While I was growing up, my mother always took my sister and me to mass. On one occasion my mother was ill and my father, who was a Baptist, dropped us off. I remember clearly, as we arrived, he said kindly, yet with sobering concern, “I cannot see how one man can tell everybody else what to do.” I was no more than 11 years old when I heard those words, but they would resurface when I was 17.
Yes, just why is it that a mere man is telling everyone else—is telling me—what to do in religion? Isn’t that only for God to do? And doesn’t He do that through the Bible?” Although the Catholic Church began very early and is quite large, something is not right.
I was then open to other possibilities and began looking around. I thank God that I came in contact with the church of Christ. Through Bible classes and sermons, I learned the truth about the plan of salvation, the oneness of the church—in contrast to the great falling away and denominationalism—and other truths. What a priceless blessing was now mine because a speck of doubt was placed in my mind concerning the head of the Roman Catholic Church. Since then, a continuing study of the Scriptures, church history, debates which others had with Catholics, and visits with former members of Catholicism have confirmed many times my decision concerning the pope and Catholicism.
The Two Alternatives
Further study revealed that the Bible predicted there would be a falling away (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:1-12). Thus, one of three things must have occurred: (1) The larger portion of the church remained faithful, and a small portion fell away. (2) The larger portion fell away, while a small portion remained faithful (and was hidden in insignificance, or (3) all of the church fell away but was restored in place to place, and from time to time, as various individuals read and built according to the instructions of the Bible.
When considering history, these three choices present the following alternatives: The Roman Catholic Church is the true church and a small portion fell away, or the Roman Catholic Church—although it was by far the larger portion—is that which fell away. One of these alternatives must be true. Not both, nor neither.
The ramification of the correct answer is truly extensive. If the Roman Catholic Church is the true church, then all non-Catholics are in error and ought to repent and join the Catholic Church. But if the Roman Catholic Church is that which fell away, the all Catholicism—as well as those who have merely tried to reform it—are in error and must repent and return to the way the church was before it fell away. The correct answer is very weighty.
So how do we determine which alternative is correct? Paul’s statement in Second Thessalonians 2:3-4 identifies a characteristic of that portion which fell away, and verse 7 says the factors which would lead to the falling away were already at work in Paul’s time.
Verse 6 indicates that the “man of sin” would come from within the apostate group, and verse 8 clearly says he would continue until the second coming of Christ. Since the apostasy was beginning in Paul’s time, and the “man of sin” would be alive at Christ’s second coming, that means a succession of individuals would occupy the position designated by Paul as “the man of sin.” Thus the rise of a man, or succession of men, who is exalted above all others in “Christianity”—even to the extent of holding the place of God on earth—is a clear identifying mark of the group which fell away.
Does the Roman Catholic Church have such a mark? Ask any Catholic, “Who is the head of your church on earth?”, and the answer will be, “The pope.” That will always be the answer, because that is what Catholicism teaches (Gibbons, p. 129). Catholicism further maintains that the pope is the vicar (acting in place) of Christ (Gibbons, p. 118). It is even claimed that the pope has the ability on occasion to speak with infallibility (Catholic Dictionary, p. 667). Without question, the Roman Catholic Church has a succession of men (popes) who are exalted above all others, claiming to hold the place of God on earth, and that is the mark of identity of the group that fell away. The Roman Catholic church itself is the result of apostasy. The truth is simply unmistakable.
The Roman Catholic Church stands or falls upon the claim that the pope is the head of the church as a successor to Peter. If the pope is the successor to Peter—whom they claim was the first pope—then the Roman Catholic Church is the true church. But if the doctrine regarding the pope is false, then the Roman Catholic Church is an apostate organization.
Catholicism attempts to establish the papacy by claiming Matthew 16:18 teaches that Peter was the first pope. The verse reads the same way in the King James Version and in the Douay-Confraternity Version, an authorized Catholic version: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” This verse does not support the catholic claim.
First, in order for Peter and the rock to be the same thing, they must be the same gender—masculine, feminine, or neuter. A man would not be described with words such as “she,” “herr,” or “it.” But “Peter” is petros, which is masculine, and “rock” is petra, which is feminine (Moulton, p. 23).
Second, there is a difference in the words’ definitions. Petra denotes a mass of rock, as distinct from petros, a detached stone or boulder, a stone that might be easily thrown or moved” (Vine, III, 302). Liddell and Scott add, “petros, a stone distinguished from petra,” which they define as, “shelf of rock” (p. 636). Bullinger adds, “petra, a rock, a projecting rock, a cliff, geographically, a rock in situ, as distinguished from petros a stone, that might be thrown by the hand, etc” (p. 650). Thus the two are distinct, not the same. One is but a stone—“…thou shalt be called Cephas, which is by interpretation, A stone” (John 12:42); the other is a secure foundation (Matt. 7:24-25). Thus, when Jesus uses the words petros and petra, He makes it clear that they are not the same thing. Not only does Matthew 16:18 fail to verify the beginning and validity of the office of pope, but it refutes it! Consider these other verses which reveal this doctrine to be false:
If the pope cannot be married, than anyone who is married cannot be pope. Peter was married (Matt. 8:14). Therefore, Peter was not a pope. Paul wrote First Corinthians more than 20 years after the church was established. In that letter, he referred to Peter’s living wife (1 Cor. 9:5).
If Peter were the sole head of the church on earth, he would have had no equal among men. But Paul said he was not behind the very chiefest apostles (2 Cor. 11:5). Since Peter was an apostle, and Paul was not behind him, Paul would either have been peter’s equal or superior. Neither alternative fits Catholic claims.
If it is Biblical to bow down before the pope because he is “the vicar of Christ,” then it would have been Biblical to bow before Peter. But Peter prohibited a man from bowing to him (Acts 10:25-26).
Peter was an apostle. Matthew 20:20-28 teaches that no apostle was to have dominion over the others. Therefore, Peter did not have dominion over the other apostles and was not a pope.
Peter was forbidden to teach something different from what inspired men had taught (Gal. 1:6-9). Popes teach things contrary to what inspired men taught (purgatory, adoration of images, burning incense, etc). Therefore, the authority from which they speak is from men, not God (Matt. 21:24-25; 15:9).
These verses make it abundantly clear that the crucial doctrine upon which Catholicism stands is false. It is not God’s teaching, but that which men in the great apostasy have produced. The doctrine of the pope did not even exist until it finally evolved some 430 years later, with Boniface III being named the first pope (Boettner, pp. 7-9). While the Catholic Church claims to have a historical record of the succession of popes from Peter, it is acknowledged by one of their own authorities that no such records exist for the first 300 years.
The sources from which the historian must reconstruct the story of the primitive church are, from the point of view of his task, far from ideal. There are no diaries, memoirs, or correspondence of the chief actors, no dossiers of official papers, no systematically filed records, certificates, and statistics. There are the summary lives of Our Lord we call the Gospels. (sic) There are letters from various apostles to different communities of believers, and, in the next two centuries, a none too voluminous collection of polemical, apologetical, and expository writings. But nowhere save, in The Acts of The Apostles, is there, for nearly 300 years, anything that can be called a contemporary historical record. The precious facts, very often, are no more than the carefully gleaned obiter dicta of the theologian and the cont-roversialist, of the unbelievers and the heretics too, no less than of the Catholic writer (Hughes, pp. 2-3).
Furthermore, when records are submitted to establish a record, they are subject to being a forgery.
Substituting of false documents and tampering with genuine ones was quite a trade in the Middle Ages (Catholic Encyclopedia, VI, 136).
Writers of the 4th century were prone to describe many practices (i.e. The Lenten Fast of Forty Days) as apostolic institutions which certainly had no claims to be so regarded (Ibid., III, 484).
Six centuries passed before it was discovered that the Pseudo-Isodorean or False decretals as they are now called, were to a great extent a forgery (Catholic Dictionary, p. 105).
Thus, there are no records to trace a succession of popes back to Peter and the Bible refutes the Catholics’ preposterous claim. Dad was right. One man cannot tell everybody else in the church what to do.
Ex Cathedra And “The Infallible Source”
“Ex cathedra” is the belief that the pope, on occasions, is able to speak with infallibility or is inspired of God. “The Infallible Source” is the contention that the Holy Spirit guides the Roman Catholic Church into a perfect interpretation of the word of God through (at least) the pope. These two beliefs constitute a powerful grip upon the mind of the Catholic who is strongly indoctrinated with them. He is convinced that the Roman Catholic Church is the original church and that God has made the pope the head of the church and interpreter of the Bible for all men.. Therefore, whatever the pope says is right, regardless of what the Bible may say. This doctrine effectively prohibits the catholic from thinking for himself.
But if the age of miraculous gifts ceased upon the completion of the writing of the New Testament, then miraculous prophesying—including ex cathedra—and miraculous interpretations, knowledge, and discerning of spirits—including The Infallible Source—have ceased. That such miraculous gifts did cease, the Bible teaches (1 Cor. 13:8-13). The false doctrines of “ex cathedra” and “The Infallible Source” are devices which were conjured up to entrap multitudes of people.
The True New Testament Church?
The true church in any age of the world must be identical to the church in the New Testament. That is the contention of Catholicism: “…if it be not identical in belief, in government, etc., with the primitive church, then it is not the Church of Christ” (Catholic Facts, p. 27).
Therefore, in order to be the true church of Christ, the Roman Catholic Church must be identical to the primitive church. Is it, or have there been changes? Catholics themselves admit that the following are later additions:
The priesthood (Catholic Die., p. 692).
Clergy (Catholic Die., p. 189).
Use of the title, “Father” (Catholic Die., p. 342).
Papal infallibility (Catholic Die., p. 674).
Church government (Externals of The Catholic Church, p. 19).
A hierarchy (Catholic Encyclopedia, VII, p. 334).
Candles and incense (Catholic Encyclopedia, III, p. 246).
Holy water (Catholic Encyclopedia, III, p. 76).
Purgatory (Externals of The Catholic Church, p. 351)
Lent (Catholic Encyclopedia, III, p. 484).
Fasting (Catholic Die., p. 340).
The word “mass” (Catholic Encyclopedia, X, p. 6).
Multi-observance of mass (Legislation on The Sacraments in the New Code of Canon Law, p. 87).
Sprinkling holy water on the people (Catholic Die, p. 484).
With all these changes, it is obvious that the Roman Catholic Church is not identical to the primitive church, and if it is not identical to the primitive church, then it is not the church of Christ.
Catholics are taught to accept what the pope and the church teach, though that teaching is contrary to Christ’s doctrine in the New Testament.
However, by identifying Roman Catholicism as the apostasy, proving that Peter was never a pope, that miraculous guidance from God no longer occurs, and that the Roman Catholic Church practices and teaches things not practiced or taught by the primitive church of Christ, some precious soul just may wonder, “How can a mere man tell everybody else what to do in religion?”