There are many forms of church governance among Christians today. In some churches congregations vote to make decisions; in others the church is run by a group of elders; and in still others, authority resides with bishops.
While all Christians point to Scripture to support their church structure, it is very difficult to determine the precise way the early Church was governed from the Bible alone.
But in the year 110 A.D., only about 50 years after most of the New Testament was written, St. Ignatius of Antioch described the early church leadership in his letters: Each area was led by a single bishop who was accompanied by priests and deacons in ministry.
Ignatius wrote, “let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he appoints. … [T]his … is pleasing to God, so that whatever is done will be secure and valid.”1
Ignatius himself was with the apostle John, so we have every reason to trust that this basic church structure which the Catholic Church has to this day comes from the apostles themselves.
1 – Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:1
Born Again in Baptism
Are you born again? It’s a question that Catholics aren’t quite sure how to respond to, but those who are living out their faith should answer with a whole-hearted Yes.
The term “born again” comes from John 3 when our Lord tells Nicodemus, “Amen, Amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above,”1 or “born again,” as some translations put it. Nicodemus is confused, thinking that Jesus is referring to a 2nd physical birth, so Jesus clarifies that “no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.”2 The early Church unanimously interpreted this as a reference to the sacrament of baptism, 3 which is no mere symbolic ritual, but the normative instrument that Christ instituted for our spiritual rebirth.
Romans 6 says that in baptism our old natures are buried and we are raised to new life in Christ. 4 And 1 Peter 3:21 puts it plainly, “baptism now saves you.”
Salvation is a lifelong process, a race to the finish line. But baptism is where it all begins, where we are born again, if you will.
1 – Jn. 3:3
2 – Jn. 3:5
3 – See Catholic Answers website on subject: http://www.catholic.com/library/Born_Again_in_Baptism.asp
4 – Rom. 6:3-4
Works of the Law
To properly understand this, we must look at the historical context. As we read in the Acts, there was a group in the early Church called the “Judaizers,”1 which taught that Gentile converts to Christianity must be circumcised and follow the kosher laws.
Paul says in no uncertain terms that those trying to be saved through these Old Testament works of the Law have rejected Christ and lost their salvation.
The attitude of the Judaizers is contrasted with the faith of Abraham,2 who trusted and obeyed God even to the point of offering his own son, Isaac. Paul’s point is not that our works have no bearing on our salvation, but rather that these particular Jewish rituals were not necessary for eternal life.
For the same Romans that teaches “a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law,”3 also says that God “shows no partiality … [for] he will render to everyone according to his works..” 4
There is no contradiction, as long as we correctly understand what Paul meant by the works of the law.
1 – cf. Acts 15:1-6, etc.
2 – Rom. 4:1ff
3 – 3:28
4 – 2:6-10
Liturgy of the Hours
For centuries Catholic priests, monks and nuns sanctified their days by praying the Psalms. This practice was inherited from the Jews, who prayed at set times in the temple. The Western Church was largely influenced by the Benedictine monks, who immersed themselves in the Psalms seven times each day, in addition to Mass and private prayer.
The Church today encourages the laity to pray a shorter form of this called the “Liturgy of the Hours.” The two major parts of this are called morning prayer and evening prayer, and there are also readings for each day corresponding to the seasons of the Church’s liturgical calendar.
Praying the Liturgy of the Hours can be a powerful tool. It helps us acquire the discipline of regular prayer and fills our hearts and minds with Scripture as we go about our days. I once heard a priest say every single one of the priests he knew who had left the priesthood had stopped praying their daily office of prayer.
For more info talk to your priest or Catholic bookstore, and cover your household in spiritual protection each day with Mass, rosary, and the Liturgy of the Hours
Canon of Scripture
On this Faith Check, let’s talk a little about how we got God’s Holy Word.
The early Christians relied on the Greek translation of the Old Testament, which is the version most often quoted in the New Testament and the one Jesus probably heard growing up. This version also includes the books that Protestants call the “Apocrypha” and typically don’t include in their Bibles.
It took a while for the Catholic Church to compile the New Testament. Some books such as the 4 gospels were accepted by all, and others, such as the spurious gospels one hears about in The DaVinci Code were rejected by all. However, other books were completely orthodox but disputed, including some that weren’t ultimately included such as The Didache and others that were like Hebrews and Revelation.
The “canon”, which is the list of books that belong in the Bible, was determined primarily to say which books could and could not be read at the liturgy, and was largely settled by a series of Church councils approved by the Pope and bishops in the late 300s.1
Hence, when you trust in the inspiration of the Bible, you are trusting a Spirit-led decision of the Roman Catholic Church.
1 – Council of Rome under Pope St. Damasus I [A.D. 382], Council of Hippo [A.D. 393], Council of Carthage [A.D. 397],
Epistle of Pope St. Innocent I to Bishop Exuperius [A.D. 405]
Reliability of Oral Tradition
In the modern world, oral means of communication are deemed inherently unreliable as we’ve all heard of the game of telephone where a phrase is whispered around a circle and it comes out nothing like the original.
When the apostles went out to teach the Faith, they did not whisper it in secret, but proclaimed it publicly to the multitudes. Oral tradition was the normative means of passing on the faith, as St. Paul’s says in 2 Timothy 2:2, “what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”
There is no evidence that a widespread change in belief took place among the early Christians. Quite the opposite, at the end of the second century St. Irenaeus wrote that while the Church had spread over the entire known world, the Faith had been maintained in tact everywhere,2 something only attributable to the Holy Spirit.
1 – e.g., . Kenneth Bailey, “Informal, Controlled, Oral Tradition and the Synoptic Gospels” Asia Journal of Theology, 5.1
2 – Against Heresies 1:10:2 [ca. A.D. 180]
The Place of the Bible in the Church
You know, as Catholics we believe that the Bible is God’s Holy and Inspired Word.
Just think how easily the meaning of our e-mails can be misinterpreted, sometimes causing great strife between people. Then take the Bible, which is infinitely longer, more complex, and written over a millennia ago in a world very different from our own, and we can begin to see why Jesus wouldn’t leave His teaching to just a book.
The Church looks to what it calls Sacred Tradition—which is rooted in things like Church Councils, Creeds, and the early Fathers of the Church—to safeguard our interpretation of God’s Word. All of the Catholic Church’s beliefs can be traced back to the earliest Christians.
Our Lord also chose the twelve apostles to go out and make disciples of all nations1 and promised them the assistance of the Holy Spirit.2 The apostles ordained bishops who have succeeded them down to this present day.3 The Catholic Church is a living voice that rings out for all to hear, proclaiming and interpreting God’s Word to every generation.4
1 – Mt. 28:20
2 – Jn. 14:26
3 – cf. Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3:1-8; 2 Tim. 1:6; 2:2; Tit. 1:5; Js. 5:14; 1 Pt. 5:1; Jd. 8ff
4 – cf. 1 Tim. 3:15; Mt. 16:18
On this Faith Check we’re talking about Tradition!
For many Christians, Tradition can be a sort of dirty word. This is probably because of Jesus’ harsh words for the tradition of the Pharisees,1 who added unnecessary rituals and ignored the weightier matters of God’s Law.
But some traditions can be good and helpful in our spiritual journey. Things like putting up a Nativity scene, praying the rosary, or fasting. These are not doctrines, but customs that we do as Catholics to help draw us closer to God.
Catholics also speak of Sacred Tradition with a “capital T,” which is the very message of Christ that has been faithfully handed down to us from the apostles.2 For example, St. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians 2:15 to “stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” Here Scripture itself teaches that the Word of God can come to us both through written Scripture and oral Tradition—either way, we are to receive it equally as God’s Word.
For a synopsis of the Sacred Tradition today, pick up a copy of the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
1 – Mk. 7:6-23, etc.
2 – cf. 1 Cor. 11:2, etc.
Church Authority to Interpret the Bible
Many say that the Bible alone is all we need to know God’s Truth. But just look at all of the questions that
divide Christians today because of differing views over what the Bible teaches: Should infants be baptized?, can I lose my salvation?, or what about the many moral issues that we face?
Our Lord said that a house divided cannot stand, and He never intended for His followers to interpret the Bible privately (2 Pet. 1:20). Jesus left us a visible Church whose leaders have authority to teach and govern God’s people.
In Matthew 18, Jesus said that insurmountable debates should be taken to the Church for resolution.1 For those that understand this and still refuse to listen to the Church, Jesus has a stern warning. Of course, to follow Jesus’ teaching on this necessarily requires a single Church that is organized and consistent.
For 2,000 years the Catholic Church has been fulfilling this role in order that the Body of Christ might experience the harmony of being truly unified in heart and mind. Small wonder St. Augustine said, “I would not believe in the Gospel myself if the authority of the Catholic Church did not influence me to do so.” 2
1 – Mt. 18:15-18
2 – Against the letter of Mani, 5,6, 397 A.D.