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.
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.
- 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).
- The first millennium Church is recognizably the Catholic Church.
- 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.
Now, I can think of three reasons why a Continuationist might reject the above conclusion:
- The Early Church Fathers, and those after them, weren’t really Catholic;
- The so-called Early Church Fathers were apostates, and the true believers were somebody else;
- The Catholic Church is one of multiple acceptable options.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
(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.
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.