While growing up, my Catholic family wasn’t excessively religious. Sure, we went to mass every Sunday, and last year’s blessed Palm Sunday fronds were displayed in the living room, but that was about it. Our parents never prayed with us and I don’t recall a Bible ever being in the house. My five sisters (all now atheists or agnostics) and I were baptized as infants and then received the sacraments of first penance, first communion, and confirmation along with our parochial school classmates. Those rituals were required and they were something you just did without even thinking about or questioning. Any talk about “accepting Jesus Christ as Savior” or “having a relationship with Christ” would have been seen as radical and cultish. In other words, religion was somewhat important but not to be taken too seriously unless a baby needed to be baptized, a couple got married, or someone died.
One day, a couple of Mormon missionaries were canvasing the neighborhood and my mother answered the door. Among other things, they told her how the “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” cult had been “restored” by God in the early 19th-century. My Mom self-satisfyingly shot back that HER church had been established in the first century so she didn’t need to listen to them and shut the door. She retold this story several times with pride and great relish.
My Mom had no knowledge of church history or comparative theology. Like most Catholics, she could not explain her church’s complicated rituals and doctrines. She went to mass for one hour on Sunday and that was it. She never went to confession, which doomed her to hell according to her church’s dogma. But she was Catholic and proud of it. Her church was the one, true church, “by gravy” (one of her favorite expressions), and that was the end of any debate.
Most Catholics, just like my Mom, take great pride in their church and its claims to its historical pedigree. They boast about their church having been established in 33 A.D., like the bumper sticker above, but they have no knowledge of how the early church devolved from preaching the simple Gospel of salvation by God’s grace though faith in Jesus Christ alone into a worldly institution that became increasingly preoccupied with ritual, wealth, political power, and absolute control of its membership. To put it plainly, the church went off into the worldly-minded weeds and became Catholicism. And age doesn’t count for much. If age were the determining factor for authenticity then Hinduism, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Jainism, Buddhism, and Confucianism would have the advantage over Christianity.
No, the genuine church is not an institution that was fashioned after the imperial Roman model of ancient times, but rather the church is the spiritual body of Christ that is made up of all those who have repented of their sins and accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith alone. This proud and worldly attitude that Catholics have, that they are members of the one, true church, and this affiliation places them in a favorable spiritual position by rights of their baptism, is sadly prevalent.
“And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham.” – Matthew 3:9
What was the first / original church? Is the original / first church the true church?