The Conversation with My Catholic Friend

The Conversation with My Catholic Friend

Richard Hollerman

We want this little literary visit to be informative, enlightening, and even entertaining. I hope that you will find it so. Since this isn’t a usual discussion, I’ll be using personal pronouns and will be speaking in “down to earth” language so that we all can easily understand. I hope you will find this helpful and desirable. Now, let’s begin!

Confusion in the World

We’ll admit that there is a vast amount of confusion in the world, including the religious world. In all nations and in every city, we find perplexity as well as deception. There are thousands of different religions on earth, each teaching something different and often living different kinds of lives. Because of this, the masses are bewildered as they view the religious scene. For example, we find the following by checking standard reference volumes:

Baha’is                           8 million adherents

Buddhists                       516 million

Chinese folk religionists 451 million

“Christians”                    2,389 million

Confucianists                  8 million

Ethnoreligionists             257 million

Hindus                           975 million

Jains                               6 million

Jews                               14 million

Muslims                         1,700 million

New religionists              66 million

Shintoists                       3 million

Sikhs                              25 million

Spiritists                         14 million

Taoists                            9 million

Zoroastrians                    0.2 million[1]

Besides the adherents of all of these religions, there are some 692 million agnostics and 136 million atheists. In light of all of these differences and confusion, we can see that there would be some bewilderment and great perplexity as to what to believe and how to view the world and some conception of God!

Getting Personal with Our Catholic Friend

In light of this confusion, let’s talk with you, our dear Catholic friend. We don’t know whether you are a pre-Vatican traditional Catholic, or if you are a contemporary ecumenical Catholic (this would include most Catholic members in our day).[2]

What do you believe and why do you believe what you believe? Do you attend public services and the Mass every week and do you devote yourself to the veneration of images, plus do you regularly pray the rosary? Or perhaps you are more lax in your observances? Let’s assume that you are more of a nominal Catholic but do have faith in your Church and want to be loyal to it, along with the Pope, the local priest, and other Catholic leaders.[3] This is called the “magisterium” of the Catholic Church.[4] With this understanding, we proceed with our conversation and investigation.

Historical Background

Has it ever occurred to you how the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, and the various Protestant denominations began? In order to understand the Roman Catholic Church of which you are a part, we need to know what it was like in the beginning. By “beginning” I mean the time of Christ and His apostles—in other words, during the first century of our era before the various “Christian” religions arose.

As we look back to those early years—almost two thousand years ago—we find the situation vastly different from what we observe today, whether in the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Churches, or the various Protestant Churches. Jesus said that He would “build” His community of believers (Matthew 16:16-18) and this began on the day of Pentecost, about AD 30 (Acts 2). Since that time of history, there has been a slow but steady change in Christendom.

When the devout Jews on the special day called Pentecost heard about Jesus through the preaching of Peter, they wanted to know what to do to be saved from their sins (Acts 2:37). Peter, inspired of God, said that they needed to repent of their sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (vv. 38-39). It might be noted that “baptize” in the Greek language comes from baptisma, and means “to immerse, dip, or submerge” and not to sprinkle or pour water on someone’s head.[5] Further, notice that this was only for those who would believe and repent, thus this would entirely eliminate child or baby “baptism” which arose much later. Baptism, therefore, was a “believer’s baptism” rather than infant baptism.

We might also notice that at first, only believers were baptized. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, refers to these first converts (who believed in Christ, repented of their sins, and were immersed into Jesus Christ) as “those who had believed” (Acts 2:44). History tells us that infant or baby baptism arose at least a century later and became prevalent in the third century.

Notice also the description of the early Christians: According to Luke, the writer, “they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). Doesn’t this sound quite simple, compared to the ecclesiastical structures and complex “machinery” of today’s Christendom!

Continuing the description in Acts of the Apostles, these believers were “together” (Acts 2:44) and they shared their possessions with others in need (v. 45). They continually worshiped in the temple and learned from the apostles, plus they even shared their common meals daily (vv. 45-47). They shared Jesus Christ with others for they were full of joy and elated with the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:46; 8:4). It is interesting that these early followers of Jesus were referred to as those “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2; 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). Significantly, Jesus had said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Thus, those who followed Jesus as the “way” came to see that they all shared a radical “way of life” that differed from those around them. They were a counter-cultural movement and they knew it!

The Organization of the Early Christians

As we continue our discussion of Catholicism and how true Christianity first began, we must continue to examine the book of Acts, which has been called the “history” of the early church. We’ll refer to this body of believers or body of Christ as the “assembly” or “congregation” of the Lord.[6] The early Christians met together as the people of God, and generally after the early apostles or preachers brought people to Christ in forgiveness, they gathered as one assembly in the homes of the members (see Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 2; cf. Acts 12:12). It must have been quite simple before large organizations and institutions arose in the third and fourth centuries, and especially later.

Notice that this was before the Roman Catholic Church, the various Orthodox Churches, and especially before the Protestant Churches arose centuries later. It is important that we see the distinction between Christ’s followers (His so-called “church”) and what later became known as the “Catholic” Church. They are not at all identical!

These early communities of saints, generally meeting in homes, had no worldwide organization. The closest thing to this would have been the fact that the good news of Christ began to be preached in Pentecost of AD 30 in Jerusalem, and the early followers of Jesus looked to the apostles (and elders) of this city for guidance (cf. Acts 15:1-6).

These companies of believers were encouraged to have “elders” as individual assemblies—not as a super organization. Paul and Barnabas “appointed elders for them in every church” (Acts 14:23). Since there would have been an assembly in the various towns and cities, there would have been “elders” in each of these towns. As Paul wrote to Titus, “you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city” (Titus 1:5).

These “elders” were also known as “overseers”[7] or “shepherds”[8] (cf. Acts 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5, 7; 1 Peter 5:1-3). The elders, shepherds, or overseers were a plurality in each assembly, but they had to be specially chosen and qualified (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). Of course, they were only men or males.[9] They had to be married, “the husband of one wife” (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:6). How different things were in the first century! After this period, great changes occurred that entirely transformed the makeup of these early parts of the body of Christ!

Along with these elders or overseers, there were other functionaries or workers, such as “teachers” (Acts 13:1; Ephesians 4:11), “servants” (or “deacons”) (Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13), and “prophets” (Acts 11:27; 15:32). All of these worked together in the early assemblies of believers. Again, we see how far different the early community of Christ was as compared to the Roman Catholic Church that arose in the following centuries.

The Conversation with My Catholic Friend

The Source of Authority

The source of authority for the early Christians was Christ Himself, for He had declared, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18).[10] Yet we know that Jesus ascended to heaven, thus He was no longer present in the flesh. What did the early Christians do? Did they choose a “Pope”? Or a “governing board”? Or a “college of cardinals”? Or a “bishop” over a city or district? While Jesus was on earth, He had chosen twelve men whom He named “apostles” or “ones sent on a mission” and they had authority (Matthew 10:1-5; Acts 1:1-5). This was not always exercised directly but also through their writings! For example, Paul wrote, “Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Peter also stated, “You should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles” (2 Peter 3:2). Thus, the personal presence of the apostles were authoritative, along with the early writings of the apostles and New Testament prophets.

Jesus had said that He would send another “Helper,” the Holy Spirit, and “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you” (John 14:26). Further, Jesus said that the Holy Spirit “will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:13). This means that the apostles were to exercise Christ’s authority through the Holy Spirit, thus they were enabled to communicate the will and truth of God to the next generation. And the next generation would be able to pass on this divine truth to others—continuing until the present age. Notice that Jesus did not at all make provision for any men other than the original apostles (Matthias did replace Jude who fell through apostasy) to communicate truth. This would exclude elders or overseers, “popes,” and anyone else! They didn’t have an ongoing source of authority from a “pope,” or bishops, or cardinals, or church councils, or church conference.

These apostles were unique men in all history. In fact, the body of Christ (the community of God) was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone (Ephesians 2:20). The “mystery” of God’s will was revealed to “His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (3:5). Both the apostles and prophets knew and communicated God’s truth to the people of God in the first generation of believers. Thus, no one today has the right, power or ability to know and teach God’s truth. This was the belief of the early body of Christ.

Growing Apostasy over the Years

There were problems even in the first years of God’s family (or the body of Christ), but these problems grew as the first century progressed. Many passages speak about a great “falling away” or apostasy or departure from the truth. The serious student of God’s Word will want to examine such passages as Matthew 24:4-5, 10-13; Acts 20:28-32; Romans 16:17-18; 2 Corinthians 11:3-15; Galatians 1:6-10; Philippians 3:17-19; Colossians 2:8; 2 Thessalonians 2:3-12; 1 Timothy 1:19-20; 2 Timothy 3:1-5; Titus 1:9-16; Hebrews 13:9; 2 Peter 2:1-22; 3:16-17; 1 John 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11; Jude 3-16. If you have read over these passages, you will see that God was warning His people that many would fall away or apostatize, many would go after false teachers and false teaching, many would prove untrue and unfaithful to God’s Word.

This is just what happened, according to early church history! By the second century, a number of innovations were introduced into the body of Christ that diluted the sound teaching of Scripture. Various false teachings and untrue beliefs entered into the body of Christ, sometimes from the very leadership in the assemblies (cf. Acts 20:28-32). The early Christians were urged to mark these false teachers and not go after them (Romans 16:17-18).

Some of these false teachings may be gleaned by reading through the so-called “Early Church Fathers.” These were uninspired (non-inspired) writings that were written to individuals and churches in the first, second, third, and fourth centuries—and later. They graphically show how the simplicity of the early beliefs and practices were gradually supplanted by false teachings and false ways. Paul had warned, “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ” (Colossians 2:8). Paul may have had reference to false “Gnostic” teachings of the first, second, and third centuries, but this warning would have been applicable to any false teaching that would arise. It has been said that the early assembly of Christ was “pre-denominational”—that is, it was founded before there were the multiplied groups of professing “Christians.” In fact, Paul forbad the early Christians from forming different groups with different loyalties (or names) (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:10-13).

The Conversation with My Catholic Friend

Examples of False Teachings and False Practices

Dear Catholic friend, we don’t have time to explore very thoroughly the broad array of false ways that compromising men (and women) introduced, but we must at least mention a few of them. If you are interested in studying this more thoroughly, we encourage you to read our lengthy treatment of this entitled, “A Friendly Discussion with Our Catholic Friends.” (See our website for a series of articles on this theme.)

As we mentioned before, the early house communities of believers had certain leaders who were called “elders” (also called “overseers” and “shepherds”). If there were qualified men in an assembly, they were appointed to this position for life, according to the specifications that the apostles revealed and laid down (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9). There were a plurality of these elders in each assembly and they were on the same level as one another (cf. Acts 11:30; 20:17, 28; Ephesians 4:11; Philippians 1:1). “The disciples of Christ, under apostolic teaching, formed a community of brethren, who were associated upon a broad basis of equality, all of them being illuminated and directed and united in the one Spirit. Their organization under Christ was a marvel of simplicity, and very unlike that hierarchical system which in subsequent times overshadowed the Church of the living God—very dissimilar from the individual congregation where all the members served each other in love and faith.”[11]

Beginning in the second century, one of these local elders became known as the single “overseer” (or “bishop”). Thus, a local church had a “bishop” and also elders under him. Eventually these bishops extended their authority over assemblies in the surrounding areas. “The enlargement of the jurisdiction of bishops, by extending it over dependent churches in the neighborhood of the towns and cities, and the multiplying of church offices, were innovations significant of coming evils.”[12]

Although many may consider this change of organization and change in functionaries to be minor, it began a downward spiral that continued for centuries, eventually bringing in the Catholic “Pope.” We must emphasize that at the beginning, there was no pope at all. This was a later innovation. This is so basic and elementary that it should be quite evident to you. The existence of a worldwide “pope” that is dressed in regal clothes, sits on a “throne,” allows vast numbers of people to bow before him, can oversee over a billion of people with his own authority, and has the power to speak so as to bind the consciences of his loyal subjects, is vastly different from what existed in the beginning!

One of the most striking departures from Apostolic practice and teaching was the rise of the monarchal episcopate. This refers to congregational rule by one man, as a distinction arose between the terms bishop and presbyter [elder]. Some local churches came to be ruled by one “bishop” with a group of presbyters and deacons under him. Ignatius of Antioch was the champion of this departure. One by one churches adopted the practice. Rome seems to have been one of the last to acquire a monarchal bishop.

The rise of such “Bishops” was an early process, but not as early as the New Testament. All scholars, Roman Catholic, Protestant and liberal, agree that in the New Testament there is only a duel order: bishops (or presbyters) and deacons. The distinction between bishops and presbyters was the first change in organization. . . . This position, by the year 150, had developed into the monarchal bishop arrangement. . . . After the year 150, synods began to be called. The large city bishops were the men of greatest influence and in these meetings their prominence was increased. It was not long before the city bishops began to oversee the work of the country bishops who in turn began to disappear. . . . By 190 Victor of Rome claimed to be “universal bishop” but he was ignored by the other churches. Cyprian (200-258) worked to give greater prestige to the bishops and after 250 the monarchal bishop was almost universally established. . . .Cyprian of Carthage. . . . is said to have done more to establish the hierarchy than any other individual.[13]

As we mentioned, in time, this “bishop” reached out to the surrounding congregations in a given city and became known as the metropolitan bishop. This process continued, with the bishop exercising authority in a whole geographical area known as a “diocese.” These exalted bishops then had authority in leading cities of the Roman Empire, such as Rome, Alexandria, Ephesus, Antioch, and Jerusalem. Although this was totally foreign to the way the early communities of Christ were organized, it was presumably justified because of false doctrines that arose in the second, third, and fourth centuries. An appeal was made by both Irenaeus and Tertullian (second and third centuries) to consult these leading cities to determine what the original apostles had taught.[14] We can see how the stature and fame of these churches and their “bishops” gained authority over other cities, towns, and districts. By this means, the way was being paved for the unscriptural Church of Rome and “Bishop” of Rome to emerge as the ruler of the Catholic Church in all the world!

More False Teachings and Practices

Along with the complete change in organization, other points may be mentioned. At first, overseers or elders could be found in each assembly (Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5), but soon an order of “priests” arose in the churches. A priest is a human mediator between the people and God, and this was an established office in the Hebrew or Jewish economy. But priests arose within the churches of the second, third, and fourth centuries. These unscriptural functionaries were thought to be mediators between the people and God. Whereas in the first century assembly, every Christian was looked on as a priest, part of “a holy priesthood” (1 Peter 2:5) or “a royal priesthood” (v. 9). An order of priests arose that departed from the New Testament teaching. Every Christian could approach God directly, apart from any mediator other than Christ (1 Timothy 2:5), but over the centuries, these human mediators called “priests” arose and this established and promoted a special ecclesiastical class of men that were not found in the Scriptures. You can see how this would eventually become the Catholic sacerdotal priest.

Since false teachings continued to distress the early assemblies, the people came to look to the churches generally established by the apostles! These churches gained a prominence that was not given by Christ Himself. Jesus had only given the apostles to lead the believers. The Lord Jesus had told His apostles, “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (Matthew 10:40; cf. Luke 10:16; John 13:20). Jesus then gave the Holy Spirit to work through these original apostles (see John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26; 16:7-15).

The apostles’ authority continued through their writings. As Paul said, “The things which I write to you are the Lord’s commandment” (1 Corinthians 14:37; cf. 1 Thessalonians 2:13; 4:2; 2 Peter 3:2). Notice that only the written Word of God and the apostles constituted authority in the early community of Christ. The words and teachings of the overseers/elders (and later, the diocesan bishops) didn’t constitute authority at all.

Maybe we have all read or heard of the cessation of the Roman persecution in the fourth century. For some three hundred years, the power of pagan Rome was directed against the early Christians since they refused to give unqualified allegiance to the state or worship the emperor. Instead, they were committed to God and His absolute rule in their lives. These early disciples realized that there were two “kingdoms” on earth—God’s perfect and eternal kingdom of light, and the Roman kingdom of idolatry, immorality, sin, and darkness.

Jesus, our Lord and King, had declared to Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36). Pilate and all who remained unsaved, were part of the earthly kingdom of darkness, but Christ had a spiritual kingdom to which His followers belonged! Today there are only two kingdoms and we must choose which one we will give ultimate allegiance to!

As Paul put it, “our citizenship is in heaven” and not on earth (Philippians 3:20). We belong to “a holy nation”—the body of Christ—and basically not the nations of the world. The Book of Revelation also spoke of “the kingdom of the world” and “the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ” (Revelation 11:15). Satan claimed to rule “all the kingdoms of the world” (Luke 4:5). This difference between the realm of God and the sinful realm of the world was something that God’s people had a difficult time understanding and accepting, although some of the leaders in the early church did see this distinction.

Much persecution came to believers who were ultimately committed to God’s kingdom, but finally, after about three centuries, Constantine (the new Roman Emperor) issued the Edict of Milan in A.D. 313 which granted professing Christians the right to exist. It also stated that those pagans who had bought “Christian” places of worship were to restore them to the Church without requiring any payment in return.[15] The professing Christians rejoiced with this new development for they had suffered severe persecution for years with numerous ones put to death with the sword, fire, crucifixion, and being thrown to lions and other animals. But was this Roman change really an unmixed blessing?

The Kingdom of Christ and the Kingdom of the World

Although the early professing Christians rejoiced with the absence of persecution, they overlooked the complete change of circumstances that brought havoc on the Church. Persecution had, in a measure, refined the Church and kept hypocrites out. Finally, the door was open for pagans and compromisers to come in, which served to dilute the membership with unbelievers. After the Edict of Milan in which Constantine ceased the persecution of professing Christians, more and more people flooded into the Church because of the enhanced status of the members and the approval of the Emperor. Even the historian Eusebius thought God was finally working and granting this Church peace and status after the three centuries of persecution.

We might look back at this period of time in the fourth century and see how Satan used it for his purposes, but most people didn’t recognize the extreme danger this posed. They simply thought that God was making the political state into a “Christian” state. Sadly, a radical change occurred during this time (the fourth century)

The number of Christians in the early fourth century has been estimated at about 10% of the population of the Empire. By the end of the century the number is estimated at about 90% of the population.[16]

Soon professing Christians could become part of the ruling class in the Empire. Further, Christians had refused to fight or enter the military until about AD 173 or 175,[17] for Jesus had proclaimed (and exemplified) a nonresistant way of life with suffering (Matthew 5:38-42; 26:52). But after this date more professing members were permitted to remain in this position and continue to shed blood, although it was still forbidden of Christians to enter the military after conversion. By the time of Constantine, however, all barriers were removed and “Christians” could become military men. Eventually, only professing Christians were permitted to be part of the army!

For the first several centuries of this era, Christians were not part of the state, but eventually they were brought into the secular government. This reveals an accommodation to the world and the world’s way of life. The first Christians were castigated because they refused to be part of the entertainment that the world provided, but eventually they participated in these secular pursuits. They were accused of being “enemies of society” since they refused to be enmeshed with this world system, but eventually they became part of the world itself!

It might be said that the world was conforming the church instead of the other way around that Paul had mentioned: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2a). These professing (but no true) “Christians” were loving the world and catering to the world’s ways (1 John 2:15-17.[18]

Rejection of New Testament Regeneration or the New Birth

Apart from the dozens of departures from the faith among the early church members (or shall we say Catholic members?), one of the most glaring and serious would be the rejection of how one becomes a Christian! Obviously, this is utterly serious since one must be saved to become a member of Christ and His body. Paul had told the Ephesian elders that Christ “purchased with His own blood” those in the “church of God” (Acts 20:28). Further, he had pointed out that Jesus is “the Savior of the body”—the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23). He said that Jesus “might sanctify her, having cleansed her [the body or church] by the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26). Thus, only those saved or washed of sin are in the blood-bought body of our Lord!

The Catholic Church saw part of this truth, but perverted other parts of it. Until Vatican II, this Church did say that only those within the “Catholic Church” could be saved. However, today they do not deny salvation to sincere (and ignorant) Protestants, and some Catholics (even “popes”!) would say that sincere pagans can also be saved! However, the official historic position is that one must be in the Catholic Church to be saved.

The Conversation with My Catholic Friend

But the question arises about how one is saved! When speaking to Nicodemus, the Pharisee teacher of the Jews, Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He went on to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. . . . You must be born again” (v. 5, 7). It is clear that one must be “born again” or “born of water and the Spirit” in order to “see” or “enter” God’s kingdom. As you can see, this is utterly vital! We can’t be born again (regenerated), saved, forgiven, or enter heaven itself unless we are born again!

As we survey the early “Church writers,” we get some insight about the origins of infant “baptism.” We are not sure, but perhaps Irenaeus (ca. 185) is the first writer to refer to the “baptism” of infants. Tertullian (ca. 200) knows of the practice but advocates postponing the act of baptism until the age of discretion. Origen (ca. 225) may “provide the first claim that infant baptism was an apostolic custom delivered to the church.”[19] Cyprian (ca. 250) has been called “the first Catholic.” “He is the first clear theological exponent of the baptism of new-born babies. . . . Cyprian is consistent and speaks of infant communion too.”[20] As the fourth century progressed, infant baptism became more widespread. “As infant baptism became even more general, and since baptism was uniformly regarded as administered ‘for the forgiveness of sins,’ the practice of infant baptism because a decisive argument for the doctrine of original sin.”[21]

This doctrine secured the establishment of infant baptism by AD 400 about the time of Augustine, although, as we have noticed, it must have entered into the Church by the latter second century. By the time of Cyprian, baptism was promoted as something parents should do immediately after birth. By his day, Cyprian’s comments indicate “a long-standing and generally accepted practice.”[22] Augustine was so decisive on the need of baptism for babies, that he said an unbaptized infant would go to hell.  (Later the Catholic Church changed this to say that the unbaptized baby would not go to heaven, but to a place they called “Limbo.”

We now have a serious problem: the Church (which became the Catholic Church) promoted and practiced infant baptism only two centuries after the time of Christ, in order to bring forgiveness and salvation. The problem is this: Jesus spoke to Nicodemus and emphasized the need for him (and others) to be “born again” in order to enter the kingdom of God. In this same context, Jesus stated that one must believe in Him in order to have “eternal life” (John 3:15). He went on to say that “whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (v. 16). Further, “He who believes in Him is not judged” but the one who does not believe “has been judged already” (v. 18). Finally, we read, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (v. 36). Thus, our Lord says that one must believe or exercise true faith in Him to have eternal life, but the one who does not obey Him will abide under the wrath of God (v. 36). Christ’s discussion on belief/faith in Him in verses 14-36 must tell us how to be born again in verses 1-13!

Two centuries later, it would seem that the (Catholic) Church was saying that an infant (who cannot believe, and surely cannot repent or confess Christ) could be saved and receive eternal life as a newborn baby! But Jesus had said that one needed to repent of his sins (Luke 13:3, 5), believe in Christ Jesus (John 3:16), and be baptized (Mark 16:16) in order to be saved and given eternal life! There appears to be a clear contradiction between these two different means of salvation!

It would seem that by the early or middle third century, and especially by the year 400, many (or even most) professing “Christians” were not even saved! They had undergone a water ritual as babies, but they had not been truly “born again,” or saved, or received forgiveness of sins, or given eternal life. Thus, regardless of the dozens of other innovations that corrupted the Catholic Church in the third, fourth, fifth, and following centuries, members were not even saved! They were lost in their sins and under the guilt of sin.

We should also emphasize that by the third century and the following centuries, the nature of saving faith had changed. The “faith” that was to be found was more of an intellectual or mental belief of certain prescribed facts, rather than a warm and sincere faith, reliance, and confidence in Jesus and His sacrificial death on the cross for our sins. Further, instead of repentance being a change of mind and heart in regard to one’s inner and outer sin, it became more of a mental decision to depart from wrong theology or doctrine. Baptism itself was an automatic act of a parent for a child, rather than a believer’s own choice to die to sin and rise to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-5), or his decision to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior, an act of committal and surrender to God, His will, and Jesus Christ (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38-41; 8:12, 36-39; 22:16; Galatians 3:26-27; Colossians 2:11-13).

We conclude that the Catholicism that reaches back into the centuries after the time of the apostles was not only false because of the many departures from the truth and the Word of God, but also because many, many of the members were not even saved. They had not been born again—born of water and the Spirit—as Jesus had clearly said. (We might also observe that this same situation prevails today in many mainline Protestant Churches. Many large denominations also teach a form of “baptismal regeneration” in which an unconscious infant is supposed to receive forgiveness, salvation, regeneration, eternal life, and the gift of the Spirit when that child has a trickle of water sprinkled or poured on his or her head! This would include such churches as the Lutheran Church, the Episcopal Church, the United Church of Christ, and the Anglican Church. Further, let’s not forget that the Orthodox Churches (which were joined with the Catholic Church until AD 1054) also believe in infant baptismal regeneration!)

The Conversation with My Catholic Friend

External vs Internal

One of the main departures from the faith or rejection of the truth  pertained to the nature of the Christian life itself. In the beginning, the apostles and other leaders urged the believers to have a heart-felt, sincere, and internal relationship with God through the Lord Jesus. This was expressed in various ways—but in all of the ways, Jesus Himself was emphasized. Yes, there were also commands to be obeyed—many of them—but these would mean nothing apart from the inner response to God. The internal response was the basis of the outer response.

During Christ’s life on earth, not everyone realized this. For instance, Jesus said to the hypocritical Pharisees, “You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matthew 23:25). He went on, “First clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also” (v. 26). He charged them, “You are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (v. 27). He went on, “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (. 28). This kind of problem was faced among the professing “Christians” of the first several centuries as well. They outwardly appeared righteous, but their hearts and lives revealed something else. Perhaps the blatant hypocrisy of the Pharisees was not often seen, but still there was an emphasis on the outward, while the inward needed to be changed.

In the early days of the gospel of Christ, even conversion itself was to God and this could be expressed in many different ways in Scripture. Thus we read of believing in the Lord (Acts 5:21), turning to God (Acts 15:19), having fellowship with Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 1:9), as well as having fellowship with God the Father (1 John 1:3). We read of knowing Jesus Christ (1 John 2:3-4), also abiding in Christ (1 John 2:6), and loving God (1 John 5:2-3).  Again and again, we see that Christ and the apostles wanted believers to respond to God inwardly and not merely outwardly. If this were to occur, the outside would also be in tune with God and His ways.

In the first century, there were some who claimed to be saved, but their lives said something else—such as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11), Simon of Samaria (Acts 8:9-24), Demas (2 Timothy 4:10), and Diotrephes (3 John 9-11). Paul could say of some professing “Christians”: “They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient and worthless for any good deed” (Titus 1:16). That is the way it became in the centuries following Christ—and could it be found today?

One of the ways that we clearly see a difference between profession and practice would be the use of arms to settle disputes. While people knew what Jesus had said and exemplified, that we are to be peace-loving and peace-makers (cf. Matthew 5:9), too often professing “Christians” were willing to display carnal attitudes and actions while claiming to follow the “prince of peace.” Notice this account of a bloody disturbance:

In 451, Pope Leo I urged Anatolius to convene an ecumenical council in order to set aside the 449 Second Council of Ephesus, better known as the “Robber Council”. The Council of Chalcedon was highly influential and marked a key turning point in the Christological debates that broke apart the church of the Eastern Roman Empire in the 5th and 6th centuries. Severus of Antioch is said to have stirred up a fierce religious war among the population of Alexandria, resulting in bloodshed and conflagrations (Labbe, v. 121). To escape punishment for this violence, he fled to Constantinople, supported by a band of two hundred Non-Chalcedonian monks. Anastasius, who succeeded Zeno as emperor in 491, was a professed Non-Chalcedonian, and received Severus with honor. His presence initiated a period of fighting in Constantinople between rival bands of monks, Chalcedonian and Non, which ended in AD 511 with the humiliation of Anastasius, the temporary triumph of the patriarch Macedonius II, and the reversal of the Non-Chalcedonian cause (Theophanes, p. 132). At the Council of Constantinople in 518, Syrian monks placed the responsibility for the slaughter of 350 Chalcedonian monks and the appropriation of church vessels on Severus’ shoulders.The associated theological disputes, political rivalry, and sectarian violence produced a schism that persists to this day between Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian churches. ( wiki/Sectarian_ violence_among_ Christians#Athanasius_ of_Alexandria).

As Christ would point out, these people professed something outwardly but their hearts were corrupt.

Especially in the third century as infant baptism was becoming more popular, we can see that vast numbers of people did not have a heart-felt response to Jesus in conversion, but they were merely nominal adherents to the Church. Particularly after the time of the Edict of Milan in 311 and the time of Constantine (ca. 325), it became more popular to profess belief in Christ and belong to the “Catholic” Church. However, they were only outwardly-professing Church members and not truly saved people, with the Spirit of God, displaying the fruit of the Spirit, and renouncing the deeds of the flesh. Thus, the Catholic Church of the fourth century became an empty shell of what the body of Christ had been in the first century. Some resorted to the monasteries to escape the world, but even in this, they violated Christ’s command to have influence in the world (cf. Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:18-20). In this way, the world overcame the Church and only a remnant remained truly born-again followers of Jesus.

Many Departures in the Early Centuries

Dear Catholic friend, we’ve tried not to be harsh but truthful. We must be plain but not disagreeable. We might do well to simply mention a number of the doctrines and practices that were introduced into the Church during the first centuries. We’ll not discuss these at length, for the mention of them will clearly show that innovations were rampant during these centuries. Later innovations would include such unscriptural elements as the infallibility of the pope and other doctrines, but these came much later than the first few centuries. Here are a few of these unbiblical elements. Our intention is simply to share truth—with love (Ephesians 5:15).

  • Prayer for the dead
  • Prayer to the dead
  • Exaltation of Mary, the mother of Jesus
  • Perpetual virginity of Mary
  • Prayer to Mary and Catholic saints
  • Sinlessness of Mary and salvation through Mary
  • Bodily assumption of Mary
  • Apparitions of Mary and Catholic saints
  • Saints as a special class of “holy” people
  • Sacerdotal Priesthood
  • Bishop (an “overseer” beyond the local congregation)
  • Pope
  • Diocese
  • Priestly forgiveness of sins
  • Mass
  • Pouring instead of baptism (immersion)
  • Infant baptism instead of believer’s baptism
  • Baptismal regeneration
  • Confirmation
  • Ecclesiastical Councils
  • Religious holidays or holy days
  • Religious seasons, lent, etc.
  • Priesthood celibacy
  • Separation of priests from the laity
  • Influx of the unregenerate
  • Monasticism
  • Nuns and convents
  • Earthly headquarters in Rome
  • Military participation
  • Churchly excommunication
  • Instrumental music
  • Penance
  • Images in worship
  • Pictures for worship
  • Purgatory
  • Limbo
  • Tradition on par with Scripture
  • Communion under one kind (bread alone)
  • Veneration of relics
  • The rosary
  • Institutionalism
  • Liturgical services
  • Apocrypha
  • Venial and mortal sins
  • A multitude of unscriptural positions or functionaries
  • Ornate church buildings and cathedrals
  • No spiritual rebirth (regeneration)
  • Extreme Unction

This list is incomplete but it makes a point that should not be overlooked. The point is this: Over the years, the Catholic Church has evolved (or devolved) into something that is vastly different from the early body of Christ as well as what the Catholic Church itself was in its early days.

The Evolution or Devolution of the Catholic Church

What we mean is this. When we look at the body of Christ of the first century—examining the beliefs and practices and lifestyle—we see one thing.  In the second century, even the first century, there began a gradual digression that changed this “church” into something different. By the third century, it was vastly different still. The fourth and fifth century church was even more different and “evolved” than that of the previous centuries. In other words, we can’t look at the Catholic Church and say that it began with “Pope” Leo in the fifth century, or “Pope” Gregory of the sixth and seventh centuries.[23] No, it was a gradual assimilation of one false teaching after another, one false practice after another, so that what was called the “Church” of the fifth, sixth, or seventh centuries was very different from the true body of Christ of the first century!

We are aware that the usual Catholic of the twenty-first century has been told and has read that the Roman Catholic Church, with headquarters in the Vatican, in Rome, Italy, is the very same church that Jesus said He would build in AD 30 (see Matthew 16:16-19). The common faithful Catholic just takes this for granted. Thus, most Catholics just assume that they are members of Christ’s “Church”—the Church that He was to build in the first century. Is this the way it is with you?

This, however, is very far from the truth! Regardless of what priest, or what Bishop, or what “Pope” has led members of the Catholic Church to believe, the Catholic Church today is vastly different from the body of Christ of 2,000 years ago!

We might illustrate this with a little story. Suppose that two people were talking and the one said that he saw an animal in the zoo. The friend said that he would try to guess what animal it was.  The first man who had visited the zoo might say, “I saw an animal with a prehensile tale, with a shade of gray coat, the “plays dead” when afraid and cornered, but has vicious teeth when attacking, and it has a “pocket” to the front to carry the newborn babies.  The friend might guess that this was an opossum. And this answer is correct.  But suppose that another friend would say that the animal was a squirrel. Would this be right and according to the description? No. Why? Because the squirrel has a different kind of tail, doesn’t “play dead” when afraid, doesn’t have the pouch in the front for the squirrel babies, and doesn’t become vicious when attacked. They are two different animals!

Similarly, when one views a description of contemporary Catholicism and compares this with the body of Christ of two thousand years ago, there is hardly any likeness. There are literally dozens of differences between the two. Then how can one assert that present-day Catholicism is the body of Christ, the very body that Jesus began to build 2,000 years ago? It can only be done because of the assumptions that the average Catholic has. And because of the indoctrination or “brain washing” that has gone on by Catholic authorities over the years.

My Catholic Friend, Please Examine

My Catholic friend, please examine the evidence that we have presented on the previous pages. Be willing to think through the answers to the basic questions, such as the following:

  • In what ways is the modern Catholic Church similar to the body of Christ of the first century?
  • In what ways is the modern Catholic Church different from the original body of Christ?
  • How do we explain the dozens of changes in doctrine, in practice, and in lifestyle between the disciples of Christ at the time of the original apostles and the contemporary Catholic Church?
  • When you read your Bible, do you notice some of these differences yourself?
  • How do you justify the many ways that the Catholic Church violates basic teachings of Christ and the apostles?
  • How do you explain the several dozen different warnings that there would be a great apostasy or falling away from the faith in the centuries subsequent to the early community of Christ?
  • In what ways would the Catholic Church fulfill some of these warnings?
  • Are you willing to commit yourself to obedience to the teaching of Christ Jesus and disobedience to the teachings of the Catholic Church?
  • Are you relying more on your devotion to your father or mother, your extended family, or your friends instead of seeing the faults and false teachings of the Catholic Church?
  • How would you explain to the Lord Jesus, the Judge of the universe, that you were willing to hold to your family’s beliefs in the Catholic Church rather than submit yourself to the teachings of Christ and the apostles?
  • Have you justified your continued allegiance to the Catholic Church by seeing the faults in the various Protestant Churches also—when both religious organizations will be judged by a holy God?
  • Have you consoled yourself with the fact that the Catholic Church has many hundreds of years of tradition—instead of relying solidly on the Word of God?
  • Have you attempted to justify the existence of the Catholic Church by citing the many deeds of heroism and instances of martyrdom suffered by Catholic missionaries and others?

Please Choose What You Will Do

Joshua, the successor of Moses, challenged the Israelites of his day, “Choose for yourselves today whom you will serve” (Joshua 24:15).  Years later, Elijah issued another challenge, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). In our day, God is challenging the Catholic, “Choose for yourselves whom you will serve! Will it be the Catholic Church with its many false doctrines and false practices? Or will it be the truth that was taught by Christ and His apostles in the beginning?”

Dear Catholic friend, this is the matter you must decide. What will you do? How will you view the Catholic Church now that you have seen that there are vast differences between the body of Christ that He began 2,000 years ago and the religious institution that we know as the Catholic Church in our own day? Either you will continue in this unscriptural organization, with its countless false teachings, or you will take a stand with Christ Jesus and His truth that will one day judge us (see John 12:48).

We have hardly mentioned the various Protestant denominations, for we are aware that most of them have their own unscriptural beliefs, teachings, and practices. That is another study in itself. For now, we are focusing on the Catholic Church to which you belong.

We’ve produced a series of articles that is called, “A Friendly Discussion with Our Catholic Friends.” You will find these on our website: Please access those articles for further information on many different aspects of the Catholic Church. The earlier discussions in this series point out some of the positive aspects of this religious organization. Then they discuss the many different false ways of this Church. Please study all of them for yourself!

Dear friend, we wanted to share these things with you out of love for you and your soul. Paul the apostle said that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15). Not just truth without love, or love without truth—but the truth in love! This present matter is one of the most serious we could discuss and I hope that you will accept it as such.

We’ve only focused our attention on one side of a two-sided issue. We have shown the negatives of the Roman Catholic Church. But there is something else that God wants you to know! It is this: God wants you to come to know His love and fellowship through Christ Jesus, His beloved Son. It is not enough for you to leave an unbiblical religious organization. (The same is true of Protestants!) You also need to find God’s forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ. And you come to know Him by repenting of your sins, placing your faith in Him through Christ, trusting in the sacrificial death and resurrection of the Savior, being baptized (immersed) into Christ Jesus as you die to sin and rise to walk in newness of life—then as you begin to live a new life for Jesus (John 1:12-13; 3:14-18, 36; Acts 2:38-39; 8:12; 22:16; Romans 5:1; 6:3-6; Colossians 2:11-13; Galatians 3:26-27; 2 Corinthians 5:17).

The website we mentioned above has many different articles on how to be saved and come to know God through Jesus Christ. Please look them up and compare them with God’s own Word, the Scriptures. Then respond with humility, submission, repentance, and total surrender of your will and heart!






[1] The World Almanac and Book of Facts: 2016, p.698.

[2] The Second Vatican Council of 1962-1965 radically changed the makeup of the Catholic Church, with more ecumenical views believed and many external changes taking place. However, since Catholic doctrine cannot be changed, we’ll assume that you believe what your Church has always believed down through the centuries.

[3] We use the term, “Pope,” here to communicate with you, although we warn people against its use, since Jesus forbad our calling someone our “Father” (the meaning of “Pope”). (Matthew 23:9).

[4]Magisterium is used in a more limited sense to refer to the authoritative teaching body within the Roman Catholic Church, consisting of the bishops under the authority of the pope. The bishops fulfill various kinds of ‘ordinary’ magisterium in an ongoing manner. The ‘extraordinary’ magisterium emerges when the bishops are assembled into a council or the pope proclaims some new dogma (ex cathedra)” (Stanley J. Grenz, et. al., Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms), p. 74.

[5] “Baptism” is from the Greek baptisma, and it means “the proves of immersion, submersion and emergence” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

[6] Our word, “church,” is from the Greek ekklesia, a term that refers to “the whole company of the redeemed throughout the present era” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). It is better translated as “assembly” rather than “church.” Our word for “church” connotes a religious group, a denomination, or even a “church building,” but ekklesia referred to people—those who had been called out of sin and the world and gathered together by Christ to be the people of God.

[7] “Overseer” comes from the Greek episkopos and means “overseer” or overwatcher (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words). Other Greek lexicons will give similar definitions for this term and other terms we are examining.

[8] “Pastor” comes from the Greek poimen and it means “shepherd, one who tends herds or flocks” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

[9] “Man” is from the Greek aner and means a male, and “is never used of the female sex” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words) (Titus  1:6).

[10] “Authority” from the Greek exousia refers to “the power of one whose will and commands must be obeyed by others, e.g., Matt. 28:18; John 17:2; Jude 25; Rev. 12:10; 17:13” (Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words).

[11] John F. Rowe, A History of Reformatory Movements, pp. 1-2.

[12] Ibid., pp. 2-3.

[13] F. W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom: A History of the Church, pp. 107-111.

[14] Ibid., pp. 3-4.

[15] F. W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom: A History of the Church, p. 99.

[16] James North, A History of the Church from Pentecost to Present, p. 85.

[17] “Early second-century literature gives no direct evidence in regard to Christian participation in military service. The general statements which do occur imply a negative attitude. They reflect the Christian abhorrence of bloodshed and a general Christian affirmation about peace” (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, p. 217.)

[18] See our article and booklet, “The Peril of the World!”

[19] Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 3rd edition, pp. 58-59.

[20] Ibid., p. 59.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] “It seems that Gregory (called ‘the Great’ for understandable reasons) is the first person to function with the respect and authority of a modern pope. With this definition, then, we can date the beginning of the papacy at about 600” (James North, A History of the Church from Pentecost to Present, pp. 150-151).

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