"I believe in and love Jesus Christ. I do not need any 'Church' or denomination!"
While the above statement may not be an exact quotation, it does reflect upon an ideology which not few Christians believe in. This ideology is about an individualistic "Christian" life; this means that Christians who follow this ideology think that all that is necessary for them to "be saved" is to "love Jesus". The problem with their concept is that they understand this "loving of Jesus" as excluding the Church which Christ has established: it is one which excludes the visible communion of Christians.
In this text, I would like to show why one cannot truly claim to love Jesus when one rejects His Church at the same time. Now, I understand if one will object by saying he does not believe the Catholic Church to be the Church of Christ. However, such an opposition to the Catholic Church does not justify the altogether rejection of the belief that "one cannot have God as Father, who does not have the church as Mother” (St. Cyprian of Carthage; De ecclesiae unitate, 6).
Furthermore, I would like to warn against those who "profess that they know God: but in their works they deny him" (Titus 1:16). It is thus possible to claim to follow God in theory, but to do the opposite in practice.
In my exposition, I will assume the following:
1) that he who claims to love Jesus accepts the Holy Bible as being God's Word
2) that he who claims to love Jesus follows what the Bible teaches
At first let us establish that the greatest commandments consist of loving God above all else and loving one's neighbour as oneself:
from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 12:
28 And there came one of the scribes that had heard them reasoning together, and seeing that he had answered them well, asked him which was the first commandment of all. 29 And Jesus answered him: The first commandment of all is, Hear, O Israel: the Lord thy God is one God. 30 And thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. 31 And the second is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than these.
But what does it mean "to love God"? How does one "love God"? My claim is that we love God by obedience. To back this claim, I will cite the following passages:
"If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them; he it is that loveth me. And he that loveth me, shall be loved of my Father: and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him." (John 14:21)
"Jesus answered, and said to him: If any one love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and will make our abode with him." (John 14:23)
"He that loveth me not, keepeth not my words. And the word which you have heard, is not mine; but the Father's who sent me." (John 14:24)
"If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father's commandments, and do abide in his love." (John 15:10)
And to further show that such obedience is necessary for salvation:
"Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 7:21)
Now, as I have said before, it is important that the Christian saying he loves Jesus accepts the Holy Bible as God's Word, i.e. what we are taught to follow in it, is what God wills. Thus, to refuse to follow a command would be an offense against the love of God.
Now, all I have to do is to demonstrate that the Christian faith is one of communion: "rugged individualism", i.e. non-affiliation to the Church, is not only unChristian, it is ANTI-Christian.
Fact 1: Christ Jesus established a visible Church and this Church is one:
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)
Jesus speaks of His Church in the singular. It will be built upon a visible rock: Peter (Kepha). Thus, Jesus established a visible and singular Church.
That the Church is meant to be one is expressed by the following words also:
"And other sheep I have, that are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd." (John 10:16)
The unity of the Church is also expressed by the following promise of indefectibility:
"And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matthew 16:18)
"And Jesus knowing their thoughts, said to them: Every kingdom divided against itself shall be made desolate: and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand." (Matthew 12:25)
Since the Church is the "house of God" and the "pillar and ground of truth" ( 1 Timothy 3:15) , it cannot be likened unto any earthly kingdoms which will not stand.
And God cannot have willed the division amongst Christians since "God is not the God of dissension, but of peace" (1 Corinthians 14:33)
Fact 2: The Church is Christ's flock and one is a sheep by obedience:
We know that the Church is also called the "flock" since Christians are also termed as Christ's "sheep"; wherefore Christ calls Himself the "Good Sheperd":
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep." (John 10:11)
One is part of the flock through loving Jesus, i.e. God, by obedience:
"I am the good shepherd; and I know mine, and mine know me. As the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father: and I lay down my life for my sheep." (John 10:14-15)
Christ died for His sheep: Christ died for those who obey Him: thus, His sheep are those who obey Him:
"Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do the things that I command you." (John 15:13-14)
Fact 3: The Church has a visible hierarchy which we owe obedience:
Jesus Christ, the Good Sheperd, entrusted His flock, i.e. the Church, unto a visible leader, Peter:
from the Gospel of John, chapter 21:
15 When therefore they had dined, Jesus saith to Simon Peter: Simon son of John, lovest thou me more than these? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 16 He saith to him again: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? He saith to him: Yea, Lord, thou knowest that I love thee. He saith to him: Feed my lambs. 17 He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me? And he said to him: Lord, thou knowest all things: thou knowest that I love thee. He said to him: Feed my sheep.
That "feeding the sheep" is an expression of supreme authority can be seen from the Old Testament wherein it is God Himself who "feeds the sheep":
"I will feed my sheep: and I will cause them to lie down, saith the Lord God." (Ezechiel 34:15)
And promising the coming of Christ, the High Priest of the New and Eternal Covenant, God declared:
"AND I WILL SET UP ONE SHEPHERD OVER THEM, and he shall feed them, even my servant David: he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd." (Ezechiel 34:23)
What does it therefore mean when Christ appoints Peter to "feed His sheep"? Christ Jesus makes Peter His visible Vicar: the visible head of the one flock, of the Church. To thus deny this, is to go against the very words of the Lord Jesus Christ. He who does not follow Him, does not love Him.
Further examples of hierarchy and obedience:
"Take heed to yourselves, and to the whole flock, wherein the Holy Ghost hath placed you bishops (elders), to rule the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." (Acts 20:28)
"Obey your prelates, and be subject to them. For they watch as being to render an account of your souls; that they may do this with joy, and not with grief. For this is not expedient for you." (Hebrews 13:17)
Obedience to prelates can only exist within a structured system, i.e. a Church, wherein there is a system of hierarchy. The "rugged individualist" cannot follow this Biblical command.
That disobedience to the human authorities of the Church is a grave sin is taught also in the New Testament which warns against the "the contradiction of Core" (Jude 1:7).
What did Core do?
"His sons, were Namuel and Dathan and Abiron. These are Dathan and Abiron the princes of the people, that rose against Moses and Aaron in the sedition of Core, when they rebelled against the Lord" (Numbers 26:9)
The original story is in Numbers 16:
1 And behold Core the son of Isaar, the son of Caath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiron the sons of Eliab, and Hon the son of Pheleth of the children of Ruben, 2 Rose up against Moses, and with them two hundred and fifty others of the children of Israel, leading men of the synagogue, and who in the time of assembly were called by name. 3 And when they had stood up against Moses and Aaron, they said: Let it be enough for you, that all the multitude consisteth of holy ones, and the Lord is among them: Why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord?
Four things are important to note:
1) The sin of these people who were so greatly punished by the Lord (Numbers 26:10) was that of disobedience. They rose up against the leadership of Moses and Aaron as instituted by the Lord.
2) This disobedience against the earthly hierarchy set up by the Lord is understood as a rebellion against God Himself (Numbers 26:9).
3) The question "why lift you up yourselves above the people of the Lord" denoting a certain apathy towards the hierarchy of the Church and a false understanding of equality is the exact same attitude we get from protestants nowadays who criticize and oppose the Catholic Church and from those who claim to love God, but reject His Church.
4) The obedience to the earthly authorities of God's people taught in the Old Testament IS still required by God from Christians. Otherwise, we would not see this condemnation of Core in the New Testament.
That disobedience towards the Church is a grave sin is expressed already by the following words of Jesus:
"And if he will not hear them: tell the church. And if he will not hear the church, let him be to thee as the heathen and publican." (Matthew 18:17)
That Jesus here speaks of the visible Church is clear from the following verse in which He speaks of the "binding and loosing" authority (Matthew 18:18), which He has first promised in singular manner unto Peter, the Vicar of the Good Sheperd (Matthew 16:19).
A further reference to obedience to the Church is:
"We are of God. He that knoweth God, heareth us. He that is not of God, heareth us not. By this we know the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error." ( 1 John 4:6)
Thus, if one chooses to refuse due obedience to the Church, one is to be considered as the "heathen and the publican": no longer as part of the Church, as the flock, to whom salvation is promised.
Fact 4: The Church is a Eucharistic Communion:
It is taught that "we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another" (Romans 12:5). Thus, the Church is indeed one. But how is this unity effected? Some may claim that the unity of the Church is "invisible" and that even the "rugged individualist" who refuses visible membership to the Church is necessatily part of the "invisible Church".
Now, despite the fact that the aforementioned Biblical passages totally contradict such a position and that such a position cannot be Biblically defended, the unity of the Church is effected by means of the Holy Communion:
In the first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 10, we read:
16 The chalice of benediction, which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? And the bread, which we break, is it not the partaking of the body of the Lord? 17 For we, being many, are one bread, one body, all that partake of one bread.
Hence, the unity of the Church is effected by a visible sacrament: that of Holy Communion. How does a "rugged individualist" partake in this sacrament? He cannot.
But the Lord taught in the Gospel of John, chapter 6:
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. 52 If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever; and the bread that I will give, is my flesh, for the life of the world.
Obviously, some of the Jews could not accept in faith what the Lord said:
53 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying: How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
But Jesus, far from changing his statement, reaffirmed His teaching:
54 Then Jesus said to them: Amen, amen I say unto you: Except you eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, you shall not have life in you. 55 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day.
56 For my flesh is meat indeed: and my blood is drink indeed.
57 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, abideth in me, and I in him. 58 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father; so he that eateth me, the same also shall live by me. 59 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead. He that eateth this bread, shall live for ever.
Obviously, there were those who could not believe what Jesus said. Perhaps because it sounded "irrational". Thus, we have an example of one of the first, if not the first , schisms:
67 After this many of his disciples went back; and walked no more with him.
And as evident from the example from the New Testament, Christians have since then followed Christ's command regarding the sacrament of Holy Communion and does celebrate the Holy Mass on Sundays:
"And on the first day of the week, when we were assembled to break bread, Paul discoursed with them, being to depart on the morrow: and he continued his speech until midnight." (Acts 20:7)
"Every branch in me, that beareth not fruit, he will take away: and every one that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit." (John 15:2)
"If any one abide not in me, he shall be cast forth as a branch, and shall wither, and they shall gather him up, and cast him into the fire, and he burneth." (John 15:6)
Thus, he who does not "bear fruit" will be damned. Wherefore, it is necessary to remain attached to the Christ, in order to be able to even bear fruit since Jesus said "for without me you can do nothing" (John 15:5)
I would like to use the "tree" since it is referenced in Matthew 13:31-32:
"Another parable he proposed unto them, saying: The kingdom of heaven is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took and sowed in his field. Which is the least indeed of all seeds; but when it is grown up, it is greater than all herbs, and becometh a tree, so that the birds of the air come, and dwell in the branches thereof."
If we imagine the Church of Christ to be as a tree, we can imagine Christ as being the root which gives life unto the rest: it is the firm foundation of the tree. The trunk we can imagine to be Peter, whom Christ has elevated to the position of His Vicar, the visible tender of the flock. Christ as the root is invisible, Peter as the trunk is visible. The bigger branches directly attached to the trunk are all the prelates of the Church in communion with Peter and thus to Christ. As the Holy Spirit proceeds in no other way than from the Father and from/through the Son, so also the authority of the prelates of the Church proceeds from God in no other way than though Peter. The smaller branches, twigs and leaves symbolize the laity: all the members of the Church. We see that, as long as they remain attached to the bigger branches, and these to the trunk, and the trunk to the root, there will be fruit. However, if a branch is detached from the trunk, that branch will wither and die. This branch signifies all those who refuse to enter into the visible communion of the Catholic Church.
With all the previous information, one cannot claim to turly love God while rejecting His Church because God wills that a Christian is obedient to His Church.
Therefore it is true to say that "one cannot have God as Father, who does not have the church as Mother".
He who rejects the Church, disobeys Jesus. He who disobeys the Christ, cannot truly love Him. And he who does not love Jesus, is damned:
"If any man love not our Lord Jesus Christ, let him be anathema, maranatha." (1 Corinthians 16:22)