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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