Does Being Catholic Matter?

Catholics claim Christ constituted his church as a visible society with a hierarchical structure. And asDominus Iesusteaches, this society “subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (16). Catholics also claim membership in this visible and hierarchical society is necessary.

And yet Jesus’ teaching in Luke 9:49-50 seems to contradict this belief. Jesus commands the apostles to not forbid a person from casting out demons in his name just because that person is not numbered among their group: “Do not forbid him; for he that is not against you is for you" (9:50). If Jesus forbids hindering someone outside the visible body of the Twelve from performing miracles, then wouldn’t it follow that belonging to a visible body of believers is not necessary? Perhaps believing in the name of Jesus is all that matters, and the true church is merely invisible.

Here’s why that isn’t true.

Jesus established a visible and hierarchical church

We know from elsewhere in Scripture Jesus clearly intends his church to be visible with a hierarchical structure. Take for example Matthew 16:18-19: Jesus promises to make Peter the rock upon which he will build his church, which indicates Jesus’ intention for Peter to be thevisible foundation for the Church of Christ on Earth—a visible marker that identifies Jesus’ true church. Wherever the foundation is, there is the true church.

Jesus also gives Peter the keys of the kingdom (Matt. 16:19). In the Jewish tradition, the image of the keys signifies a governing role in the Davidic kingdom known as the royal steward (see Isa. 22:15-22). If Peter is a governor, then there must be a society to govern. Sounds like a visible and hierarchical church to me.

In another passage in Matthew, Jesus makes it clear the church, and not the individual, is the final court of appeal when it comes to settling disputes among Christians:

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 18:15-18).

If Jesus doesn’t intend for there to be a visible and hierarchical governing body of officials, and the church were merely an invisible community of believers, then what sense can be made of him saying, “Take it to the church"? Furthermore, since Gentiles and tax collectors were considered outcasts, Jesus’ use of these terms for those that disobey the church signifies visible boundaries for church membership.

The language of “binding and losing" in Matthew 18:18 also signifies Jesus’ intention to constitute his church as a visible and hierarchical society. This language is familiar terminology in the Jewish tradition. It signifies both doctrinal and juridical authority. Biblical scholar Edward Sri writes:

Binding and loosing sometimes denotes teaching authority. Rabbis, for instance, were said to bind and loose when they made authoritative rulings on what was lawful and unlawful behavior and what was acceptable and unacceptable doctrine. The expression can also refer to juridical authority. By this is meant the power to accept or forbid a person’s fellowship in the community of faith, which includes the authority to excommunicate and the authority to restore to membership (Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture: The Gospel of Matthew, 210).

Notice embedded in the meaning of “binding and losing" is the idea of hierarchy and the idea of a community of believers with distinct boundaries of membership. Since Christ uses this language with reference to his apostles, it follows that Christ intends his church to be a visible society with a hierarchical structure.

So, if Jesus is not teaching in Luke 9:49-50 the invisible church doctrine common among Protestants, then what is he teaching?

The boundless God

Jesus is merely pointing out that God is capable of performing miracles and giving grace outside the visible boundaries of the institutional structure of the Church. This is nothing new under the sun for Catholics. Dominus Iesus states:

With the expression subsistit in, the Second Vatican Council sought to harmonize two doctrinal statements: on the one hand, that the Church of Christ, despite the divisions which exist among Christians, continues to exist fully only in the Catholic Church, and on the other hand, that “outside of her structure, many elements can be found of sanctification and truth," that is, in those Churches and ecclesial communities which are not yet in full communion with the Catholic Church. But with respect to these, it needs to be stated that “they derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church" (16; emphasis added).

Just because Catholics believe the fullness of grace and truth subsists in the Catholic Church it doesn’t follow that no grace and truth can exist outside her visible boundaries. While we are bound to the visible confines of the Church, God is not.

No evangelistic exemption

Now, many think this exempts Catholics from evangelizing. If God can give non-Catholics grace and truth, then why should they become Catholic—aren’t they fine where they are? This way of thinking is far from Catholic. We are always called to put forth effort in bringing others into the fold of the Catholic Church. If, as Pope St. John Paul II wrote, “[E]very person has a right to hear the Good News of God . . . so that each one can live out in its fullness his or her proper calling" (Redemptoris Missio 46), and that good news exists in full in the Catholic Church, then there can be no question as to whether Catholics should seek to evangelize and persuade people to become Catholic.

Jesus established one church, the Catholic Church, and constituted it as visible and hierarchical. And because he desires all men to become members of that church, he works in the lives of those outside the Church’s visible boundaries in order to draw them into the unity his Church possesses.

 

By Karlo Broussard













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5 comments

  1. Tom Rafferty Reply

    “We know from elsewhere in Scripture – – – ” How do you know your Bible is truthful? How do you verify it outside of itself? If it contains the truth as taught by the Catholic Church, why do so many other Christians disagree with the Catholic interpretation of the Bible? I would think that God would be able to CLEARLY teach the truth. The hiddenness of God is the best argument against the concept of God.

    1. D Reply

      God is waiting for all of us to be ready to believe in Him and trust Him before revealing Himself to us. That is what faith is. He does not force us to do anything as a good father should. He merely gives advice to us. He gave us free will so that we have complete freedom to choose. But, over the years, with different experiences I have had, I have come to truly realize that His way is best. He gives us hope for a better future and tremendous amounts of love and mercy, infinite amounts to everyone. He loves us unconditionally and is ever present with His arms stretched out to welcome us back after we have strayed from His path. He is soft spoken and invisible, but that does not mean He isn’t there. Look at recent archaeological finds: Dead Sea scrolls, David’s city relics, Pilate and his position in history, etc. God is not like man, He does not need us nor our approval to exist. He has been for all time. The incredible complexity of the human body is a testament to his infinite knowledge and wisdom: just like Him, it’s secrets aren’t revealed to us all at once; it is so complex and it’s development is so incredibly detailed and intricate and has countless ways to fail, it is a huge miracle when any baby is born, much less alive and doing well. We will never know everything and be able to predict everything about it because it is from Him. But, that shouldn’t deter us from believing it is not real. We only understand what humans understand. But remember, God isn’t human, He is divine. He works in a completely unintelligible to us way. Can you imagine how much you are loved by the person that truly loves you the most in your life: now multiply that by infinity and that is how much God loves us. Can you imagine how much mercy you have been shown in your life and God gives us that mercy and that is but a tiny speck of the mercy He has for us at every moment of every day?

      1. D Reply

        Just as we may not see a star supernova many light years away doesn’t mean that it did not happen. Just because we can not see Pluto and its moons does not mean it isn’t there. And just because our paycheck is usually not handed to us– it is direct deposited into our bank account doesn’t mean the cash isn’t there in the bank for us to use. We see it indirectly by checking the balance in our account after it has been deposited and it is there. God is and just because we can not understand Him, that does not mean He is not there. He is there for all of us and the peace, hope, love, and mercy He offers will completely overwhelm any of those things and anything here on Earth. All one needs to receive these things is faith. It is a completely wonderful and joyous thing to know God. I am pleased and humbled and honored to know Him. I will love Him all my life for He has done miraculous things for me. I will lay down my life for Him for He did that for me. What human king does that ? No one!! Once again, God is not like man. He is.

    2. D Reply

      God doesn’t need us. But He looks for us because He loves us with a strong , unconditional, and humanely incomprehensible infinite love. That love which will protect us from any mere human events that may occur to us is always there. We always have access to it. We can see it in the eyes of all we meet if we look for it. It is there even if we do not see it at first sight. Let it come to you. Give it a chance to flood your brain and your body. Then you and we may begin to understand the infinite amounts of love and understanding and compassion awaiting us at all times from our invisible but every present, ever loving, ever merciful, and ever forgiving God.

  2. Leslie Anderson Reply

    The sign of the cross reminds us of our baptism. I’m Lutheran. In many ways we are like Catholics, we are first cousins. I believe that the rock that Christ taught is the Church, not one , but all Christian church’s. I’m no scholar, this is just my opinion.
    Martin Luther wrote 95 thesis to the Catholic door, this started the reformation. Goggle it.

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