And many of you who have been involved in these discussions will have found out, the question always (or often) seems to hinge on one question: “what is the definition of the word ‘church’?”
In the history of the Christian church – the 2000 or so years since the time when Christ said, “I will build my church”, the answer to that question has taken many forms. There have been literally thousands of clerics or scholars or theologians and even “church bodies” who have tried to say precisely what that means. I don’t doubt that most of them have been sincere. But huge numbers of them, too, have been quite wrong-headed about it.
I have become convinced that the Roman Catholic Church today is the largest and the most wrong-headed about the whole understanding of what “the church” is. But beyond that, its mission is defined as perpetuating its own wrong-headedness, and sucking the whole world into its vortex.
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Before I get into more of Campenhausen’s account of “where apostolic succession comes from”, I want to make a clarification. One friend commented:
The word “visible” seems to me to be problematic. I would say that the Church is visible in the sense that it is made up of many local congregations which have a visible presence in the communities in which they are found. It is invisible, of course, in the sense that we cannot know in this life, ultimately and for certain, who the elect are. It is my view, however, that it was NOT Christ’s intention to found a religious/political INSTITUTION called the Church.That says some things pretty well. Of course we can “see” “the church” at various times and places. The WCF and the LCBF make these clarifying statements:
WCF — Chapter XXV: Of the Church:(I knew this comparative chart existed but I wasn’t aware until just now that it resided at James Anderson’s site .)
1. The catholic or universal Church, which is invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all.
2. The visible Church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the Kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ; the house and family of God, through which men are ordinarily saved and union with which is essential to their best growth and service.
LBCF — Chapter XXVI: Of the Church:
1. The catholic or universal church, which (with respect to the internal work of the Spirit and truth of grace) may be called invisible, consists of the whole number of the elect, that have been, are, or shall be gathered into one, under Christ, the head thereof; and is the spouse, the body, the fulness of him that filleth all in all.
2. All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ according unto it, not destroying their own profession by any errors everting the foundation, or unholiness of conversation, are and may be called visible saints; and of such ought all particular congregations to be constituted.
And yes, I believe, with both of these confessions, that “the Pope of Rome cannot in any sense be head thereof” in that he “exalteth himself in the Church against Christ”. You can turn to the pope, or you can turn to Christ. I’m sure Roman Catholics would argue, “you turn to Christ through the pope” or maybe to soften that, “the pope helps you to get to Christ”. But in either case, the pope is an obstacle. We are able to get to Christ without a pope. For we Christians are promised, “we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16). If you, as a Christian may go directly to “the throne of grace”, why ever is there a reason to submit yourself to the slavish system that Rome has concocted over the centuries?
That, of course, is the big question.
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And the answer that is most frequently given to that big question is, “The constant teaching of the Catholic Church is that Christ founded a visible Church with an essentially unified visible hierarchy.” In more “official” terms, that statement officially works out this way:
Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature [see the definition of Chalcedon] inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation, so, in a similar way, does the visible social structure of the Church serve the Spirit of Christ, who vivifies it, in the building up of the body.The phrase “subsists in” is a definite change from the word “is” from earlier Roman dogmas about the church. The earlier dogmas are unequivocal:
This is the one Church of Christ which in the Creed is professed as one, holy, catholic and apostolic, which our Saviour, after His Resurrection, commissioned Peter to shepherd, and him and the other apostles to extend and direct with authority, which He erected for all ages as “the pillar and mainstay of the truth”. This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church, which is governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him, although many elements of sanctification and of truth are found outside of its visible structure. These elements, as gifts belonging to the Church of Christ, are forces impelling toward catholic unity.
“This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, is the [Roman] Catholic Church”The Vatican II characterization leaves some room for discussion:
“This Church constituted and organized in the world as a society, subsists in the Catholic Church”As a cardinal, Joseph Ratzinger is on record as saying, essentially, “there is no difference between the two statements”. Dulles puts it this way:
Some have interpreted it as an admission that the Church of Christ is found in many denominational churches, none of which can claim to be the one true Church [though the Roman Catholic church sees itself to be the “gravitas” or the larger portion of it]. Ratzinger asserts the opposite. For him, “subsists” implies integral existence as a complete, self-contained subject. Thus the Catholic Church truly is the Church of Christ. But the term “subsists” is not exclusive; it allows for the possibility of ecclesial entities that are institutionally separate from the one Church. This dividedness, however, is not a desirable mutual complementarity of incomplete realizations but a deficiency that calls for healing.
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In fact, in the Roman Catholic conception of “church”, all Protestants really are really just Roman Catholics who have become “separated” (as in “separated brethren”) – still under the visible headship of the pope and visible hierarchy [which is an integral, ontological part of the one body of Christ], yet “institutionally separate from the one Church”.
Yes, note especially that there is an ontological element implicit in this statement: For this reason, by no weak analogy, it is compared to the mystery of the incarnate Word. As the assumed nature inseparably united to Him, serves the divine Word as a living organ of salvation … governed by the successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him …. The doctrine of the papacy is wrapped up in the Roman definition of “church” and under the “successor of Peter”, we’re all just one big “living organ of salvation”.
That’s why Rome can never give up. It’s own conception of itself is just too important in the scheme of things. Rome has defined itself in as the most important element in the body of Christ. This is why I say, Rome is all about aggrandizing Rome.
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This is what the Reformation is up against. This, I believe, is the greatest danger that the Reformation faces. Among all the other problems that the one church of Christ faces, this is the greatest one, even today. This is what lies “in, with, and under” every Roman Catholic overture of “peace and safety”, from every smiling Roman Catholic cleric. “We are all, after all, citizens of the Roman Empire”.
Even committed Protestants seem unaware of this dimension of, this danger from, the Roman Catholic Church. Those who look for “lines of continuity” between Roman Catholicism and Evangelicalism especially risk being swallowed up in it.
So when the pope makes a seemingly sensible and ecumenical statement, even one that sensible Protestants like Paul McCain feel compelled to pass along without comment, we must always keep in mind what’s lying behind that apparent “good will”. Even “The Gospel Coalition”, in inviting the not-quite-converted Chris Castaldo to be a part of its blogging team, seems to miss this dogmatically defined danger from Rome.
Very few modern evangelicals realize the insidious nature of the way that Vatican II Roman Catholicism has positioned itself – the devouring and all-embracing nature of what Roman Catholicism is at its very heart.
However else Protestants want to understand the word “church”, the one thing that we must not allow ourselves to do is to become swallowed up by the behemoth of Rome. We must resist it with all our hearts. This is why I do what I do.