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Church History: A Biblical View
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Part VI - The Modern Age: Lesson No. 46 - Trends in Twentieth-Century

Catholicism and Protestantism


I. Catholicism

A. Loss of temporal powers. As the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries progressed the Roman Catholic Church suffered a continuing erosion of political power and influence. During the Middle Ages, of course, papal supremacy over civil rulers was often asserted and sometimes achieved, but with the rise of nationalism and Protestantism papal political powers began to wane more swiftly and irrevocably. Finally, in 1870 King Victor Emmanuel of Italy captured Rome, and its inhabitants voted overwhelmingly for annexation to Italy. Though the Pope was left with absolute sovereignty over the Vatican, this brought the States of the Church - the oldest secular sovereignty then existing in Europe - to an end. For this the papacy excommunicated Victor Emmanuel and until 1929 refused to accept the loss of its temporal possessions.

B. Papal infallibility. Ironically, on July 18, 1870 the Vatican Council affirmed by a vote of 533 to 2 the doctrine of papal infallibility. This doctrine does not assert that every utterance or action of the pope is infallible but that when he speaks ex cathedra (that is, "from the chair" of papal authority, or in the official capacity of pope) on matters pertaining to the faith and morals of the Church he cannot err. However, he can make mistakes in judgment and sin. This doctrine harks back to the Roman Catholic belief that the popes are the successors of the apostles and thus enjoy their powers. Of course, the Scriptures show that no arrangements were made by Christ for a continuous line of apostolic succession (Acts 1:15-26; I Cor. 15:3-8). Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that neither the Church nor its bishops, as a whole, can accept a doctrine contrary to the faith.

C. Doctrinal changes. Despite papal claims to infallibility the Catholic Church through the years has found it necessary to make periodic doctrinal accommodations. Not only has Catholicism either assimilated or tolerated paganistic practices within its ranks, but it has also added to, or subtracted from, its body of doctrine from time to time. The doctrine of papal infallibility is but one example of a fundamental doctrine which the Catholic Church officially adopted late in its history. Liberalization of dietary restrictions, penitential demands, and worship practices (for example, the Latin mass, and denial of the cup to the laity). Women priests, acceptance of artificial birth control, and abolition of clerical celibacy may eventually come.

II. Protestantism

A. Liberalism. This is a general term for various kinds and stages of unbelief. With the broadening of scientific knowledge many of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, and even the Bible itself, came under heavy criticism, generally from academic and philosophical circles. However, the ferment of skepticism filtered down to the masses of most mainline Protestant denominations. The Biblical doctrines usually challenged were the inspiration, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible, the virgin birth, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus Christ, and, ultimately, the very existence of God.

B. Social gospel. In the latter part of the Nineteenth Century the American religious scene witnessed the growth of a movement which emphasized the ethical and social aspects of the gospel of Christ. Those involved in this movement minimized the spiritual aspects of the gospel in order to make the gospel primarily an instrument for the alleviation of man's social ills. Therefore, the message of this movement became known as the "social gospel," and although the heyday of this movement is given as 1870-1920 it has left a very apparent and permanent impact upon religious thinking. There are a number of good reasons why the social gospel had, and still has, a great appeal to people- (1) It does not require religious faith. (2) It allows one to do as he pleases as long as he does not violate the social code. (3) It offers something everyone can agree on - social improvement. (4) It offers men benefits now. (5) It offers men physical benefits. The social gospel is wrong because it confuses (1) the essence of the gospel with the results thereof - or salvation from sin with social improvement (Rom. 1:16; I Cor. 15:1,2; II Cor. 5:18-21; Matt. 20:28; Lk. 19:10), (2) the primary and secondary effects of the gospel, and (3) the individual and the church.

C. Ecumenism. The ecumenical movement is an effort to forge unity among religious bodies by emphasis on points of agreement and compromise on points of disagreement. It promotes "union" rather than "unity." Therefore, the ecumenical movement has been heavily influenced by liberalism and the social gospel. It does not offer the kind of unity for which Christ prayed (Jn. 17:20-23) and which He commanded (I Cor. 1:10).

III. Exercises (Please click on "File" on your browser window, then "Print" to print out this page.)

(1) What does the doctrine of papal infallibility assert?

(a) When was it officially adopted?

(b) What is its basis?

(c) Why is it unscriptural?

(2) (T or F) The Catholic Church has never made changes in its fundamental beliefs and practices.

(3) (T or F) "Liberalism" is another word for unbelief.

(4) What is the "social gospel" and what is wrong with it?


(5) What is the ecumenical movement and what is wrong with it?


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