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St. Paul Street Evangelization — Cave Junction, Or. Reasons to Return to the Catholic Church

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EDITORS NOTE: Welcome to St. Paul Street Evangelization, Cave Junction, Or. Chapter!  If you have any questions concerning the faith or your journey home, you may e-mail me (Jimmy Evans) at Jamestevans0@yahoo.com 

Reasons to Return to the Catholic Church

Rome is Where the Heart is

If you once were a practicing Catholic and have been away from the Catholic Church for a while — no matter how long — you’re always welcome back. Your companion in this journey is our Lord Jesus Christ. He will walk alongside and guide you. Place your trust in Him; He will lead you home.

1. Reconciliation (Confession)

If you’re thinking about coming back, it’s very important to go to Confession (the “Sacrament of Reconciliation” or “Penance”). Jesus Christ Himself instituted Confession and He desired that His followers have a place to go to be absolved of their sins. He, in turn, gave authority to men to forgive sins.

“Jesus … said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained’” (Jn 20:21–23).

All parishes around the world have set times for Confession, and finding out these times is a Google search away. You also have the right under Canon Law to ask the parish priest for an appointment for Confession. You should explain to the priest prior to your confession that you haven’t been to church for a while and haven’t been attending Confession. If you need a refresher, the priest will happily guide you through the steps of Confession.

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn 1:9).

2. The Communion of Saints

You may remember from your childhood that if you lost something, you’d pray to St. Anthony of Padua. If you were studying for a test, you’d pray to St. Joseph of Cupertino or St. Thomas Aquinas. Whatever your intention is, there is a saint to call on to pray with you.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us” (Heb 12:1).

This “cloud of witnesses” cheers us on as we walk with Christ. The faithfully departed — the Church in Heaven — are ever concerned about the Church on earth.

“Being more closely united to Christ, those who dwell in heaven fix the whole Church more firmly in holiness. … They do not cease to intercede with the Father for us, as they proffer the merits which they acquired on earth through the one mediator between God and men, Christ Jesus” (Catechism of the Catholic Church [CCC], 956).

The communion of saints helps us by praying for us for we are joined in Christ’s Body, the Church, and it is our joy to bear one another’s burdens (cf. Gal 6:2) and to encourage one another (cf. 1 Thess 5:11).

3. The Eucharist

The Eucharist is the “source and summit of the Christian life” (CCC 1324). The Eucharist is Jesus Christ: Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.

At the Last Supper, the final meal Christ shared with His beloved disciples, He left them the means in which He would be physically present in the world.

“When the Church celebrates the Eucharist, she commemorates Christ’s Passover, and it is made present: the sacrifice Christ offered once for all on the cross remains ever present. ‘As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which “Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed” is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out’” (CCC 1364).

The Mass makes present the one sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. As He took bread and gave thanks, He said, “This is my body which is given for you” (Lk 22:19). Jesus speaks of the same Body in John 6: “He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (Jn 6:56). The sacrifice of Calvary and the sacrifice of the Mass are one and the same sacrifice; only the manner in which they are offered differs.

Therefore, weekly Mass attendance is important. As outlined in CCC 2042, the three precepts of the Church are:

1. You shall attend Mass on Sundays and holy days of obligation and rest from servile labor.

2. You shall confess your sins at least once a year.

3. You shall receive the sacrament of the Eucharist at least during the Easter season.

One must be in a state of grace in order to receive the Eucharist. This means we must not have any unconfessed mortal sin. The Eucharist is participation in Christ’s Body and Blood (cf. 1 Cor 10:16). To receive Holy Communion in such an unworthy manner is to profane against the Body and Blood of Christ (cf. 1 Cor 11:23–29) and is objectively a mortal sin, as is deliberately not attending Mass.

“Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive communion without having received absolution in the sacrament of penance” (CCC 1415).

“The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin” (CCC 2181).

The Eucharist is food for the journey, through which grace is conferred. Through the Eucharist, we are also physically united with Christ. Therefore, we must walk and grow in holiness in order to become vessels that give a witness of Christ to the world.

4. The Joy of Salvation

The mission of the Catholic Church is to bring the reality of God and salvation to all.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16–17).

The Catholic Church offers to all the means of salvation, and the fullness of faith. She also unites the faithful with Christ. God’s gift is freely offered to us; we don’t deserve it, yet it is offered anyway. We must respond accordingly, in faith, to His free grace, so that we can be led by Him, indwelt by the Holy Spirit, to walk in faith and to do the will of God, so that we may be perfected by Him (cf. Mt 7:21; Jas 2:14–26; Mt 5:48).

“In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that … doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor” (CCC 2013).

When Christ ascended into heaven, He left His disciples a final instruction.

“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age” (Mt 28:19–20).

No matter what you’ve done (provided you truly repent of it, confess, and receive absolution), you have a home in the Catholic Church. By Christ’s work on the Cross and through the Sacraments that Christ Himself instituted, your heart will be made new.

“Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come” (2 Cor 5:17).

“For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help toward salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained. It was to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is the head, that we believe that our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant, in order to establish on earth the one Body of Christ into which all those should be fully incorporated who belong in any way to the People of God” (CCC 816).

“Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future” (Oscar Wilde).

5. The One True Church

What is it that sets the Catholic Church apart? Why not just go to the non-denominational church nearby? The answer is simple: no other church in the world (though they may possess much truth and a share of God’s grace) can claim that their founder is God: Jesus Christ Himself.

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:18–19).

Jesus declared here with divine authority that the Catholic Church would teach all nations the Good News and would bring the hope of salvation to all. The Church would be a visible sign to the world that Christ remains with the world until the end of the age. When the Catholic Church teaches and speaks, it does so with the authority of Jesus Christ.

Christ bestowed upon St. Peter the authority to lead the visible church (thus setting in motion the office of the papacy), and the authority to (preeminently) “bind” and “loose.” These ancient rabbinical terms mean to “forbid” and “permit,” that is, to interpret the Law in special circumstances. Jesus, in John 20:22–23 extended the Church’s authority to include absolving sins or issuing penance for them.

The Church is known as the “pillar and bulwark of truth” (1 Tim 3:15) because the Holy Spirit guides it into all truth (cf. Jn 14:26; 16:13). When the Church teaches, it does so because the Holy Spirit has enabled it to. Not all Christians have this special protection, and some are even counterfeit “Christians.”

“Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers’” (Mt 7:21–23).

So why should you consider returning to the Catholic Church? The Catholic Church is built on a rock-solid foundation and Christ Himself promised, “the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”

“Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock” (Mt 7:24–25).

Author bio

Stephen Spiteri is a happily married and proud Catholic husband and father. He currently teaches Religious Education at Irene McCormack Catholic College (Perth, Western Australia), sharing his knowledge and love for Christ and the Catholic Church. Stephen Spiteri is also the founder and author of the apologetics blog ‘The Spirit Magnus’ and has been answering questions and helping people learn more about the Catholic faith online in this way since late 2008. He has been a guest speaker at Catholic conferences, speaking on the topic of apologetics: defending the Catholic faith. Stephen Spiteri also taught a course on apologetics at the ‘Acts 2 Come’ Catholic Bible College in 2012. He is currently working on other projects that will help bring the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith to those interested in learning more about Catholicism.

Written by: Stephen Spiteri

Edited by: Dave Armstrong

Further Reading:

Biblical Evidence for the Communion of Saints
Biblical Catholic Eucharistic Theology
Biblical Catholic Salvation: “Faith Working Through Love”
Biblical Proofs for an Infallible Church and Papacy

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TEXT: Pope Francis’ Opening Address

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Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Good evening.

As you know, the duty of the conclave was to appoint a bishop of Rome, and it seems to me that my brother cardinals have chosen who is from far away. Here I am.

I would like to thank you for your embrace, also to the Roman Catholic Church and the bishops, thank you very much. And first and foremost, I would like to pray for our bishop emeritus, Benedict XVI

Let us pray together for him so that he is blessed by the Lord…

Let us begin this journey together… this journey for the Roman Catholic Church. It is a journey of friendship, of love, of trust, and faith. Let us pray always for one another. Let us pray for the whole world. Let us have a big brotherhood.

I wish that this journey for the Church, which we will start today… will bear fruits for the evangelizing of this beautiful city.

I would like to offer you my blessing. But I would like to ask a favor first. I would like to pray to the Lord so that the prayer of the people blesses also the new pontiff. Let us pray in silence your prayer for me.

Pope Resigns: Statement from Archbishop Alexander K. Sample, Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon

sample2013_01_29_CatholicSentinel_NewArchbishop_ph_Image2SOURCE

MARQUETTE — Pope Benedict XVI announced on Monday that he lacks the strength to fulfill his duties and will be resigning on February 28, 2013. Following the announcement, Archbishop Alexander K. Sample released a statement regarding the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI.

Statement from Archbishop Alexander K. Sample:

“Along with all Catholics throughout the world, I woke up this morning to the stunning news that our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, has made the historically momentous decision to resign his office as the Bishop of Rome and Successor to St. Peter the Apostle.

I receive this news with a certain personal sadness, as I have a great affection for Pope Benedict XVI. He appointed me to be a bishop here in the Diocese of Marquette and now the new Archbishop of Portland. I have met him on several occasions and have always been struck by his kindness and gentle humility. I have been inspired by his steadfast and faithful leadership of the Universal Church.

I have great admiration for him as he makes this very difficult and humble decision to step down from the office of Supreme Pastor of the Church. He clearly recognizes that his strength of mind and body as he ages is no longer adequate to sustain him in such an important ministry. I have no doubt that he came to this decision through much prayer and guided by the Holy Spirit.

We now entrust the election of a new Pope to the same Holy Spirit. This is Christ’s Church, and I have faith and trust that he will raise up a new Holy Father according to his own Sacred Heart. I pray for Pope Benedict XVI. May God be good to him and sustain him in his loving care.”

The New Evangelization: Official trailer for Fr. Robert Barron’s next series is released

CATHOLICISM: The New Evangelization – Trailer

Hat Tip/:) @PatrickLangrell

Year of Faith: Read the Catechism in a Year…

An easy way to study and reflect on the Catechism of the Catholic Church for this Year of Faith

For this Year of Faith, Pope Benedict has encouraged you to study and reflect on the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Well, here’s an easy way to do it. Simply subscribe to this List and – starting October 11, 2012 – you’ll start getting a little bit of the Catechism emailed to you every morning. Read that little bit every day and you’ll read the whole catechism in a year.

Evangelical Pastor goes off on ‘Mr. Anti-Catholic-In-Chief’ in support of Cardinal Dolan

EDITOR NOTE: Um, despite being spiritually aberrant, I believe all card-carrying members of the ‘Church Militant’ will in some manner appreciate the phrase: prophetic butt-kicker“.

 Obama Disses America’s Pope, Cardinal Timothy Dolan

by Doug Giles

If Obama were wise he would really ramp up his misinformation machine. He should start giving away free weed, beer, hookers, tanks of gas, kazoos, Vaseline, stretch pants, whirly hats, Flowbees and ShamWows to anyone who promises to vote for him because he just ticked off stacks of Catholics even further by dissing Cardinal Dolan for the DNC.

Say “buh-bye” to a big ol’ voting block, Mr. Anti-Catholic-In-Chief.

Just like I can’t imagine any evangelical who can read and who remotely takes their faith seriously ever voting for BHO, I can’t imagine a sober Catholic giving this anti-biblical, anti-Constitution president the time of day.

Obama’s admin rages against pretty much everything Christians hold sacred. Stevie Wonder can see that.

But some of you will say, “But Obama loves the poor!” Oh, that’s why he’s created so many more of them in the last three and a half years. Garsh, I wondered what he was doing.

Look, I’m not a Catholic, but I sure dig Dolan’s chutzpah. It’s about time you guys got a U.S.-based prophetic butt-kicker who’s not beholden to big government but rather to a bigger God.

I wish to God more prissy evangelical leaders would call Obama out like Dolan has done. What a bunch of nutless wonders evangelicalism is littered with. Can we recall petrified pastors like the car industry recalls crappy vehicles, such as the Chevy Volt?

Get the rest here.

Protestant Convert: The Authority of the First Popes

SOURCE: Patheos –

Fr. Dwight Longenecker is an American who has spent most of his life living and working in England. Fr Longenecker was brought up in an Evangelical home in Pennsylvania. After graduating from the fundamentalist Bob Jones University with a degree in Speech and English, he went to study theology at Oxford University. He was eventually ordained as an Anglican priest and served as a curate, a school chaplain in Cambridge and a country parson on the Isle of Wight.

Realizing that he and the Anglican Church were on divergent paths, in 1995 Fr. Dwight and his family were received into the Catholic Church. He spent the next ten years working as a freelance Catholic writer, contributing to over twenty-five magazines, papers and journals in Britain, Ireland and the USA.

Authority of the First Popes

The Early Church and the Development of the Papacy

The Trail of Blood

Some time ago an acquaintance from my days as a fundamentalist sent me an email. Kevin had become a Baptist pastor and was disappointed that I had been “deceived by the Catholic Church”. He wanted to know my reasons for becoming Catholic.

I get such emails from time to time, and rather than get involved in arguments about purgatory or candles or Mary worship or indulgences, I usually cut straight to the point and try to engage my correspondent with the question of authority in the Church.

Kevin told me that to follow the Pope was an ancient error, and when I asked where he got his authority he promised to send me a book called The Trail of Blood. This book, written by a Baptist pastor called J.M.Carroll explains that Baptists are not really Protestants because they never broke away from the Catholic Church. Instead they are part of an ancient line of “true and faithful Biblical Christians” dating right back through the Waldensians and Henricians to the Cathars, the Novatians, Montanists and eventually John the Baptist.” This view is called Baptist Successionism or Landmarkism and it is also taught by John T Christian in his book, The History of the Baptists.

Baptist Successionism is a theory more theological than historical. For the proponents, the fact that there is no historical proof for their theory simply shows how good the Catholic Church was at persecution and cover up. Baptist Successionism can never be disproved because all that is required for their succession to be transmitted was a small group of faithful people somewhere at sometime who kept the flame of the true faith alive.  The authors of this fake history skim happily over the heretical beliefs of their supposed forefathers in the faith. It is sufficient that all these groups were opposed to, and persecuted by, the Catholics.

Most educated Evangelicals would snicker at such bogus scholarship and many more are totally ignorant of the works of J.M.Carroll and the arcane historical theories of Baptist Successionism. Nevertheless, the basic assumptions of Baptist Successionism  provide the foundation for most current independent Baptist explanations of early Church history, and these assumptions are the foundation for the typical independent Baptist  understanding of the Church. The assumptions about the early church are these: 1) Jesus Christ never intended such a thing as a monarchical papacy 2) The church of the New Testament age was de-centralized 2) the early church was essentially local and congregational in government. 3) The church became hierarchical after the conversion of Constantine in the fourth century and 4) the papacy was invented by Pope Leo the Great who reigned from 440 – 460.

Just the Facts

The basic assumptions the typical Evangelical has about the papacy are part of the wallpaper in the Evangelical world. Being brought up in an independent Bible Church, I was taught that our little fellowship of Christians meeting to study the Bible, pray and sing gospel songs was like the ‘early Christians’ meeting in their house churches. I had a mental picture of ‘Catholic Pope’ which I had pieced together from a whole range of biased sources. When I heard the word ‘pope’ I pictured a corpulent Italian with the juicy name “Borgia” who drank a lot of wine, was supposed to be celibate, but who not only had mistresses, but sons who he called ‘nephews’. This ‘pope’  had big banquets in one of his many palaces, was very rich, rode out to war when he felt like it and liked to tell Michelangelo how to paint. That this ‘pope’ was a later invention of the corrupt Catholic Church was simply part of the whole colorful story.

But of course, the idea that the florid Renaissance pope is typical of all popes is not a Catholic invention, but a Protestant one. Protestantism has been compelled to rewrite all history according to it’s own necessities. As French historian Augustin Thierry has written, “To live, Protestantism found itself forced to build up a history of its own.”

The five basic assumptions of non-Catholic Christians can be corrected by looking at the history of the early church. Did Jesus envision and plan a monarchical papacy? Was the early church de-centralized? Was the early church essentially local and congregational? Did the early church only become hierarchical after the emperor was converted? Did Leo the Great invent the papacy in the fifth century? To examine this we’ll have to put on one side the preconceptions and mental images of Borgia popes and get down to ‘just the facts ma’am.’

Did Jesus Plan a Monarchical Papacy?

Jesus certainly did not plan for the inflated and corrupt popes of the popular imagination. He intended to found a church, but the church was not democratic in structure. It was established with clear individual leadership. In Matthew 16.18-19 Jesus says to Simon Peter, “You are Peter, and on this Rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” So, Jesus established his church not on a congregational model, but on the model of personal leadership.

Was this a monarchical papacy? In a way it was. In Matthew 16 Jesus goes on to say to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” This is a direct reference back to Isaiah 22.22, where the prophet recognizes Eliakim as the steward of the royal House of David. The steward was the Prime Minister of the Kingdom. The keys of the kingdom were the sign of his personal authority delegated by the king himself.

Jesus never intended a monarchical papacy in the corrupt sense of the Pope being an absolute worldly monarch, but the church leadership Jesus intended was ‘monarchical’ in the sense that it was based on his authority as King of Kings. The reference to Isaiah 22 shows that the structure of Jesus’  kingdom was modeled on King David’s dynastic court. In Luke 1.32-33 Jesus’ birth is announced in royal terms. He will inherit the throne of his father David. He will rule over the house of Jacob and his kingdom shall never end. Like Eliakim, to whom Jesus refers, Peter is to be the appointed authority in this court, and as such his role is that of steward and ruler in the absence of the High King, the scion of the House of David. That Peter assumes this pre-eminent role of leadership in the early church is attested to throughout the New Testament from his first place in the list of the apostles, to his dynamic preaching on the day of Pentecost, his decision making at the Council of Jerusalem and the deference shown to him by St Paul and the other apostles.

Did Jesus plan the monarchical papacy? He did not plan for the sometimes corrupt, venal and worldly papacy that it has sometimes become down through history, but Jesus did plan for one man to be his royal delegate on earth. He did plan for one man to lead the others (Lk.22.32) He did plan for one man to take up the spiritual and temporal leadership of his church. This is shown not only through the famous passage from Matthew 16, but also in the final chapter of John’s gospel where Jesus the Good Shepherd hands his pastoral role over to Peter.

Was the early church de-centralized?

Independent Evangelical churches follow the Baptist Successionist idea that the early church was de-centralized. They like to imagine that the early Christians met in their homes for Bible study and prayer, and that in this pure form they existed independently of any central authority. It is easy to imagine that long ago in the ancient world transportation and communication was rare and difficult and that no form of centralized church authority could have existed even if it was desirable.

The most straightforward reading of the Acts of the Apostles shows this to be untrue, and a further reading of early church documents shows this to be no more than a back-projected invention. In the Acts of the Apostles what we find is a church that is immediately centralized in Jerusalem. When Peter has his disturbing vision in which God directs him to admit the Gentiles to the Church, he references back at once to the apostolic leadership in Jerusalem.(Acts 11:2)

The mission of the infant church was directed from Jerusalem, with Barnabas and Agabus being sent to Antioch (Acts 11:22,27) The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) was convened to decide on the Gentile decision and a letter of instruction was sent to the new churches in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia. (Acts 15:23) We see Philip, John Mark, Barnabas and Paul traveling to and from Jerusalem and providing a teaching and disciplinary link from the new churches back to the centralized church in Jerusalem.

After the martyrdom of James the leadership shifts to Peter and Paul. The authority is not centered on Jerusalem, but through their epistles to the various churches, we see a centralized authority that is vested in Peter and Paul as apostles. This central authority was very soon focussed on Rome, so that St Ignatius, a bishop of the church in Antioch would write to the Romans in the year 108 affirming that their church was the one that had the “superior place in love among the churches.’”

Historian Eamon Duffy suggests that the earliest leadership in the Roman church may have been more conciliar than monarchical because in his letter to the Corinthians, Clement of Rome doesn’t write as the Bishop of Rome, but even if this is so Duffy confirms that the early church believed Clement was the fourth Bishop of Rome and read Clement’s letter as support for centralized Roman authority. He also concedes that by the time of Irenaeus in the mid second century the centralizing role of the Bishop of Rome was already well established. From then on, citation after citation from the apostolic Fathers can be compiled to show that the whole church from Gaul to North Africa and from Syria to Spain affirm the primacy of the Bishop of Rome as the successor of Peter and Paul.

The acceptance of this centralized authority was a sign of belonging to the one true church so that St Jerome could write to Pope Damasus in the mid 300s, “I think it is my duty to consult the chair of Peter, and to turn to a church whose faith has been praised by Paul… My words are spoken to the successor of the fisherman, to the disciple of the cross. As I follow no leader save Christ, so I communicate with none but your blessedness, that is with the chair of Peter. For this, I know, is the rock on which the church is built!”

Was the Early Church Local and Congregational?

We find no evidence of a network of independent, local churches ruled democratically by individual congregations. Instead, from the beginning we find the churches ruled by elders (bishops) So in the New Testament we find the apostles appointing elders in the churches. (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5) The elders kept in touch with the apostles and with the elders of the other churches through travel and communication by epistle. (I Pt.1:1; 5:1) Anne Rice, the author of the Christ the Lord series of novels, points out how excellent and rapid the lines of communication and travel were in the Roman Empire.

In the early church we do not find independent congregations meeting on their own and determining their own affairs by reading the Bible. We have to remember that in the first two centuries there was no Bible as such for the canon of the New Testament had not yet been decided. Instead, from the earliest time we find churches ruled by the bishops and clergy whose authenticity is validated by their succession from the apostles. So Clement of Rome writes, “Our apostles also knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on the question of the bishop’s office. Therefore for this reason… they appointed the aforesaid persons and later made further provision that if they should fall asleep other tested men should succeed to their ministry.” Ignatius of Antioch in Syria writes letters to six different churches and instructs the Romans, “be submissive to the bishop and to one another as Jesus Christ was to the Father and the Apostles to Christ…that there may be unity.”

This apostolic ministry was present in each city, but centralized in Rome. The idea of a church being independent, local and congregational is rejected. Thus, by the late second century Irenaeus writes, “Those who wish to see the truth can observe in every church the tradition of the Apostles made manifest in the whole world…therefore we refute those who hold unauthorized assemblies…by pointing to the greatest and oldest church, a church known to all men, which was founded and established at Rome by the most renowned Apostles Peter and Paul…for this Church has the position of leadership and authority, and therefore every church, that is, the faithful everywhere must needs agree with the church at Rome for in her the apostolic tradition has ever been preserved by the faithful from all parts of the world.”

Did the Church only become hierarchical after Constantine?

Independent Evangelicals imagine that the church only became hierarchical after it was ‘infected’ by the emperor Constantine’s conversion in 315. At that time, they argue, the monarchical model came across from the court of the emperor and the church moved from being independent, local and congregational to being a centralized, hierarchical arm of the Roman Empire.

Again, this theory has no relation to reality. As we have seen, the idea of a monarchical papacy was there from the beginning in Jesus’ identity as the Great scion of David the King with Peter as his steward. The steward, like the king he served, was to be the servant and shepherd of all, but he was also meant to rule as through the charism of individual leadership. This form of governance was hierarchical from the beginning for it is grounded in Jesus’ own concept of the Kingdom of God. A kingdom is hierarchical through and through, and the church, as Christ’s kingdom is hierarchical from its foundations. Furthermore, the leadership of the Jewish church (on which the Christian church was modeled) was hierarchical with it’s orders of rabbis, priests and elders.

Obedience to the bishop as the head of the church was crucial. So Ignatius of Antioch writes to the Christians at Smyrna and condemns individualistic congregationalism in terms that are clearly hierarchical: “All of you follow the bishop as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; respect the deacons as ordained by God. Let no one do anything that pertains to the church apart from the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is under the bishop or one who he has delegated….it is not permitted to baptize or hold a love feast independently of the bishop.”

The hierarchical nature of the church is confirmed and sealed through the apostolic succession. Church leaders are appointed by the successors of the apostles, and there is a clear chain of command which validates a church and it’s ministry. So Ireneaeus writes, “It is our duty to obey those presbyters who are in the Church who have their succession from the Apostles..the others who stand apart from the primitive succession and assemble in any place whatever we ought to regard with suspicion either as heretics and unsound in doctrine or as schismatics…all have fallen away from the truth.”

Throughout the New Testament and the writings of the Apostolic Fathers the church is portrayed as centralized, hierarchical and universal. The need for unity is stressed. Heresy and schism are anathema. Unity is guaranteed by allegiance to the clear hierarchical  chain of command: God sent his Son Jesus. Jesus sent the Apostles. The Apostles appointed their successors. The Bishops are in charge. So Clement of Rome writes, “The Apostles received the gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ: Jesus the Christ was sent from God. Thus Christ is from God, the Apostles from Christ. in both cases the process was orderly and derived from the will of God.”

Was Leo the Great the First Pope?

The term ‘pope’ is from the Greek word ‘pappas’ which means ‘Father.’ In the first three centuries it was used of any bishop, and eventually the term was used for the Bishop of Alexandria, and finally by the sixth century it was used exclusively for the Bishop of Rome. Therefore it is an open question who was the first ‘pope’ as such.

The critics of the Catholic Church aren’t really worried about when the term ‘pope’ was first used. What they mean when they say that Leo the Great (440-461) was the first pope is that this is when the papacy began to assume worldly power. This is, therefore, simply a problem in definition of terms. By ‘pope’ the Evangelical means what I thought of as ‘pope’ after my Evangelical childhood. By ‘pope’ they mean ‘corrupt earthly ruler’. In that respect Leo the Great might be termed the ‘first pope’ because he was the one, (in the face of the disintegrating Roman Empire) who stepped up and got involved in temporal power without apology.

However, seeing the pope as merely a temporal ruler and disapproving is to be too simplistic. Catholics understand the pope’s power to be spiritual. While certain popes did assume temporal power, they often did so reluctantly, and did not always wield that power in a corrupt way. Whether popes should have assumed worldly wealth and power is arguable, but at the heart of their ministry, like the Lord they served, they should have known that their kingdom was not of this world. Their rule was to be hierarchical and monarchical in the sense that they were serving the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It was not first and foremost to be hierarchical and monarchical in the worldly sense.

The Protestant idea that the papacy was a fifth century invention relies on a false understanding of the papacy itself. After the establishment of the church at Constantine’s conversion the church hierarchy did indeed become more influential in the kingdoms of this world, but that is not the essence of the papacy. The essence of the papacy lies in Jesus’ ordination of Peter as his royal steward, and his commission to assume the role of Good Shepherd in Christ’s absence. The idea, therefore, that Leo the Great was the first ‘pope’ is a red herring based on a misunderstanding of the pope’s true role.

The Early Church Today

From the Reformation onward, Protestant Christians have fallen into the trap of Restorationism. This is the idea that the existing church has become corrupt and departed from the true gospel and that a new church that is faithful to the New Testament can be created. These sincere Christians then attempt to ‘restore’ the church by creating a new church. The problem is, each new group of restorationists invariably create a church of their own liking determined by their contemporary cultural assumptions. They then imagine that the early church was like the one they have invented.

All of the historical documents show that, in essence, the closest thing we have today to the early church is actually the Catholic Church. In these main points the Catholic Church is today what she has always been. Her leadership is unapologetically monarchical and hierarchical. Her teaching authority is centralized and universal, and the pope is what he has always been, the universal pastor of Christ’s Church, the steward of Christ’s kingdom and the Rock on which Christ builds his Church.