The Rise of Catholicism

By Aude McKee


I. Review of past lessons.

A. We have studied the origin of the Lord’s church. It had its beginning on the day of Pentecost, in Jerusalem, in the 33rd year following the birth of Christ. The record of that beginning is found in Acts 2.

B. In the last lesson we observed two things: the growth of the church and the beginning of apostasy.

1. The church, from a humble beginning, grew to be a mighty army of saints.

2. But even during this period of growth warnings were sounded by the Spirit.

3. Lack of respect for divine authority brought departures from God’s pattern.

II. We are now prepared to proceed and observe the rise of the world’s first denomination. As we trace the origin of Catholicism, we will be simply tracing departures from God’s law.


I. To understand how Catholicism came into existence, it is necessary to have a knowledge of the organization of the Lord’s church.

A. Christ the Head (Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:20-23).

1. Christ is the head of the church universal.

2. This is the only organization the church universal has!

B. Elders to oversee. They watch for souls, rule and feed the flock.

1. Acts 11:27-30; 14:23; 20:28; Tit. 1:5; 1 Pet. 5:1-4; Heb. 13:17.

2. There are three Greek words in the New Testament that refer to this office or work:

a. Episkopos translated “bishop” and “overseer.”

(1) Titus 1:7 (see Tit. 1:5) – “bishop.”

(2) Phil. 1:1 – “bishop.”

(3) Acts 20:28 – “overseers.”

b. Poimen translated “pastor” and “shepherd.”

(1) Eph. 4:11 – “pastors.”

(2) 1 Pet. 2:25; 5:1 – “shepherd.”

c. Presbuteros translated “presbyter” and “elder.”

(1) Acts, 14:23; 1 Tim. 5:17 – “elders.”

(2) 1 Tim. 4:14 – “presbytery.”

3. In each local church there was a plurality (more than one) of elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17; Phil. 1:1; Tit. 1: 5).

4. The elders in each local church were equal in authority (see every passage where the elders are mentioned).

5. The elders had authority (rule, oversight, responsibility) only in the local church that appointed them.

a. Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:1-3.

b. Their authority (rule, oversight, responsibility) did not extend beyond the “flock of God among them.”

C. Deacons to serve.

1. See Phil. 1: 1; Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim. 3:8-13.

2. Deacons are not overseers – they are special servants.

D. Evangelists, teachers and saints (Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:1).

II. Early in the church’s history, elders began to extend their authority.

A. Step 1 – distinction made between bishop and elder (see Tit. 1:5,7).

1. Natural in group of three or four or more men, for one to be outstanding in ability and leadership (and occasionally in ambition to usurp authority).

2. Gradually, as men’s respect for Bible authority lessened, the church drifted into the practice of giving more authority to one man among the elders. This man they designated the “president” or the “presiding bishop.”

3. Thus the word bishop came at length to be applied exclusively to one elder and the rest were designated “elders” or “presbyters.”

4. This is an example of a scriptural word’s being used unscripturally.

B. Step 2 – extension of the authority of the bishop to congregations other than the one that appointed him.

1. The city church would establish churches in the neighboring towns and villages. Instead of recognizing the new congregations as independent bodies of Christians, the city church would control them through the bishop.

2. Gradually, as the city Bishops “tended their authority, they became known as Metropolitan Bishops.

C. Step 3 – the combining of churches of a large area under a single government.

1. The area became known as a diocese.

2. One of the Metropolitan Bishops graduated into a Diocesan Bishop.

D. Step 4 – by the close of the 5th century, the octopus of ecclesiasticism had spread until five centers ruled

1. Five Bishops became known as Patriarchs.

2. The centers from which they ruled were Alexandria, Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Rome.

E. Step 5 – the development of the Pope.

1. In 588, John the Faster, Patriarch of Constantinople, declared himself Universal Bishop. In the year 588, John, Bishop of Constantinople, surnamed the Faster, on account of his extraordinary abstinence and austerity, assembled, by his own authority a council at Constantinople, to inquire into an accusation brought against Peter, Patriarch of Antioch; and upon this occasion assumed the title of ecumenical, or universal bishop” (Mosheim, Ecclesiastical History, Vol. 1, p. 145).

2. Gregory the Great, then Patriarch of Rome, declared such an assumption as apostasy, and the one guilty of it “anti-Christ.” So in 588, the Catholic Church did not yet exist in its presentday governmental form.

“. . Gregory I was provoked and irritated beyond measure by the assumption of his Eastern rival, and strained every nerve to procure a revocation of that title. He characterized it as a foolish, proud, profane, wicked, pestiferous, blasphemous, and diabolical usurpation, and compared him who used it to Lucifer. . . . After the death of John the Faster in 596, Gregory instructed his ambassador at Constantinople to demand from the New Patriarch, Cyriacus, as a condition of inter-communion, the renunciation of the wicked title, and in a letter to Maurice, he went so far as to declare, that ‘Whosoever calls himself universal priest, or desires to be called so, was the forerunner of AntiChrist… (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. III, p. 220).

3. In 606, Boniface III, who had become Patriarch of Rome, acquired for himself the title of Universal Bishop.

“The disputes about pre-eminence, that had so long subsisted between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople, proceeded, in this century (7th) to such violent lengths, as laid the foundation of that deplorable schism, which afterwards separated the Greek and Latin churches. . . . Boniface II engaged (the emperor) Phocas, that abominable tyrant . . . to take from the bishop of Constantinople the title of ecumenical or universal bishop, and to confer it upon the Roman pontiff . . . thus was the papal supremacy first introduced” (Mosheim, Eccleasistial History, Vol. 1, p. 160).

III. The Catholic Church was born in the vacuum formed by the fall of the Roman Empire.

A. The Roman Empire existed from 27 B.C. to 476 A.D. (some list the fall as 395 A.D.).

1. Rome had ruled the world and then fell because of internal corruption.

2. Rome had ruled through a pyramid form of government.

3. This formed a perfect situation for the creation of the Pope.

B. 2 Thess. 2:1-12.

1. The “man of sin” could well be the Catholic Church.

2. Verse 7 points out that something restrained the “man of sin” from making his appearance, but that the restraining force would be removed. This could very well refer to the old Roman Empire.

IV. The formation of the Catholic Church was not revolutionary, but evolutionary.

A. A flower develops from the seed to the plant to the bud to the blossom, so the Catholic Church developed over a period of 500 years.

1. In fact, the Catholic Church is still developing it is a continually developing religious and political organization.

2. Every few years, new and unscriptural doctrines are adopted and enforced.

B. The seed from which the Catholic Church sprang was a lack of respect for God and his Son, and an improper attitude toward the Word.

1. Departures from truth usualy do not occur in one mighty leap, but they come gradually. Usually the common folk are able to only swallow a small dose of deviation from truth at a time.

2. But step after step after step away from God’s Word will eventually result in complete apostasy. Thus the Catholic Church is an apostate body.

3. 1 Jn. 1:6-7; 2 Jn. 9-11.


1. At this point in our study, religious confusion seems uncalled for.

2. If you had been living in 610 A.D., and wanted to go to heaven, would you have joined the Catholic Church, or would you have simply obeyed the teaching of the gospel and been a Christian, a member of the church Jesus built?

3. Our plea today is, do nothing, obey nothing, be nothing but that which the New Testament teaches!

4. By obeying from the heart the simple teachings of Christ (Rom. 1:17-18), salvation must come – the right relationship with the Lord and the Lord’s people must necessarily follow!

Guardian of Truth XXXII: 10, pp. 300-301
May 19, 1988