Down below, in comments following Stephen Wolfe’s article “Two Roman Catholic claims that cannot both be true”, I responded to a comment by the Roman Catholic blogger Joseph Richardson, in which I put together a brief summary of what I believe the one true church is, a positive accounting of the traditions that emerged from the Reformation:
The [Roman] Catholic Church, after all, is the stump from which Protestantism sprang. Why would you presume that if you disproved Catholicism, you would somehow have Protestantism left?
I think [Paul Basset’s comment] about “the stump” is apt – but this goes to the heart of “what is ‘the church’?” What genuinely constituted “the church” in the days beginning from Christ onward? At first, it was the gospel – it was the message – it was “all who accepted the message” (Acts 2:41). When did “the hierarchy” even come into being, much less, make itself foundational to “the church”?
The whole thrust of Protestant apologetics, as you yourself admit, is directed at disproving Catholic claims — but where is the positive support for Protestantism? Do Protestant claims have any basis, any reason for being, apart from a rejection of Catholicism? Why should I presume such claims at all, let alone a priori?
My whole thrust is not “disproving” Catholic claims, but showing them for what they are – just simply vacuous (within the context of history). Yes, over and over again, Christ strips us down to the point at which “Christ alone” is sufficient.
We, all of us, do need to understand history – Biblical history, and church history, to understand what it was into which Christ came. No kidding, there are “ministers of the gospel”, but to think that “the hierarchy” is somehow constitutive of what “the church” is, is badly mistaken.
If you want “positive support”, look here, for example. This whole site is devoted to giving believers the opportunity to understand what “traditions” did survive through the Reformation – all of them being “traditions”, none of them taking priority over “the gospel message”, all of them likely having flaws. But that is human – to have flaws. The important thing is to understand what the best traditions have been in Christian history – and to know that we live in fundamentally different times, though we may find something worth imitating at very many points within Christianity.
That was Paul’s primary message of “church leadership” – note that he avoided issues of “leadership”, understanding that there were individuals taking “leadership” roles based on some form of social status, rather than what Paul viewed the true mark of “leadership” – that of being a servant, that of being imitated. Which medieval “bishops” were worthy of being imitated? And yet, Paul “expressly commended others who were worthy of imitation”. That is what was constitutive of “church leadership” in Paul’s mind, in his writings. “A particular model [of leadership] was considered appropriate not because of who that person was, but because of the extent to which that life was conformed to the gospel. Consequently, all other [leadership] models were secondary in importance. Their supreme goal was imitation of Christ” (Andrew D. Clarke, “Serve the Community of the Church: Christians as Leaders and Ministers”, Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., ©2006, pg 251).
I’m putting together a whole series on “Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics”. Click on that link in one of my posts. It’s easy to find the first one. Read some of the others. These are men in an era who sought to serve the church, whose lives and works [Paul would say] were worthy of imitation. That’s where “the one true church” may be found.