Catholicism, Protestantism, and Saint Paul’s Vision of the Church

At or near the heart of the Reformation is a debate over Saint Paul, and how we should understand his writings, particularly his statements about justification in his Epistles to the Romans and to the Galatians.  This is an interesting exegetical question, but in my opinion, it overlooks an obvious reality: St. Paul would never have been a Protestant.  His views on the Church simply wouldn’t permit such a thing.

Vincenzo Gemito, The Philosopher [Saint Paul], (1917)

I’ve discussed St. Paul’s views on the Church in the past, but I wanted to focus on a specific passage from Ephesians 4:11-14, in which he writes:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 

There’s a lot to unpack here, but here are six major points that you should take away from the above:

  1. Jesus Christ personally created the Church, which is His Body;
  2. The Church is Apostolic, since Christ Himself gave the Church the Apostles;
  3. This Apostolic Church is structured with various offices and ministries;
  4. These various offices and ministries are all built towards the same end: building up the Body;
  5. We’re all called to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God,” which St. Paul equates with spiritual maturity, and having the fullness of Christ;
  6. When we don’t have have this spiritual maturity, we get “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.
Pietro De Cortana,
Ananias Restoring the Sight of Saint Paul (1631)
Those first five points lay out a positive case for the Church.  The Church isn’t just the set of all believers, however assembled.  It’s a structured Body, and this structure isn’t accident.  Rather, it was put in place by Jesus Christ Himself.
And we, as Christians, are called to total unity in the faith.  That’s a tall order, since it necessarily requires doctrinal unity: if we can’t even agree on the doctrines surrounding Baptism, Communion, justification, and the rest, we’re failing to reach unity in the faith.”  Granted, unity in the faith is much more than doctrinal unity, but it’s certainly not less.

Next, Paul suggests that it’s through reaching unity in the faith that we attain to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”  That’s a surprising statement: that you can only have Christ fully if you have the Church fully.  But earlier in his epistle to the Ephesians, Paul made this exact point more bluntly, saying that God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be Head over everything for the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Eph. 1:22-23)  If the Church is the fullness of Christ, then to accept or reject the Church is to accept or reject Jesus Christ.  To have a strained relationship with the Church, then, is a big deal.  Given that, total Church unity isn’t just an ideal, but an imperative for anyone who wants union with Christ.

After this, St. Paul suggests what happens when we neglect total union with Christ and the Church.  

Map of St. Paul’s third voyage,
showing a Church that was not just “local.”

Specifically, if we reject spiritual maturity and total unity, we end up as spiritual infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 

If the earlier points provided a positive case for the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, this last point serves as a devastating indictment of Protestantism.  Paul’s point is elegantly simple: if you’re not rallied around the visible Church, you end up following after (a) charlatans and (b) every new doctrinal fad.
One of the things that I’ve noticed over the past few years of speaking with Protestants about various doctrinal issues is how frequently they disagree, not just with the Catholic Church, but with one another.  It’s not as if there’s fundamental agreement between Calvinists and Arminians, or Evangelicals and mainliners, or Anglicans and Pentecostals and Independent Baptists.  
Laurent de La Hyre, Saint Paul Shipwrecked on Malta (1630)
Part of the reason for the deep doctrinal divisions within Protestantism is that all manner of strange new doctrines have arisen, the very blowing winds that St. Paul warned against.  You can see these winds blowing in discussions on the state of Israel, or the end times, or the Sabbath, or the Prosperity Gospel, or dispensationalism, or the secret rapture,” or double predestination, or the verbal dictation theory of Biblical inspiration, or countless other issues.  Positions that the early Church had never even heard of are held as not only true, but the only acceptable position.  But it’s not just on the fringes, either: some 44% of Americans switch denominations at some point in their lives.  This is exactly what Paul warned would happen if we turned our backs on the Apostolic Church.
Paul really does present us two paths, which he describes as spiritual infancy and spiritual maturity.  The path of spiritual infancy involves every Christian functionally going it alone, serving as their own pope and Magisterium, seeking to individually figure out the answers to every problem facing the Church.  Almost invariably, they get swept up in doctrinal fads or getting duped by persuasive preachers.  The path of spiritual maturity takes the emphasis off of you, and places it on the Body of Christ, where it belongs.  Here, we’re drawn deeper and deeper into total unity of the faith, within the visible, Apostolic Church.  And in doing so, we grasp Jesus Christ more fully than we would if we were left to ourselves.
Given these two paths, it’s clear to me which one St. Paul would take if he were alive today — the same one that he took in his own life.  After all, Acts 15:24-25 distinguishes between Paul and Barnabas, who are chosen and sent by the Church, and the Judaizers, who “went out from us without our authorization.”  So my first question for readers (both Catholic and Protestant) is, which are you?  Are you following the path of spiritual maturity, or infancy?  And for Protestant readers, do you really think that Saint Paul would be a Protestant if he were alive today?


  1. Do you really want to open this one up? First, please note that a person’s background deeply impacts the answer to this question. You were raised Catholic, and (not surprising) you see St. Paul as Roman. I was raised in the Protestant Church, and (not surprising) I see St. Paul as a very Lutheran kind of Christian.

    I personally like you and respect your keen insights, but I am doubtful that you open to hearing any arguments that would go against your presuppositions on this topic. It seems rather clear that you have already assigned the title or lineage of “Judaizers” to Protestants. Are you really open to discussion and changing your mind?

  2. Rev. Hans,

    I’m hoping to open up a discussion of Paul’s ecclesiology, rather that his theology or soteriology.

    In other words, I anticipate that most of us hold to those beliefs and doctrines that we think most accurately reflect the beliefs and doctrines of the Apostles. So I expect that you believe Paul had a Lutheran view of justification, for example.

    But do you think he had a Lutheran view of “church”? Or that what he’s calling for in Ephesians 4 is what Luther did?

    I know that some Lutherans have taken this question of ecclesiology very seriously (I’ve heard Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Sanctorum Communio praised for this, although I haven’t read it). But in general, it seems that the modern Western Christian decides denominations based upon answers theological and soteriological questions, rather than ecclesiological ones.

    Before we can say, “I think Paul’s views were essentially Lutheran, so I’ll be a Lutheran,” or “I think Paul’s views were essentially Methodist, so I’ll be a Methodist,” etc., we have to assume that (a)we’re the ones in charge of settling doctrinal questions and (b) that St. Paul would break communion with the central Church if he found an offshoot that more perfectly paralleled his own views. And I don’t think that those presuppositions are well-grounded. If you do, I’m genuinely curious in why, precisely because this is an issue which seems very clear to me from a Catholic p.o.v.



  3. It is interesting to think about Paul in the wholes New Testament and not just one or two passages. First, Paul did leave the communion of the church for an offshoot that was more accurate in the faith. I am talking about his conversion from radical Pharisee to the Judeo-Christian community (Acts 9:1-31 and continues in Acts 11:19-30).

    Second, Paul did think that he was involved in settling doctrinal questions. Every one of Paul’s writings is an attempt by Paul to influence the doctrine of the various churches. Paul even got up and presented his case before the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).

    I have thus clearly argued against your presuppositions with the Bible. So we resort back to my original comment. Both of us are the products of religious socialization. We will not agree on this topic. It is easy to chery-pick our favorite passages or read into Paul what we want to see in Paul. As you will read below, I really love Romans, Acts, Galatians, Philippians, and 1 Thessalonians.

    Since we will not agree, which was my original point in the first post, then here is my view. How do I read the character of Paul? As a person that has extensively read and studied Paul’s works, I see him as a fiery character. My favorite example of this part of his personality is seen in Galatians 5:12. Paul always thought that he was right, and it literally took Jesus appearing to him to change his mind. Paul would be under the sociological category of a “True Believer.” He did not follow proper protocol or submit to authorities, especially when he thought that he was right and they were wrong. Paul famously rebuked Peter (Galatians 2:11-21) and James the Just (Acts 21:17-26). Paul took up the side of faith over strict adherence to the customary law (which was the position of the Judaizers). Who in church history was a fiery Christian leader that was not afraid to challenge the religious leaders and sided with faith? Hmm….

  4. About the ecclesiology…

    Please note that no Church around today consistently practices the ecclesiology of the New Testament. First, there is not a consistent ecclesiology in the New Testament. Many of the writings of the New Testament use terms in different ways and never presents a clear structure. Second, the early church was far from finished developing by the time that the documents that make up the New Testament were composed. Third, Paul does not seem to care much about the church structure unless it involved the churches that he helped to start. I see Paul’s ecclesiology taking a back seat to his theology in his writings. Fourth, Paul was not a systematic theologian. He was an occasional writer, which means that he wrote for that occasion or the events going on at that church at that time. This world would be so much better off if Paul sat down to write out his magnum opus of systematic theology with a chapter for Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology. Sadly, no such document exists.

    Ergo, any discussion on Paul’s ecclesiology is a fool’s errand. There will be a lot of opinions, some eisegesis, and some religious socialization. I may have already started all this though with my last posting. Have fun!

  5. Rev Hans –

    Sounds like you’re looking for the Roman Catholic Church to synthesize the written word and Tradition? No other church on the planet comes close. I was steeped in Pauline theology as a former Calvinist. What Protestant heresy seeks to make God bigger? All of the offshoots of Catholicism seek to make God smaller and more easily controlled (ex. Lutheranism, Calvinism, etc.) by the mind of man. He can interpret scriputre on his own and therefore twist the words to suit his purpose.

    Great article Joe. Protestants ignore the written word when it comes to a direction of oneness or the idea of a Church being the bride of Christ. It’s lost on man’s desire to be his own Pope, Bishop and Priest. Man wants God on his terms, not God’s terms or any connection with history.

  6. Rev. Dark Hans,

    First, Paul did leave the communion of the church for an offshoot that was more accurate in the faith. I am talking about his conversion from radical Pharisee to the Judeo-Christian community

    I think you have to stop right there. Israel is not the Church. When Christ founded His Church “on this rock I will build my Church”, it is clearly a new thing from what it was before–old and new wineskins, and all that. After Pentecost, there weren’t two Churches, one more faithful and one less faithful. There was Israel with their Old Covenant, and the Church.

  7. Interesting combination of arguments against the Church:

    1) Only cradle Catholics say this stuff, so I can ignore: Rev. Hans”a person’s background deeply impacts the answer to this question. You were raised Catholic, and (not surprising) you see St. Paul as Roman.”

    2) Only converts say this, so I can ignore: John Armstrong “The lone exception to my experience usually comes from converts who have left Protestantism and seem to feel a deep need to do a kind of apologetics that shows why Rome is the ‘true church.’”

  8. As a convert, I must say something about this particular issue. I grew up in a Protestant (read Lutheran home). From there, I followed my mother on her spiritual journey which led her to the modern pentecostal movement. The bottom line up front is that the presupposition of Rev Hans as it relates to the theology of Paul is the hurdle that Protestants cannot overcome. That hurdle is intellectual understanding. As a protestant, I would disagree with a particular congregation’s take on a matter of faith and move on to the next, without fear. As a convert (Easter Vigil), I know the One, Holy, Apostolic Church is the one established by Christ. With this knowledge, there is not “well, St. Paul meant this in light of …” Instead, Christ established the visible church on earth. Not denominations, not sects, not biases or discriminatory ideas that we hold as humans, but One Church.

    We can put whatever title on it to make ourselves feel righteous in our thoughts, but the truth flows from The Almighty God, through the Sacrifice of His Son, and by that, we are even able to say His name.


  9. Nice post, Joe.

    For the work I do on my blog, I try to listen to 3-5 Baptist sermons every week. I’ve noticed over the last year or so a very common trend: to limit the “unity of the body” to the local church, or the “local body of believers.”

    Any passage of Scripture (such as the one you referenced) that speaks of Christian unity, no matter how universally construed, is taken to refer to the unity of a local congregation.

    I think the main point of this post is spot on: we as Catholics can do much more to challenge our non-Catholic brothers and sisters to try to see the body of Christ as Christ himself sees it: not as an aggregate of autonomous individual congregations, but as a single, unified organism whose very visible liveliness as such draws the whole world to himself.

    Once one sees the church for who she really is (and what a great grace this is!), how can one not fall in love with the great universal Catholic Church?


  10. I am sure that Paul would not approve of the whole medley of Protestant factions. I don’t, and I don’t think one could even be a “protestant” Christian and like or approve it. I don’t think that automatically means that Paul would say the RC church is entirely correct.

    That stated, I think that neither Peter nor Paul preached the modern form of the Catholic Church, especially in ecclesiastical structure.

    -The text here being Act 15, for example, as well Peter’s epistles. See 1 Peter 5:1-5 as well.

    As for maturity and Spiritual milk, it does not necessarily unify as the Roman Church, but, it seems, as a universal Priesthood. For:

    “1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. 2 Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, 3 now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

    4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house[a] to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For in Scripture it says:

    “See, I lay a stone in Zion,
    a chosen and precious cornerstone,
    and the one who trusts in him
    will never be put to shame.”[b]

    7 Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe,

    “The stone the builders rejected
    has become the cornerstone,”[c]

    8 and,

    “A stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.”[d]

    They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for.

    9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:2-10

    And, as Dante (I think he is pretty papist!) says, a completely good-ified man will be crowned and mitered – I think this indicates that spiritual maturity does not necessitate absolute loyalty to the Vatican, as it were.

    But really this gets more into whether or not the Pope is the absolute representative of Christ on earth (specially – we all must be witnesses, of course) and the absolute successor of Peter. If he is, well, then of course it is unlikely that one can be doctrinally and ecclesiastically divergent from Rome and obey Christ.

  11. It is ultimately anachronistic to place Paul in either a Roman or Lutheran group. We truly do not know what Paul would have done about the issues brought up in the 1500’s. Given that it is anachronistic, we can easily read into Paul what we want to, which was my first point. I can read into Paul a very Protestant understanding, which is eisegesis. I very clearly see how and why Joe understands Paul to have characteristics that fit the Roman faith.

    I have major issues with every post responding to mine, with the exception of Montague. I think that Montague is rather reasonable on this topic.

    Does the Roman view of the early church officially state that the new Christian church started at Easter or a later date? How does the Roman view understand the interconnectedness of the Judeo-Christians and the larger Jewish community (especially in the period between Easter and 70 AD)?

  12. Rev. Hans,

    The birthday of the Church, so to speak, is Pentecost.  That’s the simple answer.   The more complex answer is that the New Covenant Church is built out of, and the fulfillment of, Old Covenant Israel, which prefigures the Church, and is connected to the Church.  There’s much more that can be said about supersessionism and the rest, but that’s a bit tangential.

    The important point, I think, is that describing St. Paul accepting Jesus Christ, and the radical transition that this entailed (including being cut off from his prior religious community, in a way that he found painful, Rom. 9:3-4) as “leav[ing] the communion of the church for an offshoot that was more accurate in the faith” is completely inaccurate from a Christian (not just Catholic) perspective.

    After all, surely you don’t view the transition from Jewish to Christian as parallel to the transition from Catholic to Protestant, do you?  If so, who is your Christ in that analogy?  Luther?

    In any case, this part of your response raises some questions for me:

    (1) When, if ever, does St. Paul sanction separation from the visible Church?

    (2) And when, if ever, may / should we hold to beliefs contrary to that of the visible Church?

    I don’t think that those questions are anachronistic at all, since they seem to be perennial questions for Christians.



  13. Rev. Dark Hans,

    As a former Lutheran-Missouri Synod, your views that I initially addressed are foreign to me. I was a pretty avid learner of Lutheran theology and issues–listened to Issues Etc., God Whisperers, Table Talk Radio, etc.–and I don’t recall the position you speak of. Maybe I missed it.

    This may seem adiaphora, but my journey began as a Baptist, then as a Lutheran, and then [finally] a Catholic. So an earlier presupposition of yours before that it depends on the background or religious socialization of a person is not entirely true. Once I became a Catholic, those Protestant “trouble verses” (Col 1:24 and 1 John 5:16-17, for example) and read Scripture, particularly St. Paul, through a Catholic lens, all the “problem verses” disappeared.

  14. Due to the persecution of the early Church, it had to look different than after Constantine, where Christians could finally worship in the open. However, the Church has always had a leader; From Peter to Linus, etc, never a break between Popes. (263 in a row)The Catholic position makes so much sense. Paul would be mortified to see thousands of denominations.

  15. Rev. Dark Hans,

    If it is “ultimately anachronistic to place Paul in either a Roman or Lutheran group” the entire rationale for Protestantism falls apart. After all Luther was claiming to restore the early Church, that is the Church as Paul understood it. If the Reformation was foolishly anachronistic in its attempt to reestablish the early Church and if all we can do is read Paul from our pov, then Luther himself was merely reading Paul from his pov and your entire Church is based off one man’s eisegesis. In the end, your argument cuts the legs from under Protestantism and thus leaves you no way to justify Luther’s revolt.

  16. On a side note, I don’t agree that we should lament the lack of Paul’s “magnum opus” on systematic theology. It would make more sense to lament the lack of such a work BY CHRIST Himself, not by Paul. But Christ, being God and knowing all things, knows we would still fight and argue over the meaning of such a work. Christ, instead, gave us a Living Teacher to answer our questions on Christology, soteriology, and ecclesiology.

  17. In my opinion, Paul would have hated the various denominations that have fractured Christendom.

    Galatians Chapter 5, Verse 20.

    St. Paul lists a bunch of sins in that passage, one of them are “…sects and dissensions…”

    The KJV translates the Greek words as “…seditions and heresies…”

    The core of Protestantism is dissension.

    I don’t know how Protestants can reconcile that verse with the fact that “to protest” is in their very name.

    I’m also puzzled by some Protestants who acknowledge that the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ, but still refuse to join it…

    Why would anyone want to be a part of a Church that was founded by a mere man (Luther, Calvin, Etc. Etc.), when they know that the Church founded by Jesus is right down the street?

    Wouldn’t one want to be in THAT Church before all others?? What could possibly keep you away from it? Who cares what the members of that Church do?!? Jesus founded it! If one believes that Jesus is God, then that should be enough to run across a burning desert to it until your lungs burst, your skin is pealing off from the sun, and you’re puking up blood in order to join that Church founded by HIM… Thankfully, it’s not that hard.

    That was the one argument that sealed the deal for becoming a Catholic with me. It was founded by Jesus Christ.

    Now, here’s a book recommendation for everyone:

    Greetings in the Lord: Early Christians and the Oxyrhynchus Papyri by AnneMarie Luijendijk.

    It is a very interesting look into the Early Christians of the Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus from the Papyri that has been recovered from that city. It was a once great city, on par with almost any other city of the Ancient world with thousands of people living there, which is now literally dust save a few pillars here and there and the large cache of papyri.

  18. I agree that Paul would not have liked all the divisions of the body of Christ. Protestantism may have gone too far in this idea, and we can rightfully blame Luther, Zwingli, and the early reformers for opening this flood gate. The reformation writings have many cases of these reformers arguing against each other and all of the splinter groups. But we do not know for sure where Paul would have sided during the Reformation. Most of the reformers wanted to reform the church and not create new churches.

    I am very curious about this “Visible Church” in the New Testament. I cannot seem to find this term in the New Testament. Paul does talk about the church for his occasional audiences, but I cannot find him talking about the visible church. This may be a Roman expression that needs further explanation. I welcome that explanation and am open to change when presented with a clear explanation. There may be a fundamental difference between our views in what the early church looked like. My understanding of it is that the early church was a Jewish sect, which is why I keep referring to them as Judeo-Christians. The early church was persecuted by the Romans, who thought that they were Jews, and by other Jewish groups, who thought that they were heretics. We know from the New Testament and church history that the early church centered around Jerusalem until its destruction in 70 AD or the stoning of James the Just. The Judeo-Christians worshiped with other Jews and even in the Temple and synagogues. Pentecost was a major event for those in the early church, but how much of an impact did it have on the “visible church”? I would argue not much because the Romans thought for a long time that the Christians were just another group of Jews. Every thing does change after 70 AD or even when James the Just is stoned in Jerusalem.

  19. What the Romans thought was not exactly true, and maybe a bit ignorant. After all, the Roman Centurion and his family, or the Greeks who converted, were not Jews or Jewish.

  20. The persecutions of Nero started in 64 AD. Christians only (and not Jews) were persecuted. This is clear evidence that the Romans did not view Christians as just another group of Jews. This pre-dates the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

    Furthermore, the early Church itself rejected the idea that Christianity was a sect of Judaism at the Council of Jerusalem (49 AD) as related in Acts 15. This council shows us two things. First, many non-Jews were becoming Christians – enough to require a decision on their status (thus Christianity was more than a sect of Judaism). Second, the Church declared itself distinct from Judaism by abrogating the need of circumcision – the rite whereby one entered into the Old Covenant.

  21. Nathan, you bring up a good point about Nero. It is true that he targeted Christians in his persecution around 64 AD. If you read my comment more closely, then you would have noticed that I gave a range of 70 AD at the far end and the death of James the Just on the other end. Josephus, who is a great source, claims that James the Just was killed in 62 AD. 62 AD is way after Pentecost!

    Do you still not believe me? We understand that the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews (including the Judeo-Christian sect) from Rome around 49 AD. This expulsion forced Priscilla and Aquila away from Rome, and they were able to meet with the Apostle Paul during his missions in Greece. The “Visible Church” does not exist until after this date, which was later than Pentecost.

    I would encourage you all to read the standard text book on church history, which is called “The Story of Christianity” by Justo Gonzalez. The section that I have used for my posting is on page 21 and under the title of “The Waning of the Jewish Church.” I am sure that you may not like this text, but let me tell you that this is regarded as the best work for entry into church history. The Jesuits use this for teaching church history, which I took from a nun at JSTB. I, as a Christian, would want the church to be clearly different and set apart (holy) since Easter, but the reality is that Christianity was a Jewish sect for several decades.

  22. The very Early Christians still thought of themselves as Jewish. However they also saw themselves distinct from the rest of Judaism in that they recognized Christ as the Messiah and prayed to Him. Non-Christian Jews would not have had full access to the Rites of the Church such as Eucharist.

  23. Thank you, Restless Pilgrim, for your honest observation of the early church. You are correct in that they did consider themselves to be Jewish (in that they were the true fulfillment of the Jewish faith).

    What do you understand by the phrase “Visible Church”?

  24. Rev Hans,

    Here is the crux of your arguument. That somehow, the Church established by Christ (Matt 16), held a council to bring the number of disciples back to 12 (Acts 1;12-26) and again to address the issues of Jews and Gentiles (Acts 15) was not visible? The intellectual assumption to say that the Church was hidden, or secret, and came to the fullness of itself upon the Protestant Reformation is denying the existence of the Church. Also, any Creed, Scripture, Liturgical Color, that Protestantism uses is based in the Catholic Church. That is to say, you cannot pick and choose what applies as God’s Truth, while at the same time revolting against the Church Christ established. I am not trying to pick a fight, but my concern is that Protestantism requires the ability to quantify every last detail, while discarding the beauty of the Mysteries of Faith. If you believe what you think the Gospels say, you believe yourself, not the Gospel.

  25. The visible Church…

    …can hold councils to resolve doctrinal disputes (Acts 15)

    …is something to which I can bring my disputing brother (Mt 18)

    …can expel the rebellious and welcome the penitent (1 Cor 5, 2 Cor 2).

    All these things make little sense to me if you make the Church which Jesus founded invisible. The Church is His Body and a bodies are usually visible. The city on a hill cannot be hidden – neither can the Church.

    Finally, the visible Church is the place I go to hear the authentic apostolic teaching about Jesus Christ and not just one man’s opinion about Him.

  26. And, if I may leave Sacred Scripture for a moment and dig into the Apostolic Fathers, the visible Church is where I find the bishop and the Eucharist:

    Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. The celebration of the Eucharist is valid only if it is administered by the bishop or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Where the bishop is, there let the people also be; just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted to baptize or to celebrate an agape without authorization from the bishop. – Letter of St. Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans

  27. Rev. Hans,

    You began your long series of arguments wondering whether Joe had already made up his mind –and whether he was ‘open for discussion and changing his mind’. I wonder whether you are open for discussion and changing your mind.

    The Church is not something we create as a construct of our own theological views. That’s why there are many thousands of different denominations. If the Church is something that we can determine ourselves without the visible, authoritative Body of the Magisterium– then why should you trust the 27 books of the New Testament anyway? Who says they are to be trusted?

    But Christ told the Apostles — ‘Whoever listens to you, listens to me.’ And the Apostles so happened to continue their office in the bishops of the Catholic faith. Just read the early Church fathers to confirm. A cursory reading will suffice.

    Read Pope Benedict’s ‘Introduction to Christianity’ and ‘Called to Communion’. Is seems that modern man has swallowed a lie: namely, that what we ourselves create is what is reliable and true, and that we cannot trust anything that has been handed down to us. The Catholic Church has been handed down to us –and no other Church, not even the Lutheran Church.


  28. Dear Lenchoy2k,

    Please let me assure you that I am most open to changing my mind. In this regard, I am going to seem very Protestant as Joe and others have complained about the Protestant mindset where we are all Popes to make and set doctrine. I am far from that. I am not a Pope nor a judge. I am a servant (doulos) of the church. I am fallible, which is easy to remember because my wife has a keen memory of such things. I want to hear a well reasoned argument for one’s views that are also grounded in scripture. I have changed my views in the past when presented with a clear line of understanding with a strong grounding in the Bible.

    With that said, I doubt that many people on this blog are sincere about being open to other ideas. I am curious about this “Visible Church” and how it can apply to the church during the time of the Apostles. I see the church a certain way. I have not heard a well reasoned argument with a basis in the Bible on these posts yet for the visible church being clearly understood as distinct from the various Jewish sects in the early part of the first century. Joe asked if Paul would have sided with the Reformers of the 1500’s or stayed with the Roman Church. That question is anachronistic. Any credible historian will say that “there are no ‘ifs’ in history.” No one knows for sure what Paul would have done, but I can easily read my own biased understanding into that situation. I like Joe’s points, but I believe that they show his bias and religious socialization. Joe’s question is fun, but any answer to the question is intellectually and historically indefensible. There are no “what ifs” in history, but there are always plenty of opinions. Am I wrong?

  29. Rev. Hans,

    My undergraduate degree was in history, and it left me with a general aversion to counter-factual history, so I agree with the sentiment behind your “no ‘what ifs'” point.

    But that aversion isn’t absolute. There are some counter-factual questions we can answer with confidence. For example, what if I asked, “If Jesus were walking the Earth today, would He sin?” Any Christian worth his salt would know the answer to that question. And why? Because Jesus lived His entire life governed by certain transcendent principles. That is, the whole point is that Christ’s sinlessness wasn’t a product of His culture or environment, but something bigger than it.

    I would say that something similar is true of St. Paul’s point in Ephesians 4:11-14. He’s not giving advice specific to the Ephesians in the first century Church. He’s instead laying out a general dichotomy between (1) staying on-board the Apostolic Church founded by Christ in a unity of faith, or (2) going our own way and getting tossed back and forth by the waves of new doctrine.

    He says that (1) is a mark of spiritual maturity, and (2) is a mark of spiritual infancy. And he bases this, in part, off of the fact that Jesus Christ instituted the Church, and the various roles within it. That is, through Her connection to Christ, the Church is transcendent as well.

    Given this general rule, the only question is: how would such a rule apply in the Reformation? Put that way, I think the question is not much more difficult than the one asking if Jesus would sin.



    P.S. I think that the questions you raised about the Visible Church and the Church’s distinctness from broader Jewish culture have been answered above, using Scripture. Let me just add that Acts 2:46-47 describes the Christians meeting in the temple courts for a daily Eucharistic Liturgy in house churches. That is, even in Acts 2, we see the Christians treating themselves as something distinct from general Judaism.

    And I’m sure that I don’t need to tell you that St. Paul is quite clear on the fact that Christianity is something that is open to Gentiles, and based upon Jesus Christ, rather than the Mosaic Law.

  30. With all that said, I actually appreciate the comments done by Restless Pilgrim. He has shown the two sides to this question about the early church. On one side, the early church considered themselves to still be part of the larger Jewish community. On the other side, the early church did start to make a structure, doctrine, and worship policies that started to separate themselves from the other Jewish sects. He presented the latter argument with scripture, church history, and plain reason. There was a transition period where the church went from Easter Sunday to the underground church that was persecuted by the Romans and the Jews. Where is the line of demarcation for the early church? Is there even such a line? I personally believe that the line would have happened between 62-70 AD. How much of the church was visible and how much was hidden? How did the early church interact with the other Jewish sects before the fall? How did the early church see itself?

  31. So, if the Church is the Body of Christ –and it’s only invisible– why did St. Paul not just say it is the ‘Soul’ of Christ? That would have made much more sense. Why did he refer to it in terms of bodily parts, which are tangible and visible? St. Paul referred to different churches as temples –places where sacrifice is offered, where there are altars and priests. We are not angels, that we should worship in an invisible, intangible way. That is gnosticism.

    Affirming that the Church is visible does not negate that it also exists as an invisible reality. However, if you believe in the incarnate Christ –the visible image of the invisible God– who touched people, breathed on them, laid his hands on them, would it not make sense that his Church, which is his Body, should have similar characteristics?

    Let me leave you with a link to these two wonderful audio series called ‘The Gospel According to St. Paul’ and ‘The Splendor of the Church’:

    I found both of those courses extremely helpful in my understanding of ecclesiology, as well as the books I listed earlier.

    Best regards,

  32. Rev Dark Hans,

    Thank you for the kind comments.

    In reference to the question “How did the early church interact with the other Jewish sects before the fall?” I think the answer has already been given. They saw unity with non-Christian Jews because of Judaism but disunity because of Christ.

    These other sects did not accept that Jesus was the Messiah. Non-Christian Jews would therefore not be invited to celebrate the Eucharist until they converted and passed through the waters of rebirth in baptism.

  33. Rev Hans: “Where is the line of demarcation for the early church? Is there even such a line? I personally believe that the line would have happened between 62-70 AD. How much of the church was visible and how much was hidden? How did the early church interact with the other Jewish sects before the fall? How did the early church see itself?”

    You think the early Church could not recognize its own for the first ~30 years of its existence?? I submit that early Christians could be clearly distinguished right from the day Peter and the eleven stepped out on Pentecost. The second chapter of Acts says it all. Jews who did not accept Christ were distinguished as those who scoffed saying “They have had too much new wine.” (Acts 2:13). “Those who accepted his (Peter’s) message were baptized, and about three thousand persons were added that day. They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to each one’s need. Every day they devoted themselves to meeting together in the temple area and to breaking bread in their homes. They ate their meals with exultation and sincerity of heart, praising God and enjoying favor with all the people. And every day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:41-47) Christian Jews were distinguished by the visible Christian practices of baptism and the breaking of bread (Eucharist). There was a recognized, visible, authoritative and hierarchical leadership in Peter and the eleven. There were 3000 visible new members added to a visible Church. They visibly lived the communal life and their membership visibly grew. The fact that many/most Jews converts also continued their Jewish traditions is not surprising, but expected. After all, Jesus was a Jew and did so. What’s important is that the Christian distinctives were clearly and visibly present from the outset.

    What good is an invisible Church anyway? An invisible Church that can’t be positively identified can’t offer anything of substance greater that what you’re willing to attribute it, and that’s just worthless self.

  34. Listen to yourselves!
    Arguing, about the Church.
    I only wish that the Holy Spirit would speak through me and open your eyes.
    I am a Christian, Pentecostal.
    We as Christians are the Church. We make up the Church. We are Jesus’ wife, for Jesus said He was married to the Church. The Church Jesus speaks of isn’t a building, the Church Jesus speaks of is the Church within ourselves. Every believer is a part of the Church. I do not believe that the Catholic Church is the Church Jesus is talking about. However I do not believe that Jesus was talking about the Lutheran Church, the Pentecostal Church, and so forth. I believe Jesus was talking about the Church within ourselves.
    I am a very open minded person and I believe that some of you have “eyes but do not see, have ears but do not listen.” who knows maybe you are wrong about this whole argument, or maybe I myself am wrong. Im not afraid to admit that I am still growing in the Lord, its okay to be wrong, we are all human. But with the help of the Spirit, we will be able to grow and fully understand the Truth the whole Truth.
    I am not trying to criticize, I only come to learn more about the Truth. But do not base your opinions on man made theories and traditions. Instead open the word of God and study it thoroughly, read it and learn it.
    When I was younger I was always taught that always read the Bible and that sometimes even though you may have read a chapter already read it again because you might learn something new.
    I’ve also learned to ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what you read.
    As a Pentecostal I elieve in the Baptism in the Holy Spirit. The term pentecostal comes from the New Testament experiences of the early Christian believers.
    I do not wish to offend anyone and I do not wish to take sides. But remember all of this arguing is what leads to religion. Religion is just man searching for God, but a relationship with Christ is God searching for man.
    Study the bible and learn it by heart. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes and help you understand, build a relationship with Jesus, through Jesus is where we get to God.
    1 Corinthians 12:28-And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.
    Basically the Church isnt a building, it is we the believers, the Christians, the followers of Christ etc. All of us have to work together as one body even though we have different tasks.
    I am not asking for you to convert to any religion Catholic, Penetecostal, or etc. I just for you to be transformed like Romans 12: 2 states – Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.
    And lastly, I myself admit that somethings I do not comprehend myself, I to have to open my eyes when it comes to certain situations, but that is why Jesus Christ is so great for he left us a Spirit to guide us and help us understand.

    God bless you all my brothers and sisters

    -God’s Child, a Pentecostal

    1. Hey God’s Child, I think this is your first posting on this site, so welcome 🙂

      You say “But do not base your opinions on man made theories and traditions”. You talk about “man made…traditions”, but isn’t it possible that there are traditions that aren’t man made (2 Thessalonians 2:15)?

      You say “Instead open the word of God and study it thoroughly, read it and learn it”…yet this begs the question: how do we identify God’s Word? Which books should be in the Bible? I’m sure you haven’t sat down and individually tested every single book of the Bible to confirm that it is, in fact, Scripture. I’m equally sure that you haven’t read all the books which could have possibly been included with the canon to confirm that they are not, in fact, Scripture. You are relying on something here to tell you what is and is not Sacred Scripture… We know what constitutes Sacred Scripture through Sacred *Tradition* and the teaching authority of the Catholic Church.

      Lastly, you put great emphasis on the work of the Holy Spirit (and rightly so). However, there’s a problem. What happens when two godly men, both intelligent scholars, reach contradictory interpretations concerning a passage of Scripture? How is this deadlock resolved? One man says that we are saved by faith, another that we are saved by faith alone. One man says that we are saved by baptism, another that we are saved by a sinner’s prayer. One man says that the Eucharist is the flesh of Christ, another that it is simply a symbol. Both say that they feel the Holy Spirit confirms their personal interpretation. Now what…?

      God bless,

      Restless Pilgrim.

  35. Protestants are very concerned with what St. Paul wrote, but I think more hay may be made in the fact that he wrote. It is his person, his authority, which settles disputes. Ephesians even ends with an explicit “trust who I send to you.”

    1. This is a good point: he’s able to settle disputes by rendering judgments. He isn’t limited to just making the best arguments he can from the Old Testament Scriptures, and hoping that he can persuade each reader.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *