Today, on the occasion of the canonization of two popes, I am posting an excerpt from our “Rejoicing in Revelation” commentary.
Theodosius I (379-395), the last Emperor over both the eastern and western halves Of the Roman Empire abolished pagan worship, and established Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire.
A few decades later, in AD 445 Emperor Valentinian III issued a decree establishing the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. This decree was first applied to Leo I, so he became the first “pope” (“papa”) of the Roman Catholic Church. Catholics consider all the Bishops of Rome to have been popes, but this decree marked the beginning of the papacy as we now know it.
At this point I need to explain that I am not “anti-Catholic.” Catholic means “universal,” and up to this historical juncture there had just been one main “trunk” for the family tree of Christianity. It was just “the Church.” From that point of view, all of our denominations had our origins in this same universal church.
However, starting with Constantine, there were lots of corruptions of the belief and practices in the Church. These eventually led to a series of “branches” from the main trunk. We will have to take notice of these corruptions since many of them began during this period of history.
We are also not anti-Catholic because of our personal experience with Catholic people. In my first pastorate in East Los Angeles, most of the people I met in the community were Catholics. I was eager to share the Gospel with them, and they were surprisingly open to listening! We used the “Four Spiritual Laws” in those days, and because we were quoting God’s Word, there was almost always a willingness to hear and trust the Bible. Many of them had never heard the simple Gospel message, but they were open to it. They might not have known what was in the Bible, but they had a reverence for it. Over the years I have become close friends with numerous Catholics, including some priests, who are dedicated followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. In our church home in Alta Loma the highest percentage of converts from other faiths has come from the Catholic Church.
It is right, however, to oppose teaching that can be shown to be unbiblical, whether it is in the Catholic Church or any other denomination. From that point of view there are many serious problems in Catholic history, theology, and current directions. Historically, the longer a denomination has been in existence, the more it has drifted away from simple faith in the Word of God. The same can be said about most Christian colleges and seminaries.