By Bill Imrisek
As stated in the previous article, we wish to investigate the claim of the Catholic Church to be the one, apostolic church founded by Jesus Christ. In the course of our investigation we will be quoting from Catholic sources and from a Catholic version of the Scriptures (the confraternity version).
Position of Peter Not Similar to Pope
At the very foundation of Roman Catholic doctrine is its belief in the “primacy of Peter.” This is a belief that Jesus conferred on Peter the responsibility of acting as the visible head of the church with powers of jurisdiction. These powers did not cease with Peter but were passed on to successors called Popes. To state this doctrine in the words of John L. McKenzie, Catholic priest and theologian from the University of Notre Dame,
The powers of Pope are defined in canon law in words taken from the First Vatican Council as “the supreme and full power of jurisdiction over the universal church both in matters of faith and morals and in matters of discipline and government” . . . .Jurisdiction means the power to make laws; it is not leadership by merely moral influence or persuasion. It is the power to compel obedience (The Roman Catholic Church, .John I. McKenzic, p. 39).
However, by its own admission, the Roman pope holds a position and power that were never conferred on Peter. Again McKenzie tells us,
One needs little acquaintance with the New Testament and the practice of contemporary Catholicism to recognize that there are notable differences between the position of Peter in the apostolic group and the position of the Roman Pontiff in the Roman Church (McKenzie, p. 26).
That is quite an admission from a Catholic! But McKenzie goes even further and asks,
How does Roman Catholicism bridge the gap between the New Testament and the First Vatican Council? Pontifical authority as defined in 1870 has a precision and an extension which are not found in the New Testament. Basically the Roman claim is that the pontifical office is a legitimate development of the powers granted to Peter. It is not a claim that one can find in the New Testament, a statement of the same powers in other words. It is not a claim that Peter thought of his own office in terms substantially identical with the definitions of 1870 (McKenzie, p. 30).
Thus, by the testimony of a Catholic scholar we see that the Roman Catholic position regarding the Pope is not apostolic.
Indeed, Peter’s position in the New Testament is quite different from that of the pope. As we have already seen, Christ did not build the church upon Peter, but upon Himself. Jesus is the only foundation (1 Cor. 3:11). The powers given to Peter were given to all the apostles alike (Matt. 16:19; 18:18). Not one word is spoken or implied in the New Testament about a “successor of Peter.” Neither did Peter know of it. As he penned his second epistle, he stated that his purpose in writing this letter was to provide a record of the things that he taught so that after his death we could call them to mind (2 Pet. 1:12-15). This would have been unnecessary if he was to have successors who could infallibly present the same truths to every generation.
Peter did not pass any authority on to anyone else. Rather he asked us to “be mindful of what I formerly preached of the words of the holy prophets and apostles, which are the precepts of the Lord and Savior” (2 Pet. 3:2). By the admission of Catholics it is seen that the very bedrock of Roman Catholicism is not an apostolic Roman institution.
The Office of Bishop Did Not Exist. in the Apostolic Age
Next in the ranks of the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is the office of bishop. But once again the Roman Catholic Church admits that what it calls a bishop is quite different from what existed in the apostolic age.
Everything indicates that the office of bishop as it appeared later did not exist during the life of Peter (McKenzie, p. 30).
Evidently, that which did not exist during the life of Peter cannot be considered apostolic. It is further admitted,
as we have seen, bishops, as the church has historically known them, do not appear in the New Testament. We find in the New 7estament officers of local churches called episkopoi (Greek Lpiskopos, “overseer,” from which the English word bishop is derived) and presbyterio (Greek presbyteros, “elder,” from which the English word priest is derived). These officers are not mentioned frequently, and everything indicates that they were members of a college or board. The New Testament churches do not appear with the supreme local authority invested in a single person (McKenric, p. 64).
As McKenzie states, the New Testament picture of a bishop is quite different from the current practices of the Catholic church. In the New Testament the terms presbyter (or elder) and bishop (or overseer) refer to the same office (Acts 20:17, 28). No distinction is made. Their qualifications are presented to us in 1 Tim. 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. A plurality of elders or bishops existed in each local church (Acts 14:22-23; 20:17-18; Phil. 1:1). Never do we find a bishop who has pre-eminence over any other bishops. Neither do we find a bishop who has authority over several congregations. Their leadership extended merely over the local church among them (1 Pet. 5:1-3).
However, this simple New Testament pattern was soon corrupted into the hierarchal form which later became a characteristic of Catholicism. Rather then all the elders (bishops) in a local church sharing equally in their responsibilities, one man was placed over the others and became the chief elder. Soon one chief elder gained the pre-eminence over all the churches in a particular region (later called a diocese). It was not a very big step from this arrangement until one man was designated to be head over all the churches universally, and the office of Pope was created.
This corruption of the New Testament pattern began soon after the death of the last apostle. Ignatius of Antioch, writing shortly after the beginning of the second century, shows how much importance had been placed on the office of bishop even in his own day.
Let me urge on you the need for godly unanimity in everything you do. Let the bishop preside in the place of God, and his clergy in place of the apostolic conclave (from the Epistle to the Magnesians, Early Christian Writings, p. 88).
Equally, it is for the rest of you to hold the deacon in as great respect as Jesus Christ; just as you should also look on the bishop as a type of the Father (from the Epistle to the Trallians, Early Christian Writings, pp. 95-96).
Such comments as these by Ignatius are reminiscent of Paul’s warning in 2 Thess. 2:1-10 of the apostasy that was soon to come, and of the man of sin who was soon to be revealed. He describes this man of sin as one “who opposes and is exalted above all that is called God, or that is worshiped, so that he sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as if he were God” (v. 4). Paul further said that in his own day “the mystery of iniquity is already at word” (v. 7). The authority and exalted position which Ignatius and others ascribed to the office of bishop soon found its fullest expression in the bishop of Rome who became known as the Pope (from the Latin, papa, meaning “father,” an honor to be given to God – Matt. 23:9).
It is obvious, therefore, from all that has been seen, that the Roman office of bishop is not apostolic.
Priesthood Did Not Exist in Apostolic Times
In the Catholic Church, between the laity and the upper hierarchy, stands the priesthood. In Roman Catholic doctrine the priest is a mediator between God and man.
By his office a priest is only concerned with heavenly things; he stands between God and man; he lays our petition before the Most High and conveys divine graces to us. He is a mediator between God and man, the angel of the Lord of hosts (Mat. ii. 7), the messenger of God to make known his will to man. He is God’s representative, His ambassador, His plenipotentiary; therefore whatsoever honor we show to the priest, we pay to God Himself (The Catechism Explained, Spirago & Clarke, p. 644).
Closely connected with his role as a priest is the responsibility to offer the “sacrifice of the Mass,” in which it is believed that Jesus is repeatedly offered for our sins.
The Mass is consequently no mere image of the sacrifice of the cross; it is not a bare memorial of it, it is the self-same sacrifice which was consummated on Calvary (Council of Trent, 22, 3), and accordingly it is of the self-same value and of the self-same efficacy. In the Mass the Passion and death of the Son of God take place again in a mystic manner, His blood is shed afresh. In it He displays His wounds to His heavenly Father, to save man from perdition; He sets before Him the bitter anguish He endured at His death as vividly as if His Passion were but just ended. To say Mass, therefore, is to immolate the Son of God anew in a mystic manner. The principle ceremonies of the Mass demonstrate, as we have seen, that the oblation once offered upon the cross is renewed upon the altar (Spirago & Clarke, pp. 541-542).
However, once again the Catholic Church admits that its priesthood is a post-apostolic invention. McKenzie says,
Like the episcopacy, the priesthood as we know it does not appear in the New Testament; it is an early but apparently postapostolic development of the ministry (McKenzie p. 96).
Here is a clear admission that the Roman Catholic Church is built upon something other than apostolic foundations! Their priesthood does not appear in the New Testament and did not develop until years after the life time of the apostles. That is quite an admission for a church that claims as its marks of identity that it is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.”
Their priesthood is not only foreign to the New Testament but it is also a perversion of the truth taught therein. Whereas the Catholic Church teaches that each priest is a mediator between God and man, the Scriptures teach, “There is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). The only priesthood known in the New Testament is one in which all Christians share equally (1 Pet. 2:5, 9; Rom. 12:1) with Jesus Christ, not the priests of Catholicism, being the one mediator between God and man. And whereas the Catholic Church teaches that Jesus is offered repeatedly as a sacrifice upon their altars, the Scriptures teach that he offered Himself “once for all” (Heb. 9:24-26).
In comparing the priesthood and the sacrifices of the Old Testament with the sacrifice of Jesus, the writer of the book of Hebrews says, “Every priest indeed stands daily ministering the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but Jesus, having offered one sacrifice for sins, has taken his seat forever at the right hand of God, waiting thenceforth until his enemies be made the footstool under his feet. For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are sanctified . . . Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer offering for sin” (Heb. 10:11-14, 18). If there is no longer offering for sin, what becomes of the sacrifices of Catholicism in which the blood of Jesus is “shed afresh” and his sacrifice is “renewed”? They are exposed as being false. They are a rejection of the scriptural truth that Jesus offered Himself “once for all” and that “there is no longer an offering for sin.” Thus, the priesthood of Catholicism and it attendant services are seen to be without apostolic precedence, and the development of the priesthood is admitted to be postapostolic.
Clergy-Laity Distinctions Not Found in New Testament Times
Basic to an understanding of the Roman Catholic system is an awareness of the distinction they make between the “clergy” and the “laity.”
To selected members, called the clergy, was given the office of offering public worship, or administering most of the sacraments, and of ruling and instructing the faithful (The Externals of the Catholic Church, John F. Sullivan, p. 4).
The laity are the governed, the recipients of the sacraments, and the listeners (McKenzie, p. 114).
However, McKenzie goes on to show that such distinction is not found in the New Testament.
When one compares the laity in the Roman Catholic Church with the laity in the New Testament church, or even the laity in Protestant churches, especially those churches which are called congregational, some striking differences as apparent. The New Testament. does not exhibit the kind of clergy-laity polarity which is seen in Roman Catholicism. Except for the pastoral epistles (attributed to Paul but really the work of his disciples), the New Testament writings contain little which is addressed to the “clergy”; neither the word nor the idea as it has developed is found in the New Testament. The Christian message and the Christian way of life are presented to all members of the church equally. By contrast, in Roman Catholicism the laity are passive members of the church (McKenzie, p. 114).
These are the declarations of a Roman Catholic priest and theologian whose writings bear the imprimatur of the Catholic Church. And he admits that such a clergy-laity distinction as is exhibited in the Catholic Church is neither Biblical nor apostolic.
We have thus far seen that the papacy, the bishopric, the priesthood, and the clergy-laity distinction of the Roman Catholic Church is unapostolic. If the very heart and soul of their system is without scriptural authority, what about the rest? We shall continue and conclude our investigation in the next article.
Truth Magazine XXIII: 6, pp. 102-104
February 8, 1979