Sunday, September 7, 2008

Russell and the One True Catholic Church

This post is to address some of the items appearing on "on a blogsite" that presents many false statements and misleading comments concerning Brother Russell. While we are not associated with the Jehovah's Witnesses (nor was Russell), we do highly esteem Brother Russell and the work he did.


The first statement we wish to address is:
Unlike the founders of Catholicism, namely the Apostles and Christ himself, Charles Taze Russell (and Joseph Smith for that matter) had historically documented motives for establishing a non-traditional Christian sect.
There are three points that need to be addressed here: (1) The idea that Jesus and the apostles were the founders of Catholicism. (2) Russell's motives and (3) The idea that Russell established a non-traditional "sect."

This post will address the first point:

The word "catholic" means universal. As a generic term, we can agree that Jesus and the apostles did found the one true universal church. Brother Russell believed in that Catholic Church.

We are reproducing an excerpt from a sermon of Pastor Russell on this point:

For some unaccountable reason numerous Catholics have gotten the thought that I am their foe, just as Presbyterians, Methodists, Episcopalians, Baptists, etc., have the impression that I am their foe. I am a foe to no human being, especially to no Christian. I believe more fully in Free Grace than do Methodists -- that ultimately God's grace will reach every human being. I believe more emphatically than do most Presbyterians that the Church is an especially elect class, and is now being gathered out of the world to be God's agents in the ultimate blessing of all the non-elect. I believe with the Baptists that only the Elect, the immersed, will constitute the Kingdom of God, although I deny their claim that baptism in water is the real immersion. I hold, with the Apostle, that it is a baptism into Christ's death. Similarly I hold to the great Catholic doctrine that there is only one true Church, founded by the Lord Jesus Christ through His Apostles, nearly nineteen centuries ago.

I am aware that several churches claim to be Catholic, each declaring itself the true Church and reprobating the others as heretical. I take the still broader catholic ground-that the word catholic means general; and that any limitation such as Roman Catholic, Greek Catholic, etc., to that extent denies their catholicity. Perhaps, therefore, I am really saying that I am more catholic than any of these brethren.

I must prove my point or be misunderstood. I hold, and few, if any, will dispute it, that the one catholic or general Church of Christ is that mentioned in the Bible -- "the Church of the Firstborns, written in Heaven." If this be admitted, my next proposition is that the Lord in Heaven records as members of His true Church all the saintly - whether Roman Catholics, Anglican Catholics, Greek Catholics, Baptists, Methodists, or Presbyterians, etc. -- and none others.

Have we not here the one Church, catholic, universal, the only Church which the Bible recognizes? In the past we have been too narrow and have supposed that God was as narrow as ourselves. It was on this account that Presbyterians, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Baptists, Methodists persecuted and were persecuted, each thinking itself the true Church. Are we not all getting broader conceptions of our God and of His Church? Do we not see that we were mistaken in calling the outward organization the Church of Christ instead of remembering that the Lord alone writes the names of the Church, that He alone reads the hearts, that He alone is the Judge, and that He alone has the right to blot out the names of reprobates?

St. Paul wrote against sectarianism, already manifest in his day-some saying :"I am of Paul"; others, "I am of Peter"; etc. The Apostle asks, "Is Christ divided:" (1 Corinthians 1:10-13) He explains that these sectarian names signified a spirit of division that failed to recognize the true Head of the Church, His true representatives and His true members. The entire foundation of divided Christianity would disappear and the true Church of Christ be speedily manifest, if true catholicity were acknowledged.

The great obstacle to unity is the erroneous doctrine of eternal torment. We must open our eyes wider and see that many of our theories were not taught by Jesus and the Apostles. We must see that the Church is a comparatively small company of Jesus' footstep followers, irrespective of sectarian lines; and that the Bible teaches not that these are to look over the battlements of Heaven to all eternity and see all others in torment, but that they are to demonstrate their loyalty unto death and in due time be associated with Messiah in His Millennial Kingdom, which will bless all the families of the earth-the living and the dead, who will then be resurrected.

THE TWELVE FOUNDATION STONES

St. Paul declared that the saints of God, the true catholic Church, "are built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the Chief Corner Stone." (Ephesians 2:20) The Twelve Apostles are here referred to in their double office-Apostles especially commissioned by the Lord as His representatives, and Prophets, mouthpieces, for the proclamation of His Message. Jesus pictures the Church of Glory as the New Jerusalem, and its twelve foundations as twelve precious stones, in which are the names of the TWELVE Apostles of the Lamb-no more, no less-St. Paul being God's choice to take Judas' place.

To think of St. Peter as the only foundation for the Church would be to deny Christ's teaching and St. Peter's own statement -- that the entire Church is symbolically represented as living stones built together by the Lord through the Holy Spirit. (1 Peter 2:4-10) It was a costly mistake, when our forefathers, overlooking this well-established point of Scripture, thought of their bishops as Apostolic Bishops, and took their decisions in councils assembled as the voice of God. The voice of God to and through the Church came only through "the twelve Apostles of the Lamb." All others claiming this authority are denounced by Jesus Himself as pseudo-Apostles-false Apostles. -- Revelation 2:2

POWER IN HEAVEN AND IN EARTH

As St. Peter was only one of the twelve foundation stones of the Church, so, likewise, he was only one of The Twelve to whom the Lord declared, "Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in Heaven; and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in Heaven" (Matthew 18:18)-the same statement exactly that on another occasion He made to St. Peter only. But He gave the keys to St. Peter alone.

Would it seem reasonable that Jesus should tell His Apostles that God would do whatever they bade Him do -- taking to Heaven whom they pleased and excluding whom they rejected? Would it be wise or safe to entrust to poor humanity such dictatorial powers respecting the eternal interest of even one individual? Assuredly not! When we remember that these Apostles declared themselves men of like passions with others, that St. Peter himself dissembled on one occasion, and on another denied his Master, we are the more convinced that Jesus did not mean that God would abdicate His Divine authority and wisdom in favor of any twelve men.

What the passage implies is that the Lord would so overrule the utterances and writings of His twelve Apostles as to make them safe guides for His Church. Through the Holy Spirit at Pentecost these Apostles would be enabled to understand which things of the Jewish Law were binding upon the Church, and which not binding. Their decision would be absolutely right, and the entire Church might have confidence that what the Apostles bound or loosed on earth was equally bound or loosed in Heaven. -- See Acts 15:28, 29.

To get back into proper relationship with each other, God's people must recognize that all the words of the New Testament Apostles and Prophets are authoritative, properly representing the Divine mind. Other things men have bound or loosed on earth, without recognition in Heaven. The things necessary to the Church are found only in the Bible, as St. Paul declares. -- 2 Timothy 3:16, 17.

THE CHURCH UPON THE ROCK

"Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians 3:11) In the Divine arrangement Jesus Christ is the Foundation, the Rock, upon which is built the entire superstructure of His Church-the one Catholic, worldwide Church. The New Jerusalem, the Church in glory, had twelve foundation stones, built upon the one Foundation Rock, the Lord Jesus Christ. It would manifestly be erroneous, therefore, to suppose that our Lord abdicated His own place in the Church in favor of St. Peter, as much as He loved him. St. Peter was merely one of the twelve precious-stone foundations.

What, then, did Jesus mean when He called St. Peter a stone, spoke of building His Church upon "this rock," and declares that the gates of Hell (Hades, the grave) would not prevail against it? We reply, Jesus went down into the prison house of death, Sheol, Hades, the tomb; but on the third day these gates opened, and He came forth. So likewise these gates will not prevail against the Church. This is an assurance of the resurrection of the dead.

To understand our text we should read its context. The disciples had told Jesus the common talk respecting Himself. He then asked them, "Who say ye that I am?" St. Peter answered, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." This was the first public declaration of Jesus' Messiahship. Even the disciples had only now come to recognize their Teacher as the long-promised Messiah. Jesus answered, "Blessed art thou, Simon, son of Jesus; for flesh and blood hath not revealed this unto thee, but My Father in Heaven. Thou art Peter (a stone, ready for the spiritual Temple, the first to publicly acknowledge Jesus), and upon this rock (the truth just declared, that I am Messiah) I will build My Church."

In the Greek the word Peter signifies a stone of moderate size, while the word here rendered rock signifies a mass of stone. St. Peter's statement was a recognition of Jesus as the great Foundation of the Divine Plan-Messiah. Upon that foundation truth, that Jesus is Christ, the Church is built; and St. Peter was the first living stone to build himself upon that foundation. St. Peter himself gives us the same thought. (1 Peter 2:5-9) This entire Gospel Age has been devoted to the building of these living stones upon that great Foundation Rock, Christ Jesus. When the great Temple of God is completed, the New Dispensation will be inaugurated.

"THE KEYS OF THE KINGDOM"

To St. Peter our Lord said, "I will give thee the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven." We shall not suppose that any who hear this discourse or read it in the newspapers are stupid enough to think Jesus meant that Heaven is locked up, and that nobody could get in except as St. Peter would admit them. True, some have voiced such fantastic notions. But we refuse to believe that intelligent people could be in earnest in any such view.

St. Peter was honored in being permitted to do an opening work connected with the inauguration of the Church. The Bible shows us two different keys, A key is a symbol of power or authority or an initiative. St. Peter used his first key of privilege on Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came upon the early waiting Church, St. Peter explained the situation and opened the door into the Church of Christ for the Jews, admonishing them to enter. He told of the merit of Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, and how forgiveness of sins was, therefore, preached in His name. -- Acts 2:14-36.

The second key to the Kingdom of Heaven-the Church, the embryo Kingdom preparing for glory -- St. Peter used three and a half years later. Then the seventieth week of Divine favor prophetically appointed to the Jews expired, and the time came that "the Gentiles might be fellow-heirs with the Jews of the same Promise." The opening work was with the household of Cornelius, to whom St. Peter preached Christ. Thus the Gentile door into the Kingdom was thrown wide open. -- Acts 10.

REPENTANCE AND REMISSION OF SINS

"That repentance and remission of sins might be preached in His name to all people." (Luke 24:47) God never gave power to bishops, priests or ministers of any denomination to forgive sins. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Nor did Jesus give authority to His Apostles to forgive sins. They might preach forgiveness, but ONLY IN HIS NAME. Nowhere in the Bible is there a statement to the effect that the Apostles undertook to forgive sins.

In proportion as God's people throw away their sectarian spectacles they can read God's Message in the words of Jesus and the Apostles. Let us hold fast the precious Word, which Jesus exhorts us to search and which is sufficient that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished.

Let us remember that there is only one true catholic, universal Church, each member of which is a saint, related to God and the Lord Jesus Christ through faith, repentance and remission of sin and begetting of the Holy Spirit; and that a member of the Body of Christ is a member of that Body anywhere, "Now are ye the Body of Christ, and members in particular." -- 1 Corinthians 12:27.
The above was printed in Bible Students Monthly, Volume 7, Number 9 (1915), Under the title, "The Catholic Church -- St. Peter's Kingdom Keys." It was reproduced in Harvest Gleanings Volume 1.

We are in general agreement with Brother Russell's statements as presented in this sermon, although we may not agree with all details, especially as applied to the harvest.

Related Links

Russell's Denunication of "Organized Religion"
Charles Taze Russell -- JWs, Hell, Denominationlism
Which is the True Church? (Sermon by Charles Taze Russell)
The Church in Various Denominations
The Rock-Built Church (Sermon by Charles Taze Russell)

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