Roman Catholicism – Is it the “Original Church”? (No)
If you’re familiar with the New Testament you know that it does not support the idea of sectarianism as far as the worldwide Church goes, i.e. the body of Christ. You see, you’re either a believer (a genuine Christian) or you’re not. The tag you choose to go by is irrelevant. What’s going on inside you is the important thing, not the sectarian label with which you might identify. I’m not saying it’s wrong to join a particular sect/camp – assuming it honestly tries to be biblical – but it is wrong to arrogantly think that your sect has a patent on truth and is the “one true church,” which smacks of both arrogance and cultism.
Quasi-Christian groups like the Jehovah’s False Witnesses and Mormons do this, of course, but so do mainline sects and others. A few years ago a Lutheran minister wrote me and insisted that his denomination was the one true church and all other sects were not pure in doctrine like his camp. He may not have put it in these precise terms, but it was what he actually believed.
The Roman Catholic Church makes a similar claim with the boast that their sect is the only one that can trace its lineage to the 1st century apostles, like Peter, whom they say was the first bishop (“Pope”) of Rome. There’s only one biblical passage that might imply this (1 Peter 5:13), but – whether Peter was or was not the bishop of Rome – there’s zero biblical evidence that this position was to have primacy over the worldwide Church. In other words, the doctrine of the earthly supremacy of the papacy is unscriptural, which is a huge problem when you consider that the Bible is God’s blueprint for authentic Christianity.
In this article we’re going to see that…
- Arguing based on physical lineage is not grounds for legitimacy in Christianity.
- Faithfulness to the God-breathed Scriptures is the true basis for authenticity.
- The Catholic Church – as we know it – didn’t even exist until like the 5th century and the late 4th century at the earliest; and, as such…
- The New Testament Scriptures were not written by the “Catholic Church fathers” nor originally verified by them.
Arguing based on Physical Lineage is Not Grounds for Legitimacy in Christianity
Both John the Baptist and Christ utterly shattered the argument of legitimacy based on lineage. Before the Messiah’s consecration to public ministry, John was baptizing people at the Jordan River with a baptism of repentance in preparation for Jesus’ soon-to-come ministry:
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. 10 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
John knew beforehand that these partisan religionists were going to argue for their legitimacy based on their hereditary connection to Abraham, but John shot this idea down in flames before they even had the audacity to voice it.
After Christ entered into public ministry, the issue of fatherhood came up in a discussion with the Pharisees and other Hebrews. They asked who Jesus’ father was and he answered:
“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”
They then proceeded to argue their legitimacy based on being children of Abraham and children of God:
39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered.
“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”
“We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God himself.”
42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
The fact that these unbelieving Jews could trace their heritage to Abraham was irrelevant. Their attitude, beliefs and actions revealed the truth – the reality – of their spiritual condition, not their physical lineage.
They then shifted their argument from physical to spiritual lineage, insisting that God was their father. So the Messiah frankly told them: “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God” (verse 42). Now, keep in mind that Jesus was/is the Living Word of God (John 1:1-3). The Living Word of God – Christ – is always in agreement with the written Word of God (2 Timothy 3:16). Both are called “truth” in the Bible, that is, reality, the way it really is (John 14:6 & 17:17). If God was truly their father they would also love the Word of God, both the Living Word and the written Word. But this clearly wasn’t the case with the Pharisees & their ilk because they hated the Messiah so much they wanted to murder him.
Furthermore, they were seriously in error in their doctrines (teachings), which Jesus stressed when he instructed his disciples:
“Be careful,” Jesus said to them. “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
The disciples mistakenly took the Lord literally and so Christ clarified:
How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” 12 Then they understood that he was not telling them to guard against the yeast used in bread, but against the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
This didn’t mean that the Pharisees and Sadducees were wrong on every point of doctrine, of course, very few false religious groups are wrong about everything. But both of these sects of Judaism were off on enough important points that Christ warned the disciples to guard against their teachings in general. One problem with both groups is that they were perversely legalistic. Furthermore, the Pharisees deviated from Scripture in favor of tradition or philosophizing (Matthew 23:16-22, Mark 7:1–23, & Luke 11:42) while the Sadducees argued that there was no resurrection of the dead and neither angels nor demons (Acts 23:8). Needless to say, each of these flawed mindsets would negatively affect a disciple’s spiritual health.
All of this demolishes the idea of legitimacy based on physical lineage; it also establishes that…
Faithfulness to the God-breathed Scriptures is the True Basis for Authenticity
Anyone who is of God will love the Living Word – Jesus Christ – who came from the Father, as well as love the written Word because the Living Word and the written Word are in agreement. Both are “truth” (John 14:6 & 17:17). This explains a rule that Paul & Apollos had in their service: “Do not go beyond what is written” (1 Corinthians 4:6) (see this article for details).
This wise principle corresponds to something Jesus stressed:
Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
John 8:31-32 (NRSV)
Knowing the truth – that is, reality, the way it really is – is dependent upon devotion to God’s Word and “continuing” in it (which means not giving up after a season and not settling into an arrogant know-it-all rut). This explains why the noble Bereans went directly to the Scriptures to verify if Paul’s message was true or not (Acts 17:10-12). They didn’t go to their sect’s doctrinal hand-scroll, but to the God-breathed Scriptures. They understood that the Scriptures are the LORD’s blueprint for authentic Christianity.*
* You can read more about the noble Berean spirit here.
By contrast, those who go beyond God’s Word will not know the truth and therefore will not be set free by it. Such people will find themselves in bondage in one form or another, including religious bondage. This is always the case with those who go beyond what is written and add this or that to the Holy Scriptures, which is blatantly denounced in God’s word (Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6 & Revelation 22:18-19). It’s something the Pharisees regularly did.
If you want clear proof that the Scriptures are God’s established pattern for authentic Christianity look no further than this passage where Paul instructs his protégé Timothy:
and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
2 Timothy 3:15-17
According to this text, what is it that that’s going to make Timothy — and, by extension, any believer — wise? The Holy Scriptures! It goes on to explain why this is so: Because “all Scripture is God-breathed,” which simply means that the writers whom the LORD chose to chronicle Scripture “spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). As such, Scripture is “useful” for several things: “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” It’s through the rightly divided instruction of Scripture and the corrections & training thereof that we are “thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
Of course we understand that the Holy Spirit within the believer helps in accomplishing this (John 16:13 & 1 John 2:27). But notice that nothing is said about an infallible pope or an elaborate religious hierarchy being necessary to make you wise through teaching you, correcting you and training you. Yes, fivefold ministers (that is, apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors & teachers) are instrumental in the healthy spiritual growth of disciples (Ephesians 4:11-13), but only according to their Spirit-led faithfulness to the God-breathed Scriptures in their loving teachings, exhortations, corrections and example!
Anyone who deviates from the God-breathed Scriptures by either adding unbiblical doctrines & practices or omitting vital material is not a genuine man or woman of God, no matter how authentic they claim to be. Whether or not their lineage can be traced back to the 1st century Church is irrelevant. This applies to groups as well. If a sect boasts of being the “one true Church,” but their doctrines & practices are grossly unbiblical, it tells you everything you need to know — flee for your spiritual welfare! Christ said: “LEAVE THEM; they are blind guides” (Matthew 15:14).
Now let’s relate all of this to our topic, the claim that the Catholic Church is one-and-the-same as Christ’s original Church of the 1st century; in other words, “the one true church.” If the Catholic Church were truly of God then they would love both the Living Word and written Word, which means that they would agree with the Word. Unfortunately, this is simply not so. The Catholic Church has numerous doctrines & practices that don’t comply with God’s Word, to put it mildly; we’ll look at many of them momentarily.
I want to stress here that this does not mean that every person identifying as a “Catholic” is unsaved and damned to everlasting destruction in the lake of fire. As I said before, the sectarian label a person chooses to go by isn’t as important as what’s going on in his/her heart. Does the individual have saving faith or not? Is s/he reconciled to God or not? These are the questions that are important, not the tag s/he goes by. That said, is it wise for a genuine believer to stay in a sect that advocates doctrine & practices that blatantly deviate from Holy Scripture? The obvious answer is “no” because these unbiblical things would eventually have a negative effect on the spiritual growth of the believer. This is different than saying that God couldn’t raise someone up in the midst of Catholicism to confront this sect with their error, like Martin Luther did in the 1500s.
The Catholic Church – as we know it – didn’t even exist until like the 5th century; and the mid 4th century at the earliest
How can the Catholic Church be the original Church of Christ in the 1st century when it didn’t even exist until almost 400 years later? Let me explain…
The origins of the Roman Catholic Church were forged at the Council of Nicaea in Asia Minor (Turkey) in 325 AD. At this council the dubiously-converted Roman Emperor Constantine, who mixed Christianity with paganism, attempted to unite Christendom because he envisioned Christianity uniting the deteriorating Roman Empire. While some good things came out of this historic council, like upholding the doctrine of Christ’s divinity, it mixed Christianity with politics and the corresponding temptations of power and corruption thereof. Later in that century Christianity became the official state religion of the Roman Empire, which is essentially when Catholicism was born.
The Roman Church fell into increasing error. Christ & the apostles warned of this in the Scriptures (Matthew 7:15-23, Acts 20:28–32, 2 Corinthians 11:13, 2 Peter 2:1 & Jude 1:4). The acceptance of Augustine’s false doctrines in 431 AD at the Council of Ephesus was the prologue to a thousand year dark age where all kinds of absurd unbiblical doctrines & practices were embraced by the Roman Church and accumulated. These amassing corruptions are what prompted the great Protestant Reformation in the 1500s.
All the books of what is known as the New Testament were already listed in the Muratorian Canon circa 170 AD, except for Hebrews, James, 1 Peter and 2 Peter, plus the mini-epistles 2 John and 3 John. This was 155 years before the Council of Nicaea.
I realize that the Roman Catholic Church claims it began with Peter, whom they say was the first pope — that is, bishop of Rome — but the proof is in the pudding of Scripture, which is God’s established pattern for authentic Christianity. And nowhere in the God-breathed Scriptures will you find support for doctrines & practices like these:
- The papacy, a supreme human leader of Christianity on earth. Actually Christ is the head of the church (Colossians 1:18, 2:10 & 2:19) and fivefold ministers, e.g. pastors and teachers, are under-shepherds who lead in a servant-like fashion (Acts 15:1-23, Galatians 2:1-14, Ephesians 2:19-20, 4:11-13 & 1 Peter 5:1-5).
- Apostolic succession, the idea that the (supposed) supreme earthly authority of the papacy is transferred from pope to pope (ditto).
- Papal infallibility concerning declaration of dogmas (official teachings, aka doctrine), which is easily refuted. It’s the God-breathed Scriptures that are infallible, not a particular human leader in the Church (Isaiah 8:20 & 40:8, John 10:35, Acts 17:10-12, 20:32 & 2 Timothy 3:15-17).
- Equating extrabiblical traditions with the authority of Scripture (Mark 7:8).
- Mary worship. Whilst Mary was highly favored of God and rightly considered blessed by all generations (Luke 1:28 & 1:48), she’s not to be worshipped, which both the apostles and holy angels utterly rejected (Acts 10:25–26, 14:13–15, Revelation 19:10 & 22:9). Worship is for God Alone.
- Praying to dead saints or Mary (Matthew 6:9, Romans 8:26-27, 1 Timothy 2:5, Hebrews 4:16, 7:25). Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to pray to someone who physically died; in fact, we are commanded not to do this (Leviticus 20:27 & Deuteronomy 18:10-13). Nowhere does the Bible suggest that believers who have passed away are praying for people on earth. This article details the believer’s intermediate state in heaven and the activities thereof. Only the omnipotent, omniscient LORD can hear all the millions of prayers on earth and address them accordingly and adequately.
- Obsession with religious statues in worship — which smacks of idolatry — even though the Bible forbids the use of images in worship (Exodus 20:4–5). Interestingly, the Catholic Church summarizes the second of the Ten Commandments as “you shall not have other gods beside me,” but they outrageously omit “you shall not make for yourself a carved image” and “you shall not bow down to them or serve them.” Why? Obviously because the Catholic Church has a long history of borderline idolatry with its use of statues and iconography in worship, so they just cut out the part of the Scripture passage they didn’t like!
- Confession to priests. Actually all believers are priests of God (1 Peter 2:5-9, Revelation 1:6 & 5:10) and we are to confess directly to the LORD (1 John 1:8-9 & Hebrews 4:16) and other believers in general as led of the Spirit (James 5:16). Of course you have to be wise in the latter because false believers or carnal believers will use negative data against you, e.g. gossip/slander.
- Infant baptism, which isn’t taught anywhere in the New Testament because a person has to willingly choose Christ (Romans 10:9-13) and of course infants are incapable of doing this.
- Celibacy mandated for Church leaders (1 Timothy 3:2).
- Transubstantiation, the curious claim that the bread & wine at the Lord’s Supper celebration literally morphs into the body and blood of Christ.
- The absurd selling of indulgences, which were aggressively marketed prior to the Reformation to fund the rebuilding of St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Rome. To Reformers, it smacked of the purchase and sale of salvation.
All of these extra-biblical errors were made up as they went along and became “tradition,” which Catholics consider equal with Scripture.
The doctrine of Purgatory could also be added to this list, at least as far as the idea of purgatory being some kind of middle destiny between eternal life and everlasting destruction, as well as the premise that that God assists purifying believers after death in response to the actions of people who are alive on earth. Both of these concepts are unbiblical and therefore the doctrine of Purgatory — as far as these ideas go — is a false doctrine. Yet, to be fair, there are some elements of the doctrine of purgatory that actually relate to the biblical doctrine of the Judgment Seat of Christ. In short, concocting the doctrine of purgatory was unnecessary because we already had the scriptural doctrine of the Judgment Seat of Christ. See this article for details.
Christendom tends to give Catholicism a pass on these unbiblical items because the Roman Church is so huge and goes back to the approximate time of Augustine, but imagine if any non-Catholic group adopted these kinds of doctrines/practices today; it would be scandalous because they’re so outrageously unscriptural.
These blatant problems with Catholicism shouldn’t be interpreted to mean that someone who identifies as a Catholic cannot be a genuine believer. I’ve met several Catholics over the decades who struck me as sincere believers. God is not interested in the tag people go by, but with what’s going on in their hearts. For instance, if you put a label of corn on a can of beans, it wouldn’t make the beans a can of corn.
That said, the LORD is concerned about what people believe because belief corresponds to faith, which determines their salvation and spiritual growth, depending on the specific data the person believes, whether it’s true or false, scriptural or unscriptural. Obviously if what a Christian believes is unbiblical, it will naturally have a negative impact on his/her relationship with God and spiritual growth. This is why the above twelve issues with Catholicism (and more) need to be exposed and purged from a Christian’s belief system, whatever tag s/he goes by. This is why I’m exposing them here, not to be mean to Catholics.
The New Testament Scriptures were not written by the “Catholic Church fathers” nor originally verified by them
Since the Roman Catholic Church — as we know it — didn’t even exist until the 5th century, or the mid 4th century at the earliest, the New Testament Scriptures from the 1st century were neither written by Catholics nor authorized by them. For details see this article.
Meeting at God’s Blueprint for Christianity
All Christians — whatever sectarian tag they choose to go by — have to honestly meet at the blueprint for Christianity — God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:16) — and what it clearly & consistently teaches from a New Covenant perspective based on sound hermeneutics.
Physical lineage is of no consequence in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28); it’s spiritual lineage that matters (Galatians 5:6 & 6:15). And anyone spiritually regenerated by the Holy Spirit thru Jesus Christ can trace their lineal descent to the 1st century Church because those early believers were born-again of the same Spirit thru the same Lord (John 3:3,6 & Titus 3:5).
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