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  Global Views
Early Christianity Before The Papacy
Special Contribution
By Babu G. Ranganathan
Pope Benedict, the 16th

Recently the Pope announced that the Roman Catholic Church is the one true church and that there is no salvation outside of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Pope is the infallible spiritual head and Vicar of Christ on earth.

Before examining the Pope's statements, let us define what the word "church" means. The word "church" comes from the Greek New Testament word "ekklesia" which means people who have been "called out." All those who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation and forgiveness of sins are considered in the New Testament as being spiritually "called out" from the world. They are in the world but not of the world. Their spiritual citizenship now is in heaven.

The church, therefore, is not a building. It is not a building that has been "called out." The church is the body of all true believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God Who died and shed His blood on the Cross to pay for our sins and Who bodily rose from the grave. All Christians belong spiritually to one true Church which is the spiritual body of Christ, regardless of denomination or differences in local church governments. The Apostle Paul, in the New Testament, says that there is "one Lord, one faith, one baptism" (Ephesians4:5).

The one baptism that all Christians share is a spiritual baptism performed by the Holy Spirit when an individual puts his or her personal faith and trust in Jesus Christ for salvation. The Apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:13 "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body...and have been all made to drink into one Spirit." This is spiritual baptism of which physical baptism by water is a symbolic picture. When Christians are physically baptized by water it is done through a human agency. But the baptism that the Apostle Paul talks about here in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is done specifically by God the Holy Spirit. It is entirely spiritual and not physical at all.

In the first few centuries after Christ there was no Roman Catholic Church. There was a catholic church but not a Roman Catholic Church. The word "catholic" simply means universal. In the time of the Roman Empire there were various locally governed and administered churches. For example, there was the Church of Jerusalem, the Church of Rome, the Church of Antioch, the Church of Alexandria, the Church of Corinth, etc. Each of these churches was ruled separately by their own bishops. The bishop of one church had no authority over the bishop of another church. But the Christians in all these churches considered themselves to be one spiritually even though they were governed separately.

The Christians in these various churches did not see "eye-to-eye' on every doctrine. They differed on matters of secondary doctrine, as Christians do today, but they all were in agreement with the primary (essential) doctrines concerning the Deity and Person of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His payment for our sins on the Cross and His bodily resurrection from the grave.

Because Rome was politically the center of the Roman Empire and because of the important political events occurring there, the bishop of the Church of Rome eventually began to have greater and greater influence over the bishops of other churches in the Roman Empire. Eventually in the 5th century the bishop of the Church of Rome was recognized as having supreme authority over all of the other bishops of the other churches and there became to be organized for the first time the Roman Catholic Church.

Christians who are Roman Catholic believe that Christ made the Apostle Peter the first pope and that all other popes come from the line of Peter. Even if Christ had made Peter the first pope it doesn't necessarily mean that Peter would have successors. As the great preacher John Gill noted, the New Testament (i.e.,Ephesians 2:20; Revelation 21:14)describes Peter equally with the other apostles as being a foundation in "laying doctrinally and ministerially Christ Jesus as the foundation of faith and hope" but it is clear in the New Testament that the twelve apostles were not a foundation in the unique sense that Christ Himself is of the Church. A careful reading of the New Testament shows that the Apostle Peter had no more authority than the other apostles. All of the original twelve apostles had equally the same spiritual authority.

The passage from the New Testament that is often cited by Roman Catholics is Matthew 16: 18 where Jesus says to Peter "Thou are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church..." It is important to remember that the New Testament was originally written in Greek. The Greek is a very precise language. Even though Christ Himself spoke in the Aramaic language to His disciples what He meant was translated into Greek by His disciples, so we must go to the Greek to get an understanding of what Christ meant.

In the particular passage of Matthew 16:18 the Greek word for "Peter" (petros) means a "small stone" or "small rock" but the Greek word for "rock" (petra) means a "huge unmovable portion of earth" or "cliff." Peter could not be both! Peter was the small stone. In fact, the Apostle Peter in Scripture calls other Christians as fellow stones (1 Peter 2:5) which together are built into the spiritual house of God (the Church). In calling Peter "a small stone" Christ was using Peter, in one sense, as a picture of what all Christians are. The "rock" (petra) that Christ said He would build His Church on is either Christ Himself or the truth of the statement that Peter had just made about Christ. Peter had just finished saying in Matthew 16:16 to Jesus "Thou are the Christ, the Son of the living God." It is probably the truth of this statement that Christ referred to as the "rock" on which he would build His church.

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that in the communion of the bread and wine we are literally eating the body and blood of Christ. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that at some point in the ceremony of the Mass the wafer (bread) and wine turn into the literal flesh and blood of Christ. They say this occurs mystically. This belief comes from the Roman Catholic Church interpreting literally the saying of Jesus in John 6:54 "Whoso eatheth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life..." However, Jesus Himself explains in John 6:63 that He was talking spiritually and not literally about eating His flesh and blood. When we have genuinely put our personal faith and trust in Christ for salvation we are spiritually partaking of Him and the physical communion of bread and wine is a symbolic picture of that truth.

There are many other thoughts and passages of Scripture concerning the claims of Roman Catholicism that are not covered in this article. But, the essential argument has been made which is that all true Christians whether, Roman Catholic, Protestant, or Eastern Orthodox belong spiritually to one body - the spiritual body of Christ.The Bible, in the New Testament, teaches that every Christian is a priest and saint (the word "saint" simply means spiritually "set apart" not sinless).

The New Testament further teaches that the Holy Spirit indwells every true believer and guides and teaches him or her especially as the believer studies God's Word, The Holy Bible. The Spirit does not teach all Christians at the same pace. The Bible tells individual Christians to prove everything by rightly interpreting God's Word. All Christians will give an account to God of whether they have rightly divided (interpreted) Scripture with the light God has given to them. The Bible was written for every believer to read and properly interpret. The Spirit teaches through pastors and other Christians as well.

History shows that the Holy Spirit has made sure through the centuries that all Christians agree on the essential or primary doctrines concerning the Person and work of Christ. On matters of secondary doctrines Christians have differed and continue to do so. The knowledge or lack of knowledge of these secondary doctrines do not affect our salvation or being in Christ but do affect our better understanding of God. One day in glory the Spirit will make sure all Christians see eye-to-eye on everything. Why this is not so now is a mystery.

What is not a mystery, however, is that we cannot earn our salvation. None of us can perfectly meet God's holy standards as revealed in the Ten Commandments. Jesus Christ (God the Son) came to earth, lived a sinless life and died and shed His blood on the Cross to pay for our sins, which we could never fully pay. He rose from the dead and by God's grace alone through faith in Christ we are forgiven of our sins, have the guarantee of eternal life. And even though as Christians we will never be perfect in this life God's unmerited redeeming grace in our lives through faith will produce good works in our lives pleasing to God.

The Bible says " For by grace (God unmerited favor) are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

*Some other Internet articles by the author are: "Artificial Life By Intelligent Design," "Creationists Right On Entropy, Evolution," "Are There Natural Limits To Evolution?,""Intelligent Design On Another Planet?" "How Does My DNA Work?" "Christ Was Begotten, Not Made," "Why The Traditional View of Hell Is Not Biblical"

The most up-to-date versions of these articles may be freely accessed at: .

The above opinion piece is written by Mr. Babu G. Ranganathan (Email:, religion and science writer who was recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis Who's Who in The East. He holds a B.A. with concentrations in theology and biology. His articles can be reached at






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