There are many important choices that we must make in life. For example, we need to make decisions on which career to follow or which college to attend. Where should I live? Whom should I marry? How many children should we have? Etc., etc. But more important than all of these decisions are the ones that directly affect your eternal destination. According to the Bible, all human beings (whether they believe it or not) have an eternal soul that will exist forever, and at the end of this life it will go to one of two places – to a place of eternal punishment, or to one of eternal life (Matthew 25:46). And one of the things that can significantly affect your eternal destiny is the church you attend.
There are many churches out there, and someone may well ask, “But which one is the right one, i.e., which one is teaching the truth?” Seems like a logical question. After all, nobody wants to end up being wrong on eternal matters, do they? Yet, many people (including some Protestants, some Catholics, and some otherwise) don’t really care about those things right now. They’re only living for today, but they feel that they are safe as long as they go to church somewhere. But this is a false security. Jesus said, “You must be born again…” (John 3:3), i.e., you must allow God to change your heart and your life, and trust in the fact that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins on the cross. Going to church is important, but trusting in church attendance (or any other good works) will not save you.
But where can we locate the true church, the one teaching the whole truth? Of course many of us know that the Catholic Church claims to be that “one true church” possessing “all the fullness of truth.” And maybe some other groups will claim something similar, but our focus here will be on the Catholic Church’s claims of identifying itself as the one true church.
According to the Catholic Church, there are four “marks” of the true church, i.e., the true church must be “One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic” (Lumen Gentium, Paragraphs 8 and 26). And supposedly, not only is the Catholic Church the only one that has a valid claim on all four of these features, it is the only one that reflects the fullness of these four marks.
In light of that claim, this article will be the first of four on these identifying marks, but today we will focus only on the first mark – the Catholic Church’s claim of being “one” in unity. They tell us that the Catholic Church is an “undivided church” (Lumen Gentium, Paragraph 23) with an “undivided episcopate,” or leadership, (Paragraph 18), and that it possesses an “undivided charity” (Paragraph 32). So, the Catholic Church thinks very highly of itself and its unity.
Is church unity important? Yes, Jesus wants His church to have unity (John chapter 17), but He wants UNITY IN THE TRUTH. What is the truth? He lets us know in this same chapter when He tells the Father, “Thy Word is truth…” (Verse 17). He wants our beliefs, our actions, and our unity to first of all line up with His Word (the Scriptures). But this, by itself, disqualifies the Catholic Church from being the one true church, since they have many teachings that either contradict the Bible, or are absent from it, as this blog has demonstrated over and over. Therefore, any unity they may have is pretty much irrelevant at this point. Having all the unity in the world is not going to help if your doctrine is not based on Scripture. So what if they have common participation in certain ceremonies, or have the same basic sermon on the same day of the week in every country, or they are reciting the same mechanical prayers? Having such a unity proves nothing if you’re neck-deep in error.
Some Catholics mockingly point to disunity in Protestant (and other) churches, and make great and inflated claims of their own unity, and then try to use this as proof that they are the one true church. Please understand, there certainly are divisions in Protestantism; it is unfortunate and we’re not denying that. But the truth is that there is much division in the Catholic Church, as well. One need only search the internet to verify this fact. There are popular Catholic apologists who disagree with each other on many issues, for example, the significance and effects of the Second Vatican Council, salvation outside the Catholic Church, the New Mass, evolution, contraception, and the list goes on and on. There are disagreements on all levels. In days past, there were even popes who anathematized (condemned) one another. So, they are really not the “undivided church” they claim to be. Catholics seem to claim some kind of supernatural unity, but their unity is no better than the unity found in many other groups.
So, if having divisions disqualifies Protestants (and others) from being part of the true church, then it also disqualifies the Catholic Church from being the one true church. You can’t use an argument that defeats your own position.
See also here:
In defense of their unity, they will say, “But 1) the Catholic Church is found in every country in the world, and it is the largest Christian church on earth, 2) we have one single human leader who can settle disputes when they come up in the church, 3) we are the only church that has all the proper sacraments, 4) we have the same readings weekly in every Catholic Church in the world, and 5) we have apostolic succession! All this is evidence that we are the one true church.”
Ok, let’s break down this last paragraph:
1) Just because the Catholic Church is large does not prove that it is the right church. Being a majority does not help in spiritual / eternal matters. Remember, Jesus said that narrow is the gate that leads to everlasting life, but wide is the gate that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14). Being in the majority doesn’t help those poor souls entering the wide gate.
2) And their having a “single human leader” (the pope) also proves nothing. It seems that such an important characteristic of the one true church would be quite evident in the Bible, but the office of “pope” is entirely missing from the pages of the New Testament. It might sound good, but it’s unbiblical.
3) Concerning the “proper sacraments,” see here:
4) Having the same “gospel readings” in every one of its churches on the same days really proves nothing, as well, since any group could do the same thing if they really wanted to.
5) And of course their claim of having a legitimate, lawful, and uninterrupted chain of popes in “Apostolic Succession” is interesting, but lacking in truth.
Catholics will also tell us, “But those who are causing divisions in our ranks are ‘not truly Catholic,’ so these divisions don’t count.” Well, it’s very convenient to try to exclude those who disagree with you, but if they are “not true Catholics,” then why does the Catholic Church still count their attendance and take their weekly offerings?
It’s hard to claim exclusion of these from your church who still claim to be Catholic, attend Mass, give offerings to your church, and have never been excommunicated. Maybe someone needs to tell them that they are “not really Catholic,” even though the Catholic Church still treats them as though they are.
But ANY group or church can make such claims of unity by excluding those who disagree with them! The fact still remains… there are divisions in the Catholic Church, and they are not as “unified” as they claim they are.
And concerning the use of the term “the church,” you can’t limit the description of the church to a single denomination or organization or label – that’s not what “the church” is. The church of Jesus Christ cannot be contained or identified in that way. The Catholic hierarchy has an inflated view of itself and they often imply that THEY are “the Church.” For example, they will often use the term interchangeably with their own hierarchy / leadership. But the term is never used of “the leadership only” in Scripture. The “church” (meaning “called out ones” in Greek) is made up of all true Christians throughout the world, not just those in a particular group or organization, and not just the leadership. So, asking the “location” of the true church is starting out with the wrong premise. And finding the “right” church is nothing more than finding a local church whose people truly believe, and live according to, the Scriptures.
Is Catholic unity all it’s cranked up to be? Is the Catholic Church really “one”? There is nothing special about their kind of unity. Only their claims are special. Just know that there are many arguments and much confusion within its walls, in spite of its apparent unity.
Now, we don’t have a problem with the “four marks” themselves, that were mentioned above, but the Catholic Church certainly cannot claim that all four marks only apply to them. Actually, we would say with assurance that NONE of these marks (in the manner that they claim) apply to them. They are not “one” in the way they claim, and we will go on to demonstrate in this series that the other three marks do not apply to them in the manner they believe, either.