Every Christian believes that Jesus Christ established and sustains a community of faith, hope and love for all believers. This community we call His Church. The Church that Christ founded is the Catholic Church which has a formal earthly structure established by Christ and which continues under His authority and protection.
In the Old Testament we see God's continual involvement in the lives of the Israelites through appointed prophets. God delivered, instructed and admonished the Israelites. He made His motions in a visible, specific and formal way. He always did so through human hands, mouths, feet, minds and wills. God established a law and a means for executing it.
In concert with His redemptive act, Jesus did three things that established the framework of His Church. First, He chose humans to carry out His work. He appointed Peter to be the visible head of the Church. Jesus said to Peter, "You are Rock and on this rock I will build my Church." (Matthew 16: 18) Jesus said "build," as in to create a structure. Jesus built His structure on specifically chosen human beings Peter and the apostles.
Second, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles the power and authority to carry out His work. "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven."(Matthew 16:19; 18:18) "Receive the Holy Spirit, whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven, whose sins you retain, they are retained."(John 20:23)
Third, Jesus gave Peter and the apostles commands as to what that work should be. At the last supper, He commanded, "Do this in memory of Me." (Luke 22:19) He commanded them to "Make disciples of all nations" (Matthew 28:19), and to "Go into the whole world and proclaim the Gospel to every creature." (Mark 16:15)
The early Church was structured in a hierarchical manner as it is today. We see in Acts, chapter 15 how the apostles and the elders came together under the leadership of St. Peter to decide the question of what was required of Gentiles. We also see how St. Peter was regarded as the head of the Church when St. Paul, "Went up to Jerusalem to confer with Kephas [Peter] and remained with him fifteen days." (Galatians 1:18) There is no Scriptural evidence of independent local churches.
The Catholic Church is the only church that can claim to have been founded by Christ personally. Every other church traces its lineage back to a mere human person such as Martin Luther or John Wesley. The Catholic Church can trace its lineage back to Jesus Christ who appointed St. Peter as the first pope. This line of popes has continued unbroken for almost 2,000 years.
God rules, instructs and sanctifies His people through His Church. Under her teaching office, the Catholic Church preserves the Word of God. She is the custodian, keeper, dispenser and interpreter of teachings of Christ. And she accomplishes this under the protection of the Holy Spirit.
(Fritz Tuttle is active in Catholic apologetics and the Legion of Mary.)