Benedict and the One True Church?

Benedict and “The One True Church”

Has the Roman Catholic Church changed?  Some people mistakenly believe that the Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 radically changed the beliefs and practices of the Catholic Church.  Is this a correct view?

It is true that several points of procedure were altered and adjusted to bring the Church into the modern times.  It is also true that basic Catholic teachings were discussed and refined.  Thus, Mass is to be celebrated in the vernacular, while the Latin Mass is no longer obligatory; the use of laypersons is more prominent; and women are even permitted to attend services without a head covering.  Catholics now refer to Protestants as “separated brethren”! 

But has the Roman Catholic Church really changed?  The late John Paul was an enigma.  He appeared to embrace leaders of the world religions and led in ecumenical dialog, suggesting that even non-Christians may be saved under certain circumstances.  Yet, on the other hand, he was also a traditionalist who was a devoted follower of the Virgin Mary (who is no longer a virgin since she had many children), a form of Mariolatry. 

The news today (July 10, 2007) is that Benedict XVI, the current Roman pontiff or so-called “pope,” has approved a document that once again asserts that the Roman Church is the one and only true church in the world.  According to the traditionalist Benedict, many liberal Catholics have misunderstood the Vatican Council and concluded that all churches are fully accepted within the Christian fold.  This is untrue, according to Benedict.  Instead, “Christ ‘established here on earth’ only one church.”  Other religious groups “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” since they do not have proper apostolic succession.  This is a doctrine that says the “true” church must be able to trace leadership of bishops back to the original apostles and Christ Himself.   

What about the Orthodox Churches?  This communion of churches was once in union with the Roman (or Western) Church, but a separation occurred in 1054 that has never been rectified.  The document states that these Orthodox churches should be considered “churches” since they also have apostolic succession, however they are defective since they do not accept the primacy of the Roman “Pope.”  Protestant churches are defective since they do not have a “sacramental priesthood” and “have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery.”  Of course, Catholicism rejects Protestantism on many counts. 

Benedict’s endorsement and promotion of this new document reveals that the Roman Church has not changed in its basic doctrines.  This worldwide leader continues to dogmatically assert the teaching that the “one Church of Christ . . . subsists in the Catholic Church” alone!  He demands that every professing Christian in the world submit to his headship and follow official Catholic teachings.  He wants everyone to place himself under the ecclesiastical umbrella of the pontiff and acknowledge that he alone is Universal Bishop of Christ’s Church.

Consider an illustration for a moment.  Suppose that one were to assert that a particular animal was an elephant.  Suppose also that I doubted this identification.  The person might say that this “elephant” has a prehensile tale, climbs trees, swings on the branches, and eats bananas!  I would immediately know that this animal was not an elephant!  Furthermore, I would have a strong idea about what the animal actually is!  It is called a monkey!

Likewise, when Benedict asserts that the present Roman Catholic Church is Christ’s only Church, the one that Jesus founded 2,000 years ago, I would want to look at the distinguishing characteristics of this Church.  I would want to compare the Roman church with the body of Christ that we read about on the pages of inspired Scripture.  Let’s make a few comparisons and ask whether the Roman Church truly is Christ’s body on earth—or whether it is a counterfeit that teaches countless unscriptural doctrines and has countless unbiblical practices. 

The Roman Church has headquarters in the Vatican, in the city of Rome, Italy.  In contrast, the only headquarters of Christ’s body is heaven—where Christ, the Head, reigns in glory with all authority (Matthew 28:18; Ephesians 1:20-23).  There is no earthly headquarters for Christ’s body since it is congregational, with each local community autonomous.

The Roman Church is governed by the so-called Pope, the prime Bishop, along with his fellow-bishops.  The New Testament body of Christ was congregational and led by overseers, also known as shepherds or elders (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1 Peter 5:1-2).  These simple and married leaders were local, simply overseeing small communities of believers (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Peter 5:1).

The Roman Church teaches a system of salvation by personal works or merit.  The true body of Christ knows that salvation is only by Christ and His sacrificed blood (Acts 20:28; Romans 5:9; 1 Peter 1:18-19).  Although faithful obedience is needed, as an expression of love and faith (John 14:15, 21-24; Hebrews 5:9; 10:26; James 2:14-26; 1 John 5:1-3), our personal deeds or works cannot be the basis or grounds of our salvation (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-10).

The Roman Church promotes a form of Mariolatry, elevating Mary to a place of semi-deity, asserting that she is the “Queen of Heaven” and the mediator of grace, blessings, and salvation!  The true Mary of Scripture was a humble Galilean, the means through whom Jesus came into the world (Luke 1:26-37; 2:1-20; Gal. 4:4).  Moreover, Scripture teaches that it is an abomination to pray to or worship a mere human being—a devoted woman who is now dead and cannot hear one prayer, much less hundreds of millions of prayers (Isaiah 8:19-20).  Only God is worthy of our prayers (Matthew 6:9) and worship (Matthew 4:10).

The Roman Church claims that church tradition is of equal authority with God’s Written Word.  If there is a conflict between what God says in His Word and what human tradition says, the latter is the final word.  On the contrary, ecclesiastical tradition reveals human fallibility in countless ways.  Jesus condemned following the tradition of man that nullifies the Word of God (Mark 7:6-13; Col. 2:8, 20-22).  The body of Christ knows that the Word of God is sufficient to guide us into His truth, both for the individual believer as well as the community of saints (John 17:17; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 14:37).

The Roman Catholic Church contends that God’s grace is conveyed through a special priesthood.  These priests are celibate males who have been specially trained to know and defend Catholic doctrine, then they have received the sacrament of holy orders, consecrating them to the priesthood.  In contrast, the New Testament views all true believers—males and females alike—as priests before God who offer spiritual sacrifices of service and praise (1 Peter 2:5,9; Hebrews 13:15-16).  Each Christian has the privilege of approaching God directly through Christ, without the need for a human intermediary (Ephesians 2:18; 1 Timothy 2:5).

The Roman Catholic Church has been guilty of persecuting professing Christians over the centuries.  The “Pope” in concert with the Church was guilty of murdering millions during the dark days of the cruel, barbarous, and terrifying Inquisition.  Century after century, the Catholic Church tortured and slaughtered non-Catholics (supposed “heretics”) in France, Germany, Italy, and Spain.  Other foreign lands felt the heavy, murderous hand of Catholic Inquisitors.  The Dominicans and Franciscan friars became judges in this infamous episode in Catholic history.  The Crusades also involved the Church in persecuting Muslims, the Orthodox, and others.  In stark contrast, true Christians have always been the suffering flock of Christ, not persecuting others but being persecuted for their faith (John 16:33; Acts 5:41; 2 Timothy 3:12), yet willing to love and bless others who cause their suffering (Matthew 5:11-12; Luke 6:20-28).

The Roman Catholic Church is very much a religio-political institution.  The Roman “Pope,” during the medieval period, exercised supreme authority over the “Holy Roman Empire,” setting up kings and removing kings.  Today the Roman Church yet claims to be the Kingdom of God on earth and the pontiff is deemed its earthly ruler.  In contrast, the kingdom of Jesus Christ is not of this world (John 18:36).  The body of Christ submits to earthly rulers (Romans 13:1-7) but is a spiritual body, not a civil institution (1 Peter 2:9).  True Christians are not of this world system that is dominated by Satan, the ruler of this world (James 4:4; John 14:30; 1 John 5:19; Romans 12:1-2).  Believers are neither nationalistic nor political, but merely pray for and obey earthly authorities (1 Peter 2:13-17). 

The Roman Catholic Church claims to be the repository of truth and righteousness, contending for the faith of Christ through the ages.  On the contrary, the Catholic faith deviates from the truth of God, reflected in Scripture, in countless ways.  The Word of God reveals that false teachers entered Christ’s fold, introducing many false teachings, false practices, and false ways (cf. Acts 20:28-31; Romans 16:17-18; 1 John 4:1-6).  The Holy Spirit, through the apostle Paul, clearly stated that many would pay attention to “deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (1 Tim. 4:1-5), and many would “not endure sound doctrine” but would “turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4).  As early as the first century, false teachings assaulted the truth and by the second and third centuries, false doctrines and practices proliferated.  Many of these are reflected in the Roman Church itself!

The Roman Church insists of “baptizing” young infants, claiming that this ritual will forgive their sins and be the means of their regeneration (new spiritual birth).  In contrast, the early Christians only baptized mature persons (Acts 8:12) who were able to repent of their sins (Acts 2:38), place their faith in Christ Jesus (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 8:12-13, 35-39; 16:14-15, 30-34; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:12), and become true disciples of Christ Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2:38-42).  Infant baptism reflects a faulty view called sacramentalism that views baptism as a ritual effective in itself, ex opere operato.  Baptism is not a ceremony or ritual effective on irresponsible babies, but instead it is a highly significant act of faith and repentance that is centered on a conscious commitment to Christ and His will.  Baptism does not deal with Adamic or “original” sin in a baby, but with personal sins of a responsible person (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Col. 2:12-13). 

Obviously, many other contrasts could be examined, but these are sufficient to show how erroneous Benedict’s contention is that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true “Church of Christ” on earth today.  There is a wide gulf between the body of believers that Jesus Christ began in the first century and the religious and political institution that has its headquarters in Rome, Italy.

It is time for sincere and devoted Catholics to ask themselves pointed questions:  Shall I continue to submit to Catholic doctrines that contradict plain statements of God’s Word?  Shall I give my allegiance to the human religious authorities of “Pope” and Bishops and priests—or shall I give my loyalty and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who has all authority in heaven and on earth?  Shall I continue to follow fallible human traditions promulgated by an apostate religious system—or shall I follow the truth of God found in His Holy Word, the Scriptures?  Every Catholic should thoughtfully and prayerfully answer these questions.

We invite you to read other articles dealing with God’s Word in this website to further instruct you in the ways of God. 

Richard Hollerman

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