A document issued by the Roman Vatican on Tuesday, September 5, 2000, has ignited considerable controversy in the community of “Christendom.” It alleges that other “Christian churches,” i.e., those beyond the pale of Romanism, are “defective” in that they do not recognize the “primacy of the Pope.”
The thirty-six-page declaration was prepared by the Vatican’s Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, and it received the approval of John Paul II. According to a report by NBC News, the document affirmed that the “Catholic faith” is “the mother of all beliefs.”
This Romish position paper further suggested that “religious truth,” in the most complete sense of that expression, is found only in “the Roman Catholic Church” because the pope is “the successor to St. Peter, whom Christ names as his first vicar on Earth.”
There is really nothing new about this presumptuous claim of the Vatican. It is creating some fresh excitement because, first of all, it runs counter to the pluralism (societal acceptance of every ideology, religious or otherwise) that has become so meshed into the intellectual fabric of American culture.
Second, Rome’s firm, outspoken claim to religious exclusiveness appears, in the view of many, to be contradicted by the frequent propaganda missions made by the pope, during which he has extended the right hand of fellowship to everyone from Jews (who repudiate Christ as the Messiah) to Muslims (who honor Mohammed as a prophet from God).
We must say, with all due respect to the feelings of our sincere Roman Catholic neighbors, that this document from Rome is quite erroneous. Any honest consideration of the historical evidence reveals that there is a vast chasm between the primitive Christianity that adorns the pages of the New Testament and that of the modern Catholic system.
This brief editorial cannot address the issues in detail, but consider, for example, the following.
(1) There is no theological similarity between the apostle Peter and the modern Roman pontiff. Peter was a married man (Matthew 8:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; cf. 1 Peter 5:1; 1 Timothy 3:2); church law forbids the pope to marry.
(2) The ancient apostle refused adoration of men (Acts 10:26); the modern pontiff relishes it, basking in a feigned glory as men bow before him, kissing his ring.
(3) Paul openly rebuked Peter to his face (Galatians 2:11ff); Catholic clerics dare not do such to the alleged “vicar of Christ” today. Since the first Vatican Council (A.D. 1870), it has been promulgated that when the pope speaks ex cathreda (from the chair) regarding matters of “faith and morals,” he is infallible.
(4) When the Jerusalem church convened to discuss the matter of Gentile inclusion into the body of Christ, though Peter was present on that occasion, he clearly was not in charge of the proceedings. In fact, James was more of a leading figure than Peter; the latter was only a testifying witness (see Acts 15).
(5) When Paul wrote his famous letter to the saints in Rome (the New Testament book of Romans), in the concluding chapter he sent personal greetings to, and acknowledged the presence of, more than twenty people. Yet he never once referred to the “Holy Father,” who supposedly was occupying the papal chair in that city. Is this not strange in light of the claims of Catholicism?
(6) Toward the end of his ministry, Paul spent two years (under house arrest) in Rome. How very curious that the divine record (Acts 28) makes no mention whatsoever of any association between Paul and the “prince of the church,” whose headquarters allegedly were in the imperial city.
(7) Does it not seem uncommonly strange that Peter, who is supposed to possess a certain “primacy,” should find some of Paul’s writings “hard to be understood” (2 Peter 3:16)?
(8) Catholic theology claims that the principal authority for the primacy of Peter is to be found in that phrase wherein Jesus said to the apostle, “[W]hatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven” (Matthew 16:19). Yet Catholicism ignores the fact that the same promise is given to all the apostles two chapters later (18:18).
Besides that, the grammar of both passages actually teaches just the reverse of Roman dogma. When Jesus said, “[W]hatever you bind [deses],” he employed a subjunctive, aorist verbal form, but when he subsequently cautioned, “shall be bound [dedemenon],” he shifted to a perfect, passive verbal—literally, “shall have been bound already.”
The language grants neither to Peter, nor to the other apostles, any theological license; rather, it restricts them to teaching only what has been bound or loosed already in heaven!
We must kindly insist, therefore, that there is no authority for the grandiose boast that Rome has made across the centuries regarding her “primacy.” This most recent edict is but another manifestation of an arrogant and usurptive disposition—void of any biblical basis.
Religious authority, by divine decree, resides in Christ (Matthew 28:18); he is the sole head of the church (Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 1:18).