Visible Church; Eucharist in Acts 2:42; Ever-Changing Catholicism?
The late Steve Hays (1959-2020) was a Calvinist (and anti-Catholic) apologist, who was very active on his blog, called Triablogue (now continued by Jason Engwer). His 695-page self-published book, Catholicism — a collection of articles from his site — has graciously been made available for free. On 9 September 2006, knowing full well my history of being condemned and vilified by other anti-Catholics (and his buddies) like James White, Eric Svendsen, and James Swan, Hays was quite — almost extraordinarily — charitable towards me. He wrote then:
I don’t think I’ve ever accused him of being a traitor or apostate or infidel. . . . I have nothing to say, one way or the other, regarding his state of grace. But his sincerity is unquestionable. I also don’t dislike him. . . . I don’t think there’s anything malicious about Armstrong—unlike some people who come to mind. In addition, I don’t think I’ve ever said he was unintelligent. For the record, it’s obvious that Armstrong has a quick, nimble mind. . . . The term “apostasy” carries with it a heavy presumption that the apostate is a hell-bound reprobate. I think it’s unwarranted to assume that all Catholics or converts to Catholicism are damned.
Two-and-a-half years later, starting in April 2009 and up through December 2011 (in the following quotations) his opinion radically changed, and he claimed that I have “an evil character,” am “actually evil,” “ego-maniac, narcissist,” “idolater,” “self-idolater,” “hack who pretends to be a professional apologist,” given to “chicanery,” one who doesn’t “do any real research,” “a stalwart enemy of the faith . . . no better than [the atheists] Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens,” with an intent to “destroy faith in God’s word,” “schizophrenic,” “emotionally unhinged,” one who “doesn’t trust in the merit of Christ alone for salvation,” “has no peace of mind,” “a bipolar solipsist,” “split-personality,” and a “bad” man. He wasn’t one to mince words! See more gory details.
I feel no need whatsoever to reciprocate these silly and sinful insults. I just wanted the record to be known. I’ve always maintained that Hays was a very intelligent man, but habitually a sophist in methodology; sincere and well-meaning, but tragically and systematically wrong and misguided regarding Catholicism. That’s what I’m addressing, not the state of his heart and soul (let alone his eternal destiny). It’s a theological discussion. This is one of many planned critiques of his book (see my reasons why I decided to do this). Rather than list them all here, interested readers are directed to the “Steve Hays” section of my Anti-Catholicism web page, where they will all be listed. My Bible citations are from the RSV. Steve’s words will be in blue.
[Chapter 3: Competing Paradigms]
Finding the church
Catholic converts and apologists like Bryan Cross harp on “the visible church”. Where do you find the visible church? [p. 94]
In the Bible:
Visible, Hierarchical, Apostolic Church 
1 Timothy 3:15: Sola Scriptura or Visible Church Authority? [10-2-07]
Debunking the Mythical Invisible Church [9-14-15]
Is the One True Church a Visible or Invisible Entity? [National Catholic Register, 9-12-18]
Protestants don’t have a visible church. [p. 94]
Then that is one of many ways in which they are unbiblical. But it’s incorrect for Hays to make such a blanket statement about all Protestants. Anglicans believe in a visible Church. Even Hays’ master John Calvin casually assumed that it existed:
How we are to judge the church visible, which falls within our knowledge, is, I believe, already evident from the above discussion. For we have said that Holy Scripture speaks of the church in two ways. Sometimes by the term “church” it means that which is actually in God’s presence, into which no persons are received but those who are children of God by grace of adoption and true members of Christ by sanctification of the Holy Spirit. Then, indeed, the church includes not only the saints presently living on earth, but all the elect from the beginning of the world. Often, however, the name “church” designates the whole multitude of men spread over the earth who profess to worship one God and Christ. By baptism we are initiated into faith in him; by partaking in the Lord’s Supper we attest our unity in true doctrine and love; in the Word of the Lord we have agreement, and for the preaching of the Word the ministry instituted by Christ is preserved. In this church are mingled many hypocrites who have nothing of Christ but the name and outward appearance. There are very many ambitious, greedy, envious persons, evil speakers, and some of quite unclean life. (Institutes of the Christian Religion [Philadelphia, 1960], Book IV, Chapter 1, Section 7: “Invisible and Visible Church”; italics my own)
Here’s another definition of the church:
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and prayer (Acts 2:42).
That’s a nifty compact definition. A functional definition. . . .
This is where you find “the church”. You find the church whenever and whenever you find groups of Christians who exemplify Acts 2:42, both inside and outside of church. [p. 94]
It’s not a definition of the Church at all. Rather, it’s a description of how one group of the earliest Christians (Acts 11:26) — in Jerusalem — acted. If I say, “these athletes warmed up by throwing the ball around, kept in physical shape, sat on the bench, ran around the bases, hit a pitched ball with a bat, and caught balls in the air,” that’s a description of baseball players: not the definition of baseball itself.
If Hays wants to argue in this fashion, I could just as well cite the actions of Christians in the seven churches of Revelation, too: “you have abandoned the love you had at first” (Rev 2:4; of the church in Ephesus); “you are dead” (Rev 3:1; of the church in Sardis); “you are lukewarm, . . . wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Rev 3:16-17; of the church in Laodicea).
Or how about the Galatian Christians, whom Paul calls his “brethren” in “the churches of Galatia” (Gal 1:2)? He also said that they were “quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel” (Gal 1:6), and “Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?” (3:3), and “now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?” (4:9), and “I am afraid I have labored over you in vain” (4:11).
All of these people from four local churches are regarded in Scripture (and by Paul) as Christians and brothers and sisters in Christ, yet this is how they acted. Even Paul described himself — “the foremost of sinners” (1 Tim 1:15) — as follows:
Romans 7:15, 19, 23-24 I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. . . .  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. . . .  but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members.  Wretched man that I am! . . .
Therefore, it follows that we can’t define the church by how believers act, because it’s unbiblical. If we wanted to reason like Steve, it would follow that it’s just as biblical to define a Christian as “dead” or “lukewarm” or “wretched” or one who is “turning to a different gospel” than it is to describe them as Luke did in Acts 2:42. And that’s because the Church, which is visible, according to Holy Scripture, has wheat and weeds (or tares), as Jesus taught (Mt 13:24-30).
Does “breaking of bread” (cf. v46-47) allude to the eucharist or ordinary communal Christian meals? False dichotomy inasmuch as that formal distinction didn’t exist at the time. The eucharist was incorporated into common meals (cf. 1 Cor 10-11). [p. 94]
Many classic Protestant commentators, contrary to Hays, think it is referring to the Eucharist here (and it is the most prevalent historical view):
Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers: And in breaking of bread, and in prayers.—(3) St. Luke uses the phrase, we must remember, in the sense which, when he wrote, it had acquired in St. Paul’s hands. It can have no meaning less solemn than the commemorative “breaking of bread,” of 1 Corinthians 10:16. From the very first what was afterwards known as the Lord’s Supper (see Note on 1 Corinthians 11:20) took its place with baptism as a permanent universal element in the Church’s life. At first, it would seem, the evening meal of every day was such a supper. Afterwards the two elements that had then been united were developed separately, the social into the Agapœ, or Feasts of Love (Jude 1:12, and—though here there is a various-reading—2 Peter 2:13), the other into the Communion, or Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible: and in breaking of bread; or “of the eucharist”: as the Syriac version renders it, which was [the] usual name with the ancients for the Lord’s supper; and which seems to be intended here, and not eating common bread, or a common meal; seeing it is here mentioned with religious exercises: and though the Jews used to begin their meals with breaking of bread, yet the whole repast, or meal, is never by them called by that name . . .
Expositor’s Greek Testament: no interpretation is satisfactory which forgets . . . that the author of Acts had behind him Pauline language and doctrine, and that we are justified in adducing the language of St. Paul in order to explain the words before us, cf. 1 Corinthians 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:24, Acts 20:7 . . . But if we admit this, we cannot consistently explain the expression of a mere common meal. It may be true that every such meal in the early days of the Church’s first love had a religious significance, that it became a type and evidence of the kingdom of God amongst the believers, but St. Paul’s habitual reference of the words before us to the Lord’s Supper leads us to see in them here a reference to the commemoration of the Lord’s death, although we may admit that it is altogether indisputable that this commemoration at first followed a common meal.
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges: The earliest title of the Holy Communion and that by which it is mostly spoken of in Scripture. (See Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:16, &c.)
Pulpit Commentary: in the Holy Eucharist (see Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:19; Luke 24:30; 1 Corinthians 11:24; 1 Corinthians 10:16; Acts 20:7).
Vincent’s Word Studies: Used by Luke only, and only in the phrase breaking of bread. The kindred verb κλάζω or κλάω, to break, occurs often, but, like the noun, only of breaking bread. Hence used to designate the celebration of the Lord’s Supper.
Alford’s Greek Testament Critical Exegetical Commentary: The interpretation of ἡ κλ. τ. ἄρτ. [here] as the celebration of the Lord’s Supper has been, both in ancient and modern times, the prevalent one. Chrysostom himself, in his 27th Hom. on 1 Cor., p. 422, interprets it, or at all events τῇ κοινωνίᾳ and it together, of the Holy Communion.
Calvin’s Commentaries: my reason why I would rather have breaking of bread to be understood of the Lord’s Supper in this place is this, because Luke doth reckon up those things wherein the public estate of the Church is contained. Yea, he expresseth in this place four marks whereby the true and natural face of the Church may be judged.
Rome’s house of cards
Catholicism, since about the time of Pius XII, has been undergoing drastic change–a trend accelerated by Pope Francis. So it’s unclear, after the dust settles, what Catholicism still represents. I pity someone attempting to write an introduction to the Catholic faith under the pontificate of Francis. That may be out of date before the ink is dry. Catholics must consult the daily newspaper to know what they’re still supposed to believe. [p. 95]
In fact, there have been no changes in doctrine or dogma at all. There are a good number of confused and undereducated Catholics flapping their mouths about supposed change in the Church or with Pope Francis, but they are wrong, and they can’t document that anything has actually changed. A Catholic doesn’t find the doctrines and beliefs of his or her Church by reading newspapers. They find it, rather, in the Catechism, the ecumenical councils, papal encyclicals and other utterances, and Denzinger’s Enchiridion (see the latest 2012 edition): the standard reference source for what the Catholic Church believes.
If someone thinks that some Catholic doctrine has changed, they are welcome to try to prove it by consulting these sources. I can save them the trouble. As a credentialed full-time Catholic apologist for 21 years (with several Imprimaturs, etc.), I can attest that no doctrine has changed or been thrown out. If someone thinks otherwise, they need to prove it “from the books”; not merely assert it with no proof at all (as Hays habitually does). He’s firing blanks. Much ado about nothing. If he actually could “produce the goods” and nail down his case, then he certainly would have. The fact that he doesn’t even attempt to do so is a roundabout concession that he has nothing and so can only indulge in empty rhetoric.
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Photo credit: The Whore of Babylon (workshop of Lucas Cranach): colorized illustration from Martin Luther’s 1534 translation of the Bible [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]
Summary: The late Steve Hays was a Calvinist and anti-Catholic writer and apologist. This is one of my many critiques of Hays’ “Catholicism”: a 695-page self-published volume.