Catholics have sometimes been heard to speak of the four marks of the church. In fact, we state our belief in them every time we say the Nicene Creed at mass, when we state that we believe in “one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.”
Catholics believe that the true church can only be identified as one that bears all four qualities.
Having looked at the other 3 marks of the true church of Christ, we have greatly reduced the pool of eligible candidates for being that church.
When I said that the true, fullness of Christ’s church would be displayed by a church that is One (unified), we removed hundreds if not thousands of denominations from contention. Many local churches are fiercely independent from their national denominations.
Many denominations are rife with discord and dissention. None of these can be the true Church of Christ. There is only one truth so the one true church must be unified by that truth.
When I said that the true church was Holy, still more denominations fell from eligibility.
Now, the Church being Holy doesn’t guarantee all of the members are holy and the Catholic Church is no different there.
However, judge the tree by its fruit and the Catholic Church is certainly a Holy Church. For countless decades and centuries it has fed the poor, instructed the ignorant, shielded the oppressed and led millions to the light of Christ.
If your church isn’t practicing charity towards it neighbors, if you are teaching hate, if your church isn’t leading its flock to holiness, then it isn’t God’s church.
When we say the church is “Catholic“, we say it is universal – that is what “Catholic” means. It means your church is in every nation and every part of every nation.
Jesus told us to preach the gospel to the ends of the earth.
If yours is only an American church, it isn’t the church of Jesus.
If your church isn’t in Bora Bora or Baghdad, it isn’t the true church.
The list of churches in the world that are “One”, “Holy” and “Catholic” is a small list indeed. Perhaps only a handful could make a credible claim to being on this prized list. The Catholic Church is certainly one of them.
Yet, I believe that it is the fourth mark that narrows the list to one and demonstrates that the Catholic Church is the only one who can truly claim to be the fullness of Christian truth.
The fourth mark of the true church is that it is “Apostolic.” That means that the faith given to us, in an unbroken chain of succession, directly from the Apostles and as taught by the Apostles.
The overwhelming majority of churches would not even dare to make this claim. It is out of this dismissal of the doctrine of apostolic succession that has grown the doctrine of Sola Scriptura (the Bible alone). Yet, apostolic succession is an absolute provable Biblical fact and in that fact is found the truth of our church’s divine origin.
The Lutheran church was founded in 1521 by Martin Luther. The Baptist church in 1609 by John Smyth. Mormons? 1830 by Joseph Smith. Jehovah witnesses? 1872 Charles Taze Russell and Fundamentalism was founded in 1910 by Milton and Lyman Steward.
It goes on and on and on. Each church claiming it was restoring something that was lost. Each denomination claiming it professed the truth of the Bible.
The Bible, many claim, is the final word and the only word. God gave us the Bible and that is the only measure.
People who make this claim don’t know the history of the Bible and who gave it to us.
Jesus did not come to establish the Bible, He came to establish the church, the community of believers. Nowhere in Scripture do we even find the word Bible. The word Bible, and the Bible itself, were given to us by the Church- the Catholic Church.
This is a matter of indisputable historical fact.
The collection of books that we call the Bible wasn’t even completed until more than 350 years after the death of Christ. It was passed by a council of the Catholic Church and ratified by Pope Damasus I.
Didn’t know the word Bible doesn’t appear in scripture? Well, neither does incarnation or trinity or a host of other well established Christian words demonstrating theological fact.
There is also nothing in scripture that says Jesus was born on December 25th.
All of these things were given by the Church and not the Bible.
What’s more? We have to take the Church’s word that the first gospel was written by Matthew because there is nothing in the text that indicates that it is written by him.
The Bible does not talk about Jesus coming to give us all a great set of books, but rather establishing a church, a worldwide community with a unified set of beliefs to be handed down generation after generation.
The word “church appears” 109 times in the New Testament. Some of those quotes are quite telling.
Matthew 16:18 ‘ “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.”
Matthew 18:17 ‘ “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”
Acts 15:22 ‘ “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsab’bas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren;”
Acts 20:28 ‘ “Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God which he obtained with the blood of his own Son.”
1 Corinthians 11:22 “What! Do you not have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you despise the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What shall I say to you? Shall I commend you in this? No, I will not.”
1 Corinthians 12:28 “And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, then healers, helpers, administrators, speakers in various kinds of tongues.”
Ephesians 3:10 “that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places.”
Ephesians 5:27 “that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish;”
Ephesians 5:29 “For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church;”
Colossians 1:24 “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church;”
1 Timothy 3:5 “for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he care for God’s church?”
1 Timothy 3:15 “if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.”
The church is what Christ came to make.
He gave it power and authority. He commanded it to feed the hungry, to preach the good news and to visit the imprisoned.
Take a look at Acts 1:15-26. Jesus hand picked the men He wanted to start the Church. He likewise, gave them the power to pick successors. Therefore, the Apostles, themselves, picked the replacement for Judas the betrayer:
“In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas who was guide to those who arrested Jesus. For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akel’dama, that is, Field of Blood.) For it is written in the book of Psalms, ‘Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it’; and ‘His office let another take.’ So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us–one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsab’bas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthi’as. And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi’as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.”
Likewise, there are many other examples of this practice. The church expanded throughout the world and passed the succession of the apostles on and on and on.
There is a very strong consensus among all the early writers and Church Fathers that Peter was the first Pope.
It is also well established that Peter, the first Bishop of Rome (pope) was replaced by Linus, who was replaced by Anacletus, then Clement I and so on and so on, all the way to our current pope, Benedict XVI.
Since we can follow this unbroken chain back, we can compare today’s doctrines to those of a thousand or 1500 years ago. We find that our beliefs and practices are the same.
Apostolic succession is what makes the promise possible that the gates of hell could not prevail against the Church (Cf. Matt. 16:19).
Yes, there were a couple of times it took a few years to fill the chair. Yes, there were a couple of times that the office was contested. And yes, there were a couple of bad eggs that made it to that high office.
Yet, no one can contest that in every age of the Church; the scriptures were taught and the Mass was celebrated, the hungry were fed and Christ was proclaimed to the world.
Yes, many evil men and women went to hell.
Yet, because of the apostolic succession of the Catholic Church, any person, who has lived, during the last 2000 years, who has applied himself to the true principles of salvation, had access to that salvation.
We believe in One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic church.
All churches that have broken off are less than whole. Some are not “One,” some are not “Holy,” some are not “Catholic,” most cannot even claim to be “Apostolic.” None, save one, are all four.