The Charismatic Movement and the Catholic Church

One of the points of disagreement within Christianity is between “Cessationists” (who believe that some of the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, like tongues and prophesy, died out with the Apostles) and the “Continuationists” (who say that those gifts never died out). I’m not looking to settle that dispute today.  Rather, I wanted to point out something which is often overlooked: for Continuationists to be correct, there must not have ever been an Apostasy, and Catholicism must be the true and undying Church.

I. The Continuationist Case for Catholicism

Let me show what I mean. Dr. J. Rodman Williams of the Christian Broadcast Network is a Continuationist, and here’s how he defends that view:

Did tongues cease with the completion of the New Testament? 

The answer is No. There has been no time in the history of the Church when tongues have not been spoken. Paul writes: “:Love never fails, but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Prophecy, tongues, knowledge all pass away when “the perfect” comes; that is when we see Christ face to face. (see verses 9 through 12). Until then, it is a joy to know that the gifts of the Holy Spirit will function upon the earth.

So from the birth of the Church forward, Williams argues, the gifts of the Holy Spirit never ceased to be active within the Church… and they shall not cease to be active until the Second Coming. For that to be true, you can’t believe that there was a Total Apostasy.  No, this view presupposes that the Church Christ founded existed and exists, with the active and ongoing Presence of the Holy Spirit, from Pentecost until the end of time. So if Williams is right, the Church must have never died out, and the Holy Spirit must have always been active in the Church.

Armed with that knowledge, Pentecostals and Charismatics should take a serious look at (a) the writings of the early Christians, the Church Fathers; and (b) the writings of the Christians who came after the Fathers. As I’ve noted before, very few Protestants deny that the Christians from about 500 onward were Roman Catholic (at least until the various Schisms). If that’s true, then the Continuationist argument would point to the Catholic Church being the undying Church, and being actively lead by the Holy Spirit. My argument is pretty simple:
  1. If Williams is right, the Church is undying, and the Holy Spirit is always actively involved in preserving and guiding Her (since that’s what the spiritual gifts are about).
  2. The first millennium Church is recognizably the Catholic Church.
  3. Therefore, the Catholic Church is the undying Church founded by Christ and lead by the Holy Spirit.

So I think Pentecostals and Charismatics who take seriously the belief that the work of the Holy Spirit has continued in the Church unabated from Pentecost onwards have a duty to take Church history seriously, and investigate whether this Spirit-led Church is one and the same as the Catholic Church.

For what it’s worth, anyone who takes the Scriptures serious about Christ’s role in the Church until the end of time (Mt. 28:20), and the Holy Spirit’s ceaseless guidance of the Church (John 14:16) should arrive at the same conclusion, regardless of whether they’re Continuationists or Cessationists.

II. Answering the Objections

Now, I can think of three reasons why a Continuationist might reject the above conclusion:

  1. The Early Church Fathers, and those after them, weren’t really Catholic;
  2. The so-called Early Church Fathers were apostates, and the true believers were somebody else;
  3. The Catholic Church is one of multiple acceptable options.
Let’s look at each, in turn.

1. Were the Early Church Fathers Catholic?

The first of these three objections crumbles when you start to read history. In 180 A.D., Irenaeus’ Against Heresies describes the Mass in explicit detail, talks about Peter and Paul founding the Church at Rome, and it being the Church with which all other churches must agree.  Plenty of other Fathers, both before and after him, say the same thing.  And there’s no serious question how the Fathers view the Eucharist, for example.  I’ve compiled some applicable writings from Church Fathers on the Eucharist: prior to 200 A.D., from 200-300 A.D., and from 300-400 A.D. Universally, they believe it’s actually Jesus.

After about 400, most Protestants stop even arguing the point. Once you have things like the Roman Rite of the Latin Mass, the Latin Vulgate with the Deuterocanon, unambiguous sacramental confession, clear declarations of papal primacy, and so forth, it’s so clearly Roman Catholicism that to argue would be absurd. Even those Christians who break away from the Roman Catholic Church stay incredibly Catholic — check out an Eastern Orthodox Liturgy sometime, and you’ll find sacramental priests offering the Body and Blood of the Lord on the altar.
So theory #1, that these folks aren’t Catholic, doesn’t hold water. But seeing as this Church is so Catholic, can Pentecostals view it as the true Christian Church?
2. Were the Early Church Fathers True Christians?

An attempt has been made to argue that while those folks were indeed Catholic, they aren’t part of the Church Christ founded.  Rather, there was another group of people who were the real Christians.

HocCogitat makes that argument here:

What about groups like the Waldensians who existed back to the time of the apostles? They held the Prot doctrines, no? 

And the Waldensians are probably just the best known of many such groups. There were probably loads of such Christians. And they are less documented b/c that did not attain the political power the Romans did, but I don’t see why this should be an issue. All we need is one that held the Prot doctrines to undermine your argument here.

That historical view is discredited bunk, as I explained in my response: 

(1) The Waldensians didn’t exist at the time of the Apostles. That’s a silly conspiracy theory. They take their name from Peter Waldo, who lived from about 1140-1218. To my knowledge, no serious historian questions that Waldo started the Waldensians. The theory that the Waldensians are older than Waldo was just an attempt by some Radical Reformers to trace their lineage back to the Apostles. 

The Wikipedia article notes that the modern Waldensian churches actually admit that Waldo founded their church, and provides good evidence here, here, and here.

(2) As for the notion that we don’t know about these groups because they were rich or powerful enough, that’s pretty well refuted by the historical record as well. The Catholics were fantastic at documenting their opponent’s heresies. For example, if you want to learn about Gnosticism, read Irenaeus’ Against Heresies. He spends chapter after chapter outlining what it is that they believe, and why it’s wrong. Optatus and Augustine do the same for the Donatists. So if the Waldensians (or any other proto-Protestant group) existed, we would know either from their own writings, or at least the writings of the Catholics arguing against them. To my knowledge, you can find references to all of the known heretical movements in the writings of Catholic opponents. It’s much too much a stretch to imagine that Waldensians (or others) existed, had no ecclesiastical opponents, and left no historical trace.

(3) Money and power don’t really enter into it, if you believe in the Holy Spirit. The Apostles were not rich or powerful, by earthly standards. But we know what they taught and wrote, and still have copies of their Writings. That’s because the Holy Spirit, working through the Roman Catholic Church, preserved these Writings… right? 

(4) Even if a proto-Protestant group existed, the argument above shows that they would have to have continued on from the time of the Apostles down to the present. That is, even if some early Christian somewhere believed the five Solas (which doesn’t appear to be the case), it wouldn’t be enough. If there are any points in history in which Protestant Christianity isn’t taught, then it seems that either (a) Protestant Christianity isn’t true, (b) Protestant Christianity isn’t essential to salvation, or (c) God abandoned His people by depriving them of essential Christianity. 

[…]

One detail I didn’t mention before: Peter Waldo, the founder of the Waldensians, was baptized Roman Catholic, and remained Catholic until his excommunication at the Synod of Verona in 1184. 

If that doesn’t establish that Roman Catholicism is older than Waldensianism, I’d be interested as to what does.

David W. Daniels made a book-length tract, entitled Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?, which makes the same argument (although cleverly referring to the Waldensians by their French name, Vaudois, so people aren’t aware they were founded by Peter Waldo). 
Spelled out at length, the absurdity of the view become apparent. Daniels denounces Origen, St. Augustine, St. Jerome, and countless other early Christians are heretics, and claims that the true Christians were the Vaudois living in Antioch.  Yet Daniels can’t name a single Vaudois from the first millenium.  Certainly, he talks about how they painstakingly translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Old Latin in the second century, but never says who. He just jumps from the time of the Apostles into the second millennium.  To think that a thousand years of Christians could come and go without leaving a trace is not only absurd, but contrary to Christ’s call to be a city on a hill, and not to hide your light under a bushel (Matthew 5:14-16).

Daniels has just imagined that the believers in Antioch, who he plainly knows nothing about, probably believed what he believes.  Hogwash.  St Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop of Antioch until about 107-110, wrote seven different letters on his way to be martyred. In it, he talks about the three-fold structure of the Church (bishop-presbyter-deacon), about the Real Presence of the Eucharist, and about how the Church at Rome “presides in love.”  These letters as so Catholic that John Calvin thought they must be a Catholic forgery.

Finally, even if the Continuationists are wrong about the spiritual gifts continuing, anyone who takes the Scriptures seriously about Christ being with us until the end of time (Mt. 28:28) and the Holy Spirit guiding us forever (John 14:16) should wind up concluding that the notion of a total Apostasy, in which the Church was utterly destroyed, is patently unbiblical.

So there’s an unbroken chain running from Pentecost to the present through the Catholic Church, proclaiming  the same faith, believing the same dogmas.  And no Protestant can prove the same about their own church’s belief system.

3. Is the Catholic Church One of Various Possible Choices?

Given that the Early Church Fathers are the Catholic, and that they’re the only known Christians for much of history (excluding some self-proclaimed Christians who both Catholic and Protestants regard as heretics), is this the One True Church, or just one of many options? Well, the early Catholic Church proclaimed Herself the only Way.  We see this as far back as Acts 24:14, in which the Christians are using the term “the Way” to describe themselves (see John 14:6).

To take but one example, Pope Boniface I was pope from 418-422 A.D.  During his short pontificate, he wrote to Rufus, Bishop of Thessalonica,

The institution of the universal Church, at its birth, took its beginning from the honour bestowed on Peter, in whom its government and headship reside. For from him as its fountainhead did ecclesiastical discipline flow throughout all the Churches, when now the culture of religion had begun to make progress. […] It is therefore certain that this Church is to the Churches spread over the whole world, as the head is to its own members; from which Church whoso has cut himself off, becomes an alien from the Christian religion.

So Boniface is proclaiming that the Church at Rome, founded by Peter, is head of the other churches, and that anyone who cuts themselves off from Rome cuts themselves off from Christianity.And what he’s saying here was neither new nor particularly controversial.  The Early Church routinely declared that the Church founded by Christ upon Peter, and headed by the Church of Rome, was the one and only True Church.

The early Church could be right, in which case modern Protestants are wrong; or the Protestants could be right, in which case the early Church was wrong.  But they can’t both be right. Since the Holy Spirit’s ongoing role is to preserve us in “all Truth” (John 16:13), if He lead the early Church, and the early Church taught this, it must be true.

12 Comments

  1. Excellent article…I will be on the Journey Home in August discussing just these points as I am a convert from Pentecostalism (Trinitarian). I cover a number of charismatic/pentecostal distinctives that lead to Catholicism in my conversion story here. Pentecostalism’s belief in the ongoing Apostolic work of the Spirit (Petrine Office anyone?), insistence on the necessity of holiness for salvation (quasi-arminian), sacramentalism, and yearning for Christ’s presence (satisfied truly in the Eucharist) sets the stage, I believe, for a return of many Christians to the Church that we thought were otherwise alienated from her (think low-church, non-creedal Christians).

    Another valuable resource to this discussion is Newman’s Essays on Miracles which can give one a kind of matured view of Cessationism in 19th century Anglicanism. What is interesting is that Cessationism emerges out of the necessity to discredit Catholicisms unbroken history of miracles and tracks in popularity with the rise of empiricism eventually reaching the illogical summit that is Hume (on this point he’s the heir of Calvin). That all said, you can hear Hume when reading Newman (Blessed).

    Through the Immaculate Conception,

    Brent

  2. This article does not prove that the Catholic church is the one true church just because some popes wrote letters saying that. Where is the scriptural support for the Catholic church?…..there is none.. Jesus is the true Church, not the pope or the catholic church. All who believe in Christ as the savior and who accept his salvation through grace alone make up the true church. Catholicism is nothing more than paganism from the days of babylon and a recreation of religious worship of man. Trying reading all of scripture and put i together instead of takeing one or two scriptures and trying to make a point for the Catholic church. Peter was not the first pope. Something that important would have been in scripture, yet God decided to show his conversion through grace in a man named Saul who was in fact a pharisee, (modern day priest) and give him new birth through Jesus Christ. Popes cannot forgive sin, or answer prayers or represent God in anyway. I would say the drunk down on the corner who cries out God for forgiveness in his sinful nature is closer to God than the pope. Open your bibles and read the scriptures instead of trusting in a man to tell you what they mean.

    1. >This article does not prove that the Catholic church is the one true church just because some popes wrote letters saying that.

      Does history matter at all? Y/N?

      >Trying reading all of scripture and put i[t] together instead of takeing one or two scriptures

      So your complaint here is that Joe didn’t cite the entire Bible? I think Blogspot has an upper size limit on posts… 😉

      >Something that important would have been in scripture

      You are Cephas….I will give you the keys of the Kingdom…feed my sheep.

      > Saul who was in fact a pharisee, (modern day priest)

      No, those were Levites.

      >Popes cannot forgive sin…

      If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained…

      …or answer prayers

      Who ever said they could? Do you think we pray to Pope Francis?!

      …or represent God in anyway.

      He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me…

      But Peter said, “Anani′as, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land?”

      Open your bibles and read the scriptures instead of trusting in a man to tell you what they mean.

      And if my interpretation conflicts with your interpretation, what then?

    2. Oh yes, and it’s probably worth pointing out that you didn’t interact with the article at all or attempted to refute any points, just made unsubstantiated assertions that “Catholicism is nothing more than paganism from the days of babylon”.

  3. I do not find that any of you have had a true revival experience. There is not one word of how the Spirit of God came on you to bring true born again experience, repentance and revival. Where is your experience. Those men of the Bible spoke of their experience. They spoke of Jesus. They did not speak of a church except of God. Moses had no building, he had a staff. Did the Red Sea part or not. Did Saul become Paul or not. He was on a road to murder when he was struck blind. Another laid hands on and prayed and the scales fell from his eyes. Do you not believe in the experiences of people today. This all sounds like what Jesus faced. Jesus is the church not a ceremony. If God could talk through a donkey he can do what He will. When is the last time you hung a star in the sky, when is the last or first time any of you have created a tree and you think you know the mind of God??? What is wrong with you. The very thing you think is wrong with those you call Pentecostals. Jealousy and fear of loosing what YOU think God wants. Yes He is Holy. You can get Holy and be touched by God in a song, in prayer, in your bathroom, on the back of a donkey or on a horse or……. It is between you and Him not you and them, not the Priest, the confessional, not the ceremony. My conversion happened on the balcony on the darkest night of my life. Crying, shaking and hurting down in the marrow of my bones I screamed for God, I repeated Luke 9:13 and said I do not know what that is (Holy Spirit) but I have got to have something. It was like warm honey flowing through, from my head to my toes. Suddenly I was at peace. I spoke in tongues. Did not know anything about that except I had stated GOD doesn’t do that any more. That night I found out I had not known God at all only what Others had told me. By people that had never experienced anything. Next thing I was ostracized. Yet since that time it would take a large book to contain what has taken place in my life. Other experiences followed. How they came, by prayer and fasting. Most of them led me to a greater love of others. That is what is important to God, your submissiveness and obedience not your, beat the donkey till he submits to your way of thinking. God is only in control when you relinquish yours but most cannot get to that point because they still must have their point. Selfish.

    1. Stay Down on the Farm,

      I love that you had a conversion experience that brought you to Christ. Really: that is awesome, and I’m thankful to count you as a brother in Jesus Christ. I’d encourage you to read a very inspiring account in St. Augustine’s Confessions. I promise you it’ll get you a lot more spiritual mileage than judging (or guessing) who on the Internet has and hasn’t had a “true revival experience.”

      As for the claim that the Apostles didn’t speak of the Church, go read Ephesians 5, wherein Saul/Paul explains that Christ died for the Church. Then read Jesus’ opening words in Mark’s Gospels, when He announces two things: the Gospel and the Kingdom. They’re inseparable. (Of course, there are just a couple of the numerous places in which Jesus and the Apostles speak of the Church).

      God bless,

      Joe

    2. “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you! … In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created… Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace. – St. Augustine

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