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The Gentile Church IV: The Apostolic Church

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By:Thomas Fleming | July 21, 2014

Following the Master’s instructions, about 120 of Jesus’ followers gathered in Jerusalem under the leadership of Peter. The first order of business was the selection of a replacement for Judas. The method adopted shows us something of the way the Church will operate: The Apostles themselves choose the most worthy candidates and then leave the final choice to chance, that is, to God. In other words, power over the Church has been entrusted to the Apostles, who must use their own wisdom but also rely on divine guidance, particularly when it is a question of transmitting their authority.

The Apostles showed their power in many ways: by communicating to foreigners at Pentecost, by healing the sick, and by punishing those who violated the rules of their fellowship. Faithfully following the commandments, they instituted a communal life in which they voluntarily shared their possessions and ate a common meal in commemoration of the Last Supper. When Ananias and Sapphira sold one of their possessions and retained the money, they were rebuked by Peter. No one had demanded them to share their wealth, but they had thought to cheat the Holy Ghost. When confronted with their sin, each died, as of apoplexy. Once again, the Church is revealed: She can condemn but not impose death.

The incident is important in other ways. Many early Christians thought everyone should practice communism and celibacy and observe strict dietary laws. If these restrictions had endured, Christianity would have remained an obscure sect of Jews, waiting for the end of the world much like the Adventists and their various splinter sects (e.g., the Branch Davidians). But as the Church grew in wisdom, these ideals were considered marks of the monastic clergy and not rules for all ordinary Christians. This was only one of many problems that were solved as the Church matured, and Christians could make no worse mistake than to imagine that the early Church was superior to the developed Church.  

Then, whenever we hear the appeal to go back to apostolic simplicity, we should remember to include communism and probably celibacy. On the face of it, though, such appeals should seem ridiculous to people with a stable head. We do not have to be Aristotelians to realized that few human institutions are perfect in the beginning. Many follow the familiar trajectory from the infantile to the promising but immature to the ripe to the decadent. Of course, the Church, we have been assured, is guided by the Holy Ghost and is thus, at the least, capable of occasional bouts of regeneration and rejuvenation. Please note that I am not taking sides in any sectarian controversy. It is perfectly possible and reasonable for Protestants to point out the corruption and decadence of the Renaissance papacy and to regard their Reformation as a part of the process of rejuvenation. (I agree more than half with this point of view.)

Our Lord well knew that his followers had a need for what is now called “continuing education." He was aware that the disciples would forget some of what He told them and be confused about many things, especially as fresh issues demanded attention. He did not, as some people imagine in the vanity of their imaginations, tell them that a book would be put together that would tell them everything. On the contrary, He told them, in His last instructions, that His suffering and death were necessary, because only then could He send them the Holy Ghost, the Comforter (“the Paraklete”), the Spirit of Truth, Who “will guide you into all truth…and he will shew you things to come.” [John 16:13]. This same Holy Ghost “shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” [John 14:26]. As time went on, Jesus’ disciples helped to establish a sacred institution that would serve as the vehicle for the operation of the Holy Ghost, and that institution is the Church. It was this Church, through the authority it inherited from the Apostles, which selected the Scriptures to be included in the Bible. Thus it was the Church, guided by the Holy Ghost, that made the Bible and not the Bible the Church.



Staten Island
7/22/2014 03:47 PM

  "It is perfectly possible and reasonable for Protestants to point out the corruption and decadence of the Renaissance papacy and to regard their Reformation as a part of the process of rejuvenation. (I agree more than half with this point of view.)" What? Could you elucidate? Does agreeing with more than half the Protestant argument make you a Protestant?

7/22/2014 06:38 PM

  I do not agree with the protestant thesis that God established a Church and then everything went wrong with it until reformers established another church and another and then another. Toms infatuation with human iniquity and corrupt popes and leaders is justified but not "original" ---as he is want to say. But neither do I care with all of his virtues rto fault him for being WASP at heart. Contrary to what trad catholics often espouse. America was at her best as a WASP. sh

7/23/2014 12:46 PM

  Johan has obviously discovered my secret. What's more, as a believer in a good deal of the neo-Darwinist synthesis and agreeing partly with Marx's judgment on capitalism, I am an atheist materialist communist. You can through in Taoist, Greco-pagan, feminist, Decadent Fascist if you like. I also suppose Dante, St Francis and St Bernard were also WASP Proddies because they opposed the decadence of the Church. I haven't a clue what my friend Robert is alleging. I was reared in my father's creed of ex-catholic atheism. I suppose it's the Scottish that makes me a WASP?

Will Palfrey
Lynn Haven
7/23/2014 04:56 PM

  Dr. Fleming, Would you or Dr. Trifkovic pls be able to recommend me a biography (in English)of the Chetnik leader Draza Mihailovic. Also, would you pls be able to provide Dr. T's email address to me. I have just read Ivo Andric's The Bosnian Chronicle and The Bridge on the Drina. I have been to Bihac, Bosnia in the late 1980s as a tourist - years before the atrocities. Just want to ask him a few Qs, since he now is in Banja Luka. He knows my bro, Dr. Thomas C. Palfrey, Prof. of Mathematics, Xavier U. of LA. TYVM, Dr. Fleming! Sincerely, Will Palfrey, Major, USAF, Retired

San Antonio
7/23/2014 11:02 PM

  Dr. Fleming this series is most appreciated. I have two questions. First, is there a book that discusses all the places the 12 ended up. I know about Peter and Paul in Rome, Mark in Alexandria, and I know Matthias ended up in Trier. I would be interested in a good summary of that. Second, what is a good book or books on the history of the church in Jeruselem and the Palestinian Christians? It took me years to find just a couple of good books on the Maronites by Pierre Dib and Bishop Boutros Dao. I have found a few good books on Byzantium as well. Phillip Jenkins books on the early church are good as well as is THE CLOSING OF THE MUSLIM MIND by Robert Reilly. Most books on the Middle East are rubbish. I do not care about Israel or the Caliphates, but that is mostly what I have found. Any suggestions you have would be most appreciated.


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