In a post on September 1st, 2006 called Upon These Popes We Will Build Our Business, I addressed the contradictions that were presented in an article written by Catholic Answers entitled Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth. In this article it was argued that historic Catholicism is the one and only true church, saying, “
"Jesus said his Church would be ‘the light of the world.’ He then noted that ‘a city set on a hill cannot be hid’ (Matt. 5:14). This means his Church is a visible organization...Jesus established only one Church, not a collection of differing churches (Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, and so on).”
This, coupled with some other interesting articles over at Pulpit Live and then this article by Dave Armstrong at Cor ad cor loquitur, prompted me to address this error of thinking which says that the true church will have only one organizational manifestation - i.e. - Papalism. I concluded that article with the following:
It is clear that Rome’s vast religious empire is impressive - visibly speaking. Rome’s monetary vitality, its hierarchy, its legal and constitutional structure, along with its extensive array of traditions and culture, make it an amazing organization by the world’s standards; but not by the standards of God’s Word. As a business, it is indeed impressive, and it’s been around for a long, long time. But when we examine this empire in view of God’s Word we find that Roman Catholic unity is utterly bankrupt, such that those who come to saving faith from within such an organization do so despite the organization itself as in the case of Martin Luther.
Roman Catholics typically try to prove their authenticity as the true church by pointing to what they believe is a long legacy of organizational and doctrinal stability over the centuries. What the previous post pointed out is that organizational stability cannot prove ecclesiastical authenticity any more than the appearance of the Moon can prove that it is made out of cheese. Appearances can be quite deceiving. In fact, the argument of organizational stability throughout the centuries actually works against the Roman apologist because of this simple fact: the whole world lies in the power of the evil one [1 John 5:19]. Long epochs of organizational stability, within a world that hates the true church, may be an argument that works to the contrary for those who would point to Saint Peter’s Basilica as evidence of ecclesiastical piety. Actually, the true church, throughout history, has been oppressed, persecuted, afflicted and thereby scattered throughout the world. A brief consideration of the first century church would illustrate that point well enough.
But what about this claim of doctrinal stability throughout the centuries? The Roman Catholic apologist will often claim that Rome has held fast to the same unfailing doctrines throughout the centuries, contrary to the vast spread of doctrinal variance found among the various Protestant denominations throughout the world.
Oh yes - those “unfailing Roman Catholic doctrines throughout the centuries.” Anyone who posits an argument like this is simply barking up the wrong polemical tree. Rome’s doctrinal history is nothing less than a lesson on dynamism, and Loraine Boettner’s book, Roman Catholicism, is a classic work and wonderfully summarizes for us the tragic legacy of Rome’s evolutionary doctrine. The following survey unveils a theological monkey in the making:
- 375 Veneration of angels and dead saints, and use of images.
- 394 The Mass, as a daily celebration.
- 500 Priests began to dress differently from laymen.
- 528 Extreme Unction.
- 593 The doctrine of Purgatory, established by Gregory I.
- 600 Latin language, used in prayer and worship, imposed by Gregory I.
- “ Prayers directed to Mary, dead saints and angels...
- 607 Title of pope, or universal bishop, given to Boniface III by emperor Phocas.
- 709 Kissing the pope’s foot, began with pope Constantine.
- 786 Worship of the cross, images and relics...
- 850 Holy water, mixed with a pinch of salt and blessed by a priest...
- 890 Worship of St. Joseph.
- 927 College of Cardinals established.
- 995 Canonization of dead saints, first by pope John XV.
- 998 Fasting on Fridays and during Lent.
- “ The Mass, developed gradually as a sacrifice, attendance made obligatory in the 11th Century.
- 1079 Celibacy of the priesthood, decreed by pope Gregory VII (Hildebrand).
- 1090 The Rosary, mechanical praying with beads, invented by Peter the Hermit.
- 1184 The Inquisition, instituted by the Council of Verona.
- 1190 Sale of Indulgences.
- 1215 Transubstantiation, proclaimed by pope Innocent III.
- “ Auricular Confession of sins to a priest instead of to God, instituted by pope Innocent III, in Lateran Council.
- 1220 Adoration of the wafer (Host), decreed by pope Honorius III.
- 1229 Bible forbidden to laymen, placed on the Index of Forbidden Books by the Council of Toulouse.
- 1251 The scapular, invented by Simon Stock, an English monk.
- 1414 Cup forbidden to the people at communion by Council of Constance.
- 1439 Purgatory proclaimed as a dogma by the Council of Florence.
- “ The doctrine of Seven Sacraments affirmed.
- 1545 Tradition declared of equal authority with the Bible by the Council of Trent.
- 1546 Apocryphal books added to the Bible by the Council of Trent.
- 1854 Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, proclaimed by pope Pius IX.
- 1864 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.
- 1870 Infallibility of the pope in matters of faith and morals, proclaimed by the Vatican Council.
- 1950 Assumption of the Virgin Mary (bodily ascension into heaven shortly after her death), proclaimed by pope Pius XII.
- 1965 Mary proclaimed Mother of the Church, by pope Paul VI. As can be clearly seen in the above summary, those who wish to argue that Rome has consistently upheld a unified body of doctrine are defending a lost cause. The above table is somewhat Babel-esque in its appearance, such that every brick of Catholic doctrine, that has been laid down in history, unveils the pride of those who have declared - I will build this church [Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism, The Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, pp. 7-9 ].
Reading through this doctrinal descent is like watching a train wreck in slow motion: Catholic doctrine has been anything but stable or unified; most importantly, it has been anything but Christ-honoring. What has been stable throughout the centuries is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the plain message of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone via the Scriptures alone - and all for the glory of God alone - that has been preserved throughout the generations amidst a church that has been variously persecuted, scattered and afflicted - however, Christ’s bride has always persevered by grace in the truth of the Gospel - for without the genuine Gospel, there is no salvation, nor godly perseverance. Thus, wherever the flames of Gospel truth do burn, there you have the Savior’s lampstand and city set upon a hill.
The true church doesn’t have one “Basilica” to which the Christian can point and declare - the Lord Jesus has built His church. Instead, the true church has existed wherever the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been proclaimed - with our without a building.
Ultimately, the Lord Himself, and His Gospel, is the church’s building; His truth is her firm foundation, of which Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone.