Denomination Smenomination

“Cathedral of St. Paul Birmingham Nov 2011.” Taken by Chris Pruitt. Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported

Johnny: “So to which denomination do you belong?”

Susie: “Denominations aren’t important. I love Jesus and that’s all that matters”

This once was my rallying cry as a young Southern Baptist boy trying to break the shackles of denominationalism. I can remember being so fed up with the “small mindedness” behind clinging to a particular denomination, or the claim that there was a particular group who had the fullness of the truth. Now, as a Catholic, my thoughts on this have shifted somewhat. 

I once thought that believing in a few essential elements like the trinity was enough to solidify one’s position as a faithful Christian. Indeed, this is an essential, but was this all that Jesus had in mind for his body the church? In college I came face to face with many different ideas about what it meant to be authentically Christian. From Baptist, Methodist, and Charismatic to Anglican, “Christian”, and non denominational. All of us asserted the trinity, but there were still so many things we all disagreed on. Why? Weren’t we all reading the same Bible? 

The problem is rooted in the idea of private interpretation. All of us understand the Bible, and consequently what it means to be a Christian, through the lens of our respective traditions. So, who has the right interpretation? I found the answer to this question via the answer to another: Who is responsible for assembling the Bible together? The answer to both of these questions is the Catholic Church. 

Here’s an analogy that might help. Imagine that you wrote a book and were at a Barnes and Noble for the book signing. Sally walks up with your book in her hand and a puzzled look on her face. “So, the ending confused me, what happened to Mr. Gardner?” Before you can get a word in edge wise, another person in line says “He retired and moved to Florida with Betsy Ann.” “No”, you reply, “Mr. Gardner stayed in Greensboro with his wife Sue Allen.” Who should get the final say on this matter? The author, of course! The same principle applies to Biblical interpretation. The Catholic Church’s authors penned the words and her bishops finalized the canon. They infallibly decided what books got in and what books were left out. 

Does this mean that all other Christians can’t understand the Bible? Absolutely not! Does it mean that all of scripture is cryptic and indecipherable without the Catholic Church? No! What it does mean is that there is one church with the authority to settle those areas of disagreement: Can I lose my salvation? How are my sins forgiven? Should I pray for dead loved ones? What is authentic worship? Does baptism save or is it a symbol only? 

Doesn’t it make sense that Jesus would leave us an authoritative interpreter of scripture instead of leaving us to our own devices? I have found great comfort and solace in this reality and I invite you to investigate the Catholic Church’s claim to authority. 

Peace be with you!

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13 thoughts on “Denomination Smenomination

    1. So, why did one of the main authors, Paul, who you claim is Catholic, not mention so many of the current practices of the Roman Catholic Church? Perhaps your answer lies in “tradition.” Maybe you are correct. However, none of the gospel authors, or even James, the very brother of Jesus, confirm or even speak of many of the ideas practiced in the Roman Catholic Church.

      I really do wish I could ask the author (as in your analogy), but Paul and James and the others aren’t around. So, I must trust that God was faithful to deliver in His book all that we need to know Christ and glorify God.

      Thanks for making me think.

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      1. Hey, Chris!

        As you and I have discussed before, Catholic teaching is in the Bible either explicitly or implicitly (just like those things we both hold in common are….trinity, etc). I can point you to confession, apostolic succession, the primacy of Peter, the Real Presence, the teachings on Mary, and so on. The issue, however, still remains that we all come to the Bible with our own filters. That’s why you, for example, can hold that one cannot lose salvation while your Methodist friend can hold that you can lose it. It’s not just a Catholic vs. Protestant dilemma. God did deliver to us what we need in the scripture, but we have to figure out who has the authority to interpret it. The only reasonable answer is the church that had the same authority to canonize it, the Catholic Church.

        Peace, brother!

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  1. To expand on your analogy of asking the author, the bishops are the rightful successors of the apostles, so we can ask them or the church as a whole. The election of Mathias in acts points clearly to apostolic succession and the council of Jerusalem points to the teaching authority of the bishops

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  2. In theory I believe you are correct. The whole purpose behind the conception of the Catholic church was to carry on the teachings of Christ beyond the apostles. Be that as it may I respectfully disagree. In my opinion Catholicism has grown to be another denomination, while several of it’s teachings may still be accurate the literal interpretations that were supposed to be passed down and spread through the world have been skewed due to our own human nature (sin). I do not claim any denomination nor do I plan to in the future. My own relationship with God is just that, a personal relationship with my savior.

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    1. Hey, Darin! So great to have you commenting on my post. Thank you!

      I wonder what exactly you mean by “literal interpretations…have been skewed”? Could you point to a teaching that you think has been skewed? Obviously, I disagree with your assessment as I hold fast to the claim that the Catholic Church was, and remains to this day, the Church that Christ established.

      Since we both believe in the Bible (I assume), what say you of Matthew 16:18 where Christ promises the gates of Hell will not prevail against His church? If sin crept in, and so distorted those “literal interpretations” you referred to, then wouldn’t that be a direct contradiction to Jesus’ words? I would say so.

      Would love to engage further on this or any other question you might have. We need fellas like you in he Church! Peace!

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      1. By literal interpretation I am more or less referring to the way Jesus initially taught his lessons vs the way we explain them now. For instance let’s look at baptism. I believe we would agree on the story of Jesus baptism. It states in the bible that Jesus was baptized in the river Jordan, no matter your personal stance on baptism it is done differently throughout the world. Some wait until they reach a personal relationship with the Savior, some have their. Children baptized not long after birth. As well there are different methods, being fully submerged as well as “sprinkling” which I believe started during the days of the bubonic plague. Not an extreme example but skewed none the less.

        And to answer your question regarding the scripture in Mathew, you are correct. The gates of hell are not and will not prevail against His church. While I believe we have, or may have altered some of His teachings I do believe the jist of the message has remained the same. Also some food for thought. In that particular scripture in Mathew do you believe Jesus was speaking literally of the Catholic church, or His church (army of believers). My reasoning is in mathew 18:20 for where there are two or three gathered in My name, there am I in the midst of them

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      2. I see what you are saying, but I don’t agree that just because we baptize using different methods that skews the teaching on baptism itself. For this particular teaching, it’s helpful to look to the early Christians, often referred to as the Early Church Fathers. Baptism was understood to be the new circumcision as Paul made explicitly clear (Colossians 2:11-12). With that in mind, the early Christians didn’t quarrel over IF to baptize as an infant or not, but WHEN. Some thought immediately while others thought you should wait 8 days as was the practice with circumcision. So, I don’t see any skewing that would cause me to question the authority of the Catholic Church.

        The scripture in Matthew is referring to members of the church, which at that time the only one around was the Catholic Church. Now, don’t take me to mean that other believers, like yourself, can’t experience Gods love, etc, but it remains a fact that Christ established ONE church and not many. Like you, I used to believe in the “army of believers/ invisible body of believers” idea. The only problem that I see with that, Darin, is how do we draw the line? Who is in that “invisible army” and who is out? What must you believe?The problem is that everyone takes the Bible and claims they have the correct interpretation. This started, for the most part, thanks to the “reformations.” I know Christians who believe you can lose your salvation and those that think you can’t. I know others who think baptism saves and those who think it’s only a symbol. I have even heard of folks who declare themselves Christian but deny Jesus’ divinity, and use the Bible to justify their claims. It’s not enough to say “that person is wrong because they interpreted the Bible incorrectly.” Who says they are wrong? What gives you and I the right to make claims about what the Bible does and does not say? The only coherent answer to this dilemma is to look for the Church, given Christ’s authority, that can definitively rule on these matters: the Catholic Church. Otherwise, you and I could argue scripture until we are blue in the face. Haha

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  3. Very true. And I agree that there has to be a “line in the sand” where that line is I don’t know and most likely will not fully accept until the day I get to ask God himself these difficult questions. you know as well as about anyone how stubborn I can be lol.

    Its a difficult topic to cover and I really appreciate your stance. Far to often people brush over these touchy subjects. Truly a great read and thank you for the intellectual stimulation.

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