The Pope and the Catholic Church are quite fallible.
Catholics say Yes! Truth says No!
Is The Catholic Church Infallible?
None will deny the importance and need of infallibility in religion. To assure man of his salvation, he wants and needs an unerring guide or an infallible authority. Such a guide cannot be produced by man because he is sinful, changeable and perishable. It cannot reside in a religious organization because it is subject to the same limitations that handicap man. Certainly, a guide of absolute truth can be produced only by God Almighty. God through His infinite goodness and mercy provided His written Word as our authority and guide. Jesus said, "Thy (God's) word is truth." (John 17:17). The Holy Spirit guided the apostles into "all truth" (John 16:13) and they alone with the inspired New Testament prophets wrote God's truth for us (Eph. 3:2-5). They were God's chosen ambassadors to deliver His infallible message to man and it has once and for all been delivered (Jude 3). God's written Word, therefore, is man's sole unerring guide from earth to heaven. It is the standard by which all men will be judged in the last day (John 12:48; Rom. 2:16; James 2:12; Rev. 20:12).
Catholics affirm that God, instead of making His written Word the sole infallible guide, made the Catholic Church an infallible authority. Thus, in this work we will examine the truthfulness of their claim. All scriptural quotations in this essay are from authorized Catholic translations (from the Confraternity Version unless otherwise indicated), and all quotes are from authorized Catholic books (books bearing the "Nihil obstat" - "nothing hinders" and the "Imprimatur" - "let it be printed"). A complete bibliography is furnished at the close of this composition.
Catholics claim that the church has the right to make laws as is noted in the following quotes:
"Akin to these divine laws is the purely ecclesiastical law or the law of the Church. Christ sent forth his Church clothed with his own and his Father's authority, 'As the Father sent me, so I send you'. She was to endure, perfect herself, and fulfill her mission on earth. To enable her to carry out this divine plan she makes laws, laws purely ecclesiastical, but laws that have the same binding force as the divine laws themselves, since they bear the stamp of divine authority." (Explanation of Catholic Morals, p. 26).
"Does everyone have to obey the Catholic Church? Yes, because she alone has the authority of Jesus to rule and to teach. To disobey the Catholic Church knowingly is just as much a sin as to disobey Jesus or His Apostles." (A Catechism for Adults, p. 54).
Christ did not give His church the right to make laws. He gave the apostles and prophets the authority to reveal His laws, e.g., "...The things I am writing to you are the Lord's commandments" (1 Cor. 14:37), but He did not delegate to them nor to His church the authority to make laws. Jesus has all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18), and He is head over all things of the church (Eph. 1:22); therefore, He alone has the right to ordain what pleases Him in His church. The responsibility of the church is not to make or change laws, but to follow the laws made. The authority is not in the body but in the Head; the ruling is not in the kingdom but in the King; the authority in not in the church but in Christ.
The Bible does speak of a body of people who would make laws; however, it is not the Lord's church but the great apostasy:
"Now the Spirit expressly says that in after times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of devils, speaking lies hypocritically, and having their conscience branded. They will forbid marriage, and will enjoin abstinence from foods, which God has created to be partaken of with thanksgiving by the faithful and by those who know the truth." (1 Tim. 4:1-3).
In the above passage the apostle foretold that the group which would depart from the faith would "forbid marriage and will enjoin abstinence from foods." None can deny the fact that ecclesiastical law in the Catholic Church does forbid marriage. The vows which the priest and nuns choose to take forbid them to marry. Furthermore, all know that the Catholic Church has at times, and still does, e.g., the Lenten fast, enjoined abstinence from foods.
The Catholic writer in our initial quote said, "Christ sent forth his church clothed with his own and his Father's authority, 'As the Father sent me, so I send you'." Following are similar quotes from a Catholic source:
"Christ appointed the Church to teach whatever He taught: 'Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you' (Matt. 28:19-20).
"Christ gave the Church full authority and power saying, 'As the Father has sent me, I also send you' (John 20:21).
"Christ, upon leaving the earth, gave to His Church full power and authority to carry on His work. 'He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me' (Luke 10:16)." (My Catholic Faith, p. 143)
In all of the passages quoted by the above Catholic writers, Jesus was speaking to the apostles only. The passages do not make the church infallible nor give authority to the church because they were not spoken to it and do not refer to it. The apostles were not the church, but only part of the church. On the very day the church was established, three thousand souls were added to it (Acts 2:41,47). The three thousand did not constitute an infallible group; only the apostles within the group were infallible. They were infallible because they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit. They had authority because Jesus has said to them, "As the Father has sent me, I also send you" (John 10:21). To take the passages which were spoken to them and apply them to the church is to twist and pervert the Word of God.
Please notice the following from Catholic sources:
"In the same explicit way Christ promises to send the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of Truth, upon the apostles: 'And I will ask the Father, and he shall give you another Paraclete, that he may abide with you forever. The Spirit of Truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, nor knoweth him; because he shall abide with you, and shall be in you...But the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring all things to your mind, whatsoever I shall have said to you.' (John 14:16-17, 26).
"In these words Christ assures the infant Church of the abiding presence of the Spirit of Truth guiding her in her teaching mission." (The Faith of Millions, p. 136).
"He is the Spirit of Truth, whom the world of unbelievers (John xv. 19; xvii. 9, 25) cannot receive (John xiv. 13-17, 25, 26; xv. 26; xvi. 13). The Church that witnessed (Luke xxiv. 28; Acts i. 9) to Christ must be infallible." (The Question Box, p. 96)
"The Holy Spirit preserves the Church from all error in its teaching..." (My Catholic Faith, p. 105).
As we noticed before, the Catholic writers in effort to prove that the church is infallible are quoting passages which referred to the apostles only and are applying them to the church. The apostles alone were given the promise of the Holy Spirit. It was not given to the infant church. The apostles were the only ones with Jesus when the promise was made and it was made directly to them. (See John chapters 13-16). They were to wait in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, "And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:49). The promise of the Holy Spirit was the same as the baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8) and was the power they were to receive (Acts 1:8). They received the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost and it enabled them to speak in tongues, work miracles (Acts 2:1-4, 43) and to deliver God's laws to man (Acts 2:38, 42). This was in fulfillment of the Old Testament Scriptures which stated that the law would go forth out of Jerusalem (Isa. 2:3; Micah 4:2).
The apostles received the Holy Spirit and it made them infallible in their speaking and writing. They were infallible, preserved from error, because they were inspired of God. Jesus didn't make the promise of the Holy Spirit to the church--the word "church" is not mentioned in the passages--therefore, the church is not infallible. To take the passages which were spoken to the apostles and apply them to the church is to twist and pervert the Word of God. Those who do such are transgressing the law of God.
Again, please notice the following from a Catholic source:
"10. Why can't the Catholic Church ever teach error? Because Jesus promised to be always with His church to protect it from error. 'Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations...teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you: and behold, I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world" (Matt. 28:19-20). (A Catechism for Adults, p. 56).
One can easily see that the above Catholic writer is again taking the words which Christ spoke to His apostles and is applying them to the church. The word "church" is not in the passage; it does not say anything about the church much less that it would never teach error. Another Catholic writer makes the same passage teach something altogether different:
"The guidance of Christ, was therefore, to continue with their successors. This is clearly disclosed by the words of Christ: 'Behold I am with you all days even to the consummation of the world.' Since the Apostles were not to live until the end of the world, Christ promised to be with them in the person of their successors unto the end of time." (The Faith of Millions, p. 137).
One Catholic writer makes it teach that the church could never teach error and another makes it teach that the apostles must have successors. However, the passage mentioned neither the church nor successors. False teachers jerk passages out of context in this manner to make the Scriptures teach what they want them to teach. Those who do such have the curse of God resting on them (Gal. 1:6-9) and those who blindly follow their false teaching are likewise condemned. Jesus said of the Pharisees and their false teaching, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. Let them alone; they are blind guides of blind men. But if a blind man guide a blind man, both fall into a pit." (Matt. 15:13-14).
The passage in Matt. 28:19-20 was spoken to the twelve and therefore refers to them alone. There are at least two ways in which Christ would be with His apostles. Christ would be with them in the sense that He is with all who live godly--His Spirit dwells in them (John 14:23) and after death they depart to be with Him (Phil. 1:21-23). Also, Christ would always be with them in the teaching of His commandments. He instructed them to teach His commandments, "teaching them (all nations) to observe all I have commanded you" and He followed by saying, "and behold, I am with you all days..." He promised to be with them as they taught His will to the world. He also added, "I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world." He is yet with them in the teaching of His commandments and will always be for they were commissioned by Him and bore His authority. Morever, He causes their word to remain forever (1 Pet. 1:23-25) and is thereby yet with them as they teach His commandments to the world.
Catholic officials often make the unreasonable distinction between the time when the church was established and the written New Testament was completed. In other words, to them the Bible is secondary in authority because it followed the establishment of the church. Please notice the following from Catholic sources:
"It is well to remember, however, that the Church was a going concern, a functioning institution, teaching, preaching, administering the sacraments, saving souls, before the New Testament saw the light of day.
"She is not the child of the Bible, as many non-Catholics imagine, but its mother. She derives neither her existence nor her teaching authority from the New Testament. She had both before the New Testament was born: she secured her being, her teaching, her authority directly from Jesus Christ." (The Faith of Millions, p. 146).
"In other words, the church in her worship and religious and moral observances, was a going concern before a word of the New Testament was written. She is not dependent on it for her existence, nor is she limited in her doctrines to it." (Ibid., p. 154).
"You see, Mr. Jackson, the Church was to represent Christ not only as Teacher; it was to perpetuate all His works--which the Bible would be incapable of doing. The Church produced the Bible, and not the Bible the Church. The New Testament was written only after the Church was fully organized and hard at work." (Father Smith Instructs Jackson, p. 35).
The fact that the written New Testament was completed after the church was established does not prove the church is infallible. The early church was guided by the same source as the church today--the Word of God. There was a time when all the Word of God was given orally--by word of mouth of the inspired apostles and prophets. When people heard, believed and obeyed the Word given by the inspired teachers, the Lord added them to His church (Acts 2:47). In other words, upon obedience, they then constituted the church or the body of the saved. When they became "the church," they had no authority in making or changing the laws of the Lord. Their responsibility, as today, was to follow the commandments given by those who were guided by the Holy Spirit.
In all the accounts of conversion in the book of Acts, it is revealed that the Word of God was first preached (Acts 2:14-41; 8:5-13; 35-39; 9:17-18; 10:34-38; 16:13, 32). Thus, churches were established as result of the preaching of God's Word, and after being established, they continued to be guided and instructed by the inspired men who were present with them (See Acts 20:17-28). The Word of God given orally was the guide and standard of authority in that early period. If Christians in any given locality wished to be pleasing to God, they had to receive the Word of the inspired teachers as coming from God Himself (1 Thess. 2:13).
There was a period when the Word of God was given both orally and written; the apostles and prophets began delivering God's will both by preaching and writing. 2 Thess. 2:15 says, "So the, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter." (Catholic Edition RSV). Thus, there was a time when the church was guided either by having inspired men in their presence or by epistles written by inspired men. Both of these had equal authority because both were the product of the Holy Spirit. When the apostles passed from the earth, their inspired writings became the only source of authority in religion. Therefore, today the church must look into the perfect law of liberty or the written New Testament to learn what it should be and must teach. The written word is the guide from earth to heaven (2 Tim. 3:15-17); it contains the laws of the Lord (1 Cor. 14:37). The written Word produces the faith in the hearts of men which brings life in the name of Jesus (John 20:31). It was given to protect us from sin (1 John 2:1) and to show us how we ought to conduct ourselves in the church (1 Tim. 3:14-15). The church cannot go beyond the written Word and be pleasing to God (1 Cor. 4:6).
Consequently, the Word of the New Testament existed before the church (first given orally and then written). The church was born of the Word (Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11). The Word was not born of the church nor is the church the mother of the Word. How could it be the "New Testament church" except that the New Testament had been first? When Catholic officials argue that the church existed before the written New Testament, are they trying to say that the church existed without the faith that comes by hearing the Word (Rom. 10:17)? We see, therefore, that their argument amounts to nothing more than another feeble attempt to exalt the church as an authority in addition to the Bible.
Catholic officials claim that when Jesus used the expression, "the gates of hell" in Matt. 16:18, He was teaching that the church would be preserved from error. Notice the following from Catholic sources:
"Jesus Christ promised to preserve the Church from error. If His prediction and promises were false, then he would not be God, since God cannot lie. Christ said: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' If therefore the Church falls into error, the gates of hell certainly would prevail against it." (My Catholic Faith, p. 144).
"Our Blessed Lord, in constituting St. Peter Prince of His Apostles, says to him: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' Christ makes here a solemn prediction that no error shall ever invade His Church, and if she fell into error the gates of hell certainly prevailed against her." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 55).
The Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, by W.E. Vine defined the word "hell" of Matt. 16:18 as, "HADES, the region of departed spirits of the lost (but including the blessed dead in periods preceding the Ascension of Christ)." (p. 187). Mr. Vine on page 188 added, "The word is used four times in the Gospels, and always by the Lord, Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; it is used with reference to the soul of Christ, Acts 2:27,31; Christ declares that He has the keys of it, Rev. 1:18..." The Theological Word Book of the Bible, edited by Alan Richardson, says of the word, "The name for this region was SHEOL (Heb.) or HADES (Gk.)...It was in Sheol that a man was 'gathered to his fathers'; the dead may not return to earth, but the living must eventually go to them (cf. II Sam. 12:23)." (p. 106).
When Jesus said, "...Upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it," He did not promise to preserve the church from error. He simply meant that the gates of hell would not prevail against Him in preventing Him from building His church. Acts 2:31-32 says, "...He, foreseeing it, spoke of the resurrection of the Christ. For neither was He abandoned to hell, nor did His flesh undergo decay. This Jesus God has raised up, and we are all witnesses of it." Hence, Jesus was not stopped from building His church by being left in hell ("hades" in the Greek, meaning the place of the disembodied spirits) because His spirit was again reunited with His body. If He had been confined to hades, it would have prevailed against Him.
A parallel constructed sentence to Matt. 16:18 is, "The students are going near the swamp, and the faculty does not like it." The faculty does not like what--the students? No, the faculty does not like the students going near the swamp. Jesus said, "...I will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." The gates of hell shall not prevail against what? They would not prevail against Christ building His church.
The Catholic writers try to teach that the church could never go into error and is preserved from error. There are many passages in the New Testament which reveal that the opposite is true. Please carefully examine the following passages: Acts 20:17, 28-30; 2 Pet. 2:1-3; 1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Tim. 4:3-4; 2 Thess. 2:3-11.
From the above passages we see that there was to come a great falling away from the truth. In Acts chapter twenty we learn that perverse things would come from the bishops of the church. Peter said (2 Pet. 2) that false teachers would arise among you (working from within) and there would be many who would follow them. Paul tell us (2 Thess. 2) that the apostasy was already underway, "for the mystery of iniquity is already at work..." (Verse 7). It started in Paul's day and was to continue until the second coming of Christ. He added, "...Whom the Lord Jesus will slay with the breath of his mouth and will destroy with the brightness of his coming." (Verse 8).
We cannot harmonize that which the inspired apostles said (there shall arise false teachers among you) with that which the Catholic writers say (shall be preserved from error). Furthermore, we call your attention to the fact that the characteristics of the departing group are identical with those of the Catholic Church. Everyone knows that the Catholic Church has forbidden its people to eat meat on Friday and at the present it forbids some from marriage. Also, the only way for the wicked one to last from Paul's day to the second coming of Christ is to have a continual succession. It could not be some wicked person of the past because he will not be here for the Lord to slay when He comes. Furthermore, it could not be ones in the future because their iniquity would not have started in Paul's day. It must, therefore, be a continual succession from the beginning until now. The Catholic Church is the only group which perfectly fits the apostles' description of the great apostasy.
Consider, again, these quotes from Catholic sources:
"Our Savior said to Peter: 'Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.' Our Blessed Lord clearly intimates here that the Church is destined to be assailed always, but to be overcome, never." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 43).
"1. Christ meant His church to endure to the end of the world. It is to be indestructible and unchanging,--to possess indefectibility.
"3. After telling His Apostles to teach all nations, Christ said: 'Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world' (Matt. 28:20).
"As the apostles were not to live to the end of the world, Christ was addressing them as representatives of a perpetual Church.
"5. If the Church lost any of the qualities that God gave it, it could not be indefectible, because it would not be the same institution. Indefectibility implies unchangeability.
"Our Lord promises to abide by the Church, to assist it, and to send the Holy Spirit to remain in it. God does not change: 'Behold, I am with you all days, even unto the consummation of the world.' (Matt. 28:20).
"6. Because of its indefectibility the truths revealed by God will always be taught in the Catholic Church." (My Catholic Faith, pp. 148-149).
In the above quotes, the Catholic writers declare that Christ made His church perpetual and indefectible. They mean that the church could never defect from truth or cease to be the true church. Notice which Scriptures they use to sustain their claim. It is truly amazing how the Catholics obtain so many doctrines from the same passages. They claim that Matt. 16:18 teaches (1) the church can never teach error; (2) the church is perpetual. They affirm Matt. 28:20 teaches (1) the apostles have successors; (2) the church is preserved from error; (3) the church is endowed with perpetual life. We have already shown that Matt. 16:18 simply said the gates of hell would not prevail against Christ building His church. Matt. 28:20 was spoken to the twelve apostles and therefore refers to them alone. The word "church" is not mentioned nor addressed in the verse. The Catholic's claim of an unchanging and ever existent church--they mean always acceptable to Christ--does not allow for the great apostasy revealed in the Bible. The apostasy was to arise from within and would likewise claim to be of divine origin.
After making their claim of a perpetual and indefectible church, Catholic teachers proceed to show by history that the Catholic Church has always existed in spite of the many attacks brought against it. Notice the following:
"The Catholic Church has, throughout its long history, proved itself indefectible, against all kinds of attack from within and without, against every persecution and every heresy and schism." (My Catholic Faith, p. 149)
"No one but God Almighty could found a perpetual and infallible society. The existence of the Catholic church today is proof that her founder was divine, for no merely human society could endure throughout the centuries as the Catholic church has done.
"Unless the Church was a divine institution she had perished long ago. Her existence today is a great miracle as the resurrection." (Answer Wisely, pp. 49-50).
Bear in mind that the great apostasy was to exist throughout the centuries--from Paul's day (2 Thess. 2:7) to the second coming of Christ (2 Thess. 2:8). Thus, through the years the opposition described by the apostasy in some cases may be the people of God trying to expose the error of the apostasy, and likewise the affliction the people of God were suffering may be that ministered by the apostasy. Does the fact that the great apostasy existed from the beginning prove that it is infallible and unchangeable? If the "always existed" argument proves infallibility for the church, it proves it for the apostasy. If it proves the church to be divine, it proves the apostasy to be divine. The point is that the "always existed" argument proves nothing. It is one of the identifying characteristics of the great apostasy rather than the true church.
Catholic officials often ask, "Where was the true church when Martin Luther was born if the Roman Catholic Church was not that church? They are assuming there were no religions other than Roman Catholicism in the time of Luther. Also, their question is built on the assumption the Lord's church must have an authentic (verified by historical documentation) succession from the time of the apostles. Where does God's Word teach that a historical succession is necessary for a the church to be Lord's church? We have already shown that the expression "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it" is not referring to a historical succession, but "hades" would not prevail against Jesus building His church. The term "with you always, even to the end of the world" was spoken to the apostles, not the church.
The history of the Catholic Church from its inception records no period when there have been no "heretics" as the objects of its wrath. At all times there have been persons claiming to be Christians who repudiated the Roman Catholic faith. Could these not have been the Christians? The prophet Elijah thought himself to be the only one who had remained loyal to God, but God told him there were seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal (Rom. 11:2-5). Likewise, in past centuries there have been many who did not claim allegiance to the pope nor bowed the knee to the traditions and doctrines of men in the Catholic Church.
The gospel "is the power of God unto salvation to every one who believes" (Rom. 1:16), and its power is nowhere limited to an unbroken succession of God's faithful on earth. "The seed" (of the kingdom) "is the word of God" (Matt. 13:19; Luke 8:11). "For you have been reborn, not from corruptible seed but from incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever." (1 Pet. 1:23). The life-giving germ remains in the gospel and when believed and obeyed, it produces Christians or the Lord's church. Even if there was a lapse of a thousand years since true Christians lived on earth, the gospel would still be the power of God to salvation to everyone who believes. When the gospel is believed and obeyed at any time by anyone, no matter what nationality, race or sex, the Lord adds them to His church (Acts 2:41,47). The association of any number of such believers constitutes the church of God, or the church of Christ, or simply "the church" as it is frequently called in the New Testament.
Even if the great falling away, the mystery of lawlessness which had already begun its work in Paul's day, grew to such proportions that it embraced all the professed Christians on earth, it does not mean that the church was permanently destroyed or annihilated. The kingdom of Christ is an eternal one (Dan. 2:44; Heb. 12:28) because it is perpetuated by an eternal seed (1 Pet. 1:23-25). There is no reason or Scripture to support the claim that a continuous, unbroken succession of Christians is necessary to acceptable obedience to the gospel or to have the true church. If one wanted to grow Florida watermelons in Tennessee, he would not need to stretch a vine from Florida to Tennessee, but would simply need to bring the seeds to Tennessee and plant them. Similarly, we don't need a broken succession back to the first church to have the true church today. We simply need to plant the seed (the Word of God) in the hearts of individuals, and when they believe and obey it, they become "the church" in any given locality.
When an apple seed is planted, it always produces only an apple tree; an acorn grows only an oak. There are no exceptions to this because God ordained all plants to yield after their kind (Gen. 1:11). Likewise, when the seed of the kingdom is planted in the hearts of men, it always produces only Christians and the New Testament church. It produces only after its kind--that which is identical to the primitive church. If a person is something religiously about which nothing is said in the New Testament, some doctrine has been planted besides the pure and simple Word of God. Taking some of the New Testament, mixing it with human teaching, and planting it in the hearts of men produces a human religion, not the church or kingdom of Christ.
In our world of religious division and confusion, many ask, "How can I know which church is right and which is wrong?" We ask, "How would you know whether a tree is an apple tree or an oak? If a tree has apples on it, you would know that it is an apple tree. Likewise, when a church is identical in name, faith, and practice, etc., to the early church, it is the church of Christ. It is not a matter of finding something similar to the New Testament church, but building and maintaining that same institution. To be the New Testament church, it must be identical in every detail to the church of the New Testament.
In New Testament times when people in any given community received and obeyed the Word of God, they collectively constituted the church or kingdom in that place. They then submitted themselves to the law of Christ in all matters relative to the church. Even so, in modern times, if a religious body is governed by the same authority, has the same name, organization, worship, work, requirements for membership, etc., as did the original church, it is without question the same church.
Again, we affirm there is no need to have a church succession back to the original church. We need only to plant the seed of the kingdom once again. Wheat seed found in the ancient pyramids of Egypt though thousands of years old, when planted, germinated and bore the same wheat grown in that ancient time. So today, when the seed of the kingdom is planted, it will again produce after its kind.
Let us examine from the Scriptures the true relationship the church sustains to Christ. The seven short epistles to seven churches of Asia in the book of Revelation reveal the relationship the church bears to Christ.
"To the angel of the church at Ephesus write:...I know thy works and thy labor and thy patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men; but hast tried them who say they are apostles and are not, and hast found them false...But I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love. Remember therefore whence thou hast fallen, and repent and do the former works; or else I will come to thee, and will move thy lamp-stand out of its place, unless thou repentest." (Rev. 2:2-5).
"And to the angel of the church at Pergamos write:...But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to cast a stumbling-block before the children of Israel, that they might eat things sacrificed to idols and commit fornication. So thou hast also some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. In like manner repent..." (Rev. 2:12, 14-15; see also 2:18-20; 3:1-3, 14-15).
The above verses (and many other similar ones) plainly reveal that when a church continues in Christ's Word, it keeps its identity as His church, but when it fails to abide in His Word, it is no longer regarded as His church. Also, they reveal that Christ did not establish His church as one that could never fall into error, because some of those churches went into error. Someone might say that the passages in Revelation referred to the various parishes or congregations rather than the whole church. It is true that the verses were speaking of local churches; nevertheless, the same principle that applied to them relates to the whole church. The Lord does not have a rule for one congregation which is not equally applicable to all. If one church is rejected for embracing error, all others who likewise embrace error are rejected.
Many times during the Old Testament period, the whole Israelite nation left the truth. Jeremiah the prophet recorded that false prophets and priests had turned the people from the truth and none were right (Jer. 5:31; 6:13; 8:10; 13:25; 14:14; 23:32). Isaiah said, "And judgment is turned away backward, and justice hath stood far off: because truth hath fallen down in the street, and equity could not come in. And truth hath been forgotten..." (Isa. 59:14-15). Time and time again the whole Israelite nation left the truth and followed error--Judges 2:10-12; Psalm 14:2-3; 53:2-3; Micah 7:2 etc. Some generations, however, abandoned error and turned back to the Word of God. A good example is when the book of the Lord was found in the temple and reforms were made (2 Kings 22 & 23).
The Old Testament examples of the people of God falling away reveal the proper relationship the church sustains with Christ because the New Testament writers declared that those things serve as warnings for us. 1 Cor. 10:11 says, "Now all these things happened to them as a type, and they were written for our correction, upon whom the final age of the world has come." (See 1 Cor. 10:1-12; Rom. 15:4). If God's chosen people under the Old Testament went into error, and the inspired writers declared that those things were written as a type to admonish us, it necessarily follows that God's people under the New Testament can go into error. This shows conclusively that the church is not infallible.
The relationship that the church sustains to Christ is the same as that of the individual Christian. As long as the individual abides in the Word of the Lord, he will never perish and no outside forces can remove him from the Lord's favor. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me. And I give them everlasting life; and they shall never perish, neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand." (John 10:27-28). Did Jesus mean "once saved, always saved?" No, He meant that no outside forces can remove one from Him; however, it still remains that one can remove himself by not abiding in His Word. Likewise, there are no outside forces that can destroy the church, e.g., "a kingdom that cannot be shaken" (Heb. 12:28), but it can cause itself to be rejected by embracing error. As long as the church is abiding in the Word of Christ there are no outside forces that can destroy it, but when it is overtaken by error, by its own actions it looses its identity as His church.
Catholics sometimes quote 1 Tim. 3:15 which states, "...The church of the living God, the pillar and mainstay of the truth" to prove that the church is invested with authority to legislate in divine matters. (See Father Smith Instructs Jackson, p. 35; The Question Box, p. 96). The phrase "pillar and ground of truth" does not mean that the church is the originator of truth, or that it can make or change the laws of God. It simply means that it is the upholder, defender and proclaimer of the truth. The apostles often praised churches for proclaiming the truth, "for from you the word of the Lord has been spread abroad" (1 Thess. 1:8). They commended them for defending the truth, "partakers with me...in the defense and confirmation of the gospel" (Phil. 1:7). However, there is not a single verse in all of the holy Scriptures which indicates that the church has the authority to originate truth or to decree laws for God.
The apostles and prophets and they alone were commissioned by the Lord, not to originatetruth--"For ever, O Lord, thy word is firmly fixed in the heavens" (Psalm 119:89 Catholic Edition RSV)--but to reveal the truth. Their task was once and for all completed for they gave us the written New Testament of Christ. The responsibility of the church today is simply to follow, defend and proclaim the truth which they revealed. The Catechism for Adults, page 54 says, "The Catholic Church alone has the authority to rule and to teach." However, the authority is not in the body, but in the Head (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18). The ruling is not in the kingdom, but in the King (Heb. 7:1-2; Rev. 1:5-6). The authority is not in the church, but in Christ (Matt. 28:18; 1 Pet. 3:22). The church is not the Savior, but simply the body of the saved (Acts 2:47; Eph. 5:22-24).
The only reason a church would want to claim infallibility is to deceive the people into thinking that no matter what it teaches, it is always acceptable to God. Through the doctrine of infallibility, it changes God's laws and its people ignorantly and blindly accept them. Following are some examples of such changes in the Catholic Church:
"Baptism took place by immersion in ancient times." (New Interpretation of the Mass, p. 120).
"Catholics admit that immersion brings out more fully the meaning of the sacrament, and that for twelve centuries it was the common practice." (Question Box, p. 240).
"Baptism used to be given by placing the person to be baptized completely in the water: it was done in this way in the Catholic Church for 1200 years." (Adult Catechism, pp. 56-57).
"The church at one time practiced immersion. This was up to the thirteenth century. The Council of Ravenna, in 1311, changed the form from immersion to pouring." (Our Faith and the Facts, p. 399).
The book, My Catholic Faith, on page 270 gives the present day practice of the Catholic Church on baptism. It says, "How would you give baptism? I would give baptism by pouring ordinary water on the forehead of the person to be baptized..." The Bible clearly teaches that baptism is a burial in water, not a pouring of water. Our English word "baptism" is from the Greek word "baptisma" and means "immersion, submersion and emergence" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 96), "to dip, immerse, submerge" (Thayer's Greek-English Lexicon, p. 94).
Consider the act of baptism as suggested by the baptism of Jesus. (Mark 1:9-10). Furthermore, examine the manner in which the eunuch of Ethiopia was baptized. (Acts 8:38-39). The apostle Paul said, "And you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead." (Col. 2:12). In Rom. 6:4, Paul said, "We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life." Consequently, it is abundantly clear that the baptism which God ordained is a burial or immersion in water.
We raise a simple question here, "Who gave the Catholic Church the authority to change what the Lord ordained?" We are taught in God's holy Word that we must follow the laws of the Lord without change or variation (Gal. 1:6-9; Rev. 22:18-19). When we follow the traditions and doctrines of men, our religion becomes vain (Matt. 15:9; Col. 2:8; Titus 1:13-14). The Bible plainly reveals that there would come a great "falling away" (2 Thess. 2:1-12) or "departing from the faith" (1 Tim. 4:1-5). In the last day many sincere religious people will be rejected because they worked iniquity or acted without law (Matt. 7:22-23).
The following Catholic official openly acknowledges that the Catholic Church changed immersion to pouring simply because it was more convenient. "The present mode of pouring arose from the many inconveniences connected with immersion, frequent mention of which are made in the writings of the early Church Fathers." (Question Box, p. 366). The wicked king Jereboam made things convenient for the people by setting up idols and saying, "It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem: behold thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee up out of the land of Egypt." (See I Kings 12:28-33). Two of the priests under the Mosiacal system thought they would do what was convenient and "offered strange fire before the Lord, which he commanded them not" (Lev. 10:1). The very next verse says, "And there went out fire from the Lord, and devoured them, and they died before the Lord" (Lev. 10:2). To please God we must do exactly as He commanded and not that which might be more suitable to us. No one man or group of men have a right to change the law of God. God commanded a burial in water, and this is what must be done.
Catholic officials readily admit that infant baptism cannot be proven by the Bible. Notice the following:
"There is no express mention of the baptism of infants in the New Testament" (Question Box, p. 23).
"It is difficult to give strict proof from the scriptures in favor of it" (Catholic Dictionary, p. 61).
"Catholic controversialists soon proved to the Protestants that to be logical and consistent they must admit unwritten tradition. Otherwise by what right did they rest on Sunday and not on Saturday? How could they regard infant baptism as valid, or baptism by infusion?" (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. XV, p. 7).
Like many other doctrines of the Catholic Church, the baptism of infants slowly and gradually developed. Again, notice the following:
"Ecclesiastical custom with regard to the administration of Baptism has undergone a change in the course of history. Whereas the early Church baptized adults only, the baptism of children soon became the usual practice." (Pastoral Medicine, pp. 32-33).
"Where in the fourth and fifth centuries the doctrine of original sin became better known, the practice of infant baptism progressed rapidly." (Legislation on the Sacraments in the New Code of Canon Law, p. 72).
"When all fear of persecution had passed away, and the empire had become almost entirely Christian, the necessity for a prolonged period of trial and instruction no longer existed, about the same time the fuller teaching on the subject of original sin, occasioned by the Pelagian heresy, gradually led to the administration of baptism of infants." (Catholic Encyclopedia, Vol. V, p. 78).
The baptizing of infants originated from the false idea that babies inherit the sin of Adam--termed, "original sin." In defining different kinds of sins, the book, My Catholic Faith, on page 50 says, "Original sin is the kind of sin that we inherit from Adam." There is nothing in the Bible which teaches that men inherit the sin of Adam, or that men are born in a state of sin. A person becomes a sinner when he commits sin, and he commits sin when he transgresses Gods' law. "Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law." (1 John 3:4; see also James 1:13-15). A baby cannot be a sinner because he has not transgressed God's law. The prophet Ezekiel said, "The soul that sinneth, the same shall die: the son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, and the father shall not bear the iniquity of the son: the justice of the just shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him." (Ezek. 18:20; Catholic Confraternity Version). Hence, sin is not transferred from one generation or person to another. All men are sinners, not because they have inherited sin, but because "all have sinned" (Rom. 3:23).
An infant is not a subject of the baptism ordained by God in His Holy Word. First, a candidate for baptism must be a hearer of the Word of God (Rom. 10:17; Acts 2:22, 37; 15:7). He must be taught and he must learn the will of God. Jesus said, "It is written in the Prophets, 'And they all shall be taught of God. Everyone who has listened to the Father and has learned, comes to me..." (John 6:45). In the great commission, the Lord said, "Going therefore teach ye all nations: baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you..." (Matt. 28:19-20; Catholic Rheims Version). Furthermore, one must believe the gospel before being baptized. Again, Christ said, "Go into the whole world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized shall be saved..." (Mark 16:16). Another prerequisite to baptism is repentance. Peter said, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins..." (Acts 2:38). A verbal confession of Christ is also necessary before baptism. "For if thou confess with thy mouth that Jesus is the Lord, and believe in thy heart that God has raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom. 10:9; see also Acts 8:37). Consequently, infants cannot be subjects for baptism because they cannot: (1) be taught of God, (2) believe, (3) repent, (4) confess. Those who baptize infants today are doing so against God's will. John said, "Anyone who advances and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ, has not God; he who abides in the doctrine, he has both the Father and the Son." (2 John 9).
In view of the foregoing, consider the ridiculousness of the following "official" claims:
"Has the Catholic Church ever changed its teaching? No, for 2000 years the Church has taught the same things which Jesus taught." (Catholic Catechism for Adults, p. 57).
"It is a historical fact the Catholic Church, from the twentieth century back to the first, has not once ceased to teach a doctrine on faith or morals previously held, and with the same interpretation; the church has proved itself infallible." (My Catholic Church, p. 145).
Furthermore, please carefully consider the following quote from a Catholic source:
"If only one instance could be given in which the Church ceased to teach a doctrine of faith which had been previously held, that single instance would be the death blow of her claim of infallibility." (The Faith of Our Fathers, p. 61).
Thus, by our above examples of the Catholic Church ceasing to teach and practice doctrines of faith which had been previously held, we have struck the death blow to her claim of infallibility. Dear reader, surely you can see that the Catholic Church is not infallible. The Lord Jesus did not make His church infallible. He did not promise to protect it from error (2 Pet. 2:1-2; Acts 20:29-30); instead, there was to come a great departure from the truth (1 Tim. 4:1-3; 2 Thess. 2:2-12). The examples of the Israelites falling away serve as an example to warn God's people under the New Testament (1 Cor. 10:5-11). Some of the early churches failed to heed such warnings and went into error (Rev. 2 & 3). Furthermore, an understanding of the true relationship of the church to Christ reveals that the church is not infallible. The early churches had to earnestly contend for the faith, and to continually be on guard against error arising from within. The doctrine of infallibility causes the Catholic Church to fail in this. We conclude this first part of our study, therefore, by affirming that the Catholic Church is not infallible, but is the great apostasy foretold in the Bible, and is a church which neither recognizes nor corrects its errors.
By David J. Riggs
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