MY SECOND SIGH

Walking on a roadFor any religion to be true to itself they need to have a truth at it’s core and keep a visible unity or it falls apart of the definition of who the believers are.  Looking at early Christianity when I was a young adult I sighed looking at the beauty of the early church and lamenting that it died waiting for some ultimate movement to find the key and get it back on track.  The following passage made me sigh and makes me sigh now but for different reason. 

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved (Acts 2:42-47). 

apostles’ teaching– – Everything that has been covered in what I wrote in Hebrews 6:1-2. 

fellowship- – Not a mutual admiration society.  It is a bond they have in the Holy Spirit. 

breaking of bread– – As indicated in what has already been covered, the believers not only understood the sacramental life but acted out on it. 

the prayers- – They reached out to God.  Some of it was formal and some not. 

Awe came upon everyone- – Now we get to longstanding traits that stand the test of time of right Christian practice and outreach.  Awe was not of the apostles but Who they taught about.  The center was the living Christ.  It was a sense of reverence. 

many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles- – Christianity is supposed to have the miraculous.  Miracles point to God in times of refreshing. 

All who believed were together and had all things in common- – Social justice teaching was something that was developed in articulation and practice over time.  But loving ones neighbor needs it since resources get complicated over time. 

Day by day, as they spent much time together- – They hang together, have joy in their hearts and have true and unified worship as a community. 

the Lord added to their number those who were being saved- – Simply put, they were obedient to the Great Commission.  They had a revolution that was spiritual and practical that Jesus is Lord in an empire that said Caesar was Lord.  This is only natural since in the Great Commission Jesus said “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me.  Therefore go and make disciples…” (Matthew 28:18-19a). 

And here it stands today.  I have readers who are Christians of different backgrounds.  Most affirm the even more articulated declaration of the Nicene Creed of 325.  Possibly you are a reader who is unsure of what Jesus is and if it is worth it to be a part of any context of the Body of Christ since it is full of sinners.  To you, I would say I am one and there is room for one more.  But if Jesus is all he said he was and did all he said he would do, then to surrender to his bond in the cross is the greatest adventure of all.  And it is an adventure meant to be planted in the soil of what he founded which is “the Church. The pillar and foundation of truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). 

And now I return to the aforementioned sighs.  In my youth I saw a deadness of church that was dependent upon brief revivals that would be reflective of something kind of like the “real church” of the roots or early days.  Later I came to see verses like the “pillar” reference which made me question my beliefs of church.  It made me look for golden threads.

So I will now look at the development of the Christianity with more focus on the Nicene Creed written at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD.  It defined Jesus being 100% God and 100% man.  It defined the Trinity.  It was their shoulders that successors stood on a few generations later when the canon of Sacred Scripture was first defined. This body of teaching authority in that same council referred to “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”   

Let us see if the threads hold up 300 years after the church was founded by Jesus. 

apostles teaching of 1st Century— apostolic in the 4th

prayers and awe of the 1st—- is holy in the 4th 

fellowship and social conscience in the 1st- one and with “communion of saints” in the 4th

breaking of the bread in the 1st——catholic and eucharistic in the 4th.   Is this last one a stretch?  Catholic figuratively means universal.  But literally in the etymology means “according to the whole” in Greek.  The universal tied of Christ being present in beautiful in the preaching of the word but is substantial everywhere through a universal church.  For this church that would pierce the kingdom of darkness it would be authoritative and would re- present the sacrifice of Calvary in a supernatural way.  Below is ironically a passage of the Old Testament that shows us the way but the early church fathers quoted often. 

For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name is great among the nations, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and a pure offering; for my name is great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts (Malachi 1:11). 

This can be described as a “cosmic sign of the rising sun which symbolizes the universality of God” (Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger,The Spirit of the Liturgy, 2006 p. 64).  But follow the line of consistency on these overlapping traits shown in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition and history.  When Malachi wrote this, no valid sacrifice could happen except in Jerusalem but the sacrifice of the mass being a universal re-presentation of Calvary.  But a valid Eucharist requires a valid priest.  A valid priest requires laying of hands.  Valid laying on of hands would require a tracing all the way back to the upper room when Jesus breathed on his disciples and hence gave the power of the authoritative church in an authoritative priesthood.  And so the Catholic Church stands.  “You are Peter.  And upon this rock I will build my Church.  And the gates of hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 18).  And this is my second sigh.  It stands now and by the grace of God in Christ Jesus it will always stand. 

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Passing It On

Slide 1

“Who died and made you….”, insert word into the blank.  This is a common challenge someone makes to someone who assumes authority that is not theirs.  I remember when I was  a kid that sometimes the one being challenged would cite a parent or teacher or some other adult who had indeed given them charge of a situation.   Then the accuser would comply or rebel.  But if the challenged one had no comeback then it was usually assumed that they do the “walk of shame” away from the school yard taunt.

When I was a young adult I was intrigued by the writings of a man named Gene Edwards.  He wrote great Christian historical fiction that still stands up today as worth reading.  But he also had some non-fiction books that had a mixed effect on me.  One hand, it made me hungry to see the continuity of the Christian people living in the first century continued or restored in the 20th.

But secondly he made me hunger for the snapshot of church we get in the book of Acts as the way to go always and that it was definitely not hierarchical.  He saw apostolic authority only as something to be used then and now at a minimum and that most things of consequence were left to the laity.  Being you, almost my definition, made me love what he was saying and easily swayed by rhetoric that was against anything perceived as modern day Pharisees.

There was a central verse for this that I pondered on day and night. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).

A cornerstone to that list is with the apostles teaching.  Surely, if God was going to “restore” Christianity to the purity of the apostolic age then he would need to raise up apostles.  But that song and dance has been tried before regarding someone new on the scene with a gift for reformation.  It is a long story but I erred in many movements in my Christian life become a man or group of men were considered “on the cutting edge” and raised up “for such a time as this”.

But Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition do not indicate this.  First, the premise I had was wrong in that since only something evil would make the church drown in error in doctrine and practice then that means Satan in large part got the upper hand.  But this would be a contradiction with the words of Jesus when he said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  Am I making the connection too strong?  Logically, I do not see how.

For someone to have a conversion and hold on of Jesus they are first met with the choices that he is Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend.  For Jesus to be discerned as Lord in ones heart the truths are that he was what he said he was, did what he said he would do and is with us to the end of the age (more on the last one when I write about breaking the bread).  If he said he would build a Church that would never fall, but it did, does that not cast doubt that he rose from the dead?

For it to last, there would have to be safeguards based on Jesus and the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit.  An example is where Paul writes to a Timothy who was a bishop under him but meant for others in the church to overhear since at the end of the letter he says, “Grace to you” using the plural form.  “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2).  Right there is a trust of Sacred Tradition to be passed on at least to a fourth generation.  Now are these just nice sayings?  We can look at Paul earlier in his ministry on this.  “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15).  “Stand firm” is more serious than a handed down recipe.

But not just anyone can carry that weight.  “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).

But can this be passed on with good intentions to the empowerment over all people like Americans think of “We The People”?  Not so easily.  “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God  that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6).  This lends to the doctrine of Holy Orders and apostolic succession.  This is a sacrament that part of the guarding of the deposit of faith and its access.  For instance we see it next to the sacrament of baptism which is the baton of salvation in the adding to the number of the church.  Both belong side by side.

Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits.  (Hebrews 6:1-3).

This is the skeleton of the Church of Jesus Christ as indicated by Scripture and Tradition.  With the truths above she survives.  But with the truths below she thrives.

So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God,  built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-21)

So is this “teaching of the apostles” still ongoing?  If one reveres the Bible then to be consistent it begs reverence for apostolic authority until at least the 4th century when it was codified.  Objectively speaking, what has been outlined above points to a church that has had a laying of hands, never passed away, never ceased teaching the same doctrines of the early church and definitely has current the Holy Orders.  Long story short, that leaves us with the Coptic, Orthodox or Catholic Church.  I would posit that this deposit of faith rests in its fulness in the Catholic Church.  How it is the Catholic Church and not the others will be explained later.

Recommended reading:

The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin

Crossing The Tiber by Stephen Ray