[This first draft and first Internet Edition concentrates on IDEAS and its organization is rough in some places though it is in complete sentences and paragraphs and chapters and very readable (and it includes some lengthy excerpts from more revised and edited books of mine). I believe many of its ideas are very important for dissemination among Christians, towards the eventual reunification of the Church. Like the other two volumes of So That The World May Believe, it is addressed to all Christians and takes the different perspectives of Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic Christians into account, hoping to help all Christians come to think about Christian unity like the Undivided Early Church lived it in the First Millennium’s Undivided Catholic Church.]
The goal of this third volume, as with the other volumes of So That The World May Believe, is to help Protestant/ Evangelical, Eastern Orthodox, and Catholic Christians all come to think about Christian Unity as the Undivided Early Church instinctively and actually lived it, in preparation for our future reunification in the Holy Spirit’s timing and through His power and love working in us, “so that the world may believe.”
[In order to finish (for now) the first Internet Edition of this Introduction, I have copied what is below from a few summative sections from later in this volume]
Sharing the Catholic Understanding of the Papacy as Part of the Mutual Loving Dialogue Between Currently Divided Christian Churches Together Seeking the Unity Jesus Prayed for
In the spirit of mutual loving brotherly dialogue between those Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant/Evangelical Christians (together the great majority of the world’s professed Christians) who are already united in the vast common fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy, in this volume I wish to share some of my understanding of what I believe to be the strong claim of the Catholic Church for its doctrine of the papacy which has been so divisive between us. I do this for two reasons, the second of which I will get to later. First of all I share the papacy for the same purpose of promoting true mutual understanding of our differences even while they remain for which I wrote Volume II on Mary (the other great difference which sadly divides Catholic and Protestant Christians, though not Catholic and Orthodox Christians). I believe that God’s purposes for saving the world through the ministry of Christ’s Body on Earth the Church will be much better served even if we continue to disagree with each other, as long as we truly understand each other’s differing opinions on secondary doctrines and just how we each see them as consistent with the great primary, fundamental Christian doctrines and common Divine Revelation we are already agreed upon. When we no longer jump to conclusions that each other’s different lesser doctrines must be wrong and must somehow compromise the Christian fundamentals, when we no longer repeat the confusions and misconceptions Satan the Accuser has sown between us to keep us accusing each other of heresies wherever we are different, we will be able to truly see how other Christians could hold this different opinion than ours and still be true brothers and sisters in Christ empowered as instruments of God’s salvation in the world by the same indwelling Holy Spirit of Love and the same essential Christian truths which empower us. Once this mutual understanding is achieved, even if we remain unconvinced that another Christian Church’s different secondary doctrines are entirely correct, these differences, shown to be at least consistent with the common fundamentals, should no longer be a barrier in our minds to recognizing and loving other Christians, so that even while we remain formally divided we may much more easily work together in Christian love for the salvation of the world, so that we may much better display the unity in love of Christians “one for another” which Jesus’ prayer for our unity indicates is necessary “so that the world may believe.”
The Catholic Church must Share its Understanding of the Papacy, the Office of Visible Unity Despite Many Differences Within its Own Catholic Christian Communion of over Half of All Christians in over 20 distinct “Sister Churches,” as Part of the Loving Ecumenical Dialogue among Christians Towards the Unity We All Know Jesus Desires for Us
As stated above, the first of my two reasons for sharing with non-Catholic readers my Catholic understanding of the papacy is for the purpose of seeking true mutual understanding which allows separated Christians to better “agree to disagree” while maintaining Christian brotherly love, in the spirit of loving dialogue between Christians ultimately towards the unity Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe.” My first and primary goal is not to necessarily convert non-Catholic readers to my Catholic understanding, but much more importantly to stop non-Catholic readers from ignorantly continuing the anti-Catholic prejudice against the Catholic Church on the basis of misunderstandings of its distinct doctrines like the papacy, misconceptions which Satan the Accuser uses as part of his arsenal of weapons against the visible unity in love of the Body of Christ the Church. We do not have to agree on everything to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ, but our visible expression of love despite our disagreements is much more likely when we truly understand each other’s differences and how each of us sees them as consistent with or supportive of the common essentials of Christianity which we do agree on. We do not have to have full agreement in all our disputes and we do not have to have full formal reunification in order to model Christian love for each other despite our differences and disagreements. Indeed, practically speaking we should master the unity in love while formal divisions remain before we even attempt full formal visible Christian unity in one loving Church as the visibly undivided Body of Christ on Earth.
But I also share my understanding of the strong claim of the Catholic doctrine of the papacy as part of the solid foundation of God’s Church on Earth (Jesus called it the “rock” on which His Church is built – Matthew 16:18) , because I honestly believe it is the solution to the greatest problems faced by my Eastern Orthodox and Conservative/Evangelical Protestant Christian brothers and sisters in Christ, which I earnestly desire to share with them for their own benefit. The Catholic Church understands the papacy as the Holy Spirit-graced office of unity which guarantees orthodoxy in the Christian Church. The Catholic Church Family of Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches which gathers around the pope (Peter’s successor) as the center of unity of the one Universal or Catholic Christian Church of Jesus Christ possesses an absolutely unparalleled Christian unity among over 1 billion Western and Eastern Christian members worldwide (in over 20 different yet fully unified Sister Churches), and it has never ever since the beginning of Christianity denied any of the common fundamentals of essential Christian orthodoxy. In contrast, those non-Catholic churches which do not recognize the papacy suffer precisely in the areas of unity and orthodoxy. In less than 500 years of existence, the largest streams of the oldest and largest Protestant “mainline” denominations are the “doctrinally liberal” streams which question, doubt, or outright deny various aspects of traditional, orthodox Christian faith and morality (and Bible Canon), and even the Protestant denominations which (for now) remain fundamentally orthodox suffer from vast and prolific divisions (there are over 35,000 registered Protestant or Evangelical Christian church denominations worldwide and new Protestant church divisions happen constantly). The non-Catholic Eastern Churches of today are grouped into the smaller “Lesser Eastern Churches” and the larger “Eastern Orthodox Churches.” The “Lesser Eastern Churches” are ancient heretical churches which lost orthodoxy by rejecting either the 3rd Ecumenical Council at Ephesus in 431 AD which clarified the Incarnation and declared the irreformable Christian dogma that Jesus Christ is one person with two natures, Divine and human, or rejected the 4th Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451 AD which articulated the Incarnation more clearly and declared the fundamental Christian doctrine that Jesus is fully God and fully man. The non-Catholic Eastern Orthodox Churches are indeed orthodox because they accept the fundamental tenets of Christian orthodoxy which were hammered out during the first seven Ecumenical Councils (in which the pope played an integral role – see Volume III Chapter 5), but they suffer greatly and increasingly from lack of unity even amongst themselves.
Introduction to Volume III’s Chapters 4 and 5 Which Share in Ecumenical Spirit What I Have Come to Learn and Understand about the Undivided Early Church’s Papacy and about its Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western “Sister” Churches Which Gather Around the Pope as Their Head Pastor, Which I Share for the Benefit of the Non-Catholic Christian Churches Which May Find in the Papacy Understood this Way the Solution to Their Substantial Problems with Unity and Orthodoxy Which the Catholic Christian Communion Does Not Have
So non-Catholic readers should understand, as they read these chapters, that it is not my intention to say “the Catholic Church is right and you are wrong and this is why.” I freely acknowledge (as does the Catholic Church officially since Vatican II) that sins and weaknesses of both Catholics as well as non-Catholics initially caused and have since maintained the scandalous divisions in the one Church of Christ our Lord and Savior. I freely acknowledge that the Catholic Church today still suffers from many problems of failing to live up to its own ideals which we Catholic Christians need to work on with Christ our Lord’s help to solve or improve. I freely acknowledge that the non-Catholic churches have many valid expressions of and celebrations of our great common Christian faith which already enrich the Catholic Church Communion which borrows many good things from them. I freely acknowledge that the conservative Protestant/Evangelical churches have in fact generally-speaking better preserved certain characteristics of the Undivided Early Church than the Catholic Church Communion has (such as its passionate love for Bible-reading), meaning that they have much to teach Catholic Christians as we move closer together in loving family unity in the Body of Christ as Jesus wishes us to.
But I honestly believe that all the problems the Catholic Church has are not near as serious as the problems the non-Catholic Eastern and Protestant churches have with either their Christian unity or with the long-term maintenance of their basic Christian orthodoxy, both of which problems do much to hide the truth of Jesus’ love from the world, and I honestly believe that the Catholic Church has the solution to those non-Catholic problems because of its doctrine of the papacy. Furthermore, I believe I can demonstrate convincingly that the doctrine of the papacy is not only solidly grounded in the Bible (in Chapter 4), but that the actual historical Early Church interpreted the Bible along these lines such that the papacy was an integral part of the life of the Living Body of Christ the Church since the beginning and most certainly throughout the First Millennium in which our great common Christian fundamentals were first clearly articulated and established as the norms of Christian faith (in Chapter 5).
As a Catholic Christian (and former Evangelical Protestant Christian), I have to suggest (with the greatest love and affection for Protestants) that is just far too simple and honestly very problematic for Protestant/Evangelicals to just say “we do not believe in the papacy and we think the Catholic Church is wrong to.” Catholic Christians can simply say in response, “then why do you believe Jesus is fully God and fully man, Pope Leo I’s doctrine, and the other Christian fundamentals which the papacy was inextricably involved in defining clearly? Catholic Christians cannot help but notice that there are a great many Protestant Christians who no longer believe in the Christian fundamentals or are no longer certain about them, precisely because the traditional Christian fundamentals historically are the Catholic Church’s official interpretation of the Catholic Church’s New Testament. If the Catholic Church is wrong about its doctrines of infallibility, that the Catholic Church Councils of overseer/bishops and popes (chief bishops) are capable, under certain limited circumstances including those of Ecumenical Councils, of speaking infallibly (on the basis of the Church being truly the Body of Christ and “pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), as the Bible itself proclaims) – then Protestant Christians have no guarantee and cannot be certain that either the traditional (Catholic) New Testament Canon nor the traditional (Catholic) fundamental Bible interpretations which they simply borrowed from the Catholic Church they left are correct – Catholic Christians can reasonably say that Liberal Protestantism is just the natural and logical result of Protestantism which claims that the Catholic Church has no authority to settle disputes (including Canon disputes) among Christian Bible readers, and therefore liberal Protestants are uncertain of or deny the traditional Christian New Testament Canon and the traditional Christian essential fundamentals of orthodox Christianity.
Introduction to the Later Volume III Chapters Which Discuss the Historical Reasons Behind the Second Millennium “Over-Romanization” of the Catholic or Universal (Not Just Roman) Church and How this Problem (Which Has Made the Early Church Unity in Diversity Which Continues in Today’s Catholic Church Harder to See) Has Been Solved in Principle by Vatican Council II’s Dogmatic Teaching on the Church Which Is Still in the Process of Being Implemented in the Minds and Hearts of Today’s Majority Roman Rite Catholics (These Chapters also Discuss How the Future Full Implementation of Vatican II in the Huge Roman Rite of the Catholic Church Will Bode Well for the Eventual Reestablishment of the Lost Unity in Diversity of the Undivided Early Church)
At the end of Chapter 5 and in Chapter 6 I will also call attention to some of the historical reasons why the Catholic (Universal) Christian Communion of Eastern and Western particular or “Sister” Churches which gathers around the pope became numerically dominated by the Roman Rite of the Catholic Church in the Second Millennium, and I will frankly discuss how the Catholic (literally Universal, not just Roman) Church since before the Protestant Reformation became “overly Romanized” as a result of this and has only come to recapture that full, conscious and explicit understanding of just what the Catholic Church is and should look like since the 21st Ecumenical Council (Vatican Council II, 1962-5), which was the first Ecumenical Council ever to prayerfully discuss and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance so as to clearly define the proper nature and structure of the one Church of Christ. That proper Catholic (Universal) form of Christian unity in diversity among different but united Eastern and Western Rites or Sister Churches or Patriarchates which Christ’s Church had in the First Millennium of the Undivided Early (Catholic) Church is something which the Catholic Church has always had but which has been hidden from the general view for centuries (there have always been Eastern Rite Catholics who still acknowledge the Pope as their Head Pastor in addition to the majority of Roman Rite Catholics, but they have been such a minority that majority Roman Catholics often did not even know about them, especially before modern telecommunications). However, the true Christian universality (not just Romanness) of the Catholic (Universal) Church which gathers around the pope will become ever more manifest the more Vatican II’s official and dogmatic teaching about the Church trickles down into and eventually becomes entrenched in the minds and hearts of the Roman Rite Catholic majority who for centuries have tended to mistakenly associate their particular Roman Catholic Sister Church in the Catholic Communion with the Catholic Church entire. Chapter 6 offers several discussions designed to help majority Roman Rite Catholic Christians to more fully come to understand and accept (as they are required to) the dogmatic teaching of Vatican II about the Catholic Church Communion they belong to. I believe that all Christians coming to truly understand what the 21st Ecumenical Council of the Catholic Church has formally defined about the Church, which clearly expresses the lived reality of the Undivided Early Church of the First Millennium, is vitally important for the ultimate (long-term) healing of our scandalous Christian divisions, for it even shows us how divided fundamentally orthodox Christians today, whether (Eastern or Western) Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or (Western) Protestant/ Evangelical, are already much closer to the Early Church’s unity in diversity than we usually realize (as discussed in Chapter 7). Chapter 8 offers real hope that, through the power of the Holy Spirit of love who has already made each of us a member of God’s one Family in Christ, in the long term the currently divided Christian churches really may be one as Jesus prayed for “so that the world may believe.”
Thus it is I believe for the great benefit of the 35,000 non-Catholic Christian churches (Protestant/ Evangelical and Eastern Orthodox) that I share what I have come to learn and understand about the Undivided Early Church’s papacy and about its Catholic (Universal) Communion of Orthodox Eastern and Western Christian “Sister” Churches which gather around the pope as their Head Pastor – and I believe it is also for the great benefit of the world which needs to see the love of Jesus in us for each other that we all (Catholic and non-Catholic) come to think about Christian unity as the Undivided Early Church actually lived it.
With its emphasis on the early Eastern and Western acceptance of the papacy in history (especially within the history of the permanent establishment of the clearly articulated basic fundamentals of traditional, orthodox Christianity) throughout the First Millennium (detailed in Chapter 5), and how problems currently preventing the Eastern Orthodox accepting it again have been resolved at least in principle in the Catholic Church’s Vatican Council II, this Volume, when finished, could stand alone as an Ecumenical work towards the reunification of the Eastern Orthodox Churches with the Catholic Church Communion of Eastern and Western Orthodox Sister Churches, as well as a description of the papacy for Protestant readers who in fact, if they are “doctrinally conservative,” fundamentally orthodox Protestants including most Evangelicals and Pentecostals, already unknowingly rely on the legitimate authority of the First Millennium papacy (as a function of the Bible’s “profound mystery” of the Church as the Body of Christ and “pillar and foundation of the truth”) to know with certainty their New Testament Canon and basic Christian “fundamentals” (as this Volume shows in detail). Recognizing how “Catholic at heart” they are already, in terms of the Undivided Early Catholic Christian Church Communion, should help motivate fundamentally orthodox Protestant Christians (who already detest the unorthodoxy of Protestant “doctrinal liberalism” which is the mature form of Protestantism) to work with Catholic Christians towards the re-establishment of the Undivided Early Church’s unity in diversity within one Universal (Catholic) Christian Church Communion, in fulfilment of Jesus prayer for Christian unity “so that the world may believe.”
© 2005, 2009 Peter William John Baptiste SFO