The Church is Indestructible

The Church is a perpetually defeated thing that always survives her conquerors.

Hilaire Belloc

1 Peter 1:3-9 says that our spiritual faith will be tested like gold in the fire. In order to obtain pure gold, we must first drive out the impurities with fire exceeding 1,832 degrees Fahrenheit (1000 degrees Celsius). Likewise, the Church must periodically go through the fire of extreme persecution along with intermediate hardship, leaving behind only those individuals whose hearts are filled with God’s Holy Spirit; thus eliminating those who trust in their church and its unique doctrinal scripture at the expense of knowing Jesus Christ, the author of scripture and Cornerstone of The Church (the body of believers).

It is interesting that various church groups and world religions rise and fall across the millennia, but the Body of Christ, the Living Church, lives on – and on – because it lives through Jesus Christ alone, the very Author of Life. If God be for us, who can be against us? No one! “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matthew 10:28 NASB]

The Church is literally indestructible because so too is our God, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the Great I AM, through whom we the Church receive his life-giving, death-defeating, indestructible eternal power. Jesus Christ lives forever, absolutely Forever! And through him, we live!

– Many thanks to Fr. Robert [Irishanglican’s Weblog] for the above Hilaire Belloc quote. Please visit Fr. Robert’s post, “The Church, quotes…

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About Todd Beal

I love truth and its facts. I love thought-provoking conversations that give both the other person and me a better understanding of a particular topic. I love to find answers to life-long questions; answers that let me see things for what they are instead of what they seem to be. I truly enjoy being in the midst of a group of people where all individuals are joining in, where everybody is enjoying the company of each other. I relax in the company of individuals who are competent yet humble. I like to catch myself doing or saying something ridiculous and then laugh my head off. I enjoy my church and being involved.
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24 Responses to The Church is Indestructible

  1. Amen, the Christian life is itself the “heat” of God! God presses us thru a fallen world, as I Peter…”Sojourner’s”! 🙂

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  2. Todd,

    I had to think about this one for a while. While I certainly believe that the Church as defined as the body of Christ as you explain it cannot be destroyed as long as there is one true believer, I also believe that the “Church” as defined as the ORGANIZATION that Christ designed following the biblical pattern of prophet leadership, apostles and bishops, with authorized ordinances such as baptism, laying on of hands, etc., is susceptible to partial and even total apostasy.

    Paul was given enough of a prophetic vision of the future to know that there would be a “falling away” (2 Thess 2:3) and that “grievous wolves” (Acts 20:29) would come among the flock and wreak havoc both on the individual spirituality of church members and on the organization itself. It is to Paul’s credit that he did not despair but went on preaching Christ to the end, setting one of the strongest examples of faith in human history. It’s hard to argue that the next fifteen hundred years didn’t see a major decline in the organizational and moral integrity of the Church. With papal indulgences, inquisition, and worldly iron rule in many places, that kingdom ultimately little resembled the simple yet beautiful structure of lay ministry and miracles Jesus established.

    It was Peter, the first post-resurrection head of the Church, and a man I believe was an ordained prophet, who saw beyond the dark days to the “restitution of all things” (Acts 3:20-21). The great fathers of the Reformation (Wycliffe, Luther, Calvin, Huss, Tyndale, etc.) began to set the stage for the worldwide flood of truth and knowledge we enjoy today.

    So yes, the “Church” as established by Christ in the heart of his believers cannot be destroyed, unless the hearts of men render themselves unworthy of it. True doctrine and ordinances DO exist, and we should only stop questing for them when the Spirit confirms we’ve found them. There have been times in history and even today when true believers lived their entire lives without finding what they sought in a “church”, but their lives were certainly not in vain because of it. They held that hope and faith and did what they knew intuitively was right, knowing that in this life or the next, as long as they did not reject truth when confronted with it, God would weigh their hearts and deeds in the balance and make things right through the sacrifice of Christ. Many willingly gave their lives in efforts to correct the errors that mankind had made in the Church and make scripture available to all.

    Anyway, you know my viewpoint is a little different, and often in the minority, but I just can’t keep quiet on this subject (come to think of it, do I keep quiet on ANY subject?) Please keep up the wonderful posts. This is one of the things you were born to do, and I’m grateful to see you back in the flow!

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    • Wow, Michael that was a bit of Morman spin, rather nicely done therein! 😉

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Michael, I read your comment four times and I agree – Well said; very well said! That’s good stuff. Thanks for taking the extra time to reason through this post.

      Three thoughts came to mind while reading your comment. The first is regarding my post-elaboration statement: paragraph 1, sentence 3, “…thus eliminating those who trust in their church and its unique doctrinal scripture at the expense of knowing Jesus Christ…” I want to clarify my intent here. I am certainly not suggesting that trust placed in a church organization and in its unique doctrinal scripture (including an interpretation thereof), is necessarily futile or that by default it separates us from Christ. My point is that too many people think they are spiritually okay just because they regularly attend their particular church and accept that particular doctrine, but yet they never accept Jesus into their heart. They simply possess borrowed beliefs and rely on “safe” tradition. They believe with their mind; they believe with their emotions; they try their best to be a good person and follow all the rules (as did the Pharisees), but their heart is dead. Christ’s spirit is not in them.

      Faithfully attending church, studying scripture, and externally accepting/adhering to a church organization’s ordinances and doctrinal beliefs, cannot provide salvation through Jesus Christ. Only Christ himself makes that provision, and does so only by living within the heart of those who accept his invitation to save them from their sin against him. The Church (organizationally) is for believers in Christ, not for believers in “church” and scripture study alone. Christ intended the organized Church to be the earth-based Spiritual practical framework for both nourishing and structuring his body of believers (The Church), and for spreading the gospel locally and abroad. He did not intend the organizational Church to replace Him as its head. But that is exactly what we do when we accept and rely on our church and its unique doctrinal belief-set while rejecting Christ in our heart.

      The second thought that came to mind while reading your comment is regarding your statement, “So yes, the “Church” as established by Christ in the heart of his believers cannot be destroyed, unless the hearts of men render themselves unworthy of it” [emphasis added]. I’m not sure whether you meant “Church” as “the collective body of believers, the Church as an entity” or “Church” on the atomic level, the individual believer level. In case you meant the entity level, I will point out that beginning with the Genesis Flood and then proceeding through the Bible to Revelation-end, scripture repeatedly shows that God never allows all people to become corrupt and perish. He consistently preserves a remnant of his faithful at all times. Eight people were saved from the flood; four people were spared from the complete destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah; God preserved a remnant of 7,000 non Baal-worshipping prophets during Elijah’s ministry in Israel [see 1 Kings 19]; and skipping ahead to Revelation 7:1-5, God preserves a righteous Jewish remnant numbering 144,000 (12,000 per tribe) from God’s wrath on earth. I certainly do agree that Christ’s Church can be destroyed on an individual basis – the loss of one’s salvation – but as shown above, scriptural precedent shows otherwise for The Church as an entity.

      My third thought was that I am glad you mentioned those people who live their entire life without ever finding a suitable church. You said that because they keep their heart and mind open to his Truth, God reveals himself to them and takes into account their lack of knowledge (my paraphrase). From 1988 to 2009, I was one of those individuals of whom you speak, although I grew up Biblically literate. I was so tired of church hypocrisy by the end of high school, I decided “no more”; after which ensued a long period of spiritual/personal rebellion. Thankfully I now belong to a church I call home. My pastor lives and preaches the Bible, and now I have real Christian friends with whom I personally harmonize, including both intellectually and spiritually. Nothing can take the place of good Christian fellowship – just like here on Truth Behind Reality.

      Regarding your viewpoint as unique (due to your Mormon background), I simply see your comment as an accurate observation of real-life Church history – a well-reasoned historical snapshot of how Christ intended his Church to operate organizationally, and how our fallen human nature corrupts the Church (both personally and collectively) if we spiritually grow cold. Yes, there are certain doctrinal issues that are spiritually dangerous to believe if they are blatantly anti-scriptural. Conversely, there are certain doctrinal issues upon which we each can agree to disagree, safely, because ultimately they do not necessarily separate one from Christ – even though they may not entirely align with scripture. However, your comment does not belong to either of these categories, but simply reality. I say, well said.

      [Please, whoever reads my words here; do not misunderstand my previous statement to Michael. My point is that not all doctrinal issues with which we disagree equally deserve contention. We need to wisely choose which issue warrants a battle and which issues do not.]

      Once again Michael; thanks for putting so much thought into your response. And thanks for your ending vote of confidence.

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      • Excellent Todd, I’m on board with your responses. One of the things that makes your blog worth reading and participating in is your diplomatic ability to be accepting of other viewpoints and sidestep contention without ever backing down from what you know is true. It’s a skill that many in our theological and political arenas could stand to develop, and is ultimately the kind of attitude that attracts people to the gospel of Christ. I think He wants us to “reason together” in ways that draw us closer to him, even if we never quite agree on every point.

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        • Todd Beal says:

          Thanks a lot for your feedback Michael. I really appreciate that.

          Also, I agree: We need to reason together constructively . This applies also to matters non-spiritual. Two or more minds are better than one because we each hold a unique and vibrant irreplaceable piece of the puzzle.

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  3. Haha thanks Fr. Robert. This is really the only blog I read anymore, and however different my faith is from “mainstream Christianity”, Todd’s thought always strikes a chord with what I believe. Maybe we were friends in the pre-mortal life (there I go again).

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    • Michael: Please know I am somewhat kidding, thankfully in essence its not what we know, but Who we know! But really the two cannot always be easily separated! But as Paul says: “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Cor. 13: 12)

      I am looking forward to “knowing” and “seeing” better! 😉

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  4. Btw, since I am something of a “Churchman”, I do feel that a “historical” view of the Church is actually rarely seen and understood today (at least with many Protestants and evangelicals) the Church biblically is seen as Paul says: “which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground (foundation, mainstay) of the truth.” (1 Tim. 3:15) And when we see and read some of the early Church Father’s, like Irenaeus, Cyprian, etc., we can see the great “Catholic” aspect and reality of the Church. Sadly, this great historical truth has been lost, at least theologically with many so called evangelicals today. If we look at the history of the Reformation, the Reformation Fathers saw the Church as certainly Catholic! And as our Lord Himself said: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18). Very simply, the Church is built on the Apostolic Foundation, which surely began with St. Peter! And as we can see was sustained with people like Ignatius (the letters of Ignatius of Antioch), also the Letter of Polycarp of Smyrna (Epistle to Diognetus), and not to forget Clement of Rome. These letters show both some of the great Apostolic Corpus & Epistles, and certainly the Apostolic doctrine and connection. The idea that the Apostolic Church was somehow completely submerged and overcome is just myth, itself!

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Fr. Robert,

      In essence, you and I are saying the same thing. And actually, I believe also that the positions held by you and Michael are essentially not that far apart, if really at all: albeit you each word things differently due to your respective backgrounds.

      As I said to Michael, scripture shows from Genesis to Revelation that God always preserves a faithful remnant to keep his Church growing. This would include those faithful few within the Catholic Church who, amidst that long terrible period of apostate Catholic leadership, maintained their trust in Christ and worked hard to spread the truth to others (as you pointed out).

      I agree with Michael’s statement here:

      | It’s hard to argue that the next fifteen hundred years didn’t see a major decline in the organizational and moral integrity of the Church. With papal indulgences, inquisition, and worldly iron rule in many places, that kingdom ultimately little resembled the simple yet beautiful structure of lay ministry and miracles Jesus established. |

      I do not see this statement as reference to complete apostasy, but rather a birds-eye observation of the overall apostasy once prevalent in the world-dominating Catholic Church; including the effect of that apostasy on The Church (the body of believers) and the world at large.

      Moving ahead to the Protestant Reformation; immediately following that wonderful breath of fresh air across Europe, even the non-Catholic Protestant leadership went through periods of imposing self-serving inquisitions, burning people at the stake, excommunicating those who dared counter the established doctrinal views, and shutting down free speech to all but those whose views readily harmonized with Protestant leadership. But even throughout these atrocities, still, there were those in protestant leadership who opposed the brutality, saying we must not become what we fought to overcome (the apostate Catholic Church leadership at that time).

      Even here in America we had the 1692-1693 Salem witch trials in colonial Massachusetts. People were imprisoned, hanged, and bodily crushed due to trumped up apostasy charges. Is this Christ? No, it is our fallen human nature trying to replace Christ as the head of his own Church.

      Today even, as you have lamented on your blog, we still subject The Church to persecution, but on a different level. Today’s “politically correct” socio-religious policy mandates one tow the line both theologically and ideologically or “pay the price”. We ostracize people from our religious committees, our privileged theological circles, government institutions, you name it, just because they dare step outside the established box and think for themselves. Sometimes these “ostracized” views are correct, sometimes they are incorrect, but regardless of viewpoint someone somewhere – in religious socio-political power – will ostracize, defame, and personally discredit the individual to whom these views belong – amounting to personal socio-religious death; burned at the stake. Is this Christ? No, it is our fallen human nature trying to replace Christ as the head of his own Church.

      The point here is not to throw stones at any one historical religious group or organization, but to gravely remind us that when allowed, human nature corrupts The Church, even under the best of human intentions.

      The bottom line; regardless of what happens within, and by, the organized Church, we can take comfort in the fact that The Church itself, the body of believers, is indestructible because the power of Christ lives within us. Christ is The Church, and whomever – and whatever church organization – chooses to remain in Christ, Christ will empower them to persevere to the end, even in the midst of worldwide apostasy.

      Christ’s Church literally cannot die.

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      • Todd: I would agree that as our Reformational Fathers believed, the Church is a mixed company or group, the so-called wheat & the tares, the elect & the non-elect, or those simply left to their sin and self. But only God knows who these people are! However, as a Catholic Christian, yet both catholic & reformed, I am certainly Creedal. And I don’t see the doctrinal corruption as deep as you or Michael, with the RCC, or the EO, i.e. Orthodoxy. We had a Reformation, but not a Church reconstruction/reconstitution (Anabaptists, and too Mormanism, etc.). I base this more on the Ecumenical Councils, which is that great dogmatic work of that portion of the creed of Christendom which concerns theology proper – the doctrines of the essential nature of the Godhead (Trinity) and the doctrine of the Godhead in relation with manhood in the Incarnation. And we see this both in the Councils of Nicaea (325), with the Council of Constantinople I, (381), and the Council of Ephesus, (431), and then finally the Council of Chalcedon, (451). Of course Chalcedon also dealt with the two natures of Christ, divine and human in the One Person of Christ. To my mind, this with the great Trinity of God (three divine persons, consubstantial, One in Three, and Three in One) is just the essence of NT Christianity, and OT Covenant moving into the New, “In Christ”. We can see the Incarnational reality of God in 1 John most certainly!

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        • Todd Beal says:

          Fr. Robert,

          | I would agree that as our Reformational Fathers believed, the Church is a mixed company or group, the so-called wheat & the tares, the elect & the non-elect, or those simply left to their sin and self. But only God knows who these people are! |

          Consider Matthew 7:15-23 [NASB] [15] “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. [16] “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? [17] “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. [18] “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. [19] “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. [20] “So then, you will know them by their fruits.

          [21] “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. [22] “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ [23] “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’

          I have experienced the joy of interacting with authentic Truth-pleasing Christians. I have also experienced the angst and rejection of interacting with those who profess Christ but whose hearts are antagonistic toward him. Granted, there are those mediocre Christians who leave one with no certainty regarding their spiritual state. Only God knows their heart. However, the above scripture passage from Matthew is not describing the average layperson. Jesus is describing those who have powerful influence over others, and then use that power to serve their own end – i.e. turning people against truth and toward their own truth-hating agenda. “You will know them by their fruits.” We can know whether or not someone represents truth. We must know or we will be deceived. I don’t care how much devotion one has for a particular religious organization or individual, if the fruits of that organization or individual blatantly contradict the fruits of Truth, that person is not of God, but hates God, and we must see them accordingly.

          Consider for instance papal indulgences – a major catalyst for the Protestant Reformation – as quoted from Wikipedia’s article on indulgences: “In 1517, Pope Leo X offered indulgences for those who gave alms to rebuild St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The aggressive marketing practices of Johann Tetzel in promoting this cause provoked Martin Luther to write his Ninety-Five Theses, condemning what he saw as the purchase and sale of salvation. In Thesis 28 Luther objected to a saying attributed to Tetzel: “As soon as a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs”. The Ninety-Five Theses not only denounced such transactions as worldly but denied the Pope’s right to grant pardons on God’s behalf in the first place: the only thing indulgences guaranteed, Luther said, was an increase in profit and greed, because the pardon of the Church was in God’s power alone.”

          This is not an instance of a mediocre Christian, nor is it an instance of a Christian going through a long spell of spiritual retraction. It is a blatant case of someone in powerful Christian leadership (Pope Leo X) putting Christ’s “Sacrifice on the Cross” up for sale.

          Its bad enough proclaiming that a simple pilgrimage, or performing charitable works over the course of several days, months or years, or even reciting the rosary for extended periods of time, absolves someone of so-called sin-induced temporal punishment – an official Catholic Church position beginning with The Council of Epaon in 517 and continuing beyond Luther’s day. This position is simply not Biblical: it’s not even a matter of scripture interpretation. That 1,000 year-plus policy is blatantly anti-scriptural, and it was introduced, structured, and enforced, by the head leadership of the Catholic Church, including the Pope.

          But then that wasn’t enough for them. It wasn’t enough to say that mere works can absolve an individual of this lie called temporal punishment. The church leadership up’d the ante by saying, “Now, you can pay for it out of your pocket too!” And all the while, they were claiming to be Christ’s voice and authority here on earth. If that’s not blatant apostasy rearing its truth-hating head, then nothing is.

          I agree with you Fr. Robert that in the earlier days of the Catholic Church, the Church fathers made much doctrinal progress concerning the Trinity, Christ’s dual nature, selection of Canonical scripture, etc. Also, a great number of Catholic monks throughout history tirelessly and relentlessly spread the gospel abroad, often giving the last of their personal means to help the poor and underprivileged. God certainly blessed us with that great and irreplaceable spiritual foundation.

          However, 1,000 years of bloody executions; guaranteed imprisonment, excommunication, and/or death for anyone who dared defy the Catholic Church position; rape and incest within Pope after Pope’s personal bed chambers; offering up of the Papal office to the highest bidder and/or most politically influential; and declaring war on any nation who dared defy or secede from Catholic world dominion: One can hardly call this 1,000 year reign of spiritual lawlessness, Christian.

          But ultimately, it doesn’t matter what particular religion or denomination we choose to address; it doesn’t matter how much good – or how much truth – it represents; someone somewhere, some group, will always use it as a means for rising to power. Pick any religion, any denomination, any religious sect, it makes no difference, the fallen human nature always shows up: Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons, Catholics, Arminians, Calvinists, Anglicans, Muslims. Human nature is human nature through and through, and we will either hijack God’s name and corrupt his truth to achieve our own truth-hating agenda, or we will instead bow to his Holy Name, and say not my will but Yours be done.

          We are corrupt Fr. Robert, and to deny that these atrocities occurred on a worldwide scale, that they were committed at the behest of those countless individuals holding top Catholic leadership office (including pope after pope), is to turn a blind eye to more than 1,000 years of atrocity committed in the name of Christ.

          Sure, there were good and Truth-serving Christians in the Catholic Church all throughout that period, and there still are to this very day, but at the same time, their apostate brothers in the Church did everything but love and spread the truth. They hated truth, and hated everyone who dared point that fact out to them.

          However, let’s return to the point of this post. My point is not to rail on apostate Church organizations, but to celebrate Christ’s triumph over those who would destroy his body of believers. My point is to shout the great Hurrah that Christ reigns supreme, and that through him we the Body of Christ remain indestructible.

          So Fr. Robert, please don’t go away thinking my purpose here is to grind an axe with the Catholic Church. If that was my purpose, I could equally do so with the Protestant denomination in which I was raised, and just as harshly. Apostasy occurs everywhere human nature shows up. Please know that my goal is to point back to my eternal hero, my everlasting Saviour Jesus Christ, apart from whom I would have given up and died a long time ago. Because of him, I have true hope in my heart, and even occasionally, a joy truly unspeakable that wells up from inside and consumes me. Fr. Robert, because He lives, so too do I.

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  5. A great conversation that I don’t need to contribute much more to, except to clarify one thing: Though I do believe in an organizational and authoritative apostasy that necessitated a reformation and ultimate restoration of the keys of the kingdom given to Peter, that in no way diminishes the contributions and legacy of those Catholic martyrs and heroes who sacrificed so much to endure to the end and uphold righteousness for Christ’s sake. I believe that legacy lives on in the hearts of modern Catholics and protestants who have the same “hunger and thirst” for righteousness. As Todd points out, there are apostates and sinners in all denominations, and also very righteous and good people. I strongly believe Christ will gather his elect from among all of those who either found the truth they sought or were only separated from it in this life because they knew not where to find it.

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    • Michael: Just a note, in a theological and spiritual reality, the Church visible & ecclesiastical simply cannot fully become apostate, it can and has some theological deep errors, for the Church is never beyond being a Pilgrim Body on earth, and apostasy is certainly real for many, many members, but can never be for the whole visible and spiritual reality of the Apostolic Church! (Matt. 16: 18-19 / 1 Tim. 3: 15, etc.) It is here in the biblical, theological, and ecclesiastical definitions of the Church that we would disagree! 🙂

      *Btw, it is an historical fact that Luther was always centred in the Nicene “homoousios”. In Christ, he maintains, we are confronted by God Himself, for Christ is ‘very God’. “For Jesus is the true, the one, the only God.” There is no God seen except ‘In Christ’. In HIM alone, we see the Father! (John 14: 7-11)

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  6. Todd: First, when we quote scripture texts, especially like Matt. 7:15-23, we simply must look for the context, history, genre, etc. And this text/texts in Matt 7, I feel are somewhat hyperbole, again in the context of Matthew’s gospel when Jesus gets into judgment and speaking in harsh terms and reality, He is always seeking to speak spiritually and too theologically, and always existentially and to the heart & mind! So as Matthew 23, the Jews and their whole responsibility and leadership are in view here. But certainly this moves toward the Church, who will become the new and fuller authority in the NT Covenant and Church of God.

    As to the RCC, this historic church is quite simply institutional, and has been around for centuries. We could apply many of the same sentiences and strictures to the Reformational Church. I would note here Calvin’s and the city of Geneva’s treatment and death of Servetus! So many of these things are cultural. Indeed I did one of my doctorates on Luther, and I certainly agree that the indulgence system is not biblical. But, in modern time the R. Catholic indulgence is rarely used, at least in any serious way. But I too, wish Rome would have gotten rid of the whole system. But, again the Church cannot escape the culture it lives in, we can see the cultural effect that both modernism and postmodernism has had on the Church. Even the Reformational Church was effected by the best of the humanist ideas in that age, note ad fontes, etc.

    Finally, when I look at the modern Evangelical Church, and see the so-called “emergents”, and just both liberal Christianity, and too the overt Fundamentalist Christianity therein also, I am seeing “apostasy” there too. Btw, not just liberal Christians can become aspostate, but as we note the same spirit of Pharisaism lives in the modern church also. And so simply the issue of the Church of God becomes always interior as well as exterior! But, the Visible Church, to my view at least, always needs the historical and too the ecclesiastical organization. You simply must have the creedal and theological reality of the Church Catholic. But hey, I am an Anglican churchmen not just because I’m a priest or presbyter, but because I am one that believes in the Visible & Historic Church Catholic, and this is both “catholic” & “reformed”! Again, the modern or evangelical church today certainly needs a good dose of the Ecumenical Councils! I would challenge every Christian today, especially pastors and teachers to read and know this theological & ecclesiastical history! 🙂

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Fr. Robert,

      Just as Jesus’ harsh but true words to the Pharisees equally apply to us today, so too must we today apply Jesus’ criteria for identifying a false prophet, a false Christian leader, or really anyone who blatantly falsely professes Christ. Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruits”. Just as figs don’t grow from thistles – or grapes from thorn bushes – so too, Christ-given fruits do not manifest in those who hate him, regardless of their convincing façade.

      Jesus made three points in Matthew 7:15-23: “There will be false prophets who come in my name”; “Here’s how to identify them”; and “Here is the judgment I will someday pronounce on any counterfeit Christian”. True, we can apply this passage to the organized Church as we know it today, but we can equally apply it to individuals. After all, the organized Church is made up of individuals. Jesus spoke those words in Matthew before the organized Church existed. Even during Paul’s ministry the majority of church services were held in private residences, a small and intimate setting of believers.

      So let’s say that a group of believers and I decide to accept some outsider’s invitation to minister to us during our Bible study. We are not an organized church; not one of us holds office within an organized church; and not one of us is formally theologically trained. If indeed that outsider is an imposter, according to Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:15-20 we have the ability to see this guy’s anti-Christ fruit for what it is. Conversely, if that ability does not exist except in context of the organized church, then we individual believers cannot ever know whether or not someone is deceiving us. If we follow that logic, then even a senior pastor with 40 years of spiritual maturity lacks the ability to spot a spiritual imposter, if indeed he steps out of his church and onto the public street. At that point, he is just an ordinary believer all by himself. The entire sinful world is all around him and he has no ability whatsoever to discern non-Christian from Christian.

      Mohammed did not begin his Muslim religion from within the organized Christian church. But I would bet that an “On Fire for God” Christian would have seen him for the false prophet he was.

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      • Todd: Yes, we must measure those who seek to speak for God today, both in our Judeo-Christian witness (this includes Jewish theolog’s, like Martin Buber, etc.) My own points are more toward those in this place, both Jewish & Christian. One of my convictions today, is that the Christian Church must move back toward our Judeo roots, Jesus was a Jew, and here is both the Incarnational reality, and our Covenantal truth! For Christianity has become “cheap” to use a word from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. And modern so-called Evangelicalism is simply adrift today, very little real theocentric Christology! All around us is “counterfeit” Christianity! Christian ministry today must rediscover preaching from the O.T.! Here is the foundation of any Christian theology! 🙂

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        • Todd Beal says:

          Any ideas on message titles (sermon titles) Fr. Robert? Or better; what one Old Testament message topic would you consider most pertinent for today’s cold to lukewarm Church?

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Fr. Robert,

      Concerning cultural period-based punishment, I have thought about that. While it is easy for me to look back at a vastly different culture than my own, saying, “How dare they”, I do realize that the essence of what you say is true. Culture has a tremendous impact on the Church – frighteningly so. There is a very real possibility that some future generation of believers will also look back on our Church generation with disdain, observing that we too fell into bed with the world. The irony here is that in today’s world, we have conservative Bible teachers constantly warning us that we The Church are growing cold, that we are adopting the destructive culture around us. They recognize the state we are in, including the state towards which we are headed. But prior to our modern Western era, one would not dare sound the spiritual public alarm; that is, if one valued his head.

      I must say, Fr. Robert, as much as I do agree with you – that in a certain sense we must take the culture of that period into account (including the Calvin/Servetus incident) – I must still test their actions against scripture. And according to scripture, their actions were against Christ – as are so many of ours in this putrid Emergent church culture today.

      Now regarding your statement about Pharisaism being prevalent also in the modern church (referring to legalistic evangelical churches), you will hear no rebuttal from me. I grew up under that Pharisaism. I grew up in a church/school/social network greatly consisting of legalism. Granted, I am very thankful for my private school curriculum that included scripture memorization, Bible study, and core doctrinal Bible teaching (much of which fundamentally holds true cross-denominationally), but the legalism that accompanied all that was sometimes unbearable. It seemed to me that the emphasis placed on not sinning overshadowed the joy of growing one’s relationship with Christ. I’m not saying that the joy of spiritual growth was not part of the teaching, or that there were no authentic spirit-filled joyful Christians. We certainly were taught about spiritual growth, and there were certainly authentic spirit-filled joyful Christians who showed me, by example, what it means to be a real Christian. The problem was that the teaching unofficially placed equal emphasis on Spiritual Growth and ‘Letter of the Law, “Don’t you dare sin, because if you do and then die without repenting, you will go straight to hell and burn forever without one drop of water.”’ It really was confusing to think that on the one hand, I should be joyous and at peace because I accepted Jesus into my heart, but on the other hand I am scared to death that if I mess up and die too quickly before repenting I will go straight to hell.

      I do realize that my perfectionistic nature has a lot to do with how I negatively perceived and experienced that type of teaching. However, I have had a long time to work through that period of my life and study the Bible for myself. My conclusion is that a Christian need not live in fear, period! The only reason a Christian should fear is if rebellion toward God begins to grow in his heart. That is the only thing that can revoke our salvation and send us to hell, providing we do not repent of that rebellion before dying (I addressed this in my two posts, “Can I Lose My Salvation?” and What Happens If I Sin?”).

      So, I do agree it is possible for a church organization to become apostate by becoming Pharisaic. After all, in its truest sense apostate simply means forsaking God after once serving him. If we allow rules to become our god, then our god is not God: we have become apostate.

      | Again, the modern or evangelical church today certainly needs a good dose of the Ecumenical Councils! I would challenge every Christian today, especially pastors and teachers to read and know this theological & ecclesiastical history! |

      I could not agree more. That’s one reason why I so highly value your blog Fr. Robert. I have learned more by reading your posts and following up on your posted links than could ever be possible on my own. Thank you for that. Also you are so patient in explaining the answers to my endless questions. That is so rare in this “hurry up, I haven’t got time for this” world. Thanks.

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  7. Lance Ponder says:

    Well, I haven’t had a chance yet to read any of the comments above, only the post itself, and it is brilliant. I hadn’t thought about the church as indestructible, but that’s a great way of saying it. Perhaps the question of definition might be applied to a greater extent, and that may be what the comments above are about – like I said I haven’t read them yet, but I love the notion.

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    • Todd Beal says:

      Lance,

      In case you don’t find a suitable definition of The Church in the comments above: The Church, as referenced in my Post, is the “Body of Believers in Jesus Christ” as a single collective living entity. As individuals, we believers each belong to The Church as a separate yet integral part.

      The comments above address the word “Church” in essentially one of two ways: The Church as an entity of believers in Christ (a single living unit); and the Church as an organizational construct, the earth-based Spiritual practical framework meant to both nourish and structure Christ’s Body of Believers (The Church) and to spread the gospel locally and abroad.

      Thanks for the thumbs up, Lance.

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