THE ROMAN CATHOLIC RELIGION (Part 1)
By Wayne S. Walker
Jesus promised to build His church (Mt. 16:18). This was done in fulfillment of prophecy (Isa. 2:2; Dan. 2:44; Joel 2:32). Even before the foundation of the world, God had in mind a plan for the redemption of mankind which included the establishment of the church (Eph. 3:10-11). These promises, prophecies, and plans all came together on the first Pentecost after Christ’s resurrection, for on that day the church came into being (Acts 2:47) and has been in existence ever since then. Since Jesus bought the church with His own blood (Acts 20:28), He is the only Head and Savior of it (Eph. 5:23).
Just as Jehovah revealed a pattern to Moses for building the tabernacle (Heb. 8:5), He has given us a pattern for the church in the New Testament. The scriptures, which are holy writings (2 Tim. 3:15) penned by apostles and prophets who were guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit (Jn. 16:13), contain all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3). Everything we can and should know about the church is found in God’s word. Whosoever would add to or take from this revelation, go beyond its doctrine, and preach something other than what is recorded therein, is cursed by God (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Jn. 9; Rev. 22:18-19).
However, even in the first century there were constant warnings that a departure would take place. Jesus warned that false prophets would arise (Mt. 7:15-20), as did Peter (2 Pet. 3:1-3) and John (1 Jn. 4:1-2). Paul told the Ephesian elders, “Of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:30). Though apostasy did not fully bloom until several centuries later, Paul wrote, “For the mystery of iniquity doth already work” (2 Thess. 2:3-9, esp. v. 7). We read, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith” (1 Tim. 4:1-6). One manifestation of this spirit of departure is found in the Roman Catholic religion.
The first change that took place was in organization. In New Testament days, there were only individual congregations known as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16), with no physical or organizational ties between them—only a common faith and love for one another. Each church was overseen by a group of men called elders (Acts 14:23), bishops (Phil. 1:1), or pastors (Eph. 4:11). That these three refer to the same office is seen from Acts 20:17, 28. These men had to meet certain qualifications (1 Tim. 3, Tit. 1) and were chosen by members of the congregation. They were not appointed by an outside force, nor were they dependent on anyone besides Christ and His word. Neither was anything else besides the local assembly where they were members dependent on them, as their oversight extended only to the flock of God among them (1 Pet. 5:1-2). They were to be leaders and examples, not lords (1 Pet. 5:3).
The church as a whole was governed personally by the apostles, originally twelve in number plus Paul, during the time the New Testament Scriptures were being written since the complete word of God was not yet available. They were chosen by God for this task of revealing His will (Eph. 3:1-5). This is why the Jerusalem church “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42) and why brethren with questions about circumcision went to Jerusalem where “the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter” (Acts 15:6). The church at Jerusalem per se had no authority over other churches. After the apostles’ decease, the same authority they had in the church was transferred to their writings (2 Pet. 1:12-15, 3:1). Therefore, we do not have or need living apostles (or their successors) as the Mormons claim to have, a governing body like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, a Mother Church as in Christian Science, councils and synods such as the Protestant denominations, or the ecclesiastical hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church because we have God’s written word. The scriptures will make us “thoroughly furnished unto every good work” including the government and organization of the church (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
Briefly what happened was that in local churches one elder was chosen to be the “bishop” with more power than the other elders. As the church grew and expanded, the bishop of the strongest church in a district gradually became the “leading clergyman,” wielding authority over the other bishops in that area. Thus the diocese developed. Eventually the bishop had charge of all church property in his diocese, jurisdiction over the clergy, and authority to be the official interpreter of doctrine. From this, the authority was further concentrated in the hands of metropolitans or archbishops who ruled over a province made up of a number of dioceses. Finally, the entire control of the church was centralized in five Patriarchs who lived in Constantinople, Jerusalem, Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. By the end of the fourth century, the church was dominated by them.
This pyramid structure was encouraged by Constantine, the Roman emperor who legalized Christianity throughout the empire by the Edict of Milan in 313. It was also he who called the first ecumenical council at Nicea in 325 to condemn Arianism and uphold the deity of Christ. He wanted to adapt the administrative division, government officials, and many of the laws of the empire to the church. Although all of this was not accepted immediately, it did pave the way for the eventual coming of the papacy. The obvious motive in this union of church and state was to unify the empire by making Rome both politically and religiously the center, increasing the power of the emperor as well as the Roman bishop.
Historians identify other changes that took place in these early years.1 Early Christians drew no distinctions between clergy and laity. There were only local elders and travelling teachers. But this system soon seemed inadequate to some and so evolved the organized hierarchy. Many influenced by Greek philosophy felt the church’s beliefs needed to be spelled out and systematized. Thus the doctrines of Christianity became more subtle and complex. The conclusions sustained at Nicea were soon formulated into the Nicene Creed, which “became the basis of all church doctrine from that time forward. All who departed from that creed were regarded as heretics.2 The service of worship in early churches was plain and simple, consisting of prayer, scripture reading, preaching, and hymns. In time, it was transformed into an elaborate ceremony or liturgy, evidently to please the carnal minds of the incoming, half-converted pagans. Following the growth of church organization, crystallization of dogma, and ritual, the church (by means of the clergy) was believed to be the indispensable intermediary between God and man.
The history of the Roman Catholic Church is the history of the papacy. The official title of the Pope is “Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Patriarch of the West, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, and Sovereign of the State of the Vatican City.”3 The Catholic hierarchy demands “complete submission and obedience of will to the Church and to the Roman Pontiff as to God Himself.”4 Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) said of himself, “We occupy the place on earth of God Almighty.”5 This is exactly the attitude that Paul wrote of in 2 Thess. 2 when he mentioned one “who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God.” Of course, Jesus condemned the use of distinctive religious titles in Matt. 23:25-28. There is no need of an earthly head for the church because Jesus Himself has “all power in heaven and on earth” (Matt. 28:19) and was made “head over all things to the church” (Eph. 1:22-23). That leaves little room for any man to claim to be “Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church”!
This claim stems from the Petrine doctrine of apostolic succession. Catholics say Peter was chief of the apostles, went to Rome, became head bishop there, and passed his authority on to succeeding bishops of Rome. First, Peter is never called the “Prince of the Apostles,” as the above title indicates (note Matt. 18:18; Acts 10:25; 2 Cor. 11:5). Second, as we have seen, Peter’s authority in the church did not pass on to a human successor but to the written word. Third, Matt. 16:16-19 does not teach that Peter was the rock upon which the church was built, as many believe, but that it was “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (cf. 1 Cor. 3:11, 10:4). Catholics merely assume that Peter was given primacy over the apostles and that he ever lived in Rome, thus giving the Roman bishop jurisdiction over the whole church.
The Catholic Encyclopedia lists sixty-five popes from A.D. 67-606.6 However, none of these was recognized as Pope in his own time. Several early bishops of Rome tried a number of ways to gain superiority but were all rebuked by noted church leaders. Leo I (440-461) proclaimed himself lord of the whole church and even received imperial recognition for his claim. But he was not accepted as such by the other bishops, and the Council of Chalcedon (451) actually rejected him as Pope. Gregory I (590-604) is sometimes regarded as the first real Pope. He did declare that he would fill the role of the servant of servants and practically exercised all of the authority the universal bishop stands for. Yet he rejected the title as vicious and haughty, refusing to allow it to be applied to himself and ridiculing the boast of the Patriarch of Constantinople to supreme authority. The first man to wear the title of Pope with official approval was Boniface III in 607.
Some of the reasons for the development of the papacy were dissatisfaction with the simple organization of the church in the New Testament, lust for worldly power and temporal gain, and desire for approval of the Roman Empire. This led to rapid corruption. Zacharius (741-752) is reputed to have been, in reality, a woman. Sergius II (904-911) had a mistress named Marozia. John XII (853-963) was a grandsom of Marozia and “guilty of almost every crime; violated virgins and widows, high and low; lived with his father’s mistress; made the Papal Palace a brothel; was killed while in the act of acultery by the woman’s enraged husband.”7 Benedict VIII (1012-1024) bought the office of Pope with a bribe from Sergius IV. Benedict IX (1033-1045) was made pope at 12. From 1377 to 1417, there were two sets of Popes, one at Rome and one at Avignon, Franc e (at one time during this period, there were actually three!), each at the same time claiming to be the Vicar of Christ, hurling anathemas at the others, excommunicating one another.
Pius II (1458-1464) was the father of many illegitimate children. Paul II (1464-1471) filled his house with concubines. Sixtus IV (1471-1484) was implicated in a plot to murder Lorenzo de Medici. The Protestant Reformation brought about a general housecleaning during the latter Renaissance under the lead of the Jesuits. This is not to say that all Popes were bad or that all the people approved. One cannot prove Catholicism wrong because of its abuses since abuses do not necessarily prove a thing wrong of itself. But the fact that this evil went on for years with little or no attempt to correct it and often with official sanction, and that these wicked men are still considered vicars of Christ, shows what depths of degradation men can reach when they depart from God and His revealed will—even while claiming to be “Christian.”
1. Wallbank, Taylor, and Bailky: Civilization—Past and Present (Scott, Foresman, and Company of Glenview, IL; Third Edition, 1967; pp. 126-128).
2. Lawson, Donald E., ed.: Compton’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 3 (F. E. Compton Co. of Chicago, IL; 1959; p. 335).
3. Compton’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, p. 336.
4. Lambert, O. C.: Catholicism Against Itself, Abridged (Fair Haven Publishers of Winfield, AL; 1963; p. 111).
5. Ibid., p. 129.
6. Compton’s Encyclopedia, Vol. 11, p. 594.
7. Halley, Henry H.: Halley’s Bible Handbook (Zondervan Publishing House of Grand Rapids, MI; 1965; p. 774).
1. When was the Lord’s church establishsed?
2. What is its only source of authority?
3. What was the only organizational unit in the New Testament church?
4. Who were the officers?
5. What Roman Emperor combined church and state?
6. Name the first human creed.
7. Who is the head of the true church?
8. Was Peter the first pope? Prove your answer.
9. Who was the first man to wear the title Pope?
10. Give one reason for the development of the papacy.
(—taken from Guardian of Truth, Feb. 26, 1981; Vol. XXV, No. 9; pp. 8-10