Jesus on the Oneness of the Church

From Matthew 12:22-30,

22Then they brought him a demon-possessed man who was blind and mute, and Jesus healed him, so that he could both talk and see. 23All the people were astonished and said, “Could this be the Son of David?”
24But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, “It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.”
25Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them,
“Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.
26If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27And if I drive out demons by Beelzebub, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28But if I drive out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you.
29″Or again, how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.
30″He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters.

So Christ has announced that with His arrival into the world, the Kingdom of God has come. But He also makes it very clear that “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.” So the Kingdom of God must not be divided against itself. The success of the Gospel depends on having One Church, rather than many churches vying to be the Kingdom of God on Earth.


  1. “So the Kingdom of God must not be divided against itself. The success of the Gospel depends on having One Church, rather than many churches vying to be the Kingdom of God on Earth. “

    The second sentence does not follow from the first. The real question is what counts as a division against itself, and you beg that question.

    I mean, there are disagreements among Catholics, is this a division? You have to say no. The Protestant just extends this to all issues besides recognizing that we are sinners in need of a Redeemer and that the Redeemer is Jesus Christ. All other divisions are just theological opinions of little consequence. They don’t divide the Kingdom any more than the Catholic intra-squad disagreements do.

  2. HocCogitat,

    I love that you embrace the center of our shared Faith, Jesus Christ. If you’re a Protestant, and think that the gap between us is merely one of (in your words) “theological opinions of little consequence,” I implore you to cease to Protest, and join us at the Eucharist Banquet in Christ’s Church. To take your points in turn:

    (1) “The second sentence does not follow from the first.”

    Jesus Christ equates His coming with the arrival of the Kingdom into history, and says, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined.” From that, I conclude that Christ views Christian division as a cause of disaster, not success. Again, He uses the word “ruined.”

    In John 17:22-23, He states the converse, that Christian unity is key to evangelization: “I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— I in them and You in Me— so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (see all of John 17:20-23).

    (2) “The real question is what counts as a division against itself, and you beg that question.”

    I’m saying that when you have numerous Protestant denominations, that is by definition division. A Baptist is not a Methodist is not an Anglican is not a Presbyterian is not a Lutheran. Ignore, for a moment, the countless divisions within (for example) the Presbyterian churches, and you’re still left with the gulf separating it from, say, Anglicanism. They have different authority structures, affirm different theology, reject truths the others hold dear, and so forth.

    My point was that the existence of numerous often-sparring denominations is an example of brazen violation of Christ’s call to be a single Kingdom. Your point, which is valid, is that there’s also intra-denominational sparring. That’s true, but doesn’t justify Protestantism creating separate denominations. If Catholics suffer from marital strife, Protestants suffer from a series of nasty divorces.

    If multiple denominations, sometimes quite adversarial to one another, aren’t a mark of a Kingdom divided against itself, what is? And where in Scripture do we see this Protestant model held up as the way to do things?

    (3) “I mean, there are disagreements among Catholics, is this a division? You have to say no.”

    Why do I have to say no to that? That seems like the sort of question-begging of which you accuse me. As it is, I’d absolutely agree that Catholic in-fighting hinders the Gospel, and in many cases runs counter to Christ’s call to total unity.

    Again, though, marital strife is bad, but divorce is worse. I’m not pretending Catholics are guiltless here. But you can’t just say, “tu quoque!” as a justification for ignoring Christ’s words.

  3. (4) The Protestant just extends this to all issues besides recognizing that we are sinners in need of a Redeemer and that the Redeemer is Jesus Christ.

    I disagree. Like I said above, Protestantism doesn’t simply have intra-denominational factionalism (although it has plenty of that). It has innumerable denominations, with different founders, different theologies, and so on. You’ve got the party of Luther, the party of Calvin, the party of Wesley, and so on. Paul condemns all of this, in no uncertain terms, in 1 Corinthians 1:10-13:

    “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought. My brothers and sisters, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, ‘I follow Paul’; another, ‘I follow Apollos’; another, ‘I follow Cephas’; still another, ‘I follow Christ.’ Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

    I don’t know what the Catholic parallel is to that. Certainly, we have different Catholic religious orders, but they’re not mutually exclusive. For example, you can affirm that the Franciscans are right, and that the Carthusians and Dominicans are also right. They’re not adversarial. They have different styles, not different dogmas.

    (5)All other divisions are just theological opinions of little consequence. They don’t divide the Kingdom any more than the Catholic intra-squad disagreements do.

    If this is really true, why are there separate denominations at all? Remember that Paul calls schism a damnable sin in Galatians 5:20. So if it’s true that the things which are leading Protestants to this series of schism are “theological opinions of little consequence,” how much more is that a call to embrace the Church and total Christian unity?

    Instead of remaining divided over “theological opinions of little consequence,” let us draw closer to one another, and to Christ. God bless!


  4. Thanks so much for responding, but I think we are talking past each other a bit.

    Are you saying that all disagreements among believers on any issue are the type of division that Christ prayed against in the garden? Are we really being asked to eradicate all diversity of thought?

    What about old vs. young earth creationism? Is that a “division”? Isn’t it merely a potentially healthy disagreement? What about the disagreements between Augustinian (Platonic) and Thomistic (Aristotelian) philosophy on, say, the body-mind relationship? Is that a “division” or mere disagreement? Surely these types of disagreements do not ruin Catholicism or Christianity generally, so they can’t be “divisions” (which do “ruin”).

    If it is just a healthy disagreement, then we don’t need to eradicate it. But the question then becomes what makes something a “division” rather than a mere disagreement. And my point above was that the different denominations are mere disagreements until they lose sight of their need for and the existence of the Redeemer and the need to be united in charity. The parties of Wesley and Paul are akin to the parties of Augustine and Thomas. The denominations are just “schools of thought”, it seems.

    In short, it seems that we have no need to actually be unified in everything (are we to have the same taste in foods?), and that raises the question of what we do need to be united in. The answer to that, I suggest, is Christ alone.

    I agree with your last comment, but think that when one of our disagreements is about how we should worship, Protestants can’t honestly just join up with the Catholics because the disagreements aren’t that unimportant. That would be dishonest, and all Christians know that is wrong.

  5. PS–On the last point: What I’m saying is that certain disagreements are not schism. Schism is wrong, but we need to determine what schism is. Maybe going to a Protestant denomination is not schism, but merely disagreement. We can’t know until we have a definition of schism. And, on the Prot definition, Protestants are not in schism any more than YECs are in schism from OECs.

  6. HocCogitat,

    I think you’ve done a good job honing in on the issue. I also think we agree to a large extent.

    (1) As the old axiom goes, “on essentials, unity; on non-essentials, liberty; and in everything charity.” The Judaizers treated a non-essential (meal choices) as an essential, and were wrong to do so. But in 1 Cor. 5, Paul condemns the Corinthians for condoning and permitting sexual immorality, and tells them that they have to pass judgment on the couple, as Paul has already done. So their error was to treat an essential as a non-essential.

    So there are essentials besides recognizing that we are sinners in need of a Redeemer and that the Redeemer is Jesus Christ. You seem to recognize this at the end of your last comment, and rightly so. Otherwise, there’s virtually no such thing as heresy.

    But here’s the catch: who gets to define what’s an essential? Is Rob Bell’s universalism a rejection of an essential, or a non-essential? Matthew 18 gives that power to the Church, and it presupposes a single, visible Church, of the sort the first millennium of Christianity had (since otherwise, that passage doesn’t seem to have any effect).

    (2) We both agree that “debate” isn’t the same thing as “division.” Your example of young- and old-earth Creationism is a good one. It’s fine to take either view. The Church has never declared “this is the accurate and only way to interpret Genesis 1,” wisely leaving it to the believer. But on the other hand, when one camp declares that unless you take their view, you’re not a true Christian, it’s no longer just a debate. So take Jeanne’s comments here, in which she declared that I “accept science as true and the Word of God as a lie” for not taking her view. No longer are we just two Christians trying to interpret a confusing passage. Now, we’ve got a threat to Christian unity. According to her, I can’t both reject YEC and accept the word of God.

    Contrast that with the way that then-Cdl. Ratzinger (an Augustinian) worked as head of the CDF under Pope John Paul II (a Thomist), for example. Total Christian unity despite some private theological or philosophical differences. If the Thomists and Augustinians had split into separate denominations, on the other hand, we’d have clear division.

    (3) Let me get back to the marriage analogy. Sometimes, husbands and wives disagree, and it’s harmless. They just have difference preferences or ideas, but still work together in complete harmony. Other times, it leads to marital strife (bad), or divorce (worse).

    (4) When Protestant denominations refuse to be part of the same Church as someone who takes an opposing view from them on a given issue, we’re explicitly dealing with division, rather than just debate. Now, there are two possibilities. Either, the issues of division are unimportant, in which case, like in the YEC example above, we’ve sinfully taken a non-essential issue, and used it as a source of division, or it’s an essential, in which case one of the two parties is rejecting the authority of the single, visible Church to settle the dispute. In either case, we’re dealing with a sinful rejection of the organized Body of Christ.

    (5) What do you mean about the differences in worship? I’m intrigued by this, but don’t know that I’m really getting what you’re saying. It does sound like you’re suggesting it’s an essential, but I don’t know exactly what it is.

    God bless,


  7. Thanks. You’ve won me over enough that I see saying that if the manner of worship is inessential, then we should join the oldest church possessing the essentials. But there is one thing that I do not think is an “essential” insofar as you’re risking damnation by accepting it anymore than you would be by being a YEC, but yet it provides a good reason for not being a Catholic if you disagree with it.

    It is the issue of authority, the idea that you must submit to what the Pope teaches. This is all well and good if you accept the infallibility of the Pope. But you have to prove that before this is an acceptable doctrine. You can’t just say “the assumption of is inessential to salvation, I’ll submit for unity’s sake” if you don’t believe the doctrine either (1) on the basis of the evidence or (2) on the basis of the Pope’s authority.

    To submit to it for unity’s sake w/o believing it for either of those reasons would put unity above truth and that is wrong. And that scenario is why Protestants can break from the Church even admitting that the doctrines that divide us aren’t “essential” to salvation.

    And this provides a Prot apologetic because if the “success of the Gospel depends on having One Church” the Catholic Church is causing the failure of the Church by insisting on acceptance of inessential doctrines.

  8. RE:”When Protestant denominations refuse to be part of the same Church as someone who takes an opposing view from them on a given issue, we’re explicitly dealing with division, rather than just debate.”

    So, I’ve tried to show that this is not true with regard to the Catholic Church. Protestants are just forced to separate to be honest, but this is mere debate. As if a single church had a meeting of YECs and and OECs couldn’t honestly claim to go as a member of the group.

  9. So that I don’t lose sight of the original argument here. You say “The success of the Gospel depends on having One Church, rather than many churches vying to be the Kingdom of God on Earth.” And I think I’ve shown that its not dependent on the number of churches, but rather on having one faith, one hope, and one charity among us. The number of churches is irrelevant.

  10. HocCogitat,

    To your first comment, I agree with a lot of what you said. Taking this logically, when there’s a dispute within Christianity, we need to know:
    (1) Where do we look to solve that dispute? And
    (2) Where is the “court of last resort”?

    That’s why I think there are really two debates we need to resolve: sola Scriptura and the authority of the Church to settle disputes. The first is important to determine the sources of doctrine – the “Deposit of Faith,” in Catholic parlance. Are we left with just Scripture, or did Christ commit other teachings to the Apostles, of which there is evidence from the earliest extra-Biblical Christian records? (Not, mind you, “secret” traditions, but Apostolic Tradition of the type Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2:15).

    But even with a common source, there are going to be countless interpretations – Protestantism is testament to this, with countless divergent interpretations of the same sixty-six Books. So that’s where the need to answer the second question becomes obvious. To make the determinations necessary to preserve and foster Christian unity, there needs to be, at the minimum, some sort of “court of last resort” when disputes arise, including disputes over how to interpret Scripture.

    So the questions we’re dealing with are the right sort of questions. And I think that these questions have an answer which can be seen in both Scripture, and Christian history. In Matthew 18:15-18, we hear that the one who refuses to listen, rejecting the authority of the Church in settling disputes, should be treated like a pagan Gentile or a tax collector. As I mentioned before, this appears to presuppose the sort of single, unified, visible earthly Church that pre-Schism Christianity possessed.

    From the start of Christianity, disputes were settled in exactly the way Matthew 18 describes. When the Judaizers’ heresy arises, both sides were using Scripture. After all, Genesis 17:13 describes circumcision as an “everlasting covenant.” The Judaizers balked at the idea that an everlasting covenant could simply be done away with, on the basis of a vision Peter has in a dream (Acts 10-11). If the early Church were Protestant, the two camps would have simply split into two separate churches, affirming the same Christ, but holding to different doctrines – the debate would (and could) never be settled. But that’s not what happens. Instead, it’s settled at a Church Council, binding on all Christians (Acts 15).

    So I think that not only is a single, unified Church logically required (as the respective histories of Catholicism and Protestantism show), but that Scripture and early Church history testify to this. If that’s true, the obvious solution is to “join the oldest church possessing the essentials,” as you put it. But if you want to make sure you’re not making a rash judgment, do a Bible study on the way that Scripture describes the Church, and the particular Petrine ministry within the Church. I don’t know if it helps, but I did a five part “Pope Peter” series on just that topic a few months ago (see parts I, II, III, IV, and V).

    Finally, if the papacy truly is something Christ established as integral to His Church (as Mt. 16:17-19 seems to suggest), then it would be impossible for the Church, guided by the Spirit, to reject the Papacy.

  11. To your second comment, I guess I don’t understand why (a) “Protestants are just forced to separate to be honest,” or (b) “this is mere debate.” On (a), I think the example of the Judaizers and the Council of Jerusalem is responsive. There was a debate, and then the debate was settled, by the Church, at a Council binding on all Christians everywhere, guided by the Holy Spirit (Acts 15:28). So if there is a genuine question about, say, justification or papal infallibility, turn that question over to the Church. As it is, She answered both of these questions – at Trent and the First Vatican Council, respectively. To refuse to listen to the Church when She rules in a way you happen not to like isn’t something Scripture praises… anywhere … ever. But even short of a Church Council, Catholics don’t break communion with one another over issues of debate. That’s not dishonest. That’s just more committed to the Church established by Christ than our pet theologies. And this unity bears fruit – again, Ratzinger/JPII were a great team, despite some differences in philosophical approaches.

    As for (b), it seems that if Cdl. Ratzinger were to have separated from the Church because he didn’t like Pope John Paul II’s Thomism or philosophical approach, it’d no longer be a debate. It’d be a schism. Once a couple gets a divorce, it’s no longer simply a disagreement or even marital strife. I suppose I’m still somewhat a loss for when, in your view, it becomes more than “mere debate” if not cutting each other off from full communion in the Body of Christ?

    To your third comment, I think that the only way to truly have one Faith (in the fullest sense of that term) is to have a Church capable of settling disputes over the Faith. That is, you and I share a common Faith, Christianity. But there are disputes between your Faith and my Faith, and that keeps us from the fullest of unions. And that’s awful, frankly.

    Besides this, we also repel non-Christians. In your earliest comment, you pointed to Catholic infighting to justify not being Catholic. Atheists do the same thing, only substituting “Christian” broadly, for “Catholic” specifically. That’s why the lack of Christian unity hinders the Gospel.

    In Christ,


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