The Catholic Church: A Friendly Discussion with Our Catholic Friends (Part 2a)

 

The Catholic Church

The Catholic Church 

A Friendly Discussion with Our Catholic Friends

(Part 2a) 

  1. The Pope and the Papacy

Foundational to the entire Catholic system is the belief that Christ has established the “Pope” as absolute head and supreme authority over the entire Church throughout the world.  If this belief is proven false, then the whole superstructure of Catholicism crumbles.  Catholic literature and official pronouncements are clear that the Roman pontiff is the supreme head over the church.  “As Vatican Council II teaches (Constitution on the Church, 22): ‘The Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar [substitute or representative] of Christ, namely, and as pastor of the entire Church, has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered.’”[1]  This is a far-reaching and stupendous claim—that the ruling “Pope” has “full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church,” composed of over one billion people!  And it is claimed that this is the very thing that Jesus Christ instituted in the beginning.

The Catholic Church accepts the Pope as the earthly Head of the Church and the Vicar [substitute or representative] of Jesus Christ.  Here we use the word “Pope” in an accommodative manner, since Jesus sternly warns us, “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9).  The term “Pope” is from the Greek, pappas, which is a child’s name for his father.  “In early church history, bishops in general were often called pope.  Beginning in the early 500’s, the title in the Western church came to be used exclusively for the bishop of Rome.”  Therefore, “Pope” is just as unscriptural as is the title, “Patriarch,” the term used in the Orthodox Churches for their leaders.  The Catholic leader is also called the pontiff, which is from the Latin term, pontifex, used for “a member of the council of priests in ancient Rome.”[2]

The Catholic Church teaches that Christ made Peter the head of the apostles and the earthly head of the Church.  He was given the teaching position for the entire worldwide Church, according to Rome.  This is their reasoning:

Christ gave the power to teach, to sanctify, and to rule the members of His Church to the apostles, the first bishops of the Church. . . . Christ intended that this power should be exercised also by their successors, the bishops of the Church. . . . Christ gave special power in His Church to Saint Peter by making him the head of the apostles and the chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church. . . . Christ did not intend that the special power of chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church should be exercised by Saint Peter alone, but intended that this power should be passed down to his successor, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome, who is the Vicar of Christ on earth and the visible head of the Church.[3]

There are some impossible leaps of faith expressed in this Catholic teaching.  First, where is the Scriptural proof that the apostles were the first “bishops of the Church”?  A bishop had to be married with children and no bishop in the Catholic Church today is permitted to be married or have children (1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Further, Peter calls himself an “elder” and also a “fellow elder” with other men who were qualified as he was (1 Peter. 5:1).

Again, the Catholic quotation above makes reference to the “bishops of the Church” as the “successors” of the apostles.  This doctrine of “apostolic succession” is entirely unscriptural, without a shred of Biblical support.  If it were a divine truth, surely it would have been mentioned in Holy Scripture.  Further, the statement that Christ made “Saint Peter” the “head of the apostles and the chief teacher and ruler of the entire Church” is entirely false.  Nothing like this is found on the inspired pages of Scripture.  Although Peter was often a spokesman for the apostles and held an important leadership role, there is no indication at all that Jesus wanted him to be the “chief teacher and ruler” of the universal Church.  There is no indication that he was “chief” over the other apostles.  Finally, it is an assumption too great to bear to say that Peter’s “power” was “passed down to his successor, the Pope, the Bishop of Rome” and that this prelate is “the Vicar [representative] of Christ on earth and the visible head of the Church.”

There are so many false views and unscriptural teachings in this short quotation that it defies spiritual reason.  It is far removed from New Testament teaching and practice.  There is only one “head” of the body of Christ—and it is Christ Himself (Ephesians 1:22-23).  “Christ also is head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body” (5:23).  Paul writes that the Lord Jesus is “head of the body, the church” (Colossians 1:18).  There is no earthly “head” of the universal church.  Even the local overseers or elders are not “heads” but merely “overseers” who “care for the church of God” (1 Timothy 3:5).

The Pope is known as “the Bishop of Rome, the Vicar of Jesus Christ, the Successor of Saint Peter, the Supreme Pontiff, the Roman Pontiff.”[4]  “The Pope is [Christ’s] Vicar, or representative, on earth, the visible head of the Church.”[5]  Pius IX, the first pope after the definition of papal infallibility, said in 1870: “I alone, despite my unworthiness, am the successor to the apostles and Vicar to Christ.  I alone have the mission to guide and direct the ship of Peter.  I am the Way, the Truth and the Life. They who are with me are with the Church.  They who are not with me are out of the Church.”[6]  This shameful assertion cannot be a truthful statement and all honest Catholics must reject it.

Canon 331 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The bishop of the Church of Rome . . . is head of the college of bishops, the Vicar of Christ and Pastor of the universal Church on earth; therefore, in virtue of his office he enjoys supreme, full, immediate and universal ordinary power in the Church, which he can always freely exercise.”

This claimed position of supremacy over the entire people of God throughout the world, is entirely opposed to the words, teachings, and example of Jesus Christ and His apostles.  For example, Jesus stated to His apostles, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them.  It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave” (Matthew 28:25-27).  Here, Jesus tells us that His servants—even the apostles themselves—are to be like servants and slaves, taking a position of humble service, rather than be like the Gentiles who boasted of human authority.

The papacy itself rests on a very unsound foundation.  Catholics themselves claim that Matthew 16:13-19 gives them the authority to have a pope over their church.  In verse 16, Peter gives the great confession of Jesus’ identity: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  In reply, the Lord said, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”  He then uttered the controversial words, “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it” (v. 18).  Simon was given the name “Peter,” a stone (petros), and on the “rock” (petra) Jesus would build His church.  What was the “rock” on which the church would be erected?

Catholics strongly affirm that Peter is the “rock” and on him the universal people of God are built.  There are several interpretations possible here: (1) Peter himself is the rock, especially since he first proclaimed the gospel to the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10).  (2) Christ is the rock.  In the Old Testament, Yahweh God was often called the Rock (Psalm 18:1-2, 31, 46; 28:1; Deuteronomy 32:18; etc.) and now Jesus has the same title (see also 1 Corinthians 10:4—the rock was Christ).  Paul wrote, “No man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11).  Jesus is the sure rock foundation—not Peter.  In fact, Peter himself testified that Jesus was the cornerstone, not Peter himself (1 Peter 2:6).  (3) The third possibility is that the rock is Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah and Son of God (v. 16).  A belief in this truth is needed for salvation and eternal life (John 20:30-31; Acts 2:36).  It is probably better to accept either number 2 or 3 above rather than Peter as a person.[7]

In the same passage, the Lord states that the “gates of Hades” will not overpower it (the church).  Hades is a Greek term that means the abode of death.  Jesus may have meant that the “powers of death” or all forces opposed to Christ and His kingdom would not be able to overcome the church.[8]  “’Gates’ were essential for a city’s security and power. Hades, or Sheol, is the realm of death.  Death will not overpower the church.”[9]  “Even death, the ultimate weapon of Satan (cf. Hebrews 2:14-15), has no power to stop the church.”[10]

The Lord Jesus then goes on to say to Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you lose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19).  Peter was uniquely chosen to use these “keys” to open the “door” of salvation to both Jews (Acts 2) and Gentiles (Acts 10-11).  We wouldn’t want to deny this important way the Lord used Peter to open His kingdom to both of these two main people groups.

The second part of the verse simply means that Peter was to “bind” or “loose” what God had already “bound” or “loosed” in heaven (notice the verb tenses).  This same work is given to each assembly of the Lord when they exclude a member from the fellowship because of sin: “Whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).  “Peter’s foundational authority [in Matthew 16:19] is extended to the entire community of disciples, giving them the authority to declare the terms under which God forgives or refuses to forgive the sin of wayward disciples.”[11]

This activity of “binding” and “loosing” is similar to Christ’s statement to the ten apostles in John 20:22b-23: “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, their sins have been forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they have been retained.”  Again, notice the verb tenses and that they were to announce what God had already done; they did not have the authority to say or do something that God would later accept.  “God does not forgive people’s sins because we do so, nor does He withhold forgiveness because we do.  Rather, those who proclaim the gospel are in effect forgiving or not forgiving sins, depending on whether the hearers accept or reject Jesus Christ.”[12]

In summary, this critical passage in the Catholic belief that Peter was the first “Pope” and earthly head of the church is found not to have the meaning that Catholic apologists and leaders give to it.  Indeed, Peter’s confession of the truth of Christ’s deity is the foundation of the ekklesia, the community of Christ.  Death would not overcome this body of believers.  Peter was given the privilege and responsibility to use the keys to open God’s kingdom on Pentecost to the Jews and proselytes and he used the keys to open the door of the kingdom to the gentiles—Cornelius and his family.  He had the authority to proclaim forgiveness to those who accepted the message of Christ and authority to retain the sins of those who disbelieved the message—an authority that all the apostles and all other Christians have.  The “proof” of the authority of the “Pope” is non-existent.

  1. Papacy and Infallibility

Is the Catholic Pope infallible in all he teaches?  Does he ever make a mistake in his pronouncements?  These are basic questions as we examine the papacy in light of God’s Word.

We will discover that the Catholic Church disregards many of the Biblical teachings that show that the papacy is contrary to the will of God.  One of the most extreme positions regarding the “Pope” pertains to the solid affirmation that he cannot err when he speaks on faith and morals.  For example, in 1870, Pius IX, during the First Vatican Council, declared the doctrine of papal infallibility.  Infallibility means that “the Roman Pontiff, head of the college of bishops, enjoys this infallibility in virtue of his office, when, as supreme pastor and teacher of all the faithful . . . he proclaims in an absolute decision a doctrine pertaining to faith or morals.  For that reason his definitions are rightly said to be irreformable by their very nature and not by reason of the assent of the Church.”[13]  This places absolute authority in a human being who is thought to be the successor of Peter the apostle!  It means that he cannot be wrong or mistaken in anything he proclaims  ex cathedra.[14]  Nor can he or anyone else change or retract what the pope has proclaimed.

The belief that the Pope cannot err or teach wrongly when presenting doctrine has many implications and ramifications.

In Pastor Aeternus (n. 4), Vatican I taught that the Roman Pontiff is infallible under three conditions: that he exercise his office as Pastor and Doctor of all Christians, that he speak of faith or morals and that he indicate that the doctrine must be held by the universal Church.[15]

This leads to an impossible situation.  Notice this reasoning that combines Papal infallibility with Catholic infallibility:

The Catholic Church was commissioned by Christ to teach all nations and to teach them infallibly—guided, as he promised, by the Holy Spirit until the end of the world (John 14:26, 16:13). The mere fact that the Church teaches that something is definitely true is a guarantee that it is true (cf. Matt. 28:18-20, Luke 10:16, 1 Tim. 3:15).[16]

Notice the reasoning: The Catholic Church was commissioned to teach all nations.  The Catholic Church inevitably teaches infallibly—without error.  (But this leaves no room for apostasy which certainly did come—Acts 20:28-32.)  The Holy Spirit was to guide this church so it could be infallible.  (But this is false since the scriptures cited refer to the apostles and not to any supposed “successors” and certainly not to the church.  Only the apostles were qualified to present Spirit-inspired teaching.)  Amazingly, the last jump of logic is the most incredible: If the Church teaches something, this proves that it is true and to be accepted!  (This assumes that the Church—represented by the Pope and his bishops—cannot err.  But this is the very point that remains to be proven!)  Can we see how devious and deceitful this doctrine of papal infallibility—and Church infallibility—is and how it can lead vast numbers of unthinking people astray?  As we continue our studies, we’ll notice that both the pope and the Church are fallible in many ways and on many occasions and on many matters.

As the Catechism (C 889) puts it, “In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility.”  It is the task of the Magisterium [the Pope and the body Bishops in harmony with the Pope] to keep people from doctrinal error and to guarantee them the objective possibility of professing the true faith without error.[17]

But is it true that the Roman Bishop (the Pope) possesses infallibility [meaning that he cannot teach error] and the Catholic Church cannot teach error?  In other words, has the “Pope” always spoken and taught truth and has the Roman Church always taught truth?   Is it true that the Pope “does not make an infallible pronouncement as a private person but solely as the successor of Peter, and the bishops as successors to the Apostles”?[18]  Catholics attempt to show the truth of infallibility in various ways:[19]

  1. The Catholic Church was to last for all time and Jesus would be in that Church forever (Matthew 28:20). Since Christ is in that church, He is in the Roman Church and especially in that Church’s leadership.

Comment: It is true that Jesus said that He would be with His people “to the end of the days” until He would return (v. 20).  This is true, but it remains to be seen that the modern Catholic Church contains the Christians to whom the original promise was given.  This comforting promise to simple believers cannot be used to promote the Catholic hierarchy.  It is also instructive to note that besides the “eleven” apostles mentioned in Matthew 28:16, this is probably the very occasion in Galilee where 500 brothers heard and saw the resurrected Lord and received His promise (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:6).  There is no promise of infallibility in this verse.

  1. The Spirit was to be given to the “leaders” of the Church to guide them into all truth (cf. John 14:16, 26; 16:12-13), thus modern Catholic leaders have the Spirit in a special way to guarantee they speak truth and not error.

Comment: This contention demands a jump of logic.  Jesus did promise His apostles, “He [the Holy Spirit] will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26).  But notice the pronouns: “You” pertains to the apostles here (see Matthew 26:20, where we read that the twelve apostles were the recipients of this teaching).  The term “your” also pertains to the apostles.  The apostles were to “remember” what Jesus had told them, thus this promise doesn’t pertain to others.  John 16:13 also shows this distinction.  These promises in the upper room apply to the apostles—and to the apostles alone.

  1. The “gates of Hades” would not “overpower” the church, thus Satan would never bring error into the Catholic Church.

Comment: It is true that “all forces opposed to Christ and His kingdom” would not defeat the “church”—the body of Christ.[20]  In other words, Satan’s attempt to defeat Christ in His death, would not defeat His promise to begin building His body of believers—for after the death, God resurrected Christ.  Further, even through all of the coming apostasy, there would always be a remnant of true believers—and this did exist through the following two millennia even when Satan seemed to have the upper hand during the great apostasy.  There have always been pockets of true believers, even through the vast digression, apostasy, and darkness of the Middle Ages and beyond.

  1. Peter especially was to be infallible, for Jesus told him to “tend My lambs,” shepherd My sheep,” and “tend My sheep” (John 21:15, 16, 17). “The head of the new Church was to feed the faithful with correct doctrine and, in order to do that, Jesus would have to protect Peter and his successors from error.  Infallibility in doctrine then becomes a necessity.”[21]

Comment:  There is an element of truth here, but this is reading too much into the text.  The command was simply for Peter to feed Christ’s spiritual sheep with true doctrine, something that Peter and his fellow-apostles were to faithfully carry out.  The book of Acts and both 1 and 2 Peter show how Peter fulfilled Christ’s command.  But Christ didn’t promise sinlessness and we do know that Peter was not everything that he should have been as an apostle; he was fallible and weak at times.  Further, this command to “feed” the sheep of Christ was something that all of the apostles were to fulfill for they were the foundation of the people of God (cf. Ephesians 2:20).  We can also observe that there is no guarantee of infallibility here, especially to any others than the apostles.  Apostolic succession is not even hinted at in this text.

  1. While we agree that God gave an inspired and infallible Bible, this means nothing unless we have someone to interpret it infallibly or without error. “An infallible interpreter is needed, for an infallible Bible without an infallible interpreter is a meaningless Bible.”[22]  Jesus supplied that infallible interpreter in Peter and in his successors—the chain of Popes until the present time.

Comment: Paul said that His infallible writings or teachings were understandable by the common believers: “We write nothing else to you than what you read and understand” (2 Corinthians 1:13).  He told the Christians in Ephesus, “Understand what the will of the Lord is” (5:17).  He said, “The Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:7).  Sometimes there is a need to seek understanding from others, and this is right (cf. Acts 8:30-31).  But there is no indication that there needed to be an official “interpreter” through all human history.  This doctrine has been the cause of incredible deception and spiritual slavery over the years, making it impossible for the common Catholic to see through the theological and doctrinal falsehoods of the magisterium and accept the simple truth of God, unencumbered by ecclesiastical trappings.

  1. Since “the church of the living God” is “the pillar and support of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15), we know that error cannot “enter the Church’s teaching.”[23] Since the Church is to teach truth, this proves that the Roman Church cannot teach error.

Comment: This carries the Biblical statement too far.  The body of Christ definitely is to teach the truth of God.  This is the mandate of the Lord Himself.  But those who receive such a command may fail to perfectly carry it out.  In fact, all kinds of errors and falsehoods began to infiltrate the Church in the first century and this accelerated in the following century and beyond. Paul said that even the legitimate leadership would eventually teach error—would “speak perverse things” to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30).  The record of the New Testament documents offers many examples of false teachers in the church who refused to remain in the truth.

This Catholic dogma is false on many counts.  First, the early apostles of Jesus Christ did not believe this.  They repeatedly taught that there would be massive apostasy and false teaching (cf. Acts 20:28-32; 1 Timothy 4:1-3; 2 Peter 2:1-22; Jude 3ff).  They likewise taught that even if Paul or an angel taught something different from the truth of God’s Word, he should be accursed (Galatians 1:6-9).  This shows that even an apostle could teach wrongly.

Second, there is no indication that Peter himself believed this.  If Peter didn’t believe in papal infallibility or even Church infallibility—and Catholicism teaches that Peter was the first “Pope”—who are we to believe differently?  Third, this was not held even by those who exalted the office of bishop in the second and following centuries.  It began to be accepted and taught centuries after the first century era.  This makes it too late to be a divine revelation.  Fourth, the so-called Pope has taught many false doctrines, something that would not have happened if he had exercised infallible teaching.  Furthermore, the Catholic Church has repeatedly taught massive false teaching; this could not have happened if Church infallibility were true.  Fifth, this places the Roman bishop over the entire earthly Church, a position that took centuries to develop.  On these and many other counts, we can see that “papal infallibility” (and consequent Church infallibility) is unscriptural, unreasonable, and self-serving.

  1. Is the Catholic Pope Scriptural?

The Catholic Church

Is it wise to just assume that the Roman “Pope” is God’s desire and plan?  Should we just conclude that this is what Jesus arranged and that 2,000 years of history endorses this fact?

The Catholic Church overlooks many reasons why the office of Pope is unscriptural.  First, the Holy Spirit was given to all of the apostles to lead them into all the truth—and not to Peter alone (the assumed head of the apostles, of whom the Pope is the assumed successor).  (See John 14:26; 16:12-14)  Second, Peter was not the only “pillar” of the assembly in Jerusalem, but was one of three whom Paul mentions—along with John and James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 2:9).  Third, Peter was so hypocritical and mistaken on one occasion, that Paul rebuked him publicly, something that no modern Catholic would think of doing with the Roman “Pope” (Galatians 2:11-21).

Fourth, all of the apostles and prophets had a unique role in the early body of Christ—for it was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone” (Eph. 2:20).  The foundation was not Peter alone, but it consisted of all the revelation of the early apostles and prophets.  Fifth, there is no indication that Peter or any other apostle chose a successor for them when they died, for their ministry only lasted while they lived.  Judas was the only apostle who was replaced at death—with Matthias (Acts 1:21-26).  Sixth, Paul’s ministry was entirely independent of that of Peter and the other members of the twelve apostles (Galatians 2:1, 7-9).  Seventh, the Papal office is not mentioned even once in the lists of the positions of ministry (cf. Philippians 1:1; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28-30).[24]  In short, the office and work of the Roman “Pope” is unscriptural, even anti-Scriptural.

In spite of all of this, Catholic apologists labor long to establish not only that Peter was the first “Pope,” but that Christ wanted His body to have a continuing earthly head throughout history.  Catholic apologists Frank Chacon and Jim Burnham state that Jesus “set up a living, continuing authority to teach, govern, and sanctify in His name.”[25]  They assert that “the popes are Christ’s vicars, the visible and earthly heads of Christ’s Church while Christ is the invisible and supreme head.”[26]  Therefore, they say that the Church has two heads—Jesus and the ruling Pope!  But Paul said that “Christ also is the head of the church”—there is no earthly head or authority (Ephesians 5:23; cf. 1:22; 4:15; Colossians 1:18).  There is only “one shepherd” in the ultimate sense, and that is Christ (John 10:16).

These same apologists say that Peter was “made shepherd of Christ’s flock: solid biblical evidence that Jesus made St. Peter the first Pope.”[27]  It is true that Christ commanded Peter, “Tend My lambs,” “shepherd My sheep,” and “tend My sheep” (John 21:15-17).  But there is no indication in Scripture that Peter would be a Chief Shepherd or the only Shepherd.  Every elder or overseer in Christ’s body is a shepherd and is commanded to “shepherd the church of God” (Acts 20:28; cf. 1 Peter 5:1-3).  In fact, the overseer is called a “shepherd” (Ephesians 4:11).[28]

Peter addresses this matter directly, “I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder . . . shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight. . . . when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:1-4).  Notice that Peter, although an original apostle, was content to simply call himself a shepherd, as were the other local shepherds, and Jesus Himself is the “Chief Shepherd” or “the great Shepherd of the sheep” (1 Peter 5:4; Hebrews 13:20).

The Catholic apologists we mentioned above point out the gathering (some like to call it a “Council”) in Jerusalem, mentioned in Acts 15.  They say, “after Peter spoke, the assembly fell silent.  His statement ended the discussion.  This council obviously considered St. Peter’s authority final.”[29]  On the contrary, Peter did give his weighty argument to the assembly (Acts 15:7-11).  Paul and Barnabas then spoke (v. 12), and finally, James, the Lord’s brother, gave his Scriptural argument (vv. 13-21), which settled the matter.

It is true that Peter often spoke for all of the apostles, that his name heads the lists of the apostles, and his name is mentioned more times than all of the other apostles combined,[30] but this doesn’t necessarily mean that He had the primacy.  Christ often was accompanied with Peter, James, and John—all three together (cf. Matthew 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37).  Even if the Catholic Church could prove that Peter was singled out to be the “chief” apostle, one of the greatest hurdles that Catholicism would have is to “prove” the continuing position of the papacy.  Yet Catholicism assumes that all of the “popes” are God’s will and are endowed with universal supremacy and infallibility in their teaching: “After the apostles, the popes individually and the bishops as a group in union with the pope, are infallible.”[31]

This blasphemous statement reveals why it can be so difficult for a conservative, traditional Catholic to acknowledge error in the “Pope’s” teaching and the beliefs of the Catholic Church.  They are required to accept the pronouncements of the “Pope” and bishops as being infallible even when they conflict with God’s own Word!

  1. The Priesthood

The priest is the common representative in the local Catholic parish.  He is “a man who, through the sacrament of holy orders, is ordained for the service of the people of God; he has the power to celebrate the Eucharistic sacrifice, to administer the sacraments, to preach the Word of God, and to perform pastoral functions according to the mandate of his ecclesiastical superior.”[32]  However, most of the Catholic faithful don’t pause to ask if this position is actually appointed by God and in harmony with His will.  The Catholic Church has established the unscriptural office of priest.

In the Catholic system, the priest is necessary to dispense God’s grace sacramentally.  These seven sacraments—including baptism, confirmation, and the Mass—demand the priest’s service and ritual ministrations.  The sacraments are needed for our salvation.  Therefore, since the priest is essential to carry on the sacraments, the priest is thereby needed for eternal salvation!  The Catholic faithful are in bondage to this unscriptural and anti-scriptural system, a system that denies each person the right to approach God directly and receive His abundant saving grace in Christ.  But is the Catholic priesthood actually contrary to the will of God?

There are several reasons why this office of priesthood is in conflict with God’s will.  First, in the first century, all of God’s people were priests—part of the holy priesthood or royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9)—for all of His people offered up spiritual sacrifices to God (cf. Hebrews 13:15-16; Rom. 12:1).  All true Christians are part of the kingdom of God and are “priests” to Him (Rev. 1:6).  There was no position of priesthood reserved for the clergy.  Second, a priest is a mediator between the common Catholic person and God, whereas Jesus is the only Mediator between man and God: “There is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).  Every Christian has direct access to God (through Jesus) (Eph. 2:18).

Third, the only positions found in the early believing community, were the elder (also known as overseer and shepherd), the servant (also known as deacon), the proclaimer (also known as evangelist), the teacher, as well as the apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 4:11; 2:20; Philippians 1:1).  “Priest” is never listed or even mentioned as a position.  Fourth, the priest must be highly trained in Catholic theology and ritual, whereas the early Christian workers were chosen from the common members of the assembly (cf. Acts 4:13).  They were simple men who knew the will of God as contained in the Word of God (cf. 2 Timothy 1:12-14; 2:2; 3:15-17; 4:2-5).

Sadly, Catholicism has even perverted Scripture to maintain the priesthood.  For example, in Titus 1:5, Paul writes, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you might set in order what remains, and appoint elders in every city as I directed you.”  The Greek for “elder” is presbuteros (an older man).  But notice the Douay Rheims translation of the verse: “For this cause I left thee in Crete, that thou shouldest . . . ordain priests in every city, as I also appointed thee.”  “Priest” is the translation of hiereus, an entirely different word.[33]  Titus was to appoint elders (otherwise known as the overseers or shepherds), not priests!  Every Christian (male and female) is a priest, but only qualified males who are married family men may be elders (cf. Titus 1:5-9; 1 Timothy 3:1-7).

These two different words—“elder” and “priest”—are two different words conveying two different meanings.  A priest is one who represents the people to God, whereas the elder in the New Testament was a mature man (a Catholic priest can be a young man) who served as “overseer” (episcopos) and “shepherd” (poimen).  A priest is required to be celibate—unmarried—whereas the elder/overseer/shepherd was to be “the husband of one wife” who had children (1 Timothy 3:2, 4; Titus 1:6).

As far as calling their priests “father” (e.g., Father O’Kelly), they cite Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 4:15: “I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”  Paul had preached the gospel to them and they had been born again through the Spirit (John 3:3-7) and the Word (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:18) through is preaching ministry.  Thus, in a secondary sense, he became their “father” in the gospel.  This, however, doesn’t pertain to “priest,” per se, but to Paul and anyone else whom God may use in bringing people to new life in Christ.  It certainly doesn’t justify calling one “Father” as a religious title, something that our Lord forbids (Matthew 23:9)!

Please check all of the articles in this series on the Catholic Church:

Part 1a

Part 1b

Part 1c

Part 2a

Part 2b

Part 2c

Part 3a

Part 3b

Part 3c

Part 4a

Part 4b

Part 4c

 

 

[1] Quoted by Albert J. Nevins, Catholicism the Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 82-83.

[2] The World Book Encyclopedia.

[3] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, p. 74.

[4] The Essential Catholic Handbook.

[5] The New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Revised, p. 72.

[6] Quoted by Carlson and Decker, Fast Facts, pp. 230-231.

[7] See the NASB Study Bible note at Matthew 16:18.

[8] NASB Study Bible note.

[9] ESV Study Bible.

[10] MacArthur Study Bible.

[11]ESV Study Bible note.

[12] NASB Study Bible note.

[13] Essential, p. 193.

[14] Ex Cathedra is “from the Latin meaning ‘from the chair.’  When the pope speaks ex cathedra in matters of faith and morals, he is infallible” (Essential, p. 174.

[15] Catholic Encyclopedia, p. 510.

[16] catholic.com/library/Immaculate _Conception_and_Assum.asp

 

[17] Albert J. Nevins, Catholicism The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 69.

[18] Ibid., p. 70.

[19] See above, Catholicism The Faith of Our Fathers, pp. 70-71.

[20] NASB Study Bible note.

[21] Albert J. Nevins, Catholicism The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 71.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] See also Tony Coffey, Once a Catholic, pp. 61-75.

[25] Beginning Apologetics I, p. 14.

[26] Ibid., p. 15.

[27] Ibid.

[28] The Greek term is poimen, meaning “a shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks” (W. E. Vine, Expository Dictionary).

[29] Beginning Apologetics I, p. 15.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Ibid., p. 16.

[32] Essential

[33] Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics, pp. 190-191.

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