What is the indefectibility of the Roman Catholic Church?

The indefectibility of the Roman Catholic Church is the teaching that it will endure to the end of the world and never become corrupt in faith, authority, morals, or sacraments.  In other words, the Roman Catholic Church will always be the proper representation of Christianity even though its members may err.

  • "In the process of testing such formulations, the Church has moved cautiously, but with confidence in the promise of Christ that it will persevere and be maintained in the truth (cf. Mt 16.18; Jn 16.13). This is what is meant by the indefectibility of the Church . . . "1
  • "The apostolic tradition in the Church cannot undergo any essential corruption because of the permanent assistance of the Holy Spirit which guarantees its indefectibility."2

As you can see, the Roman Catholic Church claims that it cannot be corrupted.  Why?  Because it claims to be the one true Church (CCC 2105) that was founded by Jesus (Lumen Gentium 8.1) and the apostles (CCC 857).  It is necessary for salvation (CCC 846), has the authority to "reconcile sinners with the church" (CCC 1444), to represent Christ (1548), dispense indulgences (CCC 1471), absolve sins (CCC 553, 1495), instruct people in what they should do before God (CCC 2036), and perform exorcisms (CCC 1673).  It possesses infallibility in the deposit of divine revelation, doctrine, and morals (CCC 2035).  It is "guided by the apostles until Christ's return" (CCC 857), and people are moved to believe the gospel through the Church (CCC 119).  Only the Roman Catholic Church has the authority to interpret scripture (CCC 85, 100, 119) and administer sacraments (CCC 1598).  It is the minister of redemption (CCC 1471) because only through it can full salvation come (Vatican 2, Decree on Ecumenism, 3).  Its ordained ministers act in the authority of Christ (CCC 1548) but only when such authority is united with the Pope (CCC 883, 895) who has been "endowed with the authority of Christ" (CCC 2034) as has also its Magisterium (CCC 88) which is infallible (Lumen Gentium 18).  (See Catechism of the Catholic Church, CARM Citation List)

  • "This is the meaning of indefectibility, a term which does not speak of the Church’s lack of defects but confesses that, despite all its many weaknesses and failures, Christ is faithful to his promise that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [the Catholic Church]."3
  • "By this term is signified, not merely that the Church will persist to the end of time, but further, that it will preserve unimpaired its essential characteristics. The Church can never undergo any constitutional change which will make it, as a social organism, something different from what it was originally. It can never become corrupt in faith or in morals; nor can it ever lose the Apostolic hierarchy, or the sacraments through which Christ communicates grace to men. The gift of indefectibility is expressly promised to the Church by Christ, in the words in which He declares that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."4

Some of the verses the Roman Catholic Church uses to support indefectibility are:

  • Daniel 7:13-14, "I kept looking in the night visions, And behold, with the clouds of heaven One like a Son of Man was coming, And He came up to the Ancient of Days And was presented before Him. 14 “And to Him was given dominion, Glory and a kingdom, That all the peoples, nations, and men of every language Might serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion Which will not pass away; And His kingdom is one Which will not be destroyed."
  • Matthew 16:18, "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."
  • Matthew 28:18-20, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”
  • Luke 1:33, "and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end."
  • 1 Timothy 3:15, "but in case I am delayed, I write so that you may know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. 16 And by common confession great is the mystery of godliness."

Claiming indefectibility is one thing; proving it is another

If the Roman Catholic Church claims that it will obtain no defect in its essential teachings, then I must strongly disagree. In fact, the Roman Catholic Church is anything but indefectible.  It has taught corrupt doctrines, such as:

  • Forgiveness of sins, salvation, is by faith and works
    • CCC 2036, "The specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the creator, is necessary for salvation."
    • CCC 2080, "The Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the natural law. It is made known to us by divine revelation and by human reason."
    • CCC 2068, "so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments,"
  • Grace can be merited
    • CCC 2010, "Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification."
    • CCC 2027, "Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life, as well as necessary temporal goods."
  • There are many false doctrines concerning Mary found in Roman Catholicism. Here are a few.
    • Mary is Mediatrix, CCC 969, "Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix.'"
    • Mary brings us the gifts of eternal salvation, CCC 969, "Taken up to heaven she did not lay aside this saving office but by her manifold intercession continues to bring us the gifts of eternal salvation . . . "
    • Mary delivers souls from death, CCC 966, " . . . You [Mary] conceived the living God and, by your prayers, will deliver our souls from death."

The list could easily be much longer, but these few should raise serious doubt as to the indefectibility of the Roman Catholic Church.  Though some may claim it is the true church and that its teachings can be found within the pages of Scripture, again, I must disagree.  The Bible tells us not to exceed what is written in the word of God: "Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other." (1 Cor. 4:6).  But, the Roman Catholic Church has done exactly that.  It is not the true church, and it teaches false doctrines.

  • 1. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/pontifical_councils/chrstuni/documents/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_12051999_gift-of-autority_en.html
  • 2. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/cti_documents/rc_cti_1989_interpretazione-dogmi_en.html
  • 3. http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia//pontifical_councils/chrstuni/angl-comm-docs/rc_pc_chrstuni_doc_1981_authority-church-ii_en.html
  • 4. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03744a.htm

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.