Anyone going to daily Mass recently (Friday, Monday, and yesterday) has heard a lot about “the Kingdom of Heaven” from Matthew 13. These Gospel passages are critically important for anyone trying to understand the Church that God Himself set up upon the Earth when He pitched His tent amongst us.
Friday’s was this parable from Matthew 13:24-30:
“The kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Yesterday, Jesus provided His own explanation for this parable (Matthew 13:36-43):
Jesus dismissed the crowds and went into the house. His disciples approached Him and said,“Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” He said in reply, “He who sows good seed is the Son of Man,the field is the world, the good seed the children of the Kingdom.The weeds are the children of the Evil One,and the enemy who sows them is the Devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. Just as weeds are collected and burned up with fire, so will it be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his Kingdom all who cause others to sin and all evildoers. They will throw them into the fiery furnace,where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the Kingdom of their Father.Whoever has ears ought to hear.”
Here’s why these passages are important. First, it means that the visible Church and invisible Church are actually connected; however, there are some people in the Church, in the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, who will be “collect[ed] out of His Kingdom” by angels and booted to Hell. So not only is the Church full of sinners, not only does the Church on Earth contain some people who will ultimately be damned, but Christ says that it contains some people who were put there by the devil himself.
So the next time someone tells you, “Oh, such-and-such Catholic commit this terrible sin; how can you claim to be the True Church on Earth?” just remember what Christ Himself had to say about it. And next time you get frustrated that there are so many flagrant anti-Catholics bearing the name Catholic, and using it to spread hatred against Catholicism (I’m thinking Catholics for Choice, Cuomo (“Personally against abortion, but wouldn’t impose it”) Catholics, Call to Action, Kathleeen “Obama is More Catholic than the Pope” Kennedy Townsend, “Catholic” Masons, etc., etc., etc.), just remember that even Jesus took a “pastoral” approach that probably irked some of His followers: “if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them.” So maybe, by being in the Church, some of these people who seem like weeds will reveal themselves to be the wheat that God knew they were all along. Note, I’m not saying that excommunications aren’t sometimes prudent and necessary, I’m all for employing that against the most recalcitrant; but Jesus is pretty clear that we’re going to have to suffer a lot of people who seem to be weeds even within the Spotless Bride, the Church Herself.
Amongst other things, I would argue that this parable, with explaination, precludes one of the classic Reformed beliefs on the nature of the Church. The Reformed position cannot, by definition, identify Christ’s Church with a single ecclesiastical Body: they may think that they’re in the best church around, but they can’t (and don’t) claim that their denomination is the very one that Christ established. So they opt instead for a heavy emphasis on the invisible nature of the Church, and use three “marks” to identify which churches are really part of the Church.
Dr. C. Matthew McMahon acknowledges that the early Church was Catholic or, as he put it, “Pelagian and sacerdotalistic.” Specifically, he cites Robert Reymond for the proposition that “Church historians are fairly unanimous in their observation that the church in many areas of the then known world rather quickly departed from the pure gospel and teaching of the apostles and began to espouse defective views of the Trinity and the person and work of Christ, and to advocate Pelagian and sacerdotalistic version of salvation.” So when the Church, all over the known world, is preaching the exact same thing, and it doesn’t comport with your modern revision of what Christ really meant, how do you correct this? Easy. Claim that those people were never part of the Church, since the Church is the set of all of those people who agree with you. Or, as Dr. McMahon puts it, “The first mark of the church is the pure preaching of the Word of God and sound doctrine, for without this, the church could not possibly exist. Such a mark houses a certain amount of flexibility since some true churches are more pure or less pure than others.” So it functions like a true-Church dimmer switch, with “more pure or less pure” true Church(es). Perhaps an especially true sermon makes you more the Church that Christ established on Earth, etc.
The problem with this, and all related, theories is that they seem to say that the only “true Church” or “pure Church” is the (invisible, hypothetical, and impossible to attain on Earth) one with all seeds and no weeds. It’s a pleasant hope — and we will have it one day… in Heaven, after the Last Judgment. But to claim that’s the situation on Earth is to flatly contradict Christ’s teaching, where He says that weeds will be taken “out of His Kingdom” on the Last Day.
Tomorrow, more on the Church as Kingdom of Heaven on Earth, this time looking at the teaching of Monday’s Gospel.
Edit: I thought that this Eastern Orthodox website did a good job explaining the fallacy of an Earthly Invisible Church.