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Christ Remains with His Church

Question: Christ commissioned Peter and the other apostles to lead his church and to proclaim the gospel to the whole world from generation to generation. He promised to remain with them "till the end of times." With whom was Christ to remain till the end? Surely the apostles would not live to the end of the world. Would he remain with the Protestants who appeared relatively recently in history? No! He would remain with the apostolic church, and this church is undoubtedly the Roman Catholic Church.

Answer: I agree with you insofar that Christ remains till the end not with the apostles (since they passed away) but with His disciples who follow their teaching, that is, with the apostolic church.

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18-20).

I disagree however that this "apostolic church" is the selfsame Roman Catholic institution or even restricted to it. All Christians who faithfully follow the teaching of the apostles are members of the universal (catholic) church of Jesus Christ irrespective of the historical era in which they are found. Christ promised to be with His people till the end of the age, but mere historical continuity with the early church does not automatically make a church apostolic.

The apostle Paul gave a farewell speech to the elders (bishops) of the church of Ephesus. Knowing that he would never see them again, it was crucial to give them some very important warnings about the future of the church. He reminded them how he taught all people, exhorting them to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul continues:

Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears. So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:28-32).

Please notice an important truth. Paul warns that "savage wolves" do not only originate from outside the church. Even from among the elders of the Ephesian church would arise men speaking perverse things. The latter could rightly claim "apostolic succession" in the Roman Catholic sense because they had been appointed bishops by the apostle Paul. Yet because of their perverse doctrine, these wolves and the churches they lead could not be considered as apostolic or Christian.

So it is not enough to show that the Roman bishops are in direct historical succession with the apostolic church. More importantly, you must prove that they are faithful to the teaching of the apostles.

In his absence, the apostle Paul commended the church to God and "to the word of His grace." That is the crucial factor. A church that is obedient to the word of God truly belongs to Him. Jesus commissioned His apostles to make disciples, baptize and teach "all things that I have commanded you." Their disciples - the members of the apostolic church - are those who observe the things taught by the apostles.

By this criterion - fidelity to the word of God revealed through the apostles - should we judge the truthfulness of any church, whether Roman or Protestant.

Dr Joseph Mizzi