Thursday, April 27, 2006

What is the starting date of the current Roman Catholic Church?: a short lesson in understanding the various kinds of Christianity

It is fairly well-known that the oldest part of the Christian Church is the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Syrian Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, and so on).

The leaders of the church headquartered in Rome attempted to establish their superiority over all the other "sister" churches and failed to do so.

This resulted in the split between the "Eastern" churches and the Western Church.

The Western Church had individuals who were genuine followers of Jesus the Lord (think of the Waldensians, think of Luther and Calvin and Erasmus and so on). However, it also had individuals who were certainly not followers of Jesus. The authenticity of the followership of even some Popes (such as Adrian, the only Englishman to be Pope) can be doubted.

In any case, this uneasy mixture continued, with the unfaithful often persecuting the faithful (e.g. the Waldensians) till the Reformation, when what had till this point been the united Western Church vomited out the faithful who tried to reform the united Church.

So the united Western Church split into the *current* Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed or Protestant Churches.

That is why it is clearly the case that the current Roman Catholic Church starts at the point where it decisively rejected the Reformation (which it still does). It is only after this time that what is the Roman Catholic Church takes its present character. And there is indeed a unity of development in it (as the Roman Catholic Church teaches) from this time onwards.

However, the period before the Reformation is often claimed by the current Roman Catholic Church as its own when, in truth, that pre-Reformation period belongs both to the current Roman Catholic Church and to what became the Reformed Churches.

The defining difference between the Roman Catholic Church and the Reformed Churches was that the Reformers committed themselves to the principles of "sola scriptura, sola gratia, sola fidei, sola Christus" (that is, God's character and will are revealed by the scriptures alone, and salvation is by grace alone, by faith alone and by Christ alone). The current Roman Catholic Church on the other hand, committed itself to the authority of tradition rather than Scripture. The Roman Catholic point of view is that it is the Church that created the Bible, so the Church is superior to the Bible. The position of the Reformers was that the authority of the Bible derives from God not the Church, and that it is the Bible that must judge the Church.

So much for the Eastern Orthodox, Roman and Reformed (Protestant) Churches.

What about the Anglicans or Episcopalians or the Church of England? As the name implies, this is the Church that was established by law in England, and its position has always been as mixed as the United Western Church had been before the split between the Roman and Reformed wings. In other words, the Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England has people who are thoroughly Reformed as well as people who are almost Roman ("almost Roman" because almost the only difference between them and the Romans is that the Anglicans do not accept the authority of the Pope).

This is an elementary lesson in history. But I am astonished at how many Christians need that lesson, let alone others.

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