Saturday, April 3, 2010

Early Christianity Before The Papacy

by Babu G. Ranganathan

To my fellow Christians who are Roman Catholic, please carefully read my entire article (below) before coming to judgment. What does the Bible mean by saying that all Christians belong to one Church and share one faith and one baptism? Doesn't logic require that all Christians must have one supreme earthly bishop (Pope) and infallible interpreter of Scripture? Doesn't the Bible and history show that the papacy existed from apostolic times? Didn't Christ say in Scripture that the Apostle Peter was the rock upon which He would build His Church? These and other questions are answered in this article.

Recently, Pope Benedict announced that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church and that there is no salvation outside of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is the infallible spiritual head and Vicar of Christ on earth.

Before examining the Pope's statements, let us define what the word "church" means. The word "church" comes from the Greek New Testament word "ekklesia" which means people who have been "called out". All those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sins are considered in the New Testament as being spiritually "called out" from the world. They are in the world but not of the world. Their spiritual citizenship now is in heaven.

The church, therefore, is not a building. It is not a building that has been "called out". The church is the body of all true believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God Who died and shed His blood on the Cross to pay for our sins and Who bodily rose from the grave. All Christians belong spiritually to one true Church which is the spiritual body of Christ, regardless of denomination or differences in local church governments. The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, says that there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians4:5).

The one baptism that all Christians share is a spiritual baptism performed by the Holy Spirit when an individual puts his or her personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body...and have been all made to drink into one Spirit". This is spiritual baptism of which physical baptism by water is a symbolic picture. When Christians are physically baptized by water it is done through a human agency. But the baptism that the Apostle Paul talks about here in 1 Corinthians 12:13is done specifically by God the Holy Spirit. It is entirely spiritual and not physical at all.

What about water baptism? 1 Peter 2:38 says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” Doesn’t this mean water baptism is necessary for salvation? No. The word “for” in the passage can also be translated as “because of” and, therefore, the passage can also read as, “Repent, and be baptized … because of the remission of sins.” This is a better translation because the Bible teaches in various passages that we are saved by faith alone. What is necessary for salvation never changes. The repentant thief on the cross was saved by faith alone (without any water baptism). Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. The word “repent” in the New Testament comes from a Greek word meaning change in our thinking, which is what faith is. These words, repentance and faith, are interchangeable. The change in our thinking is expressed in our changed behavior and actions.

But, didn’t Jesus say in John 3:5 that a person must be born of both “water and of the Spirit” to be born again? We must understand what Jesus meant by “water” by looking at what other Scriptures say on the same subject. In Ephesians 5:26 the Bible says that Christians are washed by the water of the Word. This is in reference to Scripture or the truth of Scripture cleansing Christians. In Titus 3:5 we read about the “washing of regeneration” which we know is accomplished by the Spirit using the Word or the truth found in God’s Word. 1 Peter 1:23 says that we are “born again” by the Word of God. Thus, in John 3:5 Jesus was not talking about physical water. Jesus emphasizes in John 3:6 that it is not by anything physical we are born again.

In the first few centuries after Christ there was no Roman Catholic Church and no papacy. There was a catholic Church but not a Roman Catholic Church. The word "catholic" simply means "universal". In the time of the Roman Empire there were various locally governed and administered churches. For example, there was the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of Rome, the Church of Antioch, the Church of Alexandria, the Church of Corinth, etc. Each of these churches was ruled separately by their own bishops. There was no pope ruling over the bishops. The bishop of one church had no authority over the bishop of another church. But the Christians in all these churches considered themselves to be one spiritually even though they were governed separately. All of the early Church councils including the Council of Nicaea) that settled important matters of Christian doctrine occurred before there was a Roman Catholic Church.

The Christians in these various churches did not see "eye-to-eye' on every doctrine. They differed on matters of secondary doctrine, as Christians do today, but they all were in agreement with the primary (essential) doctrines concerning the Deity and Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His payment for our sins on the Cross and His bodily resurrection from the grave.

Because Rome was politically the center of the Roman Empire and because of the important political events occurring there, the bishop of the Church of Rome eventually began to have greater and greater influence over the bishops of other churches in the Roman Empire. Eventually in the 5th century the bishop of the Church of Rome was recognized as having supreme authority over all of the other bishops of the other churches and there became to be organized for the first time the Roman Catholic Church. In the early centuries the bishop of Rome didn't see himself as a Pope and, certainly, bishops of other churches never viewed the bishop of Rome as being a Pope.

Christians who are Roman Catholic believe that Christ made the Apostle Peter the first pope and that all other popes come from the line of Peter. Even if Christ had made Peter the first pope it doesn't necessarily mean that Peter would have successors. As the great preacher John Gill noted, the New Testament (i.e., Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14) describes Peter equally with the other apostles as being a foundation in "laying doctrinally and ministerially Christ Jesus as the foundation of faith and hope" but it is clear in the New Testament that the twelve apostles were not a foundation in the same unique sense that Christ Himself is the foundation of the Church. A careful reading of the New Testament shows that the Apostle Peter had no more authority than the other apostles. The authority to "bind" and "loose" which came with the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven was given to all the apostles, not just to Peter. Peter was an example of the authority Christ gave to all the apostles. All of the original twelve apostles had equally the same spiritual authority. There were no successors to the apostles, including Peter!

The passage from the New Testament that is often cited by Roman Catholics is Matthew 16: 18 where Jesus says to Peter "Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church..." It is important to remember that the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek is a very precise language. Even though Christ Himself spoke in the Aramaic language to His disciples what He meant in His native language was translated into Greek by His disciples, so we must go to the Greek to get an understanding of what Christ really meant.

In the particular passage of Matthew 16:18 the Greek word for "Peter" (petros) means a "small stone" or "small rock" but the Greek word for "rock" (petra) means a "huge unmovable portion of earth" or "cliff". Peter could not be both! Peter was the small stone. In fact, the Apostle Peter in Scripture calls other Christians as fellow stones (1 Peter 2:5) which together are built into the spiritual house of God (the Church). In calling Peter "a small stone" Christ was using Peter, in one sense, as a picture of what all Christians are. The "rock" (petra) that Christ said He would build His Church on is either Christ Himself or the truth of the statement that Peter had just made about Christ. Peter had just finished saying in Matthew 16:16 to Jesus "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God". It is probably the truth of this statement that Christ referred to as the "rock" on which he would build His church.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that in the communion of the bread and wine we are literally eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that at some point in the ceremony of the Mass the wafer (bread) and wine turn into the literal flesh and blood of Christ. They say this occurs mystically. This belief comes from the Roman Catholic Church interpreting literally the saying of Jesus in John 6:54 "Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life...". However, Jesus Himself explains in John 6:63 that He was talking spiritually and not literally about eating His flesh and blood. When we have genuinely put our personal faith and trust in Christ for salvation we are spiritually partaking of Him and the physical communion of bread and wine is a symbolic picture of that truth.

There are many other thoughts and passages of Scripture concerning the claims of Roman Catholicism that are not covered in this article. But, the essential argument has been made which is that all true Christians, regardless of denomination, belong spiritually to one body - the spiritual body of Christ. The Bible, in the New Testament, teaches that every Christian is a priest and saint (the word "saint" simply means spiritually "set apart" not sinless).

The New Testament further teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells every true believer and guides and teaches him or her especially as the believer studies God's Word, The Holy Bible. The Spirit does not teach all Christians at the same pace. The Bible tells individual Christians to prove everything by rightly interpreting God's Word. All Christians will give an account to God of whether they have rightly divided (interpreted) Scripture with the light God has given to them. The Bible was written for every believer to read and properly interpret. The Spirit teaches through pastors and other Christians as well.

This doesn't mean that a person has to be correct on all that the Bible teaches in order to be saved or go to heaven. Personal faith in Christ is all that is required for salvation. However, Christian and spiritual growth require that we aim to be correct in all that Scripture teaches, and this requires careful study of Scripture.

History shows that the Holy Spirit has made sure through the centuries that all Christians agree on the essential or primary doctrines concerning the Person and work of Christ. On matters of secondary doctrines Christians have differed and continue to do so. The knowledge or lack of knowledge of these secondary doctrines do not affect our salvation or being in Christ but do affect our better understanding of God. One day in glory the Spirit will make sure all Christians see eye-to-eye on everything. Why this is not so now is a mystery.

Scripture was written to be understood. Of course, the deep spiritual truths of Scripture can only be comprehended and understood through the Holy Spirit, but it is not a mystical understanding void of reason and logic. Scripture must be studied in its total context, and Scripture must be carefully compared with Scripture and the meaning of the words from the original languages of Scripture properly understood.This is why the Apostle Paul said to Timothy to rightly divide the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15). The Word of Truth, the Bible, can be divided (interpreted) wrongly or rightly. God will hold us responsible according to the light that we have.

Even Roman Catholics have differences on various theological issues, and the Pope hasn't officially ruled on all these differences, so then how do Roman Catholics know who's correct. And, there have been contradictory pronouncements of popes in the past. Furthermore, the concept of papal infallibility, where the Pope is considered infallible when making pronouncements from the Chair, became a Roman Catholic doctrine only in the late nineteenth century (the late 1800's).

What about the Jews? Who do Roman Catholics claim was the infallible spokesman for God during the Old Testament times? Were the religious leaders of Jesus' day God's infallible spokesmen? But, it was these very religious leaders that rejected Christ and  delivered Him to death. So, obviously, they weren't infallible at all.

The important point to keep in mind is that Holy Spirit works not as a machine but organically in and through the lives of true Christian believers.

One sure thing to keep in mind is that we cannot earn our salvation. None of us can perfectly meet God's holy standards as revealed in the Ten Commandments. Jesus Christ (God the Son) came to earth, lived a sinless life and died and shed His blood on the Cross to pay for our sins, which we could never fully pay. He rose from the dead and by God's grace alone through faith in Christ we are forgiven of our sins, have the guarantee of eternal life. And even though as Christians we will never be perfect in this life God's unmerited redeeming grace in our lives through faith will produce good works in our lives pleasing to God.

The Bible says " For by grace (God's unmerited or undeserved favor) are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).