Friday, April 22, 2005

Welcome Home

Something happened on March 12, 2005. A massacre occurred among the community of believers in Milwaukee, known as the Living Church of God. This event received national media attention. For the sensitive, it should provoke deep theological questions. How can this happen? How can a church which is seeking after God breed a disaster like this? Is there something about this community which made it the subject of attack? Could it happen in other churches? Perhaps these questions can be resolved by examining the teachings of this community.

The Living Church of God is one of a number of small daughter communities which were founded by a man named Armstrong in the last century. Through extensive Bible study, this man became convicted of certain teachings he believed were true. Foundational, perhaps, was his belief that Sunday worship was a man made institution, begun by the Catholic Church. By investigating the Bible, he became convinced that the Sabbath must continue to be kept, as well as Biblical Holy Days, but Sunday, Christmas, and Easter should not be kept. He also teaches that God the Father and God the Son are persons, but the Holy Spirit is not. The Trinity is also an invention of the Catholic Church, therefore man made doctrine. Armstrong founds his church as entirely separate from the Catholic Church and all Protestant Churches. He claims he has arrived at these truths by studying the Bible alone through the leading of the Holy Spirit. A modern day would-be reformer.

This investigation, far from answering the original questions, stirs up many others. The sorts of questions I began pondering several years ago. They caused me to find answers in a most unexpected place. What is it about the premise of “Bible alone through the leading of the Holy Spirit” that causes such a vast disparity of theological opinion? Can the Holy Spirit lead individuals to truth that is “right for them” but is contradictory to other individuals? How can I know which truth is True? Better yet, how can I know that what I believe is True?

I knew my answers must be contained in Scripture; that is, of course, where I began my exploration. I prayed as I read, “Open the eyes of my heart, Lord. I want to know the real Truth.” Certain Scriptures that I had never really noticed before began to leap out at me, demanding to be heard. I read John 17, which taught me that Christ had prayed for unity, because THAT was proof of who He really Is. Proof to the world! A sign of Truth! To me, that is important. Can the world identify the Truth of Jesus through the unity of His people today?

Then, I confronted the gift of the keys to the kingdom of heaven, in Matthew 16. What in the world was this? My Baptist churches had never acknowledged them at all. A Lutheran pastor I talked to claimed it was the power of Christians to forgive or not to forgive offenses against us. But, this didn’t make sense to me. Christ taught that we would be forgiven as we forgive others. So, Christ either gave an unusable gift, gave us a means to damn ourselves, or is schizophrenic. None of these conclusions are acceptable, so the Lutheran pastor must be wrong. In conjunction with the problem of this passage of Scripture, I was wrestling with Christ’s promise that the Gates of Hell would never prevail against His Church. So that means that the Church He began would exist through all time.

So far, I had identified three marks by which I could identify the Truth, or at least identify where the Truth was taught. 1) Unity, 2)holding the power of the keys (whatever they are), and 3) existing through all time. But, throughout this process, I had the warnings of Proverbs ringing in my ears: “Lean not on your own understanding” and, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death”. So, there must be an answer which does not require my intellectual understanding to be true, but is as obvious as a “beacon on a hill”. This means that I should stop looking for the church which matches my beliefs, but find the church God founded, which holds the Truth. Up until this point, I had no idea where my search would lead me. I wanted to know the Truth, so I could be confident in my belief and in my witness to others. The Holy Spirit is promised to us to lead us into ALL Truth, not just some of it, and I wanted it all.

From my self-identified marks of Truth, #1 and 3 seemed inherently contradictory. How could the Church be unified and also exist for all time, when the historical record indicates that the true Gospel was rediscovered in the 16th century with the reformation of the apostate Catholic Church? This dilemma produced a severe headache which lasted for two weeks, until I discovered John 6, and immediately understood the teaching of Christ that communion would be real flesh and real Spirit. A meaning which all of Christ’s followers found incredibly difficult to accept, which caused many to forsake him, but the Apostles who reasoned that they had no one left to turn to. The meaning of this passage was crystal clear, and so was the solution to my dilemma. The answers to all my questions lay in a source I had never even considered: the Catholic Church. Everything fit.

The Catholic Church is the oldest Christian Church, reaching all the way back to the Apostles. It alone has the capability of fulfilling the requirement of existing through all time. The Catholic Church had at least three doctrines that I knew had never changed, which all other Christian denominations had: the Eucharist, birth control, and Baptism. The fact that all other Christian churches had changed their teachings on these topics (some or all) proves by process of elimination that they were not in union with their own founders, much less Christ, through all time. And finally, the Catholic Church provided an explanation of the keys which was Biblical and reasonable, found in Isaiah 22:21-22, authority.

At this point, the Catholic Church had identified itself as the “beacon on the hill”, and before I continued my research, I followed the wisdom of the Proverbs and submitted to my Lord’s Body, the Church. After that, I listened to the reasoning and explanations about other doctrines that were strange and contradictory to me. I knew that either everything was true, or else Our Lord is a liar, and the Gates of Hell prevailed, and He was not God because the sign of His Divinity is Unity. There was no other choice. My husband was at first reluctant to return to the Church. I’ve never received a clear concrete answer why. But shortly after we entered the Church, he told me that he finally felt he was worshiping God again, and that he’d never felt that way as a Baptist.

We are all joyfully Catholic now, and I thought that this 1st anniversary of our reception into the Church was the perfect time to reflect on this journey, and share it. Every day I grow in fondness for the Church, and I marvel at the vastness of my growth in understanding of Who God is and the theological mysteries that wiser souls than I have contemplated for 2000 years. I am so grateful for their guidance and wisdom, and feel stimulated intellectually as well as spiritually, like never before. In the Catholic Church, I can truly “love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength,” as a complete person created in the image and likeness of God, redeemed by His Blood unto the good creature He intended.

I pray for those like Armstrong and his followers who were deceived by their own understanding, and misunderstanding of the Catholic Church. I pray that God has Mercy on the souls of those who have died because of this. I fear that such a crime is beyond comprehension, but that in God’s way, He brings good as people are forced to ponder questions they might not ever have confronted on their own.


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