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Cults and World Religions

Roman Catholics



. . .the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, ‘does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence&. 110
Catechism of the Catholic Church
paragraph 82 111

The Catholic Church is the one true Church established by Jesus Christ for the salvation of all mankind.
Rev. John A. O’Brien
The Faith of Millions, 46 112

 

The twenty-fifth session of the Council of Trent decrees that the images of Christ and the Virgin Mary, and of the other saints, are especially to be had and retained in the churches, and that honor and veneration are to be paid to them.
Archdeacon Sinclair
Image Worship 113

Long, long ago, in a time which in many respects is not very far away, there were no Protestants or Catholics. There was merely, in the language of the Apostles’ Creed, the “catholic church.” In this usage, the true meaning of the word catholic is “universal.” The point of the Creed is that there was one, worldwide body of Christ, “the church.”

How then did we arrive at a point where, at times, various theologians have called the Pope the anti-Christ? Is the Roman Catholic Church Christian? Or a cult?

History

Jesus died in the time frame of A.D. 30-33, depending upon your preference of dating events. James, the brother of the Lord, wrote his epistle, the biblical book of James, in about A.D. 45. This is most, likely, the first book of the New Testament to be written. This letter does not evidence the existence of false teachers, but it does show evidence of man’s views over God’s views, a preferring of money and position over spiritual matters (2:1-13; 5:1-6).

Paul’s letter to the Galatians comes in A.D. 49 and is a defense against false teachers. In Galatia, the issue was legalism, the adding of works to the message of salvation, in this case compliance with the rituals of Judaism. This is the first New Testament letter of Paul’s to be written. All of the other letters also fight the influence of false teachers.

John is the last of the Apostles to die. His letters reflect the same conflict with false teaches as does Paul’s. John’s death around A.D. 98-100 ends an era. The second century ushers in the age of the church fathers. This is a unique time period. The letters and books of the New Testament are gathered and the New Testament is “created.” In the process, teachers with doctrines which may sound a “little different” arrive on the seen. The orthodox leaders of the church must define their terms and doctrine. This is the beginning of systematic theology, the gathering together of all the biblical passages on a given topic so that an actual statement of meaning may be created. Over the third, fourth, and fifth centuries this process would evolve and mature. The famous creeds of Christendom will come from these efforts – the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed being the most well known.

The Creeds are really nothing more than the statements of faith of a young, maturing church, issued in response to what the church called “heresy.” Initially, at least, the false doctrines were heresy because the teachers promoting the new doctrines were leaders of local churches. They would be excommunicated in most cases and form their own groups – cults!

Other events, more political in nature would also direct the life of Christianity. In the midst of the debates over theological meaning, Constantine (A.D. 274-337) became emperor of Rome (A.D. 312). In a battle with the Viscounts, Constantine had a vision of a Cross in the night sky which carried the message “in this sign conquer.” Taking this as an omen, Constantine arose, had the Cross painted on his shields and went off to battle. He decisively won. He attributed the victory to Christ and made Christianity the religion of the empire. State and the church of Christ were united. 114

This union had two main results. First, the church enjoyed a long period of peace from persecution. Much of its life in the Roman Empire witnessed periods of hiding from the emperors rather than siding with them. Second, everyone “became” Christian. The emphasis on individual salvation by grace was lost.

A third, unforseen, result of Constantine’s effort arose from the expansion of the empire. As Constantine moved east, he fell in love with Turkey and built Constantinople. The emperor moved his headquarters there, making the east the seat of power, detracting from the power of the ancient capital of Rome. As time passes, the conflict between the bishops of Rome and Constantinople will lead to a fracture within the structure of the church.

Councils, Creeds, and Popes

Along the way, the pattern of church decision making for the next thousand years arose with the use of councils. The council finds its biblical basis in Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council. In Acts, the church, under the leadership of James, the brother of the Lord, met with the Apostles, other key church members, Paul and Barnabas, and those advocating the need for circumcision (Judaizers). That council ruled that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised to become a Christian. This was a key decision point in the history of the early church.

The church of Constantine faced the heresy of the God-ship of Jesus. Arius promoted that God the Father and Jesus the Son were separate, distinct Persons. In other words, in our terms, the battle was over the Trinity. Constantine called a church council which meet in Nicaea, a city just outside of Constantinople. In A.D.325, the Council of Nicaea adopted what has become known as the Nicene Creed, a creed which sets forth the nature of the Godhead, the Trinity. This is a key development in the growth of pure Christian doctrine. The Creed is set forth on the next page.

Many councils would follow this one. The First Council of Constantinople in A.D. 381 would resolve another difficulty with the relationship of the Godhead, namely, whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from just the Father, or both the Father and the Son. For the early church, Creeds, or variations thereto, became the solution to early church issues.

The Nicene Creed

I believe in one God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.

And I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, born of the Father before all ages, God of God, Light of Light, true God of true God; begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made, who for us and for our salvation came down from heaven. And He became flesh by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary and was made man. He was also crucified for us, suffered under Pontius Pilate, and was buried. And on the third day He rose again, according to the Scriptures. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father. He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. And of His kingdom there will be no end.

And I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father and the Son, who together with the Father and the Son is adored and glorified, and who spoke through the prophets, and one holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. I confess one baptism for the forgiveness of sins. And I await the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the world to come. Amen. 114a

The fracture between East and West arises, in part, from the need of Rome to maintain power in Europe. While not the first to call himself Pope, Leo the Great (A.D. 451) is important for both spiritual and religious matters. Recognizing the weakness of European governments, Leo takes it upon himself to negotiate with Attila the Hun. As a result, Rome is spared and the popes join the political forces of society. Where Constantine linked state to church, Leo the Great reversed the roles, uniting church to state.

At the same time, Leo called a Council at Chalcedon to consider the brewing controversy over the nature of Christ – was He part God, part man? Did he have two natures? Did the God nature over power the man nature? This Council resolved the issue with the doctrinal position that Jesus was perfect God and perfect man in a union (“hypostatic union” or “hypostatsis”), another of those unexplainable characteristics of God.

Other important church events involving the Pope occur including:

Please remember that although these leaders are called “popes,” until the Reformation, this is not what we now call the Roman Catholic Church. This is the Church of Christ, the growth of the church in Jerusalem formed by the original converts under the leadership of the Apostles. There is but one church, with many “main centers.” There was no single leadership entity. Major churches arose early in Rome, in Antioch, in Ephesus, in Alexandria, Egypt, in Constantinople. Our knowledge of early events and controversies come from the writings of the leaders of these early centers. Men such as Clement of Rome, Papias, Polycarp, Ireaneus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, Justin Martyr, Origen, and Augustine (the church “fathers”) give us the theology and problems of the early church.

At the same time, a power struggle was likely to ensue. Controversy arose over Constantine moving the capital of the Roman Empire to Asia. Constantinople became a major center for the church simply because of the presence of the Emperor. At the same time, Europe grew weak politically where church leaders like Leo the Great stepped into the power void. The struggle between Rome and Constantinople developed over time as the power struggle of church leadership.

It all comes to a head in 1054, but other events and differences arose between the two religious centers prior to the final schism. Early on, Rome and Constantinople fought over the dating of Easter. 115 While this difference was laid aside, it should be noted that most of the controversies leading to the various councils arose in the East. Further, there were differences between the two centers over whether priests could marry, on the necessity of the priest to have a beard, over the matter of the procession of the Holy Spirit from the Son, and on the place of icons (not only crosses, but figures of saints) in the churches. In 1054, the church at Constantinople started a new debate over the fact that the church at Rome used unleavened bread for the Eucharist (Lord’s Supper). This matter, while it may seem trivial to us, led to the final split of the two ecclesiastical centers. The two “popes” excommunicated each other. The Greek Orthodox Church was born. The church at Rome plodded on believing it was the true Church of Christ.

Intellectualism

The entire period between somewhere around 500 and as late as about 1200 is known as the dark or middle ages. The power of the clergy builds. The laity are taught they have no access to God except through the clergy. The economic and social conditions of the people are generally poor. There are only the rulers/rich and the poor. Theology generally sits still during this time period. Monasteries and the Orders of the Nuns are formed to preserve the Scriptures and to study God. The Franciscans, the Dominicans, and the Jesuits are created.

A turning point was the development of what is now called “scholasticism.” This is the movement of theology to scholarly study at “universities” from the councils and “on the street.” While much good comes from this period to offset events such as the crusades, bad develops as well. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) writes his thesis, Summa Thelogica. This becomes the theology of the Dominican Order of the church and will be revived in 1879 by the Roman Catholic Church to become the systematic theology of that Church.

As a result of many events, including the need to replenish the money chests depleted by the Crusades, the church starts selling “indulgences.” Effectively, an indulgence is a pre-sold penance or forgiveness of sin. Feel like going out and fooling around tonight? Buy your forgiveness in advance! Not biblical, but it fits with the developing power of the church in Rome. Through the past 600-800 years leading to this event, the professional clergy has developed and is intent upon protecting itself. This is merely one of those steps.

Things continue to go downhill. Then, Marin Luther, a priest, posts his famous ninety-five theses for debate on the door of the Castle church in Wittenberg on October 31, 1517. The Reformation had commenced and the Church of Christ is about to take on a new look. All the Reformers maintained three uniform principles:

Responses and Problems

What the Reformers soon discovered was that beyond these basic tenets and the orthodox statements of the creeds, the Reformers could not agree amongst themselves. Perhaps, the greatest debates involved the same issues as those with the church in Rome. Issues such as the meaning of the Last Supper, the place and purpose of Baptism, and the issue of free will, drive wedges into the various groups of Reformers. Just as the Church of Christ had split between the power centers of Rome and Constantinople, so, now, the Reformers each went their own way and what we call denominations were born.

And, all the while, the church at Rome plodded on.

There is a second page on Roman Catholics

Footnotes:
110. http://www.carm.org/rc/intro.htm
111. All “paragraph” reference citations in this chapter will be from this Catechism.
112. John Ankerberg and John Weldon, The Facts on Roman Catholicism, Eugene, Or: Harvest House Publishers, 1993, 4.
113. William C. Irvine, Heresies Exposed, New York: Loizeaux Brothers, Inc. Bible Trust Depot, 1917, 140.
114. Some historians, including good Christian scholars, speculate that political expediency influenced Constantine more than the vision. In either case, the results are the same.
114a. Ronald F. Youngblood, general editor; F.F. Bruce and R.K. Harrison, consulting editors, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary: An authoritative one-volume reference work on the Bible with full color illustrations [computer file], electronic edition of the revised edition of Nelson’s illustrated Bible dictionary, Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1995.
115. Easter Sunday falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 20, the nominal date of the Spring Equinox, although some hold that the actual date of the Equinox or March 21 should be used. The year-to-year sequence is so complicated that it takes 5.7 million years to repeat. The second century controversy between East and West was over whether or not Easter should always be on a Sunday. The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrated Easter on Passover, the fourteenth day of Nisan, regardless of the day of the week. The West celebrated Easter on the Sunday following Passover. The West prevailed in the united church at the Council of Nicaea (325). Changes to the calendar have made the Western church use the Equinox dating system which moves Easter away from Passover as the actual date reference. After the split, the Greek (Eastern) Orthodox Church returns to using Passover. Accordingly, Eastern Orthodox and the rest of Christianity may celebrate Easter as much as a month apart.

 

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