Despite many denominations and expressions in Christianity, “following Jesus” isn’t enough. There can be only one true Church.
Have you ever heard a Christian say “It doesn’t matter where you belong, as long as you love Jesus?”
There are some Christians who wrongly believe that there’s no true expression of Christianity, but a simple acknowledgment of Jesus as Savior will provide all the unity we need as an invisible body of believers.
However, as Catholics, we know this isn’t true. In fact, we have the assurance that Jesus started a Church that would be one, unified, and all-encompassing.
Moreover, we take pride in knowing that he started a visible community where one can be excluded from (Matt 18:17, RSVCE)
Ultimately, we need to know which Church this is.
As the famous film Highlander said: “There can only be one!”
So which Church or community is true? Which has the sure pathway that leads to the life-giving water of God?
Well, of course, the Catholic Church is the community founded by Jesus, spread by the apostles and continued today by the bishops in a chain of succession from the apostles.
Although today’s Church may seem removed from the Bible, the Catholic Church is very present in an infancy stage.
What makes the Catholic Church distinct and unique compared to the Eastern Orthodox Church or other Protestant ecclesial communities is her unity or oneness.
Within the Catholic Church is the fullness of faith embodied by her oneness.
There is one Jesus Christ. He is the only pathway to salvation (John 14:6). Likewise, the Church, His Bride, He is a part of (Acts 9:4) and there is only one in its kind. Moreover, the Church contains all the sacraments which were instituted by Christ, especially the Eucharist.
So it stands to reason that the Catholic Church, this one visible and invisible collection of believers, is the pathway to salvation because it’s the sacrament of universal salvation.
Furthermore, St. Paul understood the unity of the Church when he said, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all. (Eph. 4:4–6).”
Testimony of the Early Church
Indeed, above all, there can only be one!
This is why many Church Fathers could boldly declare the historic belief of “outside the Church, there is no salvation.”
St. Augustine, philosopher and Doctor of the Church, would echo a similar statement regarding the oneness of the Church:
“Whoever is separated from this Catholic Church, by this single sin of being separated from the unity of Christ, no matter how estimable a life he may imagine he is living, shall not have life, but the wrath of God rests upon him (412), Letters 141:5.”
There can’t be numerous pathways to salvation. That would be contradictory to Jesus’ statement in John 14:6 and make the Holy Spirit the author of confusion.
If Augustine battled the Donatists and ceded that they shared in the divine branches of the Kingdom, then it would’ve invalidated the intense debate he had with this heretical group.
The same would go for the schismatic groups of the Council of Chalcedon that refused to accept the Chalcedonian Definition.
Even with these schisms, the Church faithfully encourages dialogue to unite all Christians to the true source of salvation.
Deviation From God’s Plan
With that said, this isn’t me saying that outside the unity of the Church, no one can be saved. In fact, many theologians have answered this very question.
What I am saying is that by her mark of unity and oneness, the Catholic Church is that sure pathway instituted by God to gather all humanity to Himself.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church eloquently states:
The Church “is the visible plan of God’s love for humanity,” because God desires “that the whole human race may become one People of God, form one Body of Christ, and be built up into one temple of the Holy Spirit. (776).
With oneness comes unity in doctrine.
That rules out many Protestant ecclesial communities which fundamentally started after 1517. These denominations like, Christian Science that started in the middle 1800s, have teachings that deviated from the unity of belief in the early church.
These new movements that rebelled against the apostolic catholic church had ideas like “faith alone” or even elements of Christianity with eastern mysticism.
By virtue of their late origin and detachment from apostolic succession, their beliefs and practices are foreign to the one Church started by Jesus and nurtured by the apostles and their successors.
Work to Be Done
Which is why Catholics should always seek to restore fallen brothers and sisters to Christ’s Church. Because indifferentism is pervasive in our culture, it’s imperative we respond with charity and understanding to who may hold differing views.
In our culture of relativism, it’s no surprise that it has managed to slide into Christianity. If we’re serious about embracing evangelization, we must heed the call on combating widespread falsehoods that seem peaceful but have serious implications for the one true society Jesus created.