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An Interactive Detective Story
Do you enjoy a good mystery story? Fictional whodunits and their factual counterparts are popular because it is intriguing to see how the suspect is finally caught. Today a worldwide, real-life mystery is playing out, and chances are it has touched your life. Can you solve it? Let's find out.
Although the Bible tells us that Jesus established a Church (Matt. 16:18) and reminds us of our Savior's desire for Christian unity (John 17:20-21, Eph. 4:16, 4:12-13), we've seen a recent explosion of new churches. They claim to be "Bible-based" churches; often they have broken off from some larger church or denomination. With as many as 28,000 different Christian churches today, the mystery to many is "which one is Jesus' true Church?"
In this article you will learn how to solve that mystery. You'll be the "gumshoe" (detective) in an interactive scriptural investigation.
The boom of ministries, each with its own interpretation of Scripture, has produced a lot of "victims" of this crime against true religion, disunity. Jesus predicted this would happen in the last days: "See that no one deceives you! for many will come in my name. . . . And then many will be led into sin; they will betray and hate one another. Many false prophets will arise and deceive many; and because of the increase in evildoing, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved" (Matt. 24:4,10-13).
Good, intelligent people can be conned by crooks. Similarly, we can be sure that, since Jesus established only one Church, many good people are being misled—perhaps by a sincere pastor, but possibly by a wolf in sheep's clothing.
Being a good detective
Begin with what you know. Be objective. Don't subjectively "decide" because you "think" something is true. A good investigator starts with evidenc>, not beliefs or biases. The sleuth must leave personal opinions behind, examining facts with an open mind. Be prepared to do some research, and go to the sources with your questions. Remember, you must have proof! No room for reasonable doubt.
Detectives build on facts, both to eliminate possible suspects and to gain clues to help them find their culprit. If we find a church's teaching violates a scriptural fact, that will eliminate that church from consideration as Jesus' true Church. We're looking for a Church whose worship and teachings agree with undisputed biblical facts.
Notice that, since Jesus came for sinners (Matt. 9:13, Rom. 3:23), we don't look for a Church with perfect pastors or members; instead we seek a church that teaches the truth (1 Tim. 3:15), as our Lord willed (John 16:13, Luke 10:16).
Okay, gumshoe! Grab your notepad and procedural manual (Bible), and let's get started. There's no sense in conducting an investigation if there's nothing to solve. Let's begin with a basic question:
Did Jesus start a Church?
What does Jesus say? We read in Matthew 16:18 that Jesus <established a Church>: "Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it." This tells us Jesus promised us an enduring Church. Galatians 1:8 gives us another clue we should track: "But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let that one be accursed!" Let's see how these verses help us in our hunt.
We turn to biblical scholars, who tell us that Galatians was written around A.D. 48-55. When Paul wrote it, Jesus' true Church already existed. Paul said that any new church or new gospel that came after Jesus was "accursed"; it would be a "false gospel."
History, then, can help us find the true Church, since a church that can't trace its origins or teachings to Jesus' time, by Paul's definition, is "accursed" as a false gospel.
To check the historical credentials of a church, we should ask:
When did the church get started? Who are its founders?
Let's understand why these questions benefit our search. If we find that a church first started long after Jesus' time, that proves a church is "another [false] gospel" and the founders are among the false prophets Jesus said would come.
I think we're onto something, gumshoe! Let's hit the pavement and check out some leads.
Checking the calendar
Start by calling local pastors, or hit a good library, or both. See what the church or group says about itself—and what unbiased histories say about it. We are simply doing what Jesus told us to do, searching for the truth that sets us free (John 8:31-32). To get you started, in the sidebar is a list of churches, with founders and dates and places of origin.
Ask these investigative questions of church members or pastors:
How old is the oldest known church or house of worship for your faith?
We know that the very first Baptist church was built in Southwark, London, in 1633, for example. We can't expect church buildings to survive from the second century, roughly when scholars say early Christians first established separate public places for worship. But we know there are churches in Europe and the Holy Land that are well over 1,500 years old. So if a denomination has no church building older than those, such a fact would argue against its being Jesus' true Church.
Does your church have ancient houses of worship in Bethlehem, Nazareth, or Jerusalem?
If the answer is "no," that will eliminate that church from consideration, since those places have had Christians from ancient times.
Which church has centuries-old places of worship at the key sites of Jesus' life?
We know the early Christians revered the place of Christ's birth, Golgotha (where Jesus was crucified), and the mount of our Lord's Ascension into heaven. These sites do have very old church buildings, and learning which faith built those churches will be a strong clue as to the true Church.
Because God gave us free will, we can choose to be a member of any church we want to, and we can always come up with some rationale for our choice. We can even do as many others have done "imply start our own church! We could pick some Bible verses and claim to be a "Bible-based church," maybe even start a radio or TV ministry. But those who choose to delude themselves ignore the Lord's warnings against being in a false church. So we'd better continue with our investigation.
An important hint is found in Matthew 28:18-20: "All power on heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of time."
This command of Jesus contains many important clues. His Church will baptize using the formula given above: "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit." Note these related verses: "Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water [baptism] and the Spirit" (John 3:5).
In Acts, the listeners ask: a 'What are we to do then, brothers?' Peter said to them, 'Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 2:37-38).
Churches that don't teach the need for baptism (that don't teach that it washes away sin), or that claim it's only a symbol, are violating these Scriptures. Ask the pastor of a church you are investigating:
Does your church teach the importance of baptism to get to heaven?
If the answer is "no," count that church out!
Matthew 28:18-20 makes it clear that he wanted a worldwide or universal Church. Ask your subjects:
Is your church worldwide?
Again, since time is crucial in your investigation, you can move on if it isn't a universal Church.
Consider another tip from Matthew 28:18-20. We know from history that the apostles didn't reach "all nations." They all died before achieving that goal, something Jesus would have foreknown. That implies that he knew others would have to carry on the apostles' mission.
"What you have heard from me entrust to faithful witnesses who will have the ability to teach others as well," Paul told Timothy (2 Tim. 2:2). To Titus, Paul said: "For this reason I left you in Crete so that you might set right what remains to be done and appoint presbyters in every town as I directed you" (Titus 1:5). In the first chapter of Acts, Peter is discussing replacing Judas among the Twelve. He says, quoting Scripture, "'May another take his office.' Therefore, it is necessary that one of the men who accompanied us . . . become with us a witness to his resurrection" (Acts 1:20-22, Ps. 109:8).
Since Jesus said his Church would endure (Matt. 16:18), and these examples show that the early Church provided for faithful teachers, we can use that fact to locate the we Church of Christ.
How did the early Church appoint new leaders? In Acts 6 we read: "At that time . . . the number of disciples continued to grow . . . So the Twelve called together the community of disciples saying . . . 'Brothers, select from among you . . . reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task' . . . the proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose . . . They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid hands on them." (Acts 6:1-3, 5, 6).
Paul, writing to Timothy about how he received his ministry, says: "Do not neglect the gift you have, which was conferred on you through the prophetic word with the imposition of hands of the presbyterate" (1 Tim. 4:14). Other verses (Acts 13:3, 14:22-23, 20:28, 2 Tim. 1:6, Heb. 5:1) make it clear that "the laying on of hands" was part of a prayerful ceremony in which disciples were ordained into a special office: as bishops (overseers), presbyters (priests), and deacons.
So God's Word provides important additional facts: If a church doesn't use a laying on of hands—and if the line of authority for ordination doesn't come directly from the apostles it can't be the we Church. If a church can't honestly say it has a hierarchy of leaders (bishops, priests, deacons), then it can't be the Church Jesus established (Heb. 13:17, 1 Pet. 5:15). You could ask:
Does your church ordain bishops, priests, and deacons by laying on hands?
If "no," then go!
"Are you saved?"
Well, shamus, if you've gotten this far in your investigation, you have already eliminated most churches, sects, and denominations from your list of "possibles." You should feel good about that! But you know how the court system works: You have to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt. So let's build an airtight case proving which is Jesus' Church.
No doubt, during your investigation you are finding pastors who try to ask <you> questions or distract you from your purpose. It happens to detectives all the time. You may get a question like "Are you saved?" or a statement like "Jesus gave us the Bible—that is our religious authority. His Church is a spiritual body, not a specific religious institution." We need to follow up on leads, however improbable, so we'll consider those points logically, historically, and biblically.
Imagine that you have just fallen out of a boat into stormy waters (Matt. 8:23-27). The wind and currents are too strong, and you are going down. Suddenly, a hand pulls you into the boat. You are saved! Even though you were saved, you could still lose your life in another accident (Matt. 14:22-33) or even by your own hand.
When Scripture says we are saved, it is speaking of an ongoing process. Remember, no biblical verses say you are guaranteed salvation from the point of your conversion on. In fact, such a belief is unbiblical. Consider the parable of the sower and the verses warning us against sin or false prophets; they were spoken to believers! What would be their point if you are "once saved, always saved"? That theory is wishful thinking, "another gospel." You'd be laughed out of the DA's office if you walked in with a case based on such weak evidence. So if a pastor asks you, "Are you saved?" ask him:
Do you think you are "once saved, always saved "?
If he answers "yes," thank him for his time, and push on!
What other writings?
Another question to ask:
Besides the Bible, what is the oldest written evidence you can provide that proves that early Christians believed what you teach?
Many common beliefs are fairly new in Christian history, dating only from the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries—or even later.
For example, you can't find the "once saved" idea before the sixteenth century, some 1,500 years after Jesus walked the earth! Objectively, it is a false gospel.
Before we finish this phase of our investigation, let's consider a few of the powers or gifts that Jesus gave to the apostles and that are handed on to their ordained successors by the laying on of hands.
After Jesus' Resurrection, he said to his apostles: "'Peace be with you,' he said again. 'As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' Then he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive men's sins, they are forgiven them. If you hold them bound, they are held bound'" (John 20:21-23, Mark 2:5-12). With this in mind, you can ask:
Do you claim to have authority to forgive men's sins in Jesus' name?
If they say "no," well, they may be honest, but they certainly aren't a part of Jesus' true Church.
At the Last Supper, "Jesus took bread, said the blessing, broke it, and giving it to his disciples said, 'Take and eat, this is my body.' Then he took a cup, gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying: 'Drink from it, all of you, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which will be shed on behalf of many for the forgiveness of sins" (Matt. 26:26-28). Therefore, a crucial question to ask is:
Do you believe the Lord's Supper is a means of forgiving some sins?
If they say, "no," that church is not the true Church.
In First Corinthians, the Communion text adds: "Do this in remembrance of me . . . Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord unworthily will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. A person should examine himself and so eat the bread and drink the cup. For anyone who eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks damnation on himself" (1 Cor. 11:24, 27-29).
Perhaps you'll find a witness who will assert: "The Lord's Supper is just symbolic—it isn't really Jesus' body and blood." As a logical detective, referring to 1 Cor. 11:27, you can ask: "If someone takes a Polaroid picture of you, and then stabs it repeatedly with a knife, is the picture-attacker guilty of murder?" Any sane person will answer, "Of course not." You respond: "Well, that picture is a symbol, so I agree with you. But 1 Corinthians 11:27 says the unworthy communicant is 'guilty of the body and blood of the Lord.' You can be guilty of attacking only a real body, which is clarified by verse 29: 'without recognizing the body.' Why would you be damned for harming a symbol? And 'recognize' means 'to see, discern, or perceive.' These verses make sense only if Communion is actually the Body and Blood of Jesus." So a vital question will be:
Do you believe that the Lord's Body and Blood are present in Holy Communion?
No? Cross that church's name off your list of suspects.
Bigger and bigger
Since Jesus' Church was started almost 2,000 years ago, will it be exactly the same today as it was then? Let's see what Jesus has to say:
"To what shall we compare the kingdom of God? . . . It is like a mustard seed that, when sown on the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds of the earth. But once sown it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches" (Mark 4:30-32, Matt. 13:31-32, Luke 13: 1819, Ezek. 17:23, Dan. 4:7-9, 17-19).
Jesus' began with a "little flock" (Luke 12:32), yet we know that God's Word "shall not return to me void" (Is. 55:11) and is "living and effective, sharper than any double-edged sword" (Heb. 4:12). So a church that began with a few members, like good seeds (Matt. 13:1-17), would have grown and multiplied, until it would be "the largest of plants."
As we survey the world today, we find that there are some 1.7 billion people worldwide who profess to be Christian and who are associated with thousands of churches. God's Word has proven fruitful, even if it has not been received everywhere in purity!
Isn't it obviously worth investigating the largest of these Christian churches, to see if it might be the true Church, "the largest plant" that puts forth branches? As impartial investigators, we naturally want to check out any facts, pro and con, that might help us solve our mystery.
The largest Christian body is the Catholic Church. The word "catholic" comes from the Greek, meaning "universal" or worldwide. That's an apt description, since the local branches (parishes and dioceses) combined include a total of nearly one billion believing members.
Catholics operate the world's largest private school system, the biggest hospital system, and most extensive system of charities on earth—all in response to Christ's commands to teach, heal, feed, and clothe.
History records many saintly Catholics, such as Francis of Assisi, Joan of Arc, Thomas More, and scholars such as Augustine and Thomas Aquinas. Mother Teresa of Calcutta's charitable work and Pope John Paul II's holiness and zeal make them among the most respected people on earth. The "largest plant" has been fruitful, indeed.
These "good fruits" speak well for the Catholic Church—but we must be prepared for cross-examination. What are some arguments against that Church? Let's dig deeper, detective, and find out!
Two types of "evidence" are generally used against the Catholic Church: historical/factual assertions and biblical arguments. We can touch on only a few to get you started, but you can pursue your own inquiries later. Let's begin with scripturally-based attacks.
Catholics are wrong to worship Mary and pray the Hail Mary.
No official Church statement has urged Catholics to worship Mary. Quite the contrary: Catholics (like all Christians and Jews) are forbidden to worship any Being but God.
The Church does encourage us to honor Jesus' Mother, as the Bible makes clear we should: "And Mary said, "My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God, my Savior . . . behold, from now on will all generations call me blessed.'" (Luke 1:46-48).
Do you call Mary "blessed," obeying the Bible? Catholics faithfully fulfill that admonition, as all Christians should. Scripture says: "The fervent prayer of the righteous person is very powerful" (Jas. 5:16), giving the example of saintly Elijah's prayer. Thus asking the intercession of holy persons doesn't take away from Jesus' role as our mediator with the Father. Christians are biblically taught to pray for each other, and we see in Revelation that the heavenly saints pray, too. Mary is revealed as crowned in heaven in Revelation 12. What better, holier person to ask to intercede for us?
The Hail Mary itself is Bible-based: "Hail [Mary], full of grace! The Lord is with thee! . . . Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus]" (Luke 1:28, 42). Jesus honored his mother from the cross, saying to John, a 'Behold your mother.' From that hour onward, the disciple took her into his home" (John 19:27). Since we imitate Jesus and the apostles, should we not accept her as our Mother, too?
Furthermore, let's look at who in Scripture attacks Mary. "Then the dragon became angry with the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring, those who keep God's commandments and bear witness to Jesus" (Rev. 12:17).
John 2:1-11 demonstrates Mary's biblical role: "Do whatever he Jesus] tells you." Do you attack Mary, as the satanic dragon did, or do you take her into your home and pray with her to Jesus? We should be her spiritual offspring (Luke 11:28).
Catholics should not engage in repetitious prayers .
Hold on. Let's look at the evidence. Scripture tells us that <Jesus> used repetitious prayers: "Withdrawing again, he prayed, <saying the same thing>" (Mark 14:39). What the Bible condemns are <vain, insincere> prayers. Any sincere prayer, even repetitious ones, are approved: "The tax collector. . . beat his chest in sorrow, repeating: 'O God, have mercy on me, a sinner!'" (Luke 18:13).
Catholics kneel, stand, and sit too much—such rituals are unnecessary.
Yet Jesus himself did so: "After withdrawing about a stone's throw from them, and kneeling, he prayed" (Luke 22:41); "he <stood up> to read and was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah" (Luke 4:16-17); "after he <sat down>" (Matt. 5:1). John's vision of heavenly worship also includes these worshipful postures. Consult your procedural manual (Rev. 5:6-14, 7:9-17, 8:34, 10:8-11, 15:18, 19:1-10, 21:18).
The Bible says, "Call no man father. "'
Catholics reply that "we have but one Father in heaven" (Matt. 23:8-9). Yet the apostle Paul gave himself the spiritual title of "father" ("Indeed, in Christ Jesus, I became your <father> through the gospel" [1 Cor. 4:15]) in the same way priests use it. Since "father(s)" is used dozens of times in the Bible after Jesus' statement in Matt. 23:89, we can be sure its meaning is not literal but is a reminder to us of God's fatherly relationship to us as Creator.
Catholics practice idolatry when they use statues and other religious objects.
This attack is based on Exodus 20:45, but does it hold? After all, God commanded the use of statues and religious objects (Ex. 25:18, Num. 21:8, John 3:14, 1 Kgs. 6:29-35). John's vision of heavenly worship describes a temple, harps, an altar, incense, and repeated prayers. If such things are good in heaven, why not on earth? God's meaning in Ex. 20:45 is not to worship anything but God himself; he doesn't forbid the proper use of any religious object. In Numbers 21:6, God told the Israelites to make a bronze seraph serpent; all who looked upon it would be cured of snakebite. God has the power to use <any> object for his purpose, as the Bible shows.
The Catholic Church is the "Whore of Babylon" of Revelation, and "666" refers to the pope.
A few professional anti-Catholics have spread this attack, claiming John's Revelation makes the Church, headquartered in Rome, the "city on the seven hills." Some think the title <Vicarius Filii Dei>, Latin for "Vicar of the Son of God," proves the pope is the anti-Christ, since that phrase in Latin adds up to 666. There's just one problem with that theory: No pope has ever used that title.
Revelation states: "Wisdom is needed . . . for it  is a number that stands for a person" (13:18). John was in the Roman penal colony on Patmos (Rev. 1:9) when he wrote Revelation, so he had use "code words." Christians were being persecuted, and John wanted to give them courage.
A chief persecutor of the early Church was Caesar Nero, whose title and name add up to the dreaded 666! The "Whore of Babylon" <was> Rome—but it was the pagan empire, the persecutor of Christians, that was being condemned, as a close reading of Revelation proves. Finally, the Vatican isn't built on any of the seven hills of Rome!
Catholics assert that none of their teachings violate Scripture, if properly understood. The scriptural arguments we've reviewed support that claim. We should, at least, keep an open mind about other Catholic doctrines and practices until we've completed our investigation. Historical/factual attacks also are made against the Catholic Church, and we must check those out, too.
Catholics burned some Bibles—and chained other Bibles to pulpits.
True, say Catholics! But there's more to the story than meets the eye.
First, an open-minded investigator will note 1 Timothy 3:15: "the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth." The <church> is called to instruct believers in God's word (Luke 24:32, Acts 8:30-31, 2 Pet. 1:20, 3:16), to lead people "into all truth" John 16:13), and to proclaim John's words: "If anyone adds . . . takes away from the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life" (Rev. 22:18-19). Clearly, God didn't want man adding to or taking away from the Bible, yet Tyndale, Luther, and other Protestants did just that, by adding words and taking away <seven whole books and parts of two others> from the Bible that Christians had used since there first was a Bible!
To protect people from corrupted Bibles being used unscripturally to divide Christians John 17:20-21), the Church for a time followed the zealous example of Acts 19:19 of burning these books.
True copies of the Bible were chained to lecterns in churches and libraries so they wouldn't be stolen and would be available to anyone, even the poor, who wanted to read God's holy Word.
Anyone who accuses the Church of suppressing the Bible must answer these questions: "Why did Catholic monks hand-copy the Bible, preserving God's Word during the fifteen centuries before printing? Didn't the inventor of printing, Gutenburg (a Catholic), first print a Bible? Haven't Catholics read the Bible aloud at daily Mass in their churches for twenty centuries?"
What if you could take a ride on a time machine, back into the early centuries of Christianity, to learn what Christians believed and see how they worshipped? They were closer to Jesus' time than we are—surely they'd have a clearer idea of Jesus' teachings. Wouldn't they be excellent witnesses?
Fortunately, the early Christians left many writings not contained in the New Testament. These ancient texts provide terrific clues concerning how Christians worshipped and believed. If the church you are investigating is true, its teachings will mirror those of early Christian writings.
As an unbiased detective, your job is to see if the early Christian writings support a church's teachings or deny its claims. If the early Christians believed something different from what a church does today, the new idea is likely to be "another gospel." If those early writings support the teachings and mirror the worship of a church today, it would be strong evidence that it could be Jesus' true Church.
Let's start with a topical approach.
Did the early Christians believe in angels and devils?
"Let no one be deceived . . . heavenly beings and the angels in their glory and rulers visible and invisible even for these there will be judgment, if they do not believe in the blood of Christ" (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:1, A.D. 110).
"The devil, however, since he is an apostate angel, is able, as he was in the beginning, to lead astray and to deceive the mind of man for the transgressions of God's commands. Little by little he can darken the hearts of those who would try to serve him, to the point that, forgetting the true God, they adore him as if he were God" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 5:24:3, A.D. 190).
Did early Christians believe in apostolic succession?
"It is possible . . . for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors down to our own time, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about . . . Surely they wished all those and their successors, to whom they handed on their authority, to be perfect and without reproach" (ibid., 3:3:1, A.D. 180).
"Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ through whose efforts it is that we are Christians" (Jerome, Epistle to Heliodorus 14:8, A.D. 374-379).
How did the early Christians understand baptism?
"After the foregoing instructions, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in living [i.e., running] water. If you have no living water, then baptize in other water, and if you are not able in cold, then in warm. If you have neither, pour water three times on the head, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Didache [The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, written while some apostles were still living] 7:1, A.D.70).
"The Church received from the apostles the tradition of giving baptism, even to infants" (Origen, <Commentary on Romans> 5:9, A.D. 250).
"How then do some say that, though a Gentile be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus Christ, the remission of sins can follow, when Christ himself commands the nations to be baptized in the full and united Trinity?" (Cyprian, Letter to Jubianus 73:18, A.D. 255).
Did early Christians regard Christ as God?
"The Son, though always coexisting with the Father, of old and from the beginning, always reveals the Father to the angels . . . and to all whom God wishes to give revelation" (Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2:30:9, A.D. 180).
"But the Son, being not a creature but proper to the substance of the Father, always is. Since the Father always is, what is proper to his substance must always be, and this is his Word and wisdom" (Athanasius, Discourses Against the Arians 1:29, A.D. 358).
"We confess, therefore, that our Lord and God, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, and in times most recent, made man of the Holy Spirit and the Ever-Virgin Mary, was born God" (Leporius, Document of Amendment , A.D. 426).
What kind of Church did early Christians serve?
"Let no one do anything of concern to the Church without the bishop. Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop or by one whom he ordains. Wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there, just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church" (Ignatius, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8:2, A.D. 107).
"I believe in God Almighty, and in his only-begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Holy Spirit, and in the resurrection of the body, and in the holy Catholic Church" (Egyptian Creed, Der Balyzeh papyrus, A.D. 50).
"The Church . . . is called Catholic, then, because it extends over the whole world . . . and because it teaches universally and infallibly each and every doctrine which must come to the knowledge of men . . . and because it universally treats and heals every class of sins..." (Cyril of Jerusalem, Cathechetical Lectures 18:23, A.D. 350).
"We must, the Lord helping, fortify our own belief in two ways: first, by the authority of divine law, and then by the Tradition of the Catholic Church. But some one perhaps will ask, 'Since the canon of Scripture is complete and sufficient of itself for everything . . . what need is there to join with it the authority of the Church's interpretation?' For this reason: Because owing to the depth of the Holy Scriptures, all do not accept it in one and the same sense, but one understands its words in one way, another in another, so that it seems to be capable of as many interpretations as there are men.... Therefore. it is very necessary on account of . . . such various errors, that the rule of right understanding of the prophets and apostles should be framed in accordance with the standard ecclesiastical and Catholic interpretation" (Vincent of Lerins, Notebooks 2:12, A.D. 434 ).
How did early Christians regard the Eucharist?
"When you see the Lord immolated and lying upon the altar, and the priest bent over the sacrifice praying . . . can you think you are still among men and on earth? Or are you not lifted up to heaven?" (John Chrysostom, The Priesthood 3:4:177, A.D. 386).
"Open your eyes at last . . . and see, from the rising of the sun to its setting, the sacrifice of Christians is offered [Matt. 1:10-11], not in one place only, but everywhere . . . not according to the order of Aaron, but according to the order of Melchizedek" (Gen. 14:8 Ps. 110:4, Heb. 9:23-24) (Augustine, Sermons 9:13, A.D. 425).
"So was Christ offered once . . . by himself. . . Do we not offer daily? Yes . . . this remembrance is one, not many. How is it one, and not many? Because this sacrifice is offered once, like that in the Holy of Holies.... Thus there is one sacrifice. By this reasoning, since the sacrifice is offered everywhere, are there, then, a multiplicity of Christs? By no means! Christ is one everywhere. He is complete here, complete there, one body. And just as he is one body and not many, though offered everywhere, so too is there one sacrifice" (John Chrysostom, Homilies on "Hebrews" 17:2:4, 17:3:6, A.D. 403).
Which Old Testament books did early Christians accept?
"[B]esides the canonical Scriptures [let] nothing be read in church under the name of divine Scripture. But the canonical Scriptures are as follows: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua (the son of Nun), Judges, Ruth, the Kings, four books [today known as 1 and 2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings], the Chronicles, two books, Job, the Psalter, the five books of Solomon [Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Wisdom, Song of Songs, Sirach], the twelve books of the Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, Ezekiel, Tobit, Judith, Esther, Ezra, two books, Maccabees, two books" (Council of Hippo, Canon 36, A.D. 393).
What did early Christians think about Peter's primacy?
"There [John 6:66-69] speaks Peter, upon whom the Church would be built, teaching in the name of the Church and showing that even if a stubborn and proud multitude withdraws because it does not wish to obey, yet the Church does not withdraw from Christ. The people joined to the priest and the flock clinging to their shepherd are the Church" (Cyprian, Letter to Pupianus 66:(69):8), A.D. 254).
"Simon, my follower, I have made you the foundation of the holy Church. I betimes called you Peter, because you will support all its buildings . . . I have given you the keys of my kingdom" (Ephraim, Homilies 4:1, A.D. 338).
What did the early Church believe about the Trinity?
"Thus there are Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and each of these individually is God, and at the same time all are one God, and each of these individually are the full substance of God" (Augustine, Christian Instruction 1,5,5, A.D. 400).
Well, shamus, this testimony is compelling Early Christian writers even named the Church Jesus established; its teachings and worship are consistent—not having altered in essence from the time of the apostles. Possible suspects have been eliminated right and left.
By all means, continue to amass evidence, checking and cross-checking the witness of Scripture, history, and early Christian tradition. But by now you have probably narrowed your search down to a "prime suspect." Isn't it time for a "collar"—a Roman collar, that is?
Tony Kovach freelances from Cushing, Oklahoma.