearts of your Faithful, and Kindle in them the fire of your Love!
I leave you with this.
Jefferson Bethke’s video “Why I Hate Religion but Love Jesus” obviously expressed how a lot of millennial Christians ‘feel”. People want to hear what resonates with them reflected back to them. But truth isn’t defined by what resonates with us. This priest responds to Jefferson in love, showing how his video fuels atheistic opinions. And you know you want to see a rapping priest…