Did Christ Establish a Church with an Expiration Date?

LAST supper

There is a popular and recurrent theme amongst many non-Catholic Christians that the promises given to Peter and Christ’s gift to him of the keys (to bind and loose), is not indicative of an office per se but a one time gift to Peter and that when Peter died so did the keys vanish with him. Likewise, using the same logic, the powers given to the Apostles after Christ breathed on them and gave them the power to forgive sins was also buried with them at their deaths. Thereby, any Christian Church is no better than any other as nobody has a special gift of the Holy Spirit to lead them to all truths. It died when the apostles died and its a great way to avoid any notion of there being any reliable and lasting authority in the practice and teaching of Christianity no matter the claims.

I like to be logical about these things so here is what bothers me about such notions.

If that is the case then all churches have become corrupted in their belief, teachings and their practices; as fallen creatures, men have a habit of doing that. There is thereby no inerrant authority to pronounce on a doctrine and there is no authority to stop the next generation from altering or actually opposing what was taught previously. There is neither a way to evaluate one church against another nor the changes that are on-going that may and do overturn previous teaching. It is simply ‘growth’ and ‘development’ due to the times and each church has a right to do as it sees fit. Even if people sit up and claim that they are not syncretists or believers in relativism it is all that is left unless an authority is still alive and working in this world.

If we believe that Christ sent us the Holy Spirit to dwell in the Church and to lead it to all Truth then Christ let us down or the Holy Spirit decided to lead a large variety of separate beliefs even though they hold contrary doctrines and teachings. That would make the Holy Spirit capable of blessing the notion that 2+2=4 in one church and 2+2=5 in another church or any other novel answer that a church might come up with. Now that kind of authority is not authority at all but permissiveness which claims that error is on a par with truth. And I doubt that is what Christ had in mind when He said that He would not leave us as orphans; can it really mean that he’ll support whatever anybody wants to believe in their own version of Christianity?

Sadly, if these gifts died with the Apostles, then the Nicene Creed and the Canon of Scripture were simply unauthorized man-made decisions that have no actual authority to compel one to believe them. And if we do somehow believe these for some personal reason, there is no authoritative reason that each of us should understand and interpret their meaning in the same way. A free for all ensues religiously and we are really no better off than the personal preferences that the pagans had for the gods of their choice. We are free to do as we like and nobody is right and nobody is wrong. Its only defensible in as good as are the apologists of each particular church or individual if they think that a personal belief, without a church, is all that is needed. In fact, if the church has no authority, then these people without a church are the most honest of all Christians.

Furthermore, is there then an expiration date on the necessity of Baptism, or of Belief and is it enough to say that God is Love and Mercy and that nobody will suffer loss and that all will find heavenly beatitude? For we can refer to Scripture and interpret our new form of Christianity based upon our personal preferences. For me; I think I very much like the idea that we all go to heaven and nobody will suffer. But others are free to make up their own minds and who is to say that they are wrong. Certainly not an authority that had a very short expiration date which died with the apostles. So, Who am I to judge?

It is very alluring to think that because we hold certain truths in common that the churches are basically the same. And without a clear authority that is the only conclusion one could rationally come up with if we are to believe that Christianity is not a hoax even though Christ did renege on His promises to the apostles and to the Church He founded.

So I chose the Catholic Church and think that it is still the Church that continues to have the authority that was vested in Peter and the apostles. For if it no longer exists then Christianity in my mind no longer is believable and is totally devoid of any veracity that it may once have had. In fact it is proven logically to have been a sham.

Thank God, however, the dogmas and teachings of the Catholic faith are never overturned and continue to operate from their inclusion into our body of faith, until the end of time as we know it. We do not one day wake up and decide that contraception is now OK, or that same sex marriage is now acceptable. We argue these issues and there are some who would love to change our teachings; but alas, they can’t. It is the protection of the authoritative nature that I would have expected the Church founded by Christ to have built into Her very DNA. And that is why I am Catholic. For without this assurance I am not sure that I would believe anything at all.

Where Does a Church Get its Authority?

This might be presented as the argument of authority.

There are two recognized types of authority: One IMMEDIATE and the other MEDIATE. They could be characterized in the following way:

 Immediate Authority is unquestioned and undisputed authority that rests upon their inherent right which is a product of who the person is. They do not require any authority from another. Their authority is not different from their person: it is who they are in and of themselves. Immediate authority cannot be gained and is natural to who they are. This type of authority is absolute and apparent.

Mediate Authority: Authority that is given to someone by another with immediate authority. It is entirely dependent upon a person who possesses immediate authority and cannot be self-imposed upon themselves. This type of authority, which allows them to act with authority in a particular capacity, is practiced in the name of the immediate authority who bestowed this right upon them. Mediate authority can be specific and bounded to certain areas of concern or it can be all-encompassing and unbounded requisite to the wishes of the Immediate Authority. Mediate Authority can be passed on to others when a vacancy arises due to death or sickness. For instance a King sends his ambassador and his entourage to another country to negotiate with that country on a matter of state. If the appointed ambassador becomes incapacitated or dies on the trip, he can appoint another from his entourage to carry out the mission in his absence.

In Christianity, it would seem prudent to examine by what form of authority the church or pastor teaches. If one goes outside of the immediate or mediate authority then how can they posses a valid authority. Would they not merely possess that which men might choose in allowing them this authority or revoking it on a whim? But how can those without authority bestow that which they don’t possess: it is an invalid use of authority.

Did Martin Luther or John Calvin have Immediate Authority: in other words, are they Divine? The answer is obviously no. Did they receive Mediate Authority from Christ as did Peter and the Apostles? Again, the answer is obviously no and they made no such claim. Had they made this claim, as many individuals have over the centuries, would we be required to believe them without proof? The self-evident answer would seem to be no.

Luther, Calvin and Zwingli had no authority to defy the rightful authorities of the Church who received their authority directly from Christ. They abandoned the Church over disagreements and scandals in the Church without making use of the remedies that have been used by others the last 2000 years to correct and reform those who might scandalize the Church: for these disagreements and scandals started almost immediately. It is important to see how the Church reacted to the apostle James and the Judaizers and James’s response[1]. This was a big disagreement in the Church and threatened a rift in our Christian faith. James did not leave the Church on account of his disagreement. Instead, he left it to the Council of Jerusalem where Peter with much urging from Paul decided that the Judaizers could not burden new converts with circumcision or dietary laws. James accepted their authority. Contrast that with Luther and the others who left the Church and did not even attempt to settle their disagreements within the Church. They simply walked and started their own church without recognizing any authority but their own: authority they never possessed: for self-imposed authority is no authority at all.

Christ foresaw such problems when he warned the apostles that scandals would necessarily come[2]. But He also prayed for unity[3] among His followers. In fact they deny that the Bible, which they all claim for their authority, specifically relates the power that Christ (the Immediate Authority) gave to Peter[4] to lead His Church and to the Apostles[5] (acting together in union with Peter) to rule in His absence.

Without a known valid authority, who can decide what to believe? If it is simply the Bible that is the authority, then whose interpretation should be believed? Should each individual decide by their own understanding what difficult Scripture passages might mean? If so, how does this compare to anarchy where anyone can claim his own authority? The confusion is never ending with as many sets-of-beliefs as there are people on the planet. Each of us would, if we had a desire to do it, found our own personal church that conforms to our unique interpretations, personal likes, dislikes or preferences.

Licit authority seems to be at the very heart of the present disunity of Christianity. It can readily be seen in the fruit of the first separated churches (Lutheran, Calvinist and Baptist) who have divided over the years into nearly 30,000 churches, each with their own particular nuances in their theology. Though they mostly hold to the same major convictions of the Christian faith, the details have divided the One Church established by Christ into many disparate factions, scandalous to the desire of our Lord to remain as one.

[1] Read Acts 15

[2] For it must needs be that scandals come: __ Mt. 18:7.  The following verses state that the offenders should be rooted out: not that the body of the Church be abandoned.

[3] Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. __ Jn. 17:11

[4] And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.__ Mt. 16:18

[5] When he had said this, he breathed on them; and he said to them: Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose sins you shall forgive, they are forgiven them; and whose sins you shall retain, they are retained. __ Jn. 20:22-23