by Matt Slick
Roman Catholics routinely claim that their church is the true church that possesses the authority of the apostles and of Christ. As a result of this, the Roman Catholic Church claims to be able to teach doctrine and pulls out of its sacred tradition, teachings that are not found in the New Testament.
If the Roman Catholic Church properly represents Christ and the true teachings of the Christian church, then are what it teaches found in the early church? Now, Catholics will automatically assume that the phrase "early church" refers to the church fathers whom they claim unanimously agree with Catholic teachings. This is clearly not the case to anyone who seriously studies the church fathers (See the article Early Church Fathers Quotes by Topic). Nevertheless, if the Catholics want to go back to the earliest times (Early Church Fathers) in support of their theology, then why don't we go back before them to the first Christians of the first century who lived during the time of the apostles?
Did the first Christians teach Catholicism?
Believers were first called Christians in Acts 11:26 and were referred to later as such (1 Pet. 4:16). The New Testament records their earliest beliefs and practices. If the first Christians were really Catholics and members of the one true Roman Catholic Church, then where do we find in the New Testament where those first Christians practiced or believed in such Roman Catholic teachings in the following list?
Note: you can check each paragraph in the catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) at http://www.scborromeo.org/ccc.htm. You can go there and just type in the paragraph number.
Nevertheless, if the Roman Catholic Church is the true church, did the earliest Christians teach the following?
- The Catholic Church is the one true church (CCC 2105)
- The infallibility of the Roman Catholic Church (CCC 2035)
- Only the Roman Catholic Church has authority to interpret Scripture (CCC 100)
- The Roman Catholic Church is necessary for salvation (CCC 846)
- The full benefit of salvation is only through the Roman Catholic Church (Vatican 2, Decree on Ecumenism, 3)
- Grace can be merited (CCC 2010 CCC 2027)
- Grace is something infused into the soul (CCC 1999, 2023)
- Indulgences (CCC 1471, 1478, 1498, 1472)
- Penance is necessary for salvation (CCC 980)
- The Mass is a resacrifice of Christ can be applied to the dead (CCC 1366, 1367,1414)
- The merit of Mary and the Saints can be applied to others (CCC 1477)
- Mary brings us the gifts of eternal salvation (CCC 969)
- Mary delivers souls from death (CCC 966)
- In regards to the church, there is no better way than to look to Mary (CCC 972)
- Veneration of relics (CCC 1674)
- Seven sacraments (CCC 1113)
- Before images of things in heaven and earth,
- Rosary beads
- Holy water
I see none of these things in the New Testament.
No apostolic succession of authority with the Bereans
Catholics routinely claim that they have an ancient pedigree tracing their lineage of authority back to the apostles. Even if such a claim could somehow be shown to be true, does a pedigree mean that the Catholic church is correct in everything it teaches? Of course not. Truth is not measured by a Church's self-asserting authority found in a lineage back to the apostles. Instead, truth is measured by what is in Scripture.
Acts 17:11, "Now these were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."
The First Christians used Scripture to validate the apostles' teachings. But, where did the Bereans get the authority to interpret Scripture and validate what Paul and Silas were teaching (Acts 17:10)? No authority was ever mentioned or assumed. Were the Bereans members of the "true church"? Did they appeal to their pedigree of authority and succession? No. In fact, while the apostles were still alive, they subjected the teachings of Paul and Silas to the Scriptures. And, they were considered noble-minded for doing so. But, where was their so-called authority to judge what Paul and Silas said against God's word? It wasn't there. It wasn't an issue. The Catholic church has made up the issue of authority, in my opinion, to bolster its position as well as exercise control its adherents' lives and beliefs.
Just as justification by grace came before the law (Rom. 4:1-5; Gal. 3:8, 15-17), so too subjecting the apostles to the Scripture came before any tradition and pedigree. Therefore, like the Bereans, let's use God's word to judge spiritual truth. We don't need some "authority" to do it as if that "authority" means we are then able to interpret God's word.
Do we need some authority to understand and interpret such things as...
- Matthew 12:1, "At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat."
- Luke 4:44, "So He kept on preaching in the synagogues of Judea."
- John 11:35, "Jesus wept."
- Acts 8:5, "Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them."
- Romans 16:8, "Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord."
Now, of course, not everything in the Bible is as easily understood as what I've listed here. And, undoubtedly, some scriptures are difficult to interpret. But, authority is not needed to interpret the five verses I used as an example above - nor countless others. Authority was not needed by the Bereans to interpret the Scriptures they had, the Old Testament, when they judged the teachings of Paul and Silas. Undoubtedly there were difficult things to understand in the Old Testament just as there are difficult things in the New Testament. But nothing of authority is needed, and nothing of authority is mentioned in order to interpret God's word!
If the Roman Catholic Church is true, then where do we find its special teachings (listed above) in the early church recorded in the New Testament? We don't. If we can't find them, then do they probably represent the First Christian Church? No, they don't.