"The True Church" was the subject of a sermon delivered recently by Rev. Willard C. Arnold, D.D., at the rededication of the First Methodist Church in Boston. The press report of the sermon being captioned "True Church Defined by Methodist Leader" naturally attracted our attention, knowing the topic to be second only in importance to the question, "Who is Christ?" In fact, knowing Christ as He should be known, is knowing the true Church, as it is His Mystical Body.
Dr. Arnold is one with Catholics in believing that there is a true Church of Christ in the world, but not when he attempts to establish its identity. Catholics believe that the Church Christ established to teach and to minister to humankind is an external, organic, authoritative, and therefore visible Church; whereas this Methodist leader declared that "where the spirit of the Lord is, there is the true Church." This may have sounded pleasing to the ears of the congregation in the rededicated Methodist Church, but it will not stand the test of right reasoning and historic fact. This Protestant definition is like saying where the spirit of America is, there is the United States of America. The "spirit of the Lord", like the spirit of America, may be anywhere, but that in itself would not make it "the true church", nor America.
The Jews held that "when two or three are gathered together to study the Law, the Shekinah (visible presence of the Divine Majesty) is in their midst." But that did not mean to them that the Church proper of Jewish priestly days was not an organic society, that it existed wherever "the spirit of the Lord" was present. It was recognition on the part of our Lord that the Church of His earthly days was an authoritative society, under the direction of the successors of Moses, that prompted Him to tell the multitude, and His disciples, to submit in matters religious to the occupants of the Chair of Moses (St. Matt. 28:1-3). And when Our Lord said, "hear the Church" (St. Matt. 18:17), He directed the people of all time to the authoritative, priestly Church that He established to take the place of the Mosaic Church.
The First Methodist Church congregation was told that "if any one Protestant church claimed it was the true Church, it was no longer a Protestant Church." This would not have been said years ago, when dogmatic and policy differences brought the varying Protestant churches into existence, each claiming to be the true Church. To this common assertion, that no Protestant church can claim to be "the true Church," may be added the declaration that all the Protestant churches in the world, molded into one church, could not claim to be "the true Church."