The Structure of the Church and the Continuity of Her Teachings
The structure of the Church that Christ founded has a structure that Christ imposed on Her. Just before He gave Peter the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven that bind and loose on heaven and earth, Christ asked the disciples who the people said He was. The reply was this. And they said: “Some [say] John the Baptist; some, Elijah; and others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” Then Jesus said to them: “But whom do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answering, said to him: “Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 16:14-17). In this way Christ dismisses the notion that the Church is a democracy that is ruled by the people’s vote or opinion. It is also, not a Church ruled by committee alone. It is ruled by God, through Peter acting alone and by the other apostles acting together with their head Peter. We can infer this rather easily by seeing Christ hand over the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven to Peter alone immediately after this scene and to this day we say that any Pope, occupies the chair of Peter and has use of His gift to bind and to loose. This indicates that this Theocracy will have a human face, a vicar or ambassador of Christ, to lead and guide the Church on earth.
So we already see in the embryonic Church a structure being loosely formed and the details being left to those who have been given the authority to do so. We have a head, a governing body and those that they deem fit to lead the people and shepherd the people. No other Church has this structure that we see developed in Matthew 16.
Later, after Christ had risen, He appears in the upper room and consecrates the apostles by breathing on them (reminiscent of the only other time in scripture that God breathed on man; when He gave life to our first parent Adam). This is a new spiritual gift. It is a new spiritual life given only to His apostles. And by their reception it signified a special gift of the Holy Spirit; the breath of God. And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, “Receive ye the Holy Spirit: Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained.” (John 20:22-23). This was the reception of the gift of Holy Orders given to our Bishops and Priests for the absolution of sins: a means to help Christians return to grace when they have failed Christ and the Church – sinning against God and man. It is why we must maintain an apostolic priesthood that received this power and grace; uniquely given to these men of the Church for our benefit.
In this way the Church has been anointed with an exclusive power which was afforded Her by Christ for the leadership and shepherding of His flock. For those who feel they need not confess their sins to a man, how would these men ever know what they were to “forgive or retain” unless the sins were confessed? It is illogical that any other meaning can be attributed to the above verses. Why confess to a mere man? Because Christ ordained it and also because when you have sinned against God, you have sinned against the men and women of the Church as well and must be forgiven by both. When the priest absolves your sin, he does so in persona Christi (in the person of Christ), his power coming from Christ Himself by way of the Holy Spirit as given to these first apostles. Now this gift has been passed on historically through the anointing of their successors right to our present time. So it is appropriate that a man, chosen by God for ministering to the Church, is indispensable to the Church for mending the sin between the sinner and God as well as the Church which the penitent had professed to follow.
So here we can see the basic structure of the Church and what we today call Holy Orders: Pope, Bishop, Priest and Deacon (who has limited powers to help the priests and bishops).
The continuity of teaching is another important and relevant factor which I evaluated as an aspiring convert to the Church. For 2000 years, of martyrdoms, heresies, apostasies, corruption and scandal the Church has not ever violated as a teaching the Deposit of Faith that was delivered Her through Christ and the Apostles. All divine revelation ended when the last apostle died. This de fide teaching which was passed down via the spoken tradition and the written scriptures has over the years been codified in most of the important areas. They are inviolate, as the Church, acting as the world’s sworn protector of this Deposit, will not and cannot change a single thing that is contained therein.
As times change and customs in other countries differ from one another, we modify the unessential to become part of and integrated into the people being served; but we hold to the same de fide teachings unfailingly. Even if we could change them, our question would be: to which time in history and to which culture should we succumb? Would the Church be different and believe differently in every part of the world and at every time period? So we cannot do this with our divinely revealed teachings as they are to be preserved for all time.
It is one of the sad facts that we see the churches that have come out of the Catholic Church violate and deny many of these inviolable teachings. The most recent of these teachings that all Christianity embraced was the immorality of contraception. It was struck from the teaching of 1 single protestant denomination in the 1930’s and within a few years every protestant church had succumbed to the pressure of the secular world: for science had perfected a simple and an affordable way to practice contraception and the people were clamouring for it.
The Catholic Church cannot change this even if most of the Catholic’s would like us to. It is apostolic and biblical and is part of the everlasting deposit of faith that the Church is sworn to uphold. We cannot be seduced by the world on matters of grave error.
For these reasons, I find that having the assurance of a Church with a divinely chosen structure and a commitment to oppose the world on matters of essential teachings a great comfort. She has guarded our faith faithfully for 2000 years and shows Herself to be a fortress that even the Gates of Hell will not prevail against.