Saturday, December 1, 2012

Miracles in the Early Church part 2

How are you to decide who is teaching the truth when competing versions are being circulated?  Who can decide whether a prophet is true or false?  Well, the answer to that question is pretty straightforward:  It’s those who are placed in the ordinary capacity as God’s teachers.


To understand how this came to be, we need to look back at John 21:15-17


Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these others do?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs."

A second time Jesus said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" "Yes, Lord," he answered, "you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep."

A third time Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter became sad because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" and so he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you!" Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep.”


“Feed my sheep.”  These words are full of profound meaning.  It has been too little commented upon, but when Jesus made the simple statement “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11), He made one of His most startling claims to divinity.  Every Jew in Palestine would have been familiar with this ancient prophetic statement.


I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will find them a place to rest. I, the Sovereign LORD, have spoken.  "I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that wander off, bandage those that are hurt, and heal those that are sick… I will judge each of my sheep and separate the good from the bad.”  (Eze 34:15, 16, 22-24)


It was in this context that we find Jesus, the humble carpenter, saying :


I am the good shepherd, who is willing to die for the sheep.  When the hired man, who is not a shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees a wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and runs away; so the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.  The hired man runs away because he is only a hired man and does not care about the sheep.  I am the good shepherd …And I am willing to die for them… they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”  (John 10:14-16)


But what happens to the flock once the shepherd returns to the Father? The answer, according to the testimony of the early Church, lies in these words, spoken by the Good Shepherd to Simon Peter, representative of a simple band of Galilean fishermen:    Feed my sheep.”


Jesus gave Peter, and by extension the other Apostles, the commission of feeding the sheep, to be their shepherd, and they in turn chose other men to continue this vocation (2 Tim 2:2).  But what of those who taught falsehoods?  Simon Magus is believed to be the founder of the ancient heresy called Gnosticism, Christianity’s oldest and most obstinate rival.  A former disciple of Philip the evangelist, Simon apostatized to become the first person in recorded history to teach falsehood in the holy name of Jesus. 


But how would ordinary believers have reacted to a second set of “Christian” apostles preaching on their streets?  Would it have been obvious that there was a wolf under the sheepskin?  Not necessarily because even though Jesus had said that we would know them by their fruits, by their miracles, we know that some produced counterfeit fruits.  Historical records tell us that Simon Magus had many “miracles” to his credit and a large number of converts as well.  The Apostle Paul seems to be addressing this very dilemma when he wrote: “false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.  And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:15)


The predicament was very real, if the prospective shepherds all look like angels how are those seeking Truth to choose between them?  How on earth does a common Roman laymen in AD 50 – only just hearing of Jesus for the first time – supposed to know which are His true disciples and which the false?  Do not underestimate this problem, we may casually imagine that these early believers had only to pull out their pocket New Testament to send these dangerous pretenders packing, tails between their legs.  This was completely impossible; the Church had been preaching the gospel for at least 10 years before a single line of the New Testament was written.  She had been doing these things for over fifty years before the final line was completed.  And even then some may have been introduced to Matthew’s Gospel and perhaps one or two letters from Paul – but even these would have been circulating as loose individual works; over 300 years would pass before they ever came to be bound together in one authoritative canon that today we call the Bible.


The solution is quite simple.  When confronted with two conflicting stories, all one needed to do was find the “…man [that] was with Jesus of Nazareth” (Mat 26:71).  He had simply to ask to traditional question:  Which men had been with Jesus?  That fact alone, once truly established, banished all doubt. 


Jesus Christ appointed twelve apostles to teach His doctrines and exercise His authority after He ascended into heaven (Matt 28:16-20).  He gave them specific authority to speak and teach what He taught (Mat 18:15-17, Eph 2:19-20, 1 Thess 4:2, 2 Pet 3:2), and He warned all of His followers of the consequences of private teaching outside of the Church (Matt 18:16-17, 1 Cor 5:5, 1 Tim 2:20, 2 Pet 1:20-21).  Most importantly, however, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to guide the Apostles in truth (John 14:16-17), which would distinguish them from the false prophets who would later introduce false doctrines and heresies (2 Pet 2:1).  This is the reason why St Paul described the Church as the ‘pillar and foundation of truth’ (1 Tim 3:15), and not the bible which can be twisted by the untaught and unstable (2 Pet 3:16).  The only way that any group can claim to have the truth is if they teach what the Apostles taught, either written or oral (2 Thess 2:15).


Jesus established His Church in an hierarchical structure.  If Jesus’ words were not meant eternally and were to be understood simply in His time, then the authority of the Apostles which Christ gave to them would have died with the last Apostle.  This would leave the Church without leadership and in total confusion when serious doctrinal questions and problems occurred (no point in relying on Scripture since many of the heretics used Scripture to defend their positions.)  The other option, the much more likely and divinely consistent one, is that the Apostles would choose successors, passing on to them what they learned from the Lord, and in turn giving them not only the authority to teach but also the divine promise to correctly interpret God’s written and inspired word when speaking for the whole Church as a group in communion with the one directly appointed to lead Jesus’ Church, Peter and then his successors which we call ‘Pope’.


So why so few miracles through today’s teachers of the faith?  Because so long as one can find who are the rightful successors of the Apostles there is no need of miracles to determine what is the Truth.  The Truth is readily found in the rightful successors because Jesus promised them that they would be lead into ALL truth (John 16:13)

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