Dr. Keith Mathison has written a detailed response to the claims of Rome in what I’d consider to be perhaps one of the best responses ever (article here). I know that’s saying a lot, but the biblical, theological, and historical detail is simply incredible. It’s an essay, so it’s not as detailed as some of the books that have been released, yet it’s a detailed and yet concise exposure to why Protestants have significant issues with the claims of Rome. More than anything, Mathison provides solid apologetics for Protestants to better understand and grasp why so many have either left or stayed out of Rome. Mathison clarifies that,
“I do not harbor any illusions that any Roman Catholics will find what I have to say below persuasive. They have heard many of these arguments before. The point I wish them to understand is that I (and many others) see the evidence as more than sufficient to raise reasonable doubt about the claims of Rome.”
Roman Catholicism makes significant claims that Mathison provides considerable response to. For example:
- Rome claims that the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy was instituted by Christ.
- Rome claims that Christ appointed Peter to be the visible head of the whole Church and gave him jurisdictional primacy.
- Rome claims that the bishops of Rome are the successors of Peter.
- Rome claims that the Church is indefectible.
- Rome claims that the Pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra.
- Rome claims that the teaching Magisterium of the Roman Church is infallible.
- Rome claims that ecumenical councils are defined in terms of the papacy.
- Rome claims that the “oneness” of the church is to be defined in terms of faith and communion with Rome.
- Rome claims that the “apostolicity” of the church is to be defined in terms of origin, teaching, and succession in office.
- Rome claims to be the church founded by Christ.
Point by point, Mathison dismantles each of these assumptions. It’s worth the read. For Catholics, it will hopefully better their understanding as to why there are Protestants. For Protestants, it will provide support and better understanding too.
Perhaps the most interesting information that Mathison writes is concerning Rome’s claim that it is indefectible. He writes,
“As far as the specific canons of these councils are concerned, Rome has been as selective in her observance and acceptance of them as others have. Numerous priests and bishops in the Church of Rome throughout history have not been deposed for crimes as they should have been according to the ninth canon of Nicaea.[FN9] The priests and bishops of Rome for centuries violated the spirit if not the letter of canons 15 and 16 of Nicaea. Canon 3 of the Council of Constantinople, which referred to Constantinople as the new Rome, occasioned many arguments. The Eastern Orthodox often accuse Rome of violating canon 7 of the Council of Ephesus by introducing the filioque into the creed. Canon 2 of the Council of Chalcedon invalidates the ordination of those who obtained their office by simony, which would render null and void the offices of numerous medieval Roman bishops, including Popes, who both bought and sold offices. Rodrigo Borgia, perhaps the most infamous and ungodly Bishop of Rome, flagrantly bought the Papacy to become Pope Alexander VI. If canon 2 of Chalcedon is granted, then his ordination was invalid. Many of the medieval bishops of Rome also violated Canon 3 of Chalcedon. Canon 28 of the Council of Chalcedon, with its granting of privileges to Constantinople that Rome believed belonged to her, was a source of contention. If one looks closely at the canons of the ecumenical councils, it is evident that Rome too has adopted the pick-and-choose approach that Cross criticizes.”
I remember stumbling on those articles a few years ago. He has done his homework and has the reasoning and facts to back up much of what I have fuzzily assumed.
I’m reading both of them now, although after reading this post, it’s hard to understand why he chose to pick events in the Catholic Church as a reason to discredit, when the exact same could be done with the Protestant Churches. the Southern Baptist church openly accepted racism up until the late 1990’s, and many other Protestant Churches have had similar scandals both in their leadership and in their teachings. One can only look at some of the teachings about homosexuality that borderline on bigotry in the Protestant Church for a real-world example today.
Further, as the author isn’t a Canon lawyer, he is far from a subject matter expert on how to interpret these Canons, and couldn’t possibly understand these structures as intimately as the Catholic Church. Also, as some canons are not “infallible” and are used for the organization and “rule” of the Church, they are subject to change, modification, exemption, and the like. The only teachings of the Catholic Church that are infallible are teachings of faith and morals. These teachings have never changed and never will change. Canons that regiment the running and such of the Church can and should be changed when they become outdated, or do not work as intended, or explain the problem that it was originally created to solve. It is a distinct, yet minuscule difference that most Protestants would fail to see immediately, which serves to make it a confusing subject to begin with. Most Catholics don’t even understand it.
If the line of reasoning used here can be applied to Catholics, than similarly it can and should be applied to Protestant Churches. Following the author’s logic, the result would lead to neither organization being the “true church” or a church at all. That would end up being anarchy. Why then should be believe in either side, when both have been sufficiently discredited to become untrustworthy?