Was the Early Church Catholic?


This is an educative article written by D. Mark Wilkinson, B.A., M.Th.S.

If the early Christians were not Catholics, then who were they? Protestants? But none of the Protestant churches even existed until at least 1,500 years later!

Lutherans were the first Protestants, named after their founder, Martin Luther. Anabaptists came later. Pentecostals, one of my favorite Protestant denominations, have only been around for about 110 years! Charismatic Renewal came to mainline Protestant churches and the Catholic Church in the 1970’s. Vineyard Fellowship ministries started in the 1980’s, and the Toronto Blessing began in 1994. Many independent Protestant Charismatic groups only have about a thirty or forty year history! Others have even less.

The word Protestant comes from the word “protest.” Protest what? Protest the Catholic Church! So obviously, the Catholics came first and the Protestants came later. If not, then the Protestants would not have had anyone or anything to protest against!

The first extant use of the name “Catholic Church” was recorded in 107 A.D. (a few years after the completion of the book of Revelation) by Bishop St. Ignatius, an Apostolic Church Father and early Christian martyr. He wrote, “Wherever the Bishop is, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” Not only does this statement use the terms, “Catholic Church,” but it also recognizes the authority of the Bishop, as well as the identity of Jesus Christ with His Body, the Catholic Church.

St. Ignatius also clearly wrote about the Real Flesh and Blood of Christ in the Holy Eucharist. In the “Didache: The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles,” the earliest extant piece of Christian literature next to the New Testament (written before the Acts of the Apostles), Holy Communion is called the “Eucharist” and an “offering” or a “sacrifice,” just as the Catholic Church still believes and calls it today!

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Both the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds, the two earliest Professions of Faith in Church history (other than the “creeds” found in some of the Pauline Epistles), refer to the Catholic Church. The Apostles’ Creed contains twelve articles of faith, composed (according to tradition) by the Twelve Apostles. It states simply, “I believe in…the Holy Catholic Church.” Some Protestants substitute the word “Christian” for “Catholic” in the Creed, but this is historically incorrect. No such entity, known as the “Christian Church,” ever existed in the Early Church!

The Nicene Creed expanded on the earlier Apostles’ Creed, “We believe in One, Holy, CATHOLIC, and Apostolic Church.” Then it added a confession about Baptismal Regeneration, “…and in ONE Baptism FOR the forgiveness of sins” (cf. Acts 2:38), which is the Sacrament of Baptism into Christ and His Church, the ONE Catholic Church.

Read the Apostolic Church Fathers. The Early Church was, in fact, Catholic! It was certainly more Catholic than Protestant. Some Catholic doctrines may have been present only in embryonic form, but nevertheless, they were present!

Jesus said that He would build HIS Church “on this Rock (Cephas = Peter),” and then He declared, “The Gates of Hell will not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Did Jesus Christ keep His Word? The Lord also said, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into ALL truth” (John 16:12a). He promised, “Surely I am with you ALWAYS, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:20b). Did Jesus keep or break His promises?

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Did the Early Church “fall away” almost immediately after Jesus made these predictions and promises? I think not! In no uncertain terms, Jesus stated, “I WILL BUILD MY CHURCH, and THE GATES OF HELL WILL NOT OVERCOME IT” (Matthew 16:18). Come on, people–wake up and smell the coffee! Which Church do you think fulfilled this prophecy?

Honestly, do you think that the Early Church got de-railed onto the wrong tracks for the first 1,500 years of Church history, only to get back on the right tracks about 500 years ago during the “Protest-ant Deformation”? Seriously, do you think that the Catholic “institution” or “hierarchy” (words of disdain, when used by critics of the Church) only began with Constantine the Great, who was a Roman Emperor, not a Catholic Priest, Bishop or Pope? Preposterous–perish the thought!

Contrary to popular opinion, Constantine did NOT make Catholicism the official “state religion” of the Roman Empire. Yes, he legalized Christianity and stopped the brutal persecutions, but a later Emperor made Catholicism the state religion, not him. Constantine did not receive Holy Baptism until he was on his deathbed. Also, he was never canonized as a Saint by the Catholic Church. Constantine was a political, not a religious, leader.

God forbid that the Spirit of Truth, poured out on the Early Church by Christ Himself, should so abruptly and so radically abandon the Church founded on the Rock by Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God!