I believe in the Apostolic Succession yet I have
brothers in the Kingdom not in communion with
the Church. You prayed for all to be one in faith. I
will not encourage division among Your followers
(Mark 9:38-41 & Luke 11:23 & John 10:16).
Christ is one with the Father.
“The Father and I are one” (John 10:30).
The Church is united in one body—the body of Christ.
Now you are Christ’s body, and individually parts of it (1 Cor 12:27).
We, His people, are united in one Lord and one faith.
I, then, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to live in a manner worthy of the call you have received, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love, striving to preserve the unity of the spirit through the bond of peace: one body and one Spirit, as you were also called to the one hope of your call; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Eph 4:1-6).
Christian unity is a sign of our fidelity to Christ.
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me” (John 17:20-21).
Jesus prayed that we might be one people united in faith as He is with the Father.
“And I have given them the glory you gave me, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me” (John 17:22-23).
The Church is holy by Her union with Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit.
“The Church . . . is held, as a matter of faith, to be unfailingly holy. This is because Christ, the Son of God, who with the Father and the Spirit is hailed as ‘alone holy,’ loved the Church as his Bride, giving himself up for her so as to sanctify her; he joined her to himself as his body and endowed her with the gift of the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.” The Church, then, is “the holy People of God,”and her members are called “saints” (CCC 823).
The Church is apostolic in that it is ministered by the Apostles and their successors.
“And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 16:18-19).
These keys are a sign of the Davidic Kingdom that hearken back to Isaiah 22. They are a sign of the office of the Prime Minister. The offices of the Apostles are transferrable and are passed on to others who are elevated to their offices.
I will thrust you from your office
and pull you down from your station.
On that day I will summon my servant
Eliakim, son of Hilkiah;
I will clothe him with your robe,
gird him with your sash,
confer on him your authority.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem,
and to the house of Judah.
I will place the key of the House of David on his shoulder;
what he opens, no one will shut,
what he shuts, no one will open (Is 22:19-22).
The Church is catholic. It is universal, the union of Heaven and Earth. In this union, those given authority to minister in the Church on Earth have authority over the whole Kingdom, not just here. They have been given the authority to legislate and govern a united Kingdom of Heaven and Earth.
Amen, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven (Matt 18:18).
The Church given by Christ is one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic.
If all of the above is true, why is there so much division among the followers of Christ? There are not many bodies of Christ, just one. There are not many churches spoken of in Scripture, only one. Yet, in our world, that isn’t the situation we see. There is great division among Christians as many things taught by Christ are interpreted through various schools of thought. It was the same when Jesus walked the Holy Land.
Again there was a division among the Jews because of these words. Many of them said, “He is possessed and out of his mind; why listen to him?” Others said, “These are not the words of one possessed; surely a demon cannot open the eyes of the blind, can he?” (John 10:19-21).
All that we read and hear goes through the filter of our own minds and is interpreted according to our education and experience. Our perceptions cloud our judgements and though we read the same truths, we come to differing conclusions. That is why we are not to lean on our own understanding (Prov 3:5). Doing so, brings disunity where we are meant to be united (Eph 4:13) and division where we are meant to be of one mind (Phil 2:2).
The Jews in the quote above were not evil in their thinking. It’s just that the teachings of Jesus ran contrary to their understanding of their faith. Jesus’s critics and believers were raised in the same Jewish tradition and under the same law. Those who were open to the word of God recognized His voice, though it spoke truth in a new way. Those who were confirmed in their own understanding shut their ears and held Him condemned in their stubbornness.
So it is in the Church. The early centuries saw one faith and one flock. They were devoted to the teachings of the Apostles. Before there was a New Testament, there was just the testament of the Apostles.
They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers (Acts 2:42).
Divisions arose from time to time and were corrected by the Apostles and their successors. Factions raised followers and caused divisions.
I urge you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree in what you say, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and in the same purpose. For it has been reported to me about you, my brothers, by Chloe’s people, that there are rivalries among you. I mean that each of you is saying, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor 1:10-13).
Truly, the Epistles may be seen as expressions of the central authority of the Church correcting what was flagging in the churches and encouraging what was holy. There is no other reason for the Epistles except that those who wrote them had the inspiration of the Spirit and the authority to tell the church-recipients where they erred. There was one Church with a flock scattered at a distance. The Church must correct what is wrong… but it must be done in love. Heavy hands breed hostility.
Heresies cropped up with learned men sure of their understanding of Jesus. From the Arians to the Gnostics, the Church answered these heresies and explained their deficiencies through ecumenical councils. By testing all things (1 Thess 5:21), there was harmony (Rom 15:5) while there was unity (Eph 4:13). In every family, there are disagreements but they should be handled within the family. Jesus doesn’t like divorce (Matt 19:4-9). Even excommunication is a means for healing (1 Cor 5:4-5).
Then, there was a great schism in the Church in 1054 AD. East was split from West over political maneuvering among leaders, changes in culture and society, and disputes over doctrines and theology. Although many Eastern churches have reconciled with the Roman Catholic Church in the West, the Byzantine or Orthodox Church remains the largest denomination of Christianity outside of the Church. This division of East and West wasn’t just a matter for Church doctrine and unity. It divided the world… a division that remains to this day.
One of the great differences between East and West is the authority to teach and legislate. There is no one with such central authority in the East and doctrines have not developed over time. In the West, we have the Magisterium of the Church to teach and grow our understanding of Christ and His Kingdom in light of Scripture and the Deposit of Faith (Tradition). The Holy Spirit didn’t just inspire a written word in the New Testament writings of the Apostles and become silent for the last two millennia. That isn’t what was promised (John 14:16-17). The Spirit indwells the Church and gives Her life, wisdom, and understanding (John 14:26).
The ministers of the Church don’t cease to be men when they take on the charism of the priesthood. Priests, bishops, and popes have their own confessors to hear their sacramental confession. They make mistakes. They fall. They sin. These sins wound the unity of the Church as people find it difficult to see the Bride of Christ among the sins of fallen men. We are united in truth—in Christ—not in men (1 Cor 1:10-13). They have been given great authority and we must pray for them to exercise it wisely.
There was another great division which began in 1517 AD and fractured with Martin Luther’s 95 Theses. Although he didn’t set out to become a schismatic, schism took on a life of its own. Aided by the printing press, private interpretation became the rule as Bibles left the churches for homes. German princes—recognizing the power of religion to foment division among people—championed disparate heresies of the Church for their own gain. Their differences of theological interpretation led to warring factions among the people. Where Christianity had been divided in 1054, it became fractalized in the Protestant Reformation.
Those who denied the authority of Rome and the primacy of Peter’s office in the Pope, split to found their own churches. Often, men were elevated to lead the separate schools of Christian traditions and essentially became popes in their own congregations. In denying the Tradition of the Church, they developed their own traditions to distinguish their faith. Whether it was the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Calvin, or Billy Graham, people recognized the need for leadership in the Church—for someone to hold firm the doctrines of denominations—to be a rock for mooring the faith. Leaving the Catholic Church didn’t somehow make men better popes, it just made men more confused in their understanding of Christ. How can men united in the Spirit—reading the same Bible they each hold central to their theology—be so divided in their teaching? They do not adhere to a common teaching authority to explain what they read (Acts 8:31).
We believe in the primacy of Peter’s office because it was conferred by Christ Himself as He spoke of the Church He will build (Matt 16:18). Jesus is the Son of David (Rom 1:3). David was promised that His kingdom would be an everlasting kingdom through Christ (2 Sam 7:12-13). Our Lord made great effort in His lifetime and beyond to confirm His role as David’s heir.
“I, Jesus, sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the root and offspring of David, the bright morning star” (Rev 22:16).
There is great consternation between the denominations of Christianity. Those who preach love to the sinner hate those who profess Christ differently. There are wars between factions and a great deal of evangelization is converting one denomination to another. In the end, the world sees a mess. Is the mess among christians any different from the chaos in the rest of the world? No… and that’s a problem. There is disunity and discord in the Church that mirrors the problems of the world. Where the Church is meant to lead the world into the light, the infighting among christians succors the darkness. The one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church is not one denomination among many. It is the root and trunk of all of the branches.
The devil learned his lesson from Christ and revels in our division.
But he knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be laid waste and house will fall against house. And if Satan is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” (Luke 11:17-18).
We don’t know the hearts of men. We are not to be their judge. The Apostles encountered some who were outside of their membership and thought to rebuke them.
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in your name, and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow us.” Jesus replied, “Do not prevent him. There is no one who performs a mighty deed in my name who can at the same time speak ill of me. For whoever is not against us is for us. Anyone who gives you a cup of water to drink because you belong to Christ, amen, I say to you, will surely not lose his reward (Mark 9:38-41).
As Christian disunity scatters, it belies our mission to gather all people together in Christ.
Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters (Luke 11:23).
Who can know the full counsels of God but God Himself? Who can know the extent of His people and His flocks?
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16).
In the end, we must remember that this is the Church Christ is building (Matt 16:18). He will build it His way. Our petty turf battles do not serve the purpose of unity. He made us one and breaks down the walls of hostility (Eph 2:14)… walls we build for our own self-importance. Christ has conquered the world (John 16:33)… the evil we fight is within us. It is an war for our attention and allegiance with our soul in the balance. Our weapon is humility. Our weakness is pride.
In our battles, we fast—yet demons have no need of food; we work—but demons have no need of rest; we pray—but not always for God’s will to be done. In all of our endeavors, the spirits are more capable than us except in humility. The devil and his minions are powerless against true humility. That is why they tempt the saints with self-importance. They seek to externalize the battle to the world—their home turf—rather than allow us time of quiet, internal reflection. They stir up trouble between Christians when we should be united in the peace of Christ (Col 3:15). The saints have often found the greatest hostility from the Church they love.
Imagine the power of the Church united in the world and standing against evil. Imagine the Body of Christ acting in harmony to serve the needs of the poor and outcast. Imagine the light of truth proclaimed universally, driving out the encroaching darkness. The devil can imagine it, too, and he trembles. That’s why he works to keep us at odds. His best illusion is our division. His greatest tool will always be our pride.
I will remember that no one who proclaims the Gospel of Christ is my enemy and I pray for all to come to the fullness of truth.