I’ve believed as long as I remember that God is sovereign. Much of the reason I became Reformed was because I wanted the rest of my beliefs to align themselves with my belief in God’s sovereignty. I became Catholic for the same reason. Surprised? Let me explain.
As a member of the Church of Christ, I believed the church fell into apostasy almost immediately after the death of the last apostle. The “true church” had to go underground, and it emerged again into known history about 200 years ago. One of the appeals of the Reformed faith was that it was rooted in history so much more than the Church of Christ.
And yet, while the Reformed version of history set later dates on apostasy, and accepted more historical doctrines than the Church of Christ, it still was the same basic version. At some point the church apostatized and became so heretical that the true Christians had to separate from the church in order to maintain the true faith. I found that there was no consensus on the date of apostasy. Some said that the church was fine until about 1000 AD or even later. Some said around 600 AD. Most Reformed claim that St. Augustine was orthodox and so what consensus there was seemed to agree that at least until 400-450 AD, the church was orthodox.
But there were a few Biblical passages that seemed to suggest the Church would not ever fall into apostasy. There is the famous passage in Matthew 16:18, when Jesus says the gates of Hell will not prevail against His Church. I misunderstood this passage for many years, thinking it was saying the Church would not fall when under Satan’s attack. It really says that Hell will fall when attacked by the Church. Not the Church, but Satan and his demons are the ones inside the walls starving because of the siege. This understanding strengthens the argument that this passages promises that the Church will not apostatize. The Church is promised victory. And not just we-made-it-through-by-the-skin-of-our-teeth victory. Jesus promised trample-down-the-enemy’s-city-walls-and-torch-the-place victory. I could not reconcile this with apostasy of the Church.
Jesus also told the apostles shortly before He ascended, “I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20 RSV) He made this promise in the middle of His great commission. This promise, just like the rest of the commission, was made to the entire Church, not just to the apostles. And He didn’t promise to be with them only til the death of the last apostle, but to the end of the age. Some translations read “the end of the world” (KJV, for example). Jesus promised His presence to the Church for a long, long time. Again, I could not reconcile this promise with widespread apostasy of the sort that necessitates leaving the Church.
So I was left with a little quandry: I believed the Church fell into such great apostasy that it had forfeited its authority as the Church. I believed that Jesus e promised victory, not failure, for the Church, and He promised to be with the Church forever. I believed God was fully capable of guiding the Church however He wished – apostasy or orthodoxy as suited His purposes. There are several ways to reconcile these competing beliefs:
- God is not really sovereign. Jesus made these promises but was unable to keep His promise to the Church. He was unable to protect it and guide it . Therefore the Church fell into heresy.
- The Biblical accounts are unreliable. Jesus never promised victory to the Church, or to stay with it.
- God is not trustworthy. Jesus lied when He promised victory to the Church and when He promised His presence to it, therefore He did not protect it and the Church fell into heresy.
- The Biblical accounts are reliable, Jesus made these promises, meant them, followed through on them and the Church did not fall into apostasy or heresy.
If God is not sovereign, then I’m not going to worship Him. If the Bible is unreliable, then I’m going to stop looking to it for guidance, and stop worshiping the God it presents. If God is not trustworthy, then He’s not good, and I’m not going to worship him. These are all logical options that many people accept, but they are inconsistent with Christianity. If I was to remain a Christian, I had to accept that the Church never apostatized. (There are logical reasons for choosing Christianity over other options, but they are beyond the scope of this post, and even of this blog.)
If the Church never fell into apostasy or heresy, then it is still around now. The task is to find it. Based on the conclusions I had just come to, I was pretty sure the Church Jesus founded would not justify its existence by a view of history that involved complete apostasy. That criteria alone eliminated the vast majority of religious bodies that claim to be the Church (or part of it) and it left the Catholic Church, and the Orthodox Church, and maybe the Anglican/Episcopalian Church. As I looked into these three it became clear that the Anglican Church, while founded for political reasons, yet did justify its separation from the Catholic Church by claiming fault on the part of the Catholic Church. And so did the Orthodox Church.
Of course, there were many doctrines the Catholic Church teaches that I was uncomfortable with. I had to learn about many of them, recognize where I did not understand them, find where they were more consistent than the non-Catholic arguments against them, and eventually simply accept a few I did not understand. However, careful study will make sense of distinctly Catholic doctrines, and a careful study of history will show a distinctly Catholic Church from the beginning of Christianity.
A sovereign God will not let fall the Church He sacrificed so much for, to which He promised victory. Becoming Catholic was the only way to remain a Christian, or to maintain God’s sovereignty. This, in a nutshell, is why I will remain Catholic, and will never leave the Catholic Church for another form of Christianity.