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Upon This Rock? 

"He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the first-born from he dead; so that He Himself might come to have first place in everything."

According to the Scriptures there is a "catholic" (universal) Church. Not an organization headquartered in Rome, Italy but the universal Church which Christ is and has been building since Pentecost (Matt. 16:18; Acts 2; Eph. 2:20-22). Individuals (Jew and Gentile) called out from each generation who having believed in Jesus Christ and his finished work on the cross on their behalf are, to the glory of Jesus Christ, eternally redeemed, justified, sanctified and one day glorified (Acts 26:18; Rom. 3:24; 8:29-30; 1Cor. 1:2,30; 6:11; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14; Heb. 2:11; 9:12; 10:10).

Romanism, however, claims that the Bishop of Rome is the divinely appointed "Vicar of Christ." That he is the head of the church on earth and that the only true church on earth is the church of Rome. Asserting absolute authority and infallibility to its successive "Popes" and their extra-biblical traditions. Their claim for Rome's papal authority is based on an interpretation of Matthew 16:18-19. That the apostle Peter was
given his authoritative position by Jesus Christ and since (they claim) Peter was the first "Bishop of Rome" and therefore the first "Pope," his authoritative office is passed down to each successive Roman "Pope." But the idea propagated by the Roman church that Peter was the first "Pope" is fiction pure and simple. There is not a hint of Biblical or historical evidence that Peter, during his lifetime, was at any time considered or called the "Bishop of Rome." Nor did the apostle ever claim for himself the kind of ecclesiastical powers the later bishops of Rome declared for themselves. In fact, Peter actually taught to the contrary:
"Therefore, I exhort the elders among you as your fellow-elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of god; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; nor yet as lording it over those allotted to our charge, but proving to be examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:1-4, emphasis mine).
Several years after the death of Peter, the Apostle John, while exiled to the island of Patmos because of his testimony for Jesus, received from the glorified Christ (Messiah) prophetic messages to seven churches located in Asia Minor (Rev. 1:9; 2-3). To two of these churches, Ephesus and Pergamum, Jesus mentioned the teaching of a certain sect called the Nicolaitans. A teaching that the church at Ephesus was applauded for rejecting but the other, Pergamum, was reprimanded and warned to repent for allowing their doctrine to filter into its assemblies, to the effect that some were holding to it. Based on the interpretation of its name, nikao, meaning "to conquer, and laos, meaning the people, John Walvoord comments that some have seen this sect as "the forerunners of the clerical hierarchy superimposed upon the laity and robbing them of spiritual freedom" (The Revelation Of Jesus Christ, A Commentary By John F. Walvoord). J.A. Seiss concurs in his book The Apocalypse, Lectures On The Book Of Revelation where he comments on the warning to Pergamum regarding this teaching:
"It had those who held to another system of ideas involving tyrannical lordship over the Church; Nicolaitans, or people-conquerors (emphasis mine)."
So if this interpretation is correct the destructive idea of a dominating, clerical hierarchy within Church structure was introduced quite early and explicitly warned against by Christ Himself. Though the Church (local and universal) was to be organized, it was never to be an organization run by a hierarchical elite. It is to be a living organism (the Body of Christ) made up of redeemed and sanctified saints (true believers, holy ones), baptized, indwelt and gifted by the Holy Spirit for the specific work of equipping the saints for service (Eph. 4:11-16) and reaching the world with the good news of the Gospel, being directed by the resurrected Christ as its Head (Eph. 2:22; 5:23; Col. 1:18).

The Roman church lists "Popes" from the first century onward but the word "pope" (Papa) was first applied to ALL western bishops. It wasn't until around 500 AD that the name began to be restricted to the bishop of Rome. The idea that the bishop of Rome should have Authority over the Whole Church was a slow growth and bitterly contested at every step and never at any time universally recognized!

One thing about the church at Rome is that it was truly Roman in the sense that it resembled the personality of the city/empire itself. It actually produced no theologians but took on many of the leadership qualities of the Caesars. The fleshly, grandiose ideas of the Roman church obviously was due to the fact that Rome was already the capital of the empire in which the Church had its humble beginnings.

The first established, recognized local church was in Jerusalem, and then Antioch. The Apostle Paul at the writing of his epistle to the Romans (A.D. 55-56) had not yet been to Rome. So no one is actually certain how the church there was founded. Based on New Testament evidence and early writings it seems unlikely that either Paul or Peter reached Rome before A.D.60; several years after Paul's epistle in which he stated he longed to see them in order that he might impart some spiritual gift to them that they may be established (Rom. 1:11-13). His letter to the Romans became the most important doctrinal book in the New Testament. Paul's desire to preach in Rome, along with his policy not to build upon another man's foundation (Rom. 19:20; Acts 19:21), sanctions the notion that Peter was not in Rome before the time of Paul writing his Roman Epistle.

Years before a church was founded at Rome there were already many other established churches throughout the empire over which elders were appointed (Acts 14:23). The main leader eventually called "Bishop." But it wasn't until the third century that the bishop of Rome was to base his claim on Matt. 16:18 (Calixtus I, 218-223). And even then Tertullian of Carthage, polemicist and first great writer of Christian literature in Latin, called him a usurper in speaking as if he was Bishop of bishops.

The following is a condensed history of the evolution of Roman Papacy based on Dr. Henry H. Halley's Church History (Halley's Bible Handbook):

Silvester I was bishop of Rome when Constantine became emperor and he (Constantine), according to typical Roman arrogance, regarded himself as Head of the Church and presided over the first world council of Nicaea (325 AD). But even then this council accorded the bishops of Alexandria and Antioch full jurisdiction over their Provinces as the Roman bishop had over his. There was not even a hint that they were subject to Rome, but with Silvester I and Constantine we see the beginnings of the diabolical union of the church in Rome and the State.

It wasn't until Julius I at the council of Sardica (AD 343), that the authority of the Roman Bishop was recognized. But that council was not an "Ecumenical Council" since it was composed of western churchmen only. And by the end of the fourth century there remained five dominant centers: Rome, Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria, whose bishops had come to be called "Patriarchs" of equal authority and control over their own Provinces. But when the empire split between east and west Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria acknowledged the leadership of Constantinople and the leadership of "Christendom" became a struggle between Constantinople in the east and Rome in the west.

In the fifth century the Roman empire was disolving because of the "Barbarian migration" and as a result of the distress of those times Augustine wrote his spiritualizing work, "The City of God," which envisioned a universal Christian empire. That literary work was greatly influential in molding opinion favorable to a Universal Church Hierarchy under one Head and promoting the church at Rome's claim to Lordship.

Leo I (440-461 AD) is considered by some historians as the first "Pope." With the condition of the Empire and its weak emperors, Leo became the strong man of the hour and taking advantage claimed himself (by divine appointment, of course) "Primate of all Bishops" and obtained from Emperor Valentinian III imperial recognition. To enhance his reputation he persuaded Attila the Hun to spare the city and begged mercy from Genseric the Vandal. He then proclaimed himself "Lord of the whole Church," advocated "Exclusive Universal Papacy" and said any resistance to his authority was a sure way to Hell. But the ecumenical council of Chalcedon (451 AD) gave the Patriarch of Consantinople equal prerogatives with the bishop of Rome. So the struggle for supremacy continued.

With the fall of the Roman Empire in 476 AD the bishop of Rome became free from civil authority.

Gregory I (590-604) generally is regarded the first "Pope." At that time the "Patriarch" of Constantinople called himself "Universal Bishop." Gregory considered this vicious and haughty and even refused to apply it to himself. In his personal life he was basically a good man and worked hard at reforms within the church.

Zacharias (741-752) was instrumental in making Pepin, father of Charlemagne, King of the Franks. The next in line, Stephen II requested Pepin to bring his army to Italy and he defeated the Lombards and he gave their lands (Central Italy) to the "Pope." This was the beginning of the Papal States or Temporal Dominions of the Popes. It was recognized by Pepin and later by Charlemagne, his son. It lasted 1100 years; till 1870 when Victor Immanuel of Italy took possession of Rome and added the Papal States to the Kingdom of Italy.

Charlemagne and Leo III essentially established the "Holy Roman Empire" under the control of Roman popes and German emperors. But the "church" had become a state institution and bitter struggles between popes and emperors often resulted.

Nicolas I (858-867) was the first "pope" to wear a crown and to substantiate his Universal Authority he used a book that appeared in about 857 called the "Pseudoisidorian Decretals" which purported to be letters of 2nd and 3rd century bishops and councils tending to exalt the power of the Roman "pope." They made the "Papacy" to appear as something complete and unchangeable from the very beginning." Several centuries later these works were discovered to be forgeries. One historian says "it became the most colossal literary fraud in history," ante-dating by five centuries the "Pope's Temporal Power."

The 200 years between Nicolas I and Gregory VII is called by historians "The Midnight of the Darkages" because of the bribery, corruption, immorality and bloodshed.

Hildebrand (1073-1085) brought reform.

Innocent III (1198-1216) was the summit of papal power and claimed himself "Vicar of Christ," "Vicar of God," and "Supreme Sovereign over the Church and the World." He proclaimed, "All things on earth and heaven and in hell are subject to the Vicar of Christ." Practically all Monarches in Europe obeyed him. He ordered two Crusades, decreed Transubstantiation, confirmed Auricular Confession, and declared that "Peter's successor can never in any way depart from the Catholic faith." He claimed papal infallibility and forbade the reading of the Bible in vernacular. More blood was shed under his direction and that of his immediate successors than any time in "church" history except the papacy's effort to crush the Reformation (not "rebellion"). Innocent III fit well in Rome because he resembled Nero.

Boniface VIII (1294-1303) in his famous bull, "Unam Sanctam," said "We declare, affirm, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary for Salvation that every creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff." Yet Boniface was so corrupt Dante, when visiting Rome, called the Vatican "a Sewer of Corruption" and assigned him along with Nicolas III and Clement V, to the lowest parts of hell.

With Boniface VIII came the decline of papal power and starting with France a feeling of nationalism sprouted and the spirit of independence. Phillip the Fair, King of France became the leading monarch of Europe and the papacy was brought into complete subjection to the state and for 70 years the Papal Palace was removed from Rome to Avignon on the south border of France and was a mere tool of the French Court. The Avignon Popes knew no bounds what with Simony, accusations of rape, adultery, fornications, and many parish priests kept concubines.

For 40 years there were two sets of Roman Catholic Popes. One at Avignon and one at Rome. Each claimed to be "Vicar of Christ" and hurled anathemas and curses at each other. We will not go into the crimes by John XXIII, called by some the most depraved criminal who ever sat on the Papal Throne.

Julius II (1503-1513) actually bought his papacy.

Leo X (1513-1521) was pope when Martin Luther started the Protestant Reformation. He was made an archbishop at age eight, a cardinal at thirteen and before he was thirteen he was appointed to 27 different church offices which meant vast income for him. He was taught to regard the ecclesiastical office purely as a source of revenue. A very corrupt man.

Enter the Jesuits and their founder Ignatius Loyola. They were responsible for St. Bartholomew's Massacre, persecution of the Hugenots, and in Spain, Netherlands, South Germany, Bohemia, Austria, Poland and other countries they led in the massacre of untold multitudes.

Present day popes continue to reverberate the self-claims of papal authority and infallibility.

The papacy is basically an Italian institution which arose on the ruins of the Roman Empire in the name of Christ occupying the throne of the Caesars. The Roman Catholic popes mostly have been Italians. Some good, some extremely vile but most in the pursuit of secular power. A far, far cry from what the Word of God demands of those who hold a church office (1Tim. 3).

Except for a faulty interpretation of Matt. 16:18-19 by the Roman Church, the Scriptures are completely void of any teaching regarding a successive line of infallible "Popes," starting with Peter and headquartered in Rome. Nor do they promise that the Holy Spirit would inspire traditions and dogmas of one particular church. But He (the Holy Spirit) did inspire (Gr.,theopneustos lit. God-breathed, 2 Tim. 3;15) the Holy Scriptures and it is these holy writings He preserved as our final authority on matters regarding " the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Peter himself warned that just as false prophets arose among the Jews there will also be false teachers within the Church (2 Pet. 2:1). Our only objective source to test these false teachers is the inspired, infallible, written Word of God.

This article was written not to discourage those of the Roman Catholic faith but to encourage them to search the Scriptures and see what God has revealed regarding Himself, His salvation by grace through faith alone in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and the Church He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).

Written by Gary Nystrom

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