By Mark Swarbrick
Traditions of Men versus God’s Word
Sola scriptura, Latin for “by scripture alone” is the doctrinal truth of the reformation that proclaims that the Bible is the only infallible or inerrant authority for Christian faith, and that it contains all knowledge necessary for salvation and holiness. Every non-Christian cult I can think of adds something to the Bible. The Mormons add the Book of Mormon and claim their president is an infallible prophet. The Jehovah’s Witnesses wrote their own version of the Bible and they claim their church magazine is an infallible prophet. Christian Scientists revere the writing of Mary Baker Eddy as scripture. Every false religion and non-Christian cult has an extra-biblical source of authority.
The Catholic Church has done the same thing, claiming their Pope is an infallible apostle and that the traditions of the Catholic Church are equal to God’s Word in the Holy Bible.
Jesus condemned following man’s commandments instead of God’s written word:
So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with ‘unclean’ hands?” He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written: “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men. You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.” And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! (Mark 7:5-9)
This is exactly what the Catholic Church has done: They neglect the commands of God and hold instead to the tradition of men. They observe rituals and rites made up by men, forbid eating certain meats on certain days and enjoin a plethora of religious observances that, as Paul said
…are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. (Colossians 2:34)
The Christian Way – Scripture Reveals Truthraditions of Men versus God’s Word
The apostles warned us over and over to hold fast to their teaching, and it is their teaching we find in the Holy Bible. This is what they told us:
So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (2 Thessalonians 2:15)
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition…rather than on Christ. (Col 2:8)
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! (Galatians 1:8-9)
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
Do not add to His words or He will reprove you, and you will be proved a liar. (Proverbs 30:6)
Any revelation or teaching must line up with the Bible. If it is contrary to the Word of God, it is invalid. Any revelation that is truly from God will be in harmony with any previous revelation from God. We read in the scriptures that the Bereans used scripture to determine if the apostles were teaching the truth.
Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Acts 17:11)
When Jesus was tempted by the devil in the wilderness, his defense in each case was to quote scripture. Three times he told Satan, “It is written” and then quoted from the Old Testament. For nearly every question put to Jesus he responded by quoting scripture:
“Have you not read what David did…” Mat 12:3
“Have you not read in the law how on the Sabbath…”Mat 12:5
“Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them…” Mat 19:4
“Have you not read what was said to you by God…”Mat 22:31
“Have you not read this scripture…” Mark 12:10
“Have you not read in the book of Moses…” Mark 12:26
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone…” Mat 4:4
“It is written, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God…” Mat 4:7
“It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God…” Mat 4:19
“It is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger…” Mat 11:10
“It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer…” Mat 21:13
“It is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd…” Mat 26:31
“It is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips…’” Mark 7:6
“It is written of him…” Mark 9:13
As a point of fact, “It is written” appears 64 times in the New Testament. The phrase is used over and over by the apostles, who were accustomed to hearing the Lord define doctrine based upon the Old Testament scriptures. Jesus’ way of saying “Have you not read” is a chiding reprimand. It is Jesus’ way of reinforcing the idea to his hearers, that they should have read this in the scripture and therefore understood the truth. This is a clear indication from Christ that the Holy Bible is reliable for discerning spiritual truth. Catholicism has done the very thing that Jesus condemned the Jewish leaders for doing, making up man-made rules, rituals and dogmas to supplant the written Word of God to present a false religiosity.
Jesus: The One and Only Mediator
Nowhere in God’s Holy Scripture are we told we have to confess to a priest to obtain forgiveness for sins. In fact, the scripture tells us that only God can forgive sins (Luke 5:21). When did any of the apostles tell us to pray to dead people? Not one time does the Bible tell us to do this. Not once. On the contrary the Scripture tells us to take our requests directly to God through Jesus Christ. Contact with the dead is a sin:
Do not turn to mediums or seek out spiritists, for you will be defiled by them. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:31)
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)
Consulting with the dead is forbidden and that is exactly what prayer to Mary, Joseph and other dead people is. It is consultation with the dead. It is against scripture. It is sin.
The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Christ to the disciples on the Mount of Transfiguration does not in any way sanction prayers to the dead. I have heard this argument before. Look at it in context. Did Jesus direct the disciples to pray to them when they appeared or after they left? Did the disciples even speak to them? No, only Jesus. In spite of these facts the Catholic Church has made up myriads of rules and rituals for praying to supposed “saints.” In the first place, there is no such things as a select group called “saints,” in the Catholic sense. The Bible teaches that all born again believers are saints. This is all man-made religion in contradiction to the World of God. The only Biblical instance of a man speaking to a dead person was when Saul spoke to the prophet Samuel and as punishment for this violation of God’s Word, Samuel pronounced that Saul would die the next day.
If prayer to dead people were as important as the Catholic Church makes it, then why didn’t the apostles ever tell us to do it? Why isn’t it in the Bible? The unbiblical practice of prayers to the spirits of the dead wasn’t begun until 375 AD. In Luke chapter 11 we read that the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. What did Jesus teach them? The Rosary? Did he tell them to pray, “Hail Mary, full of grace…”? Did he give instruction on praying to dead people? No. Rather:
When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven (Luke 11:2)
Furthermore, praying to dead people is not the same thing as simply asking a living friend to pray for you, as is claimed. Prayer is a spiritual activity, a form of worship. It is a duty of service and supplication that belongs only to God. Prayer to anyone but God is idolatry. The reason God forbids contact with the dead is because He knows it will lead to idolatry. God jealously desires our devotion and he doesn’t want it given away to anyone or anything else. Prayers to the dead can lead to demonic oppression and delusion. Demons delight in this sort of activity.
Why should we pray to some dead person and ask them to ask Jesus for something, when Jesus and the apostles told us repeatedly that we can go directly to God through Christ? God sees our thoughts from afar. He hears our every prayer. He desires and wants our attention and devotion and he delights in our prayers. Praying to the dead makes as much sense as, for example, if I am standing next to you, and I call someone else on the phone and ask them to call you to ask you something for me. Why would I do that? I am right there with you. I can ask you myself. Jesus said he would never leave nor forsake us and that He is with us even to the end of the age. He has entered into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. So why ask some dead person to talk to God for you when God is right there, knowing your every thought and delighting in your every word? Catholicism has invented a multitude of mediators between God and man. Yet scripture tells us something different:
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)
That nails it right there. One mediator. Yet Catholicism has referred to Mary as Mary Mediatrix of all graces, Queen of Heaven, Mother of God and that, like Jesus, she was sinless, assumed into heaven, and there participates in the mediating of divine grace along with her son. The truth is, the Bible tells us that Mary was a sinner that needed salvation like anyone else and as far as the kingdom of God is concerned, she was no more special than the average believer:
While Jesus was saying these things, one of the women in the crowd raised her voice and said to Him, “Blessed is the womb that bore you and the breasts at which you nursed.” But He said, “On the contrary, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.” (Luke 11:27-28)
A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:31-35)
The fact is Mary is not the mother of God. She is merely the mother of Jesus’ earthly body. Jesus existed as God long before He created Mary. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has elevated her to a place where she is adored and worshipped by thousands. Supposedly her apparition appears all over the world and she goes about bestowing her miracles on whosoever she chooses. People direct their spiritual worship to her instead of to God. They pray to her statue and punish their bodies till they bleed to prove their devotion to her. This is idolatrous worship. Catholic myths have been invented that claim she never sinned, never had any other children besides Jesus (when the Bible says she did) and that she never died and was taken up to heaven. None of that is true or Biblical. It is merely myth to promote Mary worship.
Catholics are taught to claim that they don’t worship Mary, they only adore her. They pull out dictionaries and talk about the Greek and Aramaic word meanings of different levels of devotion to try to obfuscate the obvious. But these are only semantic distortions to attempt to evade the fact that they are disobeying God. Catholics say they only ask Mary to pray to God for them. Not true. Go to Mexico and observe frenzied Catholics crawling for blocks on bloody knees to the Basilica of Guadalupe to worship the Virgin Mary. See them kneeling and crying and praying to her statue and then tell me they are not worshipping her. This sort of thing goes on all over the world. And what do they pray? Here are some sample prayers. These are from The Glories of Mary, a fully authorized publication of the Roman Catholic Church. Its latest edition is published by the Catholic Book Publishing Company of New York and officially stamped by the Vicar General, the Archdiocese of New York.
“We have confidence but in thee, O most faithful virgin. O great mediatrix of peace between men and God…”
“O Mary, sweet refuge of poor sinners, assist me with thy mercy. Banish me from the infernal enemies and come thou to take my soul and present it to the eternal judge. My queen, do not abandon me, I give you my heart and soul.”
“Mary, blessed virgin, immaculate queen, I dedicate my family forever to thy service. I appoint thee ruler of my whole house. Bless us, defend us, provide for us, counsel us, comfort us, assist us in our infirmities, especially in the sorrows of death. Grant that we may go to heaven.”
Just listen to them: “I give you my heart and soul…grant that we may go to heaven.” That is worship and no amount of semantic silliness can get around this fact. This is not simply asking a deceased friend to pray for you. This is idolatrous worship of Mary. So that there could be no confusion as to what idolatry is, God has made it very plain in scripture, beginning with the Ten Commandments:
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God… (Exodus 20:3-5)
Ye shall make you no idols nor graven image, neither rear you up a standing image, neither shall ye set up any image of stone in your land, to bow down unto it: for I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 26:1)
So watch yourselves carefully…so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you, and make for yourselves a graven image in the form of anything against which the LORD your God has commanded you. (Deuteronomy 4:15-16,23)
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth: Thou shalt not bow down thyself unto them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God… (Deuteronomy 5:8-9)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness… (2 Timothy 3:16)
Does the Catholic Church set up graven images? Yes. Do Catholics bow down before them? Yes. Does the Bible call this idolatry? Yes. Does the Bible tell us to lovingly rebuke with scripture Christians who disobey God’s Word? Yes.
So no matter what words the Catholic Church tries to cloak their worship with, the Bible says that bowing down to a statue is worship and the Bible says this provokes God to a righteous jealous anger. Every Catholic who willfully disregards God’s Word and instead follows after man’s teaching will have to give an account to God for their idolatry.
This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. (Jeremiah 17:5)
You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to the traditions of men. (Mark 7:8)
Where in the Psalms are there examples of prayers to Mary? They are not to be found. Where in the New Testament are we told to pray to Mary or to dead people? Nowhere. Do we find Jesus condemning the Pharisees for following their traditions instead of the Word of God? Yes, many times! Catholicism is following in the error of the Pharisees, putting their own man-made traditions above God’s Word – The Holy Bible.
Papism versus the Ministry of the Holy Spirit
Catholicism considers their “Pope” to be an infallible prophet or apostle to the church. This error stems from a misunderstanding of spiritual authority under the new covenant. The way God leads the church under the new covenant is vastly different from the way he led under the old covenant. Like Mormonism, Jehovah Witnesses and other cults which recognize an authoritative spiritual leader, Catholicism mistakenly assumes that the Old Testament manner of leadership is still in effect.
One of the problems with this position is that it assumes that the Old Testament practice of God providing new revelation through prophets is something that continues under the new covenant. Such is not the case. In Hebrews 1:1-2 we read:
In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2)
It was in the past, under the old covenant, that God spoke through prophets. Today he speaks through His Son, Jesus. When Jesus taught that certain things of the Old Covenant were done away, he made this statement:
No one puts a patch of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and a worse tear results. Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.”
Bringing back the office of Old Testament prophets is like putting new wine into old wineskins. New prophets to teach new doctrines are not needed today. Scripture tells us that the church is….
…built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.
And Jesus taught that the time of the prophets ended with John the Baptist. Jesus said:
For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. (Matthew 11:13)
The Old Testament prophets that God used in the past are part of the foundation of God’s Church, along with the teaching of the apostles. We have this foundation in the Holy Bible, the sole rule for faith and practice in Christian churches. Jesus Christ, his reality in our lives, his redemptive power at work in us as we surrender to Him, is the chief cornerstone of the church. Catholicism has replaced Jesus, the chief cornerstone, with a piece of old foundation from the past – Old Testament prophets. Jude 1:3 tells us:
Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.
Notice this tells us that the faith was once for all handed down to the saints. But if Catholic theology is correct, the faith was not once for all handed down. It had to be handed down again and again by pope after pope.
We should bear in mind that the Bible never once encourages us to seek out a living prophet or pope to give us further revelation from God, but rather tells us over and over to hold onto what we have already been taught and to be cautious of those claiming to be prophets. As the Apostle Paul says:
…hold fast the word which I preached to you (1 Co 15:2)
In Jeremiah Chapter 31 there is a prophecy that predicted the coming of the new covenant and some of the changes it would bring:
The time is coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers…This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:21-34)
This tells us that under the new covenant that we no longer need a prophet to teach us how to know the Lord, for all who accept Christ have him in their heart, from the least to the greatest, and the Holy Spirit guides each of us into all truth. When God’s law is written into our hearts and minds by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, then we no longer need the office of Old Testament prophet. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would do these things for us:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. (John 16:13)
And this promise wasn’t to just a select few:
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
The Apostle John taught that special prophets were not needed to bring new teaching because the anointing of the Holy Spirit would guide every believer.
As for you, the anointing which you received from Him abides in you, and you have no need for anyone to teach you; but as His anointing teaches you about all things, and is true and is not a lie, and just as it has taught you, you abide in Him. (1 John 2:27)
There is a type of New Testament prophecy that is entirely different from Old Testament prophecy. Under the Old Covenant only a select few were chosen to be anointed with God’s Spirit and speak for Him. Under the New Covenant everyone can prophesy by speaking forth the truth of God’s Word. Hear the Apostle Peter:
This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: ” ‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18)
Now I wish that you all spoke in tongues, but even more that you would prophesy; and greater is one who prophesies than one who speaks in tongues, unless he interprets, so that the church may receive edifying…For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted. (1 Corinthians 14: 5, 31)
So we see that there is change between Old Testament prophets and New Testament Prophecy. Under the new covenant all Christians can prophesy. Yet, all prophecy and preaching was to be judged by the standard of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament Apostles. In other words, if it doesn’t agree with the Bible, reject it:
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. (Romans 16:17)
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. (1 Co 14:29)
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
Bringing back the office of Old Testament prophet is contrary to the New Testament doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. The Bible clearly tells us that all Christians are priests unto God:
You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for god’s own possession, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light… (1 Peter 2:9)
You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God… (Rev 5:10)
The Wikipedia Encyclopedia explains this doctrine succinctly:
The Epistle to the Hebrews calls Jesus the supreme “high priest,” who offered himself as a perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 7:23-28). Protestants believe that through Christ they have been given direct access to God, just like a priest; thus the doctrine is called the priesthood of all believers. God is equally accessible to all the faithful, and every Christian has equal potential to minister for God. This doctrine stands in opposition to the concept of a spiritual aristocracy or hierarchy within Christianity.
All Christians are priests, in the sense that they can proclaim forth the gospel message found in the Bible, but the Old Testament concept of a priest being a mediator between God and man is discontinued under the New Covenant.
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus… (1 Timothy 2:5)
All Christians have access directly to God through their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is far better than the Old Testament arrangement of only a select few having this privilege. The idea of a special prophet speaking authoritatively for God is also contrary to the New Testament teaching of the equality of believers:
But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi, for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ. The greatest among you will be your servant. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. (Matthew 23:8-12)
The Catholic practice of calling a priest “father” or calling someone a “pope” (which means father) or referring to the pope as “Holy Father” is a violation of Jesus’ explicit command to not call “anyone on earth father.” 1 John 3:4 tells us that “sin is lawlessness.” Calling the pope Holy Father is violating Jesus’ command, and therefore is lawlessness. It is sin.
The spirit of this command is to prevent a spiritual hierarchy within the church. Jesus was not making a legalistic demand that no child should ever call his dad “father,” or that father/child relationships never were to be verbally recognized. Neither was he saying that you couldn’t ever use the phrase, “teacher.” Jesus’ prohibition is to be understood in a religious context. He didn’t want Christian leaders to be given the kind of titles that might be perceived as designating spiritual superiority. He was saying not to set up a religious hierarchy within the church and consider some religious teacher or leader as holier than anyone else, because in the New Testament church everyone is to be considered as equal, as brothers and sisters in Christ. This is the spirit of the command. This principle is exactly what Catholicism violates with its priests and popes. God wants the New Testament church to rely intimately upon the Holy Spirit for guidance. Popes, priests and prophets, or any such high sounding titles or offices, detract and distract from the vitally important and intimate relationship of Christ to His church through the Holy Spirit.
Setting up some man as a pope and calling him Holy Father and Vicar of Christ is a blatant violation of the express command of our Lord Jesus Christ. Catholics try to divert attention from this commandment of our Lord by pointing to verses where Paul speaks of Timothy as his child:
Therefore I sent to you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord… (1 Co 4:17)
Catholics argue, “See, Paul speaks of Timothy as his son, so Paul is calling himself his spiritual father, so that makes it OK to have a priest and a pope and call them Father or Holy Father.” But this misses the point. Paul was not instructing Timothy or anyone else to call him “Holy Father,” “Vicar of Christ,” or any other pompous religious title. He was only saying that he had led Timothy to the Lord and instructed him in the gospel and he therefore calls him his “child in the Lord” because Timothy was the fruit of Paul’s ministry. This argument used by Catholics is nothing but the proverbial straw man argument. They set up a straw man and knock it down and think they have proved a point. Protestants don’t claim that the Bible condemns the use of the words father, child, or teacher. What we point out is that Jesus taught in numerous places that the New Testament church should not be led by an oligarchy and that this was of such importance that we should be careful not to designate grandiose titles to those who minister.
Catholics also call the pope the Vicar of Christ, which means, “Instead of Christ.” Consider Jesus’ words:
But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)
Notice that Jesus did not say that when he went away he would leave a pope to be on earth “instead” of him. No, the only “Vicar of Christ” or “Instead of Christ” upon earth today is the Holy Spirit.
Jesus the Christ is the Rock, not Peter
In Matthew Chapter 16 Jesus says to Peter, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church…” Catholicism claims that this statement is proof that Peter was the first pope. However, we know from many other scriptures that Jesus is the Rock and that Jesus is the Cornerstone of the church, not Peter. Let us look at this passage in context and we can see what it really says. As you read the passage below, ask yourself, “What is the context?”
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he warned his disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Christ. (Matthew 16:13-20)
You see, the subject of discussion is not who Peter is, but who Jesus is. That is the whole point here. The discussion was not about Peter being appointed as a pope, but rather it is all about who Jesus is. Throughout the New Testament the central message is the personage of Jesus. “Who do you say that I am?” is the question upon which rests every individual’s salvation. It is faith in who Jesus said he was that is fundamental to the gospel message. When Peter gets it right, “You are the Christ,” then Jesus commends him. Jesus expounds that this statement is foundational; it is the rock upon which Christ will build his church. He commends Peter and explains that in God’s providence and plan, that the one whose name means rock, was the first to proclaim forth the foundational rock of Christianity – belief in the name of Jesus as the Christ, as it says in Romans 10:8-9
…the word of faith we are proclaiming: That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Do you see that this is the rock? Think about it: When you confess that Jesus is the Christ and confess with your mouth and make him Lord of your life, it is that which brings salvation, adds you to the church and brings you into right relationship with God. It is that which is the rock upon which Christ builds his church. His church is built by adding members to it, and members are added, not by faith in Peter as a pope, but by people professing and confessing their faith in Jesus as the Christ.
Jesus said to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” What did he mean by that? What are the keys? Catholics are taught to believe that this gave Peter some special authority. But we know that cannot be so, for shortly after this Jesus instructs them that all in the church are to be equal brothers and sisters and that the authoritative pompous way of the world was not to be the pattern for the church:
Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest. Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. (Luke 22:25-26)
Here was the perfect place for Jesus to say that Peter was the greatest, and proclaim him the first pope, if that were really the case. But that is not said. Instead Jesus says, “You are not to be like that.” So what did Jesus mean by this reference to the keys of the kingdom? The phrase “keys to the kingdom of heaven” is merely a poetic reference to the gospel message, for acceptance thereof is what grants one entrance to heaven. Jesus was going to give the authority and responsibility of the proclamation and definition of the gospel to Peter, but not to him (or any imagined successors) exclusively as Catholicism would say. Peter, as representative of the apostles as a whole, was to be given the keys, and by inference and extension, all the apostles were to be recipients of the keys.
Notice Jesus speaks in the future tense: Peter doesn’t yet have the keys, but Jesus will (future tense) give them to him. Jesus next launches into an explanation that he is going to die, which is the reason for speaking of the keys. Peter had just declared to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus, upon hearing this declaration and seeing that his disciples have come to understanding of his nature, realizes that his earthly mission was nearly finished, for the disciples were nearly ready to become apostles; thus the discussion of the keys.
Jesus currently held the keys, in that while he was on earth his word was the ultimate authority for truth. After Christ’s death and resurrection, and the disciples tarried in wait for the Holy Spirit, they at that time received the keys to the kingdom. Now, as possessors of the “keys to the kingdom of heaven” they were no longer just disciples, but were now fully qualified apostles, with authority to proclaim the word of God by their writing and speaking. They realized the mantle had passed to them and immediately began to minister in that capacity.
Although Jesus was speaking to Peter, in the hearing of the apostles, these words were not only for Peter, but by extension to all the apostles, for all the apostles proclaimed salvation to “whosoever believes.” The “key” to entering heaven is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. The apostles proclaimed that message and any Christian who preaches salvation to others is wielding the keys to the kingdom of heaven, for it is not Peter who decides who goes to heaven, it is determined by our choice, by whether we believe or not. And when the apostles or any Christian proclaims the truth of God’s word, that there is salvation in Jesus and in no other name, signs and wonders follow the preaching of this message and people make decisions which will affect them for eternity in this life and the next. Truly, response to the word of God binds things in heaven and on earth, but not only for Peter but for all Christians.
Sometimes Jesus spoke a truth to one disciple which was in fact truth for all of them. At times when Jesus spoke to the disciples, his words to them were also words to us. Communion for example: Jesus told the twelve at the last supper, “Do this in remembrance of me.” But nowhere did Jesus ever tell the rest of the church to practice communion. He only said it to the twelve. Yet we practice communion. Why? Jesus never told any others to do this. Yes, we practice communion and rightly so, for those words were not just for the twelve, but for us as well. He said those words to the apostles, but by extension they applied to us also. In the same way then, these words to Peter about the keys of the kingdom and binding and loosing were not just for Peter and not just for the twelve, but for us also.
And this is mighty wonderful news! How sad it would be if only Peter could proclaim the truth of the gospel and loose the powers of heaven upon earth. Praise be to God that all believers have this power! When we proclaim and believe that Jesus is the Christ the son of the living God, then we stand upon the solid rock of truth upon which the church is built and we can, with faith, command demons to flee and mountains to move as we believe Jesus’ words:
Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. (Mark 11:24)
This power to bind the powers of Satan and to loose the mercies of God was not only for Peter, but for all of the church to use as we make disciples of all nations. We all – all Christians – hold the keys to the kingdom of heaven. We can speak with authority to all who will hear us, that if they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, that entrance to heaven is given to them. Faith in Christ is the key to heaven.
How much more wonderful this truth is than Catholicism’s distortion! Catholicism would take this great truth and twist into a depraved system wherein a pompous pope supposedly holds the keys to God’s kingdom and can decide who enters there based upon indulgences purchased for money. What wicked arrogance this is! Truly this is a doctrine of demons.
Early Church Government
The Bible Presbyterian Reporter, January 1959 has a nice synopsis which describes the government of the early church. As we can see, the first century church had no pope and Peter didn’t call the shots:
The fact is that the early church had no head on earth. Christ was their head and they all were brothers. They did have an organization, however, and Presbyterians point to Acts 15 as a splendid example of how it operated. There was a doctrinal question at Antioch. What should the church of Antioch do to settle it? Should they write a letter to Peter asking his decision? This would be the Romanist position. But they did not. Should they write a letter to the “college of Apostles”? This is the Episcopal position that the bishops by apostolic succession have the whole authority in the church. But Antioch did not do that. Should they call a congregational meeting of the church at Antioch and have the matter decided by the vote of the congregation? That would be the independent theory of church government. But they did not do this either. Rather they sent representatives to a synod meeting held at Jerusalem where the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter. They considered it carefully with prayer and Scripture study. Finally the apostles and elders decided on a policy and gave out decrees to which all the churches were expected to submit (Acts 16: 4). There was no primacy of Peter or of anyone else. There was instead a democratic meeting of the ordained leaders of the churches judging matters according to God’s Word. This is the Scriptural answer to Roman Catholic pretensions on Peter.
The claim that Peter was the first pope is simply not supported by scripture and Catholicism’s claim that they are the original church is false. There is no “unbroken succession of popes” as is claimed. Countless books have been written which easily show the falsity of Catholic claims for apostolic succession. That fact is, for six centuries after the time of Christ none of the churches attempted to exercise authority over any of the other churches. The early ecumenical councils were composed of delegates from the various churches who met as equals. The first six hundred years of the Christian era know nothing of any spiritual supremacy on the part of the bishops of Rome. The papacy was not founded until the year 590 with Gregory I, who consolidated the power of the bishopric in Rome.
Will The Real Pope Please Stand Up?
The world certainly has had no shortage of religions claiming to have a true prophet. The Catholic Church claims they always have a living prophet, or apostle, to speak for God and they call him the Pope. The Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says that their president is the true living prophet, while the Utah-based Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints says their president is the correct prophet. And then there is the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints who say they are the true church and have the correct prophet. Charles Russell, of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, claimed to be a prophet and today JWs claim that their publishing house is God’s current prophet. The Christian Scientists recognize Mary Baker Eddy as having been a prophetess and they revere her writings as scripture. Seventh Day Adventists believe that Ellen G. White was a prophetess and they quote her writings like Christians quote the Bible. How are we to know which of these, if any, is a true prophet? Everyone claims their “pope” is the true pope.
Indeed, which prophet is the true prophet? This is an important question because scripture warns over and over about the dangers of false prophets:
For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness… (2 Corinthians 2:11-13-15)
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… (1 Timothy 4:1)
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies…Many will follow their sensuality… (2 Peter 2:1-2)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)
Contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. For certain persons have crept in unnoticed…who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness… following after their own lusts; they speak arrogantly… (Jude 1:3-4,16)
How are we to determine who is a false prophet and who is a true prophet? Since the Bible has warned repeatedly to watch out for false prophets, there must be some way of testing a prophet. In fact, 1 John 4:1 above tells us to do exactly that – to test anyone claiming to be a prophet. So how exactly do we do that? Fortunately, the Bible has given us specific instructions on how to test them:
Our Lord and Savior told us:
Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they? So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. (Matthew 7:15-18)
In this passage Jesus tells us we should examine the fruit of the life of any one claiming to be a prophet. We should expect good fruit from a true prophet. Good fruit doesn’t mean having lots of followers, writing many books or building a large organization. Many wicked and evil men have built large organizations, written books or have even ruled entire countries. Good fruit means the fruit of the Holy Spirit in one’s life:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control… (Galatians 5:22-23)
The Fruit of the Popes
What sort of fruit have we seen in the popes? The wickedness of the popes is so notorious that volumes have been written on the subject. Catholic historian Peter de Rosa in his book Vicars of Christ, writes:
Popes had mistresses as young as fifteen years of age, were guilty of incest and sexual perversions of every sort, had innumerable children, were murdered in the very act of adultery…In the old Catholic phrase, why be holier than the Pope?
Following is just a very small example of the wickedness of some of the popes:
Pope Sergius III ordered the murder of another pope and started the infamous pornocracy. He fathered an illegitimate son who later became pope.
John XII (937-964) became Pope as a teenager. He raped his two sisters along with other young girls. His massive orgies were notoriously spectacular. He converted the Lateran Palace into a brothel, raped female pilgrims in St. Peter’s, stole church offerings, drank toasts to the devil, and invoked the aid of Jove, Venus, and other pagan gods when playing dice. He was deposed, but returned as pope when Otto left Rome, maiming and mutilating all who had opposed him. in 964 AD he was beaten by the husband of a woman with whom he was having an affair, dying three days later without receiving confession or the sacraments.
Pope John XIII (965-972) like his father (John XII) was known for his promiscuity. He committed fornication with his dad’s concubine and his own niece. He died just like his father – at the hands of an angry husband.
Pope Benedict IX (1033-1048) became pope at the age of twelve, had sex with boys, girls and animals. He also murdered a number of people.
Pope Clement VI (1342-1352) was a sex addict. He fornicated with prostitutes and mistresses. He was so taken with the idea of fornication; his thoughts would often stray during conversation to the point of embarrassment, Sunday mass included.
Pope Paul III (1534-1549) fornicated with his daughter on a regular basis. He murdered his mother and other relatives to protect his interests. He was also a pimp of 45,000 Roman prostitutes, collecting payments on a monthly basis.
Pope Leo X (1518-1521) is known primarily for the sale of indulgences to reconstruct St. Peter’s Basilica and his challenging of Martin Luther’s 95 theses. His extravagance offended not only people like Martin Luther, but also some cardinals. Many leading Catholics who opposed him died of food poisoning.
Pope Innocent IV (1243-1254) approved the use of torture to extract confessions of heresy. It is shocking to learn about the deranged instruments of torture that were used on so many innocent people. One of the most famous people to suffer at the hands of Roman inquisitors was Galileo. The church condemned Galileo for claiming that the earth revolved around the sun. So much for Papal infallibility.
Today wickedness still pervades Catholicism. The unnatural state of forced celibacy upon priests has driven many of them to sexual perversion and many a young boy has fallen prey to their advances. The Roman hierarchy has been complicit in attempting to shield and hide priests from the consequences of their actions, allowing them to continue their predatory debauchery. The Apostle Paul warned of this when he said:
…since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. (1Co 7:2))
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons…they forbid people to marry… (1 Timothy 4:1)
Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife… (1 Timothy 3:2)
We see from this that Catholicism’s ban on priests marrying is a doctrine of demons and contrary to the command of scripture that a pastor should be the “husband of one wife.” It is the dogma of Catholicism that has led to the debauchery of priests and popes throughout history. The Catholic prohibition against priests marrying has created a psychosis amongst priests wherein, fifty percent engage in illicit sexual affairs, and nine percent of all priests prey upon minors.
These facts were compiled by psychotherapist Richard Spine who treated troubled priests, drawing upon his data from 500 case files from his 1990 study of celibacy for the Catholic Church. The recent movie Spotlight shows that in the city of Boston alone, the hierarchy of the Catholic Church kept nearly a hundred priests in ministry, moving them around to avoid detection, even after they knew they were pedophiles.
Jesus warned that false prophets would come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. In other words, they would look like Christians; they would dress up like Christians. Look at the Roman Catholic aristocracy and behold their attire of royal robes. It is merely a ploy to look holy. It is merely sheep’s clothing. The history of Catholicism shows that popes have been wolves in sheep’s clothing. The entire institution of popery is fraught with deceit, idolatry and the glorification of man which has led to all manner of wickedness. Jesus said we would know the false prophets by their fruit. Truly the popes have been false prophets. We know them by their fruit.
Roman Catholicism – The First Church?
Like Mormonism and other cults, Catholicism accuses Protestantism of being split into many different warring factions and that only their group has remained unified since the time of the apostles. They claim they are the first church, tracing their roots back to the first century and the Apostle Peter.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The errors of Catholicism didn’t begin until the time of Constantine in the fourth century. It was then that Emperor Constantine married the church to the state. From then on the distinctive doctrines of Catholicism began to gradually arise as paganistic practices were adopted by the church. This was a fulfillment of The Apostle Paul’s prophecy to the elders from Ephesus who met Paul at Miletus:
Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 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 20:28-30)
In Ephesus, Christianity struck a blow to the worship of Diana, the Mother of the gods. It is noteworthy that the modern-day equivalent, the worship of Mary as the mother of God, finds its root in Ephesus. In AD 451, at the Council of Ephesus, the Roman Catholic Church bequeathed the title “Mother of God” to Mary, thus reviving the ancient cult in a modern garb.
As time went on other pagan ideas were incorporated, such as:
- Prayers for the dead. (A.D. 300)
- Making the sign of the cross. (300)
- Wax candles. (320)
- Veneration of angels and dead saints, and use of images. (375)
- The beginning of mass as a daily celebration. (394)
- The worship and exaltation of Mary and use of term “Mother of God”(431)
- Priests begin to dress differently from laity. (500)
- Extreme unction. (526)
- The doctrine of purgatory, instituted by Gregory I. (593)
- The Latin Language used in worship and prayer Gregory I. (600)
- Prayers directed to Mary, dead saints and angels. (600)
- Title of “Pope” or “universal bishop” first given to Boniface III. (607)
- Kissing the pope’s foot, began with Pope Constantine. (709)
- Temporal power of the popes, conferred by Pepin, King of France. (750)
- Worship of the cross, image, and relics authorized in (786).
- Holy water, mixed with a pinch of salt and blessed by a priest. (850)
- Worship of St. Joseph. (890)
- College of Cardinals established. (927)
- Canonization of dead saints, first by Pope John XV. (995)
- Fastings on Fridays and during Lent. (998)
- The mass developed as a sacrifice and attendance made mandatory. (11th Century)
- Celibacy of the priesthood, decreed by Pope Gregory VII. (1079)
- The rosary, used in prayer. (1090)
- The Inquisition, instituted by the Council of Verona. (1184)
- Sale of Indulgences. (1190)
- Transubstantiation, proclaimed by Pope Innocent III. (1215)
- Auricular (private) confession of sins to a priest, instituted by Pope Innocent III in Lateran Council. (1215)
- Adoration of wafer (Host), decreed by Pope Honorius III. (1220)
- Bible forbidden to laymen and placed on Index of Forbidden Books by Council of Valencia. (1229)
- The Scapular, invented by Simon Stock, an English monk. (1251)
- Cup forbidden to the people at communion by Council of Constance. (1414)
- Purgatory proclaimed as a dogma by Council of Florence. (1439)
- The doctrine of seven sacraments affirmed. (1439)
- The Ave Maria (Hail Mary) invented and completed 50 years later. (1508)
- Jesuit order founded by Loyola. (1534)
- Tradition declared to be of equal authority with the Bible by Council of Trent. (1545)
- The Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent. (1546)
- Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX. (1854)
- Syllabus of Errors, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX and ratified by the Vatican Council; condemned freedom of religion, conscience, speech, press, and scientific discoveries which are disapproved by the Roman Church; reasserted the Pope’s temporal authority over all civil rulers. (1864)
- Infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals proclaimed by the Vatican Council. (1870)
- Public schools condemned by Pope Pius XI. (1930)
- Assumption of the Virgin Mary (bodily ascension into heaven shortly after her death), proclaimed by Pope XII. (1950)
- Mary proclaimed mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI. (1965)
As can be seen, Catholicism didn’t exist at the time of the apostles because its doctrines evolved over the past two thousand years. Thus to say that Catholicism existed “since the time of the apostles” is completely erroneous. Certainly the name Roman Catholic Church didn’t exist in the first century and neither did her distinctive doctrines, for these teachings didn’t come into practice until hundreds of years later. If the name and the doctrine didn’t exist at the time of the apostles, then the Catholic Church’s claim to have existed from the first century is absolutely false. The true fasts are these: The Christian church existed from the first century and in the 4th century part of that church began to drift into apostasy and eventually became an apostate cult of Mary worshippers that tortured and murdered Bible-believing Christians. That is the true history of Roman Catholicism.
Catholicism: The One True Church?
The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the one true church. The Catholic Church is one of many heterodox churches and cults that make this claim; Mormons, Church of Christ, Jehovah Witnesses, to name a few. This controversy also cropped up in the first century church and the Apostle Paul quickly dealt with this error. Some churches began to say that their church was superior because they followed Paul. Others said, “No, but we are the right church for we follow Peter.” Another said, “We are the one true church for we follow Christ.” Here is what the Apostle Paul says about the matter:
My brothers, some from Chloe’s household have informed me that there are quarrels among you. What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? (1 Co 1:11-13)
Paul condemned those who said they were a better church, or that they were the only correct church. He said that those who made such a claim were bringing division in the body of Christ. He asked rhetorically “Is Christ divided?” The answer is no, and Paul’s point was that to claim that your group alone is the one true church was divisive to the body of Christ.
This is exactly what the Roman Catholic Church has done by claiming to be the one true church. They say, “We follow Peter. We follow Pope so and so. We are the true church.” But did Peter die for your sins? Did the Pope hang on a cross for you? No. The Roman Catholic Church has separated herself from other Christians and divided up the body of Christ with disunity.
Some people mistakenly think that spiritual unity means that we must all have the same sign hanging in front of our church building. That is worldly. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Signs and names don’t matter. What matters is that we hold to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity that center upon the person of Jesus Christ. Those who hold to these fundamentals and honor Jesus as the divine son of God and preach salvation in his name, presenting truth from the Holy Bible, these are they which are all part of the body of Christ. It is of little consequence where we gather to worship or the name on the front of our church.
The woman at the well was hung up on this also:
Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.” (John 4:19)
The Samaritans thought it was important to worship on a certain mountain. The Jews said Jerusalem was the worship capitol. The Catholics say the Vatican is the central place of worship and all authority flows from there.
Jesus dispelled these myths and said to the woman:
Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem…his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (Acts 4:21-24)
Jesus taught that what matters is that our worship is spiritual and sincere and grounded in the truth of God’s Word. To quibble and be contentious and claim that one’s church is the one true church is an ancient false teaching that both Jesus and Paul said was divisive and prideful. Paul concludes his correction on those who followed after Peter or other mere men by expounding upon what Christians should focus on:
But we preach Christ crucified…Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God…He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him…Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” (1 Co 1:28-31)
You see, scripture put the spotlight on Jesus and tells us to center on him, and not on one’s own church and the pride that goes with boasting that you are part of a special select group. True Christian unity means accepting all churches that preach the gospel of Christ as true churches.
True Christian Unity
Jesus prayed that his followers would be one:
Father, protect them by the power of your name—the name you gave me—so that they may be one as we are one. (John 17:11)
The Apostle Paul also appealed to the church to be in unity.
I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. (1 Corinthians 1:10)
Now let’s think about what that unity is supposed to mean. Did it mean that everyone had to put a sign in front of their meeting place that read the same, so that they all had the same name? No of course not. The early church didn’t even have church buildings. They met in homes or public places. Did it mean that every group that met had to have exactly the same style of worship? No of course not. Some were Jews, some Gentiles. Many different nationalities were involved. Everyone has different tastes. Naturally there were different flavors of worship in various places. Perhaps some groups were more formal than others. We know from the letters to the Corinthians that some churches emphasized gifts of the spirit more than others. Neither Jesus nor Paul meant that each church should be a cookie-cutter copy of another and that all diversity should be rigidly stamped out.
Unfortunately, many people think this is what Jesus or Paul meant by unity – that everyone worships the same, everyone thinks exactly the same, or that everyone should have “Roman Catholic” stamped on their forehead. But this is not what was intended.
What the scripture intends when it enjoins us to walk in unity is that each member of each local church live in harmony with that local group, that everyone forgives one another and accepts one another, and that everything is done decently and harmoniously. And it also means that no local church begins to think of itself as better than any other local church or try to lord it over them.
It is written in scripture:
Can two walk together, except they be agreed? (Amos 3:3)
I am sure that in the early church, as is true today, that people would tend to congregate and worship together with groups that practiced a form of worship they felt comfortable with. Perhaps some groups were quite vocal and demonstrative with their worship, while other were not. Such things are of course only secondary. All that matters is that each person’s worship comes from the heart, whether it is formal or not-so-formal.
There is no injunction in scripture against different churches having different emphasis or modes of worship. But there is an injunction against condemning other Christian churches and saying that yours is the only true church, for that is disunity. The various churches we read about in the New Testament, though undoubtedly different in character and emphasis, recognized each other as members of the same one true church of Jesus Christ. John Gerstner puts it well in his book The Gospel According to Rome:
Strictly speaking “Roman Catholic” is a contradiction of terms. Catholic means universal; Roman denotes a particular place. It is the Protestant and not the Romanist who believes in the catholic church. Protestants believe the church is universal or catholic; Rome cannot discover it beyond her own communion.
Catholicism has brought disunity to the body of Christ by making its prideful pronouncements against countless Christians, such as the Eastern Orthodox, Waldensian, Protestant and others. It is the protestant churches that practice unity. Because we each have our own particular style of worship and ministry, in order to be in compliance with God’s command of unity we purposefully walk together with those with whom we are agreed and allow others to do the same. We accept each other as Christian churches and we realize that following our conscience as we interpret the Bible is far better than sacrificing our mind and conscience upon the altar of Roman Catholic totalitarianism.
Current Pope Benedict XVI recently authorized the release of a paper which stated that protestant churches:
“cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called “Churches” in the proper sense.”
Such a statement is precisely the sort of divisive prideful attitude that Jesus and the Apostles condemned. How much better it is to walk in unity. I remember when I moved to Wickenburg to pastor the Assembly of God Church there, I met with other local pastors and I suggested we form a ministerial alliance. We made up a simple statement of faith expressing our faith in the Triune Godhead, the divinity of Christ, the Bible as the Word of God, etc. We then invited all churches in the community to join us. A half a dozen did so and we were a great benefit to each other. We sometimes worshipped together, held Easter services together, organized community outreaches together and worked together to win the lost. Pastor prayed with pastor and we became close friends, sharing the triumphs and difficulties of ministering to our congregations. The Baptist pastor kindly let us use his church whenever we had baptisms, as they had a baptismal and our church building did not. We were a great help to one another and ours was a statement of Christian unity, the kind of unity that is pleasing to Christ.
The Catholic Church would not join us. They wanted nothing to do with our efforts to win the lost. They thought themselves too good for us, for we were not “real churches.” The Catholic hierarchy does not even realize that it is their prideful one-true-church attitude that has separated them from the universal (catholic) body of Christ.
No Division in Catholicism?
The idea that protestant churches are “all in disagreement” and that the Catholic Church has always been in unity is another fiction. Catholicism has been ripe with dissension, divisions, murders and fighting from the outset. The Eastern Orthodox Church lays the same claim to apostolic succession and presents itself as the one true church just as does the Roman Catholic Church. The Encyclopedia Wikipedia describes the schism between the eastern and western church of Europe:
The schism in the western Church resulted from the return of the papacy to Rome under Gregory XI in 1376, ending the Avignon Papacy, which had developed a reputation of corruption that estranged major parts of Western Christendom. After Gregory XI died, the Romans rioted to ensure the election of a Roman for pope. The cardinals, fearing the crowds, elected a Neapolitan when no viable Roman candidates presented themselves. Pope Urban VI, born Bartolomeo Prignano, the Archbishop of Bari, was elected in 1378. Urban had been a respected administrator in the papal chancery at Avignon, but as pope he proved suspicious, overbearing, and prone to violent outbursts of temper. The cardinals who had elected him soon regretted their decision: the majority removed themselves from Rome to Anagni, where they elected Robert of Geneva as a rival pope on September 20 of the same year. Robert took the name Pope Clement VII and reestablished a papal court in Avignon. The second election threw the Church into turmoil. There had been antipopes–rival claimants to the papacy–before, but most of them had been appointed by various rival factions; in this case, a single group of leaders of the Church had created both the pope and the antipope. The conflicts quickly escalated from a church problem to a diplomatic crisis that divided Europe. Secular leaders had to choose which claimant they would recognize.
So how can the Roman Catholic’s claim that their church is the first original church be valid when the Eastern Orthodox Church makes the very same claim? Catholicism is guilty of the same schisms they accuse Protestants of.
Division and disputes within Catholicism exist to this very day. Protestant churches have a tendency to work together in harmony and cooperate in evangelistic efforts. My own experience as a pastor and member of a ministerial alliance in Wickenburg Arizona revealed to me that while a half a dozen protestant churches could work together at winning the lost for Christ, the Catholic Church wanted nothing to do with our efforts. So who is the divisive one?
The Real Temple of God
According to the Bible, the true church, the real house of God, is not an organization made by men. Jesus told us who the true church is:
I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.
Whoever believes in Christ has eternal life and where two or more gather in his name, there he is the midst. And THAT is the true church. It exists all over the world and has existed since the apostles. Certainly churches organize with structure and ordain leaders, but such administration is secondary and takes a back seat to the primacy of obeying Christ and leading each person into a living vital relationship with Christ. Catholicism has it backwards. They have made administration and authority their central focus and minimized to obscurity the power of the Holy Spirit to change lives and lead into all truth. This is the truth from the word of God. Many times the gates of Hell, through the actions of the Roman Catholic Church, have tried to prevail against it, but have not been able to extinguish it. Catholicism burned at the stake those who translated the word of God into the language of the people, murdered the reformers, and tortured to death anyone who dared disagree with her dogma. Catholicism has often been drunk with the blood of the saints. Jesus warned:
A time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God. (John 16:2)
This is true of Catholicism, a religious force, with its inquisitions and crusades that tortured and murdered tens of thousands of Christians. Over 90 percent of the murders of saints recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs were committed by the Catholic Popes, Bishops, Cardinals and laymen of the Catholic Church or those whom the popes influenced to commit those murders.
In spite of this onslaught of Satan, the church has survived to this today and people are hearing the truth of God’s word and being saved and born again to a new life in Christ, in spite of all the Catholic Church has attempted to do to stop that!
No, the real church is not something made up by man, but is instituted by God, built by Jesus. It is written in scripture:
However, the Most High does not live in houses made by men. As the prophet says: ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.’ (Acts 7:48-49)
This teaches us that man cannot build a church (whether a building or an organization) that God inhabits. Scripture quotes Jesus as saying:
I will build My church (Matthew 16:18)
This tells us that only Jesus builds His church. Man does not build it. Jesus does. And who belongs to that church?
The Bible promises:
Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Acts 2:21)
Not just Baptists or not just Catholics or not just Pentecostals. Everyone who calls upon name of the Lord will be saved. Jesus Christ saves people regardless of where they attend church if they put their trust solely in Christ to save them. In Acts 11:14 we read:
And he will speak words to you by which you will be saved…
Here we see that salvation doesn’t come through a church, or by membership in any earthly religious organization, or even by religious works, but rather it comes through hearing and accepting the message that Jesus is the one and only Almighty God, that He became a man, died for our sins, rose from the grave, and that repentance and faith in His name is the only means of salvation. These are the “words by which you will be saved.”
If any group had a right to claim they were the one true church, it would have been Jesus and the apostles, yet it is written in scripture:
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in Your name, and we tried to prevent him because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not hinder him, for there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name, and be able soon afterward to speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is for us.” (Mark 9:38-40)
So we see that Jesus forbids the kind of exclusive sectarianism that would claim that there is only one true denomination or church. The fact is, the True Church is comprised of all Christians of all denominations who have put their faith truly in Jesus Christ. The fallen hearts of men have often conceived the idea of building an exclusive church for God
Christ has built only one church. It is His church and Jesus said his kingdom is not of this world. A religious organization is of this world. Christ’s true church is a spiritual entity composed of all Christians from all denominations. Many men have tried to build their own kingdom by creating an organization and calling it the one true church but the Word says “the Most High does not live in houses made by men.” Jesus said,
“The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or, ‘There it is!’ For behold, the kingdom of God is in your midst.” Luke 17:20-21
God says you can’t point to this building or that organization and say, “Look, that’s God’s true church and kingdom.” No, the kingdom of heaven is much bigger and far more spiritual than some puny organization built by man. Anyone of any denomination who puts their faith in the Jesus of the New Testament and surrenders their heart to Him is a member of the one true church built by Jesus. The real church is described in Hebrews and it is an awesome spiritual unity of believers of all time and all places:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant… (Hebrews 12:22-24)
Trusting in Church or Trusting in Christ
If anyone had a right to claim he was “in the right church,” it was the Apostle Paul. What he says is impressive:
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… (Philippians 3:4-10)
What is noteworthy here is that Paul does not exalt his lofty religious position or associations. Instead he says all that religiosity is rubbish compared to knowing Christ.
I was raised as a preacher’s kid. I was taken to church and Sunday School every week for my entire childhood. I was baptized into the Lutheran Church when I was a baby. As a teenager I received three years of catechetical training and was then confirmed into the Lutheran Church. I received a diploma in Ministerial Studies from the Berean School of the Bible, Global University, an accredited college affiliated with the Assemblies of God and was ordained a minister by the same denomination. For five years I was a full-time pastor of an Assemblies of God church in Arizona. Although I am grateful for the doctrinal training I received, all of that pales to insignificance compared to the glorious wonder of knowing Christ! All my religious works and background are not what ultimately saved me, nor did they provide the power needed to bring about a fundamental change in my character. I had to come to a point where I realized that I could put no confidence in any outward religiosity to save me. I had to personally put all my trust in Christ to save me. When I surrendered to Christ and invited him into my heart and life – that’s when the miracle happened! Church attendance, membership or ministry is not something I must do to try to be saved; rather it is something I get to do – something I enjoy doing – because I am saved.
To trust a church to save you is to deny that Christ is your savior. It is to turn your back on a savior that wants a real living personal relationship with you. No religious organization can provide living water for a thirsty soul. Only Jesus can do that. Trusting in church membership is the same as trusting in your own religious works to save you, and whoever does that is not fully trusting Christ for salvation.
Many Christians of the first century were deceived by people teaching that certain ordinances had to be followed by Christians in order to be saved. Circumcision was one of those religious rules that they were insisting on. Here is what the Apostle Paul says about that:
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4)
This principle applies today to any religious work we might do. If we put our trust into believing we are a member of the one true church and if we believe that following that religious organization saves us, then we are putting our faith in something other than Christ, and if we do that, the scripture tells us that we are alienated from Christ!
So my testimony is not that my church is better than anyone else’s church. No one needs to go to my church to be saved or find the truth. The truth is found in any church that teaches the truth of God’s word found in the Bible – the truth that centers on the person of Jesus Christ and which tells us:
For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
The claim of the Catholic Church that their church is the One True Church and the many statements by Catholic leaders that there is no salvation outside Catholicism is contrary to the express teaching of scripture that salvation is by grace through faith in Christ. It is also contrary to the experience of countless Christians who have experienced the redeeming life-changing power of God in their lives apart from Catholicism. The Catholic emphasis upon salvation by virtue of being part of the supposed “One True Church” is in fact a method of salvation by works, which is a denial of grace.
Although Catholic apologists today often attempt to deny that Catholic dogma maintains that membership in the Catholic Church is necessary for salvation, this softened tone is no doubt only in response to the moderating effect of Protestantism. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church has often pronounced EXTRA ECCLESIAM NULLA SALUS – No salvation outside the Church. Pope Benedict XVI recently has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church as the one true church when he approved a document that says other Christian denominations were not true churches. And the supposedly infallible ex cathedra pronouncements of pervious popes cannot be ignored:
Pope Eugene IV, in the Bull Cantate Domino, 1441, who proclaimed ex cathedra: “The Most Holy Roman Church firmly believes, professes and preaches that none of those existing outside the Catholic Church, not only pagans, also Jews, heretics, and schismatics can ever be partakers of eternal life, but that they are to go into the eternal fire ‘which was prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Mt. 25:41) unless before death they are joined with Her… No one, let his almsgiving be as great as it may, no one, even if he pour out his blood for the Name of Christ can be saved unless they abide within the bosom and unity of the Catholic Church.”
Pope Innocent III, ex cathedra, (Fourth Lateran Council, 1215): There is one universal Church of the faithful, outside of which no one at all can be saved.
Pope Boniface VIII, (Unam Sanctam, 1302). We declare, say , define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff
Pope Pius XII (1939-1958): Some say they are not bound by the doctrine which teaches that the Mystical Body of Christ and the Roman Catholic Church are one and the same thing. Some reduce to a meaningless formula the necessity of belonging to the true Church in order to gain eternal salvation. Others finally belittle the reasonable character of the credibility of Christian Faith. These and like ERRORS, it is clear, have crept in among certain of our sons who are deceived by imprudent zeal for souls or by false science.” (The dates for the two Popes are the years they reigned as Sovereign Pontiffs.)
But what matters is not what popes say or apologists deny, what matters is: What is the average Catholic layman led to believe? Many of them are led to believe that leaving the church will result in their damnation. Many Catholics have been taught that it is a sin to attend a protestant service. Many Catholic websites vehemently appose people coming to Christ and becoming born-again Christians. The Catholic idea of salvation means joining the Catholic Church.
The fact of the matter is that most Catholics are placing their hope of salvation in their membership in the Catholic Church. They are relying on works to save them, rather than upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. The question boils down to this: Who do you love more – Jesus or the Catholic Church? Who would you rather trust your soul to: Jesus who died on the cross for you, or to an earthly religious organization created by man?
Hear again Paul’s words:
Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. (Galatians 5:2)
Paul was fighting against false teachers who were saying, “it’s great to believe in Jesus and be saved, but you also need to be circumcised.” This false doctrine was condemned by Paul and he made it clear to the Christians that if they bought into this lie, if they believed it took faith in Jesus PLUS circumcision, then Christ would be of no value to them. They had to trust in Christ alone to save them. If they added any works to that, it voided their faith in Christ.
This principle of God’s word applies to any human works done for salvation, including the works of church membership. Paul’s word speaks to Catholics today and says, “If you trust in membership in the Roman Catholic Church to save you, Christ will be of no value to you! One must put their faith completely in Christ and in Christ alone.
Catholicism is a man-made religion of works, compounded by idolatry and worship of idols and spirits mixed with adherence to vain repetition and rules of tradition that are contrary to the Word of God. It is a hierarchal system of domination condemned by Christ. The entire structure effectively distracts one from simple single-hearted devotion to Christ and replaces it with a false sickly-sweet mysticism of pagan adoration of the dead.
Purgatory – Invented 593 AD by Pope Gregory the Great.
Satan was defeated at the cross. When I got saved I learned from Holy Scripture that all my sins were washed away. The Bible says that when we accept Christ that we have passed from death to life, that we then have eternal life – an eternal life with Jesus.
He has done this through the death on the cross of His own human body, and now as a result Christ has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are standing before Him with nothing left against you—nothing left that He could even chide you for” (Col 1:22, TLB).
How different God’s Word is from Catholic dogma, which says that when you die you go to Purgatory where you will burn in fire until your sins are “purged” by your own suffering. There you will anguish for perhaps hundreds of years. Perhaps if other Catholics find ways of suffering for you in this life or pay money to the church for masses to be held for you, you may get an early release. How early? Who knows? What does it take to get ten years knocked of your sentence? How ludicrous all this is. It is not in the Bible. It is man-made religion. Purgatory is a lie invented by priests to obtain power and money and it is a deception that Satan loves. It is a denial of the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice for us. Of all the horrible doctrines invented by the Catholic Church, this one is the most diabolical.
The peculiar Catholic doctrine that the bread and wine of communion are turned, by the priest, into the literal body and blood of Jesus, is abhorrent and invalidated by human experience. It is abhorrent because cannibalism is taboo and drinking blood is forbidden in scripture. It is invalidated by human experience because when God works miracles they are tangible and verifiable. The disciples believed Jesus walked on the water because they saw him do it. When Jesus turned the water into wine it tasted like wine. But when has the wine of Catholic Communion ever taste like human blood? When has the bread tasted like raw human flesh? Never.
When Jesus said, “This is my body,” he could not have meant it was his body then, for he was still alive and sitting right there with them. If it was not his body then, how could it be his body later? He didn’t say, “This will be my body.” He said, “This is my body.” But it wasn’t at that moment. So his words had to be symbolic. The disciples did not believe it was his body for Jesus was sitting right there with them. Jesus’ body was separate from the bread and the wine. They understood him clearly to be speaking symbolically, for previously he had said:
I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. (John 6:53-55)
At first the disciples grumbled about this statement. They were taking it literally and becoming troubled over it. So Jesus explained to them that he was speaking symbolically:
Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them…The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. (John 6:61,63)
So Jesus explained to them “the flesh counts for nothing.” In other words, Jesus was saying, “If you could literally drink my blood or eat my flesh it would count for nothing.” He was speaking symbolically. His words were spirit. When we put our faith in Christ’s shed blood on the cross and when we accept his broken body on the cross as the propitiation for our sins, and Christ comes into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, then we are spiritually partaking of Christ’s flesh and blood given for us.
So at the Last Supper when Jesus presented the cup of wine and the bread and they ate and drank it and Jesus said, “This is my body,” they understood that this was something spiritual and symbolic that he was teaching them. After Pentecost they then realized and taught that this was to be done as a ceremonial reminder and memorial of what Christ did on the cross. It is a religious memorial of great significance and the power of God is in it in a very real way, as it always is when we direct our hearts towards God through Christ. But wine becoming blood and bread becoming raw human flesh? I don’t think so.
In 1215 AD Pope Innocent III proclaimed the Doctrine of Transubstantiation as official Catholic dogma. It makes one wonder why all the other Popes didn’t know this, since they were supposedly the ones changing the wine into blood for the last thousand years. The real abomination of this invented doctrine is that Catholics are told to worship the cup of wine and the wafer of bread as Christ! More idolatry.
Furthermore, it is taught that this magical power of the priest to turn wine into blood is a continued sacrifice of Christ and is necessary for people to continue to receive forgiveness, thus nullifying Christ’s last words: “It is finished.”
Common sense tells us this doctrine is a throwback to paganism and was invented to make the people think that the priests held the power of salvation in their hands. It is nothing but a shamanistic style trick designed to fool the gullible.
As we have seen, Catholicism adds the traditions of men to the word of God, replaces Jesus, the one mediator, with countless mediators, replaces the Holy Spirit with the Pope, makes Peter the foundation of the Church, instead of Jesus. They make-believe they are the one true church, and get people to trust in being Catholic rather than trusting in Christ. Catholicism is laced with a plethora of heterodox unbiblical teachings, such as Purgatory, Transubstantiation, and the list goes on.
In conclusion, let it be said that there are certainly people within the Catholic Church that are saved Christians, but that is in spite of Catholicism, not because of it. There are countless more that are not saved but think they are simply because they are trusting in being Catholic. Countless multitudes are steeped in pagan spiritualism and superstition, which is openly fostered in Catholic third-world countries. They crawl on bloody knees to appease their goddess Mary, and create meals for dead ancestors to ward off their supposed evil spells. Truly Catholicism is a religion of man, filled with the worship of man, and the traditions of men.