Belief in One True Church: Is it “Breathtakingly Arrogant”?

Peter6

Something called “my church” was built by Jesus upon St. Peter (meaning, “Rock”), who was also given “the keys of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). Saint Peter Catholic Church (Millersburg, Ohio) – stained glass, St. Peter – detail. Photograph by “Nheyob” (4-18-15) [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]

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My friend, John E. Taylor (Presbyterian [OPC]) wrote the following on my Facebook page (his words in blue; my bolding added). I then respond to it:

I’ve seen God use many people of all branches of the Christian family, both now and in my study of church history. Consequently, anyone who claims his own church to be “the one true church” is breathtakingly arrogant. It’s the taking to the worst of the factionalism cited by Paul as the first thing he tried to correct when he wrote the most immature church in the Pauline corpus:

1 Corinthians 1:10‭-‬13 (ESV) “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. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”

So brothers, let us not claim to be wiser than we are, but rather heed the words of one whose confession of his own past folly God respected enough to inscripturate, and then warned us all not to monkey around with His Word:

Proverbs 30:1‭-‬6  “The words of Agur son of Jakeh. The oracle. The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out. Surely I am too stupid to be a man. I have not the understanding of a man. I have not learned wisdom, nor have I knowledge of the Holy One. Who has ascended to heaven and come down? Who has gathered the wind in his fists? Who has wrapped up the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and what is his son’s name? Surely you know! Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.”

“anyone who claims his own church to be “the one true church” is breathtakingly arrogant.”

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[Note: John apologized a few days later for this characterization (see his words at the very end). I’ll keep this post up, because many in Protestantism feel the same way, but I wanted to post the sincere and welcome “retraction” in a prominent place). ]

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This statement condemns all Catholics, Orthodox, and even Luther and Calvin, who believed their form of the Church was the Christian Church. It includes me and every Catholic who comes to my pages. It includes John Calvin himself, who thought his brand was the Church; accordingly he condemned even Lutheranism as “evil.”

That’s quite a sweeping condemnation. You are not allowing all of us to believe as we do without you characterizing us as insufferably arrogant fools. Is not that act of judgment at least as arrogant as simply believing in episcopal / Catholic ecclesiology?

The Bible clearly teaches that there is but one Church. The only way to get out of that is to redefine “church” in an unbiblical way. And that is exactly what Protestantism has done: or more accurately, post-“Reformation” Protestantism, and especially post-“Enlightenment” Protestantism.

Most Protestants I know, and myself, too, when I was in your ranks, feel very uncomfortable with denominationalism, precisely because it is understood that this is not able to be harmonized with the Bible at all.

The Bible doesn’t teach ecclesiological relativism and doctrinal anarchy. It teaches that there is one Lord, one Church, and one faith, and one true set of apostolic doctrines.

Folks, of course, can honestly disagree as to the identity of the one biblical Church, but to say that even the assertion that there is one Church is “breathtakingly arrogant” is breathtakingly ludicrous.

Nothing personal, my friend, but you’re the one who started calling the views of hundreds of millions of Christians (a great majority of the whole group), breathtakingly arrogant.

I call that ludicrous, which is a judgment on the particular opinion, not on the person who said it. You are a great guy and good Christian (someone I’m proud to be friends with) who made a ludicrous statement.

Hopefully, you will reconsider it.

Well, Dave, such an obvious mischaracterization of my plain words can, I think, be explained only by the fact that I got under your skin.

I stand by my statement.

The Bible DOES, as you say, teach there is one church. That is why I confess the sins of my forefathers, BOTH Catholic and Protestant, who persecuted their counterparts.

BUT the Bible nowhere promises an organic unity on earth until Christ returns. So it is cultic to claim to belong to the true church. Not as bad as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses with their false gospels, but cultic just the same.

For the record, there are a number of Protestant splinter groups that do the same, as you probably know.

We both obviously believe our church possesses more truth than others, but for either of us to call ours “the” true church is not only arrogant but false.

Joshua Scott (“a non-denominational Christian”) chimed in:

He clearly didn’t say the mere assertion that there is one church makes one arrogant. He said to claim one’s own is the true church is arrogant. I don’t think it’s nitpicky to point out the shift there.

I don’t see any essential difference. One believes there is one Church, based on the Bible. Then one believes that a particular *claimant* is said Church: continued historically from Jesus, Peter, the apostles, and fathers, to our time, through apostolic succession and the protection of the Holy Spirit. Having believed that, one joins it.

So now John and you come along and say that it’s perfectly fine to say there is one Church, but to actually decide (by God’s grace) which claimant it is and to join it and proclaim it to others is the unpardonable sin, and “breathtakingly arrogant.”

I find this as amusing as it is outrageous. Obviously if we believe there is one Church, the next reasonable and logical step is to identify it. And then if we think we have found it, quite obviously we would then join it, to be part of it, since who wants to be outside of it?

But John’s outlook would preclude anyone from taking that step, and in effect, condemns us all to perpetual doubt and confusion as to the nature of the Christian Church that our Lord Jesus began in Matthew 16.

And that brings us to the alternative: theological relativism and ecclesiological chaos and the characteristically Protestant “glorying in uncertainty.” We’re never supposed to be sure of many doctrines, nor to find certainty in things like knowing what the one true Church is, because this is “arrogant” according to our crazy age and epoch in history. It’s most unfashionable and uncool and naughty. But if we fall back on chic and fashionable uncertainty, then we’re okay and wonderful and loved by one and all.

The problem is that there is not the slightest hint in the New Testament that we are to live in such a fog of uncertainty. That’s not what the New Testament teaches at all. This subjective mush that we have today is postmodernist theological liberalism, that was as utterly foreign to Luther and Calvin as it is to Catholics and Orthodox.

I think John’s response on your page highlights the difference nicely. I, as a non-denominational Christian, believe there is one church, but not in the sense that there is one visible institution that has a history going back to Christ. Rather, the church is what it literally means: ekklesia, the called-out ones. That means anyone who is saved, regardless of their denomination, is part of “the church.” Such a position does not require relativism either–I believe in one truth just as much as you, and indeed I think more things in the Bible are clear than the Catholic Magisterium is willing to commit to. But it’s different to say “I think my conclusions are correct based on the best evidence” (which is the implication of holding a reasoned opinion at all) than to say “the named group I belong to is the group we should all belong to.” The latter is arrogant because it implies you’ve already proven you’re right about the former, and thus skips debate. A better way to say it would be “I think my church has answered doctrinal questions correctly and that’s why I joined it.”

The latter description is true, too (though not entirely the reason that any of us converts became Catholics), but that includes Catholic / episcopal ecclesiology, which holds that there is one historical, universal (“catholic”) apostolic Church that began with our Lord Jesus’ commission to Peter.

It all comes down to the same thing. You confirm exactly what I observed, by asserting:

“there is one church, but not in the sense that there is one visible institution that has a history going back to Christ.”

I had stated: “The only way to get out of that is to redefine “church” in an unbiblical way. And that is exactly what Protestantism has done.”

But Rolf Wagner gives the more accurate understanding of conversions to Catholicism: “Once I discovered the historically unique position of the Catholic/Eastern Orthodox faith my thinking changed. ‘Because of who she is, I will join her and will align my beliefs with her.’ ”

LONG before the Protestant split, YOU “got used to” the split with the East, which your ancestors contributed so much to create (as did they). Your contribution was in no small part due to the breathtaking arrogance of the Roman claim of primacy over the East, and the politely (and sometimes not so politely, but correctly) told the West to pound sand.

And the East, not to be outdone, in THEIR breathtaking arrogance, claim THEY are the “one true church” and have NO interest in the squabbles we post-Reformation Westerners have with each because WE rebelled from THEM.

Bottom line, according to John: no one is allowed to hold to an episcopal ecclesiology and to apostolic succession, as it was universally believed by the Church fathers. To do so is “breathtakingly arrogant.” One must hold to a [modern] Protestant ecclesiology, so as to remove oneself from such insufferable arrogance.

It’s exhibit #397,814 of the Protestant outlook of, “we disagree amongst ourselves on all kinds of things that we can never resolve, but what we know for sure is that the Catholic Church is wrong, and arrogant to boot!”

The Bible says nothing about the church being a visible institution. Even less that one is only part of “the church” by being part of that institution. You might believe otherwise, but to say yours is the one true church is to assume I’m wrong without proving it. So again, doctrine first, group second.

That’s your false (and quintessentially Protestant) assumption. There is all kinds of biblical indication of it, that I write about in scores of papers. For starters: Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church. I have much, much more on my Church / Ecclesiology web page.

My favorite argument along these lines is regarding the authority of the Jerusalem council, because Protestants have no good reply whatsoever to it.

For [Dave] to so grossly misrepresent what I say (something so simple I have no doubt I can explain it to any high school student who attends my church), and then stick with his story when I call him on it, makes me honestly wonder if I can count on him to be accurate about the “dead white males” he discusses, both Catholic and Protestant.

That’s mighty unimpressive, John. First, you characterize my view of ecclesiology, and that of a billion Catholics and several hundred million Orthodox as “breathtakingly arrogant.”

Now, rather than engage our replies, as Joshua Scott has done, you continue to insist that I have misrepresented you, when I have done no such thing (I merely drew out the logical implications of what you said, a bit), and you up the ante to a new charge of my profound inaccuracy when discussing either historic Catholicism or Protestantism.

So we are unacceptably full of ourselves, and then if we dare to further defend our ecclesiology against onslaughts, we are dumb, too. LOL

Very cute.

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ADDENDUM: Apology from John

Dave, my pastor gently suggested I should have been more irenic in my “one true church” comments. My having been a Marine is no excuse — I was a sinner long before I was a Jarhead.

Please forgive me.

That’s great, John. I accept and appreciate the apology.

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