In the last post I linked to C.F.W. Walther's argument that the Evangelical Lutheran Church, known today as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, is the true visible church.
And while Lutherans are fond of asking "What does this mean?" it's also appropriate to ask "What does this not mean?"
[E]ven some Lutheran pastors seem a bit confused...for when they hear that the Lutheran Church alone teaches the Gospel in its truth and purity [which is true!] they assume this must also mean that a person is declaring the Lutheran Chuch to be the alone-saving Church [which is not true!].
Cyberbrethren then quotes from...you guessed it, C.F.W. Walther:
May God keep you from becoming entangled with this false teaching concerning the Church, viz., that the Lutheran Church is the true visible Church of Jesus Christ in the sense that one can be saved only in this Church! The Lutheran Church is indeed the true visible Church; however, only in this sense, that it has the pure, unadulterated truth. As soon as you add the qualification “alone-saving” to the Lutheran Church, you detract from the doctrine of justification by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and confound Law and Gospel.
And if you'd like to read some more about the visible church, here's a post from Don McMaster:
The Church is holy, though some of her members are not. Likewise, the Church is visible...
Ah, the visible church.
...though some who appear to be Catholic are not so in heart and mind.
Wait a minute. Was that a capital C?
A logical fallacy--the "fallacy of composition," if I recall correctly--would be involved in doubting the visibility of the true Church as a whole on the basis that some people who appear to be part of the Church are not truly so in the sight of our Father who sees in secret (while others are).
A further logical fault appears in the effort to establish a real doubt about the visibility of the Church on the basis of merely conjectural doubts about unspecified people who, to all outward appearances, are Catholic. Merely conjectural doubts arise from the fact that we do not know all that God knows about who is a Catholic at heart and who is not. It doesn't follow that there is any real doubt that the Catholic Church is the one, true, visible Church of Christ, for this can be ascertained without knowing all that God knows.
The quote above is taken from the Traditional Catholic Forum, and happens to respond to a question from a Lutheran seminarian (from a discussion over a few drinks; Lutherans and Catholics agree that abstinence is not mandated for all in Scripture). Interestingly enough, later in the thread DJR discusses the concept of the invisible church.
The concept of an "invisible church" is not taught anywhere in Sacred Scripture; therefore, it should be problematic to someone who claims to believe in Sola Scriptura.
Our Lord taught that the Church is quite visible.
DJR then quotes from Daniel 2:44, Matthew 5:14-16, and other verses.
And the argument that the Roman Catholic Church is the true visible church is obviously not unique. Phil Porvaznik:
The resolution I will be defending is "The Roman Catholic Church is the true Church of Jesus Christ according to the Scriptures."...
So in Catholic understanding the Church is a visible society and organization on earth, but has spiritual and heavenly components; she is both hierarchical and the Mystical body of Christ. And according to the Bible, there is only one Church and one Faith (Matt 16:18f; Eph 4:4f), not multiple churches teaching different doctrines and contradictory faiths....
While there are many local churches (e.g. "the church of God in Corinth," 1 Cor 1:2; 2 Cor 1:1; "the churches in Galatia," Gal 1:2; etc), they are united as ONE universal or Catholic Church according to Christ, teaching ONE universal or Catholic Faith (Eph 4:5; Jude 3). That is the Church Christ founded against which He promised the powers of death (or gates of hell) cannot prevail. There are not many Christian "faithS" -- division and schism is sin and utterly intolerable in the universal Church according to the Scriptures (Matt 12:25; John 17:20-23; Acts 4:32; Rom 16:17ff; 1 Cor 1:10ff; 3:3f; 14:33; Gal 5:19ff; Philip 1:27; Titus 3:9f; etc).
Porvaznik was opposed by Jason Engwer:
We're told by Catholic apologists that an oak tree grows from an acorn. Nobody denies that it does. The question with the teachings of Catholicism, in some cases, is whether an oak tree can grow from an apple seed or no seed at all. In other cases, the question is why Catholic apologists are looking for an acorn where the Catholic Church tells us we should see an oak tree.
When we read the Bible, do we find the Roman Catholic Church? Do we find a papacy, private confession of sins to a priest, and a sinless Mary, for example? No, we don't. But the modern Catholic apologist will tell us that such differences between the Bible and Roman Catholicism are consistent with Catholic teaching. We're told that if we can find an acorn, or just something that might be an acorn, then the oak tree of modern Catholicism is thereby justified. If you can't see the alleged acorn, or it looks more like an apple seed to you, you'll be told that you can't trust your own fallible eyesight. You need the hierarchy of the Catholic Church to look into the microscope for you and infallibly assure you that it's an acorn.
And the LCMS obviously does not agree that the Roman Catholic Church is the true visible church.
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, Lutherans do not believe that the office of the papacy as such has any divine authority, or that Christians need to submit to the Pope's authority to be "true" members of the visible church.
And obviously there are other churches that claim to be the true church. Take this statement:
Why are we members of the only true Church? Even though I cannot answer this question for all 13 million members of the Church, I would like to express from my heart some answers....
The author, Elder Enrique R. Falabella, continues:
Riches were not a part of my childhood. We were a family of five: my father and four siblings. My mother had passed away when I was five years old. My father’s meager income was used to buy our food....
As time went by, a pair of missionaries taught us the riches of the restored gospel, of the doctrine of the plan of salvation, and of eternal families. We were baptized, and when my father began his calling as district president, his first objective was to journey to the temple and receive the blessings which would come because of that sacrifice....
Upon arriving in the city of Mesa, Arizona, we headed down an avenue at the end of which we could see the house of the Lord, gleaming and beautiful. I remember the joy which filled our hearts; we all broke out in songs and praising, and tears ran down the cheeks of many Saints.
Later in the temple, we knelt as a family to hear the beautiful promises about an eternal family, with the certainty that our mother, though absent, was now our mother forever, and we felt the peace which comes from knowing that we are an eternal family.
The promise of life eternal thus gave us the riches of eternity! “Behold, he that hath eternal life is rich” (D&C 6:7).
"D&C," by the way, refers to "Doctrine & Covenants" - which is part of the LCMS issue with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints:
[T]he official writings of Mormonism deny fundamental teachings of orthodox Christianity. For example, the Nicene Creed confesses the clear biblical truth that Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Trinity, is "of one substance with the Father." This central article of the Christian faith is expressly rejected by Mormon teaching -- thus undermining the very heart of the scriptural Gospel itself. In a chapter titled "Jesus Christ, the Son of God: Are Mormons Christian?" the president of Brigham Young University (Rex Lee, What Do Mormons Believe? [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1992] summarizes Mormon teaching by stating that the three persons of the Trinity are "not... one being" (21), but are "separate individuals." In addition, the Father is regarded as having a body "of flesh and bone" (22). Such teaching is contrary to the Holy Scriptures....
And then there's Darwin Fish:
If you are involved with the kind of Christianity that views the "church of Christ", or Billy Graham, or Rick Warren, or Joel Osteen, or James Dobson, or Pat Robertson, or John MacArthur, or Tony Evans, or Greg Laurie, or Charles Stanley, or Chuck Smith, or Fred Price, or J. Vernon McGee, or Charles Blake, or Chuck Swindoll, or Gene Scott, or Harold Camping (Family Radio), or John Piper, or T. D. Jakes, or David Jeremiah, or Charles Spurgeon, or Dave Hunt, or David W. Cloud, or Perry F Rockwood, or Neil Anderson, or Robert Schuller, or Jack Hayford, or Benny Hinn, or Miles McPherson, or Ray Comfort, or Jim Cobrae, or Chuck Colson, or C. S. Lewis, or Pope John Paul, or Hank Hanegraaff, or Paul Chappell, or any of the like (or any of the likes on "Christian" TV or radio) as godly men, you are not saved. Why? Because, you are on the broad way (Matthew 7:13; 2 Peter 2:2; 2 Timothy 4:3). You have not the characteristic of Christ's sheep (John 10:5). And, men such as these are wells without water (2 Peter 2:17).
And what's wrong with - well, with everybody? Let's look at a few examples:
Spurgeon lies and speaks the exact opposite of Christ when he says, "the road to heaven may be sufficiently wide to have several different paths in it." Spurgeon believed both Calvinists and Arminians were on this wide path to heaven (see our report Spurgeon, An Ecumenical False Teacher). Jesus says it's narrow. Spurgeon says it's wide. Such teaching is damning....
False teachers...[hold] to some form of creed, creeds, essentials, fundamentals, or core belief that supposedly unifies all true believers. If one stays within the bounds of this central belief, often called "orthodox Christianity," or "historic Christianity" (e.g. Christianity In Crisis, p. 31, 43), then a person is considered to be in the truth. And, other doctrines that the Bible addresses are counted as peripheral issues (or "secondary" or "non-essential") and are perceived as matters that do not pertain to salvation (e.g. ibid., p. 47). As the phrase that's been attributed to the Catholic of old (Augustine) puts it,
"In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; and in all things, charity. (Christianity In Crisis, by Hank Hanegraaff, copyright 1993, p. 47)"
These words well sum up the broad way (Matthew 7:13).
For what Fish's church does believe, you need to see their statement of faith. For the record, here's what they say about Holy Communion (see my first post):
That's right, there's nothing in their statement of faith about what we are supposed to do in remembrance of Jesus Christ.
For more on Darwin Fish, see my Ontario Empoblog post from July 26, 2005. Sphere: Related Content