The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)



Origin and History


While the Roman Catholic Church is the oldest of the man-made denominations, it has not existed from the beginning. The origin of the Roman Catholic Church began with the earliest departures from the New Testament pattern. However, it was not established until around 300 to 600 AD.


The warnings of apostasy were clearly presented in the first century and made known in several passages. Paul warned the Ephesian elders, “I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Paul writing to the young preacher Timothy said, “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, {men} who forbid marriage {and advocate} abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim 4:1-3; cf. 2 Tim. 4:3; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). 


The departures Paul warned against began to take place in the second century as churches began to select one of their elders and appointing him to preside over all meetings of the church. This elder became known as the “presiding elder” and later became known as the “bishop” of that church, placing in him authority over the other elders. No distinction was ever made, in the first century, between men who were appointed as elders, bishops, presbyters, or overseers, for these terms referred to the same function in the church. A gradual and steady change continued to take place in the way the church was organized.


In New Testament times the churches of Christ were independent of each other with each church having its own elders or bishops and deacons (Phil. 1:1). As the power of the bishops grew, they were soon assigned specific territories, known as a “diocese,” to oversee. “Country Bishops” were appointed to help oversee some of the rural areas. Elders became known as “presbyters” and eventually, when the bishops and presbyters felt it necessary to come together in councils to discuss some of the problems facing the church, the presiding bishop of these councils became known as the president of the council or the “metropolitan.” He could now hand down rulings and decrees on church doctrine to be carried out by the lower bishops and presbyters. 


Early in the fourth century these churches were organized into larger territories and a “patriarch” was appointed over each territory. Eventually the churches were divided into five major territories (Rome, Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem and Constantinople) with a patriarch overseeing each one.


Because of worldliness invading the church around 320 AD monasticism was born, with many church members separating themselves from the world to live as monks or nuns. In 588 AD the patriarch of Constantinople took the title of “Universal Bishop of the Church,” but this was not well received. The patriarch of Rome denounced such a title and declared that anyone taking such a title was a forerunner of the antichrist! However, in AD 606, the Roman Emperor took the title away from the patriarch of Constantinople and gave it to Boniface III, declaring him to be Pope.


Throughout the dark ages, the Pope gained more and more power and eventually ruled over not only the church, but also civil governments throughout the world, until nation after nation refused to submit to the popes of Rome. The Roman Catholic Church has reached its present state as the result of a long, slow process of development as through the century’s one new doctrine, or ritual, or custom after another has been added.


The entire hierarchy of Catholicism (popes, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, and priests) is absolutely unknown to the New Testament. In contrast, the church of the New Testament recognized only Jesus Christ as her head and source of authority (Matt. 28:18-20; Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 3:17). Each local church was independent from every other local church and was self-governing with two or more men appointed as elders, bishops, presbyters or overseers (each of these terms referred to the same function—Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Pet. 5:1-3).


Deacons were also appointed in each church to provide help in caring for the needy saints (Acts 6:1-3). There were evangelists who dedicated themselves to spreading the gospel and edifying the churches, as seen in the lives of Paul and others. The apostles were those charged with making known the inspired revelation of truth as they were guided by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13, etc.). 


In 1870, the Vatican Council declared the Pope infallible. There were a number of statements made concerning the Pope such as: “The Pope is of so great dignity and so exalted that he is not a mere man, but as it were, God, and the Vicar of Christ…. He is likewise the Divine Monarch and Supreme Emperor, and King of Kings” (Converted Catholic Magazine, Jan. 1946). 


The Catholic belief in the infallibility of the Pope and his right to rule over the church is the thing that sets it apart from all other churches. First, there was no pope in the first century. Had there been an infallible source of authority in the church, it is inconceivable that Peter, the alleged bishop of Rome, writing two general epistles and mentioning his departure which he indicated was close at hand (2 Pet. 1:15), would not have acquainted the members of the church as to what guide or authority they were to follow after he was taken from them, or how that guide or authority was to be chosen.


The apostle Peter, the alleged first pope, certainly was not infallible as a teacher of faith and morals, as his conduct at Antioch clearly shows when he refused to eat with Gentile Christians lest he offend certain Jews from Jerusalem. Paul had to rebuke him for his wrong practice (Gal. 2:11-16). Peter never had supremacy over the other apostles and he is not always mentioned first in all the lists of the apostles, as claimed by the Catholic Church. Please read the article, “Was Peter the First Pope?”


There are many doctrines and rituals that distinguish Catholicism as a distinctive religious system in addition to the organizational structure as discussed above. The doctrine of “Mary, the Mother of God,” is just such a doctrine. This doctrine of Mary is the result of centuries of growth. There are Holy Days of Obligation devoted to Mary; there are prayers whose subject is Mary; there are shrines devoted to Mary that are visited by thousands of pilgrims each year. The phrase “Mother of God” didn’t begin to be used until late in the 2nd century. It was the Council of Ephesus in 431 AD that affirmed that Mary was to be called “Mother of God.” Mary was never called the Mother of God in the Scriptures. 


It wasn’t until the middle of the 7th century that it was decided that Mary remained a perpetual virgin. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary, that she was conceived without the taint of “original sin,” wasn’t proclaimed until the 13the century. Pope Pius XII didn’t declare the doctrine of the Bodily Assumption of Mary as an article of faith until 1950.  (Request the tract, “What Is the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Mary?”).


The Roman Catholic Church has developed a doctrine in which it is held that all who die at peace with the church, but who are not perfect, must undergo penal and purifying suffering in an intermediate realm known as purgatory. Purgatory is a place of suffering and loss, where one continues to pay for his sins after baptism. The suffering in purgatory may be shortened by prayers, good works of the faithful, and the sacrifice of the mass by individuals on earth (Council of Trent sess. 25). 


They also believe that the pope (or a priest acting for him) can release individuals from punishment in purgatory by transferring the superabundance of the merits of Christ and the saints. After their sins are atoned for and purged by their suffering in purgatory, they are then translated to heaven. Why would someone be kept in purgatory to suffer if they could get him or her out? Why not render that service freely and willingly as a Christian service to humanity? If they will only exercise that power upon the payment of money, then they are most cruel and unchristian. (Request the tract, “What Is the Roman Catholic Doctrine of Purgatory?”). 


That the doctrine of purgatory is unscriptural can be shown easily. The Bible says nothing about any such place, and in fact the most devastating arguments against purgatory come from those inspired pages. Jesus Christ never made as much as a passing allusion to purgatory. The apostle John wrote:  “the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin…. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:7, 9). Therefore, our sins, all of them, are forgiven through the sacrifice of Christ, and none are left to be purged away by human merit. 


The Hebrew writer said, “And their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more” (Heb. 10:7). God not only forgives us, but also pledges Himself never to bring our sins to His remembrance. Purgatory is a travesty on the justice of God. God’s justice has been fully satisfied once and for all by the sacrifice of Christ, and God will not exact double punishment, once from Christ, and again from those who are to be saved eternally.


At the very center of the Roman Catholic Church lies the Mass. The Creed of Pope Pius IV, which is one of the official creeds of the Catholic Church, says, “I profess that in the Mass is offered to God a true, proper, and propitiatory sacrifice [that is, a sacrifice which satisfies the justice of God and so offsets the penalty for sin] for the living and the dead; and that in the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist there is truly, really, and substantially, the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ; and that there is a conversion of the whole substance of the bread into the body, and of the whole substance of the wine into the blood, which the Catholic Church calls Transubstantiation.” 


For Roman Catholics the mass is a sacrifice, performed by a priest and is the central point in their worship. The preaching of the gospel is assigned a subordinate role and is not even held to be an essential of the priestly office. The elaborate ritual of the mass is really an extended pageant, designed to re-enact the experiences of Christ from the supper in the upper room, through the agony in the garden, the betrayal, trial, crucifixion, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. It is a drama crowding the detailed events of many days into the space of one hour or less.  


As Greg Litmer, a former Catholic, points out in his book Catholicism Examined Vol. 1-3 pp. 185-186: “Is the Mass a continuation of the sacrifice of Calvary? Is it the repeated oblation of the victim once sacrificed? Is it truly Christ offering Himself, by the ministry of the priest, hundreds of times a day across the globe?” The Bible tells us that Christ was offered only once to put away sin (Heb. 9:22-28). Therefore, He doesn’t have to be continually offered as is done in the Mass. 


Notice also, “By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified (Heb. 10:10-14). 


The New Testament does not teach or even suggest anything like the Mass of Roman Catholicism. First century Christians engaged in the following acts of worship: singing, preaching, praying, contributing of their means, and partaking of the Lord’s Supper (Eph. 5:19; Acts 2:42; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20-34). (Request the tract, “What Is the Roman Catholic Mass?”).


We are often told that the Catholic Church gave us the Bible and that it is a Catholic Book. If this is so then why does it condemn clerical dress? (Matt. 23:5-6). Why does it teach against the adoration of Mary? (Luke 11:27-28). Why does it show that all Christians are priests? (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). Why does it condemn the observance of special days? (Gal. 4:9-11). Why does it teach that all Christians are saints even while alive? (1 Cor. 1:2). Why does it condemn the making and adoration of images? (Ex. 20:4-5). Why does it teach that baptism is immersion instead of pouring? (Col. 2:12). Why does it forbid us to address religious leaders as “father”? (Matt. 23:9). Why does it command communion with both the fruit of the vine and bread? (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Why does it teach that there is one mediator instead of many? (1 Tim. 2:5). Why is it completely silent about infant baptism, instrumental music in worship, indulgences, purgatory, confession to priests, the rosary, the mass, and many other things in the Catholic Church?


The truth is that the Catholic Church has always opposed the reading of the Bible by the common man. It was first officially forbidden to the people by the Church of Rome and placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Valencia (a cathedral city in southeastern Spain) in the year 1229, with the following decree: “We prohibit also the permitting of the laity to have the books of the Old and New Testament, unless any one should wish, from a feeling of devotion, to have a psalter or breviary for divine service, or the hours of the blessed Mary. But we strictly forbid them to have the above mentioned books in the vulgar tongue.” My friends, the Bible was complete before the Catholic Church came into existence. (Request the tract, “Did the Catholic Church Give Us the Bible?”). 


Our Sincere Plea to Our Catholic Friends


We feel it is our duty to have this frank and open study with you. Please study these thoughts in the same sincere spirit of love in which they are written. We are concerned only with serving the Lord Jesus Christ according to His divine word as revealed in the New Testament and we plead for everyone to do the same. We will be happy to discuss this article with anyone. If there is a reputable representative for the Roman Catholic Church who will defend the Catholic doctrine in an open forum or public debate we will be happy to work out the arrangements and discuss these matters.

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