Can Protestants and Catholics get together in the coming Vatican Council? What is the CAUSE of division in the Christian world? What is the SOURCE OF UNITY? Here's the startling answer! THE dramatic decision of Pope John XXIII to call a universal Church Council burst upon the public on January 25, 1959 — just one year ago! It is to be the 21st Council in the history of the Catholic Church.
The great conclave — which may well prove to be the last — is presently scheduled to commence at the end of 1962. Its avowed purpose is to bring about UNITY in the Christian world in this present decade!
Will it be able to achieve unity among Catholics, Protestants and Orthodox bodies?
Why Called? Only two other Roman Catholic Councils have been called in the last 400 years. Each was called to settle matters of world importance.
The Council of Trent — convoked between 1545 and 1563 — was confronted with the Protestant Movement, which it condemned as heresy. The Vatican Council — convoked in 1871 — dealt with the principles of Democracy. The Catholic Church at that Council condemned the principles of Democracy. It declared instead that Government and Authority proceed from the top down, not from the people upward. The Vatican Council unalterably bound this doctrine upon all Catholics by declaring the Pope infallible when he speaks to the people on matters of faith and morals ex cathedra — from his official throne as bishop of Rome.
Today, the time is ripe — according to official Catholic views — for making the FINAL EFFORT to unite the Church bodies of the Christian World. The mighty problem of achieving unity is two-fold. First, it involves reconciliation of the Orthodox Schism that officially commenced in 1054 and divided the Churches in the East — Greece, Russia, the Balkans and the Near East — from Rome. Second, it involves restoration to the Roman Communion of Protestantism which developed from 1517 onward.
The immediate reason for the sudden calling of the Second Vatican Council has generally gone unnoticed.
The Man to Watch An outspoken advocate of ending the division between the Eastern Catholic Church and the Western is Athenagoras I, Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, in Turkey. He is the man to watch! His outspoken positive reaction to Pope John's Christmas Message of 1958, calling for Church unity, is undoubtedly the immediate reason that Pope John XXIII suddenly called a Church Council.
Athenagoras I, who directly rules over two million Orthodox, may not compare with the Patriarch of Moscow who leads 125 million, but he is recognized as the "first among equals" in the Orthodox Christian world. By residing in the city of Constantinople, he has the prestige of ancient Byzantium, the "New Rome." (Constantinople was built in honor of Emperor Constantine, who made Christianity the religion of the Roman Empire.)
What the Pope hopes to achieve is a SPLIT between Protestants and Orthodox! The next step calls for the separate union of the Orthodox with the See of Rome. Then the Protestants would stand alone, vastly outnumbered, and quite divided among themselves. But the Pope is not over-optimistic about an immediate healing of the Schism between East and West. The Catholic publication America declares that "such a uniting of spiritual forces is, of course, not possible in the present state of division and discord which has existed for centuries" (Feb. 28, 1959).
Protestant Attitude The Roman Catholic and the Orthodox Churches are not alone in seeking church unity. Protestants are being swept by the theme of unity. In 1910 the World Missionary Conference marked the beginning of the ecumenical movement — the striving for world-wide religious unity — among Protestants. Assemblies of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam in 1948 and in Evanston in 1914 represent the latest large scale efforts to achieve unity among the big Protestant bodies.
The greatest effort toward church unity has been effected in Germany. Many Germans declare that their country, as the land where cleavage between Catholics and Protestants first occurred, has a special mission to contribute to its healing. At the universities of Minister and Heidelberg, Ecumenical Institutes are being set up by theological faculties to study the causes of division and the means of achieving reconciliation. Many Lutherans in Germany today believe that if Martin Luther were here today he would not find the need for leading a "Protestant Revolt" against the practice of the Roman Catholic Church. Numerous Lutheran ministers openly teach doctrines of justification substantially in agreement with the Council of Trent which condemned Luther's "faith alone" thesis.
From the Abbey of Niederaltaich, in Lower Bavaria, the Una Sancta is published with controversial articles from Lutherans and Catholics. All over Germany there is talk of the Kircbentag — the "Day of the Church" — the Day of Church Unity!
One small, but conspicuous group of German Lutheran theologians, known as Sammluag — meaning "Gathering" — holds that "Roman Primacy," in some form, is an essential ingredient of a full and orthodox Christianity.
The Protestant Stumbling Block This leads us to the real reason for division among professing Christians.
The real stumbling block keeping Protestants and Catholics apart is the matter of 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 ate named after these forms of church government. Protestants generally believe in the concept of democracy — freedom of the individual to determine for himself what is right and what is wrong. The Protestant idea, as stated in the October 1959 Christian Herald,, is that individuals "with enlightened consciences make their own decisions" ( Page 49). They do not want any authority in the Church to command obedience or to tell the people what to believe.
Yet this same article in the Herald, admits that "the only place where one can find unanimity is in an authoritarian structure with power to excommunicate dissenters — and we prefer freedom. Too many differences is a price we pay for it, but we feel it is worth the cost" (Page 48).
Even Protestants know that unity can be achieved only through the proper kind of authoritarian Church government. That is the reason they are trying voluntarily to work for unity among themselves. But unity cannot be achieved in religion from the bottom up!
Catholic Church Government The Catholic Church contends it has the only form of Government which can bring about unity. Unity, among Catholics, rests upon communication with the Bishop of Rome who is the visible Head of the Church. Roman Catholics ate ruled from the top down. They are told what to believe and what to obey. Catholics look to the Roman Pontiff to determine authoritatively what is right and what is wrong.
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 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. And because it stops in Rome, where man rules the Roman Church was unable to provide UNITY — for out of Rome came Orthodoxy and the host of Protestant sects!
But the Protestant Churches do not even have authoritative Heads who rule their churches from the top down. They are ruled from the bottom up! Protestants are not ruled by Jesus Christ as the Living Head of their churches any more than are the Roman Catholics. Protestants demand freedom to rule themselves — each doing what seems right to him (Proverbs 14:12 ) — whereas Catholics have submitted to the authority of a man on earth who claims to sit in the place of Christ — who claims to have authority by himself to make binding decisions on the flock.
Isn't it time we looked into the Bible to see what kind of authority God did put into the Church which Jesus built? Isn't it about time we looked to see how we got these various forms of Church government?
It's time you opened your Bible and looked into it. You will be shocked at what it reveals about who des the true Church, and how all these sects and denominations developed as a result of rebelling against the Government of God in the true Church. The facts of history are dumbfounding — what prophecy reveals about Church Unity for this coming decade will utterly astound you!
How God Ruled the Inspired Apostolic Church Unlike any denomination of today, the Christians in the early inspired Church were ruled by the Government of God. God set Christ to be the continuous, living Head, of the Church, the Head of those individuals who are led by the Spirit of God. Under Christ were the apostles, evangelists and elders He chose. They were not elected. They were never voted into office. They in turn ordained evangelists and elders according to the Biblical specifications, because their pastures, but the Bishops at Rome are fruits proved that God had, already chosen them (compare John 1:27, Acts 13:2, 3 and I Timothy 1). They ruled the Church under Christ.
Jesus has always been the absolute Head of the Church, not any board, man or vicar ruling in the place of Christ (Eph. ):21). But He ruled through those whom He chose. The ministers were not free to legislate according to their will. They were under the authority of Christ.
Edward Gibbon rightly says "that the apostles declined the office of legislation." (Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Chapter 15.) The laws governing the lives of true Christians are not human canons or traditions sanctioned by boards or Church councils.
There were elders in every city to instruct, correct and to be examples to the churches (I Peter 5:3). The original Greek word for "elders" is also translated "presbytery" in I Timothy 4:14. From Acts 20:17, 28 it is obvious that presbyters or elders were also called overseers or bishops — "two appellations which," according to Gibbon, "in their first origin, appear to have distinguished the same office and the same order of persons. The name Presbyter was expressive of their age, or rather of their gravity and wisdom. The title of Bishop denoted their inspection over the faith and manners of the Christians who were committed to their pastoral cite."
How vastly different church governments are today! What happened that church offices are so radically altered? When did it happen? What does prophecy reveal about Church unity? Who will ultimately rule the churches?
How the Catholic Church Began The Roman Empire in the days of the apostles was authoritarian, and the use of election for public office was an honored practice. This form of government quickly influenced the churches after the death of the apostles.
In various congregations were numerous unconverted individuals who wanted the "say-so." To have their way they soon elected teachers who not only sanctioned these elections but also allowing the people to readopt the customs of pagan Rome and Greece. All this was prophesied in II Timothy 4:3, 4. Gradually those ministers who were chosen of God were, by the unconverted majority, forced, out of the visible church congregations (III John 10). The visible churches were ceasing to be governed by Jesus Christ. A universal or catholic apostasy permeated almost the whole Christian world.
Even before the death of the apostles, the prophesied great apostasy set in (II Thess. 2). Some of the very elders or bishops to whom Paul talked at Ephesus (Acts 20:30) were ringleaders in seducing the people into holding public church meetings and elections of officers following the pattern of Roman municipalities. Each local congregation took for itself, with variations, the form of the Roman collegia, associations, which were modeled after the Roman municipal government, (Boak, A History of Rome to 565 A.D. pp. 398, 364.)
Here was the beginning of the Catholic Church Government — the Papacy.
Notice what occurred next: "The order of public deliberations soon introduced the office of a president, invested at least with the authority of collecting the sentiments, and of executing the resolutions, of the assembly," wrote Gibbon. Here were local congregations, making their human resolutions instead of following the Bible — forming human government to achieve unity.
Occasional elections induced the apostatizing Christians to constitute permanently one of the elders or presbyters with the office and "duties of an ecclesiastical governor. It was under these circumstances that the lofty title of Bishop began to raise itself above the humble appellations of Presbyter; and while the latter remained the most natural distinction for the members of every Christian senate, the former was appropriated to the dignity of its new president. So declares Gibbon!
Did you notice?
Each local congregation in its legislative practices developed into a little "senate" with one of its elders, elected to the permanent office of president, styled a "Bishop."
The Bishops Grow in Power Notice how church government led to unity in error — not unity in truth!
From this time forward, only the leading elder, the president, was called "Bishop." The people were following the pattern of the Roman government. They found that voting on resolutions was a very satisfactory way of getting pagan "religious ceremonies, which imperceptibly increased in number and variety," into the churches. It invested them with legislative power over the flock.
In the same fifteenth chapter of Gibbon's Decline and, Fall we read: "Whenever the episcopal chair became vacant by death, a new president was chosen among the presbyters by the suffrage of the whole congregation." No longer were the ministers being chosen by Christ and ordained by the elders and apostles. Instead, in the Catholic churches the elders were elected and one of them, specially elected to preside over the local meetings, appropriated the title of "Bishop" above his equals.
Coupled with the advancement of the "Bishop" or president in each local congregation, was the rapid tendency to form local dioceses "by the union of several county churches with a church in a city" after 100 A.D. (Milman's footnote in Gibbon's Decline and, Fall). Toward the middle of the ensuing century, numerous churches within a city united under the leadership of the most important Bishop of the leading church in each local diocese.
Thus far church government was shaped according to the model of the Roman civil institutions — was formed only after the city government and its municipal officials and jurisdiction. There was as yet no supreme leadership over all these apostate churches.
Called a "Divine Institution" The Bible nowhere teaches that man rules in place of Christ. Christ has no one ruling in his place! Christ still rules His Church. But most people do not even know where the true Church is today! Every true minister in the Church is ruled by Christ and carries out Christ's will, not his own or the people's!
But notice how the churches of this world have sought to achieve unity.
The episcopal form of human church government was adopted within a hundred years after the death of the apostles by nearly ALL the apostate congregations scattered over the Roman Empire. It soon acquired the deceptive sanction of a divine institution, The bishops began to style themselves the "vicars of Christ." Bingham's Antiquities of the Christian Church gives several cases in the early Catholic writings wherein "every bishop is vice Christi, Christ's vicar or Vice-regent" (Bk. II, ch. II, sect. 10).
The bishops claimed to stand in the place of Christ claimed that the episcopal form of human church government, falsely labeled "holy," was a unifying institution which the people should hold in reverence. This is how the idolizing of church government developed!
This church government — which ultimately became the PAPACY — is, in fact, "the image of the beast"! (Rev. 13:14-15). It is an ecclesiastical model of the "beast" — the pagan Roman Government.
Notice the facts of history:
"Long before the fall of Rome there had begun to grow up within the Roman Empire an ecclesiastical state, which in its constitution and its administrative system was shaping itself upon the imperial model This spiritual empire," says Myer's Ancient History, p. 582, "like the secular empire, possessed a hierarchy of officers."
The PAPACY is "the Roman empire, again extended over Europe by a universal code and a provincial government; by a hierarchy of religious praetors or proconsuls, and a host of inferior officers, each in strict subordination to those immediately above them, and gradually descending to the very lowest tanks of society: the whole with a certain degree of freedom of action, but a restrained and limited freedom, and with an appeal to the spiritual Caesar in the last resort (History of Latin Christianity by Milman, p. 28.)
The Papacy, according to these historians, is a model, a counterpart — an image of the "beast" which is the Roman Government. This ecclesiastical government compelled people to worship a man-ruled church organized into a worldly government. Although palmed oft as the government of God, it is in reality an image of a human civil government. And worshipping any image is idolatry!
Just as the old Babylonish idolatry spread and altered its form as it propagated throughout the world, so this modern Babylon the Great, a Mother Church, has propagated daughter churches which came out protesting (Rev. 17:5). And all of them have different forms of church government — each patterned in some way after human governments. When religious people speak of "MY Church," they mean their humanly organized denomination which teaches pagan doctrines and customs labeled "Christian." They IDOLIZE their Church, believing its teaching can't be wrong. This is idolatry and God commands you to come out of it! (Rev. 18:4).
(To be continued next issue)