The comment string on my post below linking to Pastor Weedon’s blog (An entertaining comment string on Weedon’s Blog) drew an old and familiar voice back into the discussion. Terry Maher (aka Past Elder) ended that discussion by saying he was “bowing out”, which is why, rather than reply to his comment there expecting an answer from him, I choose to post this as a separate question here throwing it open to all of you.
The comment string ended with this comment from Terry:
Your question is circular: which church is the true church as the Catholic church says the true church is. There will only be one answer, ever — the Catholic Church. The problem is not in the answer but in the loaded question designed to produce the answer. The RCC may offer these days more variations on the question, but the answer is always the only thing the RC faith is about — the RC church.
The difficulty with that proposition is twofold:
1) Personal: Years ago I thought to myself that the Catholic Church of the Creed was simply an article of faith – the “true Church” does not have a corporate visible existence here on earth. I came to that conclusion to enable myself to be faithful to what I thought was “Catholic” while yet remaining a Lutheran (this was way back in 1986 already). Yet the issue of the ordination of women threw all this into confusion. If some visible corporate Christian communions (perhaps even the one to which I belonged) were ordaining women what did this mean for my ecclesiology. At first, I ran with the idea that each decision was valid for the communion which made that decision so long as it followed the lines of authority recognised by that tradition. Two good Lutheran clergy friends (one now a Catholic the other not) put paid to that idea by pointing out that something was either true or not true: either it was a valid act to ordian a woman to the holy ministry or it wasn’t. That meant that some Christian communities got it wrong – they were not all equally valid expressions of the Church Catholic. So which communions could claim to be valid expressions of the Church Christ established? Could my own communion make such a choice? In effect, I was asking the question: Which of all the possible Churches to which I could belong are “true Churches”? I asked this question not as a Roman Catholic, but as a Lutheran. Lutheran ecclesiology could not answer my question. Eventually – as a Lutheran – I found that I could no longer maintain the ecclesiology I had developed. Eventually eventually I found the only ecclesiology that seemed to ring true was that of the Church which calls herself Catholic. So I wasn’t asking a “loaded question” proposed by the Catholic Church. I was embarking on a search as a Lutheran and found the answer as a Catholic.
2) Historical: From the word go, it appears that there was some debate about which was and which was not the true Church. St Paul rejected the “church” of the “Judaisers”. St Ignatius and St Ireneaus rejected the “church” of the Gnostics. Laterthe “churches” of the Montanists and Donatists were also rejected (although they were recognised to have true sacraments). The entire history of Christianity seems to have been built upon the idea of searching for “the true Church”. This was seen as a matter of eternal salvation. Was this whole history wrong-headed? Was the question wrong-headed from the beginning? In this day and age, when the variety of Christianities is as great as any other, are we to seek only the “true Christianity” and not the “true Church” which teaches it?
In short: is the search for “the True Church” a valid one, or not?