Roots of Roman Catholic Authority

Which Church did Jesus Christ found?

A concerned Roman Catholic wrote to me, "…we cannot
only look at the Bible without looking at the tradition of the
Church. It says in scripture (1 Thess 2:15) "Stand firm in
the teachings passed on to you by WORD and in letters." So
we must also look at the teaching of the Catholic church which
Jesus began
. In the purity of the faith, is there
any other christian church, group or otherwise that has had the
same teachings since the time of Jesus? The Traditions (foundational
teachings of the church) of the Catholic Church have been the
same since the days of the apostles and nothing has been changed
since then. The traditions (small t – or in other words the way
things are done) have changed and can continue to change (married
priesthood, the language the Holy Mass is celebrated in, etc.)."

And later he writes: "If Peter is not the Rock than why did
Jesus call him such, and then say on this rock I will build my
church?"

I believe it is really important to address these issues,
because the question of religious authority is fundamentally
important. Who or what truly speaks for Christ? Many claim to
represent Christ today, and the contradictory claims have caused
a great deal of confusion in the world.

The Roman Catholic church does not claim to be merely one
valid expression of the Church which Christ founded. It claims to
be the church which Christ founded. It claims
that it has faithfully preserved the Traditions given to us by
Christ and the apostles, which, although not written in the
Scriptures of the New Testament, have equally binding authority
upon all who wish to enjoy God’s favor.

The biblical foundation for these ideas is derived from the
Roman Catholic understanding of Matthew 16:16-19.

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered
and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because
flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who
is in heaven. 18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter,
and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades
shall not overpower it. 19 "I will give you the keys of the
kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be
bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be
loosed in heaven." (NASB).

Roman Catholics understand this as follows: When Jesus said,
"this rock" he meant Peter. Therefore Peter is the rock
upon which the true church of Christ is built. Peter was to
receive the keys of the kingdom of heaven, giving him the
authority to make authoritative decrees concerning doctrinal
truth, tradition, practice, and to exclude or include people from
the Kingdom of Heaven. Peter was therefore the first pope and as
bishop of Rome he passed these keys onto a successor, Linus (the
second pope). The keys were passed in this way from pope to pope
and the full authority of Christ Himself has always been invested
in the pope. It follows therefore that anyone not submitting to
the pope is in rebellion against God.

Roman Catholics are taught that the Catholic church
headquartered at the Vatican in Rome is the only true church.
Many believe that salvation is only to be found in the Catholic
church. In the Roman Catholic worldview, the Bible derives its
authority from the Church, not the other way around. The Bible is
seen as just another Tradition of the church – one that was
written down. From this viewpoint, any attempt to use the Bible
to show the errors of Catholic tradition is a misuse of the Bible
– because it is only really the official living teaching organ of
the Church which correctly interprets the true meaning of the
Bible.

Roman Catholics argue on the basis of history and Christ’s
words that the Catholic Church must be the church of which Jesus
spoke, since he promised that "the gates of hell would not
prevail against (or overpower) it". It is clear enough that
the view of the Reformers was not the general view of the church
during the dark and middle ages. This is seen as proof enough
that Jesus was in favor of the views of the Church at this time.
To deny this would be to imply that somehow the gates of hell did
prevail against the church, which would be a contradiction
of Jesus’ own words on the subject.

I invite any Roman Catholics who feel I have misrepresented
the Catholic viewpoint in the above paragraphs to e-mail me on
this, because it would not be fair on my part to attack a "straw-man"
– a misrepresentation of the official Roman Catholic position.

The devil knows that a big lie can sometimes be far more
convincing than a small one. Its my conviction that the above
doctrine is a Big Lie, and is responsible indirectly for the
eternal damnation of millions of souls. This teaching has done
more to undermine the authority of the Holy Scriptures than any
other I know of. The practical result is that even now the
majority of Roman Catholics never bother to read their Bibles.
This is because they feel that all they’ll ever need to know and
receive from God will come through the teaching and ministry of
their church, and not through personal study and consideration of
the Scriptures. Let’s now get down to the issues.

What is the True Identity of the Rock upon which the church
is built?

16 And Simon Peter answered and said, "Thou art the
Christ, the Son of the living God." 17 And Jesus answered
and said to him, "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because
flesh and blood did not reveal [this] to you, but My Father who
is in heaven. 18 "And I also say to you that you are Peter [Gk:
petros – a boulder or stone], and upon this rock [Gk: petra – a
large mass of rock] I will build My church; and the gates of
Hades shall not overpower it. 19 "I will give you the keys
of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth
shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth
shall be loosed in heaven." (NASB).

I have heard of two major alternatives to the Roman Catholic
identification of the Rock upon which Jesus would build his
church. One is that Peter’s confession of Christ is the
rock upon which the church is built. That is to say, by "this
rock" Jesus meant the foundational revelation that Peter was
the first man to confess, that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of the Living God." The second alternative is that the
Rock was Jesus himself
, while Peter was the first stone
to be built upon the rock of Christ in the church which Christ
Himself is buliding. This latter interpretation makes more sense
to me, because it is in perfect harmony with the tradition which
the Scripture itself establishes concerning the spiritual meaning
of the word "Rock".

Allow Scripture to interpret Scripture

An important principle in evangelical thinking is to allow
Scripture to interpret Scripture. Since "All Scripture is
inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for
correction, for training in righteousness; that the man of God
may be adequate, equipped for every good work." it folows
that every interpretation of Scripture should be in harmony with
the rest of Scripture. The Scriptures have a lot to say about who
the rock is. For example:

1 Corinthians 10:4 "and all drank the same spiritual
drink, for they were drinking from a spiritual rock which
followed them; and the rock was Christ".

Romans 9:33 just as it is written, "Behold, I lay in Zion

a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense, And he who believes
in Him will not be disappointed."

Habakkuk 1:12 Art Thou not from everlasting, O Lord, my God,
my Holy One? We will not die. Thou, O Lord, hast appointed them
to judge; And Thou, O Rock , hast established them to
correct.

Isaiah 26:4 "Trust in the Lord forever, For in God the
Lord, [we have] an everlasting Rock .

Psalm 144:1 (of David.) Blessed be the Lord, my rock , Who
trains my hands for war, [And] my fingers for battle;

Psalm 94:22 But the Lord has been my stronghold, And my God
the rock of my refuge.

Not only is the Lord God Himself consistently portrayed as the
rock throughout both the Old and New Testaments, but the
Scriptures go so far as to say that only the Lord God is
our rock.

Psalm 62:2 He only is my rock and my salvation, My
stronghold; I shall not be greatly shaken.

Isaiah 44:8 ‘Do not tremble and do not be afraid; Have I not
long since announced it to you and declared it? And you are My
witnesses. Is there any God besides Me, Or is there any [other]
Rock ? I know of none.’ "

2 Samuel 22:32 "For who is God, besides the Lord? And who
is a rock , besides our God?

The interpretation of the Lord God being our only true rock
ties in nicely with the words of the apostle Paul, "For no
other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is
Christ Jesus" (1 Corinthians 3:11). Truly then, Jesus is the
foundation upon which the true church is built, not Peter.

Peter therefore, cannot be the primary rock on which Jesus
will build his church. As we will see, Peter himself did not have
the stability or the stature to be the foundation rock upon which
the eternal church of Christ was to be built. Peter denied the
Lord during the trial of Christ. And a few verses later in the
Matthew 16 passage Jesus identifies Peter as being inspired by
Satan (Matthew 16:23), while in Galatians 2:11 Paul reports an
incident which revealed Peter’s ongoing tendency to weakness.
According to Paul, Peter was in the wrong and stood condemned,
and was not being straight forward about the truth of the gospel!
This is hardly the image of a solid infallible rock upon which
all future generations of Christ church were to be built. Only
Jesus Himself can carry that weight, and thank God, He does.

It seems to me that Roman Catholics have taken their
conception of Peter as the rock upon which they build their
entire system. Church history reveals the moral depths to which
these so-called vicars of Christ have fallen. I’m not sure it is
edifying to go into a full list of these things, but if it turns
out to be important to some of my readers I may make the effort
to document this on another web-page. In any case, it seems that
common sense as well as the Bible itself would indicate that
Jesus was not meaning that Peter was the rock upon which
he would build his church. We can all freely acknowledge that
Peter had a key role in the development of the early church and
that he did have a great deal of spiritual authority from Christ.
This is beyond dispute. But the Roman Catholic position goes far
beyond this, and in so doing, gets our eyes of Christ and onto
men, something which is never advisable for those wishing to
build a solid and enduring relationship with God through Jesus
Christ.

It is also interesting to note that Peter certainly did not
fit into the current conception of a pope, since he had a mother-in-law,
meaning he was married. Read Mark 1:30, which speaks of "Simon’s
wife’s mother". The topic of celibate priesthood is outside
the scope of the current discussion, but it is another aberration
from the plain teaching of Scripture (1 Timothy 3:2-4; 1 Timothy
4:2).

Incidentally, the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven were not given
exclusively to Peter. The same authority of binding and loosing
were given to all Jesus’ disciples in Matthew 18:18. All Jesus’
disciples have the authority to use his Name, and the truth is,
Jesus never gave anyone the authority to abrogate (nullify) His
own plain words and teachings.

Did the Gates of Hell Prevail Against the Church
Christ Built?

The reasoning of the Roman Catholic church is circular on this
point, because they assume and do not prove from Scripture that
Jesus was describing their system as "His church".
Their point would be powerful if they could prove that at some
point in history there were no disciples of Christ who did not
acknowledge the bishop of Rome as their supreme pontiff. However,
history just doesn’t support this view. The supremacy of the
roman bishop indeed rose because of the political power of Rome
as the capital of the empire, but there were always groups of
Christian disciples who did not hold to the doctrine of the
papacy. The doctrine of the papacy wasn’t really spelled out
until the time of Gregory the Great in any case, in the 6th
century.

The Eastern Orthodox church, for all its weaknesses, doubtless
did include many true believers in Christ, and the schism which
was formalised in the 11th century between Rome and the Orthodox
church based principally at Constantinople reflected a major
difference in opinion concerning the authority of roman bishops
that had been going on already for centuries. At that time the
pope and the Patriarch at Constantinople basically excommunicated
each other because of their differences – a natural outcome of
their common rejection of the Word of God as their highest and
supreme authority. For their man-made traditions had evolved in
different directions and because of this neither could accept the
other as truly being of God.

Apart from this, I’m sure there were many Christian churches,
such as the Celtic churches in the British Isles and many
nameless faceless Christian groups with no political power who
enjoyed the life of Christ without seeing the pope as their
spiritual Father. (Incidentally Jesus himself taught against the
use of the word "father" as a spiritual title for men (Matthew
23:9). I have never heard any reasonable Roman Catholic
explanation on why this verse has been apparently abrogated in
the favor of popes and priests!). In the middle ages various
groups such as the Waldeneses, the followers of John Huss,
Wycliffe and others were faithful believers in Christ and
suffered cruel persecution for their stand against the roman
catholic tyrants of the day.

Furthermore there were obviously people in the Roman Catholic
system itself who, for all their loyalty to the pope, had a
revelation of the true Christ and were truly the Lord’s children.
A shining example of Christian discipleship was St. Francis of
Assissi. Whichever way we look at it, the church was not utterly
defeated by Satan at any time although obviously there were some
pretty dark moments.

God has always had a faithful remnant, and today they number
in the hundreds of millions – a fact for which we may praise God.
Truly the gates of hell have not overcome the true church of
Christ. Believers in Christ are more than ever on the increase
today and with the increase of knowledge that is upon us today
there is no way that we will ever return to the Dark Ages where
men just simply did not have access to the Bible in their own
language to check out things for themselves.

I hope it is noticed that I am not arguing that all believers
who identified with Rome were not real Christians. I am sure than
many Roman Catholics today are true born again Christians. But
this is true in spite of, not because of the teaching of the
Roman Catholic church.

If Matthew 16:16-19 does not mean what the Roman Catholic
church says it means, then what does it mean? We can get plenty
of valuable truth out of Matthew 16:16-19. Firstly, God the
Father Himself revealed to Peter the true identity of Jesus as
being the promised Messiah, or Christ – the one whom God sent to
save the people from their sins. Secondly, this had nothing to do
with the fact that Peter saw Jesus physically as a man. This
makes this kind of revelation available to us also. It is
timeless. Thirdly, Peter confessed with his mouth the revelation
which he received from God the Father. Fourthly, Jesus pronounced
a blessing on Peter on account of this revelation of who Jesus
was.

We too will be blessed if we received from God a true
revelation of who Christ is and then confess Him before others.
The surest way to open yourself up for such a revelation is to
read the Bible for yourself with an open heart and mind. The
Bible says, "If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus
and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you
will be saved." (Romans 10:9). If you have not done this I
urge you to believe the teaching of this Scripture here and begin
to openly confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Master in all you
say and do.

Please be sure to read my other article "The
Sacramental View of Salvation
".

Michael Fackerell

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About Michael Fackerell

The Christian faith is about Jesus. He came to save the lost. About Jesus Christ, Bible teaching, Testimonies, Salvation, Prayer, Faith, Networking.

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