A Plea for Unity


I wanted to clarify something I stated in my last post suggesting that the Catholic Church is the true church of Christ which might cause some Protestants to infer that they are not true Christians.

Please understand, Protestants are true Christians. The Catholic Church recognizes that those who are baptized according to Protestant faith are, indeed, brothers and sisters in Christ.

It is true that the Catholic Church traces its roots to the apostolic age while the Protestant Church had its origins in the Reformation. Churches that follow Protestant doctrine were only established in the last 500 years. To suggest that the Catholic Church is not of God is to claim that the disciples of Christ believed a lie for 1500 years. That is an inconceivable proposition to which I do not subscribe. If the Pope is the Man of Sin then the Church was deceived for fifteen centuries until Martin Luther received enlightenment from the Holy Spirit.

Young’s Literal Translation reads:

And I also say to thee, that thou art a rock (Πέτρος, Petros), and upon this rock (πέτρᾳ, petra) I will build my assembly, and gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

Notice that the Greek uses two different words for rock. Very simply, it recognizes one as a proper name while the other as a common noun. In addition, Jesus spoke in Aramaic so that Young’s translation is, well, quite literal.

In the language spoken by Christ, rock is the same word whether used as a name, or noun. Peter is told that he is a rock upon which Christ will build his church. That is the literal meaning of the verse. Notice that Jesus calls himself the builder while Peter is a foundation stone.

Together, we are God’s house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself (Ephesians 2:20).

In Revelation 21:14 we read:

The wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were written the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

There is no need to force any other interpretation as do Protestants who teach that the rock is a reference to Christ himself, or a metaphor for Peter’s confession of faith. Understanding that the apostles are foundation stones, and that Jesus is the chief cornerstone, it therefore is unnecessary to impose an awkward interpretation of what is a simple declaration.

Protestant interpretation is intended to challenge the Romish claim that the Pope is Peter’s successor. To disprove that claim might cast doubt on the assertion of Papal authority, and the legitimacy of the Catholic Church.

Did Peter fulfill the charge of Christ? Did the Apostle serve as a foundation stone in the apostolic age?

Most definitely, yes.

It was Peter who spoke to the crowd in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost — the birthday of the church when the Holy Spirit was poured out, and 3000 people were baptized (Acts 2:14-41).

It was Peter who opened the church to Gentiles (Acts 10).

It was Peter (and James, the brother of Christ) who oversaw the church at Jerusalem.

When Jesus said to Peter, You are a rock, and upon this rock I will build my church, the Apostle clearly fulfilled this mission.

Is the Bishop of Rome in the line of Peter? Did the Apostle confer his role to succeeding Popes? Did Peter establish the church in Rome? Was Peter ever in Rome?

We know Paul was in Rome, but there is no scriptural evidence that Peter was ever in Rome. Author Loraine Boettner wrote:

The remarkable thing about Peter’s alleged bishopric in Rome is that the New Testament has not one word to say about it … and never is Peter mentioned in connection with it. There is no allusion to Rome in either of his epistles. Paul’s journey to the city is recorded in great detail (Acts 27 and 28). There is in fact no New Testament evidence, nor any historical proof of any kind, that Peter ever was in Rome. All rests on legend. (Roman Catholicism, p. 117)

Catholics cite 1 Peter 5:13 as scriptural evidence that Peter was in Rome, but is this a correct interpretation?

Your sister church here in Babylon sends you greetings, and so does my son Mark.

Babylon is said to be code for Rome, but in the context of Peter’s letter (written to the churches in Asia Minor, or modern-day Turkey) the Apostle had no reason to be cryptic. John Calvin, who favored a literal interpretation, believed that Peter actually meant Babylon.

The Jewish Encyclopedia estimates that 800,000 Jews lived in first century Babylon. Josephus, the Jewish historian, noted that tens of thousands of Babylonian Jews visited Jerusalem to celebrate the feast days. Many of them heard Peter’s sermon and witnessed the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

Regardless of the meaning of Babylon there is sufficient extra-Biblical evidence that Peter not only visited Rome, but established the Holy See — ordaining Clement of Rome who later was consecrated as Pope. Irenaeus (Against Heresies) wrote that Peter and Paul set the foundation of the church in Rome. Clement of Alexandria wrote that (in Rome) Peter preached the word and declared the Gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit (from which we received the Gospel of Mark). Dionysius of Corinth, in a letter to Pope Sorter, noted that Peter and Paul planted the church in Rome. Tertullian (Against the Heretics) affirmed that Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome. There are many other ancient sources who documented Peter’s connection to Rome so that by the time of Augustine it was widely accepted to be factual.

It is not even necessary to establish a succession between Peter and the Popery. Indeed, if the Romish Church sought validation it could rightfully claim apostolic succession through the Apostle Paul. Irenaeus (Against Heresies) wrote:

After the Holy Apostles (Peter and Paul) had founded and set the Church in order (in Rome) they gave over the exercise of the episcopal office to Linus. The same Linus is mentioned by St. Paul in his Epistle to Timothy (2 Timothy 4:21).

How does this all relate to the Catholic-Protestant rift?

To Martin Luther, the doctrine of faith alone (Sola Fide) was the essential underpinning of Christian theology. Luther opposed what he called merit-based salvation. Protestant doctrine correctly proclaims that a person is saved by simple faith.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

The Roman Catholic Church also teaches that people are saved by grace through faith — that no one can earn their salvation. The disagreement hinges on this passage from the Book of James:

You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone (James 2:24).

There is a fine distinction between justification and sanctification that, quite frankly, Luther failed to grasp. James, the brother of Jesus, was writing to Jewish Christians. They believed that simple faith absolved them of any Christian duties. Freed from the law of Moses they could go on sinning. Good works were deemed non-essential and irrelevant to the doctrine of saving faith.

Is this what Christ taught? Read again the parable of the fig tree (Luke 13:6-9). See also Matthew 7:19Matthew 21:18-19, John 15:2.

James rightly taught that faith without works is dead (James 2:17). Make no mistake, a dead faith will save no one. Where Luther saw conflict between Paul and James there was none. Their teaching is consistent with our Lord’s.

Luther insisted that the church stands or falls on the doctrine of faith alone. He rejected the apostolic authorship of James, and relegated the book to the index of the Lutheran Bible.

Is Luther’s theology heresy? At the very least it borders on false teaching. If the church stands or falls on the doctrine of Sola Fide then Protestantism might lead people astray. I see it in the witness of so-called Christians who lead a fruitless, sinful life. They invariably say, “Oh, but I’m covered by the blood of Jesus.”

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? (Romans 6:1)

To be saved by faith does not mean a life void of good works. Catholics point to James to affirm that we are not saved by works, but saved for good works — mischaracterized by Protestants as merit-based salvation.

This is Catholic doctrine:

Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2:18)

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

The Catholic Church, whatever its faults, has withstood 2000 years of spiritual warfare both internal and external. Pray for Christian unity as division is not a good witness. Pope John Paul II, in his encyclical UT UNUM SINT (That They May Be One), wrote:

… I think of the grave obstacle which the lack of unity represents for the proclamation of the Gospel. A Christian Community which believes in Christ and desires, with Gospel fervor, the salvation of mankind can hardly be closed to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, who leads all Christians towards full and visible unity. As Pope Paul VI wrote … “May the Holy Spirit guide us along the way of reconciliation, so that the unity of our Churches may become an ever more radiant sign of hope and consolation for all mankind”.

It is worth noting that the Pope signed the 2500 word encyclical … servus servorum Dei … which is Latin for servant of the servants of God — a humble title for one who supposedly represents the seat of Antichrist.

Copyright © 2017 Eternal Christ

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2 thoughts on “A Plea for Unity

  1. The unity you plea for is only attainable through the Headship of Christ. Therefore, what is the point of statements such as, “It is true that the Catholic Church traces its roots to the apostolic age while the Protestant Church had its origins in the Reformation.” Hair-splitting based on church history won’t bring about unity. When we meet up yonder, the one church will be the bride of Christ. There will be no “I am of Luther” or “I am of Aquinas” factions. We will be of Christ because we are in Christ together.

    I am somewhat bewildered at what seems to be an attempt to argue a case that the Catholic church is less guilty of apostasy than Protestant churches, based on the single issue of the sanctity of marriage. There’s plenty of apostasy all ’round, and the “true church” will never be found by comparing denominations. Such an exercise is limited to finding the successes of human endeavors and human achievements. Pointing out church virtues and church faults is not the same as pointing to Christ, just as the example of baptism illustrates. We are baptized into him, not into a church.

    The comparison of Catholicism to Protestantism annoys me because both categories fall very short of God’s truth (in my opinion). They are not the Church. They are churches (denominations). The Catholic claim that tracing the papacy back to Peter somehow gives them the sole right to call themselves the true Church of Christ is a bit self-serving. Jesus said on this rock (Peter) I will build my church. But defining that edifice in human terms limits the centrality and primacy of Christ as the Head of his Church. Catholics consider Peter to be the first Pope. But where, when and how did Jesus ever confer Papal inerrancy to Peter? Just a few verses after declaring that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Peter creates a scene by not having in mind the things of God. Jesus told him, “Get behind me Satan, you are a hindrance to me.” Peter, the first Pope, elevated above all others, or just another, very human apostle?

    Because it is our faith that qualifies us as the church — not our religion or denomination — it is a proper definition of faith that should tell us what the true Church is. Speaking impersonally of denominations fails to hit that mark. Church is best described as relationship to God and to one another. On earth, our church relationship to one another is expressed through corporate worship, fellowship and service. In terms of doctrine, we are all to be stewards of orthodoxy, that is, faithfully pass on to others what has been taught to us. We are called to be one body, to be one in Christ. Paul’s epistles are full of instructions on how we are to fellowship with one another, confess to one another, forgive, love, serve, bear with and even correct with Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16).

    Somehow Catholic thinking takes a giant leap from the idea of “building” Christ’s church to the idea that it must be headed up by the authority of the Vicar of Christ. That’s a big leap. Jesus never said anything about that kind of a church Hierarchy. Christians were instructed from the earliest times to entrust the teaching of God’s revealed truth to faithful men (2 Timothy 2:2). Prior to the Reformation, the Catholic church notoriously failed to do this. Catholic traditions today still strain against Biblical authority (in my opinion). That is why I do not hold them in high regard, even though I believe many Catholics are true Christians (just as in other denominations). It’s not being a Catholic that makes them a Christian. It’s being a Christian that makes them members of the true Church.

    Among the traditions of the Catholic religion are practices which require the manipulation of or total discarding of Scriptural instructions. The very name of the office of Pope derives from a Greek word meaning father. And yet Jesus said, “And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” (Which makes me think of, “Get behind me Satan”.) This word, meaning father, was used for the title of Bishop. Bishops, according to Paul, were to be the husband of one wife. But the doctrine of the Catholic Church says the Pope, bishops and fathers are all to be celibate. Catholic scholars have their twisty ways around these kinds of things, but none of it sounds very much like the Church Jesus spoke of building on the “rock” of Peter, particularly when you consider we are to be a “kingdom of priests”. Where exactly is the Catholic idea of priests expressed in the New Testament?

    My opinion isn’t based on what Protestants are taught or supposed to think. It isn’t a product of Protestant doctrine. It is based on my understanding of Scripture — Scripture that goes back to creation, not just the Reformation. I would not call myself a Christian until I could say that I agreed the entire Bible was true. So, in order to make that decision, I read through and studied the entire Bible. It was while I was still reading in the Old Testament that I was convinced that my faith in Jesus was true and that he is the Messiah, the Son of God. So I can trace my faith back to ancient Judaism — just as communion is traced back to Passover.

    Don’t all Christian denominations have their origins in the Bible and in the Messiah who lived, died and was resurrected some 2,000 years ago? My faith isn’t a religion founded 500 years ago. Though I could be classified as a Protestant, I don’t believe in “Protestantism”. I don’t “believe” in Martin Luther any more than I “believe” in any other notable scholar. My faith is in Christ alone. How many Catholics can say the same thing?

    Look, you’ll never find God’s truth by comparing the Catholic church to Protestantism. It’s a dead end. They are all limited, human religions. None of them is the true church. No doubt you can find faults in all denominations and you can find true believers in almost any denomination. That does not make any particular denomination true. If you find one you prefer to all others, then by all means, join it and become part of it. But don’t make the mistake that you will avoid apostasy by choosing the correct church. This is the age of apostasy. True believers need to abide in Christ and find our unity in him by clinging together personally, not by focusing on our denominational affiliation. The true church is spiritually connected. It is made up of communities in Christ, believers who participate together in the expression of their faith. True, the wheat is growing among the tares (Matthew 13:24-30), but let God be in charge of the weeding, “because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them.”

    May God forgive us the hubris of thinking our intellects, religions or any other human capacity can begin to take the place of the Spirit of the Almighty who lives in us — Christ, the Head of the Church.

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    1. Michael, very well stated.

      Of course, my prejudice — for what it’s worth — is that I relate the Holocaust to German nationalism fueled by the anti-Semitic overtones of the Reformation. For me, this is a very sensitive issue not understood by the Protestant laity which holds Martin Luther in high regard.

      When Luther went to Rome, ostensibly seeking reform, he initially said nothing about the peculiar traditions of the Catholic Church — many of which were gleaned from the Apocryphal books written during the Intertestamental period. For example, the German church profited handsomely from the indulgences paid by the wealthy aristocracy. Luther wanted to keep that money in Germany, and out of the hands of Rome.

      On a related issue, Luther saw the banking system as a threat to German autonomy. The bankers, by chance, happened to be Jews who were profiting (across Europe) as capitalist financiers.

      Luther’s mission was this: Liberate Germany from the Catholic Pope and Jewish bankers.

      Much has been written about Luther’s anti-Semitic nationalism, but this history is unknown, or not taught in the Protestant Church. We must understand Luther’s motivations in order to judge the righteousness of his movement.

      Writing about Martin Luther’s book, On the Jews and Their Lies, author Jim Walker commented:

      Although Luther did not invent anti-Jewishness, he promoted it to a level never before seen in Europe. Luther bore the influence of his upbringing and from anti-Jewish theologians such as Lyra, Burgensis, (and John Chrysostom, before them). But Luther’s 1543 book, “On the Jews and Their Lies” took Jewish hatred to a new level when he proposed to set fire to their synagogues and schools, to take away their homes, forbade them to pray or teach, or even to utter God’s name. Luther wanted to “be rid of them” and requested that the government and ministers deal with the problem. He requested pastors and preachers to follow his example of issuing warnings against the Jews. He goes so far as to claim that “We are at fault in not slaying them” for avenging the death of Jesus Christ.

      So vehemently did Luther speak against the Jews, and the fact that Luther represented an honorable and admired Christian to Protestants, that his written words carried the “memetic” seeds of anti-Jewishness up until the 20th century and into the Third Reich. Luther’s Jewish eliminationist rhetoric virtually matches the beliefs held by Hitler and much of the German populace in the 1930s.

      Luther unconsciously set the stage for the future of German nationalistic fanaticism.

      Walker cited author William L. Shirer (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich) who wrote that Luther created a new Protestant vision of Christianity by a fervent German nationalism.

      In his book, Martin Luther’s Anti-Semitism: Against His Better Judgment, author Eric W. Gritsch wrote that the “missionary Luther” was a propagandist for German nationalism — a political reformer whose patriotism should have created a substitute for the rule of Roman Catholicism. He further wrote that German nationalism, unconditional patriotism and conditional theology propelled the Reformation.

      Hitler called Martin Luther one of the greatest reformers. Against the historical backdrop one might doubt the righteousness of Luther’s reforms.

      Here’s what I think.

      First, let me say that the Catholic Church is not without sin. Having said that, I believe that confusion and division are from Satan. Nothing has caused so much confusion and division than the Protestant-Catholic split.

      I believe that Luther’s theological differences were intended to conceal his nationalistic intentions. He was politically motivated to break from Rome, and his 95 Theses served as a formal declaration of German independence. He split the Church in two, and the Church has suffered consequentially.

      Luther’s theology, I believe, does rise to the level of heresy. On Sola Fide, alone, he mishandles the word of God (if only to incite disagreement with Rome).

      This one and firm rock, which we call the doctrine of justification is the chief article of the whole Christian doctrine, which comprehends the understanding of all godliness … if this article stands, the Church stands; if it falls, the Church falls. — Martin Luther

      Catholics do not disagree that we are saved by faith. The issue, as I pointed out in the article, is the Book of James. Luther didn’t like what it said so he disputed its canonicity. He also didn’t like Hebrews and Revelation because they were too Jewish.

      I look at the fruit of the Reformation and I see the Holocaust, and tens of thousands of Protestant Churches who teach every kind of oddball theology.

      To quote Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

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