The Church Jesus Left Behind to Carry On His Mission
By Ken Litchfield
Many people assume that Jesus left us a book as an authority and not a teaching Church. The writings of the New Testament, that both Protestants and Catholics agree are Scripture, tell us that Jesus didn't leave us a book.
In Matthew chapter 16 we learn that Jesus said "You are Peter and on this Rock I will build my Church". He gives Peter the keys to the kingdom indicating his authority in the kingdom and that it would be handed on to successors like ministers that served the Jewish kings (Isiah ch22). This is a transfer of authority from the seat of Moses in the Old Covenant to the new seat of authority in the New Covenant, the Chair of Peter. Jesus gives Peter and the Apostles the power to bind and loose, showing that they had authority to make and discontinue laws and the fellowship of members of the Church. After His resurrection Jesus gives the Apostles the authority to forgive or retain sins (John ch20). In Luke chapter 10 Jesus tell His Apostles that whomever hear you hears Me. In Matthew chapter 28, before ascending into Heaven, Jesus tells the Apostles that all the authority that God gave Him, he passes onto the Apostles. Jesus also told the Apostles to go out and teach the world everything that He taught and to Baptize them in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus promises to be with them until the end of the age.
In John’s Gospel chapter 17 Jesus prays that we would all be one as He and the Father are one. This tells us that Jesus wants there to be unity in the Church, not thousands of conflicting denominations. The end of John's Gospel chapters 20 and 21 tells us that everything is not in what we now call the Bible because no book could hold it all.
The Bible is the collection of books that the Catholic Church assembled and declared these are the inspired texts that can be read at Mass. This tells us that Jesus left a Church not a book.
In the Book of Acts chapter 1, Peter and the rest of the Apostles meet to replace Judas as one of the 12 Apostles. The King James Bible tells us that they referred to Judas’ office as a ‘Bishopric’. The understanding from the beginning is that the Apostles hold an office that has successors.
In the Book of Acts chapter 2 Peter preaches to the Jews and 3,000 are added to the Church through Baptism. This shows that the Church that Jesus left behind to carry on His mission existed before the New Testament was written. Jesus left a Church not a book.
The Book of Acts chapter 9 uses the Greek phrase, "ekklesia kath holos," which means "the Church throughout all". From this we derive the name Catholic Church meaning the whole group of called out people that believe the same universal thing.
The Book of Acts chapter 15 tells us at the Council of Jerusalem, the Apostles, and those they had appointed called presbyters (bishops), held a Council that made a decision that went against what was then considered Scripture (the Old Testament required circumcision) and gave a binding decree on all Christians. This shows that the Apostles knew that they had authority from Jesus that could bind and loose the laws of the old covenant before there was a Bible. Their decree to the Church says that it seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us …. This shows that the Church had binding authority and was protected by the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised. They sent the decree out with Paul, Barnabas and other appointed messengers, showing how the authority came from the Apostles not a private interpretation of individuals.
When the Apostles went out and founded Churches, they would appoint successors that we now call Bishops by laying hands on them. In 1 Timothy chapter 3 Paul tells Timothy that the Church is the Pillar and Foundation of Truth not the Bible which was still being written. In chapter 4 Paul tells Timothy to be a good minister, to teach soundly and to not neglect the gift he was given through the laying on of his hands. Paul reminds him again in 2 Timothy 1:6 "Remember the gift you received with the laying on of my hands" referring to when he made Timothy a Bishop. Paul also warns Timothy to be careful about whom he lays hands on and be sure they know and follow the Faith before laying hands on them. This shows how the Faith was passed on through the teachers not just a book. In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul also lists the different positions in the Church like Prophets, teachers, readers etc. In Titus chapter 1, Paul reminds Titus that he left him in Crete to teach the people rightly and appoint presbyters in every town to properly hand on the Faith. Paul also tells Titus that the men he appoints should teach and appoint other men following the Tradition of Apostolic Succession. In 1 Corinthians chapter 10 and 11, Paul tells the Corinthians of the Church practices and that we have no other practices and neither do the Churches of God. Unity in practice was expected among the Christians then and now.
These Bible passages speak of the Unity that God desires for His Church.
"For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another"
1 Corinthians 1:10
"I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment."
"Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common."
"Let brotherly love continue"
"One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
All of these verses speak about the unity that God wants for His Church.
In 90AD the Church in Corinth had a dispute, so they wrote a letter to the Bishop of Rome. Pope Clement, Bishop of Rome wrote back that the Apostles received their authority from Jesus and the Bishops received their authority from the Apostles. When the Corinthians had a dispute they wrote to the Church in Rome and not Jerusalem, Antioch, another nearby major Church or the Apostle John, because they knew that Rome had the Authority.
In 107AD Ignatius Bishop of Antioch writes that the teachings of the Church are passed on through the Bishops not a book. Ignatius also tells us that wherever the Bishop is, there is the catholic Church. In his letter to the Church in Rome, Ignatius writes that he doesn’t command them like Peter and Paul, but asks them not to try and rescue him when he gets there. This is early evidence that the Church in Rome had the teaching of Peter and Paul because this was the last place that they lived and taught.
In 180AD Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon in Gaul (France), wrote a 5 volume book against Heresies. Irenaeus writes that if two Churches have a doctrinal dispute they need to see which Church can trace its history back to an Apostle. Or he says, all you have to do is find out what the Church in Rome teaches, because all Churches have to be in agreement with that Church because Peter and Paul taught there.
All of this tells us that the Church that Jesus left behind was known as the Catholic Church and was headquartered in Rome by the end of the first century. The Catholic Church has the Authority from Jesus and is protected from error, through the Holy Spirit, like Jesus said it would be (Matt ch28). Unity can only be maintained through authority.
The Catholic Church offers the authority of the Chair of Peter, the Church Councils and the Bible to guide us as we grow in our Faith in Jesus Christ.