Choosing a Church

April 1993By Sheldon Vanauken

Sheldon Vanauken is a writer in Virginia and a Con­tributing Editor of the NOR. His books include Gateway to Heaven, Under the Mercy, and the award-winning bestseller A Severe Mercy.

In my account of becoming Catholic in The New Catholics (edited by Dan O'Neill) and in my Under the Mercy, I said, almost as an aside since it seemed obvious: "Choosing a church is not like choosing a suit or a house, a matter of taste and comfort. A little matter of truth."

But it wasn't obvious, even with the remark about truth. A number of readers wrote to me, asking innocently and plaintively, "Why isn't it like choosing a house to live in?" What they were saying or implying was something like this: "If we all believe in the Risen Christ, what difference does it make whether we are Baptists or Episcopalians, Presbyterians or Catholics? Isn't it just a matter of taste and comfort if we're all Christians hoping for Heaven?" What was implicit in all the ques­tions was the idea that the Catholic Church is just one of the multitude of "churches" or, more accurately, sects.

But a sect, the dictionary says, is "in reli­gion: a party dissenting from an established or parent church." The Catholic Church is the original Mother Church -- not a sect. Not "a church," but the Church.

Christ (Mt. 16) spoke of His Church -- not churches. The creeds spoke of one holy catho­lic Church (catholic means universal). But if there is one holy universal Church, there can be no other churches.

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Back to April 1993 Issue

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Surprising that NOR would dig this weak essay out of its vaults ! All the faithful comprise the Kingdom of God, but if they reject parts of God`s revelation, are they still faithful ? Faithful to what ? The countless sects took nothing with them when they left the Church. They merely copied, and while they were at it distorted, parts of the
truth. What`s wrong with being 'separated brethren`? Vanauken makes it seem like a viable option.
Posted by: Frank LeVay
August 05, 2011 04:05 PM EDT
Excellent piece. Well stated with clear supporting mental imagery. Big help to me. Posted by: Bernie
August 19, 2011 11:37 AM EDT
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