In my 22 years as a Christian I encountered many truth-claims. With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, I listened to the teachers of many faith traditions, but the more I heard, the more contradictions. It comes down to these questions ...

The main question is, who can we trust? The answer — we can only trust ...

Many Christians agree that God intended doctrine to develop over time. (Do we merely repeat the words of the Bible?) Everyone agrees that our modern doctrines were not expounded or understood in exactly the same way by the apostles. The teachings of the apostles (and of Jesus) contained seeds which only later came to fruition.

This article proposes a reasoned methodology for discovering what Jesus and the apostles taught.


Index ...

   

Is there a God?

True Religion

True Christianity

Church Fathers

The Church

   

Great Schism

Protestant Reformation

Did the Church Go Bad?

Conclusions

The Catholic Church



Is there a God? ...

This is the first important question. I address it elsewhere ...

It must be true | God Exists | God | Light of the World

Conclusion: There is a God.


True Religion ...

Are all religions true? Is there one true religion? Is there truth in all religions?

The most important question is, "What is the final destiny (heaven or hell) for followers of each religion?"

Conclusion: Only Christianity is fully true, but there are elements of truth in all religions. Some non-Christians will end up in heaven and some Christians will not. I address this topic elsewhere ...

The Problem with God | What is Truth? | The Still, Small Voice | A Short Testimony | The Way | My Conversion | Hell | Letter to a Skeptic


True Christianity ...

There are so many varieties of Christianity, all claiming to be "true Christianity." Who are we to believe?

A brief historical overview and my assessment ...


Church Fathers ...

Reality compels us to trust the Church Fathers. Some obvious ways ...

But the Church Fathers are not completely trustworthy because they have contradictory opinions about things. Yet, just as we depend on them in the critical tasks of determining the canon of scripture and developing foundational Christian dogmas, we should not be shy about gleaning whatever trustworthy knowledge they have. For example, they can tell us about the early church: What church meetings were like and styles of church governance. But how can we be sure we only glean truth and not error?

Criteria to consider in determining which bits of information in the writings of the Church Fathers are trustworthy ...

With the information from the Church Fathers we have a more clear picture of the early church. I suppose we could choose to ignore the writings of the Church Fathers (except for their determination of the Canon of Scripture, which we simply can't ignore), but if we do, we are left in the dark in many key areas.

If we merely end here, we are stranded in a very unsatisfying predicament (I know because I've been stranded there several times ...)

           


The Church ...

There simply must be a thing called "the church" which is led by the Holy Spirit and leads us into truth. No other conclusion is possible. But what is the nature of this church? Is it an institution? Or a set of teachings?

But how can we know which declarations of the church are indeed authoritative and trustworthy? And who leads the church? My approach ...

For the last 1,600 years the universal (catholic) church has not taught any new essential doctrines — everything was settled by the time of the Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) and the Canon of Scripture (about 400 A.D.). Certainly particular churches, denominations, and communities have continued to introduce new teachings which they consider essential, and that is the problem. We have no basis to believe any of these new novel teachings.

           


The Catholic Church ...

There is something very unsatisfying about the conclusions in the previous section. It is even worse if we accept the doctrine of sola scriptura (scripture only) invented by the Protestants. The dilemma ...

The Catholic Church claims to be the true apostolic church founded by Jesus (and I once believed this claim), but there are some difficulties ...

The question is, did Jesus intend to establish a single, unified institution called the church? In my mind, the answer must be — yes. But he did not establish this church in his lifetime and pass it on to the apostles. The church was founded by the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Over time, as the church leaders (1) defended heresy; (2) fought for the church's very existence in a world which tried to exterminate them; and (3) attempted to provide spiritual leadership for Christ's people; they had to set up a strong, centralized hierarchy; to define doctrinal formulations; to develop codes of canon law; etc.

There are ongoing errors which the Catholic Church continues to make and which I pray she will change ...


Great Schism ...

Long before the great schism of 1054 A.D., the eastern (Orthodox) and western (Catholic) churches began to drift apart. Today they have important doctrinal differences, but they have much in common. Each claims to be the "true" church and demands our loyalty, but choosing is not easy. For a while I preferred the Orthodox church but eventually chose Catholicism, at first because I was already Catholic but finally because I became convinced that the Orthodox views were incorrect. Later I became an Ecumenical Christian.

The Great Schism marks the end of the golden age of church unity. It puts us Christians in a difficult position by demanding we choose between two conflicting sets of truth-claims, each having continuity from the apostles.

When I learned of the Orthodox church after being Catholic for 4 years it led to a crisis in faith. What if the Orthodox claims were the true ones? (Rather than the Catholic?) What if both were wrong? (Since they contradicted?) Although I finally chose Catholic, I did not do so because an infallible teaching authority guided me (since both claim to be the highest teaching authority). For a while I tried not choosing at all; of being Orthodox-Catholic. This had a bad result since I was now not united to any faith community at all. I felt disconnected and began to drift.

After studying the Orthodox church I have little reason to believe that the Catholic and Orthodox churches will ever unite. The differences are too vast. In my opinion the "eastern lung" of the church is represented by the Eastern Catholic communions (the uniates).


Protestant Reformation ...

There were two independent "reform" (revolutionary) movements: one by Martin Luther (a holy man of God) and one by King Henry VIII (a corrupt and wicked ruler).

(1) Martin Luther was justified in objecting to the abuses and corruption of the Catholic Church. He objected to the doctrine of indulgences (the Orthodox Church doesn't accept indulgences), and to the works-based concept of salvation. His reaction was to invent doctrines which contradicted the teachings of the Church and which had no basis in the early church fathers. His saving grace was that he kept the essential, foundational dogmas of the Christian faith. The fruits of the Protestant Reformation were not particularly good: Wars, dismantling of the social safety net for poor people (by destroying the monasteries), creation of "police state" (Genova), Protestant/Catholic conflict even into modern times.

(2) King Henry VIII was perhaps justified in objecting to the pope's interference in his personal business. Why had the pope become such a powerful world political leader anyway? Surely this was not in the best interests of the spiritual well-being of Christians?

In Conclusion: the "reforms" of the Protestant Reformation cannot be trusted. They did not re-establish the New Testament church, but merely traded one set of abuses and false doctrines for another.

God, in His great mercy and love, blesses Protestants. And it is clear that many Protestants are faithful, devoted, holy, Spirit-filled lovers and followers of Jesus.

I don't believe that most Protestant denominations will ever be able to have unity with the Catholic Church as they discarded too many valid doctrinal developments and added their own invalid innovations.


Did the Church Go Bad? ...

Protestants typically believe that the church went bad when it became "Catholic." They identify the "badness" of the church with those things which the Catholic Church added and which the Protestant Reformers rejected. There is no consensus on when the church went bad. Some views ...

I believe there is a sense in which the church "went bad." However, I don't believe that the Protestant Reformers rescued the church from her "badness" — rather, they merely substituted one form of badness for another. The badness introduced by the Protestant Reformers ...

I believe the church gradually drifted away from the ideal church which Jesus established through the apostles. The early church defended against heresy, but in doing so she went too far in the opposite direction. Some examples ...

Nevertheless, I believe that the church (Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic) has maintained the essential doctrines which were established in the very early centuries of the church.

I believe that the very early Catholic Church was the most accurate expression of the apostolic church which Jesus founded. Today, she is in need of drastic reform. In every generation there are courageous and heroic Catholic church leaders and lay people who devote their lives to this reform. God bless them all. But reform via schism (Great Schism of 1054 A.D.; Protestant "Reformation") never works.


Conclusions ...

Today, there are four sources of Christian truth ...

  1. The scripture (unfortunately, conflicting interpretations result in division.)
  2. The unanimous teachings of the Church Fathers up to about 400 A.D. about topics that the first few generations of Church Fathers wrote about. (The later Church Fathers added things which were not apostolic such as hierarchical bishops, apostolic succession, division of clergy and laity, priesthood.) (There is not much in this category, but when they do agree they are very Catholic.)
  3. The teachings of the church. This includes: Canon of scripture, creeds, dogmas, moral theology, interpretations of scripture, church councils, and much more. (These are very Catholic.)
  4. Church councils and the papacy had a role until the great schism of 1054 A.D.

There are three categories of Christian teachings ...

A teaching must satisfy the following conditions to be an essential, core Christian truth ...

I discuss which teachings satisfy these conditions in another article.

Non-Catholic Christians should feel free to accept whichever non-essential teachings they choose. (Catholics must accept the teachings of the Catholic Church.) We should not think less of other Christians who choose differently than we do.

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