This was an enjoyable e-mail conversation I recently had with a convert from the Protestant Church of Christ named Jen, and I think this discussion will be edifying for a lot of this website’s readers. Personal details have been edited for privacy. Jen’s words are blue, my words are red.
I formally came into the Church last year, thanks in large part to your ministry. I’m so grateful and have had an amazing and beautiful year on this journey, and my oldest is preparing for First Holy Communion. My husband, not interested in converting, does still go to church with us every Sunday. And this past year, I’ve had some amazing spiritual experiences, which I’d like to share with you sometime, but that’s not why I’m writing now.
So on Sunday, I went to a CofC service because my oldest sister asked me to, and to bring my whole family, to surprise my Dad for his 70th birthday. I prayed about the decision, and do feel that I got guidance regarding that as well as some difficult family dynamics. So we went, and I gave all my heartache to God and let go of clinging to old pain, just trusting God to bring healing to me and to all involved. It was a nice day for Dad, I think, which was the point. But we all had to sit through a long, indirectly anti-Catholic sermon, and so now I wanted to share a couple things with you and ask you a couple things.
First of all, I think people must be hearing about your website because the preacher said something I’ve never heard the CofC admit before, which is that in the time of the Apostles there was no written Bible to reference. The CofC never used to say that. I do wonder if they’re doing that because people are discussing your site, but maybe they are just getting some better information at preacher school. But the point the preacher made was that that was why Paul had the gift of the Holy Spirit, which he could transmit by laying on of hands, and the reason they had those kinds of gifts back then (speaking in tongues, prophesying, etc.) was because there wasn’t a written word to rely on. So the implication was that now that we have the Bible, the Sprit doesn’t give those kinds of gifts. The sermon was also about how the people in Ephesus hadn’t truly been baptized because they had received John’s baptism and so Paul re-baptized them in full, valid baptism. The sermon was largely about (over and over and over) how baptism means full immersion, and anything other than that isn’t valid, and you should be re-baptized if in doubt. My oldest kid had some questions, obviously. I just told her the guy was confused and we’d talk later, which we did do. I think her questions got answered. And then I did read, re-read actually, all your articles about that on your site. [available in book form here] But I’d like to hear what you have to say about the gifts of the Holy Spirit being different in the time before we had the Bible and now. Also, the fact that the CofC now realizes that the Church pre-dates the Bible makes me wonder how they can miss all the history that follows that fact. Is that where their whole “great falling away” story would come into play?
Also, I was wondering if you could offer any personal advice regarding how to address all this with my sister now. She keeps texting, I think because she wants to get a reaction. Well, my reaction is that, while I’m glad my Dad had a nice birthday, I never want to put my family through that experience again, and I would like to not be asked to do that again. And I’m so sad for all those people sitting in that church being deprived of the fullness of the Christian faith. And it’s brought up painful emotional memory for me of being a kid growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional family, and my trying to find healing at church, and instead meeting this very distorted theology that didn’t lead to all the healing and peace I’ve found through His Church now. It’s such a narrow theology that I truly don’t understand how people can find any peace there or true growth in the virtues. I’m just at a loss. Anyway, have you had to deal with these moments with family after leaving the CofC? Do you find it best just to say, Hey, good to see you, not my thing. . . Or do you try to take things on? Or do you say, more power to ya, but I’m not going to church there again? I’m leaning heavily towards the latter at the moment! How have you dealt with these things, or how would you recommend dealing with them?
Thanks so much for all you do! By the way, I’m on a large, private FB group, almost 5000 members in it, and I’ve shared your website on there several times with people who had the kinds of questions you answer so well. I’ve also shared your name with my priest and others. Between you, and Dr. David Anders, I feel very well supported in this huge leap of faith I’ve made! Thank you again.
My website is getting more popular among theologically-minded CofC-ers, but its ministers (as a group) don’t read it – they don’t read much of anything that doesn’t validate themselves. Sounds harsh, I know, but it’s absolutely true.
That preacher may have strayed from the norm by admitting the Apostles didn’t have a Bible (N.T. specifically), but he probably did that because the information age is really hitting the CofC numbers hard; history is more accessible. At the same time, that preacher was sort of forced into admitting it because his sermon subject is foundational to a CofC tenet: the gifts ceased with the death of the last Apostle. In other words, he’s “damned if he admits it and damned if he doesn’t” – there is little cohesiveness within CofC theology, but most CofC-ers aren’t able to detect it and they have no interest in learning.
I think it’s easier to understand the CofC’s position by first accurately framing it: a 19th century form of Protestantism that was built not on “the Bible” (as it claims), but on a theory. Its theory has several parts that all mesh together. The CofC doesn’t approach religion as the first century believers did (by approaching the Church), but rather, it approaches religion by privately interpreting an abridged version of the Catholic Bible. Put differently, its theory is that Christianity is achieved not by approaching the Church or receiving faith (a gift from God), but by approaching their own interpretation of the Scriptures. (That last sentence is the key to your question, which I’ll address again later.) Put differently, CofC-ism is thoroughly me-centered. So, when history does not line up with the CofC’s private (me-centered) interpretation, it simply calls history “apostate”, which is the “great falling away” you asked about. Put differently, the bulk of history testifies to an ancient authoritative Catholic Church while the newer Protestant CofC denies it. So, from the CofC’s perspective the ancient Catholic Church is “apostate” because it was/is so different from the now-formed CofC. (The illogic is astounding, but CofC-ers rarely think about it; those that do think about it leave.) The theory has nothing to do with the Scriptures; it is completely built around the individual CofC’s self-proclaimed authority over the Scriptures (however, he will pretend he is actually subordinate to the Scriptures even though his only appeal to orthodoxy — proper interpretation — is himself).
As a later-formed religion, and one that clearly has no anchor to the nascent Church, and as one that clearly has no miracles, the CofC must fabricate some sort of biblical-sounding proof to support its existence. Its proof is that the Bible, supposedly, teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit ceased upon the death of the last Apostle (the CofC also teaches that the Bible teaches “Scripture” ceased at the death of the last Apostle). The problem, of course, is that the Bible nowhere teaches either of their theories; their theories are post hoc inventions that must be asserted as true in order to support CofC proclaimed legitimacy. (Scripture did indeed cease, but not for the reason the CofC suggests.) And even though you didn’t tell me this, we both know that preacher in no way taught his congregation how the Bible actually supports his theory; he simply implied it as a fact (didn’t he!). In other words, that preacher was merely theorizing (not teaching anything from the Bible) when he said, “The reason for the gifts was because there wasn’t a Bible…). I wonder if he knows the “Bible” didn’t exist in a way he would remotely recognize until 393 AD!!! (That would really throw a wrench into his theory!)
Now I’ll repeat my sentence from earlier: The CofC believes Christianity is achieved not by approaching the Church or receiving faith (a gift from God), but by approaching their own interpretation of the Scriptures. The entire CofC paradigm is designed to replace the Holy Spirit (which includes gifts) with themselves. (See how me-centered it’s becoming?). So, from the CofC’s perspective, the Holy Spirit’s work is replaced with “the Bible” (as interpreted by a CofC-er, of course). It’s actually blasphemous, because when the rubber meets the road, the paradigm can only mean the Holy Spirit is replaced by a human’s interpretation of the Bible.
As Catholics, we know the CofC’s theories are quite anti-biblical. We Catholics have the gifts of the Holy Spirit, so we don’t need to invent some excuse for the Holy Spirit’s lack of work within the Church. The Bible nowhere teaches that the gifts of the Holy Spirit would cease upon the death of the last Apostle, period. The CofC teaches this because it’s the only way they can make sense of itself (me-centeredness, again). A lot of people who leave the CofC contact me, and I’ve learned that this subject is actually why a lot of CofC-ers leave the CofC; they can’t figure out how Satan is actually more powerful and present than the Holy Spirit!
So, you asked how the gifts operate before and after the Apostles. The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is given to all Christians so that we may be His witnesses. The CofC, apparently, wants only the Apostles to be His witnesses, but Catholics know that all Christians (not only the Apostles) are His witnesses. (Remember, the Pentecost sermon’s promises were for all people of all generations.) The gifts are clearly present within the historical Church even after the death of the last Apostle. In fact, one of the “true tests” of orthodoxy or heresy is to determine if miracles exist within a group. (Read St. Francis De Sales’s The Catholic Controversy. He would simply ask the Reformation Calvinists, “Where are your papers (apostolic authority by the laying on of hands) and where are your miracles?”). The CofC sort of learned from the Calvinists’ mistake, and realized that since it can’t provide any legitimate apostolic leadership and no miracles they’ll need to invent some other reason for their lack of gifts.
The “laying on of hands” that the preacher referred to is indeed a gift from the Holy Spirit. He asserted that the gift is “dead,” but of course, he didn’t show you from the Bible (right?)! The term always has to do with ordaining ministers (every elder in the N.T. was ordained in this way). That preacher didn’t realize it, but this is actually a proof for the Catholic Church’s authority and hierarchy. Without the laying on of hands, there is no legitimate elder (priest). Within Catholicism, every elder has been installed in this manner, all the way back to the N.T.. The CofC, however, selects elders outside of the apostolic conduit. They find no problem with this because (as they would say), “Heck, the Holy Spirit isn’t at work anymore – the Bible is all we need!” In a theological way (and REAL way), what the CofC means is, “We don’t need the Holy Spirit, we have ourselves.”
So, I’ll repeat my earlier sentence again: CoC Christianity is achieved not by approaching the Church or receiving faith (a gift from God), but by approaching their own interpretation of the Scriptures. Once this “key” is understood and contrasted with the nascent Church, everything about the CofC starts to come into light.
I don’t know if any of that helped, but I think simply putting the “key” into most CofC scenarios helps shine light on them.
As for how to handle your family, I really can’t help. My family was quite anti-Christian. I found the CofC as a teenager who was just trying to get away from a horrible home; the CofC “love-bombed” me and I was too immature to actually consider the quality of the CofC’s arguments. I never had the burden of caring what my family thought.
I did, however, lose every CofC friend I had when I became Catholic. I was “thrown to Satan.” (Some of those friends hid their interest in my work from “the elders” and have since become Catholic.) Fortunately, I’m more logical than emotional, and it’s easier for me to handle these sorts of things than others. I think maybe The Journey Home videos might help you in this area. If you don’t know about The Journey Home you can find them on YouTube. A few of those interviews are of former CofC-ers, but most of the interviews touch on the family issue. I wish I could help more!
Let me know if you’d like me to clarify anything.
Thank you so much for this explanation. I can’t tell you how much it helps me. I’ve actually forgotten enough that it’s hard to even address all that’s wrong when trying to discuss it. Also, being back at a CofC service for the first time in so long was just unnerving because growing up that way was just difficult and crazy on a deep level. My experience of it being wrong was more visceral than logical, and I left by simply rejecting Christianity altogether. I would have never made it back without the help of the Holy Spirit, and without that help working through you and your ministry. I can’t tell you how grateful I am to you for allowing that work to happen and for your dedication to your ministry.
I’m sorry to hear of the cruel treatment you received from those people. I understand it well, because I’m related to a whole bunch of people like that, extended family too. I’ve been blessed to find other people who’ve become “adopted” family to some extent. Trying to make things work with my “birth family” is a recent development, and I’m praying for guidance about how much involvement to even allow or pursue. Their understanding of God is so faulty that it makes it impossible for them to understand what love is or how to love others. It’s tragic all around.
You are able to so clearly explain what I can mainly just “sense.” It’s very helpful to have that clarity. I also don’t think it was an accident that my searching for this information in spring of 2014 started I think about 3-4 weeks after your site launched. I tell people that when they ask me about my conversion story. Please know that you’re in my prayers.
Thanks for letting me know my work has helped you.
Your leaving Christianity makes sense and is common for people who leave sects like the CofC. Protestantism (especially Restorationist sects) makes absolutely no sense at all; its members believe in aspects to some degree (love, justice, Catholic leftovers, etc.), but the system is torturous for thinking people. So, those types leave Christianity but try to hold on to some parts. And since Protestantism brainwashes people into thinking the Catholic Church is satanic they don’t give it much consideration — even though Catholicism is the only logical solution. You were in the desert, but you weren’t alone.
Thanks also for your kind words about my background. I’m now in the largest family in the world, with the saints and our common queen in heaven.
By the middle of next year I hope to have my entire website edited for book form. It will be about 450 pages and will be the most thorough book of its kind (Catholic / CofC Comparative Religion). As your kids grow up they might encounter your other family members challenging their Catholic Faith. When the time comes I would like to send each of them a copy that they can keep as they move forward in life; it will work as a resource for almost every attack the CofC hurls at the Church. I’ll keep you posted, if that’s OK with you.
I appreciate the talk!
That’s awesome! Thanks so much for helping to look after their spiritual wellbeing. That’s a beautiful gift. The questions and conversations will certainly come. What a wonderful way to equip them for that part of their journey.
Along those lines, I have a question I wonder about as an old CofC-er regarding communion. Why do we receive any day of the week and not just the Lord’s Day? Personally, I am at the point where I just trust Church authority on these issues pretty much, but I don’t have an easy answer if asked about them.
Great question. It perfectly illustrates (as a comparative CofC / Catholic subject) how important it is to approach Christianity the way Jesus intended. My answer might seem a bit scattered, but what I want to do is try to establish the philosophical foundations that illuminate both camps. Please be patient; it will all come together! Of course, this is how I understand the subject.
As you read this, keep a few things in mind:
1) The “CofC Key” (as I explained earlier) is that the CofC believes Christianity should be approached by privately interpreting the Bible only.
2) The Bible (and Catholicism, of course) teaches we approach Christianity when we approach the Church. (Remember, in Acts 2 people became Christian by approaching the Church, and the Eunuch in Acts 8 became Christian when he minded the authority of the Church, Philip. Every N.T. example is Catholic, not Protestant).
3) The real [Catholic] Church pre-dates the Bible (as you know!).
4) The real Church has authority, apostolic leadership, and is promised by God to be led into all truth. She will not be orphaned.
4) The CofC was created by men outside the apostolic authority and has no reason to believe its teachings are true.
These points are all facts, facts that need to be integrated into our understanding of the subject. (Theology = insertion of reason into religion)
So, we have two paradigms. One where Christ Jesus built an authoritative Church (which actually wrote the N.T. and is the rightful interpreter of it), and is given the responsibility to pastor God’s people in the manner it chooses. The second is where Protestants take the previous Church’s Bible and interprets it looking backwards, and demands that all people accept its interpretation all while having no credentials (authority nor promise from God).
Therefore, you’re perfectly Christian and correct to simply trust the authority of the Church – trust that leads to understanding and wisdom. I doubt there are many Catholics who believe everything the Church teaches; our faith leads us to obedience, and obedience to the Church is obedience to Christ. (I can flesh all of that out using the “Bible only” if you need.)
Now, consider a couple more Christian themes:
5) The perfect is not the enemy of the good.
6) God prefers mercy over justice.
Don’t understand #5 and #6 as loosey-goosey allowances; think of them as thematic. For example, the Church teaches Baptism is essential to salvation. HOWEVER, the Church recognizes “believer’s Baptism”. In the case of a person who has no chance of receiving an ordinary Baptism, God looks upon her as having received Baptism. Another example is how God expects us to confess our mortal sins. HOWEVER, the Church recognizes “perfect contrition”. If a person is unable to confess mortal sin (such as in a military context) and desires to go to confession at her earliest availability, God looks upon her as perfectly contrite and in a state of grace.
NOW, I’ll get into your questions about Communion. Remember to integrate the facts and themes I just outlined as you read this; I think they help illuminate God’s character and his vision of us as we pursue Him.
As a convert from the CofC, you’re coming from a tradition that believes in CENI. C–E–N–I is a patternistic approach to religion; it seeks “Commands, Examples, and Necessary Inferences” from the “Bible only” to provide the proper (though thoroughly anit-biblical) formulaic “code” to Christianity. (Keep in mind CENI is another me-centered CofC aspect, because Protestants, again, place the Scriptures under their theological preferences – CENI can justify pretty much anything because different sects find different needed “necessary” inferences.) So, what the CofC does is search the N.T. to find “when”, exactly, we should receive Communion (the CofC calls it “The Lord’s Supper, rightly because there is no real “Communion” (co-union with God) by eating a “symbol”). Under its model, the CofC discovered Acts 20:7 which reads (essentially) that Christians, in that case, met on a Sunday to share in the The Lord’s Supper.
That’s it. Done. The CofC, now, has its “biblical proof” of all proofs: The Lord’s Supper must be received on, and only on, Sunday. The CofC found an Example, calls that example a Command, and uses that command as a Necessary Inference to support its “only-Sunday” approach to The Lord’s Supper.
But is that the proper way to understand when Christians should receive Communion? Let’s compare it to a more Christ-intended – a more reasonable – a more Catholic way of understanding the subject!
Absolutely, the Church believes we, too, should meet on Sunday for Mass, just as it was the custom and habit, and as portrayed (at least this once: Acts 20:7) in the N.T.. The CofC’s practice is actually an adoption of the Catholic Church’s practice (It was the Catholic Church that initially expected believers to meet every Sunday!), but it isn’t the “Bible-only” that forms the Catholic obligation. (Remember, the Church pre-dates the Bible!) So what the Bible displays is no “command”, but a reflection of what was already happening. In other words, an authoritative Church decided to offer Communion on Sunday. Put differently (this is important), it is illogical to deny the Christ-given authority of the Church when it decides Communion can be received on days other than Sunday, yet demand that the Church is authoritative when it offers it on Sunday [only], because either practice (Sunday only or any day) is declared valid by the same ecclesial body. (Read that last sentence again.)
So, what we have are two options — one CofC and one Catholic:
CofC: By the authority the CofC grants itself, the CofC has privately interpreted the Catholic Church’s Scriptures to mean The Lord’s Supper can only be received on Sunday.
Catholic: By its Christ-given authority the Catholic Church determined when (in Acts and every century since Acts) Christians may receive Communion.
You can now understand that when we read the Bible we need to determine what is “prescriptive” and what is “descriptive”. The Acts account is absolutely “descriptive” but it isn’t necessarily “prescriptive”, nor does the Catholic Church need to force it to be prescriptive, because we don’t approach the subject by decoding a formula from the Bible (the Bible was never created to be used as a code). The Catholic Church has more access to truth than the CofC; she has the full Bible as carried along by the Holy Spirit, was given the same Spirit to interpret the Bible, was promised she wouldn’t fail, and she recognizes how God gave man intellect. Put differently, she is able to think about and discern spiritual realities without the wounds Protestantism has inflicted on itself.
Therefore, she (the Catholic Church) entertains the contextual history surrounding the Acts account. The CofC would want us to believe that Sunday was the only time Christians received Communion. The CofC (sometimes) even goes so far as to prooftext other Catholic documents (while ignoring the remainder of the documents!) to prove their case (they cite three ancient texts and ignore the rest to suggest Sunday was the only day). But, like I said, Protestantism is wounded, and its agenda is me-centered; as proved by the fact that the early Christian documents overwhelmingly (not within only three ancient proof texts; I can provide sources if you’d like) prove how this was a lively debate! Things weren’t nailed down as firmly as the CofC pretends (there was debate about which day infants should be baptized, debate about foods, debates about the frequency of receiving Communion, etc.), it is unreasonable and anti-biblical to force the Bible to mean every “descriptive” account must be doctrinally “prescriptive”. The Church is not dead, she is our pillar and foundation of truth, and she continues to teach the same truths that the N.T. may or may not detail to every modern sects’ wish.
When we read history, the early Church had a difficult time settling this “debate”. It, in a sense, has never been settled; the Church recognizes the theological significance of eating our “Daily Bread”, and she has allowed people to receive the Daily Bread daily, even thought the Acts account describes the Sunday reception only. Even earlier than when the Bible was put together (when there was no such thing as a “Bible-only”, or, “CofC Christian”) believers simply minded the authority of the Church, and different geographical areas had different reception customs – all of which were within the pale of the Church’s authority. (I can give you about a dozen ancient sources that prove this if you’d like.) So, we Catholics are able to understand Communion Frequency by acknowledging:
Acts describes (does not prescribe) a Sunday reception.
The Catholic Church allowed the Sunday reception.
The Catholic Church still has the same authority as in the Acts account.
Neither the Bible nor the Church in any way prohibits receiving our Daily Bread.
The early Church allowed for both “Sunday-only” and “every day” reception.
Daily reception does not abrogate our Sunday obligation.
I hope this helps
Thank you for this detailed answer. It’s very, very helpful. No one at church really knows how to address my hang ups because they are so specifically from being raised in that CofC mindset, brainwashed really, as you’ve noted. Of course, the insanity of that approach is easy see to see when it’s laid out so clearly. And I’m seeing how all the Restorationist sects have some version of this crazy mindset. I read a little about Jehovah’s Witnesses tonight, after learning of Prince’s passing. That was his faith. They also believe they are restoring first century Christianity! I don’t know how this continues with the Information Age upon us, as you mentioned before.
If I’m not wearing you out, I’ve got two more questions from discussions with my husband. He’s not all that impressed with scriptural claims of Apostolic authority and succession precisely because he DOES believe the Bible is a Catholic document. (He was raised Episcopalian, and he’s a nearPhD in philosophy, currently agnostic, if that’s helpful in knowing how to talk to him.) Rejected academia in the end. He says that the Catholic Church would have just compiled the Bible in a way that affirms its existence, and that they snuffed out dissent. So, the winners wrote the book, in other words. And how do you know the right one won, I guess, is what he’s asking. It’s hard for me to answer these things because my faith really was a gift.
And lastly, and this might be out of your area of expertise, but he’s often noted that there were older, Pagan characters that were sort of god-men figures, and even at least one (can’t remember the name) that involved a story of his death, descent to the underworld, and resurrection. Mithre maybe? I’ve responded before that I think if people have sensed the need for this story line, almost like it’s deep in our natures, that these stories are foreshadowings or longings that were fulfilled in the life, death and resurrection of Our Lord. But I’m no scholar, so I really don’t know.
Thank you again
BIBLE CATHOLIC DOCUMENT:
YES! Your husband is actually right! The Catholic Church did *win* because Jesus said she would. Good philosophy actually helps people become Catholic, so that’s great that he has an interest in logic. The problem for of lot of people who are interested in philosophy, though, is that they try to prove their own agendas using logic instead of going where logic takes them.
Even without the Bible, we know Jesus existed.
Even without the Bible, we know Jesus was or was not the God-Man.
Even without the Bible, we can decide to believe His claims or not.
If we choose to believe Him, we believe He built an authoritative Church.
If He built an authoritative Church, we know the Bible is inspired.
If He built an authoritative Church, we know the books that aren’t in the Bible aren’t inspired.
If “the right books” were “snuffed out” then the “right books” weren’t the right books. Period. .