That they all may be one
I was never anti-Catholic. I always taught, and still teach, that showing up to a building or joining an organization does not equal salvation. The problem was, the more I learned about what the Catholic Church actually taught, the more I realized my perception of their teachings was distorted. As I continued to listen to the Catholic radio station I really began to enjoy learning the proper perspective of the Catholic Church, even if they were wrong.
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I thought that if I am going to disagree with someone, I should at least accurately understand their teachings so that I can properly refute them. I would never intentionally want to misrepresent any group. The Early Church Fathers. This show, and many others, would regularly give logical, well-reasoned, scripture-based answers to the gospel as understood by the Catholic Church. They would then demonstrate existence of their biblical teaching in the life of the earliest Christians by drawing upon Christian writers from the first, second and third centuries commonly called the Early Church Fathers.
The scripture I understood. And I understood that Catholics were wrong in their interpretations. They would constantly present a point of the gospel that was rooted in Scripture and then support it with quotes from multiple sources in the writings of these Early Church Fathers. They were clear these writings of the Early Church Fathers were not inspired nor on the same level as Sacred Scripture, but that they are a clear witness of what the earliest Christians believed and taught. More importantly, they claimed these beliefs and teachings were handed down by the apostles themselves and some of these writers were actually ordained by the apostles.
I decided to take them up on this challenge. I figured that this would be relatively easy. First of all, the Catholic church had so many weird teachings that it seemed like it would be a piece of cake to show that there was little or no support for them in Scripture or in history. Secondly, I was sure that when I found the writings of the Early Church Fathers they would set the story straight.
But there was a catch. Along with the challenge, they would throw out a caution. They would say that if you take them up on their challenge Yeah right!
This set me on a journey of study, research, prayer and a lot of surprises. Needless to say, this adventure completely challenged understanding of what I thought the Catholic understanding of the gospel to be. This did not take place all at once or over a short period of time. It involved much study over many years. You can be assured that at no point in this process did I ever imagine I would become Catholic. I never wanted to be Catholic.
To this very day, my desire is not to be Catholic, but to follow Christ to the fullest extent possible. I will simply skip to the key questions that caused me to reevaluate my foundations. As a side note, one thing I quickly found was that the writings of the Early Church Fathers were not secret, obscure or hard to come by. In fact, the most popular distribution of them come from a Protestant publisher. I was completely shocked at the volume and depth of material available to us from the first, second and third centuries. The following issues did not arrive to me in the order that I am placing them now.
That They May All Be One
Nor is this list even close to covering all the issues and obstacles that I navigated. This is simply a list of five things that most impacted me and caused me to dig deeper. How do we know what is true? As I have walked with Christ and studied Scripture over the years, I have become more and more convinced that there is objective truth—that it can be known.
I do not believe that each person can believe whatever they want about their path to heaven and expect to actually arrive there. For example, someone cannot be saved who believes Jesus existed but denies that salvation comes through Him. The difficulty comes when two people have a different definition of the truth. The need is then to determine whose version of the truth is actually true. All truth is important, but issues that pertain to salvation are of greatest importance.
Jesus proclaims that He is the way, the truth and the life John When Jesus was before Pilate He says that He came to testify to the truth.
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Jesus is acknowledging that there is objective truth. Pilate, being a Roman and steeped in a pluralistic, polytheistic, pagan culture, did not think objective truth could be known. It refers to truth as something that can be known John , as something to believe 2Thes and something to be lived 1John Scripture is also very clear that truth is not simply something to be believed, but lived.
We know truth cannot live in a vacuum. At some point truth must intersect with real life and with real people. Something believed is not fully believed until it is lived. We know that someone can say they believe the truth of the gospel of Christ, but still act opposite of what they say they believe. If someone professes belief in Christ and is unfaithful to Christ, his poor example does not demonstrate that the Christian faith is untrue.
Likewise, if someone rejects Christ, but lives a better life and is more loving than the professing Christian, does that mean his view of Christ is true? Another example can be seen with marriage. If someone grows up in a home with divorced or abusive parents, it would be incorrect for him to conclude that because of his negative experience, we should do away with marriage. The problem is not marriage, but the understanding and implementation of marriage. Many times, our modern Christian perspective of whether something is true or untrue is based on how well the subjective experience plays out.
If a certain theology is proposed or a certain program is started, it is often judged to have been a viable belief or a worthy pursuit based on its subjective results How many people did it reach and how large was the impact? The fact that they grew up in a loving, supportive family and faith community does not make the false teachings any truer. And many of these people come to these teachings by way of great study and a desire to serve God. Over the years, I have consistently run into Christians who validate their view of the gospel simply by how it is working for them or others in real life.
I include myself in this. One point of view that has given me pause in regard to this subject is the nation of Israel. All throughout the Old Testament God, was faithful to the promise he made to Israel. He chose them to bring about the truth of the prophetic revelations of Christ. Many times, they completely rejected God and completely turned to worship false Gods. Repeatedly, God would raise up men and women to bring the nation back to obedience.
Even while they are plotting the death of the one who could save them, God sovereignly speaks through them—because they have the authority. Many people say the Catholic church is flawed simply because they had a poor experience in the church they attended or have only known Catholics who lived their faith poorly. The challenge is to not render judgment based on experience, but to press through experience and unearth the truth.
With that said, the goal is that all Catholics would live their faith to the fullest and people would have a positive subjective experience.
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We know that Christ came to testify to the truth—so truth can be known. Authority—Who has the authority to determine what is true? I believe the Bible is the inspired Word of God and that it contains the truth of the Gospel. I believe the Bible is inerrant, being free from error and can be completely trusted as an accurate source for Christian teaching. With this profession of trust in the Scriptures also comes the admission of a problem. The problem is this: A written text must have someone to determine its meaning and application.
Our faith is not as simple as a math problem. A math problem needs no interpreter.
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If you have one apple and you add another apple, you now have a total of two apples. It is very concrete, objective and there is no room for interpretation. Theological issues on the pages of scripture do not present themselves as simply or objectively. Let me give a brief example of just one point of theology that has many different perspectives in Scripture. Ephesians — 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ —by grace you have been saved,.
Ro if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;. Gal 19 Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, 21 envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you just as I have forewarned you that those who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.
James 14 What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? This is only a small sampling of the verses that deal with salvation, judgment and the process of how we get to heaven. Right within Scripture we have many different explanations of how to get to heaven. Which one is correct? Are they all correct? How do we know which one to emphasize? How do we understand the harmonization of all these verses? This takes us back to the starting point of this section, that the Bible requires someone to interpret the Scriptures to bring out the proper understanding.
The key question is when two people come to different conclusions on major theology points, like salvation, and they both cite Scripture to support their case how do you determine who is correct? Who has the authority to decide? You, me, your pastor, your denominational leader a theologian? Either there must be a way to authoritatively understand the gospel or one ends up believing that all paths that contain Christ lead to heaven. If there is not an authoritative way to understand the gospel, we are left following the most charismatic leader who can best communicate his position in such a way that it draws people.
There is much more to say on this, but I shall leave it at this time.
That they all may be one
We know that the words on the pages of Scripture cannot interpret themselves and that there must be a reliable authority by which we can understand what Jesus and the Apostles taught. The witness of the early church fathers. Online Source for the Early Church Fathers. The process of identifying the proper authority for interpreting Scripture is a slippery and well-traveled slope. Many have risen over the years and claimed to have that authority. Some of them valid Christians and others were cults. Growing up in the Foursquare denomination, I developed a great love for the Bible, the power of the Holy Spirit and the necessity of living what I believed.
As I grew up I never considered church history much beyond the 20th century. In Bible College, we touched on the Reformation, but very superficially. I say this to point out that I was very, very ignorant of any church history before the 20th century. Sure, I had the general Protestant understanding that my faith was rooted in Scripture and that because of Martin Luther and the Reformation, I was able to freely worship God outside the pressure of overly organized religion. Due to the problems in the church in the 16th century, Martin Luther asked some much-needed questions that caused all kids of reforms to take place—some for the good and some for the bad.
The more I looked into the whole of Church history, all years, I some nagging questions began to surface. My own denomination agreed with Luther on many things but we disagreed with him on many major points of theology. We disagreed with Zwingli, the great Swiss reformer, on many major points of theology. We strongly disagreed with Calvin on major points of theology as well. My denomination had already re-reformed much of the theology of the Reformation in regard to how we are saved, if could we lose salvation and the power and work of the Holy Spirit. These are not small issues.
The nature of salvation and whether you can lose it, is not a peripheral issue.
If my denomination was right, then we were saying that others were wrong. How did we know that we were any more right than Luther, Zwingli or Calvin? Both the reformers and my denomination appealed to Scripture as their source. This led me to begin searching throughout Church history to see what had been historically believed and lived. My searching lead me to the writings of the earliest Christians from the 1st, 2nd century and beyond. I had vaguely heard of these writings but had never read them.
These writings are commonly referred to as the writings of the Early Church Fathers.
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These documents cover a time period roughly from 90 AD to AD. These are not secret writings or recently discovered. The writings of the early church fathers have always been acknowledged by the church in every age. In fact, the particular set of writings that I looked at had been translated from the Greek and Latin by Protestants and published by a Protestant publisher. First, these documents are not inspired, like the Bible, but give us real insight to how the earliest Christians lived from the end of the first century onward.
They help us see more clearly what the apostles handed on to their immediate disciples and to understand the Bible. Secondly, I was surprised that some of these writings were from disciples of the apostles and a couple of writers are even mentioned in Scripture. These were men who sat at the feet of the apostles and directly received their teaching.
Thirdly, as I read, it became clear that the church of the second century AD bared little resemblance to my denomination and many others. Fourthly, there are many things in common theologically between modern Christianity and the early church like the nature of Christ, His saving work on the cross and a lot more , but I was surprised that there was quite a bit of difference on other important theological issues baptism, communion, Church structure, authority of the Church, tradition, relationship between faith and works, etc.
My greatest shock was that the theology, practice and structure of the earliest Christians that lived just after the apostles looked very, very Catholic. I had always been told that the Catholic church emerged much later in the fourth century. But as I studied I found that the core foundational theology of the nature of God, salvation, sin, the church, Scripture, authority and more was easy to find and very Catholic.
As I began to understand who these church fathers were and what that had done for the church I was constantly amazed. These are the men who courageously defended the faith in the face of bloody persecutions, torture and execution. During these early centuries these are the men who preserved the Bible for us. The fourth century fathers are the ones who determined which early Christian writings were inspired and assembled them into the New Testament which we have to this day. These early church fathers defended the faith against heresy after heresy.
They successfully overcame every movement that rose up to deny divinity of Christ, the humanity of Christ, the virgin birth, his literal resurrection and much, much more. This gave birth to another nagging question: How could I accept the contributions of these men regarding the canon of the New Testament, definitions of the Incarnation and the Trinity, but reject all the rest of what they taught faith, justification, salvation, the Church, tradition, works, apostolic succession and more?
And how could I reconcile the fact that from the earliest writings 90ADAD, before Constantine the undeniable evidence is that the earliest Christians were Catholic in theology, practice and structure. The apostles failed to pass on the basic message of gospel and the nature of the church to their very own disciples and therefore the true church immediately slipped away only to be rediscovered at the time of the reformation early s or later.
After that, He prays for all believers in verses Finally, He prays for the world in verses 21 and Time constraint does not allow us to read and consider all this prayer here, but I encourage you to study this precious prayer of our Lord. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.
He points out in verse 12 , that while He was in the world, He kept, or guarded, His disciples. Now, He asks His father to keep them. Those whom the Father keeps, he brings together in a holy unity of faith and of the Spirit. This is a unity that man cannot create. This is the work of God. He is now praying for all believers everywhere. The union which Christ prays for, is to be just like the oneness that exists Christ and His Father.