Jesus Christ Founded the Catholic Church
In my previous essay, Jesus Christ is God, I argued that Jesus Christ is God made flesh. Once we accept this we need to start taking him seriously. If God exists, and I argued that he does in There is a God, and Jesus Christ is that God, then what he said and did while on earth needs to be taken seriously.
If we break down Jesus’ life and ministry on earth, we’ll find that he was basically working to accomplish two things. The first was the redemption of humanity, which he constantly alluded to in his ministry and fulfilled by his passion, death and resurrection. The second was lay the foundation for his Church, which he called the Kingdom of God. Thus, we can look at this passion and crucifixion as the coronation ceremony, wherein he was crowned with thorns and enthroned on a cross. The sign above his head read “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” which is technically accurate since the Jewish people had no authentic king at that time and haven’t had a king since. But Jesus claimed to be more than that. He claimed to be the king of all things, but most especially his followers, who would later turn out to be both Jews and Gentiles alike.
If he is God, then he is King. It really is that simple. But the question is “King of what?” exactly. Jesus told Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world, so from that, we can ascertain that he has no interest in any particular territory or real estate. What is he really the King of? He’s the King of hearts. His method of government is to reign from the inside-out, through the hearts of men, and not by the physical force and coercion of manmade governments. This is not to say that civil governments can’t have a Christian character. They can, but such civil governments are ruled by kings, princes, presidents and congresses. They’re not ruled by the government he set up, and indeed, Jesus of Nazareth did set up his own system of government which he intended to rule in his place after he was gone.
Throughout his earthly ministry, Jesus made it crystal clear that the Kingdom of God, which he established as the King, was not some far off and distant thing. It was to begin immediately, with his proclamation, because he is the King and the King is here now. The Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Heaven are one in the same thing.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
[Jesus said:] “But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Matthew 12:28).
Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14-15).
Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he [Jesus] answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:20-21).
Yet at the same time, while the Kingdom of God came when Jesus proclaimed it, the Kingdom will not find its completion until the end of time. Just as Jesus and his apostles spoke of the Kingdom in the present tense, they also spoke of it in the future tense.
Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:10).
When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Ico′nium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:21-22).
Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).
I tell you this, brethren: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:50).
So from this, we learn that the Kingdom of God is both now and future. It is a thing that grows into fullness, but it is acquired through detachment from the things of this world and through many tribulations.
He [Jesus] said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till it was all leavened” (Luke 13:18-21).
The Kingdom of God, in which Jesus is the King, is something that grows in this world until its completion at the end of the world. It is made complete in detachment from the sinful things of this world and through much tribulation and suffering. However, there is another element that brings the Kingdom of God into its fullness and completion — judgement.
Another parable he [Jesus] put before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field; but while men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants[d] of the householder came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then has it weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants[e] said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No; lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn’” (Matthew 13:24-30).
Jesus then went on to explain this parable in the following way…
Then he left the crowds and went into the house. And his disciples came to him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds of the field.” He answered, “He who sows the good seed is the Son of man; the field is the world, and the good seed means the sons of the kingdom; the weeds are the sons of the evil one, and the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the close of the age, and the reapers are angels. Just as the weeds are gathered and burned with fire, so will it be at the close of the age. The Son of man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and throw them into the furnace of fire; there men will weep and gnash their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear” (Matthew 13:36-43).
Here Jesus makes it plain and clear, reviewing everything we discussed above. The Kingdom of God is something that exists right here and now. It began when Jesus started “planting” his followers in the world. They will continue to “grow” (that is to say they will “multiply”) until the end of time. At the same time, however, the enemy (the devil) “planted” his own followers in the Kingdom. These are the religious hypocrites, and corrupt men, who claim to follow King Jesus but in their action they work against him. Both the good and the bad will be uprooted at the end of time and separated (judged) for their different eternal destinies. He is speaking here of the Last Judgement or General Judgement at the end of the world. In the meantime, however, the Kingdom of God grows (multiplies) on earth, both with authentic subjects and counterfeit subjects interacting with each other until the end of time.
This Kingdom is called the Church, which means “a called out community.” In fact, the Greek word used for Church in the New Testament is ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) which happens to be the same word used in the Greek Old Testament (Alexandrian Canon or Deuterocanon) to describe the Old Covenant Kingdom of Israel. So the Church and the Kingdom of God are one in the same thing. It exists here on earth in part but will be brought into its fullness at the end of time. Here in these passages, we see the Apostle Paul, who worked solely to found churches in the ancient world, refer to his work as building the Kingdom of God.
May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:11-14).
Aristar′chus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, receive him), and Jesus who is called Justus. These are the only men of the circumcision among my fellow workers for the kingdom of God, and they have been a comfort to me (Colossians 4:10-11).
Thus the Church is the Kingdom of God. Jesus Christ reigns as King through his Church in the hearts of his followers on earth, and his reign will be made full at the end of time.
The Structure of the Kingdom
A King, however, must do kingly things, and we see Jesus doing this in the New Testament. He begins by telling the Jewish leaders of ancient Israel that they are corrupt and unfaithful. Therefore, he will take the Kingdom of God (which at that time existed as Old Covenant Israel) and give it over to somebody else.
“Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing the fruits of it. And he who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; but when it falls on any one, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them (Matthew 21:43-45).
Who did he give it to? He gave it to his disciples. They would become the new leaders of the Kingdom of God, which is the new Israel of God, otherwise known as the Church or ἐκκλησία (ekklesia).
“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
Now Jesus wasted no time acting as a King would. For if he has just expelled the old leadership of the Kingdom (chief priests and Pharisees), he must quickly appoint a new leadership to take their place. So he did by naming his apostles as the King’s new court.
“Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them” (Matthew 18:18-20).
The phrase to “bind and loose” means authority. As you can see, Jesus is saying he will back them. When they “bind and loose” on earth, meaning they make a decision together, Jesus the King will back their decision in heaven. Notice here that Jesus is speaking directly to his 12 apostles (Matthew 18:1). He is not speaking to anyone else. So this is a power reserved exclusively for them as the King’s royal court. Only they and their successors may exercise it. There are some Christian groups who misuse this passage to imply that this power belongs to all Christians. It does not. Context is important here. Jesus was talking only to his 12 apostles/disciples here (Matthew 18:1) while going through a long discourse on what kind of leaders he expects them to be (Matthew 18:2-17), before concluding with this passage that he is giving them the power to bind and loose (Matthew 18:18-20) or make ruling decisions in his Kingdom/Church.
Every king, however, must have a prime minister, that is a “right-hand-man” who speaks on behalf of the king. So it is no different with King Jesus. He also chose a prime minister to speak and act on his behalf.
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).
The first thing we notice is that Jesus changed Simon’s name to Peter, which means “rock.” Now the Greek here uses Πέτρος (Petros) which is the masculine form of rock. However, when he says “upon this rock” he uses the Greek word πέτρα (petra) which is feminine and means a conglomeration of rock. However, Jesus and his apostles didn’t speak in Greek. They spoke in Aramaic, and it is recorded that Matthew originally wrote his gospel in Aramaic before it was later translated into Greek
Matthew also issued a written gospel among the Hebrews in their own dialect, while Peter and Paul were preaching at Rome, and laying the foundations of the Church (Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, Against Heresies, book 3, chapter 1, written in AD 180).
Notice that Irenaeus wrote that Matthew wrote his gospel among the Hebrews (Jews) in their own dialect. That dialect, at that time, was Aramaic. We do not have extant copies of that Aramaic version available to us, but we do know the Greek version came later. In Aramaic there is only one word for “rock” and that is ܟܺܐܦܳܐ (kefa) which in Greek is pronounced kηφᾶς (kephas) or cephas (hard “c”). We see later in the New Testament that this is the actual name given by Jesus to Simon.
He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him, and said, “So you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas” which means Peter (John 1:42).
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas, and remained with him fifteen days (Galatians 1:18).
So if we reconstruct the above passage in Matthew from its Greek rendition into our own Aramaic rendition we can see what the original Aramaic version must have looked like and how it might be translated into English today…
And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Cephas, and on this cephas I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:17-19).
Here we see that Jesus said he would build his Church on Cephas (that is to say “Peter”) and that he would give him the “keys of the kingdom.” Keys have always represented a symbol of authority, not only in ancient Biblical times but also in our modern times as well. To say that one has the “keys of the kingdom” is to say that one has the authority over that kingdom. Keys are used to open and shut, lock and unlock. The idea here is that while Christ will build the Kingdom on Cephas (Peter), it will be Cephas’ (Peter’s) job to control what goes on inside. It is connected to the “binding and loosing” authority that Jesus gave to all of the apostles, but in this case, it’s a little different. When Jesus spoke to all 12 of the apostles/disciples in Matthew 18 (see above) they had to agree with each other before he would back their decision. However, when he spoke to Cephas (Peter) alone in Matthew 16, he allowed him to make these decisions on his own and King Jesus would back him. So Cephas (Peter) could act alone with authority in the Kingdom/Church, but the rest of the disciples/apostles had to agree with each other to act with authority. It’s important here to distinguish that neither Cephas (Peter) nor the apostles build the Church. Christ builds the Church. Christ defines the Church. Christ defines the truth of the Church. However, Cephas (Peter) and the apostles determine what goes on inside the Church and how that truth is applied. This is how Jesus set up the new authority structure in his Kingdom/Church. It was designed to replace the old kingdom authority structure of the chief priests and Pharisees.
One King – Many Prime Ministers
Usually, a king rules for life. During his life-long reign, he may go through many prime ministers and members of his royal court. Consider the British monarchy for example. The Queen of England, Elizabeth II, has reigned for decades. She was coronated in 1952! During her reign as queen, she has seen multiple prime ministers come and go. Likewise, she has seen Parliament (the equivalent of her royal court) change hands multiple times. It doesn’t look anything like it did in 1952. One thing remains the same, however, the queen. She remains on the throne for a lifetime, and to many Britons, up until the day she dies or abdicates, she will remain the only monarch they have ever known.
King Jesus is no different, except he is God, and his human body has been raised from the dead. So he cannot die. He has been reigning over his Church from heaven for the last 2,000 years. Like other kings, he too has gone through many prime ministers and royal courts. Cephas (Peter) was his first prime minister, however, unlike the British government, the Church is not a democracy. New prime ministers are not elected. They are, rather, appointed by their predecessors. We read in the New Testament that this process of appointment comes through the laying on of hands (ordination) and according to ancient Jewish custom, the one being ordained takes on the same authority as the one doing the ordination.
So when an apostle ordained a successor to eventually replace him, that successor took on the same authority as the apostle who ordained him. Except, they didn’t call these successors “apostles” because that name was reserved only for those who personally knew Jesus. Rather, they called them “bishops.” These bishops appointed helpers called “presbyters” and “deacons.” This threefold structure of bishop, presbyter and deacon became the organisational authority structure of the Kingdom/Church. The bishop retained the most authority, comparable to the apostles, but limited to the region they were assigned to.
And they [the Apostles] prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi′as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:24-26).
[Apostle Paul to Bishop Timothy]: Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you (1 Timothy 4:14).
[Apostle Paul to Bishop Tomothy]: Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor participate in another man’s sins; keep yourself pure (1 Timothy 5:22).
[Apostle Paul to Bishop Titus]: For this cause I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are wanting, and should ordain presbyters in every city, as I also appointed you (Titus 1:5).
We read in history that before he died, Peter travelled to Rome. While there he and the Apostle Paul worked together to build up the Church in Rome into a new headquarters for the Kingdom of God.
Cephas (Peter) likewise ordained multiple men there who could replace him in his role as the King’s prime minister. Upon his death, they would decide amongst themselves who would serve in this role. The man who would take Peter’s place as the prime minister would be called the Bishop of Rome, or the Patriarch of the West. In later centuries, the Italians would just call him “pope” which was a term of endearment for “grandfather” and the name stuck. Today, the Bishop of Rome, who is the Successor of Peter and Prime Minister of King Jesus, is most often called “the pope.”
“The church of God which sojourns at Rome to the church of God which sojourns at Corinth … But if any disobey the words spoken by him through us, let them know that they will involve themselves in transgression and in no small danger.” (Clement, 1st Bishop of Rome in succession from the Apostle Peter, 1st Epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 1, written in AD 96).
“Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who farmed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour; the Church which presides in the place of the region of the Romans, and which is worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of credit, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love” (Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch ordained by the Apostle John, Epistle to the Romans, Prologue, written in AD 105).
“Since, however, it would be very tedious, in such a volume as this, to reckon up the successions of all the Churches, we do put to confusion all those who, in whatever manner, whether by an evil self-pleasing, by vainglory, or by blindness and perverse opinion, assemble in unauthorized meetings; [we do this, I say,] by indicating that tradition derived from the apostles, of the very great, the very ancient, and universally known Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also [by pointing out] the faith preached to men, which comes down to our time by means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church [in Rome], on account of its preeminent authority, that is, the faithful everywhere, inasmuch as the apostolic tradition has been preserved continuously by those [faithful men] who exist everywhere” (Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyon, Against Heresies, chapter 3, written in AD 180).
From these writings, we can clearly see that the early Church, still being intermittently persecuted by the Roman Empire, looked to the Church in Rome for guidance, and to the successor of the Apostle Peter (the Bishop of Rome, or “the pope”) for authority. The Bishop of Rome was considered preeminent among all the bishops, having the primacy of the King’s prime minister in the Kingdom of God (the Church). Each pope, like Peter, appoints multiple bishops who will choose among themselves who shall replace him after he is gone. To date, King Jesus has had 266 prime ministers, starting with the Apostle Peter all the way down to Pope Francis. From the earliest days of Christianity, we know the Church began referring to itself as “Catholic.” The word Catholic simply means “universal” or “all-embracing” or “including a wide variety of things.” It was used in the late first century to describe the actual Kingdom/Church established by Christ and his apostles, which spanned the ancient world, in contrast to many sectarian groups which only followed the teachings of a specific leader or were limited in membership to geography or ethnicity. For example, some groups in the late first century, who claimed to be Christian, were followers of specific teachers that taught doctrines opposed to the teachings of Christ and his apostles. Other groups, also claiming to be Christian, demanded that Christianity was only for the Jews and that Gentiles who wanted to become Christian must first convert to Judaism. The word, “Catholic” coming from the Greek word καθολικός (katholikos), was an adjective that meant those Christians who were everywhere, of all nationalities and ethnicities, embracing the whole teaching of Christ and his apostles.
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church (Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch ordained by the Apostle John, Letter to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 8, written in AD 105).
Jesus founded the Kingdom of God, and from the writings of his closest associates (the New Testament), we know the Kingdom of God is the Church in its present imperfection moving toward its future glory at the end of the world. As King of Israel, Jesus expelled the royal court of the chief priests and Pharisees, setting up a whole new authority structure of Apostles, who in turn ordained bishops, instructing them to ordain presbyters and deacons as assistants. King Jesus likewise appointed a prime minister, as all kings do, to act as his right-hand-man, and run the affairs of the Kingdom/Church until its perfection at the end of the world.
In order for individual Christians and Christian communities to participate as full members of this Kingdom/Church, they must be in unity (full-communion) with the prime minister (pope) of the King. They may still be part of the Kingdom if they are not in unity with the prime minister (pope) because the Catholic Church recognises all Trinitarian baptisms as ‘Catholic’ by their very nature, but their communion is impaired and incomplete. In no way does this call into question the sincerity of their faith or relationship with Christ. It is simply a challenge to consider the Catholic Kingdom/Church Jesus founded, and discern how unity (full communion) with the King’s prime minister might be possible. Jesus Christ is King, and that means he has a Kingdom. He defined for us what that Kingdom is, very clearly, both in the New Testament and in the early history of the Church. His Kingdom is the Catholic Church, and Jesus Christ founded it. If we love the King, we must all find a way to fully participate in his Kingdom. This is what he wants for us.