Both Jesus and the Apostles tell us the Church is ONE. And so the Church cannot be a myriad of thousands of different contradictory churches all teaching a different Gospel.
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be ONE flock, ONE shepherd (Jn 10:16). ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God & Father (Eph 4:3-6); ONE Spirit, ONE body (1 Cor 12:13). No divisions (1 Cor 1:10). United in heart, thinking of ONE thing" (Phil 2:2). And this is why in the Nicene Creed, the statement is made, “We believe in ONE holy catholic and apostolic church.”
While visiting the Holy Land we visited the Church of the Holy Sepulchre 318 to 320 A.D., the oldest standing Christian Church in the Holy Land. This Church covers the ground where Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead. Along with the Catholic Church, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is shared by 5 Eastern Orthodox churches (Greek, Assyrian, Armenian, Ethiopian and Coptic), but there is no Protestant representation. There is a Lutheran Church (the oldest of the Protestant churches), a hundred yards or so around the corner, but it is a more recent church. Of the more than 40,000 different Protestant Churches, why is there no Protestant presence in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre? It is because none of them, including the Lutheran Churches, actually go back to the time of Christ and the Apostles.
There are some who say the Church apostatized after the death of the last Apostles and there was no true Church until many centuries later. Others say the Catholic Church apostatized after the fourth century at the council of Nicaea 313. Still others say that it happened later and these churches include in their services, the Nicene Creed.
I had a Pentecostal brother who said the Church was valid up till the council of Nicaea. I pointed out to him that the Bible as we now know it was not fully determined until the latter part of the 4th century in the councils of Hippo in 393 and Carthage in 397. If the Church became invalid at the Council of Nicaea 313, then it could not have determined at a later time what the books of the Bible were. At this he made a little change and said, “The Church began to become invalid at Nicaea but was not actually totally invalid until later.” How much later he really didn’t say. Of course he couldn’t say because like so many (but not all) Protestants, he didn’t have an understanding of history. The time in which the Church supposedly apostatized is not agreed on by the Protestants.
According to some of the detractors of the Catholic Church, after the 4th or 5th century, the true Church allegedly went underground and was invisible until the 16th century. The true Church from their stand point reemerged from this invisible hidden church in the form of the Protestant Reformation.
There are some problems here; first of all Jesus said, “upon this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of the nether world shall not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). If the Church that Jesus founded is no longer valid, then Jesus was wrong and the gates of the nether world have prevailed against His Church. Of course, they don’t give the name of this invisible Church that allegedly went underground.
This leads to the next problem; the church that Jesus founded was never an invisible hidden church. “You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lamp stand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father” (Matt. 5:14-15). The early Church could not have been persecuted if it was invisible, but the early Christians were visible; they did let their light shine for all and as a result they were targeted. And so the invisible church theory does not hold.
In order for the invisible church theory to hold, the Protestant Reformation would have to reemerge from this invisible church at the time of the Reformation. But the problem is it didn’t. It came out of a very visible Catholic Church. Luther, Calvin, Zwingli and all of the original Protestant Reformers were previously Catholic. The invisible church theory fails again.
The last question is this; did the Protestant Reformation produce a church with “ONE faith, ONE baptism, one God & Father” (Eph 4:3-6)? No, it did not. The Protestant Reformation was not ONE church but thousands of different contradictory theologies in competition. For example, the first huge division in the Protestant experiment took place over the concept of Communion, with Luther, Calvin and Zwingli all disagreeing on what it meant. They could have gone up to the Apostles and elders of this ONE Church just as the Apostle Paul did on the issue of circumcision in Acts chapter 15, but they couldn’t. They had rejected the notion of the authority of ONE church for a failed non-Biblical notion of the “Bible alone.”
The Apostle Paul solved the circumcision issue by consulting this ONE true Church. Had Paul believed in the “Bible alone” he would have consulted the Bible over the issue of circumcision but, He didn’t. He went up to Jerusalem and consulted with the elders and presbyters. “Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question” (Acts 15:2).
The Protestant Reformers never solved the problem of Communion because they had rejected the notion of the authority of the Church. They did not have a ONE church with ONE authority where they could solve such questions. They had many contradictory churches with many authorities. They accepted the “Bible alone” concept, but this was not enough to bring them together. The Protestant experiment remains today a house divided with more than 30,000 contradictory groups, sects, denominations and non-denominations. On a couple of different occasions, I have had Evangelicals tell me that all these man-made churches were never the original will of God, and oh, they were so right; “ONE Lord, ONE faith, ONE baptism, ONE God & Father (Eph 4:3-6).
- I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as ONE, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me (Jn 17:21).
- I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be ONE flock, ONE shepherd (Jn 10:16).
- ONE Lord, one faith, ONE baptism, one God & Father (Eph 4:3-6).
- I pray that they may be ONE as we are ONE (Jn 17:17-23).
- In ONE spirit we are baptized into ONE body (1Cor 12:13).
- We though many are ONE body in Christ (Rom 12:5).
- ONE body ONE spirit called to ONE hope (Eph 4:4).
- The peace in which we are called into ONE body (Col 3:15).
- Avoid those who create dissensions (Rom 16:17).
- I urge there to be no divisions among you (1 Cor 1:10).
- Be of the same mind, united in heart, thinking of ONE thing (Phil 2:2).