By Richard Bennett
How could anyone conceive that modern Roman Catholicism would supplant the church described in the New Testament?
The Apostle Paul would never have recognized the institution that calls itself the Church of Rome nearly 2000 years after he had written his Epistle to the early true believers in Rome. For instance, the Apostle Paul addressed all the believers in the early church in Rome as “…beloved of God, called to be saints.” Paul considered every single believer to be a “saint,” persons made holy because of the Lord God’s love and grace.
In contrast to Paul’s contention that all believers are “saints,” the Roman Catholic Church calls “saints” those whom Rome has canonized and labeled as “models and intercessors.”
Additionally, the Roman Catholic Church further sets apart its clergy such as priests, bishops, cardinals, and finally the Pope from “lay people.” This Roman Catholic organization clearly violates Jesus Christ’s clear command to the true church when He stated “One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren. And call no man your father upon the earth: for one is your Father, which is in heaven.”
Another stark contrast stems from the conflicting characteristics of true believers and false Romanism. The Apostle Paul commended the believers in first century Rome “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world.” Truly, the remarkable faith of the early churches in Rome persisted for over two and a half centuries later. These believers endured very adverse situations, including horrifying persecutions under various Roman emperors.
In contrast, the horrible reputation of today’s Roman Catholic Church clashes with the integrity of the early Christian church in Rome. Sexual and financial scandals have dogged the Roman Catholic Church for centuries. Its lust for power and control at any cost honed over 1500 years also completely tarnish Rome’s claim to be “the one true Church.”
The Apostle Paul warned the early church that pretenders to true Christianity would arise out of men’s false teachings even beginning in their day: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” Indeed, Roman Catholicism is the fulfillment of Paul’s ominous words.
Persecution Purified Early Believers as the Gospel Spread
The spread of the Christian faith during the first three centuries was rapid and extensive. God used the fidelity of the preachers of the Gospel, the heroic deaths of the martyrs, and the translation of the Scriptures into the languages of the Roman world to spread the Gospel.
Under Emperor Septimius Severus (193-211) Christians suffered appallingly. The most severe persecution was under the Emperor Diocletian and his co-regent, Galerius, during the years 303-311. Many copies of the Bible were burned. Christians were deprived of public office and civil rights. Most importantly, believers were executed if they refused to offer sacrifice to the pagan gods of Rome.
Yet, far from exterminating the authentic Christians and the Gospel of grace, persecution purified their witness and even attracted more people to find salvation in Jesus Christ.
Tertullian (155 – c.240), an early Christian author from Carthage, wrote some astounding words for our modern day:
“Christians are under a particular necessity of praying for the [Roman] emperors, and for the continued state of the empire; because we know that dreadful power which hangs over the world, and the conclusion of the age, which threatens the most horrible evils, is restrained by the continuance of the time appointed for the Roman Empire.”
Tertullian states two main ideas: (1) Christians pray for the welfare of the Roman government despite its opposition to their faith, and (2) Christians are sober concerning a future which would succeed the Imperial Roman Empire and abound with “the most horrible evils.”
Regarding the chief of “most horrible evils,” Tertullian refers to the wicked agent of Antichrist and his followers in II Thessalonians 2:8-10, “And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming…because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” About one hundred years later, Tertullian’s predictions began to be realized.
Clerical Corruption of the Church Post Constantine
The persecution of Christians ended in 313 A.D. with the proclamation of the Edict of Milan by the Roman emperors Constantine in the West and Licinius in the East. This policy established religious freedom for both paganism and Christianity. Additionally, Constantine allowed the churches to accumulate property for gatherings. While the Edict of Milan relieved the churches of the problem of persecution in the Roman Empire, it created numerous temptations that ultimately weakened the professing church. The world in the form of Roman privilege and hierarchy corrupted it.
The Edict of Milan led to the corruption of church leadership and the emergence of a privileged clerical class in society. The new prestige of the clergy enjoyed privileges unavailable to other believers. Members of the clergy were exempt from taxes and certain civil obligations. The building of ornate cathedrals, particularly in the major urban centers such as Rome, Alexandria, and later Constantinople, created well-compensated work for priests, deacons, and others to run them.
The emergence of the clergy also consolidated power in the hands of larger jurisdictions. In the past, independent churches large and small headed by elders or bishops related to each other as peers. This parity changed after the Edict of Milan. Archbishops, metropolitans, and patriarchs arose to govern several churches. Major clerical power came from four great cities: Antioch, Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Rome, eventually to be joined by Constantinople, the new capital of the Empire.
The widening gap of the church hierarchy from the laity also extended to the Bishop of Rome. The church was in such decline that over time the bishops of Rome began to demand that other churches submit to Rome’s authority. Rome’s power was limited immediately after Constantine’s coming to power. Churches in the East and Africa rejected the excommunication of later Roman bishops such as Victor and Stephen for refusing to submit to them. However, the extended absence of Constantine from Rome strengthened the hand of the Bishop of Rome. Gradually over time, the Bishop of Rome would emerge on top.
Sacramental Superstition and the Rise of Papal Rome
In the fourth and fifth centuries, as the Gospel was watered down, the true worship of God and the inner conviction of the Holy Spirit gave way to formal rites called “sacraments.” The official churches also began to practice idolatry in showing and venerating images of Christ and Mary. Pagan practices and philosophies flooded the church, introducing a shallow, diluted appearance of Christianity.
In contrast to the early church in which the Gospel produced an internal unity among believers, the substitution of ritualism for the Gospel became the new basis for external unity for the church. True saving faith of the heart no longer united the members of the church. Instead, the autocratic leadership of the Bishop and his clerical hierarchy enforced unity and repressed dissent. The living church gradually converted to an external church governed by the Bishop of Rome.
What makes the Roman Catholic purported method of salvation so horrific is that it is a rejection of the manifest love of God given in the Gospel. However, the evident truth that the authentic Christian Church has remains untarnished. God’s gratuitous love is made effective in accordance with His supreme purposes, “In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him. Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”
In Christ Jesus alone the believer beholds the wisdom, goodness, love, grace, mercy, justice and power of the Father. God’s grace was planned before it was imparted, as the Scripture says, “Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”
The purpose and design of God from all eternity was that all gifts should come to sinful man in and through Christ Jesus. Emphatically, grace in its most proper and genuine sense is free, as the Scripture says, “being justified freely by His grace.” Then finally grace is sovereign because God bestows it upon whom He pleases. The reign of sin and false religion is overcome by the reign of God’s grace, as the Scripture says, “even so might grace reign!” The abundance of grace far surpasses the evils of sin.
Once a believing sinner accepts Christ Jesus as his only surety before the All Holy God, he finds himself not only freed from his sins, but made to “reign in life.” As Scripture so clearly states, “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one, much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Those who receive the abundant grace given by Christ are not only redeemed from the empire of death, they live and reign with Him as they are sanctified daily through His Word by the Holy Spirit, and by constant fellowship with Him. With Him also they shall forever live and reign, world without end. Through Christ Jesus, grace reigns with sovereign freedom, power, and bounty! “Blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.”
Richard Bennett and Stuart Quint of “Berean Beacon” Website: http://temp.bereanbeacon.org
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 Romans 1:7. All Bible verses derive from the King James Version (www.biblegateway.com ).
 Catechism of the Catholic Church,Second Edition (1994: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, Vatican City), Paragraph 828.
 Matthew 23:8-10
 Romans 1:8
 See Laurie Goodstein, “Sex Abuse and the Catholic Church: Why Is It Still a Story?.”, The New York Times (April 20, 2016) on https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/20/insider/sex-abuse-and-the-catholic-church-why-is-it-still-a-story.html?mcubz=1 accessed on August 25, 2017.
 See Stephanie Yang, “The Craziest Financial Schemes that the Vatican Bank Tried to Cover Up”, Business Insider (February 27, 2015) on http://www.businessinsider.com/gods-bankers-financial-scandals-at-the-vatican-2015-2 accessed on August 25, 2017. See also “Questions multiply by the day in latest Vatican money scandal”, Crux (July 24, 2017) on https://cruxnow.com/vatican/2017/07/24/questions-multiply-day-latest-vatican-money-scandal/ accessed on September 5, 2017.
 See William Cardinal Levada and Angelo Amato, S.D.B., Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine of the Church (Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: Vatican City, June 29, 2007) on http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html accessed on August 25, 2017.
 Acts 20:29-31.
 Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 1 (2006: Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, MA), 34.
 Tertullian, Apology, chapter 32 on http://www.tertullian.org/works/apologeticum.htm accessed on September 14, 2017.
 Edward Gibbon (edited by D.H. Low), The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1960: Harcourt, Brace, and Company, New York), 287.
 Dowling, 36.
 Dowling, 32-3.
 I John 4:9-10
 II Timothy 1:9
 Romans 3:24
 Romans 5:21
 Romans 5:17
 Psalm 72:19