Comparative Theology

Contemplating Roman Catholicism?

"Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so." Acts 17:11

Should I Convert to Roman Catholicism?

In the Comparative Theology section of WordExplain, the subject matter is quite eclectic. I make no attempt to be exhaustive. Often, the articles that appear here are generated because I personally have been exposed to some issue that, in my judgment, requires a Biblical response. In the case of this series on Roman Catholicism (hereafter, RC), my response is motivated because I have been personally exposed to the issue. People who are near to me have converted to RC in the last several years. This has led me on a personal quest to examine what the Roman Catholic Church (hereafter, RCC) believes.

If one is going to evaluate RC, the easiest route is to go to the writings of Protestants who critique the Church. I have, for the most part, attempted to abstain from that practice. Rather, I have attempted to go to the writings of the RCC. My sources include the Catechism, footnotes and Introductions contained in The New American Bible on the Vatican website, articles on the Vatican website, some of them written by Popes, Catholic Encyclopedias, such as the one found on the website of New Advent, and occasionally a Catholic document that does not appear on the Vatican website, such as the text of The Council of Trent. I have also consulted, at least in a minimal way, a website, "Called to Communion," operated by former Protestants who have converted to RC. So again, my purpose is not to quote Protestants who have a problem with RC. Rather, my purpose is to go to Roman Catholics themselves, quote their own words, and then seek to argue from a Biblical position in cases where I disagree with their conclusions.

There will undoubtedly be some who will label me as an anti-Catholic. I am not against Catholics. I have a number of friends and people who are close to me who are Catholic. At the same, I take very seriously the statement of Jude, "Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

Perceived Advantages to Roman Catholicism

I have never been a Roman Catholic. Hence, I use the term "Perceived Advantages." In other words, as I listen to people who are Roman Catholics, or those who have converted to RC, these are some of the advantages or benefits as they perceive them. In this section I am simply listing perceived benefits or advantages without qualifying them or evaluating them. I am certain a Roman Catholic could list many more benefits, but these are the ones I am aware of.

1. A Sense of History. Roman Catholics claim that they are the true church descended directly from Jesus through the Apostle Peter, whom they label as the first Pope. They believe that Peter was the Monarchical Bishop of the Church of Rome. They believe that Jesus built the (Roman Catholic) Church upon Peter, and that Jesus gave to Peter the keys to the kingdom, which they define, at least initially, as the Roman Catholic Church. Since Peter had the keys, he had the power to excommunicate. They believe in Apostolic Succession, so that all the bishops who descended from Peter have the same authority he possessed. So Catholics can point to more than 1900 years of church history. This historical connection clear back to Christ and Peter gives them a sense of belonging and authenticity. This sense of history is reinforced by statues of Jesus on the cross, of Mary, and of ancient and sometimes medieval saints. This sense of history is also reinforced by the Church's reliance upon centuries of church tradition. If one examines the Church's catechism, for example, it is replete with quotations from previous Popes, scholars, and theologians from the present time down to the Scriptures themselves. The Catechism repeatedly cites as authorities ancients such as Irenaeus, Augustine, Ambrose, and Cyril of Jerusalem. The RCC is filled with a sense of history and continuity.

2. A Transcendent Worship. Typically Catholic churches are cathedrals with high, vaulted ceilings. When one enters a Catholic Cathedral, one's attention is immediately elevated heavenward. When the priest is speaking, there are echoes as the sound reverberates through the sanctuary. When chants are intoned or when anyone is singing, the reverberations abound and cross-pollinate. There is a sense of awe and other-worldliness. This transcendence is reinforced by the use of priestly garb, incense, rituals, and prayers.

3. A Sense of Inerrancy. Christ authorized His Apostles and gave them authority. These Apostles, in turn ordained bishops, and in so doing, transferred their apostolic authority to these bishops. Roman Catholics hold to Apostolic Succession, and so the Apostolic authority is passed from one bishop to another. Over time, the Bishop of Rome, the first one of whom was Peter, came to have a pre-eminent role. And so we have the Bishop of Rome, i.e. the Pope, and those Bishops in communion with him. According to RC, the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture. Moreover, the Pope, when speaking officially "from the chair" (Ex Cathedra), i.e., with the full authority of the office, is inerrant. So whatever the RCC, through its Bishops and its Pope decides, is infallible. This gives members of the RCC great confidence that they have, in all matters where the RCC has spoken officially, infallible truth. This infallibility applies both to doctrine and to practice.

4. A Sense of Unity. Some Roman Catholics I have talked to take very seriously the words of Jesus in John 17:11, 20-23. In this, which many have accurately deemed Jesus' High Priestly Prayer, Jesus prayed, "Holy Father, keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are"(John 17:11). Jesus continued on, "I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me" (John 17:20,21). He continued, "The glory which You have given to Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as you have loved Me (John 17:22-23).

Roman Catholics believe that the Church Jesus founded was the Roman Catholic Church, and that Jesus' prayer for unity can only be answered in the Roman Catholic Church. So they believe that they are the only visible expression of the Church on earth in which Jesus' prayer for unity can be and is being fulfilled. In their minds, they have arrived at the only viable fulfillment of Jesus' prayer for unity. This perceived unity is a strong uniting force for the 1.2 billion Roman Catholics in the world.

Concerns I Have About Roman Catholicism

I mentioned above that people close to me have converted to RC in recent years. So the question has come to me, personally, "Should I convert to Roman Catholicism?" Because I have been personally confronted with this question, I have, as I indicated previously, endeavored to do my own research on the issue. I have endeavored to consult RC sources in print, or, preferably, sources online whom I can investigate and to whom I can link so the reader can examine, in context, the conclusions I have drawn. I have examined most extensively resources available on the official Vatican website. In the midst of my research, I encountered a growing list of issues that caused me grave concern. Here are some concerns I have regarding RC:

1. Church Tradition. My gravest concern is that RC elevates Church Tradition to the same level of authority as Scripture (paragraphs 82, 84). We know that Scripture is inspired (2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). But we have no statement anywhere in Scripture that human tradition is inspired. Quite to the contrary, Christ and the Apostles warned us about human tradition that would countermand the Word of God (Matt. 15:3; Mark 7:8-9; Col. 2:22; Tit. 1:14). To me this is a fatal flaw. Post NT Church History is irrelevant as far as having the authority of Scripture; the statements of the Church Fathers are irrelevant as far as having the authority of Scripture; the decisions of extra-Biblical Church Councils -- all of these are irrelevant as far as having the authority of Scripture because they are not inspired. Only Scripture is inspired. The writers of Scripture are not inspired. Only the Scripture they wrote was inspired. Church history and church tradition may appear to be important to us, but they are not inspired, and therefore, not authoritative. There is no record in Scripture that anything or anyone outside of Scripture is inspired. If we want to access infallible truth, we are left with only the Scripture as our sourcebook. When NT writers interpret OT Scriptures, their interpretations are inspired. But the interpretations of Scripture not recorded in the Bible are not inspired. Only the Scripture is inspired.

2. Misinterpretation. A second concern I have is that RC has misinterpreted Matt. 16:18. Jesus quizzed His disciples as to who people said the Son of Man is (Matt. 16:13). Some, they said, thought He was John the Baptist or Elijah, or Jeremiah, or one of the prophets (Matt. 16:14). Jesus continued by asking them, "But who do you say that I am? (Matt. 16:15). Peter correctly responded, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Matt. 16:16). Jesus called Simon blessed because it was not humans who had revealed this to him, but rather it was His Father up in heaven who had done so (Matt. 16:17). Then Jesus continued, "I also say to you that you are Peter (Pétros, 4074), and upon this rock (pétra, 4073) I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it" (Matt. 16:18). Jesus distinctly did not say that He would build His church on Peter, but that He would build His church on the confession Peter had just made. The footnote on Matt. 16:18 in The New American Bible on the Vatican website goes into a convoluted explanation using the Aramaic text to misrepresent the Greek text in order to identify the two words as being the same. The conclusion of the editors of the footnote is that Jesus said He would build His church on Peter. Jesus said no such thing. The only record we have is that which is recorded in the Greek text. There is a difference between 
Pétros (4074) and pétra (4073). RC blurs the distinction between Pétros (4074) and pétra (4073).

3. Apostolic Succession. A third concern I have about RC is its reliance upon the construct of Apostolic Succession. Apostolic Succession is
the exegetically flawed belief that there is an unbroken line of apostolic authority passed on from the original Apostles to selected church leaders today. I believe it is not difficult to refute the whole notion of Apostolic Succession. In the first place, the Twelve Apostles were one of a kind. They were hand-picked personally by Jesus. They had unique spiritual gifts of healing, miracle-working and exorcism given them by Christ and the Holy Spirit. These corroborating miracles were "the signs of an apostle" (2 Cor. 12:12). Jesus Christ gave those original Apostles a unique and exclusive assignment. That was to pass on truth to other believers. But we only know accurately and authoritatively about what they taught through the Scriptures. The New Testament Scriptures are the only way the early Apostles could accurately pass on their teaching to the Church for all time.

My point is this. The original Apostles could pass their teaching on to their followers through the Scriptures they wrote. But they could not pass on their authority. If Bishops of the RCC retain the same authority of the Apostles, why do they not write Scripture? And if the Pope has Apostolic authority, why does he not write Scripture? The last book of Scripture written was the Book of Revelation in about AD 96. If there is still Apostolic Succession, why have no new Scriptures been written in the last 1900 years? In my opinion
the whole idea of Apostolic Succession is a subtle, but illegitimate invention by Christian leaders who, perhaps with noble intentions, wished to retain control and power over the beliefs and behaviors of other Christians.  The Apostles passed on their authoritative Scripture to us, but they could not possibly transmit the authority of their office to anyone else. They were one of a kind. Only Jesus had the authority to hand-pick His Apostles. Mere men cannot pick them. Apostolic Succession is, I fear, a fabrication being used to legitimize whatever the RCC seeks to teach.

In all fairness RC is not the only tradition that espouses Apostolic Succession.
The Lutheran Orthodox Church, the Orthodox Church, and the Episcopal Church all hold to Apostolic Succession. So also, in some way does the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church, which authorizes its pastors to grant forgiveness of sins to congregants based upon their confession.

4. The Nature of the Church. In Matthew 16:18 Jesus predicted to His disciples that He would build His Church. Just exactly what the nature of that Church is has been a subject of debate for centuries.

On the website "Called to Communion," Bryan Cross wrote an article entitled, "Christ Founded a Visible Church." At the beginning of his article, he contrasted the Protestant "ecclesial" (having to do with the Church) paradigm with the Catholic ecclesial paradigm. Here is what he wrote:

One of the most fundamental differences between the Protestant and Catholic ecclesial paradigms concerns the nature of the Church that Christ founded. According to the predominant Protestant paradigm, the Church itself is a spiritual, invisible entity, though some of its members, namely, all those believers still living in this present life, are visible, because they are embodied.

In the Protestant paradigm, anyone who has true faith in Christ is ipso facto a member of the one Church that Christ founded. This Protestant paradigm does not acknowledge that Christ founded a visible hierarchically organized Body.

By contrast, the Catholic Church for 2,000 years has believed and taught that the incarnate Christ founded a visible, hierarchically organized Body. In the Catholic paradigm, faith in Christ is not sufficient by itself to make a person a member of this Body; a believer is incorporated into this Body by valid baptism, but is removed from this Body either by heresy, apostasy, schism, or excommunication.

I will quibble mildly with Cross's statement of the Protestant paradigm. I believe the Church Christ founded existed in the New Testament on two levels.

(1) It existed on a universal level. The Church which Jesus founded is also called, on a metaphorical level, His body, of which He is the Head (Eph. 5:23; Col. 1:18, 24). Since the Church is not literally, but only mystically, the Body of Christ (it is a figure of speech), by definition, the Church Universal cannot be confined to a visible entity. That is impossible.

(2) It existed on a local level. Everywhere in the NT we read of the church on a local level. The church in Jerusalem was scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1). The church existed in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria (Acts 9:31). There was a church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:22), Antioch (Acts 11:26; 13:1), in Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:41), at Caesarea (Acts 18:22), at Ephesus (Acts 20:17), and Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1). There was a church that met in the home of Priscilla and Aquila in Rome (Rom. 16:3-5). There was a church in Corinth (1 Cor.1:2), churches in Galatia (1 Cor. 16:1; Gal. 1:2), Asia (1 Cor. 16:19), Macedonia (2 Cor. 8:1), a church in Philippi (Php. 4:15), a church in Laodicea that met in the house of Nympha (Col. 4:15-16), in Thessalonica (1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1), and seven churches in Asia (Rev. 1:4), namely, in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea (Rev. 1:11).

Cross, in his article, correctly identifies the Church, the Body of Christ, as a mystical body. He carefully and correctly distinguishes between Christ's mystical body and His physical body:

In the New Testament we find different terms used to show distinct aspects of the Church. One such term is “the Body of Christ” [σώματος τοῦ Χριστοῦ]. To distinguish the Body of Christ which is the Church, from the body of Christ that was born of the Virgin Mary 2,000 years ago and now sits at the right hand of God the Father, we refer to the former as the “Mystical Body of Christ” and the latter as the physical Body of Christ. (He cites as an authority the Papal Encyclical, Mystici Corporis Christi, an Encyclical by Pope Pius XII in Rome in 1943, paragraph 60.)

But then Cross makes a leap of logic that is remarkable: This Mystical Body of Christ, because it is described in terms of a "body" metaphor, must be taken as physical and literal! Here is what he says:

This unity of the Mystical Body is a visible unity, precisely because it is the unity of a Body. Bodies are visible and hierarchically organized, not invisible. [11] Because the Church is a Body, the Church is essentially visible. [In the preceding sentence he has just quoted from Satis Cognitum, Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII, given at Rome, 1896, section 3.] The visibility of the Body is not reducible to the visibility of certain of its members; the Church per se is visible, just as your body per se is visible. Because the Church is a Body, “it must also be something definite and perceptible to the senses."

So after carefully distinguishing the physical body of Christ from the mystical body of Christ, Cross concludes that the mystical body of Christ must be physical because the metaphor used is that of a body!
In terms of a different figure of speech, Cross wants to "have his cake, and eat it, too!" He has confused the Invisible Church with the Visible Church.

Bryan Cross is in good company when he does so. Pope Leo XIII stated in section 3 of Satis Cognitum, "From this it follows that those who arbitrarily conjure up and picture to themselves a hidden and invisible Church are in grievous and pernicious error."

In that case I stand convicted. The Biblical evidence is that there is the Invisible Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, and there are visible local churches in different parts of the world. You can't use a metaphor to prove the Church is mystical, and then use the same metaphor to prove it is visible and perceptible.

Roman Catholics have to hold to the view of both Pope Leo XIII and Bryan Cross. Why? Because they want to assert that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church. If one is not part of the Roman Catholic Church he is not part of the true church.

The True Church, the Body of Christ, however painful it may be to some, exists independently of any material, tangible structure of faith. The only requirement for entry is faith in Jesus the Messiah. There are bona fide believers in Jesus the Messiah in the Roman Catholic Church, in the Orthodox Churches, in the Coptic Church, in the various branches of Protestantism, and even, perhaps in some branches of Christianity that some might wish to label "cults." And I am convinced there are imposters in each segment also. Whatever hierarchy and organization exists in this life exists in the local churches, not in one grandiose aggregate, whether it be Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant. In the next life, it will be a different story, I am sure.

Conclusion: The Universal Church, being a mystical Body of Christ, was, and is invisible. The Visible Church in the NT existed in a variety of identifiable, physical locations. That is far more true today than it was back in the NT era.

5. The Call to Unity. There is a website entitled, "Called to Communion." This website is operated by Protestants who have converted to Roman Catholicism. On the About page, the words of Jesus calling us to unity are quoted (John 17:16-22). Roman Catholics I have talked to insist that, since Jesus called us to unity, we should be part of the only true Church, the Roman Catholic Church. So in their view, those of us who are of a Protestant persuasion are in error because we are not united with the RCC. Therefore, in their view essential unity can only be achieved through an organizational unity with a visible representation of the Church, the Roman Catholic Church.

I have a problem with that. How can there be unity without truth? Am I required to sacrifice truths I hold sincerely from Scripture, and trample them underfoot so I can be ecclesiastically unified with what purports to be the only one true visible version of the Church? Jesus, in John 17:1-26 not only prayed about unity, He prayed about truth.

Jesus said that He had manifested God's name to the men God had given Him out of the world. These men had kept God's word (John 17:6). He continued, in part, "Now they (i.e. these men) have come to that everything You have given Me is from You; for the words which You gave Me I have given to them; and they have received them ...." (John 17:7-8). Jesus said He had given these men God's word, and the world had hated them (John 17:14). He prayed, further, "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth" (John 17:17). He continued, "For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth" (John 17:19) (emphases all mine).

My contention is that, when a church compromises Biblical truth, it forfeits a claim on Biblical unity. I am not of a mind to sacrifice Biblical truth in order to achieve a superficial organizational unity.

I believe that the True Church is broader than man-made designations. The True Church, with whom I am to be unified, is broader than Roman Catholicism, or Greek Orthodoxy, or Presbyterians, or Methodists, or Baptists, or Lutherans. I can find unity with any believer in Jesus. It is Jesus who is building His own Church. No mere man gets to decide who is and who is not in Jesus' Church, because it is Jesus' Church, not the church of some self-appointed human hierarchy.

I will admit that the splintered denominations and churches that are the bequeathal of Protestantism, is a messy sort of thing. I wish it weren't that way, but it is. But what is worse than that is a religious body that claims to have the sole corner on truth and the sole corner on Jesus' Church. What is worse than that is a church who has built up so many man-made interpretations and doctrines and accretions that any adherent must acquiesce to church tradition trumping the Scripture.

And let us remember that the splintering didn't begin in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle Church. There was a "Great Schism" that in A.D. 1054 sundered the Eastern Greek Church from the Western Latin Church almost 500 years earlier. I am not hereby attempting to blame or exonerate either Church. But the very fact that the word "Roman" must be tacked on to the term "Catholic" is powerful witness that there was an earlier single church that was termed the "Catholic Church" that was neither solely Roman nor Eastern Orthodox. So let us not blame everything on Martin Luther.

There are some who would say, "There has always been only one nation of Israel. God asked the prophets to reform the one Israel." Therefore, they conclude, there is only the one Church. Let us remain in or convert to the one Church and reform it from within." May I remind the reader Reformation was precisely the original goal of Martin Luther. But those who abused the church with false practices and unbiblical doctrine didn't want to be reformed. Finally, Martin Luther and his contemporaries felt they had no choice but to depart from the visible framework of the Roman Catholic Church. I would also remind the reader that when King Solomon failed to follow God's truth sufficiently, God judged Israel by dividing the nation into two parts -- Judea and Samaria. And then He further judged both nations by deporting them into captivity. I believe the Reformation, messy as it was and remains, was God's way of reforming the True Church, the Church that rises above ecclesiastical and denominational labels.

I am a believer in the Sovereignty of God. I refuse to say that God is failing to answer Jesus' High-Priestly Prayer of John 17:1-26. So I conclude that, in God's Sovereignty, in real-time, Jesus' prayer has been answered in the way that God wanted to answer it at this time. We know there is coming a time when the True Church will be snatched up to heaven (1 Thess. 4:15-17), when all departed Church-Age believers in Christ will receive resurrection bodies (1 Cor. 15:5-54; 1 Thess. 4:16). Then the Entire Church will undergo the evaluation and cleansing of the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom. 14:10; 1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). Then will come the time when the Bride of Christ, the entire True Church, will have been purified (Rev. 19:7-9). Then we will all enjoy a unity the like of which we have never known before. I look forward to the purification and resulting unity with great eagerness and anticipation.

There is an old saying, "To live above with saints we love -- that will be glory. To live below with saints we know -- that's quite another story." And so it is. Meanwhile, we are commanded to be "diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" (Eph. 4:3). And when we have differences, we are not to judge one another or treat one another with contempt (Rom. 14:1-12). But we cannot violate our own consciences (1 Cor. 14:22-23). At the same time, we must daily examine the Scriptures to see if what we are being taught is true or not (Acts 17:11). At the same time, like our Christian brother Jude, we must "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints" (Jude 1:3).

For the record, when I see Jesus face to face, I fully expect to be assigned Remedial Theology 101, 102, 103, 104, 105n, etc. I expect all Christians, including popes and doctors of theology, to be required attenders as well. I hope to study with you in those classes!

Does Water Baptism Save Us? The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) affirms that it does. The Catholic view of baptism is that of "Baptismal Regeneration." In other words, being baptized in water by virtually anyone, as long as the right words are used (baptism in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost), brings about a spiritual transformation. Faith alone in Jesus Christ, they say, is insufficient for salvation.

I have a problem with this. I cannot understand how mere water, however applied, with whatever verbal formula, can effect a spiritual transformation. Granted, there are some Scripture passages that I, with my position, have to explain. But the same is true for the Catholic view. One of the strongest passages, in my view, that defeats the notion that water baptism can save us is Ephesians 2:8-10. This passage states that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus apart from any works. That would include the work of baptism. Catholics would argue that baptism is a sacrament of grace, but I maintain that, notwithstanding, under their conditions, baptism is actually a work that must be performed in order to merit salvation. Works are important, but they are the result of our salvation, not the cause of it, according to Eph. 2:8-10. Interestingly enough, the New American Bible, on the Vatican Website has no footnotes whatever on Ephesians 2:8-10!

To continue reading on this topic, go to "Is It Necessary to Be Baptized in Order to Be Saved?"

7. Claims to Elite, Exclusive Interpretational Privileges. It makes me nervous when religious groups claim a corner on truth. Years ago I lived in Adelaide, South Australia. A Pentecostal church there claimed to be the only church that could provide salvation. In the 1800's a group of about a hundred Mennonite families followed a false teacher, Claas Epp, Jr. to central Asia. They were the "Bride Community," he said. Christ would return only for them in 1889. A number of my own relatives were deceived into following this impostor, who, of course, was eventually proven to be a charlatan. So, as I said, I get rather nervous about Christians who claim they, and they alone, have a corner on truth.

Unfortunately, Roman Catholicism makes those claims. Because of their belief in the papacy, an invention that cannot be proven from Scripture, and their belief in monarchical bishops, another invention that cannot be proven from Scripture, Roman Catholicism has developed, over the centuries, an exclusive, elitist club. This club is the Pope and the Bishops "in communion with him." They call their elitist teaching authority the Roman Catholic "Magisterium." Consider the following quotes in the RC Catechism contained under Article 2, The Transmission of Divine Revelation.

The Magisterium of the Church

85 "The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living teaching office of the Church alone. Its authority in this matter is exercised in the name of Jesus Christ."47 This means that the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishops in communion with the successor of Peter, the Bishop of Rome.

86 "Yet this Magisterium is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant. It teaches only what has been handed on to it. At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication and expounds it faithfully. All that it proposes for belief as being divinely revealed is drawn from this single deposit of faith."48

The dogmas of the faith

88 The Church's Magisterium exercises the authority it holds from Christ to the fullest extent when it defines dogmas, that is, when it proposes, in a form obliging the Christian people to an irrevocable adherence of faith, truths contained in divine Revelation or also when it proposes, in a definitive way, truths having a necessary connection with these.

Growth in understanding the faith ....

95 "It is clear therefore that, in the supremely wise arrangement of God, sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected and associated that one of them cannot stand without the others. Working together, each in its own way, under the action of the one Holy Spirit, they all contribute effectively to the salvation of souls."62


100 The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.

WordExplain: As you can see above, in paragraph 86, the Catechism claims that the Magisterium "is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant." That statement is simply not true. Because the Church believes that Church Tradition is just as authoritative as Scripture (paragraph 82 and 84), those in the Church who interpret Scripture can make up any interpretation they wish, regardless of whether the Scriptures teach it or not. Down through the centuries, there have been scores of accretions in church tradition that cannot be supported by Scripture. (More about that later.)

The teaching of the Church that the Pope and the Bishops are the sole interpreters of Scripture (85, 100) simply cannot be supported from the Scripture. Here are some Scriptures that disprove the contention of the Church.

Acts 17:11. Paul and Silas were teaching the Word of God to the people of the Jewish Synagogue in Berea. Luke, the historian, commented, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). In opposition to the dogma of the RCC, the Bible itself commends as being noble those who examine the Scriptures themselves in order to see if what they have been taught agrees with the Scriptures! Lay people have the right and the responsibility to examine Scripture and see if what they are being taught agrees with the Bible!

Acts 20:28-32. On his way to Jerusalem, Paul called the Ephesian elders for an impromptu visit in the port city of Miletus (Acts 20:17). He warns the elders in Acts 20:28 to be on guard for themselves and for all the flock. He warned them, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock" (Acts 20:29). He was not through. He continued, "and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Acts 20:30). Then Paul gives them two antidotes, and two only: "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified" (Acts 20:32). So the only antidotes toward savage wolves from without and power-hungry elders from within are (1) God Himself and (2) the word of God's grace. God's Word alone, not church tradition, is able to build up the people of the local church and give them an inheritance among the saints.

Notice also, that the elders of the local church of Ephesus have the responsibility to warn one another and to protect the church. There is no elite bureaucratic "Magisterium" (85, 100) to whom the elders of the Ephesian church are responsible. They, and they alone are responsible to God, who purchased the Church with His own blood (Acts 20:28). And these elders have only God Himself and the Bible as their defense against wolves and imposters.

1 John 2:20-27. In 1 John 2:18-27, the Apostle John warned his readers of the Antichrist and the many lesser antichrists who had already appeared in this, "the last hour" (1 John 2:18). These lesser antichrists had departed from the church and from the teaching of the apostles (1 John 2:19). But his readers possessed "an anointing from the Holy One," with the result that "you all know" (1 John 2:20). Undoubtedly, "the anointing" refers to the Holy Spirit, whom all believers in Christ possess during the present Church Age (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 3:16; 6:19; Gal. 4:6; 2 Tim. 1:14; 1 John 4:13). John continued on, "I have not written to you because you do not know the truth, but because you do know it, and because no lie is of the truth" (1 John 2:21). Thus far we conclude that every Christian has been anointed with the Holy Spirit, and this enables him to discern truth and error. Therefore individual Christians themselves have the capacity to discern truth from error. They do not need the "Magisterium" of the Roman Catholic Church to be the "sole interpreters of Scripture (85, 100)."

John continued on. "These things I have written to you concerning those who are trying to deceive you. 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 2:26-27).

I acknowledge, as a teacher of the Bible, that God has granted the gift of teaching the Scriptures to certain believers (Acts 13:1; Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor 12:27-28; Eph. 2:20; 4:11-13). But keeping this truth in balance, God has anointed every believer with the Holy Spirit so that each believer can know and discern truth. Individual believers need to be like the pre-Christian members of the Berean synagogue. They were more noble than the attenders of the synagogue at Thessalonica, because they searched the Scriptures daily to see if what Paul and his associates were teaching them was true or not. No elite "Magisterium" can be the sole definers of truth (85, 100), particularly when they assert that church tradition is just as valid a source of truth as the Scriptures themselves (82, 84)!

2 Timothy 3:13-17. A final Scripture to which I wish to appeal in refuting the notion that the Pope and the Bishops in Communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture (85, 100) is 2 Timothy 3:13-17. Paul warned Timothy in his letter, "But evil men and imposters will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived" (2 Tim. 3:13). Paul proposed another alternative, however, for Timothy, who possessed a distinct advantage. "You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Tim. 3:14-15).

And then Paul uttered words which are the rock-ribbed foundation of the search for truth. "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim. 3:16-17). Paul stated, literally, that all Scripture is "God-breathed." The Bible, in its original manuscripts, said exactly what God wanted it to say the way He wanted to say it. Here is the important distinction. Scripture is God-breathed. Men's interpretation of Scripture is not God-breathed. Church tradition is not God-breathed. Only Scripture is God-breathed.

Conclusion: So the Roman Catholic Church is in error when it states that the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture (85,100). They are not. There is a sense in which each believer has been anointed with the Holy Spirit so he can know truth and detect error. God has also given teachers to the Church universal and to local churches in particular to help believers learn and understand the truth. Furthermore, a plurality of elders in each local church has been tasked with the responsibility of maintaining doctrinal integrity. But nowhere in Scripture do we read that the Pope and the Bishops in communion with him are the sole interpreters of Scripture (85, 100). That is a man-made dogma based upon human tradition and not upon the Scriptures. No interpretation of Scripture is God-breathed. Only the Bible itself is God-breathed.

I conclude this portion of this essay with the following personal anecdote. (Anecdotes prove nothing, by the way, but sometimes they effectively illustrate. I think this one does.) One time I was a pastor in a small church in a small rural town. There was a meeting attended by several area pastors. I was astonished to learn that one of the pastors had been a Roman Catholic in the past. "Why on earth did you change? I asked him. His reply was simple, but it spoke volumes. "I started reading the Bible." Enough said.

8. An Over-Emphasis upon Peter. Another thing that gives me pause about the Catholic Church is the tremendous importance the Church places  upon Peter. Granted, he was a leader among the original twelve Apostles. Jesus recognized that and gave him some exceptional privilege. But I question whether Peter had all the authority and importance which the Catholic Church ascribes to him. I certainly do not believe Peter was the first pope, primarily because there is nothing biblical about popes in the first place. It is church tradition that created the myth of the pope. It certainly is not found in the Bible. And let us go back a step. The church makes a great deal about monarchical bishops. You cannot find monarchical bishops in the Bible. So that is a non-starter also. So there is great myth that has been circulated about Peter that exceeds his actual importance. To find out how important Peter really was, we will have to go back to....guess what? The Bible.

First of all Jesus did not predict that He would build His Church upon Peter (Matt. 16:18). He predicted He would build His Church upon the confession that Peter made -- namely, that Jesus was the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:16). We have already stated above, that there is a difference, in the Greek language, between Peter (Petros) and rock (petra). Roman Catholics go back to what they think Jesus must have said in Aramaic to prove that Peter and rock were the same word. There is a fatal flaw in their reasoning. God did not have the New Testament written in Aramaic. He had it written in the best possible language for that day and for all-time. That language was Koine Greek, not Aramaic. So the Catholics are wrong in asserting that Jesus said He would build His Church upon Peter. He never said that. So it is wrong for Catholics to conclude that Peter is or was in any sense the Head of the Church. He was not and is not. In fact it is blasphemous to assert that Peter was or is the Head. The Church, the Body of Christ, has only one Head. That Head is our Lord Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22; Col. 1:18).

Now, let us carry on. Jesus did say that God had revealed Jesus' identity to Peter (Matt. 16:17). Jesus would build His Church upon Peter's confession that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the Living God (Matt. 16:18). But Jesus also gave to Peter the "keys of the kingdom of the heavens" (Matt. 16:19) The Catholic Church says that Jesus thus gave Peter enormous authority over the Church. I don't think that is what Jesus meant. The primary significance of keys is that they can lock and unlock doors. That does represent a certain amount of authority, to be sure. But more important, Jesus said Peter would have the authority to lock and unlock doors in relation to the Kingdom of the Heavens.

So how did Peter use those keys? Let me give you several instances in which Peter used the "Keys of the Kingdom." First, he used those keys on the Day of Pentecost when he preached and permitted the first wave of Jewish people to enter the Church. There were about three thousand people who believed in Jesus, were saved, and were baptized to demonstrate their allegiance to Jesus as the Messiah (Acts 2:14-42).

Second, Peter turned the keys to permit the half-breed Samaritans into the Church. There was a persecution that was instigated by Saul, the church's arch enemy. Believers were forced to flee for their lives (Acts 8:1-3). One of those who left Jerusalem was one of the first "Deacons," Philip. Philip had great success in preaching the Good News about Jesus as the Messiah to the people of the city of Samaria. A great many of them believed in Jesus (Acts 8:4-13). News that Samaria had received the word of God reached the apostles in Jerusalem. Immediately they sent Peter and John to Samaria. When the two arrived, they prayed that the Samaritans might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:14-15). There was apparently no evidence that the believing Samaritans had actually received the Spirit, even though they had trusted in Jesus and had been baptized in water in the name of the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:12-13, 16). Peter and John were laying hands on them, and they were receiving the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17). We conclude, therefore, that, even though the Samaritans had believed in Jesus, and had been baptized into His name in water, they had not yet been baptized by the Holy Spirit into the Body of Christ, nor did they yet possess the Spirit. Why was there this delay? In my understanding, it is because Peter was not present to usher them officially into the Church. When Peter was present to turn the keys of the Kingdom of the Heavens, the "hated" (John 4:9) Samaritans were officially admitted into the Church.

Third, Peter used the keys to admit Gentiles into the Church. There was, in Caesarea, a Roman Centurion named Cornelius, a devout man who feared God, gave many alms to the Jewish people, and prayed continually (Acts 10:1-2). In a vision he saw an angel who instructed him to send for Simon Peter in Joppa (Acts 10:3-8). God gave Peter a vision about eating unclean food (Acts 10:9-16), then instructed him to accompany the men who had been sent to bring him back (Acts 10:17-23). Having accompanied the messengers to Caesarea, Peter asked Cornelius the purpose of his request (Acts 10:23-29). Cornelius, surrounded by his relatives and close friends, explained the vision he had received, and told Peter he and his household were waiting to hear his message (Acts 10:30-33). Peter acknowledged God's international impartiality, then told the assembled guests about Jesus, the coming Judge of the living and the dead. He concluded that, concerning Jesus, "all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins" (Acts 10:34-43). "While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message" (Acts 10:44). The circumcised believers were amazed that the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also (Acts 10:45). They could discern the presence of the Holy Spirit because these Gentiles were speaking in unlearned languages just as the Jewish disciples had on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 10:46). Peter asked aloud, for the benefit of the Jewish brothers who had traveled with him from Joppa, what appears to be a rhetorical question, "Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?" (Acts 10:47). "And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay on a few days" (Acts 10:48). So we see that, by divine design, Peter was the one who was present to turn the keys and to admit officially Gentiles into the Church.

The Transition from Peter to Paul as the Most Prominent Apostle

Without a doubt, Peter is the key Apostolic figure in Acts 1-12. His treatment in the book of Acts reaches a climax in Acts 12:1-19, wherein Peter and James, son of Zebedee, were imprisoned by Herod. James was executed, but Peter was miraculously released from imprisonment with the aid of an angel who appeared at night time. That is almost the last we hear about Peter in the book of Acts.

From Acts 13-28, however, Peter is no longer the main Apostle. The spotlight is now upon Saul who became Paul. Saul had transitioned from being the Church's greatest enemy into Paul, the Church's greatest missionary. Peter makes a cameo appearance (Acts 15:7-11) at the Jerusalem Council, recorded in Acts 15:1-29. But the most-respected spokesman at the Council, at least the one who consolidated the group's theological leanings and proposed the tack accepted by the entire Council was James, the half-brother of Jesus (Acts 15:13-21). So as it turns out, the leader with the greatest eventually input into the Council was not Peter at all, but James. And the the leading Apostle in Acts 13-28 is Paul, not Peter.

The Absence of Biblical Evidence for a Monarchical Bishop Anywhere, Including in Rome

The position of Roman Catholicism is that Peter labored in Rome, and that he died a martyr's death there. According to RC, these facts form the "indisputable" historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter (see here):

It is an indisputably established historical fact that St. Peter laboured in Rome during the last portion of his life, and there ended his earthly course by martyrdom. As to the duration of his Apostolic activity in the Roman capital, the continuity or otherwise of his residence there, the details and success of his labours, and the chronology of his arrival and death, all these questions are uncertain, and can be solved only on hypotheses more or less well-founded. The essential fact is that Peter died at Rome: this constitutes the historical foundation of the claim of the Bishops of Rome to the Apostolic Primacy of Peter.
This RC claim assumes the rapid development of the "monarchical bishop." Here is the RC understanding of "monarchical bishop" according to the Catholic Encyclopedia:

It is of Catholic faith that bishops are of Divine institution. In the hierarchy of order they possess powers superior to those of priests and deacons; in the hierarchy of jurisdiction, by Christ's will, they are appointed for the government of one portion of the faithful of the Church, under the direction and authority of the sovereign pontiff, who can determine and restrain their powers, but, not annihilate them. They are the successors of the Apostles, though they do not possess all the prerogatives of the latter. (Council of Trent, Sess. XXIII, ch. iv; can. vi, vii. See APOSTOLIC COLLEGE.) The episcopate is monarchical. By the Will of Christ, the supreme authority in a diocese does not belong to a college of priests or of bishops, but it resides in the single personality of the chief.

Whatever the historical development of bishop (episkopos) was after the first century, the New Testament evidence is that there was no such thing in the New Testament Church as a "monarchical" bishop, having singular jurisdiction over a church or a group of churches. The New Testament is solidly in favor of the understanding that a bishop (episkopos) and an elder (presbuteros) were one in the same. The term presbuteros (elder) looked at the gravity of the office, and episkopos (overseer) looked at the job description of the office. Respected and qualified men ("elders" -- plural of presbuteros) were assigned to be overseers (episkopos) of the church. We find, furthermore, that there was always a plurality of elders/overseers. Theirs was a joint responsibility. Note the following Scriptures:

Acts 11:30. There was a plurality of elders at the church in Antioch.

Acts 14:21-23. Paul and Barnabas appointed a plurality of elders in each church.

Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 21:18. There was a plurality of elders in the church at Jerusalem.

Acts 20:17, 28. Paul called the elders of the church of Ephesus for a visit with him at Miletus (Acts 20:17). He stated that the Holy Spirit had made them overseers (episkopos) responsible to shepherd the church of God (Acts 20:28).

Philippians 1:1. Paul and Timothy wrote to the saints, the overseers (episkopos) and deacons of Philippi.

1 Timothy 5:17. Paul wrote to Timothy that the elders who rule well are to be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching.

Titus 1:5. Paul left Titus in Crete to appoint elders in every city.

James 5:14. Anyone who is sick is to call for the elders of the church for prayer and anointing with oil.

1 Peter 5:1-2. Peter, terming himself a "fellow elder," exhorted the elders in his audience to shepherd the flock of God among them, exercising oversight (episkopeō) not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God.

We conclude, then, that there is no evidence in the NT of a "bishop" (episkopos) being anything other than a synonym for the word "elder" (presbuteros). So the monarchical bishop is a fiction of the post New Testament Church. The claim of the Roman Catholic Church, therefore, of the validity of the Monarchical Bishop and thus the validity of the successor to Monarchical Bishop of Rome as having any jurisdiction whatever as the Pope is completely falsified.

Even historically, there are obstacles to the Catholic Church's default position, that Peter was the first Bishop of  Rome. Brandon Addison has written a fascinating article entitled, "The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment." In it he quotes Eamon Duffy [Eamon Duffy, Saints and Sinners: A History of the Popes (Yale University Press: New Haven, 2006), 2.], a Roman Catholic scholar and member of the Pontifical Historical Commission:

These stories [of the Petrine origin of the Papacy] were to be accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early Church — Origen, Ambrose, Augustine. But they are pious romance, not history, and the fact is that we have no reliable accounts either of Peter’s later life or the manner or place of his death. Neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church at Rome, for there were Christians in the city before either of the Apostles set foot there. Nor can we assume, as Irenaeus did, that the Apostles established there a succession of bishops to carry on their work in the city, for all the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the deaths of the Apostles. In fact, wherever we turn, the solid outlines of the Petrine succession at Rome seem to blur and dissolve. 

Moreover, also, according to Addison, Dr. Raymond E. Brown, a Roman Catholic scholar, in his book, Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections, (Paulist Press: New York, 1970), 53, stated:

The supposition that, when Peter did come to Rome (presumably in the 60’s), he took over and became the first bishop represents a retrojection of later church order…our evidence would suggest that the emergence of a single bishop, distinct from the college of presbyter-bishops, came relatively late in the Roman church, perhaps not until well into the 2nd century. Leaders such as Linus, Cletus, and Clement, known to us from the early Roman Church, were probably prominent presbyter-bishops but not necessarily ‘monarchical’ bishops.

Conclusion: Although Peter certainly had an important role, and he will yet play an important role (Matt 19:28; Rev. 21:14), he is not as important as the Roman Catholic Church makes him out to be. He is not the Head of the Church. Only Jesus is. He was never the "Vicar" of Christ, and neither has any pope ever so been. We have no guarantee that he was ever an elder of the church of Rome. We do not have any Biblical proof that he even ever arrived in Rome. And he certainly did not establish a "monarchical episcopate" in Rome. Indeed, the practice of "monarchical bishops" appears to have been very late -- at the earliest, in the second century , A.D. And the office of "pope," based on the presumed supremacy of the presumed monarchical bishop of Rome, is an invention of the Church. It has no basis in Biblical reality.

A call for the question...

Should I Convert to Roman Catholicism?

The question inherent in this article is, "Should I Convert to Roman Catholicism?" Each person will have to answer that question for himself. My own answer, very simply, is, "No." And I follow it up with another question: "How can I convert to a segment of Christianity that asserts that church tradition is equally as authoritative as Scripture?" I cannot countenance numerous doctrines held by the Roman Catholic Church which simply cannot be substantiated from Scripture. I believe that the Scriptures trump man's tradition. Man's tradition cannot trump Scripture. I choose the Word of God over human tradition.

(Scripture quotation taken from the NASB.)

First begun September 9, 2015

Last updated February 2, 2016

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