I have a friend who is a Roman Catholic. He claims that the Roman Catholic Church teaches the doctrines of the early church, and that Catholicism is the most primitive form of Christianity. He says that the Protestant Reformation began 1,500 years after Christ and that it represents the doctrines of men. Is he correct?
Both Scripture and church history teach that your friend is in error, though his argument is a common one. The Protestant Reformers sought to recover biblical Christianity in its purest form and to remove the additions of the past.
Many of the doctrines distinctive to Roman Catholicism have evolved over many centuries. In fact, many important Catholic doctrines were officially adopted by the Catholic Church after the Reformation. In 1854, for example, Pope Pius IX finalized the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. In 1950, Pope Pius XII established the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary.
This belief, found nowhere in the Bible nor even suggested by it, asserts that Mary’s body, like Christ’s, never underwent decay and that she was resurrected in her earthly body before decay could set in. In the last few years there has been a decided movement within the Catholic Church to proclaim Mary as “Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix of all graces, and Advocate for the people of God.” Indeed, the evolutionary circle dogma seems complete. “Mary full of grace” has become “Mary giver of grace.”
The New Testament gives us the earliest forms of Christian worship. The pattern for worship found there consisted mainly of the teaching and preaching of Scripture, prayer, and simple music. The service required no altar, no priest, and no elaborate ritual. But by A.D. 325 the ordinances came to be viewed as having some intrinsic power.
Instead of emphasizing the teaching/preaching ministry, the local presbyter began to function as a priest who made a sacrifice. This “magical” view of “the sacraments” took the emphasis away from the pure Word of God, and focused attention on the proper forms, words, and materials used in administering those “sacraments.”
By the fourth century, the word “church” came to have a new meaning, one not found anywhere in the Scripture. No longer were the people of God “the church.” Instead the word came to mean the totality of bishops. Salvation was viewed as coming through the bishop as the rightful custodian of the sacraments. Indeed, with such a view, there can be “no salvation outside the church.”
Throughout the history of the church there have been attempts to dilute the biblical faith and to introduce pagan corruptions. In the first and second centuries of the Christian era, for example, we see gnosticism as an early attempt to wed Christianity to human philosophy. In the middle of the third century, a Mesopotamian by the name of Mani, along with his followers, sought to combine elements of Persian religion with Judaism and Christianity producing what is known as Manichaenism.
The process of diluting the Christian faith is continuing to the present day. Popular preachers and televangelists are mixing biblical Christianity with New Age beliefs and modern “pop psychology.”
Because the Lord Jesus Christ, referred to in 1 Peter 1:7–8 as the chief cornerstone, knew that His church would face the constant danger of doctrinal perversion, the Bible instructs us to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3).
Politely tell your friend that you will have to disagree with him out of obedience to the Lord.