The Continuity of the Catholic Church
Come now to an entirely different kind of criticism, one that directs attention not to the organisation but to the spirit of the Church. Institutional continuity is not sufficient, it is pointed out; the accurate teaching of the Gospel is of equal if not greater importance. The complaint is that the Catholic Church, despite her self- perpetuating organisation, has corrupted the Gospel by making unwarranted innovations and by adopting heretical doctrines. If this were true, it would follow that the soul of the Church is not the same as that breathed into it by our Lord; therefore not continuous from Him.
In reply, I point out that the body and soul of the Church cannot be separated, that the one depends upon the other. I point out, further, that the soul of the Church can be preserved inviolate only if the body likewise remains intact and continuous.
Here it is necessary to appraise correctly the promises which were made by our Lord. He did not promise that the officials of His Church would always be conscientious and devoted; He did not promise that they would be efficient in management; He did not promise that they would be good and worthy representatives or even that they would be free from sin. Despite such weaknesses, the characteristics of human frailty, He made two promises, the two upon which rest the perpetuity and sacred character of Christianity. One was that the Church would live until the end of time; the other was that the Church, under the protection of the Holy Spirit, would always teach truth. I have already referred to the former; I now call attention to the latter.
The promise is approached by noting first that it was the Apostles and their successors who were set apart and commissioned to speak for our Lord and to represent Him. "Go ye into all the world," He commanded, "and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). "...ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Spirit is come upon you and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth" (The Acts 1:8). In confirmation of these instructions was the practice of the early Church. It is recorded, for instance, that the Christians in Jerusalem "continued steadfastly in the Apostles' doctrine" (The Acts 2:42).
Testifying to the constancy and unchanging character of the Gospel is this further statement by our Lord: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,...and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world" (Matt. 28:19, 20). Evidently our Lord was thinking about the Gospel not merely for one generation or for a few centuries; He was looking down through the ages, unto the end of the world. He promised to be with the appointed teachers of His Gospel all days, every day, until the end. Not for one moment, therefore, could these teachers depart from the original Gospel.
Of equal significance are the promises about the Holy Spirit, whom our Lord identified as the Spirit of truth. I quote three statements. First: "And I will pray the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive; ..." (John 14:16, 17). Second: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you" (John 14:26). Third: "Howbeit then He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth..." (John 16:13).
These promises hold the key to infallibility in teaching, the assurance of which must be given by any church if it would direct mankind along the way to eternal salvation. This assurance the Catholic Church can and does give. She does so because her organisation is the physical continuance of that which our Lord established; because her officials, being the legitimate successors and heirs of the original Apostles, can confidently claim for themselves the guidance of the Holy Spirit as promised by the Master. For the Catholic, the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15).
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