Denominations: Lutheran Church (Part 1)

   The Lutheran World Federation reports that there were more than 77 million Lutherans in the world, and 3.6 million in North America in 2019 (lutheranworld.org).  However, it should be kept in mind that the Lutheran church is greatly divided.  Not all Lutheran churches are members of the Lutheran World Federation.  For example: The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which is the largest branch of the Lutheran church in America, is a member.  Other churches, such as – The Lutheran Church –Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), are not.  These two groups, if counted, would add between two and three millions.  The country with the greatest numbers of Lutherans is Germany, almost 11 million (lutheranworld.org).  “Lutheranism is the largest religious group in Denmark, the Faroe Islands, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, and Namibia.  Lutheranism is also a state religion in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Greenland, and the Faroe Islands” (The Lutheran Church -15 Facts to Know About Martin Luther, Lutheran History and Beliefs, christianity.com).  In the U.S. the greatest concentration of Lutherans are in northern states.  The states with the greatest percentage of Evangelical Lutherans are: North Dakota, Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, and Wisconsin (thearda.com, 2010).  Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod members find their greatest percentage in these states: Nebraska, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa, and Minnesota (thearda.com, 2010).  The Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod’s Top States by Percentage of Concentration are: Wisconsin, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, and Nebraska (thearda.com, 2010).

History

1.  Sale of Indulgences    What is an indulgence?  Philip Schaff explains, “In the legal language of Rome, indulgentia is a term for amnesty or remission of punishment.  In ecclesiastical Latin, an indulgence means the remission of the temporal (not the eternal) punishment of sin (not of sin itself) on condition of penitence and the payment of money to the church or to some charitable act… God forgives only the eternal punishment of sin, and he alone can do that; but the sinner has to bear the temporal punishments, either in this life or in purgatory; and these punishments are under control of the church or the priesthood, especially the Pope as its legitimate head.  There are also works of supererogation performed by Christ and by the saints, with corresponding extra-merits and extra-rewards; and these constitute a rich treasury from which the Pope, as the treasurer, can dispense indulgences for money” (Philip Schaff, History of The Christian Church, Vol. 7, pp. 147-148).  F.W. Mattox explains the theory this way, “The purchasing of an indulgence for a specific sum of money by one who had sinned enabled the Pope to draw on the ‘treasury of merits’ in heaven and apply the goodness of departed saints stored in this treasury to the sins of the penitent individual.  One might even shorten the time of a departed friend in purgatory by purchasing an indulgence in his name” (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 220).  This is the theory.  It is based on works of merit.  Some have laid up an excess of merit.  The Pope can draw on this excess of merit for a price.  The whole thing is foreign to scripture. 

What is the origin of this?  “The practice of indulgences grew out of a custom of the northern and western barbarians to substitute pecuniary compensation for punishment of an offense” (Schaff, vol. 7, p. 147).

When did the Roman Catholic Church begin to sell indulgences?  “The first instance of such pecuniary compensations occurred in England under Archbishop Theodore of Canterbury (d. 690).  The practice rapidly spread on the Continent, and was used by the Popes during and after the crusades” (Schaff, vol. 7, p. 147). 

The practice evolved over time.  “The practice arose in connection with the crusades as enticement to enlist.  The Pope granted full indulgences guaranteeing the remission of sins to anyone who would go on a crusade.  During Martin Luther’s day the practice was revived and greatly exaggerated in an attempt to finance the construction of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome.  It was commonly stated by indulgence sellers that ‘as soon as a coin in the coffer rings, another soul from purgatory springs’ (a slogan credited to Johann Tetzel, cf. Indulgence, britannica.com) …overly enthusiastic salesmen finally offered the forgiveness of sins not yet committed to those who would purchase an indulgence” (F.W. Mattox, pp. 220-221).  There is an humorous story of a man who bought an indulgence from Johann Tetzel for a sin he had on his mind to commit.  The man then robbed Tetzel.  This was the sin that he had on his mind to commit (Philip Schaff, History of The Christian Church, vol. 6, p. 766). 

2.  Martin Luther (b. 1483-d. 1546).    Martin Luther was a devoted Catholic for many years before becoming a reformer.  In 1505, he became a monk, entering the monastery in Erfurt of the order of Hermit of St. Augustine.  He had just completed a Master’s degree in (liberal) arts from the University of Erfurt.  His father had expected him to enter law school.  Instead, he decided to enter the monastery.  His explanation for his decision was that he had made a vow to St. Anne (the patron saint of miners; note: his father was a copper miner) in the midst of a violent storm that if he survive he would become a monk.  In 1507, he was ordained a priest.  In 1510-1511, he traveled to Rome representing his monastery.  In 1511, he began to preach in his monastery.  In 1512, he earned his Doctor of Theology degree from the University of Wittenberg.  He became a professor of Theology in this university soon after this.  In 1514, he added the work of preaching in a local parish church in Wittenberg.  In 1517, Luther was holding three jobs.  He was teaching in the university.  He was preaching in the parish church.  He was an official in the Augustinian order, an inspector of monasteries. 

However, concerns and inter-conflict was growing.  “By the year 1508 he had come to the conclusion that the Catholic Church and its system of ‘work righteousness’ was contrary to the teaching of the New Testament” (F.W. Mattox, p. 244).  In 1510, while visiting Rome, he “was shocked by the levity of the Roman clergy and by the worldliness so evident in high places” (Encyclopedia Britannica, © 1979, vol. 11, p. 189).  Some of his parishioners began to purchase indulgences at a booth set up by Tetzel.  This troubled him greatly. 

On October 31, 1517, Luther nailed 95 Theses to the door of the church building in Wittenberg (Note: the door served as a bulletin board).  He offered to debate the issues with any who differed with him. On the same day, he preached a sermon against indulgences.  He also sent a copy of the 95 Theses to Archbishop Albert Albrecht of Mainz, who was secretly profiting from indulgence sales.  “Aided by the printing press, copies of the 95 Theses spread throughout Germany within two weeks and throughout Europe in two months” (Martin Luther, biography.com). 

Here is a sampling on the 95 Theses: 21. Those who preach indulgences are in error when they say that a man is absolved and saved from every penalty by the Pope’s indulgences.  27. There is no divine authority for preaching that the soul flies out of purgatory immediately the money clings at the bottom of the chest.  52. It is vain to rely on salvation by letters of Indulgence, even if the commissary, or indeed the Pope himself, were to pledge his own soul for their validity.  66. The treasures of the indulgences are the nets today which they use to fish for the wealth of men.  72.  Let him be blessed who is on his guard against wantonness and license of the pardon – merchants words.

Luther was summoned to meet with Cardinal Thomas Cajetan in Augsburg.  He did so in October, 1518.  Luther was asked to retract his words and submit to the Pope.  He refused.

A debate occurred in Leipzig in June – July 1519.  Andreas Kalstadt and Martin Luther faced Johann Eck, a professor of Theology at the University of Ingolstadt.  “Here for the first time he denied the divine right and origin of papacy, and the infallibility of a general council” (Schaff, vol. 7, p. 182).

In 1520, the Pope issued an ultimatum threatening excommunication.  Luther publicly burned it on December 10, 1520.    In January, 1521. Pope Leo X issued a bull of excommunication.  It was issued against Luther and his supporters.

Luther was summoned by the Emperor, Charles V, to appear at the Diet of Worms.  He was assured safe passage (Jan Hus or John Huss received such a promise but was burned at the stake).  Luther appeared in April 1521.  He declared, “Unless I am refuted and convicted by the testimony of scriptures or by clear arguments… I cannot and will not recant anything” (Schaff, vol. 7, p. 305).  On May 8, 1521, the council released the Edict of Worms, banning Luther’s writing and convicting him as a heretic, which meant death.

Friends hid him in a castle at Wartburg.  He grew a beard and dressed in disguise.  He went by the name Junker Georg or Knight George.  He did much writing, and began his work on a German translation of the Bible. 

In 1525, he married Katharina Von Bora.  She was a former nun (bio info, biography.com; history.com, britannica.com, Encyclopedia Britannica © 1979; Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian church, vol. 6 and 7; F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, Ryan Reeves’ YouTube channel Historical Theology For Everyone. He is an associate professor of historical theology at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary).

3.  Diet of Speier

In 1526, the Diet of Speier took place. “Most of the nobles were Lutheran, and they were able to decree that each German prince had the right to decide which religion would be supported in his principalities.  Many princes immediately legalized the Reformation” (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 249). The Edict of Worms was temporarily suspended.

There would be continued struggles.  For instance: In 1529, there was a second Diet of Speier. This time the Catholic nobility was in the majority.  The decision of the first Diet of Speier was reversed. A formal Protestatic (Letter of Protestation) was submitted to the Archduke Ferdinand of Austria (who had presided over the Diet for his brother Charles V) by the Lutheran minority. Those who protested were called “Protestants” (John Patrick Fogarty, Count Down To Unity, p. 55; F.W. Mattox, p. 250; The Lutheran Church, christianity.com). 

The Emperor, Charles V, wanted to crush the Reformation.  However, his attention was turned to other matters.  The Turks were trying to invade through the Balkans. The Spanish were in rebellion. The French were in rebellion. He twice waged war against German Lutheran princes (Schmalkaldic League). In 1547, he was victorious. Allowances were given to Protestants temporarily pending the Council of Trent. In 1552-1555, the Lutherans princes were victorious being supported by French (Charles the Fifth, museeprotestant.org; Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, holyromanempireasscociation.com).

4.  Peace terms

“In 1555 peace terms were drawn up in the Peace of Augsburg.  This document stated that Lutheranism and Catholicism could both be tolerated in the Empire and that each Prince could decide which religion would be legal in his territory.  It was further stated that if a citizen did not like the decision of his Prince he would move without loss of property and take up residence under the Prince he desired” (F.W. Mattox, p. 251).  This was a great victory for freedom of religion.

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What’s Your Cause?

It is normal for one to want a cause in life.  By “cause,” I mean: “a goal or principle served with dedication and zeal” (yourdictionary.com).  A person desires meaning and purpose in life.

A Christian has a cause.  Jesus taught, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).  Paul taught, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).  Again, he instructed, “Do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31).  He said, “Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:20-21).  Peter taught that Christians should conduct themselves in such a way that others are led to “glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).

However, others look elsewhere for a cause.  Here are some modern causes: politics, marxism, environmentalism, humane treatment of animals, civil rights, feminism, lgbtq activism, etc.  Some causes are compatible with Biblical teaching.  Others are not. 

Here are some things to consider: First, all should be tested by the word of God.  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  “Test all things; hold fast what is good.  Abstain from every form of evil” (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22).  A Christian should not be supporting a cause which is opposed to God’s revealed will, as revealed in His word.

Second, one should carefully evaluate his priorities in light of the scripture.  Consider: (a) S.P.C.A. ads.  They are emotionally stirring ads.  Sarah McLachlan is the spokesperson, suffering animals are showed.  Music plays.  Some of the songs used in these ads are religious songs such as Silent Night and Amazing Grace.  These ads have effectively raised money.  I have no problem with this.  We should be good stewards of God’s creation (e.g. Genesis 1:27-30; 2:15).  We should be concerned about animal life (e.g. Proverbs 12:10; Deuteronomy 22:4; cf. Luke14:5).  However, I wonder how many who give to the S.P.C.A. are motivated to give and support the effort to save man.  Man is even greater than animal according to the Bible (cf. Matthew 6:26; 10:29-31; 12:11-12; 18:12-14; Luke 13:15-16; 14:1-5; 15:1-7).  Jesus came “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).  The commission was proclaimed “Go… make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19).  The early church “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).

(b) Angus Reed 2020 Poll.  The Angus Reed Institute, one of Canada’s leading poll companies, published on April 15, 2020 the results of a poll on modern morality.  The sample size was 1,528 Canadian adults.  When asked about the issue of abortion – 59% said it was always or usually morally acceptable; 15% said that it was not a moral issue; 26% said that it was always or usually morally wrong.  When asked about the issue of doctor-assisted suicide – 69% said that it was always or usually morally acceptable; 11% said that it was not a moral issue; 20% said that it was always or usually morally wrong.  When asked about using single-use plastic cutlery – 18% said that it was always or usually morally acceptable; 31% said that it was not a moral issue; 51% said that it was always or usually morally wrong.  When asked about buying a gas-guzzling SUV – 29% said that it was always or usually morally acceptable; 30% said that it was not a moral issue; 41% said that it was always or usually morally wrong (angusreed.org).  Really?  Plastic and fossil fuel use is seen by the respondents as more of a moral issue than the issue of taking life. 

Third, many things in life are a trade-off.  Are coal and oil evil products?  One writer suggests that they have been better than the alternatives.  Michael M. Rosen writes, “In the 1860’s wood accounted for 80 percent of American energy.  That proportion plummeted to 20 percent in 1900, and 7.5 percent in 1920.  Coal packs twice as much potential energy per kilogram as wood… ‘fossil fuels were thus key to saving forests in the United States and Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth century,’ (Michael) Shellenberger reckons… Similarly, the mid-19th century discovery of petroleum likely prevented the extinction of whales, whose oil produced 600,000 barrels per year at the peak of whaling in 1845” (Michael M. Rosen, Apocalypse Now?, the-american-interest.com).  Yet, coal and oil have their own problems.  The SUV may consume more fuel per mile.  However, it may be able to carry more passengers and/or cargo.  There are trade-offs in life.  Not everything is black or white. 

Fourth, human thought is fallible.  What is ‘woke’ today may not be tomorrow.  For example: In the 1990’s, the use of plastic bags was thought to be better for the environment than using paper bags.  It would save the forests.  Now the use of paper is thought by many to be better for the environment than the use of plastic.  The truth is it may be for more complicated to determine which is better for the environment than many realize (Plastic or Paper: Which Bag is Greener? By Tom Edington, bbc.com).  Moreover, when California banned plastic bags for carryout, the sale of garbage bags skyrocketed (Why Banning Plastic Grocery Bags Could Be A Bad Move, npr.org).  What about reusable bags?  This too is complicated (bbc.com).  “One study from the United Kingdom (UK) found that, regarding bag production, cotton bags have to be reused 131 times before they reduce their impact on climate change to the same extent as plastic bags.  To have a comparable environmental footprint (which encompasses climate change as well as other environmental effects) to plastic bags, a cotton bag potentially has to be used thousands of times” (Sustainable Shopping – Which Bag is Best? nationalgeographic.org).  Who knows if this assessment is accurate?  Yes, we are to be good stewards.  However, some things are complicated. 

This isn’t complicated.  Man needs the Gospel.  Become an activist for the cause of Christ.

Fifth, are you looking at yourself?  It is easy to look at issues outside oneself.  It is much harder to soberly look at self, and what needs to be changed there.  “Examine yourself as to whether you are in the faith.  Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5).  Don’t let conquering cities be a distraction to conquering self (Proverbs 16:32; 1 Corinthians 9:27).

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Denominations: Eastern Orthodox Church (Part 2)

Authority

1.  The Bible

They claim high regard for the Bible.  Orthodox Church in America states, “The Bible is central in the life of the church and gives both form and content to the church’s liturgical and sacramental worship, just as to its theology and spiritual life.  Nothing in the Orthodox Church can be opposed to what is revealed in the Bible.  Everything in the church must be biblical” (Bible, oca.org). 

2.  Traditions

They also claim tradition as a source of authority.  Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America states, “The Orthodox Christian should know the content of his religion as taught by the church.  He should be guided in studying that the church has in its written (Bible) and unwritten (sacred tradition) teaching… The Church approves of each member reading alone and in general talking about his religion.  But it discourages conclusions based on the individual’s personal interpretation (The Basic Sources of the Teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church Rev. George Mastrantonis, Edited by Fr. George C. Papademetriou and Dr. David C. Ford, goarch.org).  Christianity Today writes, “The Bible itself needs interpretation, and this interpretation occurs through the action of the Holy Spirit working through the entire believing community” (What is Eastern Orthodoxy Anyway? By Alexander Melnyk, Christianitytoday.com).

They say, “The main sources of orthodox teaching are the Bible and Sacred Tradition.  The third source is the writings of the so called Apostolic Fathers and the Apologists.  The fourth source is the decisions of the canonical synods, local and ecumenical, and their utterances of faith, especially the symbol of faith (Nicene Creed) and some of their canons pertaining to faith. The fifth source is the discourses written at the time of disputes and schisms,  especially the Great Schism between the Eastern and Western parts of the undivided church (1054).  The sixth source is a variety of discourses written after the Protestant Reformation; these documents critique the various errors of Protestantism and Roman Catholicism” (The Basic Sources of the Teachings of the Eastern Orthodox Church by Rev. George Mastrantonis, edited by Fr. George C. Papademetriou and Dr. David C. Ford, goarch.org.

They recognize seven ecumenical councils.  These include: (1) The Council of Nicea, 325 A.D..  (2) The Council of Constantinople, 381 A.D. (3) The Council of Ephesus, 431 A.D. (4) The Council of Chalcedon, 451 A.D. (5) The Second Council of Constantinople, 553 A.D. (6) The Third Council of Constantinople, 680 – 681 A.D. (7) The Second Council of Nicea, 787 A.D. [Roman Catholics recognize an eighth council before the Great Schism, the Fourth Council of Constantinople, 869 – 870 A.D.  They also recognize 13 later councils as ecumenical (Council, Christianity, britannica.com)]. 

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Original Sin

“Orthodoxy believes that, while everyone bears the consequences of the first sin, the foremost of which is death, only Adam and Eve are guilty of that sin.  Roman Catholicism teaches that everyone bears not only the consequences, but also the guilt of that sin” (original sin, oca.org).

2.  Seven Sacraments

They define the term sacrament.  “Sacrament comes from the Latin word sacramentum, which means ‘a consecrated thing or act,’ i.e. ‘something holy’” (Holy Sacraments In The Orthodox Church, saintjohnchurch.org).     The Orthodox Church does not restrict the number to seven.  It says, “any action designed to bring us closer to the presence of God and done through the church has some degree of sacramentality about it.”  (The Mysteries, orthodoxfaith.co.uk).  However seven are generally recognized (Seven Sacraments, oca.org).  These include: (1) Baptism.  Baptism “brings us into the church… As the priest submerges us into the waters three times (in the name of the Trinity) …our sins are forgiven, and we are born again to a new life in Christ.  Following the custom of the early church, we encourage the baptism of infants because we believe baptism bears witness to God’s action of choosing a child to become part of His people’ (Holy Sacraments in the Orthodox Church, saintjohnchurch.org).  (2) Chrismation.  “Chrismation (called confirmation in Roman Catholic tradition) immediately follows baptism… It is through this mystery that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit through the church.  In Chrismation, the priest anoints various parts of the body of the newly-baptized with Holy oil.  The oil is a sign of strength and consecration to God… After baptism and Chrismation, the newly baptized usually receives Holy Communion, especially infants. There is never a time when the young are not part of God’s people” (ibid).  (3) Eucharist.  “We partake of the Eucharist during every Divine Liturgy” (ibid, This is each first day of the week, and special feast days, The Divine Liturgy, oca.org).  “Unlike most other Christians, we believe the bread and wine used in this sacrament become the literal body and blood of Christ” (Holy Sacraments in the Orthodox Church, saintjohnchurch.org).  “Communion is given in a spoon containing both the bread and the wine and is received  standing” (Eastern Orthodox Church, bbc.co.uk).  (4) Confession/Penance.  “All orthodox churches use the mystery of penance or confession, but in Greek speaking churches only priests who have been blessed by the Bishop as ‘Spiritual Fathers’ are allowed to hear confession (Eastern Orthodox church, bbc.co.uk).  “the Church often reserves confession for periods of fasting, especially Great Lent.  At a minimum, Orthodox Christians should confess at least once a year…” (Holy Sacraments in the Orthodox Church, saintjohnchurch.org).   (5) Holy Unction.  “It reminds us that when we are in pain, Christ is present with us through the ministry of His church… As with Chrismation, clergy uses oil in this sacrament as a sign of God’s presence, strength, and forgiveness.  Those near death, and those with any physical or mental illnesses typically receive this sacrament” (ibid).  (6) Marriage.  “Through the sacrament of holy matrimony in the orthodox church, God (through the priest) joins a man and a woman as husband and wife” (ibid).  (7) Holy orders.  “Following the custom of the Apostolic Church, there are four major orders of the church’s ministry… Bishop, Priest, Deacon, Laity.  The bishop is a successor of the Apostles… only a bishop may ordain others to the Deaconate or the Priesthood.  The Orthodox Church ordains only men to become deacons, priests, or bishops.  She permits men to marry before they enter the Holy orders, but not after.  This practice goes back to the earliest period in the history of the church” (ibid). 

3.  Differences

While the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have much in common, here are a few of the most obvious differences: (1) Organization.  The Eastern Orthodox Church has Patriarchs or Bishops presiding over a geographic territory.  They work closely together, almost as an oligarchy.  The Roman Catholic Church has a universal Bishop, over all.  (2) Involvement of small children.  Orthodox children participate in communion from a very young age.  Roman Catholic children are confirmed later, usually after the age of seven.  (3) After-life.  The Eastern Orthodox Church does not have purgatory.  The Roman Catholic Church does have purgatory.  (4) Modern changes.  The Roman Catholic Church has made many changes since the 1960’s.  The Eastern Orthodox Church has not.  “What was the normal Catholic life prior to the 1960’s is no longer the normal Catholic life, after this period.  For the Orthodox Christians there’s very, very little difference… what you’re experiencing in day to day life, as a Catholic, changed significantly in terms of what you are expected to eat or not to eat.  Whereas for the Orthodox, we’ve never really had that big changes” (5 Differences Between the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, theorthodoxfaith.com).

Organization

There are currently 16 autocephalous (self-headed) churches in Eastern Orthodoxy.  These are the church of: (1) Constantinople; (2) Alexandria; (3) Antioch; (4) Jerusalem; (5) Russia; (6) Serbia; (7) Romania; (8) Bulgaria; (9) Georgia; (10) Cypress; (11) Greece; (12) Poland; (13) Albania; (14) Czech and Slovak land; (15) America; (16) Ukraine.  The first nine are led by Patriarchs, while the others are led by Archbishops or Metropolitans (Eastern Orthodox church, bbc.co.uk).  In addition there are a number of autonomous churches in Orthodox communion.  These include the church of: (1) Sinai; (2) Finland; (3) Estonia; (4) Japan; (5) China; and (6) Ohrid (ibid).  Autocephalous churches are fully self-governing.  Autonomous churches are self-governing to a certain degree, but their head is appointed by an autocephalous church.

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Denominations: Eastern Orthodox Church (Part 1)

Many people divide Christendom into three major branches: Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox or Orthodox Catholic, and Protestantism.  The Eastern Orthodox Church is the third largest branch.  It is the second largest denomination in the world.  There are nearly 260 million Orthodox members around the world (Orthodox Christianity in the 21st Century, November 8, 2017, pewforum.org).  “Its adherents live mainly in the Balkans, the Middle East, and former Soviet Countries” (Eastern Orthodox by John Meyendorff, britannica.com).  Membership in America is estimated at nearly 6 million (Orthodox Church in America, britannica.com).  The highest percentage by U.S. state is Alaska, where 5% of the population are members of the Orthodox Church (U.S. States by Orthodox Christian Population, worldatlas.com).

History

1.  Development of 5 Patriarch

The early church had a simple organizational structure.  It was congregational.  It was organized with elders (presbyters) or bishops (overseers), and deacons (Philippians 1:1; Acts 14:23; Acts 20:17 cf. 20:28; Titus 1:5 cf. 1:7).  Elders were told “Shepherd the flock of God which is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 cf. “among you” Acts 6:1-3; 1 Corinthians 1:10-11; 5:1-2, 13; 6:5; Ephesians 5:3; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).  Charles M. Jacobs, a Methodist, writes, “Originally there had been two offices in every congregation, that of ‘elder,’ or ‘presbyter,’ and that of ‘deacon’ (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, p. 19).  Again, “In the middle of the second century there was no general organization of the church.  In each community where there were Christians there was a congregation, but the congregations were not united with other congregations in any formal way” (Jacobs, p. 32).  

However, by 381 A.D., five ‘archbishops’ or ‘patriarchs’ were ruling over territories.  These five were the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem (Jacobs, p. 37).  It is important to understand that not all accepted their rule (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 293). 

2.  Conflict

Two patriarch emerged as especially powerful.  They were: the bishop of Rome in the west, and the bishop of Constantinople in the east.

Conflicts arose over time.  First, there was the issue of power.  Beginning with Boniface III (606-607 A.D.), and onward, the bishops of Rome claimed to be universal bishops.  The Eastern Orthodox Church believed that the church should be overseen by five patriarchs of equal authority.

Second, there were doctrinal issues. (a) The Filioque-controversy.  The Nicene Creed (325 A.D.) read “we believe… in the Holy Ghost.”  The Nicero-Constantinople creed (381), “We believe… in the Holy Ghost… who proceedeth from the Father” (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 667-ff).  Latin churches met in the sixth century and changed the wording.  The Third Council of Toledo (589 A.D.) inserted the word “filioque” (Latin, “and from the son”).  The Eastern churches did not accept this change.  There were doctrinal objections.  They also felt left out.  Philip Schaff writes, “The Latin church had no right to alter an ecumenical creed without the knowledge and consent of the Greek church…” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 481).  In the ninth century, Photius, the bishop of Constantinople, and Nicholas I, the bishop of Rome, excommunicated each other, in part over this. 

(b) There were other doctrinal differences.  (1) The Roman Catholic Church allowed sprinkling for baptism.  The Eastern Orthodox Church did not.  It practiced triune immersion.  (2) The Roman Catholic Church allowed images or icons in worship.  The Eastern Orthodox Church did not.  However, it did allow flat surfaced pictures.  (3) The Roman Catholic Church started using mechanical instruments of music in worship.  The Eastern Orthodox Church did not use mechanical instruments of music in worship.  (4) The Roman Catholic Church used unleavened bread in communion.  The Eastern Orthodox Church used leavened bread.  (5) The Roman Catholic Church did not allow infant communion.  The Eastern Orthodox Church practiced infant communion.  (6) The Roman Catholic Church required celibacy of all “clergy.”  The Eastern Orthodox Church permitted the “clergy” to marry, with the exception of bishops, archbishops and patriarchs (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, pp. 205-206; Schaff, Vol. 3, pp. 516-517; Schaff, Vol. 4, pp. 306-308).

Third, there was turf dispute.  King Bogoris (or Boris I) of Bulgaria was converted by a missionary from Constantinople (c. 863 A.D.).  The bishop of Constantinople expected that the church in Bulgaria would be under the oversight of Constantinople.  Boris renewed diplomatic contact with the west.  The Pope sent missionaries to Bulgaria.  “The Roman clergy’s stay (866-870 soon became a sore point in the acute rivalry between Rome and Constantinople” (Boris I, King of Bulgaria, britannica.com).  The eighth ecumenical council in Constantinople (869-870 A.D.) formally placed the Bulgarian church under the Patriarch of Constantine (Schaff, Vol. 4, pp. 134-135, 312-313).

3.  The Great Schism

The Emperor of Byzantium, Constantine IX (1042-1055 A.D.), needed help in his conflict with the Normans.  He appealed to Leo IX, bishop of Rome for help (note: the Pope has had an army since the 8th century).  The Emperor was ready to recognize the bishop of Rome as Universal Bishop of the church, in exchange for help.  Cerularius, bishop of Constantinople, closed all Latin churches and monasteries in Constantinople.   On July 16, 1054 the bishop of Rome excommunicated the bishop of Constantinople.  Shortly after, the bishop of Constantinople excommunicated the bishop of Rome (Mattox, p. 205; ed. David Brown, Roman Catholicism, Houston College of the Bible Lectureship, p. 33).  It was not until 1965 that Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenogoras I lifted the mutual excommunication (July 16, 1054 CE: Great Schism, nationalgeographic.org).

This (1054) is the date usually given for a distinct Orthodox Church.  In reality, it is much older.  The word “orthodox” means “right” (orthos) “thinking” or “belief” (doxa).

4.  The Fourth Crusade

There was trouble in Constantinople.  The Emperor Isaac Angeius was imprisoned and blinded by a usurper, Alexius III, his own brother.

The Emperor’s son, Alexius, appealed to Rome for help.  He promised payment.

Help came.  Isaac was restored to his throne.  Alexius III fled.

More trouble came.  Another coup occurred.  Payment did not come as promised.  The crusaders attacked the city.  It fell April 12, 1204.  Unrestrained riot and pillage followed (Schaff, Vol. 5, p. 274). 

This hardened the relations even farther.  “In the minds of most orthodox, a decisive moment was the sack of Constantinople in 1204…  This has never been forgotten” (Eastern Orthodox Church, bbc.co.uk).

5.  Fall of Constantinople   

Islam became a serious threat to Constantinople and the Byzantine empire.  “An agreement was reached in 1439 which placed the Pope at the head of all Christendom and granted the Patriarch the second place in a united church.  But the agreement was only on paper.  The Western princes were busy with their own affairs and did not send the armies that had been expected.  The Easterners angrily repudiated the terms which their representatives had made” (Jacob, p. 162). 

The Islamic threat did not go away.  Constantinople and the Byzantine empire fell to Muslim forces led by Sultan Mehmed II on May 29, 1453.  Constantinople is today known as Istanbul.    The Orthodox church would continue under Ottoman rule.  However, “with Constantinople’s fall, orthodox Christianity became a minority faith under Islamic rule.  Moscow’s Orthodox church became the most powerful Eastern Christian Church on sovereign territory” (Why a Centuries-old Religious Dispute Over Ukraine’s Orthodox Church Matters Today by Victoria Smolkin, February 19, 2019, theconversation.com).

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Denominations: Catholic Church (Part 3)

Beliefs and Practices

1.  Original Sin

The Catholic Church teaches that children are born in sin.  Catechism of the Catholic Church reads, “Born with a fallen nature and tainted by Original Sin, children also have need of new birth in baptism to be freed from the power of darkness” (CCC, Paragraph, 1250).

2.  Baptism

It is for the forgiveness of sins.  “By baptism all sins are forgiven, original sin and all personal sins, as well as punishment for sin” (CCC, Paragraph 1263).

They practice infant baptism.  “The practice of infant baptism is an immemorial tradition of the Church. There is explicit testimony to this from the second century on, and it is quite possible that, from the beginning of the apostolic preaching when whole ‘households’ received baptism, infants may have also been baptized” (CCC, Paragraph 1252).  [Note: Wayne Jackson remarked, “The first allusion to infant baptism is by the writer Irenaeus (140-203 A.D.)… (Against Heresies 2:22:4).  But a contemporary, Tertullian (150-222 A.D.) opposed the practice… (on Baptism, xvii)” (Spiritual Sword, July 1992)].

What about infants who die without baptism?  In the past, a common belief is that they go to Limbo, a place which is neither heaven nor hell (Limbo, Roman Catholic Theology, britannica.com).  However, the current official position is stated: “As regards children who have died without baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God” (CCC, Paragraph 1261).      What “mode” of baptism do they use?  The Church teaches that either triple immersion or triple pouring of water over the candidate’s head is acceptable (CCC, Paragraph 1239).  [Note: The Didache (c. 120-160 A.D.) mentions pouring when lacking sufficient quantity of water (chapter 7).The first known case of sprinkling or pouring was in the case of a sick man, Novatian of Rome in c. 250 A.D. (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Book 6, Chapter 43).  Wayne Jackson writes, “Even as late as the eighth century, Pope Stephen III, in France, authorized pouring… only in cases of necessity.  In fact, the council of Nemours (1248 A.D.) limited sprinkling to cases of necessity.  Finally, though, at the Council of Ravenna (1311 A.D.), it was officially made law that the candidate for baptism be given his choice between sprinkling and immersion” (Spiritual Sword, July 1992)]. 

3.  Eucharist

The word Eucharist (the giving of thanks) is what they call the Lord’s Supper.  It comes from the fact that thanks was given before partaking (Luke 22:19-ff; 1 Corinthians 11:23-ff).

They believe in transubstantiation.  This word means to “change into another substance.”  It is taught that the Eucharist elements are transformed into the literal body and blood of Jesus.  “Only valid ordained priests can preside at the Eucharist and consecrate the bread and wine so that they become the body and blood of the Lord” (CCC, Paragraph 1411).  “By the consecration the transubstantiation of the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ is brought about” (CCC, Paragraph 1413).  [Note: Due to the priests role in worship, they have held great power over people.  The interdict or suspension of religious services historically has been used as a tool over towns, districts and even countries (Philip Schaff, History of The Christian Church, Vol. 4, p. 379-ff)].

How frequently do they say to partake?  “The Church obliges the faithful… to receive the Eucharist at least once a year, if possible during the Easter season.  But the church strongly encourages the faithful to receive the holy Eucharist on Sundays and feast days, or more often still, even daily” (CCC, Paragraph 1389). 

4.  Confession of Sins

“Confession to a priest is an essential part of the sacrament of penance.  All mortal sins of which penitents after a diligent self-examination are conscious must be recounted to them in confession, even if they are most secret…” (CCC, Paragraph 1456). 

5.  Mary

The church teaches Immaculate Conception.  This means that she was conceived without the taint of original sin.  “Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception… preserved immune from all the stain of original sin” CCC, Paragraph 491).  This insolates Jesus from original sin.  This declaration of Immaculate Conception was “grandfathered in after the First Vatican Council’s declaration of Papal infallibility in 1870” as an ex cathedra declaration (Is There a List of Infallible Teachings? By Kevin P. Considine, uscatholic.org, May 18, 2011).

The Church teaches perpetual virginity (CCC, Paragraph 499-500).  Celibacy is held to be especially holy in the Catholic Church.    

The Church teaches that Mary lived without sin.  “Mary, free from original sin, was also preserved from all actual sin” (Mary Was Free From All Personal Sun by Pope John Paul II, ewtn.com).

The church teaches Bodily Assumption.  Mary “was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory, and exalted by the Lord as Queen over all” (CCC, Paragraph 966 cf. 974).  This was stated ex cathedra by Pope Pius XII in 1950.

The church teaches that Mary now helps us.  “Taken up to heaven she… by her manifold intercession continues to bring gifts of eternal salvation… Therefore the Blessed Virgin is invoked in the Church under the titles of Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix” (CCC, Paragraph 969).  “Mary is the perfect Orans (prayer)… when we pray to her, we are adhering with her to the plan of the Father… we can pray with and to her” (CCC, Paragraph 2679).  Gary Workman points out, “The rosary has ten times as many prayers addressed to Mary as to God” (The Spiritual Sword, July 1992). 

6.  Saints

Saints also are addressed in prayer.  “Their intercession is their most exalted service to God’s plan.  We can and should ask them to intercede for us for the whole world” (CCC, Paragraph 2683).

7.  Celibacy

“All the ordained ministers of the Latin Church, with the exception of permanent deacons, are normally chosen from among men of faith who live a celibate life and who intend to remain celibate ‘for the sake of the kingdom of heaven’” (CCC, Paragraph 1579).  However, they acknowledge, “Nevertheless, in the early Church clerical celibacy was not mandated” (Why Does the Church Mandate That Priests be Celibate?, catholicstraitanswers.com).

8.  Images

“The veneration of images of Christ and His Saints is a cherished devotion in the Catholic Church” (Faith of our Fathers by James Cardinal Gibbons, Chapter 15, Gutenberg EBook).  It is argued that they do not worship these images.  However, at times, it appears that they do.  UPI reported on June 15, 1992 “San Antonio – Thousands of faithful made the pilgrimage Monday to Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church to pray before a statue of the Virgin Mary some believe is shedding tears” (upi.com). 

9.  Afterlife

“The Catholic Church teaches that, besides a place of eternal torments for the wicked aband eternal rest for the righteous, there exists in the next life a middle state of temporary punishment, allotted for those who have died in venial sin, or who have not satisfied the justice of God for sins already forgiven.  She also teaches us that, although the souls consigned to this intermediate states, commonly called purgatory, cannot help themselves, they may be aided by the suffrages of the faithful on earth.  This existence of purgatory naturally implies the correlative dogma – the utility of praying for the dead” (Cardinal Gibbons, Chapter 16).  “The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead” (CCC, Paragraph 1032).  The selling of indulgences enriched the Church in the Middle Ages.  The sale of indulgences was abolished in 1567 by Pope Pius V (Indulgence, britannica.com).

Purgatory is a very ancient belief.  However, Gregory I (590-604 A.D.) popularized this belief (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. IV, p. 398). 

10.  The Seven Sacraments

McClintock and Strong defines the word, “Sacrament (from the Latin Sacramentum, a military oath of enlistment), a word adopted by the writers of the Latin Church to denote those ordinances of religion by which Christians come under obligation of obedience to God…” (biblicalcyclopedia.com).

The Catholic Church teaches Seven Sacraments (CCC, Paragraph 1113, 1210).  These are: (1) Baptism (see before). (2) Confirmation.  “Confirmation perfects baptismal grace, it is the sacrament which give the Holy Spirit…” (CCC, Paragraph 1316).  “In the Latin church this sacrament is administered when the age of reason has been reached” (CCC, Paragraph 1318).  (3) Eucharist (see before).  (4) Penance.  “It is called the sacrament of confession, since the disclosure of confession of sins to a priest is an essential element of this sacrament” (CCC, Paragraph 1424).  “The penance the confessor imposes must take into account the penitent’s personal situation and must seek his spiritual good.  It must correspond as far as possible with the gravity and nature of the sins committed.  It can consist of prayer, an offering, works of mercy, service of neighbor, voluntary self-denial, sacrifices, and above all the patient acceptance of the cross we must bear” (CCC, Paragraph 1460).  (5) Anointing of the sick.  “Only priests (bishops and presbyters) are ministers of the Anointing of the sick (CCC, Paragraph 1516).  “If the sacrament of anointing of the sick is given to all who suffer from serious illness and infirmity, even more rightly is it given to those at the point of departing this life… The anointing of the sick completes our conformity to the death and resurrection of Christ just as baptism began it” (CCC, Paragraph 1523).  “This assistance from the Lord by the power of his Spirit is meant to lead the sick to healing of the soul, but also of the body if God’s will” (CCC, Paragraph 1520).  (6) Holy Orders.  “Today the word ‘ordination’ is reserved for the sacramental act which integrates a man into the order of bishop, presbyter or deacon” (CCC, Paragraph 427).  (7) Matrimony.  “In the epiclesis of this sacrament the spouses receive the Holy Spirit as the communion of love of Christ and the Church.  The Holy Spirit is the seal of their covenant, the ever-available source of their love and the strength to renew their fidelity” (CCC, Paragraph 1624).  “According to the law in force in the Latin church a mixed marriage ( of mixed faiths-B.H.) needs for liceity the express permission of ecclesiastical authority… furthermore the Catholic party confirms the obligations… of preserving his own faith or her own faith and ensuring the baptism and education of the children in the Catholic Church” (CCC, Paragraph 1635).

  

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Denominations: Catholic Church (Part 2)

Authority

1.  The Bible

The Catholic Bible contains seven Old Testament books which are not contained in the Bibles we use.  These are: Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, Wisdom (of Solomon), Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) and Baruch.

Additionally, five more books are attached to other Old Testament books.  The additions to Esther are attached to Esther; The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Young Men, Susanna, Bel and the Dragon are attached to Daniel; and, The Letter of Jeremiah is sometimes attached to Baruch.

The Catholic Church did not officially accept these books as canonical until April 8, 1546 at the Council of Trent [Note: for more information see The Apocrypha by Bryan Hodge].

2.  Tradition

The Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone.  Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition, paragraph 82).  “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” (CCC paragraph 97).    It is important to understand that the Bible is not the Catholics only source for authority.  Kerry Duke explains, “If you argue, for example, that the New Testament says nothing about infant baptism, the Catholic will readily admit this.  He will add, however, that sacred tradition does not speak of it – and this tradition is to him just as much the word of God as the Bible is.  In fact, when you cite any passage about the word of God (e.g. Matthew 24:35; John 12:48; 1 Thessalonians 2:13) the Catholic will immediately think not just of the written words of the Bible but also of the spoken words of the apostles handed down through the ages by the Catholic Church (‘tradition’).  Tradition, you see, is his trump card over any verse you quote” (Kerry Duke, Debate Charts on Roman Catholicism, pp. 1-2).

3.  The Magisterium

“The task of giving an authentic interpretation of the Word of God, whether in its written form or in the form of Tradition, has been entrusted to the living, teaching office of the Church alone… This means the task of interpretation has been entrusted to the bishop in communion with the successors of Peter, the Bishop of Rome (CCC Paragraph 85).  “The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him” (CCC Paragraph 100).  “Tradition, Sacred Scripture, and the Magisterium of the Church are so connected that one of them cannot stand without the others” (CCC Paragraph 95).

All of this can be very confusing.  Kerry Duke asks: (1) Can I know what the Bible teaches by reading it?  No, the Catholic Church must officially interpret it for you.  (2) Will that official interpretation be all that I need?  No, you need Sacred Traditions.  (3) Okay, then I’ll study the Church Fathers to learn this Tradition.  Will that work?  Sorry, but you must have the Church Magisterium to decide dogma.  (4) Well, I’ll go the Church to get the body of ‘Sacred Tradition” so I can study all the apostles handed down to us.  Is that okay?  Not really, because the Church really doesn’t have this body of teaching written down somewhere.  The Church only ‘extracts’ truths from it as they are needed.  (5) But since a lot of people besides the apostles heard Jesus, maybe some of His saying have been passed down through people other than the apostles.  Is that possible?  No, because only the Catholic Church knows this Tradition.  (6) And what is your proof of these claims? (Duke, p. 17). 

Continual Guidance 

Catholics believe that the Roman Catholic Church is supernaturally guided by the Holy Spirit.  The Magisterium “is not superior to the Word of God, but is its servant.  It teaches only what has been handed on to it.  At the divine command and with the help of the Holy Spirit, it listens to this devotedly, guards it with dedication, and expounds it faithfully” (CCC Paragraph 86).    On July 18, 1870, Vatican I declared that the Pope was infallible when he spoke ex cathedra or from the chair.  The final vote of the bishops was 433 to 2 (Why Papal Infallibility Was Made Dogma In 1870, pathos.com).  He has officially spoken ex cathedra once since then [Pope Pius XII did so November 1, 1950 defining the dogma of Mary’s Assumption into heaven (Fr. Hugh Barbour, O. Praem., Q&A The Most Recent Ex Cathedra Statement, catholic.com)].

However, this too can be a bit confusing.  Fr. Hugh Barbour writes, “The requirements for ex cathedra or extraordinary exercise of the Magisterium and the requirements for infallible teaching are not exactly the same.  There can be teachings that are taught infallibly but are not presented in an extraordinary form of definition.  The chief example of this would be St. John Paul II’s declaration on the ordination of women to the priesthood ordination sacerdotalis on May 22, 1994… It is clear that here the Pope is using his full authority and intends for his declaration to be definitive.  He thus fulfills all the requirements for a dogmatic definition, even though his instruction was not announced as such” (ibid). 

Trustworthiness

1.  Changing Positions

Moises Pinedo writes, “Pope Honorius I (A.D. 625-638) was deemed a ‘heretic’ for many years after his death for espousing the doctrine of monotheletism (the doctrine that acknowledged two distinct  natures within Christ, but only one divine will).  He was censured by the Third Council of Constantinople in 680… Another Pope, Eugenius IV (1431-1447), condemned Joan of Arc, considering her to be a participant of witchcraft, though Benedict XV canonized her as a ‘saint’ in 1920… other Popes, such as Paul III, Paul IV, Sixtus IV, Pius IX, et. al., authorized, promoted, incited, and reinforced the ‘Holy’ Inquisition for which the late Pope John Paul II would apologize worldwide.  The same John Paul (1978-2005) gave a fatal blow to the doctrine of infallibility.  In opposition to the declarations of other popes and to Catholic doctrine itself, this Pope declared: The Spirit of Christ uses churches and ecclesial communities other than the Catholic Church as means of salvation (1979, 4.32).  People outside the Catholic Church and the Gospel can attain salvation by the grace of Christ (1990, 1.10).  People can be saved by living a good moral life, without knowing anything about Christ and the Catholic Church (1993, 3).  There is sanctification outside the Catholic Church (1995, 1.2).  The Martyrs of any religions community can find extraordinary grace of the Holy Spirit (1995, 3. 84)” (Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says About the Catholic Church, pp. 53-54).  [John Paul II cf. Boniface VIII in 1382, O.C. Lambert, Catholicism Against Itself, vol. 1, page 276].

2.  Scripture

“All scripture is given by the inspiration of God… that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16, 17).  Where is the indication that we need scripture, plus tradition, plus Magisterium?

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Denominations: Catholic Church (Part 1)

The word ‘denomination’ and related words are used in different ways.  The word ‘denominate’ means “to give a name to” (merrian-webster.com).  The word ‘denominator,’ in mathematics, is used of “the part of the fraction that is below the line that functions as the divisor of the numerator” (ibid).  It has to do with division.  The word ‘denomination,’ in measurements, refers to “a value or size… especially: the value of a particular coin or bill” (ibid).  The word denomination, in religion, commonly to refer to “a religious organization whose congregations are united in their adherence to its beliefs and practices” (ibid).  Generally speaking, a denomination is considered to be an organization which is “larger than an individual congregation, but smaller than the whole body of Christ (ed. Terry Hightower, Denominationalism Versus the Bible, Shenandoah Lectures, p. 27).  David Roper adds, “Denominational scholars and theologians now see a sharp difference between a denomination and a sect: where ‘denomination’ describes a group which is but a part of the whole, the word ‘sect’ is understood to represent a religious group which claims that it represents the whole church of Christ” (ibid, p. 29).  The Roman Catholic Church has considered themselves a part of the denominational world since Vatican II, 1962. 

We consider, at this time, the Roman Catholic Church.  The term Catholic means “universal” or “according to the whole.”  It began to be used in the second century (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 149; Frank Mead, Handbook of Denominations, p. 216).  The church, in a sense, is designed to be universal.  “The term, however, was soon applied to doctrine and organization that received the approval of the majority of the bishops” (Mattox). By Roman Catholic we mean the world organization that is led by the bishop of Rome [not Eastern Catholic, Anglo Catholic, or Old Catholic (a term used by some scholars for the pre-council early church cf. Mattox)]. 

Please keep this in mind.  The aim of this series is not to provide a thorough refutation of beliefs and practices found in a denomination.  Instead, the aim of this series is primarily to reveal the history and beliefs and practices of various denominations. 

The Roman Catholic Church is by far the largest branch of Christendom.  It numbers about 1.3 billion members worldwide, as of 2018 (Vatican Publishes New Statistics 2020/03/26, romereports.com).  The distribution in 2013 was: 41.3% Latin American; 23.7% Europe; 15.2% Africa; 11.7%; Asia; 7.3% North America; 0.8% Oceania (How Many Roman Catholics Are There in the World?, March 14, 2013, bbc.com.  The two countries with the largest numbers of Roman Catholics are Brazil and Mexico (The Global Catholic Population, February 13, 2013, pewforum.org).  There are about 71 million Catholics in the U.S.A., making it the fourth largest country by membership (Countries With The Largest Roman Catholic Populations by Kasia Jurczak, July 27, 2018, worldatlas.com, bonus – the Philippines is listed third, and Italy fifth). In the U.S., the states with the highest percentage of Catholics are: Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Jersey and New Mexico (worldatlas.com). The states with the most Catholics are: California, New York, Texas, and Illinois (thearda.com, 2010).

History

1.  Development of 5 Patriarch

In the early church, the term elder (presbyter) and bishop (overseer) were used interchangeably (Acts 20:17 cf. 20:28; Titus 1:5 cf. 1:7).  Paul and Barnabas’ appointed a plurality of men to serve as elders or bishops in every church (Acts 14:23).

However, change soon came.  In the second century, some began to elevate a bishop over elders in a local church.  Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. 107) is the first known to make this distinction (Everett Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, p. 174-f). 

In the fourth century, certain metropolitan bishops began to oversee other bishops in a province.  Next, “The logical thing to do was to set a few ‘presiding archbishops’ over several provinces.  Thus, by 381, the church had secured its five ‘patriarchs.’  They were the bishops of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem” (Charles M. Jacobs, The Story of the Church, p. 37).  It is important to understand that not all accepted this oversight (Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Vol. 3, p. 293).

2.  Universal Bishop

Two patriarchs emerged as especially powerful.  The bishop of Rome in the west, and the bishop of Constantinople in the east.  Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem were all considered a part of the east.   

Rome and Constantinople became rivals for power.  (a. Leo I, bishop of Rome (440-461),  argued for Roman supremacy on the basis of Apostolic succession (F.W. Mattox, The Eternal Kingdom, p. 139).  (b) John IV (a.k.a. John the Faster), bishop of Constantinople (582-595), claimed the title of Universal Bishop (Mattox, p. 139; Philip Schaff, History of The Christian Church, Volume 4, p. 219).  (c) Gregory I, bishop of Rome (590-604), “was so provoked and irritated beyond measure by the assumption of his Eastern rival, and strained every nerve to procure a revocation of that title.  He characterized it as a foolish, proud, profane, wicked, pestiferous, blasphemous, and diabolical usurpation and compared him who used it to Lucifer” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 220).  He went so far as to declare, that whoever calls himself Universal Priest, or desires to be so called, was the forerunner of Antichrist” (ibid).  F.W. Mattox says of Gregory, “At the close of his reign the theory of the primacy of Peter and the Roman bishop as his successor and universal head of the church was well established” (Mattox, p. 140).  Schaff says, “he was inconsistent in disclaiming the name yet claiming the thing itself” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 225).  (d) Boniface III, bishop of Rome (606-607), assumed the title “Universal Bishop” (Schaff, Vol. 4, p. 230).  [Note: The term “pope” (father) was used long before this in the west for bishops (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 290, 300).  It became the exclusive prerogative of Roman bishops by Gregory VII (Hildebrand) in the eleventh century (George Klingman, Church History For Busy People, p. 22)]. 

3.  Date

It is difficult to assign an exact date to the start of the Roman Catholic Church.  What we know as the papacy developed over time.  Britannica says, “The major elements of what appeared later as Catholic structure and Catholic belief cannot be clearly perceived before the 2nd century” (Britannica © 1979, vol. 15, p. 986).  Again, under the subtitle The Middle Ages (313-1517), “During this period Roman Catholicism developed hierarchical structure that endured largely unchallenged until the reformation” (ibid, p. 987).  Some say that Leo I was the first real Pope, as we think of such.  Philip Schaff says, “The first Pope in the proper sense of the word is Leo I (Schaff, Vol. 3, p. 315); Also, Mattox, p. 140).  Others have suggested that Boniface III was the first real Pope since it was he who began to wear the title Universal Bishop (George Klingman, Church History For Busy People, p. 22; Also, Moises Pinedo, What the Bible Says About the Catholic Church, p. 19).

4.  History According to Them

It is well known that “Roman Catholicism claims continuity with the church of the New Testament” (Britannica, p. 986).  It is also claimed that Peter was the first Pope and that apostolic succession has continued to today, 266 Popes in their list to this point (theguardian.com).   

Claims and proof are two different things.  Where is the proof that Peter was the first Pope?  Where is the proof of apostolic succession?  (Notice that I did not say historical connection.  Historical connection does not prove apostolic succession).

One thing is clear, the Roman Catholic Church looks very different today than the church that I read of in the Bible.  The Roman Catholic Church has: Pope, Cardinals, Archbishops, Bishops, Priests, Deacons and Laity.  I do not find this organizational structure in the scriptures.  Remember that scripture “thoroughly equips us for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

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Better Than The Work of Levitical Priests (Part 3)

The work of Jesus is superior to the work done by Levitical priests.  This is set forth in three chapters (Hebrews 8-10).  In this writing, we will consider Hebrews chapter ten.

1.  Shadow v. Very Image

For the law, having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with these same sacrifices, which they offer continually year, make those who approach perfect.  For then would they not have ceased to be offered?  For the worshippers, once purified, would have had no more consciousness of sins.  But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sin every year” (Hebrews 10:1-3). 

Two words are contrasted: (1) The law (of Moses) is described as a “shadow” of the good things to come.  Vine’s says of the word “shadow” (skia): “a shadow caused by the interception of light… of the image or outline cast by an object.”  “The good things to come” refers to Christ’s ministry as High Priest (the New Covenant System), and what would be accomplished through Him (cf. Hebrews 2:5-ff; 9:11-ff).  (2) The very image is Christ and His New Covenant ministry.  Vine’s says of the word “image” (eikon): “Hebrews 10:1, negatively of the Law… i.e. not the essential and substantial form… the contrast has been likened to the difference between a statue and the shadow cast by it.” 

The annual sacrifices never ceased according to the law (cf. Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 16; Leviticus 23:27,29; Numbers 29:7,11).  There was no once for all sacrifice.  Tom Wacaster comments, “Ere the blood was poured out on the ground the Jew would know that this innocent animal would not be the last” (Tom Wacaster, Studies in Hebrews).  They were reminded year by year that man had a sin problem that never seemed to go away.

For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sin” (Hebrews 10:4). 

God required animal sacrifices.  They were a condition for forgiveness under the Law of Moses.  However, the writer states that animal sacrifices were not the basis for forgiveness.  The basis in His plan was Christ.  Kevin Rhodes comments, “These sacrifices fulfilled their purpose but only as they fit into God’s overall purpose.  Standing alone, they could never have provided for the cleansing of sin’ therefore, they offered forgiveness that was prospective, looking toward the time in which someone could offer a sacrifice that they fulfilled what they themselves could do” (ed. Devin Dean, Studies in Hebrews, The Gospel Journal Commentary Series). 

2.  God’s Will

Previously saying, ‘sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings, and offerings for sin You did not desire, nor had pleasure in their (which are offered according to the law)” (Hebrews 10:8). 

This is a quotation from Psalm 40:6.  It is a Messianic Psalm.  Adam Clarke comments on the Psalm, “It is remarkable that all the offerings and sacrifices which were considered to be of cleansing nature, offered under the law, are here enumerated by the psalmist and the apostle to show that none of them, nor all of them could take away sin” (Vol. 3, p. 350). 

Then He said, ‘Behold I have come to do Your will O God.’  He takes away the first that He may establish the second.  By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:9-10).

Verse nine continues quoting the same Psalm.  This time Psalm 40:7-8.  Jesus came to do the will of the Father (cf. Matthew 26:39; John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38).  In doing the will of the Father two things are stated as being accomplished: (1) The covenant was changed.  The first covenant (the Law of Moses) was taken away (cf. Colossians 2:14).  The second covenant (the New Covenant) was established (cf. Hebrews 9:15-22).  (2) Christians had been sanctified (cf. Hebrews 2:11; 9:13-14; 10:10; 10:14; 10:28-29; 13:10-12; John 17:17; Ephesians 5:25-26).  His offering is once for all (cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 9:24-26; 10:11-12). 

3.  Daily v. Once

And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices which can never take away sins.  But this Man after He offered one sacrifice for sin forever, sat down at the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:11-12).

Like the annual sacrifices, mentioned earlier (Hebrews 10:1-4), the daily sacrifices (Hebrews 10:11) never ceased.  Christ sacrifice was superior to any sacrifices under the…  Old Covenant.  It was (is) once for all.  

4.  Invitation

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus… through the veil, that is, His flesh… let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkling from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:19-22).

We have access into the presence of God (Hebrews 10:19 cf. 4:16).  It is through Christ that this is possible (cf. John 14:6).

Those who draw near are to: (1) Have a sincere faith.  Notice: “With a true heart in full assurance of faith.”  (2) Have their hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience.  “Sprinkling” in the book of Hebrews refers to the sprinkling of blood (cf. Hebrews 9:13-14; 9:19-22; 11:28; 12:24).  The blood of Christ must be applied.  (3) Have their bodies washed.  This refers to baptism (cf. Acts 22:16; Ephesians 5:26).  Why is it referred to as pure water?  Here are two suggestions.  Some think it is so called because of the water’s purifying effect.  Others have suggested it means unmixed.  The waters of purification under the law was mixed with the ashes of animals (Numbers 19:1-22). 

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Better Than the Work of Levitical Priests (Part 2)

The work of Jesus is superior to the work done by Levitical priests.  This is set forth in three chapters (Hebrews 8-10).  In this writing, we will consider Hebrews chapter nine.

1.  Earthly Sanctuary

Then indeed, even the first covenant had ordinances of divine service and the earthly sanctuary” (Hebrews 9:1). 

The first covenant had ordinances of divine service.  The people were not left to themselves to decide how to worship and serve God.  There were ordinances. 

The first covenant provided ordinances for an earthly sanctuary, or tabernacle, and how things were to be done in it (Exodus 25:8-9, ff).  This tabernacle was prepared (Hebrews 9:2 cf. Exodus 26:40; Exodus 40:16-38).

2.  Earthly Service

Now when these things had been thus prepared, the priests always went into the first part of the tabernacle, performing the services.  But into the second part the high priest went alone once a year, not without blood, which he offered for himself and for the people’s sins committed in ignorance” (Hebrews 9:6-7).      

There were two parts of the Tabernacle (and also later the Temple).  (1) The first part was known as the Holy Place (Exodus 26:33b-35).  There was daily and weekly work to be done in this place.  There were: lamps to be kept burning (Exodus 27:20-21; 30:8; Leviticus 24:1-4); Incense to be burned (Exodus 30:1-8); Showbread to be set out (Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9); and daily sacrifices to be made (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:1-8); (2) The second part was known as the Holy of Holies or the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:33b-35).  This place represented the dwelling place of God [Consider: (a) Exodus 25:22 cf. 26:34; (b) Exodus 25:22 cf. 1 Samuel 4:4; 2 Samuel 6:2; 2 Kings 19:15; 1 Chronicles 13:6; Isaiah 37:16; (c) Leviticus 4:5-6; 4:16-18; 16:2 cf. 16:12-13, etc.] There was only one day anyone was allowed to enter this place (Leviticus 16:2 cf. 16:27-28; Numbers 29:7-11).  This was The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16).  There was only one who was allowed to enter on this day, and he was the high priest (Leviticus 16:3, 17, 32) [Note: It seems that he entered more than once on this day (a) Leviticus 16:12-13; (b) Leviticus 16:14; (c) Leviticus 16:15].

the Holy Spirit indicating this, that the way into the Holiest of All was not yet made manifest while the first tabernacle was still standing” (Hebrews 9:8).

The word “tabernacle”  is being used to represent the whole of the Mosaic system (Tom Wacaster, Studies in Hebrews).  The common Jew did not have access into the Most Holy Place under the Mosaic system.

However, now it is different.  We can now enter into God’s presence by the blood of Jesus, and through the veil of His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-20). 

It was symbolic for the present time… until the time of reformation” (Hebrews 9:9-10).

The Tabernacle and priestly work associated with it were symbolic (parabole, a parable).  They were “the copy and shadow of the heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5 cf. 10:1; Colossians 2:16-17).  Here are a few examples: The sacrifice of animals was a type of the sacrifice of Jesus (cf. John 1:29; 1 Peter 1:19-20).  The Most Holy Place is a type of heaven (cf. Hebrews 4:14; 6:19-20; 9:11-12, 24).  The Holy place is a type of the church on earth (cf. 1 Corinthians 3:17; 1 Timothy 3:15; 1 Peter 2:5). 

The gifts and sacrifices offered under the Mosaic system did not bring perfection (Hebrews 9:9 cf. 6:1; 7:11; 7:19; 10:1-2).  There was no once for all sacrifice for sin.

There were many fleshly ordinances under the Mosaic system.  There were clean and unclean foods, sacrificial foods and drink offerings, and various washings (Hebrews 9:10 cf. 13:9).  These things were until the time of reformation. Vincent comments, “’The time of reformation’ is the Christian age, when God made his people a better covenant” (Marvin R. Vincent, Vincent’s Studies, studylight.org). Robertson comments, “Definite statement of the temporary nature of the Levitical system already stated in Hebrews 7:10-17; Hebrews 8:13; and argued clearly by Paul in Galatians 3:15-22… Christianity itself is the great reformation” (A.T. Robertson’s Word Pictures, studylight.org).

3.  Heavenly Sanctuary

But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come, with the greater and more perfect tabernacle not made with hands, that is, not of this creation” (Hebrews 9:11).

The words “not made with hands” is a phrase which appears several times in the Bible (e.g. Daniel 2:34; 2:45; 8:25; Colossians 2:11-12).  This means that this tabernacle was not built by men’s hands (cf. Hebrews 8:2; 9:11-12; 9:23-24; Acts 7:48; 17:24). 

4.  Heavenly Service

Not with the blood of goat and calves, but with His own blood He entered the Most Holy Place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

Christ has offered a superior sacrifice.  It was (is) a once for all sacrifice (Hebrews 7:27; 9:12; 10:12).  It does not need to be repeated year after year (Hebrews 9:25-28).

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, not to appear in the presence of God for us” (Hebrews 9:24). 

Tom Wacaster comments, “Being of the tribe of Judah, not Levi, our Lord never once entered into that earthly tabernacle.  But He has entered into that heavenly tabernacle into the very presence of God” (Tom Wacaster, Studies in Hebrews).  He entered into heaven itself, not into the earthly symbolic representation of heaven.

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Better Than The Work of Levitical Priests (Part 1)

The work of Jesus is superior to the work done by Levitical Priests.  This is set forth in three chapters (Hebrews 8-10).  In this writing, we will consider Hebrews chapter eight.

1.  Two Tabernacles

We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Hebrews 8:1).

We have a High Priest.  The reference is to Jesus (cf. Hebrews 4:14; 5:5-6).  He is described as “such” a High Priest.  The meaning is that He is the Perfect High Priest (cf. Hebrews 7:25-26).   He is seated on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens.  He is on the right hand of the Father (cf. Hebrews 1:3; 1:13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2).  He is near to the source of grace (Hebrews 8:1 cf. 4:16), interceding for us (Hebrews 7:25). 

a Minister of the sanctuary and of the true tabernacle which the Lord erected, and not man” (Hebrews 8:2).

Two tabernacles are in view.  (1) The tabernacle in which the Levitical priests served was erected by man (Hebrews 8:2 cf. Exodus 40), and made with hands (Hebrews 9:11, 24 cf. Exodus 31, 36-39).  (2) The Tabernacle in which Jesus serves was not erected by man (Hebrews 8:2), or make with hands (Hebrews 9:11, 24).  It was erected by the Lord (Hebrews 8:2).  This is the “true” tabernacle {“True” is used here of superior or substantial [e.g. true light (John 6:31-35); true vine (John 15:1); true holy place (Hebrews 9:24)] Wayne Jackson says “The ‘true’ is that which the symbolic copy represented” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary)}.

What is the true tabernacle?  The tabernacle of old had two compartments.  (a) The Most Holy Place represented Heaven or God’s dwelling place (Hebrews 9:7 cf. 9:11-12).  Jesus does not serve in an earthly tent which represents heaven.  He serves in heaven.  (b) The Holy Place appears to represent the church.  The items found in the Holy Place are identified with the church.  The offering of incense is connected with the prayers of the saints (Exodus 30:6-9 cf. Revelation 5:8; 8:3-4).  The seven lamps are connected with the light given off by the church (Exodus 25:31-40; 27:20-21 cf. Revelation 1:12, 20).  The showbread many have inferred to be connected with the Lord’s Supper (Exodus 25:23-30; Leviticus 24:5-9 cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Corinthians 11:24-26).  We are a holy priesthood (1 Peter 2:5). 

The things pertaining to the tabernacle erected by man were but “the copy and shadow of heavenly things” (Hebrews 8:5; 9:9, 23, 24; 10:1).  Wayne Jackson comments, “Why would one wish to cling to the copy and reject the heavenly reality?  Yet that was what the Judaizers were doing” (Wayne Jackson, A New Testament Commentary).

2.  Two offerings

For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices.  Therefore it is necessary that this One also have something to offer” (Hebrews 8:3 cf. 5:1). 

One of the most basic functions of high priest is to offer gifts and sacrifices to God for the sins of the people (cf. Hebrews 5:1).  [Robert Milligan comments, “The word ‘gifts’ (dora) and sacrifices’ (thusias) are sometimes used interchangeably, as in Genesis 4:3-5.  But when contracted… the former is used of bloodless offerings, and the latter for such as required the life of the victim” (A Commentary on the Epistle to the Hebrews)].  (1) Levitical priests offered gifts and sacrifices for sins (cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:9; 10:1-4; 10:11).  (2) Our High Priest also had something to offer (Hebrews 8:3).  It was an offering which did not need to be repeated.  It was a once for all sacrifice, unlike the Levitical offerings (cf. Hebrews 7:27; 9:12, 23-28; 10:11-12).  

3.  Two Covenants

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was founded on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6).

Two covenants are in view.  (1) Moses dedicated the first covenant with the blood of animals (Hebrews 9:18-22 cf. Exodus 24:1-7; 29:19-21).  (2) Jesus is “the Mediator of the new covenant, by means of death” (Hebrews 9:15).  He dedicated this covenant with His own blood (cf. Matthew 26:28).  This covenant was prophesied (Hebrews 8:7-13; 10:15-18 cf. Jeremiah 31:31-34).  It is a better covenant.  Under it sins would be remembered no more (Hebrews 8:12 cf. 10:1-4; 10:17, 18).  It was founded on better promises.  While the first covenant focused on a land promise and an earthly rest, this covenant focuses on a rest to come and eternal life (cf. Hebrews 3:16-4:11; 9:15).  Tim Ayers writes, “The promises of the Old Covenant were primarily physical and earthly in nature, although it did include spiritual promises as well… The promises of the New Covenant are better because they are pre-eminently spiritual in nature” (ed. Devin W. Dean, The Gospel Journal Commentary Series, Studies in Hebrews).  Moreover, many promises are only possible because of Christ (cf. Hebrews 9:6-8; 10:19-20; 11:35-40).

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