When I was studying for the ministry I came across things in the Bible that were hard to understand. No surprise there. Undaunted, I soldiered on trusting that my education and the guidance of the Holy Spirit would clear things up well enough. Gradually, I became more unsettled by the realization that different people were teaching different things about the Bible. “All of them claim to be led by the Holy Spirit,” I thought. “All of them are highly educated. Which one is correct? Am I being taught the right things? Will I teach the right things when I’m a minister?” These questions lingered in the back of my mind as I did my best to follow Christ and his calling.
When I read passages like 2Peter 3:16 and Acts 8:30-31 my concerns grew. Scripture is hard to understand. Who would be my Phillip? Who were the ignorant and unstable ones that twist the Scriptures to their own destruction and teach error? There were so many choices, they could not all be right. If the Bible is the authority for the Christian, who has the final say on matters of interpretation? There is much disagreement, even on basic questions like, “How does one become saved?” For example, is baptism necessary for salvation? Nowhere in the Bible does it say “Accept Jesus into your heart as your personal Lord and Savior.” Is salvation something a person can lose once they have it? Are good works necessary for salvation? Was the Holy Spirit giving people different answers to these important questions? Why so many denominations with different answers?
I would hear people say, “I don’t believe it unless the Bible says it!” But, where is that teaching found in the Bible? Where does the Bible say that only those things found explicitly in the Bible are true? It’s not in there.
One day I was introduced to some Scripture verses I had never noticed before. 1Tim 3:15 says that the Church of the living God is the pillar and bulwark of truth. Matt 18:15-17 says to take disagreements to the Church. Here we see the final authority. The Bible says that the final authority is the Church, not the Bible. Nowhere does the Bible claim itself to be the final authority. It points us to the Church. But, which church? What if a Baptist and a Presbyterian and a Methodist have a disagreement? Which “church” do they take it to? There are literally thousands of denominations or “churches.”
The only Church that can historically document its existence back to Christ is the Catholic Church. 266 Popes can be counted all the way back to Peter. Jesus said, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me.” He told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me.” He gave his authority to his Church before the New Testament was even written. The authority of the Bible comes from Jesus through the Church that assembled it. The Catholic Church has the final say. Do other churches teach things that are true about Jesus? Yes. But the Catholic Church has the fullness of truth. It is the whole package Christ wants us to have. It is the Church established by Christ. The Bible is one part of the treasure and authority given to the Catholic Church, the “pillar and bulwark of truth.”
I no longer worry if I’m in the “right denomination.” Catholicism isn’t really a “denomination” anyway. That’s a bit like calling the trunk of a tree a “branch.” Whatever life is in the branches (denominations) comes from the trunk. Catholicism is simply the Church. Always has been, always will be. I am humbled to be part of the Catholic Church and its 2000 years of experience and wisdom. The Church has outlived every empire. It has survived every attack from within and from without. If it was just a human organization it would have imploded long ago. It is an organism with Jesus Christ as the head and king, and the Pope as his prime minister. Scandals have not destroyed it, wars have not demolished it, rebellions have not diffused it and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it. It’s Christ’s Church. He builds it. The Holy Spirit guides it. To love Jesus is to love his Church. It is, after all, his Body. It’s good to be home.