By Lorraine Boettner
- CHAPTER ONE – Introduction
- CHAPTER TWO – The Church
- CHAPTER THREE – The Priesthood
- CHAPTER FOUR – Tradition
- CHAPTER FIVE – Peter
CHAPTER I Introduction
1. Historical Background
2. Roman Catholicism a Poor Defense Against Communism
3. Romanism an Age-long Development
4. Protestantism and First Century Christianity
5. Contrast Between Protestant and Roman Catholic Countries
1 Historical Background
In our twentieth century America few among us seem to realize what a priceless heritage we possess in the freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly that is an integral part of our everyday life. Nor are many aware of the bitter and prolonged struggles our forefathers went through at the time of the Reformation and later to secure these freedoms. Instead it is quite the common thing to take these for granted and to assume that they are the natural rights of all men. But truly those of us who call ourselves Protestants are the inheritors of a great tradition. And in a country such as the United States our Roman Catholic friends also share these freedoms, little realizing what it means to live under a clerical dictatorship such as their church imposes wherever it has the power.
Roman Catholics often attempt to represent Protestantism as something comparatively new, as having originated with Martin Luther and John Calvin in the 16th century. We do indeed owe a great debt to those leaders and to the Reformation movement that swept over Europe at that time. But the basic principles and the common system of doctrine taught by those Reformers and by the evangelical churches ever since go back to the New Testament and to the first century Christian church. Protestantism as it emerged in the 16th century was not the beginning of something new, but a return to Bible Christianity and to the simplicity of the Apostolic church from which the Roman Church had long since departed.
The positive and formal principle of this system is that the Bible is the Word of God and therefore the authoritative rule of faith and practice. Its negative principle is that any element of doctrine or practice in the church which cannot be traced back to the New Testament is no essential part of Christianity.
The basic features of Protestant belief therefore are:
- The supremacy of the Bible in all matters of faith and practice.
- Justification by faith, not by works, although works have their necessary and logical place as the fruits and proof of true faith.
- The right of the individual to go directly to God in prayer apart from the mediation of any priest or other human intermediary.
- Individual freedom of conscience and worship, within the authority of the Bible.
For more than a thousand years before the Reformation the popes had controlled Europe and had said that there was only one way to worship God. That period is appropriately known as the “Dark Ages.” In the church and, to a considerable extent, in the state, too, the priests held the power. They suppressed the laity until practically all their rights were taken away. They constantly pried into private affairs, interfering even between husband and wife and between parents and children by means of the confessional. All marriage was in their hands. They interfered in the administration of public affairs, in the proceedings of the courts, and in the disposition of estates. The revenues of the state built new churches and paid the salaries of the priests in much the same manner as in present day Spain. Anyone who dared resist ran the risk of losing his job, his property, and even his life. Life under such tyranny was intolerable. From that condition the Reformation brought deliverance.
One of the first and most important results of the Reformation was that the Bible was given to the people in their own languages. Previously the Bible had been kept from them, on the pretext that only the church speaking through the priest could interpret it correctly. Luther translated the Bible into his native German, and edition followed edition in rapid succession. Similar translations were made in England, France, Holland, and other countries.
Protestants of our day who have not been called upon to suffer or to make any sacrifices to secure this rich heritage are inclined to hold these blessings lightly. But the advances that Romanism is making today in this nation and in other parts of the world should cause even the most careless to stop and think. It seems that as Protestants we have forgotten how to protestagainst those same religious and political abuses that were common before the Reformation. We need to acquaint ourselves with and to teach the principles of our faith if we are not to be overwhelmed by a religious despotism that, if it gains the upper hand, will be as cruel and oppressive as ever it was in Germany, Italy, France, or Spain.
Our American freedoms are being threatened today by two totalitarian systems, Communism and Roman Catholicism. And of the two in our country Romanism is growing faster than is Communism and is the more dangerous since it covers its real nature with a cloak of religion. This nation has been well alerted to the dangers of Communism, and it is generally opposed by the radio, the press, and the churches. But Romanism has the support of these to a considerable extent, and even the Protestant churches in many places take a conciliatory and cooperative attitude toward it. Most people have only a very hazy notion as to what is involved in the Roman system. And yet the one consuming purpose of the Vatican is to convert the entire world, not to Christianity, but to Roman Catholicism. Its influence is being applied vigorously at every level of our local, state, and federal government. It is particularly significant that in this country the hierarchy has taken as its slogan, not, “Make America Christian,” but, “Make America Catholic.” And in that slogan are the strong overtones of a full scale attack upon our Protestant heritage and those precious rights of freedom of religion, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech.
We cannot adequately understand this problem unless we realize that the kind of Roman Catholicism that we see in the United States is, for the most part, not real Roman Catholicism at all, that is, not Roman Catholicism as it exists where it is the dominant force in the life of a nation, but a modified and compromised form that has adjusted itself to life with a Protestant majority. Here it is comparatively reticent about asserting its claims to be the only true church, the only church that has a right to conduct public religious services, its right to suppress all other forms of religion, its superiority to all national and state governments, its control over all marriage, its right to direct all education, and the obligation of the state to support its churches and schools with tax money. That this is no visionary list of charges, but a cold and realistic appraisal, is shown by the fact that in Spain, which is governed under the terms of a concordat with the Vatican, and which is often praised by Roman Catholic spokesmen as the ideal Catholic state, the Roman Church is now exercising most of these so‑called “rights” or privileges.
In order to see clearly what Roman Catholicism really is, we must see it as it was during the Middle Ages, or as it has continued to be in certain countries such as Spain, Portugal, Italy, France, Southern Ireland, and Latin America, where it has had political as well as ecclesiastical control. In those countries where it has been dominant for centuries with little or no opposition from Protestantism, we see the true fruits of the system in the lives of the people, with all of their poverty, ignorance, superstition, and low moral standards. In each of those countries a dominant pattern is discernible. Spain is a particularly good example, for it is the most Roman Catholic country in Europe, yet it has the lowest standard of living of any nation in Europe. The Latin American nations have been predominantly Roman Catholic for four centuries, and today the illiteracy rate ranges from 30 to 70 percent. The veteran radio political analyst, Howard K. Smith, recently reported that “The average per capita income in the United States is eight times that of any country in South America” (March 3, 1960). The average per capita income in South America is $280, one ninth that in the United States.
But even in those countries we do not see the ultimate fruits of the system. For over a period of years they have been influenced to some extent by Protestantism and they have been receiving assistance from the Protestant nations, particularly from the United States and England, so that their present condition, economic, social, political, and religious, is not nearly as bad as it would have been had they been left to themselves. Substantial aid has been given since the close of the First World War. American foreign aid, economic and military, granted to other nations since the Second World War through 1977, amounted to $200 billion (Statistical Abstract of the U.S., 1978). And probably $50 billion more has been granted since that time, making a total of approximately $250 billion. The Roman Catholic nations of Europe and Latin America have profited greatly through this assistance.
American Catholicism, so different on the surface from that found in Spain, Italy, and Latin America, is, nevertheless, all a part of the same church, all run from Rome and by the same man who is the absolute ruler over all of the branches and who has the authority to change policy in any of those branches as he deems it safe or expedient. If he chose to give his subjects in Spain or Colombia relatively more freedom and better schools, such as are enjoyed by those in the United States, he could readily do so by directing his priests and financial resources to that end. Undoubtedly Romanism in the United States would be much the same as that found in other countries were it not for the influence of evangelical Christianity as set forth by the Protestant churches.
Roman Catholicism a Poor Defense against Communism
We have no hesitation in saying that most of the Roman Catholic nations, had they been left to themselves, long ago would have fallen victims of Communism. In all probability both Italy and France would have turned Communist at the close of the Second World War had it not been for American aid and all of the political influence that our government could lawfully exert toward those nations, and even then the result was in doubt for some considerable time. The Vatican had supported Mussolini’s Fascist and military policies, including the conquest of Ethiopia (which conquest had been condemned by the League of Nations and by practically all of the civilized world), his open and extensive support of Franco in Spain with troops and arms, and his invasion of Albania and Greece. After Italy entered the war on the side of Nazi Germany the Roman Church supported the Italian war effort, which meant, of course, that our work of carrying the war to a successful conclusion was made just that much harder. During the war Pope Pius XII gave his blessing to large numbers of Italian and German troops who appeared before him in uniform. With the defeat of Germany and Italy those policies caused strong popular resentment. It is probable that, in the turmoil that followed the ignominious fall of Mussolini, the Roman Catholic Church would have been overthrown in much the same way that the Orthodox Catholic Church in Russia was overthrown when the Czarist regime fell at the end of the First World War, had not American military forces then in Italy preserved order. In Russia a dead, formalistic church had lost the respect of the people and had become identified with the despotic rule of the Czar since he was the head of both the state and the church. When the people rose up in anger and threw out the political government, they threw out the church with it and turned to the other extreme, atheism. That has often been the case where the people have known only one church. When that became corrupt they had no alternative but to turn against religion altogether.
In the critical Italian election held after the war, in April, 1948, the Communists made a strong effort to gain control of the government, but a coalition of other parties managed to gain the majority. Today the biggest Communist party outside of Russia and Red China is found in Roman Catholic Italy, seat of the papacy, precisely where, if Roman Catholicism is the effective defense against Communism that it claims to be, we should find the least Communism. Approximately one third of the voters in Italy today are Communist, as are approximately one fourth of those in France.
Roman Catholicism opposes Communism, of course, as one totalitarian system opposes another. And for propaganda purposes she even attempts to present herself as the chief opponent of, and the chief bulwark against, Communism. But the fact is that during the past fifteen years Communism has made its greatest gains in Roman Catholic nations, both in Europe and in Latin America, while the Protestant nations, the United States, Britain, Canada, Holland, Norway, Sweden, and Denmark, have been its most effective opponents. It is in reality only a short step from a totalitarian church to a totalitarian state, since the people have been trained to accept authority as it is imposed upon them rather than to think for themselves and to manage their own affairs.
In his very informative book, American Freedom and Catholic Power, Paul Blanshard, American sociologist and journalist who has written extensively on church-state relations, says:
“In several great crises in Europe the Vatican has, through passive and active collaboration with fascism, thrown the balance of power against democracy. … It has aligned itself with the most reactionary forces in Europe and Latin America. Surely it is not by accident that the two most fascist nations in the world today—Spain and Portugal—are Catholic nations whose dictators have been blessed by the pope and are conspicuously loyal to him! The Vatican’s affinity with fascism is neither accidental nor incidental. Catholicism conditions its people to accept censorship, thought control, and ultimately dictatorship” (Rev. ed., 1958, p. 291; Beacon Press, Boston).
And Count Coudenhove‑Kalergi, a former Roman Catholic, says:
“Catholicism is the fascist form of Christianity of which Calvinism represents its democratic wing. The Catholic hierarchy rests fully and securely on the leadership principle with the infallible pope in supreme command for a lifetime. … Like the Fascist party, its priesthood becomes a medium for an undemocratic minority rule by a hierarchy. … Catholic nations follow fascist doctrines more willingly than Protestant nations, which are the main strongholds of democracy. Democracy lays its stress on personal conscience; fascism on authority and obedience” (Crusade for Pan‑Europe, p. 173 ).
If the United States should become Roman Catholic, the result undoubtedly would be the rapid conquest of this country and the rest of the world by Russian Communism. In view of the weak defense that the Roman Catholic countries are able to put up intellectually, morally, or militarily, we are safe in saying that one of the surest ways to turn this nation Communist would be to turn it first to Roman Catholicism. We have acted as a strong restraint in keeping Roman Catholic nations from going Communist. But who would restrain this nation? There would be no other to serve that purpose, and our descent would be sure and swift.
The fact is that much of the popular support that the puppet governments behind the Iron Curtain have received has been given because they have forbidden the Roman Catholic Church to take any part in political affairs or to control the schools. In several countries, both in Europe and in Latin America, the only choice the people have is either Romanism or Communism. Protestantism, as an alternative choice, is practically non‑existent. Those people have been taught hatred for Protestantism from childhood, and few of them would try it. Many vote Communist, not because they believe in the program, but because it is the only effective instrument they have to oppose Roman Catholicism.
On the other hand, to see what the effect of Protestantism is upon a people we turn to the United States, where with complete separation of church and state the Reformation has made its greatest advance, and to Britain and the other nations where Protestantism has long been the dominant religion. These we find are unquestionably the most enlightened and advanced nations of the world; and in the main it is from these nations, where the people are accustomed to think and act for themselves and to govern themselves in both church and state, that the opposition to Communism has come.
3 Romanism an Age-Long Development
One of the first things that we want to point out in this study is that the Roman Catholic Church has not always been what it is today. Rather, it has reached its present state as the result of along, slow process of development as through the centuries one new doctrine, or ritual, or custom after another has been added. Even a superficial reading of the following list will make clear that most of the distinctive features of the system were unknown to Apostolic Christianity, and that one can hardly recognize in present day Romanism the original Christian doctrines. Not all dates can be given with exactness since some doctrines and rituals were debated or practiced over a period of time before their formal acceptance.
Some Roman Catholic Heresies and Inventions and the dates of their adoption over a period of 1,650 years
1. Prayers for the dead: began about a.d. 300.
2. Making the sign of the cross: a.d. 300.
3. Wax candles: about a.d. 320.
4. Veneration of angels and dead saints, and use of images: a.d. 375.
5. The Mass, as a daily celebration: a.d. 394.
6. Beginning of the exaltation of Mary, the term “Mother of God” first applied to her by the Council of Ephesus: a.d. 431.
7. Priests began to dress differently from laymen: a.d. 500.
8. Extreme Unction: a.d. 526.
9. The doctrine of Purgatory, established by Gregory I: a.d. 593.
10. Latin language, used in prayer and worship, imposed by Gregory I: a.d. 600.
11. Prayers directed to Mary, dead saints, and angels: about a.d. 600.
12. Title of pope, or universal bishop, given to Boniface III by emperor Phocas: a.d. 607.
13. Kissing the pope’s foot, began with Pope Constantine: a.d. 709.
14. Temporal power of the popes, conferred by Pepin, king of the Franks: a.d. 750.
15. Worship of the cross, images, and relics: authorized in a.d. 786.
16. Holy water, mixed with a pinch of salt and blessed by a priest: a.d. 850.
17. Worship of St. Joseph: a.d. 890.
18. College of Cardinals established: a.d. 927.
19. Baptism of bells, instituted by pope John XIII: a.d. 965.
20. Canonization of dead saints, first by Pope John XV: a.d. 995.
21. Fasting on Fridays and during Lent: a.d. 998.
22. The Mass, developed gradually as a sacrifice, attendance made obligatory in the 11th century.
23. Celibacy of the priesthood, decreed by pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand): a.d. 1079.
24. The Rosary, mechanical praying with beads, invented by Peter the Hermit: a.d. 1090.
25. The Inquisition, instituted by the Council of Verona: a.d. 1184.
26. Sale of Indulgences: a.d. 1190.
27. Transubstantiation, proclaimed by Pope Innocent III: a.d. 1215.
28. Auricular Confession of sins to a priest instead of to God, instituted by Pope Innocent III, in Lateran Council: a.d. 1215.
29. Adoration of the wafer (Host), decreed by Pope Honorius III: a.d. 1220.
30. Bible forbidden to laymen, placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Toulouse: a.d. 1229.
31. The Scapular, invented by Simon Stock, an English monk: a.d. 1251.
32. Cup forbidden to the people at communion by Council of Constance: a.d. 1414.
33. Purgatory proclaimed as a dogma by the Council of Florence: a.d. 1439.
34. The doctrine of Seven Sacraments affirmed: a.d. 1439.
35. The Ave Maria (part of the last half was completed 50 years later and approved by Pope Sixtus V at the end of the 16th century): a.d. 1508.
36. Jesuit order founded by Loyola: a.d. 1534.
37. Tradition declared of equal authority with the Bible by the Council of Trent: a.d. 1545.
38. Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent: a.d. 1546.
39. Creed of pope Pius IV imposed as the official creed: a.d. 1560.
40. Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX: a.d. 1854.
41. Syllabus of Errors, proclaimed by Pope Pius IX and ratified by the Vatican Council; condemned freedom of religion, conscience, speech, press, and scientific discoveries which are disapproved by the Roman Church; asserted the pope’s temporal authority over all civil rulers: a.d. 1864.
42. Infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals, proclaimed by the Vatican Council: a.d. 1870.
43. Public Schools condemned by Pope Pius XI: a.d. 1930.
44. Assumption of the Virgin Mary (bodily ascension into heaven shortly after her death), proclaimed by Pope Pius XII: a.d. 1950.
45. Mary proclaimed Mother of the Church by Pope Paul VI: a.d. 1965.
Add to these many others: monks, nuns, monasteries, convents, forty days Lent, holy week, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, All Saints day, Candlemas day, fish day, meat days, incense, holy oil, holy palms, Christopher medals, charms, novenas, and still others.
There you have it—the melancholy evidence of Rome’s steadily increasing departure from the simplicity of the Gospel, a departure so radical and far‑reaching at the present time that it has produced a drastically anti‑evangelical church. It is clear beyond possibility of doubt that the Roman Catholic religion as now practiced is the outgrowth of centuries of error. Human inventions have been substituted for Bible truth and practice. Intolerance and arrogance have replaced the love and kindness and tolerance that were the distinguishing qualities of the first century Christians, so that now in Roman Catholic countries Protestants and others who are sincere believers in Christ but who do not acknowledge the authority of the pope are subject to all kinds of restrictions and in some cases even forbidden to practice their religion. The distinctive attitude of the present day Roman Church was fixed largely by the Council of Trent (1545‑1563), with its more than 100 anathemas or curses pronounced against all who then or in the future would dare to differ with its decisions.
Think what all of this means! Each of the above doctrines or practices can be pin‑pointed to the exact or approximate date at which it became a part of the system. And no single one of them became a part of the system until centuries after the time of Christ! Most of these doctrines and practices are binding on all Roman Catholics, for they have been proclaimed by a supposedly infallible pope or church council. To deny any doctrine or practice so proclaimed involves one in mortal sin.
What will be next? Indications are that it will be another proclamation concerning Mary. Two new doctrines are under discussion: Mary as Mediatrix, and Mary as Co‑redemptrix. Important Roman Catholic authorities have already indicated that these will be the next doctrines officially proclaimed. Mary is being presented in current Roman teaching as a Mediator along with Christ. She is said to be the “Mediatrix of all graces,” and the people are being told that the way to approach Christ is through His mother. “To Christ through Mary,” is the slogan. Her images outnumber those of Christ, and more prayer is offered to her than to Christ.
It is also being said that Mary’s sufferings, particularly those at the cross, were redemptive in the same sense that Christ’s sufferings were redemptive. It would seem that these two doctrines, if adopted, would in effect place Mary as a fourth member of the Godhead, along with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And presumably these doctrines, if adopted, will be officially announced by the pope, for he was proclaimed infallible in this regard in 1870 and therefore no longer needs the authority of an ecumenical council.
And still the Roman Church boasts that she never changes or teaches new doctrines! Semper idem—“Always the same”—is her motto! The fact that not one of the doctrines in the above list has any support in the Bible disproves conclusively the claim of the priests that their religion is the same as that taught by Christ and that the popes have been the faithful custodians of that truth.
The fact is that many of the above listed rites and ceremonies were taken directly from paganism or from Old Testament Judaism. Some scholars say that as much as 75 percent of the Roman ritual is of pagan origin. John Henry Newman, later cardinal, in his book, The Development of the Christian Religion, admits that “Temples, incense, oil lamps, votive offerings, holy water, holy days and seasons of devotion, processions, blessings of fields, sacerdotal vestments, the tonsure (of priests, monks, and nuns), images, etc., are all of pagan origin” (p. 359).
While the Roman Church has been so free to hurl the name “heretic” at all who differ with her, the above list shows that the real heretics are the Roman Catholics themselves, and that the true orthodox are the evangelical Christians. Says the Scripture:
“But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men. … Making void the word of God by your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things ye do” (Mark 7:7,13).
“To the law and to the testimony! if they speak not according to this word, surely there is no morning for them” (Isaiah 8:20).
Surely the Apostle Paul knew the human tendency to add to the Word of God when he gave this warning to the early church:
“I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). And even more strongly: “But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema” (Galatians 1:8).
4 Protestantism and First Century Christianity
Ever since New Testament times there have been people who accepted the basic principles now set forth in Protestantism. That is, they took the Bible as their authoritative standard of belief and practice. They were not called Protestants. Neither were they called Roman Catholics. They were simply called Christians. During the first three centuries they continued to base their faith solely on the Bible. They often faced persecution, sometimes from the Jews, sometimes from the pagans of the Roman empire. But early in the fourth century the emperor Constantine, who was the ruler in the West, began to favor Christianity, and then in the year 324, after he had become ruler of all of the empire, made Christianity the official religion. The result was that thousands of people who still were pagans pressed into the church in order to gain the special advantages and favors that went with such membership. They came in far greater numbers than could be instructed or assimilated. Having been used to the more elaborate pagan rituals, they were not satisfied with the simple Christian worship but began to introduce their heathen beliefs and practices. Gradually, through the neglect of the Bible and the ignorance of the people, more and more heathen ideas were introduced until the church became more heathen than Christian. Many of the heathen temples were taken over by the church and re‑dedicated as Christian churches.
Thus in time there was found in the church a sacrificing and gorgeously appareled priesthood, an elaborate ritual, images, holy water, incense, monks and nuns, the doctrine of purgatory, and in general a belief that salvation was to be achieved by works rather than by grace. The church in Rome, and in general the churches throughout the empire, ceased to be the apostolic Christian church, and became for the most part a religious monstrosity.
There remained, however, some groups, small in numbers, usually in isolated places, and later primarily in the mountains of northern Italy, who maintained the Christian faith in reasonable purity. There were also individuals throughout the church in all ages, usually more or less independent of the church at large, who continued to hold quite correct ideas concerning the Christian faith. But the half paganized condition continued through the Middle Ages and on into the 16th century when the religious revival in the West, known as the Reformation, shook the church to its foundations. At that time some scholars bean to study Bible manuscripts that had been brought to light by the forced flight of eastern monks from their monasteries as the Mohammedan invasions extended into Europe, and these scholars saw how far the church had departed from its original Scriptures.
First there came the Renaissance, which was primarily a revival of learning, followed shortly by the Reformation. Some of the scholars in the church were called “Reformers.” They called the people back to the Bible, and there they saw how wrong and contrary to Scripture was the use of images, holy water, priests saying mass, and church services in Latin which the people could not understand. The Reformers strongly attacked the ignorance and superstition that had become such a large part of the church program, and gave the people a service in their own language with preaching based on the Word of God. Protestantism, therefore, was not a new religion, but a return to the faith of the early church. It was Christianity cleaned up, with all the rubbish that had collected during the Middle Ages thrown out.
The Reformation, under Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox, was literally a “back‑to‑the‑Bible” movement, a return to apostolic Christianity. Evangelical Christianity has established itself as the historic faith of the first century, which came down through the ante-Nicene Fathers and Augustine, which was largely obscured during the Middle Ages, but which burst forth again in all its glory in the Reformation, and which has continued to grow and increase down to our own time.
The very name “Protestant,” first applied to those Reformers who protested against the decrees issued by the Diet of Spires, implies in its broader sense that the churches led by the Reformers “protested” against the false doctrines and practices that were contrary to the teachings of the New Testament. They demanded a return to the purity and simplicity of New Testament Christianity. Protestantism did not begin with Luther and Calvin. It began with the Gospel, with the life and death and resurrection of Christ. It teaches what the New Testament teaches, nothing more and nothing less. It was not founded on the writings of Luther, or Calvin, or any of the later writers, although those writings proved helpful in the work of the church. Evangelical Protestantism cannot change greatly, for it is founded on an unchanging Book, completed in the first century and declared in the creeds of all evangelical churches to be the Word of God. The names of Protestant churches are not very old, and the denominations differ in regard to some doctrines; but the churches are in quite close agreement concerning the essentials of the faith, each attempting to hold in its purity the teachings of Christ and the apostles. The disagreement and conflict which Rome attempts to picture as existing between Protestant denominations is for the most part exaggeration, and is due largely to Rome’s failure to understand what Protestantism really is.
How, then, do we know whether or not any particular system sets forth true Christianity? By comparing it with a recognized standard, especially with the Bible which is the ultimate authority. Judged by that standard, evangelical Protestantism is the same system of truth that was set forth in the New Testament and practiced by the first century Christians. All accretions, such as purgatory, the authority of tradition, the priesthood, the papacy, the worship of the Virgin Mary and the saints, the veneration of relics, auricular confession (“auricular”—pertaining to the ear—auricular confession, therefore, means confession in the ear of a priest), penance, etc., are totally without Scriptural basis and should be branded as false.
5 Contrast Between Protestant and Roman Catholic Countries
It is a fact beyond challenge that the Protestant countries of Europe and the Americas have been comparatively strong, progressive, enlightened, and free, while the Roman Catholic countries have remained relatively stationary or have stagnated and have had to be aided economically and politically by the Protestant nations. The Middle Ages were dark because Romanism was dominant and unchallenged. The light that we enjoy, which was first manifested in Europe and then in America, we owe to the Protestant Reformation. How appropriate the inscription on the Reformation monument in Geneva—Post tenebris lux, “After the darkness, light”!
The lesson of history is that Romanism means the loss of religious liberty and the arrest of national progress. If after living in the United States one who was not aware of the contrast between Protestant and Roman Catholic cultures were to visit some Roman Catholic countries in Europe or Latin America, not merely to see places that have been fixed up to attract tourists but to live for some time among the common people, it would make him sick at heart to see the ignorance, poverty, superstition, illiteracy, suppression of religious freedom, and legalized prostitution which particularly in Latin America is found in practically every town of any size, a fairly consistent pattern in all of those areas—characteristics of heathenism, characteristics of Romanism.
In Latin America, where the Roman Church has been dominant for four centuries with practically no competition from Protestantism, it has had ample opportunity to bring forth the true fruits of the system. And there, as a church, it has failed miserably. About 90 percent of the people have been baptized in the Roman Catholic Church, but probably not more than 10, or at most 15, percent are practicing Roman Catholics. The present writer is in receipt of a letter from a missionary in Bolivia who writes: “The Roman Catholic Church in Bolivia is not a Christian church at all but an unholy device for keeping the people in ignorance and poverty.” He added that Romanism the world over is one unified system, all under the control of the pope in Rome, and that it probably would be as bad in the United States if it were not for the restraining influence of the evangelical churches. Strong words those, but he was writing of a situation concerning which we know but little in this country.
Governments in Roman Catholic countries have been extremely unsteady. Repeatedly the people shoot up their governments or overthrow them. Practically all of those countries have been ruled by dictators at various times, and sometimes for long periods of time. Since the Second World War France has had repeated governmental crises, until a more stable situation was reached making General de Gaulle president and giving him dictatorial powers. Italy has had 32 governmental crises in 25 years, usually, as in France, characterized by resignation of the government, followed by a period of uncertainty and paralysis until a new election was held or a new alignment of parties was worked out. Spain, which is often pointed to as the model Catholic state, is governed under a concordat with the Vatican, has only one political party, the clerical-fascist party of General Franco, and has been under the dictatorship of Franco since 1938. Portugal, too, is a clerical‑fascist state, under dictator Antonio Salazar. In that country the fall of the monarchy in 1910 was followed by a period of economic and political chaos, with 40 governmental changes in 18 years, until Salazar became minister of finance in 1928 and prime minister with dictatorial powers in 1932, which position he has held ever since.1 In the Latin American nations the overthrow of national governments, followed by periods of dictatorship, has occurred repeatedly during the past 15 years—those in Argentina, Brazil, Columbia, Venezuela, Peru, Cuba, Chile, and Nicaragua having been the most recent.
1 Salazar’s dictatorship ended in 1968, and Franco’s ended in 1975.
It cannot be passed off as mere chance that governments in Protestant countries, such as the United States, Britain, Canada, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries, have been so stable over long periods of time while those in the Roman Catholic countries have been so unstable. The result follows in part at least because of the contrasting doctrines of the relation that should exist between church and state. Protestantism holds that the church and the state are each of divine origin, that each is supreme in its own sphere and independent of the other. Romanism holds that power comes to the state through the church, that the church and state should be united with the church holding the superior position, that the pope as God’s representative on earth is above all temporal rulers, above all kings, presidents, and governors, that it is the duty of the state to maintain a political atmosphere favorable to the Roman Catholic Church, supporting it with public money while placing restrictions on all other churches, and that the state should do the bidding of the church in punishing heretics. Such doctrines undermine governments by weakening the confidence of the people in them, while the Protestant doctrines strengthen and support them.
Throughout history the Roman Church has sought to gain power from the state, but has never willingly relinquished power to the state. It has always resented paying taxes to the state, even on purely commercial properties that are owned and operated by it, and it has resented any laws requiring its priests to pay income taxes. The continual meddling of the Roman Church in politics, even to the extent of sponsoring Roman Catholic political parties where it is strong enough to do so (usually known as the “Christian Democratic” party, or a similar name, as in Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, etc.), has caused much resentment. That, no doubt, is also its plan for the United States if and when it becomes strong enough. Usually a political party is not instituted unless it can control at least one fourth of the total vote. How can any unprejudiced person face these facts and still not see the contrast between the two systems?
We behold a strange phenomenon in the world today. While people in the predominantly Roman Catholic countries are struggling to throw off the yoke of the Roman Church, Protestant countries are welcoming it with open arms and allowing it to dictate policies of state, education, medicine, social life, entertainment, press, and radio. And in no Protestant country is this tendency more clearly seen than in the United States. For 32 years, 1928‑1960, one of our great political parties had an unbroken line of national party chairmen who were members of that church, and in 1960 it succeeded in electing a Roman Catholic president of the United States. Although the Constitution makes it illegal to favor one church above another, repeatedly in recent years bills have been passed by Congress and signed by nominally Protestant presidents granting very substantial favors to the Roman Catholic Church. More than $24,000,000 in public money has been given to the Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines since the close of the Second World War, allegedly for war damages, while hardly one tenth that amount has been given to Protestant, Jewish, and other church groups in that country. In June, 1956, Congress passed, and President Eisenhower signed, a bill giving the Vatican nearly one million dollars ($964,199) for the refurnishing of the pope’s summer home at Castel Gandolfo, just outside the city of Rome, Italy—allegedly as war damages inflicted by American air raids, although the State Department has held that this country has no legal obligation for such damages. In election years, when no one wants to vote against the Roman Catholic Church, Congress is particularly vulnerable to such pressures. But nothing was appropriated to restore Protestant churches in Italy or in the other war-ravaged countries! Those had no lobby in Washington to represent their cause.
About 80 percent of the money provided by the government under the Hill‑Burton bill for the building and operation of sectarian hospitals in the United States ($112,000,000 during the first ten years of its operation) went to Roman Catholic institutions as that church eagerly took such money, while most Protestant churches, desirous of maintaining the principle of separation of church and state, were reluctant to accept it. In various places, particularly in the bigger cities governed by Roman Catholic officials, public properties, such as schools, hospitals, building sites, etc., have been turned over to the Roman Catholic Church at give‑away prices. Similar things happen in England, where, for instance, parochial schools receive 95 percent of their total costs from the public treasury—but even so, the hierarchy is not satisfied and is demanding complete financial equality with the public schools, which, of course, is fair warning of what the Roman Church would like to achieve in this country.
The hold that Roman Catholicism is able to maintain over large numbers of people, not only in Europe and Latin America but also in the United States, is due in part to its appeal to unregenerate human nature. The Roman concept of sin is quite different from that of Protestantism. Rome does not demand reform in her people. As long as they acknowledge the church and meet the external requirements they are allowed to do about as they please. In our country witness the many corrupt politicians and gangsters in our cities in recent years who have been members of that church and who have remained in good standing while continuing their evil course over long periods of time. A case in point is that of Tom Pendergast, in Kansas City, who with a large number of his accomplices finally was sent to the penitentiary. When he died the Roman Catholic priest who conducted his funeral praised him as a friend and commended his loyalty to his church, because, it was said, he had not missed mass in 30 years. It can be assumed that Roman Catholicism will remain popular as long as the majority of men remain unregenerate.
But the real cause of Roman Catholic growth and success is not to be found so much in its aggressive policy in infiltrating governments, schools, press, radio, etc., nor in its lax moral code. It is to be found rather in the indifference of Protestants and their lack of devotion to their own evangelical message. Modernistic and liberal theology has so enervated many of the churches that they have little zeal left to propagate their faith. Let Protestantism return to its evangelical message and to the type of missionary zeal that governed the early Christians, and let Protestants challenge Rome to full and open debate regarding the distinctive doctrines that separate the two systems, and it will be seen that the one thing Rome does not want is public discussion. Rome prefers to assert her alleged “rights” and to have them accepted without too much question. But Protestantism has the truth, and can win this battle any time that it is willing to force the issue.
In this regard J. Marcellus Kik, former associate editor of Christianity Today, has written:
“That there is still a remnant of paganism and papalism in the world is chiefly the fault of the church. The Word of God is just as powerful in our generation as it was during the early history of the church. The power of the Gospel is just as strong in this century as in the days of the Reformation. These enemies could be completely vanquished if the Christians of this day and age were as vigorous, as bold, as earnest, as prayerful, and as faithful as Christians were in the first several centuries and in the time of the Reformation” (Revelation Twenty, p. 74).
Protestants do not desire controversy merely for the sake of controversy, and often shrink from engaging in it. But in this time of rising tensions certain issues must be faced. Rome continues to press her propaganda drive. Where she is in the majority she takes special privileges for herself and places restrictions on, or prohibits, other churches. Where she is in the minority she asks for special favors, favors which by no stretch of the imagination are ever given to Protestants in Roman Catholic countries, and seeks quietly to infiltrate the government, schools, press, radio, hospitals, etc. When Protestants are in the majority they tend to ignore those things. But when some major issue arises, such as the nomination of an American ambassador to the Vatican, or the nomination of a Roman Catholic for President of the United States, Protestant opposition does become vocal. A few years ago when President Truman sent the name of General Mark Clark to the Senate for confirmation as American ambassador to the Vatican, there was vigorous protest and a full scale debate was fast arising when General Clark requested that his name be withdrawn. All that the hierarchy could do was to run for cover and cry “bigot” and “persecutor” at anyone who opposed such a tie‑up with the Vatican. They definitely did not want a public debate. But the result of such events is to bring out into the open the issues which normally are more or less kept under cover, and to afford opportunity for discussion of the issues on their merits.
The kind of society that Roman Catholicism has produced in other countries where it has been dominant should serve as a fair warning as to what we can expect if it becomes dominant here. What clearer warning do we need? Let us take a good look at conditions in those countries and then ask ourselves if a Roman Catholic America is the kind of heritage we desire for ourselves and the kind we want to pass on to later generations. Through the indifference of Protestants and the aggressiveness of Romanists we are in danger of losing the very things that have made this nation great.
Scripture quotations throughout this book for the most part are from the American Standard Version of 1901 rather than the King James Version since the former is generally conceded to be more accurate. Quotations from the Roman Catholic Confraternity Version are designated as such.
CHAPTER II The Church
3. What is a “Sect”?
4. Church Government
5. The Church in Politics
6. A Church Under Foreign Control
7. The Unity and Diversity of Protestantism
The Bible teaches that Christ founded His church, the Christian church, and that He is both the foundation on which it rests, and the head of the church which is His body: “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11); “…being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20); “And he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:22-23); “…Christ also is the head of the church” (Ephesians 5:23).
The church is composed of all who are true Christians, those who have been “born again,” or “born anew” (John 3:3), from all nations and denominations. Local “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) are congregations of Christians who gather together for worship and for missionary activity. And, while they are many, they are all members of the one church of Christ: “For even as we have many members in one body… so we, being many, are one body in Christ” (Romans 12:4-5). This is the true church.
A truly broad and charitable definition of the church is given for example, in the Westminster Confession of Faith, which says: “The visible church, which is also catholic or universal under the gospel (not confined to one nation, as before under the law), consists of all those throughout the world, that profess the true religion, together with their children; and is the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ, the house and family of God, out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (XXV:2).
And the Larger Catechism, in answer to the question, “What is the visible church?” (Q. 62), says: “The visible church is a society made up of all such as in all ages and places of the world do profess the true religion, and of their children.”
The marks of a true church are:
- The true preaching of the Word of God.
- The right administration of the sacraments. And,
- The faithful exercise of discipline.
John Calvin insisted repeatedly on “the ministry of the Word and sacraments” as the distinguishing marks of a true church. To these are generally added the exercise of proper discipline, although minor errors and irregularities of conduct do not in themselves give sufficient cause to withhold acknowledgment of a true church. Dr. Louis Berkhof says concerning the faithful exercise of discipline: “This is quite essential for maintaining the purity of doctrine and for guarding the holiness of the sacraments. Churches that are lax in discipline are bound to discover sooner or later within their circle an eclipse of the light of the truth and an abuse of that which is holy” (Systematic Theology, p. 578).
In the Bible the word “church” never means a denomination. The Bible has nothing to say about denominations. Whether a local church chooses to remain strictly independent, or to enter into a working agreement with one or more other local churches, and if so on what terms, is not discussed in Scripture, but is left entirely to the choice of the church itself. And we find that in actual practice churches range all the way from those that remain entirely unrelated to any other, to the other extreme of those that subject themselves to some hierarchy of denominational overlords who own the property and send the minister. Surely the local church should own the building and grounds that it has developed and paid for. Such ownership serves as a shield against undue denominational pressure being brought to bear upon it. And, as it has the right to decide whether or not it will join a denomination, so it should have the right to withdraw from the denomination if it so chooses.
Usually the word “church,” as used in the New Testament, means a local congregation of Christians, such as “the church of God at Corinth,” “the church in Jerusalem,” “the churches of Galatia,” “the church in thy house.” At other times it may refer to the church at large, as when we are told that “Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it” (Ephesians 5:25). Or again it may refer to the whole body of Christ in all ages, as when we read of “the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23). When our Lord prayed for unity, “that they may all be one” (John 17:21), it was primarily a spiritual unity, a oneness of heart and faith, of love and obedience, of true believers, and only secondarily a unity of ecclesiastical organization, that He had in mind, as is made clear by the fact that He illustrated that unity by the relationship which exists between Himself and the Father—“even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee.” Unity of faith must be achieved before there can be unity of organization. The ideal, of course, would be for the church to be one in both faith and organization. But it clearly is not yet ready for that. Much work remains to be done in teaching God’s Word before that can be accomplished. As Christians become more closely united in doctrine they work together more harmoniously and want to be united more closely in organization. But unity of doctrine must always remain primary, for that relates to the very purpose for which the church was founded. The alleged tragedy of disunity of organization is more than offset by the real tragedy of disunity of doctrine that results when conservative and modernistic churches are combined in one organization.
It is just here that the Romanists, who claim to be the only true church, err in attempting to bring all churches, even to force all churches, into one external and mechanical organization. The oneness for which Christ prayed was not external and visible, but spiritual and invisible. There can be and actually is real spiritual unity among Christians apart from organizational unity. The church is not a mechanism, but a living organism, whose head is Christ; and any unity that is mechanical and forced is bound to hinder the very thing that it is designed to promote. When we hear the pope and occasionally other church leaders talk about uniting all churches into one super organization, the words they employ and their method of approach make it clear that what they have in mind is not a spiritual unity of believers but an ecclesiastical and mechanical unity of believers and unbelievers, designed primarily for what they think would be greater efficiency of operation.
And, after all, perhaps the diversity of churches, with a healthy spirit of rivalry within proper limits, is one of God’s ways of keeping the stream of Christianity from becoming stagnant. History is quite clear in showing that where there has been enforced uniformity the church has stagnated, whether in Italy, Spain, France, or Latin America. The confinement of religious life to a dead level of uniformity does not solve our problems.
Something should be said concerning the meaning of the term “catholic,” which the Roman Church tries to appropriate exclusively to itself. Dr. J. G. Vos, editor of Blue Banner Faith and Life, gives this definition: “The Catholic Church: The universal church of God, as distinguished from a particular branch, congregation or denomination of that church.” “The Church of Rome,” he continues, “has wrongly appropriated to itself the term ‘Catholic’; it is self‑contradictory to call a body ‘Roman’ (which is particular) and at the same time ‘Catholic’ (which means universal).”
A Catholic Dictionary gives this definition: “Catholic. The word is derived from the Greek, and simply means universal.”
Dr. John H. Gerstner, Professor of Church History in Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, in a booklet, The Gospel According to Rome, says:
“Strictly speaking ‘Roman Catholic’ is a contradiction of terms. Catholic means universal; Roman means particular. It is the Protestant and not the Romanist who believes in the catholic church. Protestants believe the church is universal or catholic; Rome cannot discover it beyond her own communion. Our formula is: ‘Ubi Spiritus ibi ecclesia’—‘Where the Spirit is there is the church.’ Her motto is: ‘Ubi ecclesia ibi Spiritus’—‘Where the (Roman) church is there is the Spirit.’
“It is because of the proper historic use of the word ‘catholic’ that Protestants do not hesitate to recite it in the Apostles’ Creed. We cling to the word because we cherish the concept. Rome has no monopoly on it; indeed, as we have suggested, it is a question whether she has any right to it” (p. 14).
All those who believe in Christ as Savior, regardless of what denomination they belong to, are in fact members of the Christian catholic church. Evangelical Protestants are the truest “catholics,” for they base their faith on the New Testament as did the early Christians. The Roman Church has added many doctrines and practices that are not found in the New Testament, and anyone who accepts those becomes, to that extent, a Roman catholic, and by the same token ceases to be a Christian catholic. Since the word “catholic” means “universal,” the true Christian catholic church must include all true believers, all who belong to the mystical or spiritual body of Christ (“the church, which is his body”—Ephesians 1:22-23). But there have been, and are, millions of Christians who have never had any connection with the Roman church. The Roman Church, is, after all, a local church, with headquarters in Rome, Italy and is limited to those who acknowledge the authority of the pope. Even in her most extravagant claims the Roman Church claims only about one in eight of the population of the world, and in the professedly Christian world she has cut herself off from and broken communion with perhaps more than half of Christendom, so that there are probably more professed Christians who reject her authority than acknowledge it. And geographically she fails utterly to prove her claim to universality. Even in the nominally Roman Catholic countries such as Italy, France, Spain, and Latin America, Rome today probably does not have effective control of more than fifteen percent of the people. In any event the Roman Church clearly is not universal, but is only one among numerous others and is outnumbered by the effective membership of the various Protestant and Eastern Orthodox churches.
Bishop J. C. Ryle, of Liverpool (England), has well said:
“There are many ‘churches,’ but in the New Testament only one true church is recognized. This true church is composed of all believers in the Lord Jesus. It is made up of God’s elect—of all converted men and women—of all true Christians. It is a church of which all the members are born again of the Holy Spirit. They all possess repentance toward God, faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, and holiness of life and conversation. They all draw their religion from one single book—the Bible.
“It is the church whose existence does not depend on forms, ceremonies, cathedrals, churches, vestments, organs, or any act or favor whatever from the hand of man. It has often lived on and continued when all these things have been taken from it. This is the universal church of the Apostles’ Creed, and of the Nicene Creed. This is the only church which is truly universal. Its members are found in every part of the world where the Gospel is received and believed.”
And Rev. Stephen L. Testa, a former Roman Catholic, and founder of The Scripture Truth Society, has said:
“The Lord Jesus Christ founded His church (Matthew 16:18), which was evangelical Christian. He was to be the Head, the Holy Spirit the Guide, and the Bible the only rule of faith and practice. It was made up of His followers who were born again and pledged to continue His work of redemption in the world. It was catholic in that it was designed for all the people of the earth. The church remained pure and faithful Gospel for to the about 300 years, which was the golden age of martyrs and saints, who were persecuted by pagan Rome. After the so‑called conversion of emperor Constantine (a.d. 310) Christianity was declared the state religion, and multitudes of pagans were admitted to the church by baptism alone, without conversion. They brought with them their pagan rites, ceremonies and practices which they gradually introduced into the church with Christian names, all of which corrupted the primitive faith, and the church became Romanized and paganized. What makes a church truly catholic is its adherence to the Gospel of Christ and the Apostles’ Creed. The Roman Church has added popery and so many other pagan doctrines and practices that many people think it no longer either Christian or catholic.
“The Reformation of the 16th century was a protest against those pagan doctrines, a wholesale withdrawal from the official church and a return to the primitive catholic Christianity of the New Testament. The Roman Church today can become again a truly catholic church by renouncing popery and those dogmas and practices which are contrary to the Word of God and holding fast to its primitive foundation, on which basis the reunion of all Christian churches could be realized. The name ‘catholic,’ when applied to the Roman Church exclusively, is a misnomer, for it befits better those Protestant churches which hold fast to the Bible and the Apostles’ Creed without any additions whatever. ‘For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book’ (Revelation 22:18‑19).
“The true church of Christ is invisible, made up of truly converted people who are to be found in all the visible churches and whose names are written in heaven, and the visible churches exist to train saints for the kingdom of Christ” (booklet, Is Romanism in the Bible? p. 3).
3 What Is a “Sect”?
Another trait of the Roman Church is her attempt to brand all other church groups as “sects,” and as schismatic. First, let us fix clearly in mind precisely what a “sect” is. Dictionary definitions tend to emphasize the divisive, schismatic, heretical elements in defining a sect. Hence we would define a sect as a group that shuts itself in as God’s exclusive people, and shuts all others out. By its exclusiveness a sect cuts itself off and isolates itself from the main stream of Christian life. On that basis the Roman Church, with its bigoted and offensive claim to be “the only true church,” its readiness to brand all others as heretics, its anathemas or curses so readily pronounced against all who dare to differ with its pronouncements, and its literally dozens of heresies and practices which are not found in the New Testament, automatically brands itself as the biggest and most prominent of all the sects.
This sectarianism is shown, for instance, in statements such as the Syllabus of Errors, issued by Pope Pius IX, in 1864, and still in full force where the Roman Church can enforce its will. The hierarchy in the United States plays down this Syllabus, and for many years has conducted a subtle campaign designed to hide many of its distinctive doctrines and so to gain favor with the American public. But here are its claims in plain language. Some of the most distinctive articles in their affirmative form are:
15. “No man is free to embrace and profess that religion which he believes to be true, guided by the light of reason.”
17. “The eternal salvation of any out of the true church of Christ is not even to be hoped for.”
18. “Protestantism is not another and diversified form of the one true Christian religion in which it is possible to please God equally as in the Catholic Church.”
21. “The Church has power to define dogmatically the religion of the Catholic Church to be the only true religion.”
24. “The Church has the power of employing force and (of exercising) direct and indirect temporal power.”
37. “No national Church can be instituted in a state of division and separation from the authority of the Roman Pontiff.”
42. “In legal conflict between Powers (Civil and Ecclesiastical) the Ecclesiastical Law prevails.”
45. “The direction of Public Schools in which the youth of Christian states are brought up… neither can nor ought to be assumed by the Civil Authority alone.”
48. “Catholics cannot approve of a system of education for youth apart from the Catholic faith, and disjoined from the authority of the Church.”
54. “Kings and Princes [including, of course, Presidents, Prime Ministers, etc.] are not only not exempt from the jurisdiction of the Church, but are subordinate to the Church in litigated questions of jurisdiction.”
55. “The Church ought to be in union with the State, and the State with the Church.”
57. “Philosophical principles, moral science, and civil laws may and must be made to bend to Divine and Ecclesiastical authority.”
63. “Subjects may not refuse obedience to legitimate princes, much less rise in insurrection against them.”
67. “The marriage tie is indissoluble by the law of nature; divorce, properly so called, cannot in any case be pronounced by the civil authority.”
73. “Marriage among Christians cannot be constituted by any civil contract; the marriage‑contract among Christians must always be a sacrament; and the contract is null if the sacrament does not exist.”
77. “It is necessary even in the present day that the Catholic religion shall be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship.”
78. “Whence it has been unwisely provided by law, in some countries called Catholic, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the free exercise of their religion.”
80. “The Roman Pontiff cannot and ought not to reconcile himself to, or agree with, Progress, Liberalism, and Modern Civilization.”
These statements are from the pope who just six years later established the doctrine of papal infallibility! The Roman Church here condemns freedom of religion, freedom of speech and of the press, the separation of church and state; asserts the authority of the church over the state and of the pope over civil rulers, the right of the church to direct all education, the right of the church to suppress other faiths; condemns the public school system, and many other things which are integral parts of our American way of life. Let no one say that this Syllabus of Errorsbelongs to a former age and that it is not to be taken seriously. Even today it forms a part of the ordination vows of every Roman Catholic priest in the world. Every priest takes an oath on the Bible that he believes and will defend the eighty articles of this Syllabus. No part of it has ever been repudiated. Hence it contains official Roman Catholic doctrine. With the church committed to this Syllabus, how can anyone at one and the same time be a member of the Roman Catholic Church and a loyal American citizen?
In this Syllabus the Roman Church displays a bitter, sectarian spirit in its relations with other churches. In every local community Roman Catholic priests refuse to join ministerial associations or to cooperate with ministers from other churches in any form of religious observances, and they not infrequently refuse to cooperate even in non‑religious community projects.1
On the other hand most Protestant churches are remarkably free from sectarianism. Most of them take a broad, tolerant attitude in acknowledging as true Christians any of their fellow men who base their hope for salvation on faith in Christ and live a good Christian life—in which case, as we have just seen, they are “catholic,” ecumenical in the best sense of the term.
It may be charitably assumed that there are good Christians in all denominations, including the Roman Catholic. For any one branch of the church to claim that those within its fold alone constitute the body of true Christians is both crude and impudent, and is inconsistent with the principles of love and charity so clearly commanded in the Scriptures.
The intolerance and sectarianism of Romanism is also shown in her attempt to use the word “church” for herself alone, as a synonym for the Roman Catholic Church, thereby unchurching all others, and by referring to Protestants as “non‑Catholics.” Protestants are too lax in allowing the Roman Church to deprecate them with terminology which implies that they have no place in the church universal. The correct meaning of the term “church” and “catholic” should be pointed out, and doctrinal and historical evidence cited to show that the Roman Church herself is the church of schism and innovation, that by adding a host of unscriptural doctrines she has departed from the simplicity of the Gospel and from apostolic practice. It can be shown that more than half of Rome’s present creed was unknown to the early church. Consequently, she has neither the moral nor the logical right to appropriate to herself the terms “church” and “catholic.”
We suspect that it is just because the Roman Church knows that so much of her doctrine and so many of her practices are unscriptural or anti‑Scriptural that as a matter of self-defense she attempts to appropriate these terms to herself. A more appropriate name for this church, one that we have used frequently, is, the Roman Church, or the Church of Rome. These terms are accurate, and moreover they are terms which appear frequently in her own literature, written by representative Roman Catholics. Hence Protestants do that church no injustice in speaking of it under these terms.
Furthermore, in its official title—the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church—the Roman Church seeks to appropriate the word “apostolic.” But again she has no right to call herself apostolic, since she bears so little resemblance to that church, more than half of her present doctrines and practices being unknown to the apostolic church. She applies to herself the term “holy,” but the fact is that through the ages and in her official capacity the Roman Church has been guilty of the most atrocious crimes, practiced in the name of religion, including murder, robbery, persecution of all kinds, bribery, fraud, deception, and practically every other crime known to man. Such crimes have been practiced not merely by church members, but by popes, cardinals, bishops, and priests who, as a study of church history will show, undeniably were evil men. Those crimes still are practiced where the Roman Church is attempting to suppress Protestantism—in Colombia, for instance, since 1948, when the liberal government was overthrown and a new government came into power with the support of the Roman Catholic Church and a concordat with the Vatican, 116 Protestant Christians have been killed because of their faith, 66 Protestant churches or chapels have been destroyed by fire or bombing, over 200 Protestant schools have been closed, and Protestant work of any kind forbidden in approximately two thirds of the country which has been designated “mission territory” (see Report of the Evangelical Confederation of Colombia, Bulletin No. 50, June 26, 1959).
The assumption of Roman Catholic writers that theirs is the true church, and that it is the same orthodox, martyr, missionary church of apostolic times is manifestly false. The claim that the popes are in the direct line of succession from St. Peter—even if such a claim could be proved, which it cannot—would mean but little without imitation of the lives of the apostles and conformity to their doctrines. Jeremiah rebuked the foolish confidence of the Jews in his day who cried, “The temple of Jehovah, the temple of Jehovah… are these” (7:4), and called on them rather to prove their devotion to God with righteous and holy living. Caiaphas was in the line of Aaron and was the successor of many pious priests, but that did not make him and the Jews who crucified Jesus the true church. John Calvin called the Church of Rome in his day a foul harlot rather than the spouse of Christ, because of the low moral standard practiced and tolerated by her priests. Her pretensions to be the true church of Christ were shown by her actions to be false. How could she be the kingdom of Christ when her way of life was at such variance with His Word?
1 Since the Second Vatican Council the priests have been given more freedom to cooperate with other ministers and to take part in some community projects.
4 Church Government
As Protestants we believe in and practice democracy in Church government as well as in state government. We have local organizations in which ministers and laymen with equal voting rights handle local church problems, and for the denominations at large, general assemblies or conventions or conferences, composed of ministers and elders, usually in equal numbers, who are the elected representatives of the churches. Both the New Testament and the history of the church during the first four or five centuries make it abundantly clear that Christianity is essentially democratic in tendency. That tendency becomes manifest wherever the spiritual life of the church is free to assert itself.
The New Testament church was an organized band of baptized believers practicing New Testament ordinances and actively engaged in carrying out the Great Commission. Of that organization Christ alone was the Head. Believers were related to Him and to each other as members of the body. Each local church appears to have been a self-governing body. As the church in Jerusalem grew and needed more organization, that was provided, not by hierarchical appointment, but in a democratic way without consulting any other church. We read: “The twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, “…Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report” (Acts 6:2‑3). There was no dictation by Peter, nor by anyother apostle, nor by the apostles as a group. Rather it was “the multitude of the disciples,” that is, the membership of the church, who made the decision. Likewise, the church at Antioch sent out missionaries from its own membership (in this instance, Paul and Barnabas), without seeking permission or advice from any other body (Acts 13:1‑4).
But while the New Testament churches were autonomous, there were certain ties which bound them together, such as that of maintaining doctrinal purity, for which purpose the Jerusalem conference was assembled (Acts 15:1‑29), that of ministering to the material needs of the saints in sister churches in time of crisis (Acts 11:27‑30, 2 Corinthians 9:1‑5), and a fellowship of worship (Acts 2:46‑47, 20:6‑7; Hebrews 10:25). A study of the church as it is set forth in the New Testament shows that it was absolutely dependent upon the Word of God for its existence. It was, therefore, completely subordinate to that authority in matters of doctrine.
The fact of the matter is that we are told but very little about the organization of the early church or about the relations that existed between the various bodies, no doubt because the new congregations started in an elementary way and the problems that developed within the congregations or between congregations depended upon local circumstances. Elders were appointed in all the churches, and these had the general oversight of their respective churches as regarded teaching, preaching, and the administration of congregational affairs, including their relations with other congregations. We are inclined to believe that the early church was neither Episcopal, nor Presbyterian, nor Congregational, but a combination of all three, and that local churches then as now may have differed considerably in their manner of government. In any event it is quite clear that the Roman Catholic Church, with its hierarchical form of government, was not the New Testament church, for the institution of the papacy, with a sacrificing priesthood, did not develop until some five centuries later.
The spurious logic of the hierarchy through which it lays claim to supreme authority over all Christians finds no support in Scripture. In fact the idea of a totalitarian church in which the layman has no vote and no voice in the formulation of doctrines, laws, and policies, a church in which he is told what to believe and what to do but in which he is never invited to discuss or help work out those beliefs and practices, seems to be the extreme opposite of that set forth in the New Testament.
It is a basic tenet of Protestantism that the Word of God as given in the Scriptures is to be put into the language of the people and that it is sufficiently clear so that the individual Christian has a responsibility to read and to think for himself. He has the right of private judgment in spiritual affairs. He cannot surrender his conscience to the church or to a priest, but must think, speak, worship, and act in such a manner that he can give an account to God for what he is and does. This does not mean that he is to ignore the teaching of the church or the rich heritage of theological knowledge that has been accumulated over the centuries. Rather within proper limits he will seek the fellowship of the church with its accumulated wisdom and will further his spiritual life in that atmosphere of mutual love and helpfulness which comes through association with other Christians.
In the typical Roman Catholic countries the essence of the church is composed of the bishops and priests, to the exclusion of the laity which, while expected to provide the financial support, is kept in the dark and in abject subservience to a power‑hungry hierarchy. The lay people are purely passive in the life of their church; they have no say in the choice of their priests and almost no say in the administration of the material possessions of the church. Very little emphasis, if indeed any at all, is placed on Bible study. Instead, moral standards are inflexibly set by the church. The individual must submit his conscience and his intelligence to this external authority, which tells him what is right and what is wrong. From childhood he is trained to accept the domination of the priest over the whole realm of his moral, social, and political life. He is told what to do and how to do it, even as regards personal and family affairs. Needless to say, not all Roman Catholics obey these dictates, particularly if they have some contact with Protestant ideals of freedom of religion and conduct. But the attitude of subservience is the ideal which the hierarchy seeks to maintain in its people. Few Roman Catholics, even in a Protestant country such as the United States, realize what a great debt they owe to Protestantism. Instead they support their church in fighting Protestantism.
5 The Church in Politics
The Protestant ideal is that church leaders and church assemblies are altogether distinct from the civil magistracy, and that they have no jurisdiction whatever in civil and political affairs. It is, however, the duty of the church to teach her people, through her ministry and laity, their duties in the state as Christians. Her ministry as regards the state focuses at that point, and stops right there. She does not seek to become a political power rivaling the state, nor to become a state within a state. She must not allow herself to be used as a pressure group for the securing of certain rights and temporal benefits for men, nor to pressure the state for reform measures, even though such reforms may be needed and desirable from the Christian viewpoint. Christians as individuals are indeed to work for whatever reforms may be needed. But the church is not to do so in her corporate capacity. Such action on the part of the church almost invariably will detract from her primary mission of the proclamation of the Gospel and ministering to the spiritual needs of men, and will tend to give people a wrong conception as to what her true mission really is. And finally, she must not pressure the state for public funds to support her local churches, schools, and other institutions.
The Westminster Confession of Faith sets forth the role of the church in these words: “Synods and councils are to handle or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate” (XXXI:4).
Protestantism asks nothing of the state except such liberty and independence as it already enjoys in most Protestant countries, and which, chiefly through Protestant influence, the Roman Catholic Church also enjoys in those same countries.
In almost total contrast with this, the Roman Catholic Church seeks to exert a controlling influence in both the church and the state. This has been well expressed by Avro Manhattan, a critic of Romanism, in The Vatican in World Politics:
“The better to exert its double activity (religious and political), the Catholic Church has two facets: first, the religious institution, the Catholic Church itself; secondly, the political power, the Vatican. Although they deal separately, whenever convenient, with problems affecting religion and politics, the two are in reality one. At the head of both stands the pope, who is the supreme religious leader of the Catholic Church as a purely spiritual power, as well as the supreme head of the Vatican in its quality of a world‑wide diplomatic-political center and an independent sovereign state” (p. 19; Gaer Associates, New York; 1949).
The Roman Catholic Church is both a church and a political system. As such it attempts to exert its influence in every sphere of human activity, expediency alone determining whether it moves as a religious institution or as a political institution. These activities may be exercised separately or in unison, depending on the purpose to be accomplished and the type of people with whom it has to deal. On the lower level, through its local congregations, it presents itself as a religious organization, and its appeals for money and support and public trust are made on that basis. But in its higher branches, as its influence is exerted through the hierarchy, it becomes increasingly a political organization, until in the Vatican it is concerned almost exclusively with political affairs and seeks to exert a controlling influence over the affairs of nations. It has a Papal Secretary of State who visits other governments and functions in much the same way that our American Secretary of State functions in Washington. It sends ambassadors and ministers to other nations, and receives ambassadors and ministers from other nations. All of this political activity is, of course, utterly without Scriptural support, and is in fact contrary to what the New Testament teaches concerning the nature and purpose of the church.
C. Stanley Lowell, associate director of Protestants and Other Americans United for Separation of Church and State, has recently said: “The fact is that the Vatican is a state‑church hybrid which alternately poses as a church and as a state depending on which will prove the more profitable at the moment. The Vatican claims all prerogatives as a state, but denies all responsibility as a state because it is a church” (Christianity Today, February 1, 1960).
To describe this activity there has been coined a word, “clericalism,” meaning the organized political power of the higher clergy exerted in the affairs of a nation. This preoccupation of the hierarchy with temporal affairs has led some to declare, with good reason, that the Roman Church is not a church at all, but primarily a government, a political‑commercial system which cloaks itself with religion to give it an air of respectability. The fact is that the Roman Catholic Church professes to be a state, without accepting the responsibilities of a state government; and at the same time it professes to be a church, without accepting the limitations which the New Testament sets for the church.
This double function has led to the conception of the Roman Church as an institution needing rulers after the manner of the state. Hence the concentration of power in the hands of the priests, bishops, and particularly in the hands of the pope as the coordinator of this vast world system, and the blind obedience expected from the laity in all countries to a foreign potentate of a clerical-fascist state.
A specific example of what papal control can mean is seen in the issuance of a directive, in April, 1958, by the pope to all Roman Catholics in Italy, just prior to the election in that country, forbidding them to vote for any party or candidates not favored by the Roman Catholic church and declaring that anyone who did so vote would be subject to excommunication. The important thing about that directive is the principle involved. If the pope can issue a political order telling the Roman Catholics in Italy how to vote, he can do the same thing to those in the United States or in any other country. They all owe him the same kind and degree of obedience. The pope himself, of course, is the judge as to what parties or candidates are “Communistic” or otherwise not acceptable to the Roman Church. In Latin America Roman Catholic propaganda has long sought to identify Protestants and Communists as one and the same. That again serves as a clear warning as to what can happen here if Romanism comes into a position of dominance.
6 A Church under Foreign Control
It has been 186 years since the United States gained her independence. While all other American churches that were in existence at that time have long since been granted their independence or have declared their independence from the parent churches in the country of their origin, the Roman Catholic Church remains as firmly as ever under the control of the pope in Rome. Furthermore, there are no democratic processes of any kind in the Roman Church by which the people can indicate their preferences or desires to the Vatican, nor even so much as express to the bishop of their diocese a choice regarding their own local priests. Everything is autocratically controlled by the hierarchy. However, it is true that while the local congregation has no official part in the matter of choosing a priest, as a matter of practical church management the wishes and advice of members of the congregation often are sought and taken into consideration.
At the head of this organization, with almost unlimited power, is the pope. The next ranking officials, the cardinals, often called the “princes of the church,” are appointed by the pope. There is no veto power, either in the district or country over which the cardinal is to preside, or anywhere else in the church, by which his appointment can be rejected or even questioned. If the cardinal was a bishop or archbishop before his appointment, he continues to hold that office and to exercise that authority after his appointment.
The number of cardinals has varied somewhat, the full number having remained at 70 for the past several centuries, until Pope John XXIII, in 1960, increased the number to 85.2 The pope alone decides how many cardinals there shall be. Throughout most of history, a majority, often a large majority, have been Italians. At the present time the Italians number 33 (several of those are from the city of Rome), still far more than any other country, the next highest being 8 from France, then 6 from the United States, 5 from Spain, 4 from Germany, 3 from Brazil, 2 each from Britain, Canada, Portugal, and Argentina, and 1 each from 18 other countries—surely not a very representative arrangement either numerically or geographically. While only 6 of these are Americans, an increase in 1959 from 4, the American branch of the Roman Church is by all odds the strongest and most influential and, from all indications, furnishes considerably more than half of the world revenues of the Vatican.
2 The number was increased to 134 by Pope Paul VI, in 1969, ten of whom are Americans.
At the death of a pope, the cardinals meet in Rome in the so‑called College of Cardinals, and elect a new pope. This is their most important function. Usually one is chosen from their own number. After the election of a new pope, the cardinals individually pledge their complete allegiance to him, even to the extent of prostrating themselves on the floor before him and kissing his foot as a symbol of submission. What a servile act that is! They then disband and return to their respective countries. They have no authority to re‑assemble, or to remove a pope from office no matter what he may do. In the meantime they remain subject to him, and can be removed from office by him at any time, without any explanation whatever if he so desires.
Bishops are usually nominated by the archbishops but receive their appointments directly from the pope and remain immediately subject to him. Each bishop is required to appear before the pope in Rome for ordination and to make his vows of allegiance personally to him. They too pledge complete allegiance in an impressive and colorful ceremony, also prostrating themselves before him and kissing his foot. They are the pope’s chief liaison officers through which he maintains contact with the church throughout the world. Each reports regularly to the pope concerning the affairs of the church in his diocese, that is, the district over which he has charge, and each must present himself in person to the pope at least once every five to ten years.
Next step down the ladder are the priests. They are immediately subject to the bishop of the diocese. The bishop supervises their course of training, inquires into the fitness of candidates, chooses those who shall be ordained, ordains them, assigns them to churches, transfers them, and removes them from office as he sees fit, without explanation if he wishes. Each priest pledges complete allegiance to his bishop, and submits reports to him. No priest who has had difficulties with his bishop will be accepted for work in any other diocese until he has made satisfaction to his own bishop. He must at all costs remain on good terms with his bishop, otherwise he is helpless.3
3 Since Vatican Two, some priests’ organizations have been formed in the United States and in a few other countries, but for the most part their actions are merely advisory.
The people in turn are expected to obey the priest, and to support him and the church through their services and money. They are trained and disciplined to that end from childhood. No one is to question the authority of the priest, even in domestic or family affairs. Democratic processes are discouraged. Lay organizations have only very limited scope, usually are not encouraged, and are excluded from authority in the church at large. Such lay organizations as do exist have clerical sponsors.
While in Protestant churches the people usually have the final say in regard to the choice of ministers and the powers granted to them, in the Roman Church the laity has no part at all in the ordination and calling of the clergy. The Council of Trent, in a decree directed in part against Protestantism, placed that power safely in the hands of the clergy, with the pronouncement: “In the ordination of bishops, priests, and of the other orders neither the consent nor vocation nor authority of the people… is required” (Sess. XXIII, Ch. 4), and even pronounced a curse upon anyone claiming such rights for the laity (Canon 7).
The Roman Catholic Church is, therefore, a totalitarian, autocratic organization from top to bottom. And the pope, claiming jurisdiction over from 300 million to 450 million Roman Catholics, the owner of fabulous wealth, and holding life tenure in his office, is by all odds the most absolute ruler in the world. And through the years, the people, even in freedom-loving America, have shown amazing docility in accepting the rule of the hierarchy.
In every Roman Catholic diocese, unless there are special corporation laws in the state favorable to the hierarchy, the title to all church property—grounds, churches, schools, monasteries, convents, cemeteries, and commercial businesses and properties owned by the church—is held by the bishop as an individual, often as a “corporation sole,” which is a legal device by which he is permitted to hold church property. He can mortgage, lease, or sell such properties at will without consulting the people or the local church or diocese, nor does he render any financial report to the people concerning such sales or transactions. He reports only to the pope in Rome. Local church finances are in the hands of the priest, or of the bishop to whom he reports. Control of church finances and property by lay trustees such as is the custom in practically all Protestant churches is forbidden, having been abolished by papal decree in the last century. The bishop in turn, under Canon Law, that is, Roman Catholic Church law, holds the property in trust for and subject to the control of the pope.
The purpose of the Roman Church in having all such property recorded in the name of the bishop rather than treating it as a corporation is to avoid the necessity of making public financial reports. Canon law does not permit the incorporating of such properties unless the laws of the state are so drawn that they grant special favors to the hierarchy—which in this Protestant country they usually do not.
Where the money comes from, and where it goes, is all a deep, dark secret—enabling the hierarchy to accept money from various sources and for various causes which if known might subject it to public criticism, also enabling it to channel money into various projects at home and abroad to suit the purpose of the hierarchy without the criticism that would be sure to arise if it were generally known how the money was used. The implicit trust demanded by the Roman Church extends not only to theological and ecclesiastical matters, but to financial matters as well.
In contrast with the secrecy practiced in the Roman Church, most Protestant churches voluntarily make public reports at least once each year of all funds received and expended, both locally and in the denomination at large. These reports are included in the annual minutes, and sometimes are published in newspapers and magazines. If anyone doubts that the finances of the Roman Church are a closely guarded secret, let him try to find out how much money is received, where it comes from, how it is expended in the local church, how much is given to the bishop, and how much is sent to Rome. He will find that the priest reports only to the bishop and that the bishop reports only to the pope. Ironical as it may seem, this nation, mostly Protestant, is the main support of the Roman Catholic Church in her world work. But it does at least point up the fact that Roman Catholicism does better spiritually and economically where it has to stand on its own feet, where it is not supported by the state but is in competition with other churches.
In regard to the ownership of church property, a present day case that has attracted considerable attention is that of the De La Salle Institute, of Napa, California. There a group of Roman Catholic monks producing wine and brandy operate the largest brandy distillery in the United States, under the trade name Christian Brothers. Until recently they had not paid income taxes for thirty years. They have an outlet through the Seagrams company, one of the largest whiskey distributors in the industry. The Bureau of Internal Revenue has ruled that this company is subject to income tax, the amount involved being more than $1,840,000. The Christian Brothers have claimed exemption from corporate taxes on the profits of this commercial liquor business on the ground that the distillery is church property, “an integral part of the Roman Catholic Church,” held in trust for the benefit of the pope in Rome. When this case was given some publicity Christian Brothers paid part of the tax, $490,000, for the years 1952, 1953, and 1956, then filed a claim to recover the money. But after a prolonged court trial the claim was rejected. Net corporate profits in the three years involved were $3,250,000. See Church and State, July‑August, 1961.
Various other church businesses over the country come under this same classification, two prominent ones being a radio and television broadcasting station in New Orleans, which accepts commercial advertising, operated by Jesuit priests at Loyola University, and another in St. Louis, also operated by Jesuit priests. Exemption from taxation, of course, gives such companies a substantial advantage over other companies that pay taxes. Such exemption is discriminatory and unfair and is an offense against all people and corporations that do pay taxes.
7 The Unity and Diversity of Protestantism
It has long been Roman Catholic policy to represent Protestantism as composed of many denominations which are hopelessly divided and constantly quarreling among themselves. In view of the Romanist emphasis on unity and solidarity, the Roman Catholic laity has indeed found it hard to understand how there can be various Protestant denominations, and this has presented a real stumbling‑block to many who are inclined to leave the Church of Rome. They have been taught to believe that each Protestant denomination claims to be exclusively the true church (as does their own) and that one cannot be saved unless he belongs to that church. The puzzle looks insolvable. They simply would not know where to turn.
It is true, of course, that the right of private judgment or private interpretation, which is claimed by all Protestant churches, has resulted in the rise of a great many denominations. But the remarkable thing is that in Protestantism there is a strong undercurrent of spiritual unity. Mechanical and organizational unity is a secondary thing with them. The great proportion of Protestant denominations do not claim to be the only true church, but readily and gladly acknowledge that salvation is to be found in any church where the Gospel is faithfully preached.
The various Protestant denominations agree quite fully on practically all of the essentials of the faith. They believe that the Bible and the Bible alone is the Word of God, and they accept it as the authoritative guide in church affairs. They believe in the deity of Christ, in His sacrificial death on the cross as a substitute for those who place their faith in Him, and that He alone is the Head of the Church. They are in general agreement concerning the meaning of the sacraments, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. They believe in the personal and visible return of Christ, the resurrection of the body, a future judgment, heaven and hell. Their ideas concerning moral character, spiritual life, and the relationship that should exist between church and state are quite similar. Whether called Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Presbyterians, or what not, they all belong to one body, the church of Christ, just as the 50 states of the United States have various names and local governments but all belong to one nation. Their basic attitude toward one another is not that of opposition and competition but rather of cooperation and friendship. Ministers of one denomination are often invited to speak or to conduct the entire service in churches of other denominations, and the laity is free to attend churches of which they are not members. Union services, particularly in evangelistic meetings, are common, often with all of the Protestant churches in a city cooperating, as witness the famous Billy Sunday evangelistic campaigns of a few years ago and the Billy Graham meetings in more recent years. On various radio programs the listeners are scarcely aware of the denomination to which the speaker belongs. Protestants thus acknowledge fellow Protestants in other denominations as true Christians. And they are united in rejecting what they believe to be the errors of the Roman Church, such as the priesthood, mass, confession, purgatory, worship of the Virgin Mary, etc.
On the other hand, the teachings that divide Protestants, while sometimes important in themselves, are minor compared with their differences with Romanism. They may differ in regard to the form of baptism or the Lord’s Supper; some are Calvinists while others are Arminians; their form of church government may be Episcopal, Presbyterian, or Congregational. But when the Bible is taken as the authoritative guide, the liberty that each has to think through his own religion and arrive at conclusions for himself does not make for such sharp divisions as some might expect.
No one has expressed more beautifully the unity of the Protestant churches than that venerable Presbyterian theologian, Dr. Charles Hodge. Said he: “These separate churches remain one: (1) because they continue to be subject to the same Lord, to be animated by the same Spirit, and to possess the same faith; (2) because they recognize each other as churches, just as every Christian recognizes every other Christian as a fellow believer, and consequently recognize each other’s members, ordinances, and acts of discipline; (3) they continue one body because they are subject to one common tribunal. The tribunal at first was the apostles, now the Bible and the mind of the church as a whole, expressed sometimes in one way and sometimes in another” (article, reprinted in Eternity magazine, June, 1958).
The unity of spirit among Protestants minimizes very substantially the denominational differences. Consequently, when Roman Catholics leave their church and become Protestants, they usually are surprised at the unity of faith and worship which they discover. The fact is that there is often more unity in Protestantism than in Romanism. The rivalry that for centuries has existed between the Dominicans arid the Franciscans, between both of those orders and the Jesuits, and between various orders of monks and nuns, especially in countries in which there were no Protestant churches, has often been sharp and bitter. Such rivalries, however, usually are suppressed by the pope so that they do not come to public attention.
Listen to the testimony of a former priest, now superintendent of Memorial Hospital, Phoenix, Arizona, concerning the unity that he finds in Protestantism and the contrast between Romanism and Protestantism as regards the participation of the laity in church services. Emmett McLoughlin, in his best seller book, People’s Padre, which was published in 1954 and which now has passed the 250,000 mark, says:
“To me the differences among Protestants, though doctrinal, are superficial and non‑essential. Their unity is greater than their divergency. …
“To me, the outstanding characteristic of all Protestant forms of worship is their enthusiasm. Whether in a revival tent, in an ivy-covered church, or in an impressive cathedral, the members of the congregation show a spontaneity in praying, singing, and listening that does not exist is Roman Catholic churches. The reason is obvious: Most Protestants go to church because they want to; Catholics generally are there because they are afraid not to be. Missing mass deliberately on only one Sunday is for Catholics a mortal sin and damns their souls to hell. The mass is a stereotyped Latin ritual that somehow is supposed to placate God. Protestant services of any denomination, even the silent Quaker service, call for an active and voluntary participation of all those present. …
“The Protestant clergy—and I know many of them intimately—seem far more sincere and personally dedicated than the average Roman Catholic priest. This is probably because they are in the ministry through adult choice, not drawn into it when too young to know better. Protestants remain in the ministry because they wish to, not because they are bound irrevocably by laws of their churches or because of threats of divine and human reprisals if they leave the ministry” (pp. 272-273).
And Walter M. Montano, a former editor of Christian Heritage, and also a former Roman Catholic, says:
“One of the outstanding marks of Protestantism is its unity in diversity. This is a characteristic inherent in its very nature, but unfortunately, is poorly understood by many of its beneficiaries.
“This diversity creates and stimulates freedom of action within the limits of what is right before God and man. The dissenting groups or congregations, when released from their Roman shackles, learn for the first time the blessings of freedom of expression. Diversity blocks the road to any religious monopoly, and prevents any man from standing in the place of God to rule the community with that totalitarian despotism that in the lexicon of the Roman Church is called ‘papal infallibility.’
“In this concept of Protestantism there is no room for anyone with the investiture of a pope, and for this very reason, organic unity is a foreign element to Protestantism. The lack of organic unity is the strength, not the weakness, of Protestantism, and assures to us our freedom before God. … Unity and liberty are in opposition; as the one diminishes, the other increases. The Reformation broke down unity; it gave liberty. … America, in which of all countries the Reformation at the present moment has farthest advanced, should offer to thoughtful men much encouragement. Its cities are filled with churches built by voluntary gifts; its clergy are voluntarily sustained, and are, in all directions, engaged in enterprises of piety, education, mercy. What a difference between their private lives and that of ecclesiastics before the Reformation!
“Unfortunately, Protestants themselves at times succumb to a superficial criticism of our lack of organic unity without realizing that it is the safeguard of our liberty in Christ. We deplore the fact that in some isolated quarters there exist ideas and ambitions to establish a ‘superchurch’ with a Protestant hierarchy and its well constituted ecclesiastical army. This will never happen as long as Christian Protestants remain loyal to the principles upon which Protestantism was founded. There is an essential and vast difference between organic unity, the boast of the Roman Church, and the spiritual unity, which identifies Protestant Christianity. Organic unity produces a machine which is an end in itself. Spiritual unity, on the other hand, the unity of the one true church of Jesus Christ, binds the hearts of all under one Head, the Lord Jesus Christ, while at the same time preserving the identity of each member”(Christian Heritage, October, 1958).
Unfortunately among Protestants there are some who are so absorbed with the idea of church union that they even hope for an eventual union with the Roman Catholic Church. Concerning these Dr. Montano says:
“These are foolish men who choose to walk in darkness. They cannot see the right path because they have chosen to be blind to the evils of the Roman Church, both past and present. Both of these concepts, the desire for a Protestant ‘super‑church’ and the desire for union with the Vatican, are the very antithesis of Protestantism and will destroy the very thing that gave life to the Reformation. … Only a militant Protestantism can save America and the world.”
It is not surprising that there are many branches of the Christian church. The process of division started even in apostolic times, for we are told that Paul and Barnabas, though loyal friends and faithful coworkers in the church, disagreed because Barnabas insisted on taking Mark with them. In Acts 15:39 we read: “And there arose a sharp contention, so that they parted asunder one from the other.”
In his first Epistle to the Corinthians Paul complained about divisions in the church because some said, “I am of Paul… I am of Apollos… I am of Peter… Is Christ divided?” (1:12‑13). That process has been going on through the centuries. The church has never been one solid organization. From the first centuries there have been schisms, and what are called heresies. Furthermore, those often arose not outside of but within the Christian church and were defended by members within the church. The church still has a long way to go before spiritual unity becomes a reality. In the present state of the church it is inevitable that there should be divisions. In answer to the Roman Catholic claim to be the one true church, we reply, Nonsense! The Roman Church is only one branch of a much larger body. The Eastern Orthodox Church is older and has a more direct connection with apostolic Christianity than does the Roman. Each Protestant denomination is as much a unit within itself as is the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church. And most Protestant churches have a record of much truer devotion and loyalty to the Scriptures, and of having produced a higher morality and spirituality among their people than does either the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Church.
There is but one way to prevent divisions in the present day church, and that is by making unity a higher virtue than truth. The Roman Church achieves unity by eliminating religious liberty. A member of that church who will not subordinate his judgment to that of the pope is excommunicated. But that kind of unity has no attraction for men of strong religious convictions. When that alternative was presented to Martin Luther he promptly showed his contempt for a church that would make such a demand by burning the papal bull and denouncing the pope who had issued it as Antichrist.
It is to be acknowledged that many of the divisions that have occurred in the Christian church have been unnecessary and that some have been detrimental. Some have arisen because of evil motives on the part of certain groups, or because of the personal ambitions of strong-willed leaders. But many others have arisen because of natural circumstances, such as those of race, language, nationality, geography, or honest difference of opinion. If we have true spiritual unity, the lack of outward unity will not seriously hamper Christian life and practice. The spiritual unity that characterizes evangelical Protestants is more important than the organizational diversity that places them in different denominations. Religious liberty by its very nature is sure to bring some degree of disunity, precisely as political liberty does, for we do not all think alike or act alike. But to suppress that liberty is to destroy the very basis for evangelical theology.
It is also true that this freedom on the part of Protestants has often placed them at a disadvantage as they are confronted by an aggressive Roman Catholic Church under unified leadership. But that is precisely the same problem that we face in the political realm. It often happens that in local, state, or federal government a well organized minority pressure group pushes through its program and imposes its will on an unorganized majority. We have seen that particularly in the big city political machines where time and again and sometimes for long periods of time corrupt and unscrupulous minority groups have been in control. But nowhere is such action more reprehensible than in the church as minority pressure groups intimidate elected assemblies, the press, radio, television, the movies, and other media that can be used to their advantage. The remedy for such abuse, however, is not to abolish liberty, but, in the state, to inform and arouse the electorate so that it will choose clean, honest officials; and in the church, to so evangelize the membership and develop a wholesome Christian conscience that such abuses will be impossible.
The primary point of cleavage between the Roman Catholic and the other churches seems to be the fact that the Roman Church is hierarchical and authoritarian in its form of government, while the others are essentially democratic and place the control of church affairs in the hands of the people. It was the Vatican Council of 1870, with its pronouncement of papal infallibility, that sounded the death‑knoll of any democratic processes in the Roman Church and placed it irrevocably on the road to totalitarianism.
1. The Office of the Priest
2. No New Testament Authority for a Human Priesthood
3. Claims of the Roman Priesthood
4. The Christian Ministry not a Sacrificing Ministry
5. Training for the Priesthood
6. Groups Within the Priesthood and Within the Laity
7. Leaving the Priesthood
8. Renouncing Priestly Vows
1 The Office of the Priest
The office or work of the priest is perhaps the most difficult to present and the least understood of any part of the Christian system. In the Old Testament the work of Christ was prefigured under the three offices of prophet, priest, and king. Each of these was given special prominence in the nation of Israel. Each was designed to set forth a particular phase of the work of the coming Redeemer, and each was filled, not by men who voluntarily took the work upon themselves, but only by those who were divinely called to the work.
The prophet was appointed to be God’s spokesman to the people, revealing to them his will and purpose for their salvation. The priest was appointed to represent the people before God, to offer sacrifices for them and to intercede with God on their behalf. And the king was appointed to rule over the people, to defend them and to restrain and conquer all His and their enemies. In the present study we are concerned only with the priesthood.
The essential idea of a priest is that of a mediator between God and man. In his fallen estate man is a sinner, guilty before God, and alienated from Him. He has no right of approach to God, nor does he have the ability, or even the desire, to approach Him. Instead, he wants to flee from God, and to have nothing to do with Him. He is, therefore, helpless until someone undertakes to act as his representative before God.
In ancient Israel the priests performed three primary duties: they ministered at the sanctuary before God, offering sacrifices to Him in behalf of the people; they taught the people the law of God; and they inquired for the people concerning the divine will. Under the old covenant the men who held the offices of prophet, priest, or king were only shadows or types of the great Prophet, the great Priest, and the great King who was to come. With the coming of Christ each of these offices found its fulfillment in Him. And with the accomplishment of His work of redemption, each of these offices, as it functioned on the human level, reached its fulfillment and was abolished. As regards the priesthood Christ alone is now our Priest, our one and only High Priest. He fulfills that office in that He once offered up Himself a sacrifice to satisfy divine justice, thereby making unnecessary and putting an end to all other sacrifices. He paid the debt for the sin of His people, and so opened the way for renewed fellowship between them and God. And as the risen and exalted Savior of His people, He intercedes effectually for them with God the Father.
All of this is clearly set forth by the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews who in the ninth chapter says that “Christ having come a high priest of the good things to come, through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation, nor yet through the blood of goats and calves, but through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption” (vv. 11-12); that we are redeemed through “the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish unto God” (v. 14); that “Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face of God for us” (v. 24); that “now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (v. 26); and in 8:1-2, that “We have such a high priest, who sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister of the sanctuary, and of the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.”
Thus under the figure of Israel’s sacrificing priesthood, particularly through the figure of the high priest who entered into the holy of holies on the day of atonement with blood that had been offered, we are shown that Christ, who is our High Priest, has entered into the heavenly sanctuary with the merits of His atoning sacrifice, that its atoning and cleansing power may be constantly applied to all who put their trust in Him.
In accordance with this New Testament change in the priesthood, through which the old order of ritual and sacrifice which prefigured the atoning work of Christ has been fulfilled and Christ alone has become our true High Priest, the human priesthood as a distinct and separate order of men has fulfilled its function and has been abolished. Furthermore, all born‑again believers, having now been given the right of access to God through Christ their Savior, and being able to go directly to God in prayer and so to intercede for themselves and others, themselves become priests of God. For these are the functions of a priest. This we term the universal priesthood of believers. And this is the distinctive feature of Protestantism as regards the doctrine of the priesthood.
“Ye also,” says Peter, “as living stones, are built up a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. … Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:5,9). In making that statement Peter was not addressing a priestly caste, but all true believers, as is shown by the fact that his epistle was addressed to Jewish Christians who were scattered throughout the various nations, “sojourners of the Dispersion” (1:1), even to those who are as “newborn babes” in the faith (2:2). And in Revelation 1:5‑6, John, writing to the seven churches in Asia Minor, says: “Unto him that loveth us, and loosed us from our sins by his blood: and he made us to be a kingdom, to be priests unto his God and Father.”
The sacrifices offered by the Christian in the exercise of this priesthood are, of course, not for sin, as professedly are those of the Roman Catholic mass. Christ offered the true and only sacrifice for sin, once for all. His sacrifice was perfect. When He had completed His work of redemption upon the cross and was ready to give up His spirit He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). With His sacrifice God was fully satisfied. It therefore does not need to be repeated, nor supplemented, nor modified in any way.
The sacrifices offered by the Christian are termed “spiritual,” and they relate to worship and service. First, there is the sacrifice of praise: “Through him then let us offer up a sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of lips which make confession in his name” (Hebrews 13:15). This offering of thanks and praise to God in worship, which expresses the gratitude of the heart, is an acceptable offering. Second, there is the sacrifice offered through our gifts, as our substance is given for the support of God’s work. He has declared that it is His pleasure to receive such gifts when they are given willingly and with pure motives: “But to do good and to communicate forget not [i.e., sharing with others, helping those who are in need]; for with such sacrifices God is well pleased” (Hebrews 13:16). And third, there is the offering of ourselves, our bodies, our lives, in Christian service: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service” (Romans 12:1). Furthermore, we are sons of God through faith in Christ (1 John 3:1‑2). As no longer servants but sons in His family, we have direct access to Him as our Father and no longer need the mediation of any order of human priests. To depend upon priestly mediation is by that much to return to Judaism and to introduce an dement of apostasy into Christianity.
Thus the New Testament sets forth a new and different kind of priesthood: first, Christ, the true High Priest, who is in heaven; and second, the universal priesthood of believers, through which they offer the “spiritual” sacrifices of praise, of gifts, and of themselves in Christian service. It thereby repudiates the pretentious claims of the Roman priesthood, which would perpetuate the Jewish priesthood and limit it to a few chosen men who are set apart from the laity, who profess to offer literal sacrifices in the mass, and who supposedly are nearer to God than are other men.
Every believer now has the inexpressibly high privilege of going directly to God in prayer, without the mediation of any earthly priest, and of interceding for himself and for others. We are told: “Ask, and it shall be given unto you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (Matthew 7:7); “If ye shall ask anything of the Father, he will give it you in my name” (John 16:23); “Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21).
The believer, of course, approaches God not in his own merits but only through the merits of Christ who has made a perfect sacrifice for him. It is precisely at this point that the Roman Catholic fails to see God’s true way of salvation, for he thinks that man still must approach God as in Old Testament times through a priest, or now perhaps through Mary or some saint whose merits can work for him. But Paul says, “By grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). Christians have, by virtue of their union with Christ, free access to God at all times. This right is one of the finest things in the Christian faith, and it is a present possession. Yet Rome would rob us of this privilege and would interpose her priests and dead saints between the soul and God. Rome’s teaching and practice is heresy, for in many places the Bible invites us to come to God through Christ, without any reference to priests or other intercessors.
The Bible teaches that “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2:5). The Church of Rome teaches that there are many mediators—the priests, Mary, a host of saints, and the angels—and that it is right and proper to pray to them. But to any honest priest in the Church of Rome it must become more and more apparent that Christ is the only true Priest, the only true Mediator, and that in serving as a priest, in pretending to offer the sacrifice of the mass and to forgive sins, he is merely acting the part of an impostor.
2 No New Testament Authority for a Human Priesthood
The really decisive answer to all theories concerning a human priesthood is found in the New Testament itself. There we are taught that the priesthood, along with the other elements of the old dispensation, including the sacrificial system, the ritual, the Levitical law, the temple, etc., has served its purpose and has passed away. With the coming of Christ and the accomplishment of redemption through His work, the entire Old Testament legalistic and ritualistic system which had prefigured it became obsolete and passed away as a unit. It is very inconsistent for the Roman Church to retain the priesthood while discarding the other elements of that system.
An enlightening article that appeared in the Chicago Lutheran Theological Seminary Record, July, 1952, somewhat abbreviated has this to say about the priesthood:
“The writers of the New Testament had two separate words for elder and priest. They do not mean the same thing at all, and the New Testament never confuses them. It never sayspresbuteros, elder, when it means priest. The New Testament word for priest is hiereus. In Greek, from Homer down, this word had a singular meaning. It meant a man appointed, or consecrated, or otherwise endowed with power to perform certain technical functions of ritual worship, especially to offer acceptable sacrifices, and to make effectual prayers. Likewise in the Septuagint hiereus is the regular if not invariable translation of the Old Testament kohen and kahen, the only Hebrew word for priest. It occurs more than 400 times in the Old Testament in this sense. In the New Testament hiereus always means priest, never means elder. There is not anywhere in the New Testament the shadow of an allusion to a Christian priest in the ordinary sense of the word, that is, a man qualified as over against others not qualified for the special function of offering sacrifices, making priestly intercessions, or performing any other act which only a priest can perform. The Epistle to the Hebrews attributed both priesthood and high-priesthood to Christ and to Him alone. The argument of the Epistle not only indicates that a Christian priesthood was unknown to the writer, but that such a priesthood is unallowable. It is to Jesus only that Christians look as to a priest. He has performed perfectly and permanently the function of a priest for all believers. His priesthood, being perfect and eternal, renders a continuous human priesthood both needless and anachronistic.”
Paul enumerates the different kinds of ministers and agents in the Christian church, and the office of priest is not among them: “And he gave some to be apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). And again, “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondly prophets, thirdly teachers. …” (1 Corinthians 12:28). There is never any mention of priests. The only mediatorial priesthood recognized in the New Testament is that of Christ, the great High Priest, and to Him alone is the title “priest”(hiereus) given: “Thou art a priest for ever, after the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 7:17); “But he, because he abideth for ever, hath his priesthood unchangeable. Wherefore also he is able to save to the uttermost them that draw near unto God through him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them. For such a high priest became us, holy, guiltless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he didonce for all, when he offered up himself” (Hebrews 7:24‑27), “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14).
Since the priesthood occupied such an important place in the Old Testament dispensation and in the thinking of the Jewish people, it is inconceivable that, had it been continued in the New Testament dispensation, God would have made no mention of it at all—how priests were to be chosen, and ordained, and how they were to carry out their functions in this radically different dispensation. The fact of the matter is that the Old Testament priesthood was the human, Aaronistic priesthood, and that by its very nature it was, like the sacrificial system and the elaborate temple worship of which it was a part, a temporary affair, a mere shadow and prefigurement of the reality that was to come. And so, with the coming of Christ and the establishment of His priesthood, it fell away, as the stars fade before the rising sun, and as the petals fall away before the developing fruit. The priesthood as an order of clergy has been abolished.
In the Epistle to the Hebrews several chapters are devoted to showing that the Old Testament priesthood has been abolished and that there is no place in Christianity for a sacrificing priesthood, because Christ, “through his own blood, entered in once for all into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption,” and that He has offered “one sacrifice for sins for ever” (9:12, 10:12). The many human priests with their innumerable animal sacrifices were effective in their work of reconciling the people to God only because they represented the true High Priest and the one true sacrifice that was to come. But after the reality appeared, there would be no more need for the shadows and types that had preceded it. Hence we read concerning the sacrifice of Christ: “But now once at the end of the ages hath he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Hebrews 9:26); and again: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).
The sacrifice of Christ was therefore a “once‑for‑all” sacrifice which only He could make, and which cannot be repeated. By its very nature it was final and complete. It was a work of Deity, and so cannot be repeated by man any more than can the work of creation. By that one sacrifice the utmost demands of God’s justice were fully and forever satisfied. Final atonement has been accomplished! No further order of priests is needed to offer additional sacrifices or to perpetuate that one. His was the one sacrifice to end all sacrifices. Let all men now look to that one sacrifice on Calvary! Any continuing priesthood and any “unbloody repetition of the mass,” which professes to offer the same sacrifice that Christ offered on Calvary, is in reality merely a sham and a recrudescence of Judaism within the Christian Church.
The abolition of the priestly caste which through the old dispensation stood between God and man was dramatically illustrated at the very moment that Christ died on the cross. When He cried, “It is finished,” a strange sound filled the temple as the veil that separated the sanctuary from the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom. The ministering priests found themselves gazing at the torn veil with wondering eyes, for God’s own hand had removed the curtain and had opened the way into the holy of holies, symbolizing by that act that no longer did man have to approach Him through the mediation of a priest, but that the way of access to Him is now open to all.
But the veil which had been torn by the hand of God was patched up again by priestly hands, and for forty years, until the fall of Jerusalem, sacrifices continued to be offered in a restored temple service, and in Judaism the veil continued to stand between God and men. In our day the Roman priesthood has again patched up the veil. Through the use of spurious sacraments, the sacrifice of the mass, the confessional, indulgences, and other such priestly instruments it insists on keeping in place the curtain that God Himself has removed. It continues to place fallible human priests, the Virgin Mary and dead saints as mediators between the sinner and God, although the Bible declares most clearly that “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5).
Hence the continuing priesthood in the Church of Rome is absolutely unscriptural and unchristian. It owes its existence solely to a man‑made development that can be traced in detail in the history of the church, for it was not until the third or fourth century that priests began to appear in the church. That system has been a source of untold evil. But papal dominance has been built upon that practice and is dependent on its continuance. Without a hierarchical priesthood the papal system would immediately disintegrate.
The Apostle Peter, far from making himself a priest or a pope, was content to call himself one of the many elders, a presbuteros. And he specifically warned the elders against that most glaring error of the Roman Catholic priests, lording it over the charge allotted to them. He urged rather that they serve as examples to the flock: “The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow‑elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1‑3).
As regards priestly innovations that have been made by the Roman Church, Dr. R. Laird Harris, Professor of Old Testament in Covenant Theological Seminary, in St. Louis, writes:
“First century Christianity had no priests. The New Testament nowhere uses the word to describe a leader in Christian service. The Jewish priesthood was changed, we are told in Hebrews 7:12. Christ is now our ‘priest forever after the order of Melchizedek’ (Hebrews 7:17). It is true that the Douay but not the Confraternity version does use the word ‘priest’ (in a Christian connection), but the Greek never uses the word ‘hiereus’ (priest), nor does the Latin so use ‘sacerdos’ (priest). It is good that this clear mistranslation of the Douay has been corrected in the newer Roman Catholic Confraternity edition. Christian priests are a Roman Catholic invention” (booklet, Fundamental Protestant Doctrines, II, p.3).
But the doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers is not merely a negative teaching abolishing an order of clergy. For along with that freedom which makes the believer responsible only to God for his faith and life, there is an added responsibility. We are members of a Christian community, “an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession” (1 Peter 2:9). As Christians, then, we are not “laymen,” not mere spectators of the Christian enterprise who may or may not engage in it as we choose, but “priests,” and therefore responsible to God for the faith and lives of others. We are under obligation to make known this message of salvation. The word “layman” is not found in the New Testament, nor is there any “layman’s movement” in the Bible. A priest is inevitably involved in the lives of others, and is responsible to God for others. He has the high privilege and duty of making God known to others. This priesthood, therefore, applies to all believers, and consists of two things: (1) Immediate access to God in prayer for one’s self, and (2) the right and duty of intercession for others. Only as we grasp these ideas can we appreciate the full, rich meaning of the doctrine of the universal priesthood of believers.
Furthermore, we are a royal priesthood. That means that we have been called, chosen, by the King of Kings to be His priests before our fellow men. We are not first of all clergy and laymen. We are first of all a royal priesthood, under obligation individually to make known the message of salvation. And the strength of Protestantism lies precisely here, in the willingness of its people to accept this strange office and all that it means, and to serve in the household of God as the royal priests that we really are.
3 Claims of the Roman Priesthood
The Council of Trent, whose decrees must be accepted by all Roman Catholics under pain of mortal sin or excommunication, says:
“The priest is the man of God, the minister of God. … He that despiseth the priest despiseth God; he that hears him hears God. The priest remits sins as God, and that which he calls his body at the altar is adored as God by himself and by the congregation. … It is clear that their function is such that none greater can be conceived. Wherefore they are justly called not only angels, but also God, holding as they do among us the power and authority of the immortal God.”
In a similar vein a Roman Catholic book, carrying the imprimatur of the Archbishop of Ottawa, Canada, says:
“Without the priest the death and passion of our Lord would be of no avail to us. See the power of the priest! By one word from his lips he changes a piece of bread into a God! A greater fact than the creation of a world. If I were to meet a priest and an angel, I would salute the priest more saluting the angel. The priest holds the place of God.”
To millions of Christians who are outside the Roman Church such words border on blasphemy, if indeed they are not blasphemy. Surely such declarations are a usurpation of the power that belongs only to God.
It is surprising how little Scripture authority even the Roman Church cites as a basis for her doctrine of the priesthood. Her main and almost only support is found in two verses, Matthew 16:18‑19—which she has misinterpreted, and then, by adding one human tradition to another, has built up an elaborate system which not only has no real support in Scripture but which actually is contrary to Scripture. And by teaching her people this one interpretation and denying them the right to read or hear any other, she has misled millions so that they have come to believe that this is true Christianity. These verses read:
“And I say unto thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Confraternity Version).
There are various interpretations of these verses. Suffice it to say here that this passage contains symbolical language and that the interpretation of the “rock,” the “keys,” the “gates of hell,” and the “binding” and “loosing” adopted by Rome is by no means the only one, nor even the most plausible one. We shall treat these verses more fully in connection with the discussion of Peter as the alleged head of the church on earth.
There is probably no other doctrine revealed in Scripture that the Roman Church has so obviously turned upside down as that of the priesthood. The function of no New Testament minister or official resembled that of a priest of the Roman Church. The titles of “archbishop,” “cardinal” (“prince of the church,” as they like to be called), and “pope” are not even in the Bible. The term “bishop” (overseer, or shepherd of the flock) designated an entirely different office than does that term in the present day Roman Church. In fact the terms “bishop” (episcopos) and “elder”(presbyteros) were used interchangeably. Elders could be of two kinds—what we term the teaching elder, or pastor, and the ruling elder, who represented the congregation in the general affairs of the church.
Paul ordained elders in the newly established churches and gave his assistants, Timothy and Titus, instructions for choosing and ordaining elders in every city (1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1:5). During the Middle Ages the teaching elder became a priest at the altar, and the function of the ruling elder was usurped by bishops, cardinals, and the pope, until practically no authority was left in the hands of the congregation, which of course is the condition that continues in the Roman Catholic churches of today. Rome has robbed the laity of nearly all of its privileges.
Christ intended that His church, which consists of all true believers, should enjoy all of the rights and privileges that were conferred by Him. But Rome withdraws those rights and privileges from the people, and invests them in an order of priesthood. Christ bade His followers practice humility, acknowledge one another as equals, and serve one another (Matthew 20:25‑28, 23:8; 1 Peter 5:3, 2 Corinthians 4:5). But Rome denies this equality and sets up the priest as a dictator belonging to a sacred order, altogether apart from and superior to the people of the parish. The loyal Roman Catholic must heed what the priest says, for priestly dignity is above all. The priest dictates to his people concerning their church, school, marriage, children, family affairs, political activities, what literature they should read, and so on, all of which he may inquire into intimately in the confessional. From before birth until after death that influence continues. As father confessor and “director of conscience,” and as God’s spokesman to the people, his word is not to be questioned.
The feeling of fear and dread of the priest, so characteristic of the people in Romanist lands, is comparable only to the fear and dread that pagan people have for the witch doctor. Says one from Southern Ireland who has had ample opportunity to observe from within the workings of that system: “You who have never been under this influence, who have from childhood been allowed freedom of speech, liberty of conscience, and who see no distinction between your clergy and laity, you cannot, you never will understand the influence that Roman Catholic priests have over the laity of their own nationality” (Margaret Shepherd, My Life in the Convent, p. 46).
Romanism puts the priest between the Christian believer and the knowledge of God as revealed in the Scriptures, and makes him the sole interpreter of truth. It puts the priest between the confession of sins and the forgiveness of sins. It carries this interposition through to the last hour, in which the priest, in the sacrament of extreme unction, stands between the soul and eternity, and even after death the release of the soul from purgatory and its entrance into heavenly joy is still dependent on the priest’s prayers which must be paid for by relatives or friends. The Roman priests, in designating themselves, the Virgin Mary, and the saints as mediators, and in making membership in their church the indispensable requirement for salvation, place a screen between God and the people. And where does Christ come in, in this system? If you search you will find Him in the background, behind the priest, behind the Virgin, behind the church. The inevitable result is that the spiritual life of the Roman Catholic is weak and anemic, and that Roman Catholic countries, such as Spain, Italy, Southern Ireland, Quebec, and Latin America, are immersed in spiritual darkness.
No matter what the moral character of a priest, his prayers and his ministrations are declared to be valid and efficacious because he is in holy orders. The Council of Trent has declared that “Even those priests who are living in mortal sin exercise the same function of forgiving sins as ministers of Christ”—such a declaration was necessary at that time, in the middle of the 16thcentury, if the Roman Church was to continue to function at all, because of the general and well-known immorality of the priests. Just as the medicine given by the doctor is supposed to cure the patient regardless of the moral character of the doctor, so the priest’s official acts are supposed to be valid and efficacious regardless of his personal character. He is accounted a “good priest” so long as he remains loyal to the church and the rituals and ceremonies performed by him are correct. Says one writer, “When you see the way the system of the priesthood works out in daily life, be glad you are a Protestant.”
Few Protestants realize the nature and significance of the vast chasm which separates the Roman Catholic priesthood from the people. No such gulf exists between the Protestant clergyman and his congregation. A fiction of sacerdotal wisdom and holiness, particularly as displayed in the sacrifice of the mass, sets the priest apart from the awed and reverent Catholic laity. Yet the Roman Church seeks to have the world believe that a close unity exists between the clergy and the laity. And an almost total ignorance on the part of the Catholic people concerning the political machinations of the hierarchy leaves them usually not only willing but even proud to be identified with whatever program is put forth in the name of the Roman Church.
In our method of choosing a minister, which we believe is in harmony with the teaching of Scripture and the practice of the early church, we choose a man not because he is of a superior order, but because of our belief that he is capable of ministering the things of the Spirit to his fellow men and because we believe he will live an honest, humble, sincere, and upright life. Ordinarily the minister marries and dwells in a family because this is the natural state of man, and hence he is closer to his people than is the celibate priest. He is chosen by the people, not, however, to govern according to the will of the people, but according to the will of Christ as revealed in the Scriptures. He is among the flock as a spiritual leader, friend, and counsellor, not to be ministered unto, but to minister.
4 The Christian Ministry Not a Sacrificing Ministry
We have said that it is the work of a priest to represent man before God, to offer sacrifices, to intercede for men, and so to make God propitious, that is, favorably inclined toward them. In all pre‑Christian religions, Judaism included, there were two common elements: (1) a human priesthood and (2) the teaching that the salvation provided was incomplete. In the very nature of the case their sacrifices were of limited value and therefore deficient. In the pagan religions this usually led to belief in a future round of existence after death wherein the still unsaved sinner would have to make further expiation for his sins. In Judaism it was shown in the never-ending cycle of those sacrifices as day after day the same ritual was repeated.
Now, Roman Catholicism, although it professes to be Christian, possesses those same two elements. It claims a human priesthood, and it teaches that salvation in this life is not complete, but that after death the soul must suffer a longer or shorter time in purgatory and that repeated masses must be said to pay the debt for sin. But Protestantism teaches that with the coming of Christ and the completion of His work on Calvary a new element was added, one which completely eliminates the other two, namely, the evangel, or the “good news” that because Christ was both God and man His sacrifice was of infinite value, and that it was therefore complete, efficacious, and final.
This is the clear teaching of the Epistle to the Hebrews, for there we read:
“By which will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest indeed standeth day by day ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, the which can never take away sins: but he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; henceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet. For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified” (10:10‑14).
“[Christ] who needeth not daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people: for this he did once for all, when he offered up himself” (7:27).
Here we are taught, first of all, that the pre‑Christian element of an incomplete salvation was superseded by the complete salvation obtained through the one efficacious sacrifice offered by Christ, and, secondly, that the human priesthood offering daily sacrifices for the sins of men was eliminated, having been done away through the once for all sacrifice for sins when Christ offered up Himself. This means further that sin cannot persist as something to be expiated for after death; that we are saved completely, not half‑saved; and that therefore there can be no such place as purgatory.
In the Jewish priesthood, (1) there were many priests, (2) they were men of infirmity, and (3) it was necessary that they repeat their sacrifices many times, for their own sins and for those of the people. These same reasons apply with equal force against the Roman priesthood: (1) they too are many, (2) they too are men of infirmity, and (3) they too repeat their sacrifices many times for themselves and for the people. In the nature of the case there could be nothing permanent about the work of the Jewish priesthood, for it was merely a foreshadowing or a prefiguring of the work that was to be accomplished by Christ. But the “one sacrifice,” offered “once for all,” by Christ paid the penalty for the sin of His people and so fulfilled the ritual and made all further sacrifices unnecessary. There is, therefore, no place for a sacrificing priesthood in the Christian dispensation.
This same truth is taught when we are told that after Christ had completed His work, He “sat down” on the right hand of God, thus symbolizing that His work was finished, that nothing more needed to be added. In Hebrews 1:3 we read: “Who being the effulgence of his glory, and the very image of his substance, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had made purification for sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high”; and in Hebrews 10:12‑13: “But he, when he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God, thenceforth expecting till his enemies be made the footstool of his feet.”
The greatness and completeness and finality of Christ’s sacrificial work is seen in His royal rest. The fact that He has sat down is of special interest since in the tabernacle and the temple there were no seats or benches on which the priests could ever sit down or rest. Their work was never done. Their sacrifices had to be repeated daily because there was no saving power in them. Therefore their task was endless. But the work of Christ was entirely different. His sacrifice of Himself was “once for all.” By that one sacrifice He made perfect provision both for the sinner and for the sin. Therefore, as our High Priest, He sat down in the place of authority, and is now waiting until His enemies are brought into subjection and His kingdom is brought to fruition.
It is interesting to notice that when Christ sent out His apostles He commanded them to preach and teach, but that He said not one word about sacrifice. In the Great Commission He said: “Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them… teaching them…” (Matthew 28:19‑20). Yet the most prominent feature of the Roman priesthood is its sacerdotal or sacrificial character. The mass is the very heart of the service. In the first part of the ordination service for a priest he is addressed as follows: “Receive thou the power to offer sacrifices to God, and to celebrate masses, both for the living and for the dead. In the name of the Lord. Amen.”
In the Book of Acts there are many references to the founding of churches, preaching the Word, the assembling of Christians, the governing of the churches, and the matter of controversies with those who advocate error. But there are no references whatever to a sacrificing priesthood. Paul likewise through his epistles gave many directions concerning the duties of the ministry. But nowhere is there even a hint that the ministers were to offer sacrifices, nowhere even an allusion to the mass! The Greek word for priest, hiereus, as we have noted, is never applied to New Testament ministers. Strange indeed, if this was the work of the early ministers, that in Scripture we find no references whatever to it!
But in contrast with this, in later ages, after the Roman Catholic Church had developed, we find the writings of the spokesmen for the church filled with references to the mass—how, when, how often, and under what circumstances it is to be administered. It became, during the Middle Ages, as it is today, the most distinctive feature of the Roman worship, the primary thing that they profess to do. Surely it is clear that the sacrifice of the mass is a later development, a radical perversion, and that the Roman Catholic priesthood is following a system quite foreign to that of the early church.
Some Roman Catholics who have turned to Protestantism have said that before they left the Roman Church the charges which hurt them most were those which declared that the Bible does not reveal a teaching authority with the pope and the priesthood as its divinely authorized agents, and that the blessed sacrament of the altar does not exist in the New Testament. But with further investigation they were forced to conclude that such was the case and that in truth the sole support of the priesthood was nothing other than the traditions of men.
Our conclusion concerning the priesthood must be that Christ alone is our true High Priest, the only Mediator between God and men, the reality toward which the entire Old Testament ritual and sacrifice and priesthood looked forward, and that when He completed His work that entire system fell away. Consequently, we reject all merely human and earthly priests, whether in the Roman Catholic Church or in heathen religions, and look upon their continued practice as simply an attempt to usurp divine authority.
5 Training for the Priesthood
There are approximately 56,540 Roman Catholic priests in the United States. And there are 237 bishops, archbishops, and cardinals who make up the American hierarchy, according to The Official Catholic Directory (May, 1963). The large proportion of the priests, some 34,465, are what are termed diocesan priests, whose work is in the local churches, while the remainder, some 22,075, are in the various religious orders, such as the Franciscan, Dominican, Benedictine, and Jesuit. Those in the various orders tend to specialize in some specific work, e.g., the Franciscans dedicating themselves to the relief of suffering and want, the Dominicans to theological and ministerial studies, the Benedictines to service in the schools and churches, and the Jesuits to the field of education, although the various fields overlap considerably. There are about 35,000 Jesuits in the world, some 8,000 of whom are in the United States. There are also about 177,000 nuns in the United States who work primarily in the schools and hospitals, although some are cloistered.
Many people find it difficult to understand why so many young people choose to dedicate themselves for life to the rigorous system of the Roman Catholic Church as priests and nuns. The answer is that most of them do not enter as a result of free personal choice, but are recruited while quite young, usually between the ages of sixteen and eighteen, with greater or lesser degrees of leading or persuasion by the priests who are instructed to keep their eyes open for promising boys and girls. The confessional, which affords the priests an opportunity to know intimately the personalities, ambitions, and problems of the young people, affords an excellent opportunity for such leading. The church seeks candidates for its personnel and tries to gain their commitment at that period in the lives of boys and girls when spiritual ideals are strongest but illusive and superficial. That is the age when the ambitions of youth soar highest and when they feel the urge for self-sacrifice in building a better world. The ones the church wants are, for the most part, selected by the priests, cultivated over a period of time, sometimes even for years, and so led into the various fields of service, although the priests are by no means successful in getting all they want. The result is that many a boy and girl who had never felt any natural inclination toward the priesthood or convent life has found himself or herself following that road and more or less committed to it before realizing the consequences.
Most of those who eventually enter the priesthood are recruited from the middle or lower class families, boys who for the most part would not have much chance for higher education or for advancement in life, and to whom ordination means promotion to a position of prestige which their family status would not likely attain for them. Training is for the most part provided without cost. In their new positions, with their handsome rectories, luxurious vestments and beautiful automobiles they can feel superior to their parishioners. Those become most beholden to the hierarchy for the advantages that they have received, and are the most easily controlled. Having been drilled and disciplined into the system, they feel powerless to change. This is especially true of those who come from orphanages, whether priests or nuns. They are the real victims of the system. That is an unhealthy situation and deeply unjust, but one that is difficult to control or remedy.
A former English priest, Joseph McCabe, in his book, The Popes and Their Church, says that the Jesuits and Benedictines, who control large schools, appeal more to the middle class, but that as a rule they fail to secure the more intelligent of their pupils, that the intellectual and moral level of priests is not nearly as high as, for instance, that of teachers and doctors, and that only a minority have any exceptional ability or deep religious feeling. Other writers have said substantially the same thing. Furthermore, the idea has been promoted among Roman Catholics that it is a special honor to have in one’s family a priest or nun, and unusual privileges and favors, sometimes quite substantial, are directed by the church toward the families of those so chosen. Getting into the service of the Roman Church is not so difficult; getting out after one has committed himself or herself is the real problem.
In order to understand why Roman Catholic priests act as they do, and why the priesthood is able to hold them so firmly, it is necessary to know something about the training they receive. That has been set forth clearly by Mr. McLoughlin, and we present in considerable detail the account of his training in St. Anthony’s Seminary, at Santa Barbara, California, which he informs us was during the years 1922-27. He says:
“When a boy enters a seminary, he begins twelve years of the most thorough and effective intellectual indoctrination the world has ever known. It begins gently, with a blending of the legitimate pleasures of boyhood, the stimulus of competition in studies, and the pageantry of the forms of an ancient religion unseen in an ordinary parish church. It ends twelve years later, with a mental rigidity and acceptance of medieval superstitions and religious concepts as archaic as those of the Buddhist monks upon the isolated, frozen mountains of Tibet. It may surprise non-Catholic Americans to learn that the story of Tibet in Lowell Thomas’ On Top of the World has its counterpart in the hundreds of Roman Catholic seminaries flourishing in the cities and countrysides of America.
“The course of training for the priesthood is roughly divided into two periods. The first six years are spent in the junior seminary—four years of high school and two years of what would be considered college work. The senior seminary provides the last college years, devoted mainly to Catholic philosophy, plus four years of training in all the intricacies of Catholic theology. Between the junior and senior seminaries in religious orders (Franciscans, Dominicans, Vincentians), there comes a year devoted entirely to religious indoctrination. This is the novitiate. …
“All our textbooks, even in high school courses, were written by Catholic authors. No daily newspapers were permitted, and no non-Catholic magazines. All incoming mail was opened by the Prefect of discipline, a priest; if he deemed advisable, the letters were confiscated. All outgoing mail had to be placed in the Prefect’s office in unsealed envelopes. Along with newspapers and movies, radios were forbidden for the use of junior seminarians. The priests in their supervised recreation hall were permitted a radio—but we were not admitted to that hall. Not only were we gradually withdrawn from the world but we grew to feel that the non‑Catholic public disliked us and, if given opportunity, would persecute us. …
“During these junior years, the boy has no official ties binding him to the Church. He may leave the seminary at any time, without penalty. Many boys do so; and others are dismissed as being too worldly or intellectually unqualified for the intense indoctrination ahead. …
“With one magnificent gesture, the ceremony of entering the novitiate sweeps aside the centuries. The aspirant for the priesthood in the Franciscan Order finds himself, in spirit, walking the ancient streets of Assisi, eating in its hallowed monastic halls, and chanting the sixth-century hymns of Gregory the Great. … To symbolize more effectively the repudiation of the ‘old’ man and the start of a ‘new’ spiritual life, even our names were changed. I had been christened John Patrick. I was now named Emmett—or, in Latin, Emmatus—in memory of an obscure saint in early Irish and French history. …
“During this year our seclusion from American life and our indoctrination in the ‘spirit’ of the Catholic Church became so intensive that I came to feel that I alone was a true Christian, privileged to commune with God. I believed that the American way of life was pagan and sinful, a rebirth of the Roman Empire and destined to the same disgraceful doom in the ashes of history. I came to believe that the American government was to be tolerated though wrong—tolerated because it gives unlimited freedom to the Roman Catholic Church, wrong because it gives freedom to other churches. I believed the ideal form of government was the one in which I was living in the seclusion of my spirit—the era when the papacy made kings because the power to govern came from God to the king through his ‘representative,’ the pope. My boyhood concept of civics—of the right of man to the processes of law and government through the consent of the governed—faded away under the constant repetition of the teachings of Thomas Aquinas and the moral theologians. The Constitution of my country and the laws of its states dimmed into trivialities in comparison with the all‑powerful Canon Law of the Roman Catholic Church. I became in all truth a citizen of the Church, living—by accident—in the United States.
“Such intensive indoctrination was unknown to the Western world outside the Roman Catholic Church until it was copied by Fascism, Nazism, and Communism. The training for the priesthood goes on, after the novitiate year, for six more years. We were no longer permitted to visit our homes, even for vacations, unless a death occurred in our families. …
“The process of indoctrination in all seminaries is intensified by the use of the Latin language. All textbooks of Catholic philosophy and theology are in Latin. The lectures by professors (at least in my day) were in Latin. Examinations were conducted in Latin. We reached the point where we were thinking in Latin, the language of the early centuries of Christianity. Subconsciously we were living not in the age of presidents and politicians, or labor unions and capitalists, but in the age of masters and slaves, of kings and serfs, of popes, representing God, and the faithful, who meekly acquiesced in their decisions as coming from the throne of God Himself.
“The chains with which the religious orders of the Roman Catholic Church bind their priestly aspirants to a lifetime of service are the three vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity.
“The vow of obedience is the most important of the three. It identifies all ecclesiastical superiors with the Church, and it identifies the Roman Catholic Church with God. Every command by the superior of a religious community or by a church pastor, no matter how petulant, how ill‑advised, or how unjust, must be considered as a command from God Himself and must be obeyed as such under penalty of sin. …
“The robe of every Franciscan monk is girded with a rope. One strand hangs from his side. It has three knots on it symbolizing the three vows—poverty, chastity, and (the bottom knot) obedience. The young Franciscan is trained that when the Provincial Superior greets him he must kneel on one knee and kiss the lowest knot on the Superior’s cord, and then his hand. It is the token of complete, abject, unreasoning obedience. …
“The student priest must learn to crush the desire of the flesh by fasting, self‑denial, and even physical pain. Many Americans have read of the ascetics and hermits of the early middle ages of Christianity who mortified the flesh by wearing hair shirts, fastening chains about their waists, and sleeping on boards or in bare coffins. But it might surprise these Americans to know that in the senior seminaries for Franciscan priests in the United States there hangs, inside the door of every cell or bedroom, a scourge or whip. It is made of several strands of heavy cord, each knotted at the end. Each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening at 5:45 o’clock we closed the doors of our cells; to the chant of the ‘miserere’ we disrobed and ‘scourged our flesh to bring it into submission.’ The Superior patrolled the corridors to listen to the sound of beating—the assurance of compliance. …
“The distinction between the licit and the illicit was so elusive in our minds that we could not discern it. We were warned constantly about the danger of any association with women. The saints had characterized them as tools of the devil, devils themselves in beautiful forms, instruments permitted by God to exist and test man’s virtue of chastity” (People’s Padre, pp. 7-18).
At the conclusion of the book Mr. McLoughlin says:
“To non‑Catholic America, I have attempted to portray life within the priesthood as it actually is. I have emphasized the long, narrow, effective mental indoctrination of the seminary, taking young boys from their families, walling them off from society, from world events, from modern education through the formative years of adolescence, and then turning them out into the ‘vineyard’ after ordination as thoroughly dedicated as a Russian envoy to the United Nations. I have pictured the tyranny of fear that chains these men to their religious posts long after they have become disillusioned and yearn for the freedom and normal life of America. I have tried to show, through my own experience and through correspondence, the miasmic fog which the Church has intentionally spread to conceal the truth from the Roman Catholics who blindly follow it—stifling their freedom of thought, of worship, of action, and of life itself. I contend that this foreign thing is far more subtle, far less forthright, but just as inimical to the American concept of life as Communism itself. It is often the indirect cause of Communism by keeping whole nations in ignorance and poverty and by developing techniques of fear, indoctrination, and mental tyranny that the Kremlin exploits. The Inquisition led by the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century finds its parallel in the political persecution by the Communists in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Russia” (p. 279).
We urge everyone who possibly can to read this very informative and interesting book by Mr. McLoughlin. It is written in a truly Christian spirit by one who knows intimately the Roman Catholic Church, written not in spite, or hatred, or vindictiveness, but to acquaint Roman Catholics themselves with the truth concerning the secret inner workings of their hierarchy, and to inform those outside the Roman Church concerning the nature of this growth that has spread so luxuriously in our free and hospitable land while at the same time choking freedom of thought and action in those lands which it controls.
We should add that the priestly course of preparation reaches its climax in a colorful and solemn ordination ceremony, in which the bishop pronounces the awesome words: “Thou art a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek.” To himself and to the Roman Catholic world the young priest becomes an alter Christus, “another Christ,” offering in the mass the same sacrifice that Christ offered on the cross. People bow before him and kiss his hands as a token of respect and submission. Ordinarily a priest is not ordained before the age of 24, although ordination can be performed earlier by special permission. According to Canon Law, a priest once ordained can never lose his ordination. Even if he leaves the Roman Catholic Church, renounces it, and becomes a Protestant minister, he still remains a priest, although unable to function as a priest until be returns and repents.
6 Groups within the Priesthood and within the Laity
After the new recruits have finished their long course of preparation and are ordained as priests, what is their reaction to the environment in which they find themselves? Dee Smith, a former Roman Catholic layman who writes with an intimate knowledge of conditions within the Roman Church, finds that when they emerge from the seminary they gradually evolve into three fairly distinct groups which may be classified as: (1) the naive, (2) the disillusioned, and (3) the aggressive. He says:
1. “The naive are worthy souls so honest themselves that they never question the honesty of others. Even repeated experiences of hypocrisy and corruption among their priestly brothers are insufficient to shake their faith or extinguish their inexhaustible charity. Such priests never advance to high rank among the clergy. They are found in poor city parishes, lonely country stations, or out in the mission field, sharing the meager life of their parishioners.
2. “What of the disillusioned? Emmett McLoughlin estimates that about 17 percent of the priests would like to leave not only the priesthood but also the church. … Not all who leave have the stamina to stay with it. The memory of indolent, well-padded living is too beguiling. Expecting the same thing, plus adulation, in the Protestant camp and not finding it, these feeble characters inevitably return to Rome.
“In their eagerness not to jeopardize their cushy sinecure a second time they cravenly accept the hypocritical ‘penances’ handed out to them and become the most ardent of Rome’s propagandists. Nevertheless it would be unfair to judge harshly all disillusioned priests who fail to break with Rome. When one considers the scurrilous attacks which will be made upon them in the Roman Catholic press, the boycott pressures which will starve them out of a means of livelihood, the malignant persecution which will seek them out and hound them wherever they go, one can readily understand that the decision to leave is a more heroic one than most of us are ever called upon to make. It cannot be denied that some of these priests are good men who, to atone for their lack of courage, do what they can to comfort, encourage, and assuage the lot of the duped and betrayed Catholic people.
3. “Nothing, however, can be said in extenuation of the aggressive cohort of the priesthood, the class which comprises the hierarchy and upper clergy as well as many of the lower. No man can rise very high in the ranks of the Roman Catholic priesthood unless he is of this class. In fact, the savagery of their intolerance against all who stand in the way of ruthless ambition extends far beyond their hatred of their tacit opponent, the non‑Catholic world, and intimately permeates their own relationships. The viciousness of their tactics against one another in the competition for promotion is precisely the same quality as that of medieval cardinals who hired prisoners and assassins to dispose of their rivals in the Consistory.
“Their objective is not merely a life of privilege, luxury, and carnal self‑indulgence. In fact, there are among them men of rigid ascetic character. But each and every man of them is driven by an insatiable lust for power. Each sees himself as a factor to be reckoned with in a globe‑dominating force. Having lost the capacity for love, they seek the fear of their fellow men—the more abject the headier. Is it any wonder that the hierarchy’s own security demands an impassable gulf between the decent, well‑meaning Catholic people and these men with the hearts and spiritual nature of wolves, these men with no God but Greed, no religion but Power?” (Christian Heritage, May, 1959).
The chief victims of the Roman Catholic system are the people themselves, who are schooled to accept the teachings of their church implicitly and who are almost totally ignorant of the political machinations of their clergy. Again we are indebted to Dee Smith for an analysis which, with some degree of overlapping, groups the Roman Catholic laity as follows:
1. First there is that comparatively small group of people whom we may designate as “converts” to Romanism, or “joiners,” those who when they see the Roman Church growing in influence “jump on the band wagon.” Such as these would join most any movement, even the Communist if it appeared to offer them advancement. They have only a nominal Christianity, and usually have suffered frustration in some form. In Romanism they become the center of attention and gain a position of influence that would not otherwise be attainable to them.
2. A second group, much the largest group in the Roman Church, consists of those whom we may designate as spiritual suicides. They shrink from any serious thought concerning religious truths which they do not want to face, truths which if followed through might involve them in arduous spiritual effort. In the Roman Catholic Church they gain a promise of heaven through the payment of money and the recitation of sterile formulas. They are content simply to float along and to leave the spiritual and intellectual problems to others.
3. A third group consists of those who are genuinely naive. For them, as Dee Smith says, “the beautiful music, gorgeous trappings, fragrant incense, majestic temples, and eye‑filling spectacles perform the office for which Rome designed them, namely, to lull the senses into a state of euphoria which the victim mistakes for heavenly transport. Like wide-eyed children at a circus, the victims of this form of mass hypnosis see nothing of the shoddy meanness behind the glitter.”
4. There are those whom we may term the “practical Catholics,” those who for personal reasons make a career of their church connections. They are the typical members who are always ready to do the bidding of the clergy, serving as a front against the non‑Catholic world, bullying bookstores into refusing to handle anti‑Catholic literature, organizing boycotts, coercing businessmen to support Catholic charities, posing the threat of the “Catholic vote,” etc.
5. Another group is that of the “nominal Catholics,” those who are members of the church simply because they were born such. They follow the rules of the church only so far as it suits their convenience. They are not critical of the church, but neither do they have any particular devotion for it. They generally attend mass, and they vote for Roman Catholic candidates. They are, however, unsteady and a source of concern to the clergy.
6. There is a comparatively small group of real liberals, men of integrity who try to reconcile the teachings of their church with their consciences as long as possible, but who in a showdown between church and conscience follow their conscience and walk out of the church.
7. Lastly, there is the group, consisting of perhaps one third of the membership, who by any standard are good, honest, self‑respecting people. They are, to be sure, somewhat naive, but they are good neighbors to their Protestant fellow citizens and are the kind of people for whose sake Protestants sometimes resent any insinuations against the Roman Catholic Church. They are people who, if they knew the true purpose, motives, and character of their church’s leadership, would leave in disgust at the betrayal of their faith. They are good not because they are Roman Catholics but in spite of that fact. They are the kind of people who, not going to the trouble to investigate the doctrinal tenets of the faith they profess, would be good in any faith in which they might have membership. Innocently and unknowingly they serve as a perfect smokescreen for the hierarchy. By using the good character and sincere faith of these followers, and by surrounding themselves with a stage‑setting of exalted faith, the priests are able to create the illusion of true religion for their entire system. But that system in its basic reality remains like the magnificent Hollywood temples, so impressive and awesome to the untrained eye, but in reality nothing more than plywood and canvas (cf., Christian Heritage, May, 1959).
Protestants who have made any effort to talk with Roman Catholics about spiritual things know that they have received but very little Bible instruction from their priests. But that lack of Bible knowledge is but a natural consequence of the fact that the priests themselves have only a minimum of Bible study in their seminary training. L. H. Lehmann, a former priest who foundedThe Converted Catholic Magazine (now Christian Heritage), says that only in the last years of their training in seminary did they have any Bible study, and that even then it was in Latin. “The Scripture course itself,” he says, “was merely an apologetic for papal interpretation of certain texts of Scripture to suit the past historical development and aims of the papal power. Nothing was taught or indicated to us about the spiritual, individual message of Christ in the Gospel itself. Hence, what was sought in teaching the Bible was a glib use of tag‑ends of texts in defense of papal power. The letter of texts, apart from their content, supplied the pretext for Roman Catholic use of Scripture. The spirit of the word was overlooked” (The Soul of a Priest, p. 54).
A further word about the different orders of priests: As we have indicated earlier, there are two classes: (1) Secular or Diocesan priests, who are responsible only to the local bishop, and who usually are assigned to churches; and (2) Religious priests, who belong to an order, and who in most cases are responsible to an abbot who rules the monastery. Secular priests take the vows of chastity and obedience, but not of poverty, and so may own property. Members of religious orders take the three vows, poverty, chastity, and obedience, and are of two classes—monks, who withdraw from the world for religious motives, usually live in a monastery, and engage in meditation, study, writing, etc.; and the plain religious priests, who engage in various public activities for the order to which they belong. Those belonging to an order, taking the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, but not being ordained as priests, are called Brothers. These may teach in church schools, or engage in other kinds of church work. The Jesuits belong to an order but are not monastic, and usually are engaged in educational work in the colleges and seminaries.
As a rule the monks have a reputation for being lazy, the Jesuits for being industrious. The Jesuits are tightly organized under a military type of discipline, and their number is relatively fewer than those of the other orders. Their influence, however, has been out of proportion to their numbers. For centuries they have been the real power behind the papacy, often determining the election of popes, but apparently not trusted by their fellow priests and not being able to elect any of their own number. They have been the object of much criticism because of their advocacy of questionable moral principles, the word “Jesuitical” having entered the dictionary as a synonym for that which is crafty, deceptive, cunning. On various occasions the Jesuits have been banned from practically all of the European and South American countries, from Catholic as well as from Protestant countries. On one occasion the order was condemned and dissolved by a pope, but was restored by a later pope. Often there is bitter rivalry between them and the other orders, which they tend to look upon as inferior, or at least as less efficient.
A custom of the Roman priesthood offensive to Protestants is that of having people address them as “father,” and particularly that of calling the pope the “Holy Father” (capitalized)—which we term simply blasphemy. In this connection Christ Himself commanded in the clearest language that the term “father” in a spiritual sense should not be used when addressing our fellow men. “Call no man your father on the earth,” said He, “for one is your Father, even he who is in heaven” (Matthew 23:9). Yet the priests continually and openly violate that command.
7 Leaving the Priesthood
The priesthood is the real crux of the Roman system. Most of those men, even during their seminary course, as we have indicated, have but very little Bible study; and much of what they do have relates to disconnected portions of Scripture and is given primarily with the purpose of preparing them to answer the arguments that Protestants make against the Roman system. Such has been the testimony of various ones who have left the priesthood. There is in this regard a great contrast between the Protestant and Roman Catholic training for the ministry or the priesthood. Rome simply does not like Bible study either for her priests or for her people, for they find too many things there that are not in accord with their church.
We believe that if these men could be persuaded to make an unprejudiced study of the Bible, many would be convinced of the error of their system and would turn from it. An encouraging feature in this regard is that a considerable number, after years of useless priestly ministry, have on their own accord made a serious study of the Bible and have found that it not only does not teach the distinctive doctrines of their church but that it contradicts those doctrines. When an honest priest studies Protestantism without prejudice, in the light of the Word of God and not of Roman tradition, he cannot but recognize that it is Christianity in its purity and in its originality. Much to his surprise and contrary to all that he has been taught, he finds that Protestantism is very simple, very clear, and profoundly attractive. He finds that its doctrines are based solidly on the Bible, which is the true manual and code of Christianity. Says Lucien Vinet, a former Canadian priest:
“In the Church of Rome faith is based on the authority of a man, the Pope, and the traditions of men, namely the opinions of former theologians such as the Fathers of the Church.
“In Roman Catholicism, Christianity is the doctrines and practices of men; in Protestantism, Christianity is the doctrines of Christ as revealed to us, not by fallible men, but by the infallible Bible” (I Was a Priest, p. 126).
Many a priest, struggling against moral degradation and frustration of mind (and one who spends much time in the confessional has an abundance of both), has had an intense battle within himself as to whether or not he should remain in the Church of Rome. He possesses a Bible, but in accordance with the rules of his church he usually does not dare to read it apart from the assigned notes and commentaries, and so remains ignorant of its saving message. How difficult it is for him to realize that all that anyone has to do to receive forgiveness from sins and to experience the joy of salvation is to confess his sins to Christ and to put his trust in Him alone! When he does read the Bible he finds that most of the doctrines that he has held and taught either were perversions of the Scripture or that they were the inventions of men. Would that thousands of those men could be persuaded to turn from that false and subversive system to the clear teachings of Scripture! The key to the whole problem is the priest. And the task before us is to persuade him to read the Bible with an open mind.
It may seem surprising that it takes so long for a priest to discover the truth. But the fact is that a candidate for the priesthood enters the twelve-year course of training from parochial school as just a boy—the preferable age is 16—that during his training he is quite effectively cut off from the surrounding world, and that he is an adult before he completes his training. He has not known any other kind of life. During that long and intensive course practically all of those who show signs of independent thinking, those whose dispositions indicate that they might not be obedient to their superior, and those in whose make‑up there are any traits which might indicate lack of perseverance or failure for any reason, are weeded out. Not all who finish the course are chosen by the bishop for ordination. But those who are chosen are pretty much of a type that can be reasonably depended upon to continue loyal and submissive to the church. Those who become priests are not so much those who have volunteered for that service but rather those who have been chosen by the hierarchy and carefully screened and trained for that occupation. They are what we may term “hard core Romanists.”
Becoming a Roman Catholic priest is a far different thing from becoming a Protestant minister. Everything possible has been done to impress upon the Roman priest the idea that if he breaks with the Roman Catholic Church he will not be trusted by anyone, either within or outside of the Roman Church, and that he cannot make his way in the commercial world for which he now is so entirely unfitted. His intensive training in Latin, doctrine, liturgies, and church history, is of comparatively little value in the outside world, and in fact has been in part designed to unfit him for anything except the priesthood. He has been disciplined for that particular work, and his soul is in a real sense held captive within the walls of Roman Catholic dogma and within the bonds of the priesthood. It is an exceedingly difficult thing for one who has been so trained, and who has committed himself to that system, to break those bonds and to come out into a new kind of life—even into the freedom of the Gospel, for he does not know what that means. This is particularly true if he does not reach that decision until middle age or later. Furthermore, the Roman Catholic people are forbidden to have anything to do with one who has left the priesthood. Getting into, or getting out of, the priesthood is no easy task.
Certainly there are many priests who do not believe what they are teaching, at least not all that they are teaching. Many are ill at ease, and a considerable number are struggling against a real sense of frustration. But they usually remain in the priesthood because they fed more or less helpless and do not have the courage to break away.
Emmett McLoughlin, in an address in Constitution Hall, in Washington, D.C., in 1954, said:
“It is not unusual for people to change their religious affiliation, but it is considered very unusual for Roman Catholic priests to leave the priesthood. Yet one third of the class of which I was ordained have deserted the hierarchy. I know ten priests who have quit St. Mary’s Church in Phoenix where I lived for fourteen years. The number of priests quitting the priesthood is kept as secret as possible. … According to the best estimate I have been able to find, at least 30 percent of all Roman Catholic priests leave Rome.”
In his People’s Padre he says:
“The hold of the Roman Catholic hierarchy over most of the clergy, as I have observed it, is not the bond of love, or of loyalty, or of religion. It is the almost unbreakable chain of fear—fear of hell, fear of family, fear of the public, fear of destitution and insecurity. I firmly believe that, in place of the 30 percent of the clergy who probably leave the priesthood today, fully 75 percent would do so if it were not for fear. …
“Most priests, torn between the intellectual realization that they have been misled by the hierarchy and the fear of family reaction, hesitate and live on through barren years in the priesthood. … Every priest is taught through the years that anyone who leaves the priesthood will be not only cursed by God but rejected by the public. The priest believes that people will sneer at him as one who has violated his solemn promises and therefore cannot be trusted with responsibility. In Catholic circles mention is never made of ex‑priests who are successful—only of those who have strayed, who have starved, and who have groveled back to the hierarchy, sick, drunken, broken in spirit, begging to do penance for the sake of clothes on their backs and food in their bellies” (pp. 98-100). “Hundreds of priests quit the church every year. Hundreds more would if they had the means of earning a living” (p. 203).
“My experience has proved that an ex‑priest can overcome his own fears and survive the most concentrated attacks of Roman Catholicism. That experience proves also that the American non‑Catholic public still believes strongly in freedom of thought, freedom of religion, and freedom of the right to change one’s means of livelihood—and that it will support a man who exercises that right. There is no need for any disillusioned priest or nun to seek the protective anonymity of Los Angeles, New York, or Detroit. He needs only the courage of his convictions, a willingness to work, a deep confidence in America, and a solid faith in God” (p. 261).
Lucien Vinet gives the following analysis as to why priests remain in the priesthood:
“There is no doubt that the great majority of the Roman priests in the ministry of their church have come to realize, just as many ex-priests have done, the hypocrisy, intrigue, and falsehood of Romanism. There are various reasons why so many intellectual men still cling to a false religious system and even spend much time and energy in defending this un-Christian religious organization.
Priests who remain in the priesthood can be classed in four categories:
1. “There are some priests who really are convinced that Christ founded the Roman Church and that ‘Out of the Church of Rome there is no salvation.’ They explain the contradiction between the doctrines of Christ and those of Rome as apparent only and believe that the traditions of the Roman Church have equal doctrinal value as the words of the Holy Spirit in the Bible. They excuse the many scandals of Romanism as a necessary human factor in the organization of the Church of God on earth. They believe in the infallible teaching authority of the pope and therefore placate their conscience in relying on the Pontiff of Rome for their spiritual and doctrinal convictions. We met very few priests during the nine years of our life in the priesthood, who could be sincerely classed in this category. Most priests know just as well as we do that Christ is the only Teacher of Christianity and that Romanism is anti‑Christian in its doctrines and practices.
2. “There are priests who are fully convinced of the falsehood and hypocrisy of the Roman priesthood, but find it impossible to leave the priesthood. … Many of them hope that some day an opportunity will be given them to quit Romanism. They realize that their training in the Seminaries provides no preparation whatever for a proper position in life that will enable them to earn a decent living. Their knowledge of Latin, Greek, History of the Church, and Roman Theology is to them of very little use to obtain a decent position in our modern world. By the time they fully realize that their priesthood is a usurpation of the only priesthood of Christ and that of the priesthood of believers, they are usually too old to start a new training for a proper career in life. Their health not be as good as it used to be and they fear that if they leave the comfortable existence they now enjoy, they might land in the poor house.
“The greatest incentive that keeps priests in the priesthood is fear. They fear the curse and persecution of Rome, the rebukes of some of their Roman Catholic friends, and the loss of esteem and association of their families. Some of them, of course, fear hard work.
3. “There are now the priests who stay in the priesthood because they like the comfort and pleasure that the Roman ministry affords them. It is the very life of a priest that they like. They command the respect and obedience of many credulous Roman Catholics and they enjoy to the utmost dictating to them. … Their life is assured and they have no troubles. Even if they cannot accept all the doctrines of the Church, they do not have to admit it publicly. They can travel extensively in distant lands where their identity is not known and where they can enjoy life as any other human being would do. …
4. “Finally there is a group of priests who remain in the priesthood, not on account of their Roman religious convictions and not because they find material comfort in the Roman ministry, but because they experience indescribable mental and sexual pleasure in the very exercise of their Roman ministry. These priests appear to the world as deeply religious and ascetic. They seldom indulge in material comforts and no one can accuse them of any actual sins of any visible form whatsoever, but they are spiritual perverts. The greatest satisfaction or pleasure of their lives is not ‘wine, women, and song,’ but the torturing of human souls in confession and in spiritual direction. They love to explore secrets of souls and hearts. They experience sordid pleasure in embarrassing female penitents by impertinent questions and prescriptions. Only the Roman system of confession can provide them with the means of indulging in these criminal and sordid pleasures” (I Was a Priest, pp. 75-80).
Mr. Vinet also recalls the suggestion of an old priest that if the priests in Canada were given ten thousand dollars each there would not be enough priests left to man the churches. We don’t suppose anyone is going to offer that kind of an inducement for them to leave the priesthood, either in Canada or in the United States. But undoubtedly the fear of not being able to make a livelihood has kept many in their positions.
8 Renouncing Priestly Vows
We do not hesitate to say that a priest who becomes disillusioned and finds that the Church of Rome has deceived him with false pretensions should repudiate his vows, declare his independence, and make a new start. In such a case the church has misrepresented herself to him, the ideal that she held before him has proved deceptive and fruitless, and he therefore is not bound to continue in such a relationship. He has not failed the priesthood; the priesthood has failed him, and has been revealed as something other than that which it was represented as being at the time of his ordination. He was led to believe that the Roman Church was the only true church, God’s chosen and exclusive instrument for the salvation of souls. She has failed to substantiate her claim to be the only true church, and has been found rather to be a mixture of truth and error, with error in many cases overshadowing the truth.
Insofar as the Roman Church has extracted vows that are unscriptural and unreasonable, it is right that those vows should be repudiated. This principle applies not only to priests and nuns, but also to parents who, in signing a marriage contract that was forced upon them, have pledged away the religious freedom of their children even before they were born. No man has the right to swear away his own religious or civil liberty or that of others and so to place himself or those who are given into his care in a state of subjection to a fellow mortal. Human slavery, whether physical or spiritual, is wrong and cannot be tolerated. Enforced spiritual servitude of one’s self or of one’s children to another person or institution can be as degrading and galling as physical servitude. “Ye were bought with a price; become not bondservants of men,” says the Scripture (1 Corinthians 7:23). “Ye were redeemed… with precious blood… even the blood of Christ” (1 Peter 1:18-19). “No man can serve two masters” (Matthew 6:24). Christ is our true Master; He has set us free, and no other person or organization has the right to usurp that freedom.
It is universally acknowledged that when one party to a contract breaks that contract and makes impossible its normal functioning, the other party is not under obligation to continue fulfilling its terms. Yet that is the condition in which many a priest and nun has found himself or herself. Even in human contracts only those obligations continue to be binding which the person to whom the promise was made wishes us to observe them; and certainly in this field of promises to God it is only reasonable to suppose that we are not bound to do what God does not want us to do, merely because we were led through false pretenses or false motives to promise that we would do it. In this instance the priest has made an unscriptural vow of complete obedience to another man, the bishop, and has pledged himself to a service that in reality does not exist. We have already seen that with the coming of Christ and the completion of His work on Calvary the human priesthood was abolished forever. Hence the Roman priesthood is in reality nothing but a sham and a delusion.
On these grounds all priestly vows are to be considered null and void. This was the position taken by the Reformers, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and others, as they renounced the authority of Rome, and the Gospel became the proclamation of liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who were bound.
Those who leave Romanism for this reason are not traitors to the church of Christ, as the Roman Church attempts to make them believe. On the contrary they are enlightened and intelligent men, courageously following the path of duty. “The real traitor,” says Lucien Vinet, “is the Roman priest who knows the wickedness of Romanism and yet clings to it for material gain” (I Was a Priest, p. 10).
“It must come as a shock to non‑Catholics,” says McLoughlin, “to realize the possessiveness of even the lay Catholics toward their clergy. It is accepted practice among Protestant, Mormon, and Jewish groups to recognize a clergyman’s right to change his vocation. Rabbis become merchants, Mormon bishops enter politics, and ministers in unknown numbers exchange the pulpit for farming, law, mining, teaching, trade, or just plain loafing. But not so a former Roman Catholic priest” (People’s Padre, p. 176).
McLoughlin expresses as follows his justification for leaving the priesthood:
“Many letters from Roman Catholics had lamented that I had broken my solemn vows, my word to God. But I felt no guilt. I had entered sincerely into a contract, a bilateral contract, when I solemnly vowed poverty, chastity, and obedience. I was one party to the agreement. The Provincial Superior claimed to represent God. My indoctrination trained me to believe that he did. I know now that he did not. The contract was null and void” (p. 183).
“I was an unsuspecting pawn or tool in the greatest swindle of all history. … I have not defied God—I have rejected an organization that has usurped the prerogative of God and claims an exclusive right of speaking in His name. My only regret is that it took me so many years to come to my senses” (pp. 203, 204).
CHAPTER IV Tradition
1. What Tradition Is
2. How Tradition Nullifies the Word of God
3. The Apocrypha
4. The Nature of the Apocryphal Books
5. The Vulgate and Modern Translations
6. The Question of Authority
7. Tradition Condemned by the Scriptures
8. The Protestant Attitude toward the Bible
9. The Roman Catholic Attitude toward the Bible
10. Interpreting the Bible
1 What Tradition Is
Protestantism and Roman Catholicism agree that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. But they differ widely in regard to the place that it is to have in the life of the church. Protestantism holds that the Bible alone is the authoritative and sufficient rule of faith and practice. But Romanism holds that the Bible must be supplemented by a great body of tradition consisting of 14 or 15 apocryphal books or portions of books equivalent to about two thirds the volume of the New Testament, the voluminous writings of the Greek and Latin church fathers, and a huge collection of church council pronouncements and papal decrees as of equal value and authority—a veritable library in itself.
It is very evident that this difference of opinion concerning the authoritative basis of the church is bound to have radical and far-reaching effects. The age-long controversy between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism comes to a head regarding the question of authority. Right here, we believe, is the basic difference between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism. And, we may add, we believe that in its use of tradition is to be found the Achilles’ heel of Roman Catholicism. For it is in this that Romanism finds the authority for its distinctive doctrines.
Every religious movement that develops some unity, and continues to live, has its traditions. These traditions gather up the beliefs, thinking, practices, and rules of the group, particularly as these are expressed in its doctrinal standards and forms of government. In this manner the movement gives stability to and regulates its own manner of life, and hands that stability and manner of life on to the next generation.
We do not reject all tradition, but rather make judicious use of it insofar as it accords with Scripture and is founded on truth. We should, for instance, treat with respect and study with care the confessions and council pronouncements of the various churches, particularly those of the ancient church and of Reformation days. We should also give careful attention to the confessions and council decisions of the present day churches, scrutinizing most carefully of course those of the denomination to which we belong. But we do not give any church the right to formulate new doctrine or to make decisions contrary to the teaching of Scripture. The history of the church at large shows all too clearly that church leaders and church councils can and do make mistakes, some of them serious. Consequently their decisions should have no authority except as they are based on Scripture.
Protestants differ from Roman Catholics in that they keep these standards strictly subordinate to Scripture, and in that they are ever ready to re‑examine them for that purpose. In other words they insist that, in the life of the church, Scripture is primary, and the denominational standards are subordinate or secondary. They thus use their traditions with one controlling caution—they continually ask if this or that aspect of their belief and practice is true to the Bible. They subject every statement of tradition to that test, and they are willing to change any element that fails to meet that test.
In contrast with this, Roman Catholics hold that there are two sources of authority—Scripture, and developing tradition, with the church being the judge of Scripture and therefore able to say authoritatively what the right interpretation of Scripture is. This, in effect, gives three authorities—the Bible, tradition, and the church. The primacy is in the hands of the church since it controls both tradition and the interpretation of Scripture. This, therefore, is the basis on which the Roman system rests. If this can be shown to be erroneous, it will be seen that the whole system rests on a false basis.
As Roman Catholicism works out in actual practice, the traditions of the church at any time are what the church says they are, Scripture means what the church says it means, and the people are permitted to read the Bible only in an approved version and within the limits of a predetermined interpretation. But when the Christian message is thus shackled by tradition and ecclesiastically dictated interpretation, it ceases to be the free grace of God offered to repentant sinners, and becomes an instrument in the hands of the clergy for the control of the people. In professing to interpret the Bible in the light of tradition, the Roman Church in reality places tradition above the Bible, so that the Roman Catholic is governed, not by the Bible, nor by the Bible and tradition, but by the church itself, which sets up the tradition and says what it means. Theoretically, the Roman Church accepts the Bible, but in practice she does not leave her members free to follow it. The errors that are found in her traditions obscure and nullify much of the truth that she professes to hold. To cite but one example of what this means in actual practice, while the Roman Catholic Church, in professing allegiance to the Bible, must agree with the Protestant churches that there is “one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2.5), she introduces a host of other mediators—the Virgin Mary, the priests, and hundreds of saints and angels—which effectively sets aside the truth contained in the Scripture statement.
2 How Tradition Nullifies the Word of God
We give credit to Rome for this: she professes to hold that the Bible is the Word of God. She repudiates and denounces modernism, which in reality is a more or less consistent denial of the supernatural throughout the Christian system and which unfortunately has come to have a strong influence in some Protestant churches. Modernists seek to reduce some of the historical accounts of the Bible, as for example those of the creation of man and of the fall, to mere myths or legends. Also, modernists usually say that the Bible contains the Word of God, but deny that it is in all its parts actually the Word of God.
But having said that, we must point out how Rome also nullifies or destroys the Word. She maintains that alongside of the written Word there is also an unwritten Word, an oral tradition, which was taught by Christ and the apostles but which is not in the Bible, which rather was handed down generation after generation by word of mouth. This unwritten Word of God, it is said, comes to expression in the pronouncements of the church councils and in papal decrees. It takes precedence over the written Word and interprets it. The pope, as God’s personal representative on the earth, can legislate for things additional to the Bible as new situations arise.
The Council of Trent, the most authoritative of all Roman councils and the one of greatest historical importance, in the year 1546, declared that the Word of God is contained both in the Bible and in tradition, that the two are of equal authority, and that it is the duty of every Christian to accord them equal veneration and respect. Thus, while modernism takes away from the Word of God, Romanism adds to it. Both are in error, and each would seem to be about equally bad. It would be hard to say which has done more to undermine true religion.
The untrustworthiness of oral tradition, however, is apparent for several reasons. In the first place, the early Christians, who were closest to Christ and the apostles, and whose testimony therefore would have been most valuable, wrote but very little because of the persecutions to which they were exposed. And what is found in the writings of the second and third centuries has but little reference to the doctrines which at present are in dispute between Protestants and Roman Catholics. Tradition, therefore, for hundreds of years allegedly was transmitted by merereport. And it is this which Rome receives as of equal authority with the written Word. But so unreliable is report that it has become a proverb that “a story never loses in its carriage.” In other words, a story seldom retains its original character without addition and exaggeration. Fortunately, we have a remarkable instance in the New Testament itself in which report or tradition circulated a falsehood, showing how easily oral tradition can become corrupted, how in a particular instance it did become corrupted even in the apostolic age. In John 21:21‑23 we read: “Peter therefore seeing him (John) saith to Jesus, Lord, and what shall this man do? Jesus saith unto him, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee? follow thou me. This saying therefore went forth among the brethren, that that disciple should not die: yet Jesus said not unto him, that he should not die; but, If I will that he tarry till I come, what is that to thee?” Surely we cannot build a church on such an insecure foundation as oral tradition!
Furthermore, that the body of tradition is not of divine origin nor apostolic is proved by the fact that some traditions contradict others. The church fathers repeatedly contradict one another. When a Roman Catholic priest is ordained, he solemnly vows to interpret the Scriptures only according to “the unanimous consent of the fathers.” But such “unanimous consent” is purely a myth. The fact is they scarcely agree on any doctrine. They contradict each other, and even contradict themselves as they change their minds and affirm what they previously had denied. Augustine, the greatest of the fathers, in his later life wrote a special book in which he set forth his Retractions. Some of the fathers of the second century held that Christ would return shortly and that He would reign personally in Jerusalem for a thousand years. But two of the best known scholars of the early church, Origen (185‑254), and Augustine (354‑430), wrote against that view. The early fathers condemned the use of images in worship, while later ones approved such use. The early fathers almost unanimously advocated the reading and free use of the Scriptures, while the later ones restricted such reading and use. Gregory the Great, bishop of Rome and the greatest of the early bishops, denounced the assumption of the title of Universal Bishop as anti‑Christian. But later popes even to the present day have been very insistent on using that and similar titles which assert universal authority. Where, then, is the universal tradition and unanimous consent of the fathers to papal doctrine?
The men who wrote the books of the Bible were inspired by the Holy Spirit and so were preserved from error. But the traditions of the church fathers, the church councils, and the popes are of a lower order and contain many errors and contradictions.
Bellarmine (1542-1621), a Jesuit and a noted Roman Catholic writer, divides tradition into three classes—divine, apostolic, and ecclesiastical. Divine traditions are those which it is alleged Christ Himself taught or ordained, which were not written but were handed down generation after generation by word of mouth. Apostolic traditions are those which were taught by the apostles but not written. And ecclesiastical traditions are those council pronouncements and papal decrees which have accumulated through the centuries. We insist, however, that it would have been utterly impossible for those traditions to have been handed down with accuracy generation after generation by word of mouth and in an atmosphere dark with superstition and immorality such as characterized the entire church, laity and priesthood alike, through long periods of its history. And we assert that there is no proof whatever that they were so transmitted. Clearly the bulk of those traditions originated with the monks during the Middle Ages.
When the leaders of the Reformation appealed to Scripture and thundered against the errors of the Roman Church, that church had to defend herself. And since she could not do so from the Bible alone, she resorted to these other writings. The result is that the most prominent doctrines and practices of the Roman Church, such as purgatory, the priesthood, the mass, transubstantiation, prayers for the dead, indulgences, penance, worship of the Virgin Mary, the use of images in worship, holy water, rosary beads, celibacy of priests and nuns, the papacy itself, and numerous others, are founded solely on tradition.
It is on such a basis as this that the Roman Church seeks to establish herself as “the only true church.” But when the Roman Catholic layman searches his Bible for confirmation of the distinctive doctrines of his church, he finds either absolute silence or a distinct negative. The Bible, for instance, has nothing to say about the pope or the papacy as an institution, and it is emphatic and uncompromising in its commands against the use of images or idols in worship. It is natural that the Roman Church does not want to give up tradition. It cannot. If it were to give up tradition the whole system would fall to the ground, so much of its doctrine and practice has no other foundation.
Technically, the Roman Church does not claim that the pope receives new revelations or that he is inspired by the Holy Spirit as were the prophets and apostles when they wrote Scripture. In fact it denies that it formulates any new doctrines at all. Rather it insists that in ex cathedra pronouncements the Holy Spirit enables the pope to draw out and proclaim what belonged to the original revelation. But it does claim a divine presence of the Holy Spirit in the giving of ex cathedra pronouncements and in the formulation of traditions—which we would say is precisely the same in principle as claiming inspiration. At any rate, by this device it professes to maintain the unchangeability of the church while in reality it adds new doctrines.
It is obvious how inaccessible the Roman rule of faith is. No priest has the rule of his faith, which he vows to accept at ordination, unless he has all these numerous and ponderous volumes. No one could possibly master such a mass of materials, even if they contained no contradictions. And such a rule of faith is utterly beyond the reach of the laity.
3 The Apocrypha
The 14 or 15 books that the Roman Catholic Church adds to the Bible and pronounces equally inspired and authoritative are known as the Apocrypha. These are printed as a part of the Bible and must be accepted by all Roman Catholics as genuine under penalty of mortal sin.
The word Apocrypha is from the Greek apokrupha, meaning hidden things, and is used by ecclesiastical writers for matters which are (1) secret or mysterious; or (2) unknown in origin, forged, or spurious; or (3) unrecognized or uncanonical. It is primarily in the sense of spurious or uncanonical that we use the term. The books had this name before they were officially approved by the Council of Trent, and so it is not a name given them by Protestants. They are listed as follows:
1. The First Book of Esdras
2. The Second Book of Esdras
5. The additions to the book of Esther
6. The Wisdom of Solomon
7. Ecclesiasticus, or the Wisdom of Jesus the Son of Sirach
9. The Letter of Jeremiah
10. The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men
12. Bell and the Dragon
13. The Prayer of Manasseh
14. The First Book of Maccabees
15. The Second Book of Maccabees
Of these only the First and Second Books of Esdras (the latter of which contains an emphatic denial of the value of prayers for the dead, 7:105), and The Prayer of Azariah, were not officially accepted at the Council of Trent. The books accepted add a volume of literature abut two thirds the size of the New Testament, or if the entire 15 be included, about 84 percent of the size of the New Testament. By way of comparison, a word count of the Old Testament in the King James Version shows a total of 592,439 words, the New Testament 181,253 words, and the Apocrypha 152,185 words. And since the Apocryphal books are pre-Christian, having been written between the close of the Old Testament and the coming of Christ, the effect of such an addition is to give greater prominence to the Old Testament and therefore to Jewish life and thought, and to decrease relatively the importance of the New Testament.
The Hebrew Old Testament was completed some four hundred years before the time of Christ. In the second century b.c., a Greek translation by Hebrew scholars was made in Alexandria, Egypt, and was called the Septuagint because the translators numbered 70. There developed an important difference, however, between the Greek translation and the Hebrew canon since the Septuagint contained a dozen or more Apocryphal books interspersed among the books of the Hebrew Bible. But not all copies contained the same books—suggesting that there was no general agreement among the translators as to which of these additional books were authoritative.
The Septuagint translation came into general use in Palestine, and that was the popular version at the time of Christ. But the Palestinian Jews never accepted the Apocryphal additions. And Protestants accept only the 39 books of the Old Testament that were in the Hebrew Bible at the time of Christ.
There is no record that Christ or any of the apostles ever quoted from the Apocryphal books or that they made any reference to them, although they undoubtedly knew of them. There are in the New Testament about 290 direct quotations from and about 370 allusions to passages in the Old Testament; yet among all of those there is not a single reference either by Christ or any of the apostles to the Apocryphal writings. They quote from every major book of the Old Testament and from all but four of the smaller ones. They thus set their stamp of approval upon the Jewish Old Testament. Christ quoted it as authoritative, and said, “The Scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:35). But the reason that neither He nor the apostles ever once referred to the Apocryphal books is obvious. They did not regard those books as Scripture, and they did not intend that legendary books should become a part of the Bible. Romanists sometimes charge Protestants with having “cut those books out of the Bible.” But the record makes it clear that if anyone cut them out, it was Christ Himself.
This is all the more significant when we remember that the language commonly spoken in Palestine in the days of Christ was not Hebrew, but Aramaic, that Greek was one of the spoken languages of Palestine at that time, that bilingual Christians who spoke both Aramaic and Greek probably were in the church from the first, and that Christ Himself probably could speak Greek as well as Aramaic. Furthermore, the New Testament books were written in Greek, and in those books we find that while some of the quotations were from the Old Testament reflecting the direct use of the Hebrew, the prevailing practice was to quote from the Greek of the Septuagint. Hence the writers undoubtedly were familiar with the Apocryphal books and undoubtedly would have made some quotations from them if they had been regarded as Scripture.
So, we find that at the time of Christ there were two versions of the Old Testament current in Palestine, the more liberal Alexandrian Septuagint, including the Apocryphal books, in Greek, and the more conservative Hebrew version which included only the canonical books of the Jews, and that the Roman Catholic Bible follows the Alexandrian while the Protestant Bible follows the Hebrew version.
The loose talk of some Roman Catholic writers about the “Greek Bible,” the form of the Septuagint that originated in Alexandria, Egypt, being the Bible of the early church, is no credit to scholarship for it ignores the most important point of all, namely, that so far as the evidence goes, Jesus and the New Testament writers did not consider the Apocryphal books canonical but instead accepted the Palestinian version of the Old Testament.
Furthermore, Josephus, the noted Jewish historian, about a.d. 90, gave a list of the books of the Jewish law and prophets, but he did not include the Apocryphal books. Other Jewish sources support Josephus. The Apocrypha was rejected by Origen, who is generally acknowledged to have been the most learned man in the church before Augustine, by Tertullian, an outstanding scholar in the early third century, by Athanasius, the champion of orthodoxy at the Council of Nicaea and by Jerome, the translator of the Latin Vulgate which became the authorized Roman Catholic Bible.
Jerome declared emphatically that the Apocrypha was no part of the Old Testament Scriptures. However, against his wishes and his better judgment, he allowed himself to be persuaded by two of his bishop friends who admired the books of Tobit and Judith to make a hurried translation of those. He is said to have translated the former at one sitting, and neither of them received the careful attention that had been given to the books which he considered canonical. But it is unfortunate that he did make the translations, for they were later bound up with his Vulgate, and served to encourage the addition of other Apocryphal books. Augustine alone of the prominent scholars in the early church was willing to give the Apocrypha a place in the Bible, but it is not certain that he considered it authoritative in all cases. Yet in spite of all of these things, the 53 bishops of the Council of Trent, in the year 1546, pronounced the Apocryphal books canonical and deserving “equal veneration” with the books of the Bible.
Even within the Roman Church, opinion regarding the canonicity of the Apocrypha has been divided. We have pointed out that Jerome categorically denied that it formed any part of the inspired Scriptures. Cardinal Cajetan, Luther’s opponent at Augsburg in 1518, in his Commentary on all the Authentic Historical Books of the Old Testament, which he dedicated in 1532 to pope Clement VII, approved the Hebrew canon as over against the Alexandrian. And within the Council of Trent itself several of its members were opposed to the inclusion of these books in the Bible. Thus, even within the papacy, the Apocrypha was not considered canonical until the Council of Trent added it to the Old Testament and pronounced it so—nearly 2,000 years after the Old Testament was completed and closed.
Dr. Harris writing on this subject says:
“Pope Gregory the Great declared that First Maccabees, an Apocryphal book, is not canonical. Cardinal Zomenes, in his Polyglot Bible just before the Council of Trent, excluded the Apocrypha and his work was approved by pope Leo X. Could these popes have been mistaken or not? If they were correct, the decision of the Council of Trent was wrong. If they were wrong where is a pope’s infallibility as a teacher of doctrine?” (Fundamental Protestant Doctrines, I, p. 4).
The real reason for the addition of the Apocryphal books to the Bible by the Roman Church, as we have said, is to be found in connection with events at the time of the Reformation. The Reformers vigorously attacked doctrines which they regarded as unscriptural. The doctrine of purgatory in particular was in need of defense, and the Roman scholars thought they found support in 2 Maccabees 12:40‑45, which tells of the work of Judas Maccabeus, who after a battle sent money to Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice for soldiers who had died while guilty of the sin of idolatry. But, as we shall show when we discuss the doctrine of purgatory, this passage really does not support the Roman Catholic position at all. For idolatry is a mortal sin, and according to Roman Catholic doctrine, those dying in mortal sin go directly to hell. Only those who are guilty of venial sin go to purgatory and so only they can be helped by masses and prayers. This again illustrates the desperate nature of the search for support of the distinctive Roman Catholic doctrines.
4 The Nature of the Apocryphal Books
What, then, is the nature of these books that have caused so much dispute? In the first place they are useful in giving a history of Judaism as it existed between the close of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament, and in that regard they are on a par with the writings of Josephus and Philo and other authors of the time. They do not give a continuous history, but particularly in 1 and 2 Maccabees they narrate important phases of Jewish history. Most of the books, however, must be classed as religious novels, pious fiction, abounding in repetitions and trivial details which are of little interest to the average reader. They contain doctrines that are unscriptural, and stories that are fantastic and incredible. The colorful tale of Tobit, for instance, is clearly fictitious, written by a pious Jew about 190‑170 b.c., and intended to provide religious and moral instruction in the form of an adventure story. Judith, another popular story, is also clearly fictitious. Ecclesiasticus has historical value in that it pictures many aspects of the Judaism of Palestine during the second century b.c.
But none of the writers claim inspiration for their works, and some explicitly disclaim it (Prologue to Ecclesiasticus; 1 Maccabees 4:46, 9:27; 2 Maccabees 2:23, 15:38). They add nothing essential either to the record of God’s dealings with His people Israel as recorded in the Old Testament, or to the Christian Gospel as recorded in the New Testament.
Some examples of the numerous errors in these books are: Judith, chapter 1, vv. 1‑7, calls Nebuchadnezzar king of the Assyrians and declares that he reigned in Nineveh. But we know that he was king of Babylon (Daniel 4:4-6,30). In Tobit an angel is represented as telling a lie, claiming that he is Azarius, the son of Ananias. But an angel is a created spirit and cannot be the son of any human being. The book of Baruch purports to have been written by a man of that name who was secretary to Jeremiah (1:1). But he quotes from Daniel, and the book of Daniel was not written until long after the time of Jeremiah, for Jeremiah wrote at the beginning of the 70-year captivity and Daniel at its close.
In answer to the question as to why these books were never accepted by the Jews as canonical, Dr. Edward J. Young, Professor of Old Testament in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, says:
“The answer must be that these books were never regarded as divinely inspired. … Both Judith and Tobit contain historical, chronological and geographical errors. The books justify falsehood and deception and make salvation to depend upon works of merit. Almsgiving, for example, is said to deliver from death (Tobit 12:9, 4:10, 14:10‑11).
“Judith lives a life of falsehood and deception in which she is represented as assisted by God (9:10,13). Ecclesiasticus and the Wisdom of Solomon inculcate a morality based on expediency. Wisdom teaches the creation of the world out of pre‑existent matter (7:17). Ecclesiasticus teaches that giving of alms makes atonement for sin (3:3), and in 1 Maccabees there are historical and geographical errors. This is not to deny many fine and commendable things in the Apocrypha, but the books nevertheless show themselves at points to be at variance with divinely revealed truth. They were consequently never adopted by the Jews as canonical” (Revelation and the Bible, p. 167).
Dr. Allan MacRae, Professor of Old Testament in Faith Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, says:
“The so-called Apocryphal books of the Old Testament are books written by godly Jews and containing only their fallible human ideas. They are in no sense the Word of God, nor can they ever become the Word of God. The Jews did not consider these books as part of the Word of God. Jesus Christ did not set His seal upon them as He did upon the actual books of the Old Testament. They are never quoted in the New Testament. There is no evidence that any of the apostles ever considered any of the books as, in any sense, a part of the Word of God.
“It is true that many people in the Middle Ages became confused and thought that some of these books were part of the Word of God. This is because they were included in copies of the Vulgate. However, the man who translated the Vulgate into Latin from the original Hebrew never intended that they should be so included. St. Jerome, the learned translator of the Vulgate, wrote an introduction in which he strongly and clearly expressed his belief that only the books that are today included in our Old Testament belonged in the Bible, and that the so-called Apocrypha are in no sense a portion of God’s Word.”
The Westminster Confession of Faith, which presents the views of the Presbyterian and Reformed churches, in a statement not designed to forbid reading of the books of the Apocrypha, but to differentiate between their proper and improper use, says:
“The books commonly called Apocryphal, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the Canon of Scripture; and therefore are of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be otherwise approved, or made use of, than other human writings” (Ch. 1, sec. 3).
The Lutheran Church in Germany made no official pronouncement regarding the Apocrypha, but in the Bible prepared by Martin Luther, which for centuries remained the standard Bible of the Lutheran churches at home and abroad, it was included but was printed at the end of the Old Testament and in smaller print, which was generally understood to mean that it was considered as of secondary importance as compared with the Old and New Testament.
The Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States do not accept the Apocrypha as fully canonical, but they do include some readings from those books in their church manual—which indicates that they assign those readings a position higher than they give to the good writings of outstanding church leaders and near equal authority with the Old and New Testament. The sixth of the Thirty‑nine Articles calls the Apocryphal treatises books which “the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine.”
The position of the Eastern Orthodox Church is not clear. It has debated the issue through its long history, but has made no final decision. In practice it has tended to accept the Apocrypha as authoritative, but it has not subjected itself to the rigid ecclesiastical control of doctrine as has the Roman Church, and the result is that some church fathers and theologians quote it authoritatively while others reject it. The Septuagint version of the Old Testament is still in use in the Eastern Orthodox Church.
The British and Foreign Bible Society, in 1827, ruled against including the Apocrypha in its Bibles, and the American Bible Society has followed that example. Nearly all Protestant churches today oppose the use of the Apocrypha.
There were also a considerable number of New Testament Apocryphal books which at times circulated among the Jews or the Christians or both. These were written during the period from the second to the eighth century, and were designed primarily to supplement, or in some instances to correct, the canonical books. Dr. Bruce M. Metzger, Professor of New Testament in Princeton Theological Seminary, says concerning these books:
“Because the four Gospels say little of Jesus’ infancy, childhood, and early manhood, and are silent altogether regarding His experiences during the three days in the tomb, several Apocryphal gospels were produced to satisfy the pious curiosity of Christians regarding these two periods of Jesus’ life. … Still other gospels were written to support heretical doctrines, such as Docetism (the view that Jesus only seemed to be human) in the Gospel of the Egyptians, or to minimize the guilt of Pilate, such as the Gospel according to Peter and the Gospel of Nicodemus. …
“The most cogent proof that these books are intrinsically on a different plane from the books of the New Testament is afforded by reading them side by side with the books of the New Testament and allowing each to make its own impression. Then, in the words of M. R. James, ‘it will very quickly be seen that there is no question of anyone’s having excluded them from the New Testament: they have done that for themselves.’ … The authors did not hesitate to elaborate marvelous tales, and, in the credulous temper of that age, almost anything was believed” (Introduction to the Apocrypha, pp. 249-250, 262-263).
Some of the New Testament Apocryphal or pseudonymous books were: The General Epistle of Barnabas, First Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Second Epistle of Clement to the Corinthians, Apostolic Constitutions, First Book of Hermas, Second Book of Hermas, Third Book of Hermas, various epistles of Ignatius, the Gospel of the Infancy of the Savior, a mutilated and altered Gospel of John, and the Gospel of the Nativity of Mary.
These spurious writings, however, were never included in the Roman Catholic Bible. The Council of Trent evidently selected only books that would help them in their controversy with the Reformers, and none of these gave promise of doing that. Furthermore, these books are important, not as a reliable source of historical information about the age with which they purport to deal (that is, the first centuries of the Christian era), but because of what they reveal about the age in which they were produced, showing something of the legend, folklore, ignorance, and superstition so prevalent in that age in which many of the distinctive doctrines of the Roman Church have their roots. That such tales could have been believed shows the depth of the ignorance and superstition to which the people were accustomed.
5 The Vulgate and Modern Translations
The official Bible of the Roman Catholic Church is the Latin translation of Jerome, called the Vulgate (meaning “common”). Jerome was commissioned by Bishop Damasus near the close of the fourth century to prepare a standard Latin version of the Bible, and his purpose was to put the Bible into the common language of the people in accurate, readable form. Had the Roman Catholic Church continued to promote the study of the Bible by the common people how different might have the course of church and world history! But unfortunately that course was reversed by later popes, the Bible was withheld from the people, and to a large extent even from the priests. Only in recent years has Rome given the Bible to the people in some countries, and then mostly because of Protestant pressure.
The church historian, A. M. Renwick, of Edinburgh, Scotland, in his book, The Story of the Church, says: “Jerome (340-420), one of the most interesting and picturesque figures in church history, was born in northern Dalmatia (now Yugoslavia). He produced the Latin Vulgate Version of the Bible, which, even today, is the only version recognized as authentic by the Roman Church. … He spent thirty-four years at Bethlehem, where he lived mostly in a cave as a hermit and carried out his immense literary and scholarly labors” (p. 5).
The Roman Church seems to hold the Latin Vulgate translation of about a.d. 400, to be infallible. The Council of Trent decreed: “If any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts… as they are contained in the Old Latin Vulgate edition… let him be anathema!” The Vatican Council of 1870 (the council that set forth the doctrine of the infallibility of the pope) reaffirmed the declaration of the Council of Trent that “these books of the Old Testament and New Testament are to be received as sacred and canonical, in their integrity, with all their parts, as they are enumerated in the decree of the said council, and are contained in the ancient Latin edition of the Vulgate,” adding that “they contain revelation, with no admixture of error” (Chapter II).
In the year 1590 Sixtus V issued an edition of the Vulgate which he declared to be final, and prohibited under an anathema the publication of any new editions thereafter unless they should be exactly like that one. However, he died soon after, and scholars found numerous errors in his edition. Two years later a new edition was published under Pope Clement VIII, and that is the one in general use today. Clearly Sixtus V was in error—another example of the absurdity of that doctrine which holds that the pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals. This doctrine of the authority or infallibility of the Vulgate has caused Roman scholars much difficulty in recent years, because many errors have been pointed out and are now acknowledged by all scholars.
The Roman Catholic Douay version of the Bible (New Testament, 1582, and Old Testament, 1609) was made from the Latin Vulgate, as are the Roman Catholic translations into modern languages. The recent Confraternity version of the New Testament (1941) carries the notation “Translated from the Latin Vulgate.” The inaccuracies of Jerome’s Vulgate are legion, as measured by present day scholarship, and the text has not been revised for centuries. So even the best of present day Roman Catholic versions, according to the notation on its own flyleaf, is a translation of a translation—an English translation of a Latin translation of the original Greek.
Roman Catholics pride themselves on a long history. Yet how much more accurate are the Protestant translations of the Bible! Protestant scholars go back to the original Greek and Hebrew Scriptures, which are much older than the Vulgate to which Roman Catholics are bound, and they use all the aids that modern scholarship and research can provide. Yet the priests tell their people that it is a mortal sin to read a Protestant Bible, and they destroy Protestant Bibles wherever possible, allegedly on the grounds that they contain error! In 1957 a large stock of Bibles in Madrid, Spain, belonging to the British and Foreign Bible Society was seized and burned. Yet as Protestants we would not dream of destroying Roman Catholic Bibles. Rather we acknowledge that despite their limitations they are quite good translations, and that they contain God’s truth in clear enough revelation to enlighten any who will read them in a sincere search for truth, that apart from their interpretative notes they are surprisingly like our King James and American Standard versions. After all, the most distinctive features of the Roman Catholic religion come not from their Bibles but from their traditions.
6 The Question of Authority
We have said that the most controversial issue between Protestants and Roman Catholics is the question of authority—What is the final seat of authority in religion?—and that Protestants hold that the Bible alone is the final rule of faith and practice, while Roman Catholics hold that it is the Bible and tradition as interpreted by the church. In actual practice the Roman Church, since the infallibility decree of 1870, holds that the final seat of authority is the pope speaking for the church.
But we need only read church history to discover that when another source of authority is placed alongside Scripture as of equal importance, Scripture eventually becomes relegated to the background. Whether that other source be reason, emotion, or tradition, the inevitable result is that it supplants Scripture and causes it gradually to fade away. If that other source be reason, we get rationalism. If it be emotion, we get mysticism. And if it be tradition, we get ecclesiastical dictation or clericalism. In each case the Bible, while still given lip service, is effectually superseded.
At the time of the Protestant Reformation, Martin Luther took his stand solidly on the Bible and refused to be moved unless it could be shown that his teaching was contrary to the Bible. Summoned to appear before the Diet of Worms to give an account of his beliefs, the closing words of his masterful address were: “Here I take my stand; I can do no other; so help me, God.” It could not be shown that his teaching was contrary to the Bible, and his position was unassailable.
The primary and almost immediate result of the Reformation was to bring the doctrines of Scripture clearly before men’s minds as the Reformers based their teaching squarely on the Scriptures to the exclusion of all accumulated tradition. While the Church of Rome declared that “it belongs to the church to judge of the true sense of Scripture,” the Reformers, both on the Continent and in England, declared that even lay people, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can interpret Scripture by diligent and prayerful searching and reading.
It is true, of course, that the person who has not been born again, that is, the one who has not been the object of the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit and who therefore is not a Christian, is not able to understand spiritual truth. This too is clearly taught in Scripture: “Now the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him; and he cannot know them, because they are spiritually judged” (1 Corinthians 2:14). But every born again Christian has the gift of the Holy Spirit, and is therefore able to understand the basic essentials of what God has written. It is also true that many people, even among born again believers, differ on minor points. But that is because they have not read the Scriptures carefully enough and compared the various parts. The remedy for that is more devoted, patient, diligent Bible study. In any event there is no reference whatever in the Bible that even hints that God has delegated the interpretation of Scripture to any one individual or group of individuals.
If it be asked how the Church of Rome, which contains important elements of truth, has become honeycombed with paganism, how even a professedly Christian church has managed to build up a semi‑pagan organization, the answer is that the illegitimate authority that Rome has given to uninspired tradition has produced the effect. That development had an almost exact parallel in the nation of Israel. Israel had the inspired prophets, but she preferred the pleasing and flattering teachings of the false prophets, and so developed a set of traditions which in time came to supplant the true teachings of the prophets. In the teachings and writings of the false prophets the rulers of the Jews found the things they wanted, just as the popes and bishops have found in the manmade traditions of their church things which appeal to their selfish and prideful natures and which gave them what they wanted under the cover of religion. A study of religious errors will show that they have this common characteristic—they consist either of additions to Scripture, or of subtractions from Scripture, or perhaps a mixture of the two.
We do not deny, of course, the statement of the Romanists that much of what Jesus said and did is not recorded in the Gospels. John says plainly: “Many other signs therefore did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: but these things are written that ye may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye may have life in his name” (20:30‑31). But we do maintain that that which is written is sufficient. It is Protestant doctrine that the Bible contains all that is necessary to salvation, and no other writings or church pronouncements are to be regarded as having divine authority.
Numerous references set forth the sufficiency of Scripture. Nowhere do we find even a hint that these need to be supplemented by church councils or papal decrees of any kind. Some of these are as follows:
“To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no morning for them” (or as the King James Version says, “it is because there is no light in them”) (Isaiah 8:20).
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:18).
“Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me” (John 5:39).
Our Lord proclaimed the infallibility of Scripture, for He said: “The scriptures cannot be broken” (John 10:35).
The brothers of the rich man had sufficient evidence because, said Jesus, “They have Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:29).
Jesus’ rebuke to the Sadducees was, “Ye do err, not knowing the scriptures” (Matthew 22:29).
When Jesus reasoned with His disciples after His resurrection in regard to the purpose and necessity of His death, we are told: “And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27).
Peter wrote: “And we have the word of prophecy made more sure; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a lamp shining in a dark place. … For no prophecy ever came by the will of man: but men from God, being moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:19,21).
James quoted Scripture in the Council of Jerusalem to settle the question that was at issue (Acts 15:16-18).
Paul repeatedly appealed to Scripture, as when he asks: “For what saith the scripture?” (Romans 4:3). And to Timothy he wrote: “From a babe thou hast known the sacred writings which are able to make thee whole unto salvation” (2 Timothy 3:15).
The diligence of the Bereans in testing all things by Scripture is commended: “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). The Scriptures which the Bereans had were the Old Testament. They compared Paul’s teachings about Jesus with what the Old Testament had predicted. They were not theologians or scholars, but ordinary religious people, and yet the writer of the book of Acts (Luke) implies that by comparing the teachings of the great Apostle Paul with Scripture they were able to determine whether he was right or wrong.
And the book of Revelation pronounces a blessing on both the reader and those who hear: “Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of the prophecy, and keep the things that are written therein: for the time is at hand” (1:3).
Thus the sufficiency of Scripture is everywhere assumed. In all these cases our Lord and the New Testament writers referred to Scripture as clear, authoritative, and final. Never once did they say or imply that extra‑Scriptural tradition was needed to supplement Scripture, or that any man or group of men was authorized to give authoritative interpretations of Scripture.
7 Tradition Condemned by the Scriptures
In New Testament times the Jews had a great body of tradition, the accumulation of centuries, which they gave precedence over Scripture. But Jesus never mentioned tradition except to condemn it and to warn against it. He rebuked the Pharisees with these words: “Ye leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men. … Ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your tradition… making void the word of God by your tradition” (Mark 7:8,9,13). “And he answered and said unto them, Why do ye also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition. … Ye have made void the word of God because of your tradition. … But in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men” (Matthew15:3,6,9).
Thus our Lord rebuked the Pharisees for doing precisely what the Church of Rome does today, for substituting a body of human teachings and making it equal to or even superior to the Word of God.
Early in the Old Testament Moses warned against this same danger: “Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish from it, that ye may keep the commandments of Jehovah your God which I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2). Paul gave a clear warning against the use of tradition: “Take heed lest there shall be any one that maketh spoil of you through his philosophy and with deceit, after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ” (Colossians 2:8). And John, in the final book of the New Testament set forth the severe penalty for adding to or taking away from the Word of God: “I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, out of the holy city, which are written in this book” (Revelation 22:18-19).
In the Roman Church of today we have a perfect illustration of the attitude which characterized the Pharisees and scribes, who substituted a body of human teachings and made them equal to or even superior to the Word of God. In Jesus’ day traditionalism had become so perverse and powerful that it finally crucified Him. Religion was so blinded by its own distortions of the Word of God that it took the cross to expose it and upset it and to reveal the truth once more. In a similar way the Church of Rome is following a set of traditions that she has accumulated through the centuries, which by her own pronouncements she has elevated to equal authority with, or even to superiority over the Word of God. Her purpose, of course, is to justify doctrines and practices which have no basis in Scripture, or which are in violation of Scripture commands.
In order for Rome to defend her use of tradition, which admittedly came into use long after the New Testament was completed, it was necessary for her to assert that the authority of the church is superior to that of the Scriptures. Protestantism holds that the Scriptures are the infallible rule of faith and practice, and that the church as an institution and all believers must be governed by that authority. The Church of Rome, on the other hand, holds that she is the supreme authority in matters of faith and practice. She even attempts to say that the Roman Catholic Church produced the Bible, and that the pope as the vicar of Christ on earth has the right to legislate for the church. But such claims are absurd, because the New Testament was completed in the first century of the Christian era while the Roman Catholic Church with its distinctive features and its separate existence did not come into being until about four centuries later. Furthermore, the sin and corruption that have characterized the Roman Church, particularly during the Middle Ages when so many of her doctrines and practices originated, is proof that she is in no sense superior to the Bible but quite the contrary. But because of that teaching, the average Roman Catholic may not be particularly impressed when it is pointed out to him that the doctrines of purgatory, the mass, indulgences, penance, the use of images, etc., are not in Bible or even that they are contrary to the Bible. He believes these things, not because he has Scriptural authority for them, but because the church teaches them. This again shows how pernicious can be the use of tradition.
The reason that the Jews had departed from their Scriptures was that they accepted tradition and the decisions of their councils as their guide of faith. The Roman Church has made the same mistake. She, too, has compromised the truth of the Bible in order to follow tradition. When she began putting herself on a par with Scripture she found it impossible to stop there. The next step was to place herself above Scripture, and she has assumed that position ever since.
8 The Protestant Attitude toward the Bible
The first complete English Bible was translated by John Wycliffe, “the morning star of the Reformation,” about 1382. Before his time there was no Bible in English, although a few fragmentary portions had been translated. Wycliffe knew only the Latin Bible, so his version, like the Roman Catholic versions even to the present day, was a translation of a translation. The first English New Testament translated from the original Greek was that of William Tyndale, in 1525-26. That work was made possible through the publication of the Greek New Testament by Erasmus a few years earlier. But since the church authorities in England (Henry VIII was king and also the head of the church) did not want the people to have the Bible in their own language, Tyndale was forbidden to carry on his work in England. He went instead to Germany, where the work of Luther had provided a hospitable environment for such a venture. His work was completed and published in the city of Worms, in 1526. However, it was condemned by the English government, and in order to gain entrance into England had to be smuggled in a few copies at a time.
But Tyndale eventually paid with his life for his devotion to the Bible. Having taken up residence in Antwerp, Belgium, opposition to his work began and continued until he was arrested and condemned. In 1536 he was put to death by strangling and his body was burned. His dying words were, “O God, open the king of England’s eyes.” That prayer was answered, and God opened the eyes of Henry VIII. In 1536 there appeared the Miles Coverdale version of the Bible, which also was published outside England, but which circulated with considerable freedom in England. And in 1539 the second edition was published in England and circulated freely. Coverdale was the friend and colleague of Tyndale, and the translation was largely Tyndale’s.
The next important translation was the Geneva Bible, translated during the reign of Roman Catholic Queen Mary Tudor by a group of English scholars, exiles in Geneva, Switzerland, hence its name. This became the Bible of the intrepid John Knox and of the early Puritans. It seems to have been the Bible used by Shakespeare. The next important translation was the King James version, published in 1611. This was the Bible usually used by Cromwell’s army and the Scottish Covenanters, also used by John Bunyan. It was brought to this country by the Pilgrims and Puritans. To this day it continues to be the most popular of all English versions.
Up until the time of the Reformation the Bible had been a book for priests only. It was written in Latin, and the Roman Church refused to allow it to be translated into the languages of the common people. But when the Reformers came on the scene all of that was changed. Luther translated the entire Bible into German for the people of his native land, and within 25 years of its appearance one hundred editions of the German Bible came off the press. It was also soon translated into most of the vernacular tongues of Europe, and wherever the light of the Reformation went it became the book of the common people. Decrees of popes and church councils gave way to the Word of Life. The Protestant churches of Europe and America have labored earnestly to put the Bible into the hands of the people in their own languages and have urged the people everywhere to read it for themselves. Protestant Bible societies now circulate more copies of the Bible each year than were circulated in the fifteen centuries that preceded the Reformation.
According to the 1983 report of the American Bible Society, about 2,000,000 copies of the complete Bible, Old and New Testaments, are printed in the United States each year, and more than 3,000,000 copies of the New Testament, and many millions of portions of the Bible (at least one book, usually one of the Gospels) are printed each year. And the 1984 report says that the complete Bible is now available in 286 languages and dialects, the New Testament in 594 more, and some portion of the Bible in 928 more, making a total of 1,808 languages and dialects into which the Bible or some part of it has been translated. Today the Bible is available in whole or in part in the native tongues of probably 96 percent of the people of the world.
Dr. Hugh Thompson Kerr, late Presbyterian minister in Pittsburgh, has well said:
“Protestants have been the pioneers in Bible translation and have organized and supported the great world‑encircling Bible societies. They believe that the Bible needs no other interpreter than the Holy Spirit. The Bible read under the guidance of the Holy Spirit is the Christian’s authoritative guide. Protestants therefore claim that they truly represent and interpret Christianity as it is set forth in the Bible. They hold that anyone who will read the Bible prayerfully, with the aid of the best scholarship, will reach the conclusion that Protestantism honestly interprets the teachings and confirms the practice of early Christianity” (booklet, What Protestants Believe, p. 8).
And another says:
“The fact is, the Bible was written for the common people. The language of the Old Testament was the language spoken in the homes and market places of the Hebrews. The New Testament Greek was not the classical Greek of an earlier period but the Greek spoken by the common people. It was called the koine, which means the common language, what we would call today ‘newspaper language.’ This shows that God intended the common people to understand the Bible. Any man with ordinary intelligence and able to read English can read and learn that Jesus is the Saviour of sinners” (Edward J. Tunis, booklet, What Rome Teaches, p. 9).
The Protestant ideal is that everyone should read the Bible. Right here, we believe, is the reason that the Protestant nations—the United States, England, Scotland, Holland, and the Scandinavian nations—have followed one line of development, while the Roman Catholic nations—Italy, Spain, France, and the Latin American nations—have followed a distinctly different pattern. Protestants believe that those who study the Bible in sincerity and with prayer will have no difficulty in understanding its basic truths. The words of Jesus, previously quoted, imply that the common people should know the Bible and that they are able to understand it.
It is virtually axiomatic that where there is an open Bible, men will not long remain in bondage. But by the same token where the Bible is a closed book, men soon find themselves in darkness and servitude. Everywhere it has been the precursor of civilization and liberty, driving out barbarity and despotism as bats and vermin flee from the sunshine. In every land where its free and unrestrained reading has been encouraged, it has dispelled ignorance and superstition.
9 The Roman Catholic Attitude toward the Bible
In contrast with the Protestant attitude toward the Bible, the Roman Church has traditionally opposed its free use by the people. Even today in the predominantly Roman Catholic countries, it keeps the Bible from the people, or at least makes no effort to provide it for them. The result is that the people in those countries know practically nothing about the Bible except as some Protestant organizations have gone in and distributed copies. In countries where the Roman Church is in keen competition with Protestantism it has allowed the people to have the Bible if there is a demand for it, but it has always insisted strenuously that the version must be the Douay, or more recently the Confraternity, each of which contains a set of notes printed on the same page with the text and giving the Roman Catholic interpretation of disputed passages. Even to this day any other version, even the Bible as such without note or comment, is suspect. The alleged reason is that these versions contain “errors.” But the real reason is that the Church of Rome does not want the Bible read apart from her interpretative notes.
The Bible was first officially forbidden to the people by the Church of Rome and placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Valencia (a cathedral city in southeastern Spain) in the year 1229, with the following decree:
“We prohibit also the permitting of the laity to have the books of the Old and New Testament, unless any one should wish, from a feeling of devotion, to have a psalter or breviary for divine service, or the hours of the blessed Mary. But we strictly forbid them to have the abovementioned books in the vulgar tongue.”
Here we see that the Bible was forbidden to the laity, except for the Psalms or breviary (book of devotions), and even then it could be only is Latin—which of course placed it beyond the reach of the common people. That decree was passed at the time the Waldensians were gaining strength, and it was enforced with bitter persecution.
The Council of Trent reaffirmed that decree and prohibited the use of the Scriptures by any member of the church unless he obtained permission from his superior. The decree read as follows:
“In as much as it is manifest, from experience, that if the Holy Bible, translated into the vulgar tongue, be indiscriminately allowed to everyone, the temerity of men will cause more evil than good to arise from it; it is, on this point, referred to the judgment of the bishops, or inquisitors, who may, by the advice of the priest or confessor, permit the reading of the Bible translated into the vulgar tongue by Catholic authors, to those persons whose faith and piety, they apprehend, will be augmented, and not injured by it; and this permission they must have in writing.”
To this decree, as to more than a hundred others passed by this council, was attached an anathema against anyone who should dare to violate it, and also penalties were fixed against the illegal possessor or seller of books. Here we observe particularly the statement that the reading of the Bible in the native tongue will do “more evil than good”! Imagine that, as the deliberate teaching of a church professing to be Christian! How insulting to God is such teaching, that His Word as read by the people will do more evil than good! That attitude toward the Word of God is the mark, not of a true church, but of a false church.
While it has been the policy of the Roman Church to withhold the Bible from the people, Peter, the alleged founder of that church, refers to Scripture as “the word of prophecy made more sure,” and likens it to “a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Peter 1:19). What a blessing it would be to the world if the Roman Church would really follow the teaching of Peter!
Early in the history of Israel God instructed Moses to make the words of the law known and easily accessible to all the people: “And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and thou shalt talk of them when thou sittest in thy house, and when thou walkest in the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up. … And thou shalt write them upon the door‑posts of thy house, and upon thy gates” (Deuteronomy 6:7‑9). Another verse which expresses the preciousness of Scripture and its importance to the individual is Psalm 119:11: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.”
Even where permission to read the Bible is granted by the Council of Trent, to those who presumably are so thoroughly indoctrinated with Roman Catholicism that nothing will shake their faith, that permission must be in writing!
Liguori, one of the highest authorities on Canon Law, whose books probably are considered more authoritative and probably are quoted more often than those of any other writer, says: “The Scriptures and books of Controversy may not be permitted in the vulgar tongue, as also they cannot be read without permission.”
Four different popes during the eighteenth century made pronouncements against giving the Bible to the people in their own language, typical of which was that of Clement XI (1713) in the Bull Unigenitus: “We strictly forbid them (the laity) to have the books of the Old and New Testament in the vulgar tongue.” As for the Encyclical of Leo XIII (1893) on “The Study of the Bible,” sometimes quoted by Roman Catholics as a statement urging the laity to study the Bible, it should be observed that (1) the Bible which was cited for study was the Latin Vulgate, which of course was not available to the common people nor understood by them; (2) the statement forbade them to interpret it otherwise than as the church interpreted it; and (3) it did not rescind or modify the prior law of the church which refused the free use of the Scriptures to the laity.
Such was the teaching and practice of the Roman Church for centuries. For one to possess or read the Bible in his native tongue without permission in writing from his superior and under the watchful eye of the bishop was a mortal sin, for which absolution could not be granted until the book was delivered to the priest. As the top‑heavy structure of law and ritual developed, the Bible had to be denied to the people. Otherwise they would have seen that it was merely a manmade structure. On the other hand, the Bible had to be preserved as a reference book for the theologians and priests in order to sustain the power of the priesthood by plausible and elastic interpretations of certain texts. But so far as the people were concerned it might as well have been forgotten. Small wonder it is that ignorance, superstition, poverty, and low moral conditions have been so characteristic of Roman Catholic countries.
In Protestant countries, however, in recent years a considerable change has taken place in Roman Catholic practice, and, shamed into a different attitude because of Protestant criticism, the Roman Church now grants her people the privilege of reading the Bible, and even stocks it in the book stores—using, of course, only the approved versions. The Roman Church does not wish to appear to be the foe of the Bible, so indefensible is that position. An annual “Catholic Bible Week” has been instituted, and indulgences granted for reading the Bible at least fifteen minutes each day. But this appears to be an unnatural emphasis, by no means given with a clear conscience permitted but not looked upon favorably by the authorities in Rome. Significantly, no similar program of Bible reading has been instituted in the predominantly Roman Catholic countries. Only in Protestant countries, and primarily in the United States, is this policy followed. And it certainly comes very late in the long, long history of the Roman Church. One can easily guess what the result would be if for some reason the Protestant influence were removed.
Unfortunately, it still is a mortal sin for a Roman Catholic anywhere to read the King James, American Standard, Revised Standard, or any other Protestant version. So, even the Bible as such remains on the Index of Forbidden Books!1 It is made fit for a Roman Catholic to read only when it is annotated by an authorized theologian! What St. Paul wrote, if it stands by itself, is on the Index. What was written by St. Peter himself, who according to Roman Catholic tradition was the first pope, is on the Index unless some Roman Catholic annotates his writing. Yet the Roman Church does not claim infallibility for the theologian who annotates it! So here we have the very height of absurdity—it takes the work of a theologian who is not infallible to correct and edit and make lawful and orthodox the text of those who wrote by divine inspiration! The attitude of the Roman Church toward the Bible societies has been one of sustained opposition. Several acts of the popes have been directed exclusively against them. In 1824 Pope Leo XII, in an encyclical letter said: “You are aware, venerable brethren, that a certain society called the Bible society strolls with effrontery throughout the world, which society, contrary to the well-known decree of the Council of Trent, labors with all its might and by every means to translate—or rather to pervert—the Scriptures into the vulgar tongue of every nation. … We, in conformity with our apostolic duty, exhort you to turn away your flock by all means from these poisonous pastures.” In 1844 Pope Gregory XVI again condemned these societies, and Pope Pius IX, author of the decree of papal infallibility, who died in 1878, denounced “these cunning and infamous societies, which call themselves Bible societies, and give the Scriptures to inexperienced youth.”
1 Technically the Index was dropped in 1965, but general supervision over books allowed continues through the newly established magazine supervision Nuntius (Herald). The imprimaturremains in force, and gives another effective means of control. Since the Second Vatican Council, restrictions against other versions have been relaxed to some extent.
But in reality who can estimate the vast good that these noble organizations and their faithful colporteurs have brought to the nations of the world? Most prominent among these have been the British and Foreign Bible Society, the American Bible Society, the Bible Society of Scotland, and that of the Netherlands, which have translated the Scriptures into hundreds of languages and dialects, and which now circulate millions of copies of the Bible every year. Many times Bibles have been publicly burned by the priests. That the real attitude of the Vatican toward the Bible has not changed is shown by the fact that in 1957 the depot of the British and Foreign Bible Society in Madrid, Spain, was closed and its stock of Bibles confiscated and burned. After the Spanish civil war, which brought Franco and the Roman Catholic Church to power, Spanish children returning from hospitable Swiss families with Bibles in their pockets were forced at the Spanish frontier to hand those precious books over to the local priest. Time and again in Colombia during the past ten years Bibles have been taken from Protestants by fanatical Romanist groups and burned, almost always at the instigation of the local priests, usually in communities where new Protestant churches were being formed. The fact remains that only in those countries where Protestantism is dominant does the Bible circulate freely. Think of the popes, who profess to be God’s representatives on earth, forbidding their people and all others to read God’s own Book of Life! Surely the Church of Rome by such action proves itself apostate and false.
So, for a thousand years, from the early sixth century to the sixteenth century, while the Roman Church held sway, the Bible remained a closed book. The Roman Church, instead of being a kingdom of light, became a kingdom of darkness, promoting ignorance and superstition and holding the people in bondage. In most Roman Catholic countries today the Bible remains a closed book. Only since the time of the Protestant Reformation has it circulated freely in any country.
Among evangelical Christians in the United States there are thousands of classes studying the Bible. But among Roman Catholics such groups are very rare. Even a brief discussion with Roman Catholics will reveal that they know very little about the doctrines or the history of their church, and that they know almost nothing at all about the Bible.
Rome’s traditional policy of seeking to limit the circulation of the Bible and of anathematizing or destroying all copies that are not annotated with her distinctive doctrines shows that she is really afraid of it. She is opposed to it because it is opposed to her. The plain fact is that she cannot hold her people when they become spiritually enlightened and discover that her distinctive doctrines are merely manmade inventions.
A curious fact in regard to the Index of Forbidden Books is that the Roman Church permits the reading of some books by ecclesiastical writers outside her fold when those books contain nothing contrary to her doctrines. Even some heathen books are allowed to adults, because of their “elegance and propriety.” But not the Bible—unless it carries her interpretation! The traditional attitude of the Roman Catholic Church toward the promotion and study of the Bible has been, we believe, the greatest spiritual and cultural tragedy since the influx of the pagans into the church in the fourth century.
10 Interpreting the Bible
While the Roman Catholic people in the United States have access to the Bible, they are told that they cannot understand it and that it must be interpreted for them by the church speaking through the priest. People ordinarily do not waste their time reading a book that they are persuaded they cannot understand.
The priests in turn are pledged not to interpret the Bible for themselves, but only as the church interprets it, and according to “the unanimous consent of the fathers.” But the church has never issued an official commentary giving that interpretation. And as we have pointed out earlier, the unanimous consent of the fathers is purely a myth, for there is scarcely a point of doctrine on which they do not differ. The doctrine of the immaculate conception, for instance, was denied by Anselm, Bonaventura, and Thomas Aquinas, three of the greatest Roman theologians. Yet Rome presumes to teach that Mary was born without sin, and that that is the unanimous teaching of the fathers.
In their insistence on following an official interpretation, the Roman Catholics are pursuing a course similar to that of the Christian Scientists, who also have the Bible but insist that it must be interpreted by Mary Baker Eddy’s book, Science and Health, with Key to the Scriptures, and that of the Mormons, who likewise have the Bible but interpret it by the Book of Mormon.
The practical result of the priests and people being told that they cannot interpret the Bible for themselves is that they read it but very little. Why should they? They cannot understand it. They may read a few pages here and there, but even among the priests there is scarcely one in twenty who reads it from beginning to end and really studies it. Instead the priests spend hours reading their breviaries, books of daily devotions and prayers, as required by their church, but which are of human origin. This practice of representing the Bible as a mysterious book is a part of Rome’s over‑all program of presenting Christianity as a mystery religion, in which the mass in particular as well as various other practices are set forth as mysteries which are not to be understood but which are to be accepted with implicit faith.
The priests and the people alike look upon the Bible as a mysterious book, and anyway the interpretation is given to them in pope’s decrees and church council pronouncements, which are declared to be clearer and more easily understood. Furthermore, these latter supersede Scripture. Experience proves that whenever an interpretation becomes more important than a document, the document becomes buried and the interpretation alone survives. For this reason the average Roman Catholic is faithful to his church but neglects his Bible. Instead of following the teachings of God the priests and people follow the traditions of men.
A fraudulent claim recently put forth by the Knights of Columbus in a series of newspaper and magazine ads designed to appeal to Protestants and others is that the Roman Catholic Church produced the Bible and that we received it from her. Some of her spokesmen attempt to say that the canon of the Bible was established in the fourth century, by the pope and council of Carthage, in a.d. 397. But that statement is erroneous on two counts. In the first place, there was no pope as such in a.d. 397. It was not until the Council of Chalcedon, in 451, that the bishop of Rome was designated pope, and the authority of the bishop of Rome never has been acknowledged by the Eastern churches. Previous to that time all priests and bishops were called popes (Latin, papa), and in the Eastern churches that title is applied to ordinary priests even to the present day. The Council of Chalcedon attempted to restrict the title exclusively to the bishop of Rome, who at that time was Leo I, and conferred it posthumously on all previous bishops of Rome in order to make it appear that an unbroken succession of popes had proceeded from Peter.
And in the second place, the New Testament was produced during the first century of the Christian era and had assumed its present form centuries before the Roman Catholic Church developed its distinctive characteristics. At that time the Eastern churches were dominant in Christian affairs, and the Church in Rome was relatively insignificant. Gregory I, called Gregory the Great, who was consecrated pope in 590 and died in 604, was in effect the founder of the papal system. He reorganized the church, revised the ritual, restored monastic discipline, attempted to enforce celibacy among the clergy, and extended the authority of the Roman Church into many countries adjacent to Italy. He more than anyone else gave the Roman Church its distinctive form and set the course that it was to follow in its later history.
Furthermore, long before the Council of Carthage, the particular books now found in the New Testament, and only those, had come to be looked upon by the church at large as the inspired and infallible Word of God on the basis of their genuineness and authority. These particular writings, in distinction from all other books of that age, manifest within themselves this genuineness and authority as we read them; and the Council of Carthage did not so much choose the books that were to be accepted in the New Testament, but rather placed its stamp of approval on the selection that by that time, under the providential control of the Holy Spirit, had come to be looked upon by the church as the New Testament canon. The Old Testament canon was completed and had assumed its present form long before the coming of Christ. The Roman Church, of course, had nothing whatever to do with that.
1. The Roman Catholic Position
2. The “Rock”
3. The “Keys”
4. Papal Authority not Claimed by Peter
5. Paul’s Attitude toward Peter
6. Attitude of the Other Apostles toward Peter
7. Was Peter Ever in Rome?
8. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
1 The Roman Catholic Position
The controversial passage in regard to Peter’s place in the Church is Matthew 16:13-19, which reads as follows:
“Now Jesus, having come into the district of Caesarea Philippi, began to ask his disciples, saying, ‘Who do men say the Son of Man is?’ But they said, ‘Some say, John the Baptist; and others, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered and said, ‘Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Then Jesus answered and said, ‘Blessed art thou, Simon Bar‑Jona, for flesh and blood hath not revealed this to thee, but my Father in heaven. And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Confraternity Version).
To this passage the Confraternity Version adds the following interpretation:
“The rock was Peter. … The gates of hell: hostile, evil powers. Their aggressive force will struggle in vain against the Church. She shall never be overcome; she is indefectible. And since she has the office of teacher (cf. 28, 16‑20), and since she would be overcome if error prevailed, she is infallible.
“Keys: a symbol of authority. Peter has the power to admit into the Church and to exclude therefrom. Nor is he merely the porter; he has complete power within the Church. ‘To bind and to loose’ seems to have been used by the Jews in the sense of to forbid or to permit; but the present context requires a more comprehensive meaning. In heaven God ratifies the decisions which Peter makes on earth in the name of Christ” (pp. 36-37).
And the late Cardinal Gibbons, a former archbishop of Baltimore and one of the most representative American Roman Catholics, in his widely read book, Faith of our Fathers, set forth the position of his church in these words:
“The Catholic Church teaches that our Lord conferred on St. Peter the first place of honor and jurisdiction in the government of His whole church, and that the same spiritual supremacy has always resided in the popes, or bishops of Rome, as being the successors of St. Peter. Consequently, to be true followers of Christ all Christians, both among the clergy and laity, must be in communion with the See of Rome, where Peter rules in the person of his successor” (p. 95).
The whole structure of the Roman Church is built on the assumption that in Matthew 16:13-19 Christ appointed Peter the first pope and so established the papacy. Disprove the primacy of Peter, and the foundation of the papacy is destroyed. Destroy the papacy, and the whole Roman hierarchy topples with it. Their system of priesthood depends absolutely upon their claim that Peter was the first pope at Rome, and that they are his successors. We propose to show that (1) Matthew 16:13‑19 does not teach that Christ appointed Peter a pope; (2) that there is no proof that Peter ever was in Rome; and (3) that the New Testament records, particularly Peter’s own writings, show that he never claimed authority over the other apostles or over the church, and that that authority was never accorded to him.
2 The “Rock”
“And I say to thee, thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18, Confraternity Version).
Romanists quote this verse with relish, and add their own interpretation to establish their claim for papal authority. But in the Greek the word Peter is Petros, a person, masculine, while the word “rock,” petra, is feminine and refers not to a person but to the declaration of Christ’s deity that Peter had just uttered—“Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.”
Using Peter’s name and making, as it were, a play upon words, Jesus said to Peter, “You are Petros, and upon this petra I will build my church.” The truth that Peter had just confessed was the foundation upon which Christ would build His church. He meant that Peter had seen the basic, essential truth concerning His person, the essential truth upon which the church would be founded, and that nothing would be able to overthrow that truth, not even all the forces of evil that might be arrayed against it. Peter was the first among the disciples to see our Lord as the Christ of God. Christ commended him for that spiritual insight, and said that His church would be founded upon that fact. And that, of course, was a far different thing from founding the church on Peter.
Had Christ intended to say that the Church would be founded on Peter, it would have been ridiculous for Him to have shifted to the feminine form of the word in the middle of the statement, saying, if we may translate literally and somewhat whimsically, “And I say unto thee, that thou art Mr. Rock, and upon this, the Miss Rock, I will build my church.” Clearly it was upon the truth that Peter had expressed, the deity of Christ, and not upon weak, vacillating Peter, that the church would be founded. The Greek “petros” is commonly used of a small, movable stone, a mere pebble, as it were. But “petra” means an immovable foundation, in this instance, the basic truth that Peter had just confessed, the deity of Christ. And in fact, that is the point of conflict in the churches today between evangelicals on the one hand, and modernists or liberals on the other—whether the church is founded on a truly divine Christ as revealed in a fully trustworthy Bible, or whether it is essentially a social service and moral welfare organization which recognizes Christ as an example, an outstandingly great and good man, but denies or ignores His deity.
The Bible tells us plainly, not that the church is built upon Peter, but that it is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). And again, “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). Without that foundation the true Christian church could not exist.
If Matthew 16:18 had been intended to teach that the church is founded on Peter, it would have read something like this: “Thou art Peter, and upon you I will build my church”; or, “Thou art Peter, and upon you the rock I will build my church.” But that is not what Christ said. He made two complete, distinct statements. He said, “Thou art Peter,” and, “Upon this rock (change of gender, indicating change of subject) I will build my church.”
The gates of hell were not to prevail against the church. But the gates of hell did prevail against Peter shortly afterward, as recorded in this same chapter, when he attempted to deny that Christ would be crucified, and almost immediately afterward, in the presence of the other disciples, received the stinging rebuke, “Get thee behind me, Satan; thou art a stumbling block unto me, for thou mindest not the things of God but the things of men” (v. 23)—surely strong words to use against one who had just been appointed pope!
Later we read that Peter slept in Gethsemane, during Christ’s agony. His rash act in cutting off the servant’s ear drew Christ’s rebuke. He boasted that he was ready to die for his Master, but shortly afterward shamefully denied with oaths and curses that he even knew Him. And even after Pentecost Peter still was subject to such serious error that his hypocrisy had to be rebuked by Paul, who says: “But when Cephas came to Antioch [at which time he was in full possession of his papal powers, according to Romanist doctrine], I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). And yet Romanists allege that their pope, as Peter’s successor, is infallible in matters of faith and morals!
The Gospel written by Mark, who is described in early Christian literature as Peter’s close companion and understudy, does not even record the remark about the “rock” in reporting Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27‑30). No, Christ did not build His church upon a weak, sinful man. Rather the essential deity of Christ, which was so forcefully set forth in Peter’s confession, was the foundation stone, the starting point, on which the church would be built.
That no superior standing was conferred upon Peter is clear from the later disputes among the disciples concerning who should be greatest among them. Had such rank already been given, Christ would simply have referred to His grant of power to Peter. Instead we read:
“And they came to Capernaum: and when he was in the house he asked them, What were ye reasoning on the way? But they held their Peace: for they had disputed one with another on the way, who was the greatest. And he sat down, and called the twelve; and he saith unto them, If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:33‑35).
“And there came near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him, Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. And he said unto them, What would ye that I should do for you? And they said unto him, Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand, and one on thy left hand, in thy glory. And when the ten heard it, they began to be moved with indignation concerning James and John. And Jesus called them unto him, and saith unto them, Ye know that they who are accounted to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them; and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it is not so among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you, shall be servant of all” (Mark 10:34-44).
It is interesting to notice that some of the church fathers, Augustine and Jerome among them, gave the Protestant explanation of this verse, understanding the “rock” to mean not Peter but Christ. Others, of course, gave the papal interpretation. But this shows that there was no “unanimous consent of the fathers,” as the Roman Church claims, on this subject.
Dr. Harris says concerning the reference to the “rock”:
“Mark’s Gospel is connected with Peter by all early Christian tradition and it does not even include this word of Jesus to Peter. Likewise in the Epistles of Peter there is no such claim. In 1 Peter 2:6‑8 Christ is called a rock and a chief cornerstone. But Peter here claims nothing for himself. Indeed he is explicit in calling all believers living stones built up a spiritual house with Christ as the head of the corner.
“Christ is repeatedly called a Rock. The background for this is that around thirty-four times in the Old Testament God is called a Rock or the Rock of Israel. It was a designation of God. In the Messianic passages, Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; and Psalm 118:22, Christ is called a Rock or Stone upon which we should believe. These passages are quoted in the New Testament and for that reason Christ is called a Rock several times. It designates Him as divine. For that reason, every Jew, knowing the Old Testament, would refuse the designation to Peter or to anyone except insofar as we are children of Christ. He is the Rock. We are living stones built upon Him. Ephesians 2:20 says this plainly. We are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. Paul says of the Rock from which the Israelites drank that it typified Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4). In the New Testament there are twelve foundations and on them are the names of the twelve apostles—none of them are made pre-eminent” (The Bible Presbyterian Reporter, January, 1959.)
And Dr. Henry M. Woods says:
“If Christ had meant that Peter was to be the foundation, the natural form of statement would have been, ‘Thou art Peter, and on thee I will build my church’; but He does not say this, because Peter was not to be the rock on which the church was built. Note also that in the expression ‘on this rock,’ our Lord purposely uses a different Greek word, Petra, from that used for Peter, Petros. He did this to show that, not Peter, but the great truth which had just been revealed to him, viz., that our Lord was ‘the Christ, the Son of the living God,’ was to be the church’s foundation. Built on the Christ, the everlasting Saviour, the gates of hell would never prevail against the Church. But built on the well‑meaning but sinful Peter, the gates of hell would surely prevail; for a little later our Lord had to severely rebuke Peter, calling him ‘Satan’” (Our Priceless Heritage, p. 40).
3 The “Keys”
“And I will give thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, Confraternity Version).
Admittedly this is a difficult verse to interpret, and numerous explanations have been given. It is important to notice, however, that the authority to bind and to loose was not given exclusively to Peter. In the eighteenth chapter of Matthew the same power is given to all of the disciples. There we read:
“At that hour the disciples came to Jesus. … Amen. I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound also in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed also in heaven” (vv. 1,18, Confraternity Version).
Consequently Matthew 16:19 does not prove any superiority on Peter’s part. Even the scribes and Pharisees had this same power, for Jesus said to them: “But woe upon you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! because ye shut the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye enter not in yourselves, neither suffer them that are entering in to enter” (Matthew 23:13). And on another occasion He said: “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat: all things therefore whatsoever they bid you, these do and observe: but do not ye after their works; for they say, and do not. Yea, they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be born, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger” (Matthew 23:2‑4).
Here the expression clearly means that the scribes and Pharisees, in that the Word of God was in their hands, thereby had the power, in declaring that Word to the people, to open the kingdom of heaven to them, and in withholding that Word they shut the kingdom of heaven against people. That was Moses’ function in giving the law. It was, there fore, a declaratory power, the authority to announce the terms on which God would grant salvation, not an absolute power to admit or to exclude from the kingdom of heaven. Only God can do that, and He never delegates that authority to men.
And in Luke 11:52 Jesus says: “Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge: ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.” Here, the key of the knowledge of the way of salvation, by which entrance into the kingdom of heaven is obtained, was in the hands of the Pharisees in that they had the law of Moses in their possession, and were therefore the custodians of the Word of God. In that sense they possessed the key to the kingdom. They took away that key in that they failed to proclaim the Word of God to the people. They were not entering into the kingdom of heaven themselves, and they were hindering those who wanted to enter.
Furthermore, we notice that in the words spoken to Peter, it was “things,” not “persons,” that were to be bound or loosed—“whatsoever,” not “whomsoever”—things such as the ceremonial laws and customs of the Old Testament dispensation were to be done away with, and new rituals and practices of the Gospel age were to be established.
Thus the “keys” symbolize the authority to open, in this instance, to open the kingdom of heaven to men through the proclamation of the Gospel. What the disciples were commissioned to do, given the privilege of doing, was the opposite of that which the scribes and Pharisees were doing; that is, they were to facilitate the entrance of the people into the kingdom of heaven.
There was, of course, no physical seat which had been used by Moses and which now was being used by the scribes and Pharisees. But the scribes and Pharisees, who were in possession of the law of Moses, were giving precepts which in themselves were authoritative and good and which therefore were to be obeyed; but since they did not live up to those precepts the people were not to follow their example.
It is clear that the keys were symbolical of authority, which here is specified as the power of binding and loosing; and it is also clear that the consequences of what the disciples did in this regard would go far beyond earth and would have their permanent results in heaven. They were in a real sense building for eternity. In referring to the keys of the kingdom Jesus was continuing the figure in which He had been comparing the kingdom of heaven to a house which He was about to build. It would be built upon a solid rock (Matthew 7:24). Entrance into that house was through the door of faith. This door was to be opened, first to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles. And Peter, who had been the first of the disciples to comprehend the person of Christ in His true deity and to confess that deity before the other disciples, was commissioned to be the first to open that door. In this sense the keys were first given to him. To him was given the distinction and high honor among the apostles of being the first to open the door of faith to the Jewish world, which he did on the day of Pentecost when through his sermon some three thousand Jews were converted (Acts 2:14‑42), and a short time later the distinction and high honor of opening the door of faith to the Gentile world, which he did in the house of Cornelius (Acts 10:1‑48). And while the keys were in this respect first given to Peter, they were soon afterward also given to the other disciples as they too proclaimed the Gospel both to Jews and Gentiles. But while Peter was given the distinction and honor of being the first to open the kingdom to the Jews, and then to the Gentiles, he did not claim nor assume any other authority, and was in all other respects on precisely the same footing as were the other apostles.
Possession of the keys, therefore, did not mean that Peter had sovereignly within his own person the authority to determine who should be admitted to heaven and who should be excluded, as the Roman Church now attempts to confer that authority on the pope and priests. Ultimate authority is in the hands of Christ alone—it is He “that openeth and none shall shut, and that shutteth and none openeth” (Revelation 3:7). But it did mean that Peter, and later the other apostles, being in possession of the Gospel message, truly did open the door and present the opportunity to enter in as they proclaimed the message before the people. This same privilege of opening the door or of closing the door of salvation to others is given to every Christian, for the command that Christ gave His church was to go and make disciples of all the nations. Thus “the power of the keys” is a declarative power only.
It can almost be said that the Roman Catholics build their church upon these two verses which speak of the “rock” and the “keys.” They say that the power given to Peter was absolute and that it was transferred by him to his successors, although they have to admit that there is not one verse in Scripture which teaches such a transfer. Under this “power of the keys” the Roman Church claims that “In heaven God ratifies the decisions which Peter makes on earth” (footnote, Confraternity Version, p. 37).
But it is interesting to see how Peter himself understood this grant of power. In his exercise of the power of the keys he says: “And it shall be, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Acts 2:21). And at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius he again gave a universal Gospel invitation: “To him [Christ] bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43). So, in the preaching of Peter, as elsewhere in the New Testament, salvation is set forth as based on faith in Christ, and nowhere is obedience to Peter, or to the pope, or to any other man even hinted at.
Rome terribly abuses this “power of the keys” to insure obedience to her commands on the part of her church members and to instill in them a sense of fear and of constant dependence on the church for their salvation. This sense of fear and dependence, with constant references to “Mother Church,” goes far to explain the power that the Roman Church has over her members, even cowing them to the extent that they are afraid to read or to listen to anything contrary to what their church teaches. And since that teaching is drilled into them from childhood, the truly formidable power that the Roman Church exercises over the laity can be easily understood.
4 Papal Authority Not Claimed by Peter
The Roman Church claims that Peter was the first bishop or pope in Rome and that the later popes are his successors. But the best proof of a man’s position and authority is his own testimony. Does Peter claim to be a pope, or to have primacy over the other apostles? Fortunately, he wrote two epistles or letters which are found in the New Testament. There he gives his position and certain instructions as to how others in the same position are to perform their duties. We read:
“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ. … The elders therefore among you I exhort, who am a fellow-elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, who am also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Tend the flock of God which is among you, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according to the will of God; nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves ensamples to the flock” (1 Peter 1:1, 5:1-3).
Here Peter refers to himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ, an elder (the word in the Greek is presbuteros), which of course has nothing to do with a sacrificing priesthood. He does not claim the highest place in the church as some would expect him to do or as some would claim for him. He assumes no ecclesiastical superiority, but with profound humility puts himself on a level with those whom he exhorts. He makes it clear that the church must be democratic, not authoritarian. He forbids the leaders to lord it over the people, to work for money or to take money unjustly. He says that they are to serve the people willingly, even eagerly, and that by their general lives they are to make themselves examples for the people.
But the fact is that the Church of Rome acts directly contrary to these instructions. Can anyone imagine the proud popes of later times adopting such a role of humility? It was several centuries later, when the church had lost much of its original simplicity and spiritual power, and had been submerged in a flood of worldliness, that the autocratic authority of the popes began to appear. After the fourth century, when the Roman empire had fallen, the bishops of Rome stepped into Caesar’s shoes, took his pagan title of Pontifex Maximus, the supreme high priest of the pagan Roman religion, sat down on Caesar’s throne, and wrapped themselves in Caesar’s gaudy trappings. And that role they have continued ever since.
In regard to the title Pontifex, the Standard International Encyclopedia says this was “the title given by the ancient Romans to members of one of the two celebrated religious colleges. The chief of the order was called Pontifex Maximus. The pontiffs had general control of the official religion, and their head was the highest religious authority in the state. … Following Julius Caesar the emperor was the Pontifex Maximus. In the time of Theodosius [emperor, died a.d. 395] the title became equivalent to Pope, now one of the titles of the head of the Roman Catholic Church.”
Peter refused to accept homage from men—as when Cornelius the Roman centurion fell down at his feet and would have worshipped him, Peter protested quickly and said, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (Acts 10:25-26). Yet the popes accept the blasphemous title of “Holy Father” as theirs as a matter of right. And how the cardinals, bishops, and priests do like to set themselves apart from the congregations and to lord it over the people!
Surely if Peter had been a pope, “the supreme head of the church,” he would have declared that fact in his general epistles, for that was the place of all others to have asserted his authority. The popes have never been slow to make such claims for themselves, or to extend their authority as far as possible. But instead Peter refers to himself only as an apostle (of which there were eleven others), and as an elder or presbyter, that is, simply as a minister of Christ.
5 Paul’s Attitude toward Peter
It is very interesting to notice Paul’s attitude toward Peter. Paul was called to be an apostle at a later time, after church had been launched. Yet Peter had nothing to do with that choice, as he surely would have had, if he had been pope. Instead God called and ordained Paul without consulting Peter, as He has called and ordained many thousands of ministers and evangelists since then without reference to the popes of Rome. Paul was easily the greatest of the apostles, with a deeper insight into the way of salvation and a larger revealed knowledge concerning the mysteries of life and death. He wrote much more of the New Testament than did Peter. His thirteen epistles contain 2,023 verses, while Peter’s two epistles contain only 166 verses. And if we ascribe the Epistle to the Hebrews to Paul, as does the Roman Catholic Church (Confraternity Version, p. 397), he wrote an even larger proportion. Peter’s epistles do not stand first among the epistles, but after those of Paul; and in fact his second epistle was one of the last to be accepted by the church. Paul worked more recorded miracles than did Peter, and be seems to have established more churches than did Peter. Apart from the church at Rome, which we believe was established by laymen, Paul established more prominent and more permanent churches than did Peter. And, so far as the New Testament record goes, Paul’s influence in the church at Rome was much greater than was that of Peter. Paul mentions Peter more than once, but nowhere does he defer to Peter’s authority, or acknowledge him as pope.
Indeed, quite the contrary is the case. Paul had founded the church at Corinth, but when some there rebelled against his authority, even to the extent of favoring Peter, he does not give even an inch on his own authority. Instead he vigorously defends his authority, declaring, “Am I not an apostle? have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1), and again, “For in nothing was I behind the very chiefest apostles” (2 Corinthians 12:11), or, as translated in the Confraternity Version, “In no way have I fallen short of the most eminent apostles.” He declares that he has been “intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel of the circumcision” (Galatians 2:7). He therefore put himself on a level with all the other apostles. Certainly those ideas were incompatible with any idea of a pope in Paul’s day.
But beyond all that, on one occasion Paul publicly rebuked peter. When Peter at Antioch sided with the “false brethren” (v. 4) in their Jewish legalism and “drew back and separated himself” from the Gentiles and was even the cause of Barnabas being misled, Paul administered a severe rebuke. We read:
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation. But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Cephas before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest as do the Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14).
He then impressed upon Peter some good, sound, evangelical theology, declaring that:
“…a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ… because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (v. 16).
In other words, Paul gave the “Holy Father” a “dressing down” before them all, accusing him of not walking uprightly in the truth of the Gospel. Surely that was no way to talk to a pope! Imagine anyone today, even a cardinal, taking it upon himself to rebuke and instruct a real pope with such language! Just who was Paul that he should rebuke the Vicar of Christ for unchristian conduct? If Peter was the chief it was Paul’s duty and the duty of the other apostles to recognize him as such and to teach only what he approved. Obviously Paul did not regard Peter as infallible in faith and morals, or recognize any supremacy on his part.
6 Attitude of the Other Apostles toward Peter
The other apostles as well as Paul seem totally unaware of any appointment that made Peter the head of the church. Nowhere do they acknowledge his authority. And nowhere does he attempt to exercise authority over them. The only instance in which another man was chosen to succeed an apostle is recorded in Acts 1:15‑26, and there the choice was made not by Peter but by popular choice on the part the brethren who numbered about one hundred and twenty, and by the casting of lots.
On another occasion Peter, together with John, was sent by the apostles to preach the Gospel in Samaria (Acts 8:14). Imagine the pope today being sent by the cardinals or bishops on any such mission. It is well known that today the popes seldom if ever preach. They do issue statements, and they address select audiences which come to them. But they do not go out and preach the Gospel as did Peter and the other apostles.
The important church council in Jerusalem (Acts 15) reveals quite clearly how the unity of the church was expressed in apostolic days. Differences had arisen when certain men from Judaea came down to Antioch, in Syria, where Paul and Barnabas were working and insisted that certain parts of the Jewish ritual must be observed. Had the present Roman Catholic theory of the papacy been followed, there would have been no need at all for a council. The church in Antioch would have written a letter to Peter, the bishop of Rome, and he would have sent them an encyclical or bull settling the matter. And of all the churches the one at Antioch was the last that should have appealed to Jerusalem. For according to Roman Catholic legend Peter was bishop in Antioch for seven years before transferring his see to Rome! But the appeal was made, not to Peter, but to a church council in Jerusalem. At that council not Peter but James presided and announced the decision with the words, “Wherefore my judgment is…” (v. 19). And his judgment was accepted by the apostles and presbyters. Peter was present, but only after there had been “much questioning” (v. 7) did he even so much as express an opinion. He did not attempt to make any infallible pronouncements although the subject under discussion was a vital matter of faith. In any event it is clear that the unity of the early church was maintained not by the voice of Peter but by the decision of the ecumenical council which was presided over by James, the leader of the Jerusalem church. Furthermore, after that council Peter is never again mentioned in the book of Acts.
It is an old human failing for people to want to exercise authority over their fellow men. We are told that the disciples disputed among themselves which was to be accounted the greatest. Jesus rebuked them with the words: “If any man would be first, he shall be last of all, and servant of all” (Mark 9:35). On another occasion the mother of James and John came to Jesus with the request that her two sons should have the chief places in the kingdom. But He called the disciples to Him and said, “Ye know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. Not so shall it be among you: but whosoever would become great among you shall be your minister; and whosoever would be first among you shall be your servant: even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25-28). And even on the night in which Christ was delivered up to die they contended among themselves “which of them was accounted to be greatest” (Luke 22:24). In each instance Jesus taught them that they were not to seek to exercise lordship, but rather to excel in service. But in no instance did He settle the dispute by reminding them that Peter was the Prince of the Apostles. In fact they could not have argued that question at all if Peter had already been given the place of preeminence, as the Roman Church holds.
Christ alone is the Head of the church. “Other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). The church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20). Paul says that God “gave him [Christ] to be head over all things to the church, which is his body” (Ephesians 1:22-23). Besides Him there can be no earthly foundation or head of the church. Only a monstrosity can have two heads for one body.
7 Was Peter Ever in Rome?
According to Roman Catholic tradition Peter was the first bishop of Rome, his pontificate lasted twenty-five years, from a.d. 42 to 67, and he was martyred in Rome in a.d. 67. The Douay and Confraternity versions say that he was in Rome before the Jerusalem council of Acts 15, and that he returned to Jerusalem for that council, after which he went to Antioch, and then returned to Rome. In the Confraternity Version we read:
“After the resurrection the primacy was conferred upon him and immediately after the ascension he began to exercise it. After preaching in Jerusalem and Palestine he went to Rome, probably after his liberation from prison. Some years later he was in Jerusalem for the first church council, and shortly afterward at Antioch. In the year 67 he was martyred is Rome” (Introduction to the First Epistle of St. Peter).
The remarkable thing, however, about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome, is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it. The word Rome occurs only nine times in the Bible, and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to that city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend. The first twelve chapters of the book of Acts tell of Peter’s ministry and travels in Palestine and Syria. Surely if he had gone to the capital of the empire, that would have been mentioned. We may well ask, if Peter was superior to Paul, why does he receive so little attention after Paul comes on the scene? Not much is known about his later life, except that he traveled extensively, and that on at least some of his missionary journeys he was accompanied by his wife—for Paul says, “Have we no right to lead about a wife that is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas” (1 Corinthians 9:5). (The Confraternity Version here reads “sister” instead of “wife”; but the Greek word is gune, wife, not adelphe, sister.)
We know nothing at all about the origins of Christianity in Rome. This is acknowledged even by some Roman Catholic historians. It was already a flourishing church when Paul wrote his letter to the Romans in a.d. 58. Quite possibly it had been founded by some of those who were present in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and heard Peter’s great sermon when some 3,000 were converted, for Luke says that in that audience were “sojourners from Rome, both Jews and proselytes” (Acts 2:10). In any event there is nothing but unfounded tradition to support the claim that Peter founded the church in Rome and that he was its bishop for 25 years. The fact is that the apostles did not settle in one place as did the diocesan bishops of much later date, so that it is quite incorrect to speak of Rome as the “See of Peter,” or to speak of the popes occupying “the chair” of St. Peter.
Legend was early busy with the life of Peter. The one which tells of his twenty‑five years’ episcopate in Rome has its roots in the apocryphal stories originating with a heretical group, the Ebionites, who rejected much of the supernatural content of the New Testament, and the account is discredited both by its origin and by its internal inconsistencies. The first reference that might be given any credence at all is found in the writings of Eusebius, and that reference is doubted even by some Roman Catholic writers. Eusebius wrote in Greek about the year 310, and his work was translated by Jerome. A 17th century historian, William Cave (1637-1713), chaplain to King Charles II of England, in his most important work, The Lives of the Apostles, says:
“It cannot be denied that in St. Jerome’s translation it is expressly said that he (Peter) continued twenty‑five years as bishop in that city: but then it is as evident that this was his own addition, who probably set things down as the report went in his time, no such thing being found in the Greek copy of Eusebius.”
Exhaustive research by archaeologists has been made down through the centuries to find some inscription in the Catacombs and other ruins of ancient places in Rome that would indicate that Peter at least visited Rome. But the only things found which gave any promise at all were some bones of uncertain origin. L. H. Lehmann, who was educated for the priesthood at the University for the Propagation of the Faith, Rome, tells us of a lecture by a noted Roman archaeologist, Professor Marucchi, given before his class, in which he said that no shred of evidence of Peter’s having been in the Eternal City had ever been unearthed, and of another archaeologist, Di Rossi, who declared that for forty years his greatest ambition had been to unearth in Rome some inscription which would verify the papal claim that the Apostle Peter was actually in Rome, but that he was forced to admit that he had given up hope of success in his search. He had the promise of handsome rewards by the church if he succeeded. What he had dug up verified what the New Testament says about the formation of the Christian church in Rome, but remained absolutely silent regarding the claims of the bishops of Rome to be the successors of the apostle Peter (cf., The Soul of a Priest, p. 10).
And, after all, suppose Peter’s bones should be found and identified beyond question, what would that prove? The important thing is, does the Church of Rome teach the same Gospel that Peter taught? Succession to Peter should be claimed, not by those who say they have discovered his bones, but by those who teach the Gospel that he taught—the evangelical message of salvation by grace through faith.
Furthermore, if mere residence conferred superiority, then Antioch would outrank Rome; for the same tradition which asserts that Peter resided in Rome asserts that he first resided in Antioch, a small city in Syria. It is well known that during the time of the apostles and for generations later the Eastern cities and the Eastern church had the greatest influence, and that the Roman church was comparatively insignificant. The first councils were held in Eastern cities and were composed almost altogether of Eastern bishops. Four of the patriarchates were Eastern—Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople, and Alexandria. Rome did not gain the ascendancy until centuries later, after the breakup of the Roman empire. If any church had a special right to be called the Mistress of all the churches, it surely was the church in Jerusalem, where our Lord lived and taught, where He was crucified, where Christianity was first preached by Peter and the other apostles, where Peter’s great Pentecostal sermon was delivered, and from which went forth to Antioch and Rome and to all the world the glad tidings of salvation. Long before the Reformation Rome’s claim to be the only true church was rejected by the eastern churches, which were the most ancient and in the early days much the most influential churches in the world.
Another interesting and very important if not decisive line of evidence in this regard is the fact that Paul was preeminently the apostle to the Gentiles while Peter was preeminently the apostle to the Jews, this division of labor having been by divine appointment. In Galatians 2:7-8 Paul says that he “had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with the gospel of the circumcision (for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles).” Thus Paul’s work was primarily among the Gentiles, while Peter’s was primarily among the Jews. Peter ministered to the Jews who were in exile in Asia Minor, “to the elect who are sojourners of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1), and in his journeys he went as far east as Babylon, from which city his first epistle (and probably his second) was addressed to the Jewish Christians in Asia Minor: “She that is in Babylon, elect together with you, saluteth you” (1 Peter 5:13). As most of Paul’s letters were addressed to churches he had evangelized, so Peter wrote to the Jewish brethren that he had evangelized, who were scattered through those provinces. While there is no Scriptural evidence at all that Peter went west to Rome, here is a plain statement of Scripture that he did go east to Babylon. Why cannot the Roman Church take Peter’s word to that effect?
But his testimony, of course, must be circumvented by those who are so anxious to place him in Rome, and they take a curious way to do it. The Confraternity edition has an introductory note to 1 Peter which reads: “The place of composition is given as ‘Babylon’… a cryptic designation of the city of Rome.”
But there is no good reason for saying that “Babylon” means “Rome.” The reason alleged by the Church of Rome for understanding Babylon to mean Rome is that in the book of Revelation Rome is called by that name (Revelation 17:5, 18:2). But there is a great difference between an apocalyptic book such as the book of Revelation, which for the most part is written in figurative and symbolic language, and an epistle such as this which is written in a straightforward, matter-of-fact style.
In regard to Peter’s assignment to work among the Jews, it is known that there were many Jews in Babylon in New Testament times. Many had not returned to Palestine after the Exile. Many others, such as those in Asia Minor and Egypt, had been driven out or had left Palestine for various reasons. Josephus says that some “gave Hyrcanus, the high priest, a habitation at Babylon, where there were Jews in great numbers” (Antiquities, Book XV, Ch. II, 2). Peter’s assigned ministry to the Jews took him to those places where the Jews were in the greatest numbers, even to Babylon.
8 Paul’s Epistle to the Romans
The strongest reason of all for believing that Peter never was in Rome is found in Paul’s epistle to the Romans. According to Roman Church tradition, Peter reigned as pope in Rome for 25 years, from a.d. 42 to 67. It is generally agreed that Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome was written in the year a.d. 58, at the very height of Peter’s alleged episcopacy there. He did not address his letter to Peter, as he should have done if Peter was in Rome and the head of all the churches, but to the saints in the church in Rome. How strange for a missionary to write to a church and not mention the pastor! That would be an inexcusable affront. What would we think of a minister today who would dare to write to a congregation in a distant city and without mentioning their pastor tell them that he was anxious to go there that he might have some fruit among them even as he has had in his own community (1:13), that he was anxious to instruct and strengthen them, and that he was anxious to preach the Gospel there where it had not been preached before? How would their pastor feel if he knew that such greetings had been sent to 27 of his most prominent members who were mentioned by name in the epistle (Ch. 16)? Would he stand for such ministerial ethics? And if he were the most prominent minister in the land, as allegedly was the bishop of Rome, such an affront would be all the more inexcusable. This point alone ought to open the eyes of the most obdurate person blinded by the traditions of the Roman Church.
If Peter had been working in the church in Rome for some 16 years, why did Paul write to the people of the church in these words: “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the and ye may be established” (1:11)? Was not that a gratuitous insult to Peter? Was it not a most presumptuous thing for Paul to go over the head of the pope? And if Peter was there and had been there for 16 years, why was it necessary for Paul to go at all, especially since in his letter he says that he does not build on another’s foundation: “making it my aim so to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, that I might not build upon another man’s foundation” (15:20)? This indicates clearly that Peter was not then in Rome, and that he had not been there, that in fact Paul was writing this letter because no apostle had yet been in Rome to clarify the Gospel to them and to establish them in the faith. At the conclusion of this letter Paul sends greetings to the 27 people mentioned above, including some women, also to several groups. But he does not mention Peter in any capacity.
And again, had Peter been in Rome prior to or at the time when Paul arrived there as a prisoner in a.d. 61, Paul could not have failed to have mentioned him, for in the epistles written from there during his imprisonment—Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon—he gives a complete list of his fellow workers in Rome, and Peter’s name is not among them. He spent two whole years there as a prisoner, and received all who came to visit him (Acts 28:30). Nor does he mention Peter in his second epistle to Timothy, which was written from Rome during his second imprisonment, in a.d. 67, the year that Peter is alleged to have suffered martyrdom in Rome, and shortly before his own death (2 Timothy 4:6‑8). He says that all his friends have forsaken him, and that only Luke is with him (4:10-11). Where was Peter? If Peter was in Rome when Paul was there as a prisoner, he surely lacked Christian courtesy since he never called to offer aid. Surely he must have been the first absentee bishop on a big scale!
All of this makes it quite certain that Peter never was in Rome at all. Not one of the early church fathers gives any support to the belief that Peter was a bishop in Rome until Jerome in the fifth century. Du Pin, a Roman Catholic historian, acknowledges that “the primacy of Peter is not recorded by the early Christian writers, Justin Martyr (139), Irenaeus (178), Clement of Alexandria (190), or others of the most ancient fathers.” The Roman Church thus builds her papal system, not on New Testament teaching, nor upon the facts of history, but only on unfounded traditions.
The chronological table for Peter’s work, so far as we can work it out, seems to be roughly as follows:
Most Bible students agree that Paul’s conversion occurred in the year a.d. 37. After that he went to Arabia (Galatians 1:17) , and after three years went up to Jerusalem where he remained with Peter for 15 days (Galatians 1:18). That brings us to the year a.d. 40. Fourteen years later he again went to Jerusalem (Galatians 2:1), where he attended the Jerusalem council described in Acts 15, in which Peter also participated (v. 6). This conference dealt primarily with the problems which arose in connection with the presentation of the Gospel in Jewish and Gentile communities. Paul and Barnabas presented their case, and were authorized by the council to continue their ministry to the Gentiles (Acts 15:22‑29); and this quite clearly was the occasion on which Paul was assigned to work primarily among the Gentiles while Peter was assigned to work primarily among the Jews (Galatians 2:7‑8), since this same Jerusalem council is spoken of in the immediate context (Galatians 2:1‑10). So this brings us to the year a.d. 54, and Peter still is in Syria, 12 years after the time that the Roman tradition says that he began his reign in Rome.
Sometime after the Jerusalem council Peter also came to Antioch, on which occasion it was necessary for Paul to reprimand him because of his conformity to Judaistic rituals (Galatians 2:11-21). And the same Roman tradition which says that Peter reigned in Rome also says that he governed the church in Antioch for seven years before going to Rome. Hence we reach the year a.d. 61, with Peter still in Syria! Indeed, how could Peter have gone to Rome, which was the very center of the Gentile world? Would he defy the decision reached by all the apostles and brethren from the various churches who met in the famous first Christian council in Jerusalem? Clearly the Scriptural evidence is that Peter accepted that decision, and that his work was primarily among the Jews of the dispersion, first in Asia Minor, and later as far east as Babylon—that in fact his work took him in the opposite direction from that which Roman tradition assigns to him!
And even if Peter had been the first bishop of Rome, that would not mean that the bishops who followed him would have had any of the special powers that he had. The apostles had the power to work miracles and to write inspired Scripture. Even if Peter had been granted special powers above those of the other apostles, there is nothing in Scripture to indicate that those powers could have been transmitted to his successors. In his second epistle he makes a reference to his approaching death (1:14), and surely that would have been the appropriate place to have said who his successor should be and what the method of choosing future bishops should be. But he gives no indication that he even thought of such things. Peter as an apostle had qualifications and gifts which the popes do not have and dare not claim. The fact of the matter is that with the passing of the apostles their place as guides to the church was taken not by an infallible pope but by an inspired and infallible Scripture which had been developed by that time, which we call the New Testament, through which God would speak to the church from that time until the end of the age.
We may be certain that if the humble, spiritually‑minded Peter were to come back to earth he would not acknowledge as his successor the proud pontiff who wears the elaborate, triple-decked, gold bejeweled crown, who wears such fabulously expensive clothing, who is carried on the shoulders of the people who stands before the high altar of worship, who is surrounded by a Swiss military guard, and who receives such servile obedience from the people that he is in effect, if not in reality, worshipped by them. The dedicated Christian minister who serves his people faithfully and humbly, and not the pope, is the true successor of Peter.
Let it be understood that we do not seek to minimize or downgrade but only to expose the preposterous claims that the Roman Church makes for its popes and hierarchy. Peter was a prince of God, but he was not the Prince of the Apostles. He, together with the other apostles, Mary, and the early Christians, turned from the religion in which they were born, Judaism, and became simply Christians, followers of Christ. Not one of them was a Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism did not develop until centuries later.
The doctrine of the primacy of Peter is just one more of the many errors that the Church of Rome has added to the Christian religion. With the exposure of that fallacy the foundation of the Roman Church is swept away. The whole papal system stands or falls depending on whether or not Peter was a pope in Rome, and neither the New Testament nor reliable historical records give any reason to believe that he ever held that position or that he ever was in Rome.
END OF SECTION ONE