The Church is my greatest weight. Of course, the weight of over a billion souls would likely be rather large, especially post-McDonald’s, so I suppose that nothing else is really comparable.
What does this mean? In an age of moral relativism, instability, and self-gratification, much like the age of the Roman Empire prior to its Christian conversion, I found myself alone and empty after a scarring experience. So, I sought the counsel of philosophy and history – surely, men had answered my questions before! – and I was, after seemingly endless struggles with myself and others, eventually comforted. The Church became vindicated in my heart.
The more I study, the more I am forced to accept Catholicism as the true Faith. The depth and size of it, as well as its impacts on culture, force any serious student to step back and pay at least a bit of attention. It took me a while to overcome my initial ambivalence toward any religion in particular – though I was always appreciative of God and enamored with the subject in general – but once I had crossed the proverbial Tiber, there was no going back.
I was baptized Catholic, and I vaguely recall some crossing with holy water and lighting prayer candles, but I was hardly raised to practice the Faith. In high school, I dug into a box of things from my infancy. I spotted a rosary within it, along with a note saying that it belonged to my great-grandmother. I mentioned it to a Catholic friend, and he gave me some information about it. That set of events started the arduous process of reconciliation.
Later, at the urging of the aforementioned friend, I casually flipped through the writings of the Church Fathers (prominent ancient Christian leaders). I quickly became impressed. I only did this, originally, to assuage my ego. I had made a theological speculation, and he answered me with, “Well, did the early Christians believe that?” I did not know. Anyway, he was right, and I was wrong.
My advice for anyone that wishes to be a Protestant is to avoid the Church Fathers like one would avoid a plague. I once remarked to a professor that introducing the former to the latter is like shaking a baby: it might teach them a lesson, but it also might kill them.
In my search for the Truth (capital ‘T’ intended), I asked a long series of questions.
On the Magisterium (teaching authority) of the Church, I asked: Does God still reveal things to us, or does His message end with the Bible? What would He reveal things through?
The idea that God arbitrarily ended His message with the Bible and deliberately chose to allow confusion over doctrine became untenable to me, especially in light of verses like Deuteronomy 31:6 (He will never leave us) and John 17:11 (He requests Christian unity). The Protestant position on this (Sola Scriptura) then made little sense. How could that idea, unprecedented before the Renaissance and ungrounded in Tradition or common sense, be true? I have found no sensible argument in favor of it.
What would His mouthpiece be, though? His Bride (Mark 2:18-20), the Church, of course! As a wife understands the workings of her husband, so does the Church understand Christ. From there, how is She structured? This is where apostolic succession (the lineage of bishops from the time of the Apostles to the present) comes in. Bishops are given special power (Luke 21:15) – which even Simon Magus knew was handed down (Acts 8:18-19) – after the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6) in their consecration ceremonies. They can trace themselves back to the very beginning of Christianity. All of this “clicked” in my head when I first read these words from St. Ignatius of Antioch: “See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.”
Now, who leads it? This is answered by Matthew 16:18, the famous verse, which helped me grasp that Christ built His Church on Peter (aka Cephas), the faithful “rock” (Greek, Aramaic). It’s a parallel to the story of Eliakim (Isaiah 22:20-22), who represented his king. St. Peter, called by Christ to “feed [His] sheep” (John 21:17), likewise represented his King. Some in the historical-critical movement have, naturally, raised objections to St. Peter’s primacy. But even agnostic Protestant historian John Julius Norwich wrote of the pope, “It seems more likely than not that St. Peter did in fact come to Rome and was martyred there, probably somewhere on the Vatican Hill…[and] there can be little doubt that he was the generally acknowledged leader of Christ’s disciples.” Whenever I doubt, I latch on to this information: the historical basis for the Papacy is rock-solid.
My goal is to increase the powers and jurisdiction of this great entity to the fullest capacity, because I recognize the impact that She has had and can have on the world. Documents like Humanae Vitae and Evangelium Vitae urge respect for the sanctity of life, Rerum Novarum and Quadragesimo Anno offer economic principles rooted in good morals, and so on. If only humanity would follow the path that the Church has set forth! This temporal aspect, even by itself, is enough to drive me, despite how burdensome this desire can be.
In conclusion, I will leave the reader with a quote from G. K. Chesterton. “The difficulty of explaining ‘why I am a Catholic’ is that there are ten thousand reasons all amounting to one reason: that Catholicism is true.”
“For as man, disobeying, drew death upon himself; so, obeying the will of God, he who desires is able to procure for himself life everlasting. For God has given us a law and holy commandments; and every one who keeps these can be saved, and, obtaining the resurrection, can inherit incorruption.” – St. Theophilus of Antioch, to Autolycus (Book 2, Chapter 27) [link]
Are we still under a Law? Yes. However, we are not under the Mosaic one.
The Mosaic Law worked for a while, but ceased to be the best option after the “time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:10). At this time, Christ came to redeem humanity (Hebrews 9:15) and to universalize the Law and open it up to the Gentiles (Acts 28:28, Romans 11:11), which He could have done within Judaism if the Jewish leaders had not rejected Him (He is “the stone which the builders rejected” – Mark 12:10). Due to His work, we are now under “a better covenant” (Hebrews 8:6).
None of this means that we are now apart from a Law.
Christ commanded us to “treat people the same way [we] want them to treat [us], for this is the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12). He said to do something, and then gave as His reason that it is the intent of the Law. He also positively referenced the Law in Luke 10:25-28. A lawyer asked what is required to “inherit eternal life,” and Christ asked the man to look to the Law. The lawyer said that the Law commands us to “love [Him] with all [our] heart, and with all [our] soul, and with all [our] strength, and with all [our] mind; and [our] neighbor as [ourself].” Christ replied, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
In Mark 10, a wealthy man asks Christ what is required to reach Heaven, and Christ cites the Ten Commandments (v. 17-19). The man says that he already observes them, but Christ corrects him and cleverly makes the point that the man must practice charity, which the man, unfortunately, refuses (v. 20-22). Christ was not adding anything new to the Law, but was getting at the intent of it — charity was already commanded in the Old Testament (Proverbs 19:17, Proverbs 21:13, Sirach 29:8-13)!
Paul realized that, because a man “hung on a tree” (here, “tree” would equal a wooden cross) is cursed according to the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) and Christ most certainly did not deserve to be cursed, at least some parts of it are no longer binding. Christ both took upon Himself the penalties for sins committed under the Mosaic Law and opened “the blessing of Abraham” and “the promise of the Spirit” up to the Gentiles (Galatians 3:13-14).
Paul did not, however, reject the necessity of good works. When Paul denounces “works of the Law,” he is referring to things such as ritual circumcision. Passages like Romans 3:27-30 and Galatians 3:27-29, which are surrounded by statements that seem to advocate “faith alone,” are key to understanding Paul’s thoughts. Paul placed emphasis on the facts that Jews and Gentiles 1) serve the same God, 2) share a common heritage, and 3) are judged by the same general standards — we are all “one in Christ Jesus”. That is partially why he so strongly insisted on the universality of Christ, the importance of faith, and the worthlessness of divisive cultural practices (e.g. circumcision).
Does the existence of a Law always “nullify the grace of God” or mean that “Christ died needlessly” (Galatians 2:21)? Absolutely not. First, it makes His grace remarkably plain. If He did not provide us with a path to redemption and salvation, then His justice would demand our damnation. To provide us with a Law is merciful of Him. Second, it is still only through Christ that anyone can attain salvation. “[N]o one comes to the Father but through [Him]” (John 14:6).
Truly, “what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19) and “unless [our] righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, [we] will not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
This all undermines the idea that we are not bound by a Law. The Law will not fail (Matthew 5:18, Luke 16:17). We are still under a Law, minus Mosaic cultural practices. “[H]e who does the will of [God]” will reach Heaven (Matthew 7:21), and God will say, “Depart from me,” to those who “practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
“Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” – Romans 3:31
(All verses are from the NASB translation, except for the passage from Sirach, which is from the RSV translation.)
The Lutheran Small Catechism with Explanation (ESV) provides a classic Protestant look at ecclesiology (how one views the Church), but I find it very unconvincing and full of problems. My conclusion is that the Lutheran alternative does not seem plausible, and it most certainly can not disprove the claims of the Church.
1. Under the question, “What is the holy Christian church?”, it answers:
“The holy Christian church is the communion of saints, the total number of those who believe in Christ. All believers in Christ, but only believers, are members of the church (invisible church).”
This is sort of true, but what if someone has faith and still intentionally separates themself from the Church by heresy? For example, are Arians members of the Church? They believe in Christ. Are Mormons also members of the Church? What about Jehovah’s Witnesses? This kind of vague, “invisible” membership leads to all sorts of problems, and it leads to the loss of absolute truth. (See the very varied views of Protestants.)
A single institutional Church is necessary, because some doctrines are “hard to understand” (2 Peter 3:16) and they need to be consistently preserved and articulated.
2. Under the question, “Why do you say ‘I believe’ in the church?”, it answers:
“A. Because faith, which makes people members of the church, is invisible, the church is invisible to human eyes.
B. The Scriptures assure us that the Holy Spirit continues to gather and preserve the church.”
On the second part of this answer, I have no complaints. The Holy Spirit certainly does guide the Church. However, on the first point, it cites Luke 17:20-21 and 2 Timothy 2:19 for support, taking both passages out of context. The first passage actually refers to the “end times” and people wondering about when they will be and what they will entail, and this is made clear by the rest of the chapter. The second passage simply points out that, despite heresy being almost everywhere, “the firm foundation of God stands” and “the Lord knows those who are His”.
The Church is not invisible.
3. This Lutheran Catechism also makes the points that the Church’s “one and only head is Christ” and the Church “belongs to Christ and is built on Him alone”, but this is misleading and an intentional jab at the Church.
Christ is the now-invisible head of the Church, in that He fills Her with grace and protects Her from grave error, but the Church must have a visible head to represent Him: the Vicar (representative) of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter — the Pope.
It is true that only Christ could lay the foundation for His Church (1 Corinthians 3:11) and that He is the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20), and the Church absolutely recognizes this. He laid the foundation when He appointed Peter as the visible head of the Church (Matthew 16:18-19) and He is still the cornerstone — without Christ, the Church would crumble.
Because only Christ can lay the foundation of a Church, Martin Luther had no authority to start his own sect — unless, of course, there is some sort of evidence that definitively shows that Christ transferred His authority to him. Naturally, this evidence does not exist.
Also, remember that not everyone is “called” to Church leadership (Hebrews 5:1-4).
4. Additionally, this Catechism teaches that “the holy Christian church is to be found where ‘the Gospel is purely taught and the Sacraments are correctly administered’ (Augsburg Confession VII 1)”.
I absolutely agree with this point, because only an organization that distributes the sacraments is a “Church” in the proper sense, though it may not be in communion with the Church. “Christ’s Spirit uses [them] as means of salvation, whose power derives from the fullness of grace and truth that Christ has entrusted to the Catholic Church.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #819)
However, even after taking this into account, I also realize that the Lutheran understanding of both the Gospel and the sacraments is distorted.
Lutherans typically believe that there are only two sacraments (Baptism and Communion). Catholics, meanwhile, recognize a total of seven: Baptism, Communion (the Eucharist), Confession (Penance), Confirmation (or Chrismation), Marriage, Anointing of the Sick, and Holy Orders. Lutherans usually think of these other five as rites that do not necessarily contain God’s grace, but are still historically practiced.
Just one example of the Lutheran sacramental problem is that they hold to sacramental union (Christ is “in, with, and under” the bread and wine), while the Church holds to transubstantiation (the bread and wine become the literal Body and Blood of Christ), which is the traditional view. The Lutheran departure from the historical view seems to reveal “a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words” (1 Timothy 6:3-5). Is their emphasis here more important than unity?
Meanwhile, Lutherans also debate over whether or not Confession is a sacrament. Martin Luther said one thing, but the official Defense of the Augsburg Confession says another.
“Nevertheless, it has seemed best to restrict the name of sacrament to such promises as have signs attached to them. The remainder, not being bound to signs, are bare promises. Hence there are, strictly speaking, but two sacraments in the Church of God – baptism and bread; for only in these two do we find both the divinely instituted sign and the promise of forgiveness of sins.” – Martin Luther [link]
“If we call Sacraments rites which have the command of God, and to which the promise of grace has been added, it is easy to decide what are properly Sacraments. For rites instituted by men will not in this way be Sacraments properly so called. For it does not belong to human authority to promise grace. Therefore signs instituted without God’s command are not sure signs of grace, even though they perhaps instruct the rude [children or the uncultivated], or admonish as to something [as a painted cross]. Therefore Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Absolution, which is the Sacrament of Repentance, are truly Sacraments. For these rites have God’s command and the promise of grace, which is peculiar to the New Testament.” – Article XIII of the Defense of the Augsburg Confession [link]
With disagreements over the fundamental natures of the sacraments and their generally invalid claims to apostolic succession (which is necessary for the validity of the sacraments), Lutherans do not have a “Church” in the proper sense.
5. Protestant ecclesiology has wrecked the doctrinal and visible unity that God demands.
In Galatians 5:16-21, St. Paul condemns “dissensions” and “factions” as “deeds of the flesh” that will result in the causers “not inherit[ing] the kingdom of God,” and in Romans 16:17, he teaches that Christians should “turn away from” them. Protestants have, unfortunately, disobeyed this command.
Unity is Christ’s prayer for us (John 17:11), so let us become unified again, visibly and invisibly.
“Since Christ suffered for the Church and since the Church is the body of Christ, without doubt the person who divides the Church is convicted of lacerating the body of Christ.” – Council of Florence, Session 9 (23 March 1440) [link]
(All verses are from the NASB translation.)
Martin Luther said and wrote many heretical things, but here are a mere five quotes, along with Biblical passages that disprove them.
1. “For reason is directly opposed to faith. This is why you must let reason go. It must be killed and buried in believers.” 
(Answer: Proverbs 14:15, Colossians 1:9, Colossians 4:5-6, 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22)
2. “..[A Christian] could not lose his salvation, however much he sinned, unless he refused to believe. For no sin can condemn him save unbelief alone.” 
(Answer: Hebrews 10:26-27)
3. “Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world. We will commit sins while we are here, for this life is not a place where justice resides. …No sin can separate us from Him, even if we were to kill or commit adultery thousands of times each day.” 
(Answer: Psalm 4:4, Matthew 5:48, Hebrews 10:26-27)
4. “It is good that we have such a man [Jesus Christ], because God in himself is cruel and bad.” 
(Answer: Psalm 51:1, Jeremiah 9:24, Jeremiah 31:3)
5. “I miss more than one thing in this book [Revelation, aka Apocalypse], and this makes me hold it to be neither apostolic nor prophetic…and [I] can nohow detect that the Holy Spirit produced it. …My spirit cannot fit itself into this book.” 
(Answer: Revelation 22:19)
1. Luther’s Sermon on Matthew 19:13-15. “What Luther Says,” 1:485-486 (entry 1440). [link]
3. Let Your Sins Be Strong: A Letter From Luther to Melanchthon. Translated by Erika Bullmann Flores. [link]
5. M. Reu, Luther’s German Bible: An Historical Presentation Together with a collection of Sources (Ohio: The Lutheran Book Concern, 1934) 174-175 [link]