Will the Churches Unite?
Plain Truth Magazine
April 1960
Volume: Vol XXV, No.4
QR Code
Will the Churches Unite?

Can Protestants and Catholics get together in the coming Vatican Council? What does prophecy say will happen? Here's the startling answer in this sequel to last month's article.

   ONE stumbling block is keeping Protestants and Catholics from uniting. Protestants usually refuse to face it. It is the very heart and core of Catholic doctrine.
   That stumbling block, we learned last month, is Church Government!

Why the Controversy over Church Government?

   Protestants are completely divided in matters of Church Government. Some bodies are ruled by an episcopacy, others by a presbytery, others by the congregational form of government. Whole church bodies are named after these forms of church government.
   The Catholic Church contends it has the only form of Government which can bring about unity.
   The Catholic view is that Jesus Christ, while on earth, was the Head of the Church, its Chief Shepherd. But before He ascended to heaven, He turned over His office to Peter and his successors, making each of them in succession the visible Head and Chief Shepherd of the Church. Christ, according to the Catholic view, is now the Lamb in heavenly pastures, but the Bishops at Rome are the Shepherds ruling over the flock in Christ's place!
   In other words, Catholic Church Government has the visible Pontiff a MAN as its Head, not the divine, invisible Jesus Christ. Catholic Government does not proceed up to Christ. It stops at Rome. How Catholic Church Government became patterned after the pagan civil Roman government was partially revealed IN THE PREVIOUS ISSUE.
   Now we shall see how it developed into a great religious hierarchy the Papacy ruling over many nations. You will be dumbfounded to observe how local elders who departed from the true Church of God which Jesus built became great bishops, how they first organized into local dioceses. Then you will see how they further achieved unity by copying the Roman provincial government. Notice, too, how the great religious "patriarchs" arose how the Roman Emperor exercised the office of Head of the Catholic Church and how the bishop of Rome finally gained absolute power.
   And then see what prophecy reveals for our day. You will be shocked to see what the Bible reveals! You will discover the real source of Church unity!

Human Church Government Grows

   With the progress of time the development of ecclesiastical jurisdiction increased apace. Not only had a local elder usurped authority over his fellow elders, thus receiving the exclusive title of "Bishop," but he had also acquired the dominion over all church congregations pertaining co a city termed a diocese. The next step in the development of human church government was the adoption of the Roman civil division of the "province" in order to unify the dioceses and harmonize the conflicting traditions that were developing in church customs.
   Observe what Bingham wrote: "A province was the cities of a whole region subjected to the authority of the one chief magistrate, who resided in the metropolis, or chief city of the province. This was commonly a praetor, or a proconsul... so likewise in the same metropolis there was a bishop, whose power extended over the whole province, whence he was called the metropolitan, or primate, as being the principal bishop of the province" (page 342).
   The human government of the churches, the episcopate, was no longer a local association of bishop and elders, but monarchial. "The bishops were now regularly nominated by the clergy, approved by the congregations, and finally inducted into office by the ceremony of ordination." (A History of Rome to 565 A.D., p. 398). Toward the close of the second century irregular synods in Ephesus, Jerusalem, Pontus and at Rome were held to assist in substituting the heathen Easter for the passover (Milman's footnote to Gibbons Decline and Fall). By 250 A.D., these synods were held regularly, especially in Greece and Asia Minor.
   From where did their practice come? Not from the Bible!
   Says the historian Gibbon: They "borrowed the model of a representative council from the celebrated examples of their own country...."
   "It was soon established," he says further, "as a custom and a law, that the bishops of the independent churches should meet in the capital for the province at stated periods of spring and autumn." The proceedings were moderated "by the presence of a licensing multitude. Their decrees, which were styled Canons, regulated every important controversy of faith and discipline...."
   The church government was beginning to issue decrees! The "IMAGE" was beginning to SPEAK with the force of law! Faith and discipline ceased to proceed from Scripture. Pagan human traditions and customs became "the law" of the church.

"Suited to Private Ambition"

   With uncanny accuracy Gibbon explains that the "institution of synods was so well suited to private ambition, and to public interest, that in the space of a few years it was perceived throughout the whole empire... and the catholic church soon assumed the form, and acquired the strength, of a great federative republic."
   Synods were universally accepted. Each local diocese, like a republic with its elected representatives and an ecclesiastical governor, joined together to form a province in the "public interest." From provincial councils there poured forth an ever increasing flow of correspondence federating all the provinces of the catholic or universal churches.
   Exactly as the bishops had so recently grasped authority over every presbyter who now became a priest so in these provincial synods the difference in rank of the city from which each came caused the bishop of the metropolis or city of the province to prepare secretly to usurp authority over his fellow bishops and to acquire "the lofty titles of Metropolitans and Primates."
   By now the mutual alliance of the bishops enabled them to attack the original "rights of the people" in having their "say-so." The participation of the people gradually ceased amid the superstitious reverence for the "divine authority" of the assemblies of the bishops. The bishops owed no allegiance to any higher human authority than their own assemblies in which they voted on matters of faith.
   After permitting the "Christianity" to become the State religion of the Roman Empire, Constantine found it essential to unify conflicts within its ranks. To this end he called the first universal or ecumenical council which met in Nicaea in A.D. 325. Says Boak: "Procedure in the councils was modelled upon that of the Roman Senate; the meetings were conducted by imperial legates, their decisions were issued in the form of imperial edicts, and it was to the emperor that appeals from these decrees were made" (A History of Rome to 165 A.D.,
   Truth was stamped out, the true Church fled the confines of the Roman Empire and became lost in history! p. 492).

Emperor Makes Himself Head of Church

   There was as yet no Pope, in the half-pagan church organized by Constantine. The Roman Emperor was head of this Church. The laws of the councils were laws of the State. The Roman Senate, not a Biblical example, was the model. Church government was gradually being fashioned more and more like the Roman civil government.
   It was also during the age of Constantine that the Roman Empire was divided into great dioceses, thirteen in number. These were made up of numerous provinces over which bishops with the titles of Metropolitan or Primate presided. With the enforced universal councils being the highest assembly ruling the churches, Gibbon says it was not "long before an emulation of pre-eminence and power prevailed among the Metropolitans themselves, each affecting to display... the temporal honors and advantages of the city over which he presided...."
   Naturally the Metropolitans who resided in the capitals of these great dioceses were to dominate all the other Primates over the provinces in his realm. This was the title of "Exarch" or "Patriarch" acquired by less than a dozen great bishops. There were now four grades of bishops: country bishops who became parish priests, city bishops, Metropolitans, Patriarchs.
   Who would eventually be the Universal Bishop? We shall now see.
   It is notable that the title vicarii (vicars) was given by the Civil Government to the civil administrators of the great dioceses. Although the Patriarchs of the Catholic Church were really the vicars of the Emperor, who was head of the Catholic State Church, they soon claimed to be the special vicars of Christ, as all bishops had done decades prior in order to gain their eminence.

Great "Patriarchs" Rise to Power

   The Roman Empire was also divided into four Prefectures. While the Catholics did not institute any ecclesiastical office to compare to the prefects, they did soon find that among the Patriarchs over the dioceses, there was a rivalry that brought forth four dominant Patriarchs in the East and one in the West. These were of Constantinople, Antioch, Jerusalem and Alexandria in the East and Rome in the West.
   Bingham, pages 344, 345, and other authors point out a highly important fact. The dioceses in the West, with the exception of Africa, lacked Patriarchs in Spain, Gaul and Britain, or else failed to send them to the councils. ROME WAS THE ONLY WESTERN PATRIARCHATE THAT REPRESENTED THE WEST IN DEALINGS WITH EASTERN BISHOPS, says Boak in the aforementioned book, pages 492, 495 It was easy to foresee that the bishop at Rome would be the dominant Patriarch since the Roman church was the greatest and its bishops claimed the inheritance of the attributes of the office of the apostle Peter by progressive traditions.

Roman Bishop Not Always Head of the Church!

   That the bishop at Rome was not, from the time of Peter, the head of the Church is admitted by the Roman Catholic Du Pin, who states, to the later embarrassment of Catholic doctrine, that Germany, Spain, France, Britain, Africa, Illyrcum and seven of the Italic provinces were NOT UNDER THE JURISDICTION OF THE BISHOP AT ROME during the early ages (Du Pin de Disciplin. Eccles. Dessert. 1. n. 14. p. 92, quoted in Bingham's Antiquities, p. 348).
   The bishop of Milan, Italy, was never ordained by the bishop of Rome, as he would have been if he were under his jurisdiction. This is even admitted by Pope Pelagius in one of his epistles (Bingham, p. 348).
   The African Church under the Patriarch of Carthage was originally independent as Justinian declares. In the 22nd canon of the Council of Milevis, the African churches prohibited appeals to the bishop at Rome. For centuries, Baluzius declared, the French synods "never allowed any appeals from their own determination to the pope" (Bingham, p. 349). The British or Celtic Church did not come under Roman dominion until the Synod of Whitby (664) brought about British conformity to the Roman Catholic mode of Easter observance. (E. R. Edman, The Light in Dark Ages, p. 184.)
   The advancing star of the Roman Bishop developed rapidly with the transference in the fourth century of the capital of the Empire to "New Rome" Constantinople. Up to this time there were no great pontiffs that provoked jealousy, neither were there such factions that split the East. The bishops of Rome were carried upward by the sweep of dominant opinion. Eastern feuds disrupted the patriarchates in that area and left only the most recent, Constantinople, in the leadership. The domination of the Emperor in Constantinople was a disastrous handicap for the Eastern churches. The bishop of Rome was immeasurably freer to expand.
   In 343 the Council of Sardica, COMPOSED OF WESTERN LEADERS ONLY, not a universal or ecumenical council, confirmed the Western feeling that the bishop of Rome ought to be the Head of the Church by sanctioning Pope Julius as the final arbiter in disputes resulting from the Arian controversy. Thirty-five years later the bishop at Rome became the "Pontifex Maximus" or Supreme Pontiff. This title once belonged to the high priest of the pagan Roman priesthood before Julius Caesar, the first Emperor, was granted it. Thereafter, the office was passed to succeeding Emperors until Gratian refused it in 376. TWO years later Damasus, Bishop of Rome, was declared Supreme Pontiff by imperial edict. (Bower's Lives of the Popes.)
   The pagan Roman College of Pontiffs later became the Catholic College of Cardinals. The pagan Roman Pontifex Maximus "had charge of the calendar, fixed dates of the public festivals, and announced each month what days were open and what closed to public business," wrote Boak in his previously mentioned work, page 67. Little wonder that the Catholic Supreme Pontiff should "think to change times and laws" (Daniel 7:25) in opposition to Jesus Christ who is the actual Head of the true Church (Hebrews 7:21; 10:21).

The Papacy Finally Develops

   Many early writers and the populace termed the bishops in the Catholic Church "princes" in imitation of Isaiah 60: 17 which they misread: "I will make thy princes peace, and thy bishops righteousness." It became the customary view that the Church was the Kingdom and its leaders the rulers (Bingham, p. 22). The gospel of the Kingdom of God which Jesus brought was gradually rejected. Instead of preaching the gospel of the Kingdom or government of God divine government with divine laws this church established human church government. The Church of God is constituted of those saints who are begotten and led by the Holy Spirit. It is not a kingdom, for Christ's kingdom is not of this present world or age (John 18: 36). But here is a great church that deceived the people into forming a duplicate or "image" of the civil government of the Roman Empire.
   We shall now see how the Roman bishops sought by their claims, and obtained by popular approval, the position of Ecclesiastical Caesar. With the rapid decline of the Western Roman Empire, the bishop of Rome rose in respect with the people. He determined to be the King of Kings in the government of the Church.
   At the close of the fourth century Augustine wrote the "City of God," a book envisioning a Universal Catholic Empire of which the Roman Empire was the pattern. A few years later Innocent I pushed the claims of the papacy vigorously. Following him came Leo I, styled by many the first Pope. He was the first Latin preacher; for prior to him there seem to have been no public preaching by Catholics in Rome according to Sozomen (Milman, Latin Christianity, p. 56). Leo claimed to be the heir to Peter's primacy, advocated the complete "organization of the Church on the model of the Empire, with the pope as its religious head." He said resistance to his will was worthy of "hell," and advocated the death penalty for heresy.
   Boak wrote in his book: "It was Leo also who induced the western emperor Valentinian III in 455 to order the whole western Church to obey the bishop of Rome as the heir to the primacy of Peter" (p. 493). Despite this decree that made the Bishop of Rome the head of Western Christendom, the Council of Chalcedon, 451, a universal council claiming divine authority, placed the Patriarch of Constantinople "on an equality with the pope, a recognition against which the Pope Leo protested in vain."

Papal Power Increases

   Within another fifty years the common term "papa" from which "pope" is derived was applied almost exclusively in the West to the bishop of Rome, although, in prior years, "it was a common title of all bishops."
   The Eastern Catholics did not recognize this papal title, for in the time of Pope Gregory I, 590-604, the Patriarch of Constantinople claimed the title of "Universal Bishop." Against this Eastern usurpation of authority, Gregory stormed. He refused to appropriate the title to himself for obvious reasons, yet he exercised all the authority of a universal bishop.
   After the Council of Constantinople in 869, the Roman and Eastern Churches ceased to meet together in ecumenical councils. In 1123 it was decided that the popes should appoint all bishops. The head of the "image of the beast" now governed with absolute power the entire ecclesiastical government. About 750 years later (1871), the Pope secured the declaration of infallibility when speaking "from the chair."
   To assist the Roman Pontiff in governing his Church there have been developed through the centuries certain agencies. The College of Cardinals (Cardinals are bishops of dioceses) collectively advise the Pope. Under them are twelve Congregations, three Tribunals and five Offices of the Roman Curia (bureaus, boards and courts) organized to administer Church affairs.
   The "image" or "model" the Papacy is called by Catholics hierarchy of jurisdiction. It is "the governing body of the Catholic Church the Pope and the other bishops throughout the world." They possess according to Catholic sources "the power to make laws, to sit in judgment, and to fix spiritual penalties when necessary."
   Its attributes belong ONLY TO GOD. To attribute them to any organization of men is to set that organization in the place of God to commit idolatry to worship the image of the beast! Not only does the Roman hierarchy claim such powers, but also millions of PROTESTANTS ARE WORSHIPPING SIMILAR IMAGES OF THEIR OWN MAKING human church governments which pretend to exercise the powers of God.

Prophesied to Happen

   Not only does the devil have his civil rulers doing his will, but he also has ecclesiastical rulers ministers who masquerade as the "ministers of righteousness" (II Cor. 11:13-15). Satan is trying to unify his world before Christ intervenes in world affairs. That's why the churches are being stirred up to seek unity.
   Prophecy reveals it will happen but not the way people think. Before church unity will be achieved by this world's divided sects and denominations, there will be a demonstration of miraculous, supernatural powers performed through the "power of Satan" (II Thess. 2:8-10) by a great religious leader. Millions will be swept off their feet by his mighty signs. He will claim to be the source of unity in the Christian world. This "false prophet" will even be worshipped "as God" (II Thess. 2:4) and claim the rule over all political powers.
   The stage is being set NOW by the calling of a new council. People everywhere are curious, even expectant, to see what happens.
   It is time you were warned about what's soon to happen. Bowing down to human church government is idolatry. Everyone committing such idolatry soon to be forced on the world will suffer the wrath of God, the seven last plagues without mercy! Your only hope is to COME OUT OF THIS IDOLATROUS SYSTEM THAT IS GRIPPING THE WORLD. "Come out of her, my people," says God (Rev. 18-4). Come under His Government by surrendering your life to Him!

Back To Top

Plain Truth MagazineApril 1960Vol XXV, No.4