This is the fourth and final article in this series dealing with the question above. Once more, the Catholic Church believes that the four marks, or characteristics, of the true church that Jesus Christ established are that it is 1) One, 2) Holy, 3) Catholic, and 4) Apostolic. And the Catholic Church is (supposedly) the only one that enjoys the fullness of these attributes.
This month, we are addressing the claim that the Catholic Church is “apostolic.” So, what do they mean when they say they are “apostolic”? According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia:
“Apostolicity is the mark by which the church of today is recognized as identical with the Church founded by Jesus Christ upon the Apostles. It is of great importance because it is the surest indication of the true Church of Christ, it is most easily examined, and it virtually contains the other three marks, namely, Unity, Sanctity, and Catholicity.”
Now, being apostolic essentially means that one is teaching what the apostles taught. But where did the apostles teach such Catholic concepts as:
- the (ministerial) Priesthood for the New Testament Church
- the Papacy
- the Immaculate Conception of Mary
- Mary’s assumption into Heaven
- the infallibility of the Church
- private confession to a priest
- the Treasury of Merit… etc., etc.?
The only sure source of apostolic teaching is the New Testament, and NONE of these Catholic teachings can be found there. You can’t say you are apostolic if your doctrine or dogma does not line up with the teachings of the apostles in Scripture.
Some Catholics will say that these may not be clearly taught in the Bible, but that they are implied, and they will appeal to some sort of “development of doctrine.” But there is a difference between our understanding of a particular doctrine developing over time (which is ok), versus one’s perverting of biblical teaching, or outright fabrication of doctrine (which is what the teachings above are). The Catholic Church claims to have apostolic teaching, but they don’t.
Another reason that Catholics claim to be apostolic is because of their version of “Apostolic Succession.” This teaching tells us that the Catholic Church has a “lawful” and “uninterrupted” line of successors (popes), going all the way back to the Apostle Peter. But the fact is, their line of successors is neither lawful nor uninterrupted.
First, it is not uninterrupted because this “apostolic line” contains holes. According to the New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, there are several gaps in the list of dates. See here:
In this list, you can see that there is no pope at all during the years 259, 305, 306, 307, 639, 1242, 1269, 1270, 1293, 1315, and 1416. This is hardly an “uninterrupted chain of successors.” To be sure, if Protestants were the ones misrepresenting the numbers like this, Catholics would be quick to point out that this claim is nonsense.
Second, the Catholic version of apostolic succession has not always been lawful, either, because of the methods by which some of the popes obtained their office (e.g., by force / killing, by sexual favors, or by buying and selling the office). See this link:
So, to trust in the Catholic Church’s concept of apostolic succession will not lead to the truth. True apostolic succession is simply believing what the apostles taught in Scripture and teaching those things to others.
It is a fact that a direct, physical line of ancestors was important in identifying the true Jewish Messiah. But such a lineage is not needed for the New Testament church (Matthew 3:7-9), nor can one be found in the New Testament. A traceable, physical connection is totally unnecessary and irrelevant when it comes to identifying the true church or true believers.
It is the teachings that count. To be apostolic is to be faithful with the teachings of the apostles. Having a physical line of successors does not guarantee faithful transmission of proper doctrine. No doubt there were some people who were directly taught by apostles (or even Jesus, Himself) who fell away from the faith. But the simple fact that even an apostle (Judas) could abandon the faith demonstrates that someone at any point in this line could have abandoned the faith and believed in false doctrine / heresy, thus destroying the Catholic view of apostolic succession.
Also note that at least one “legitimate” pope, has been officially condemned (with anathema) as a heretic by an ecumenical council. See here:
One has to ask, how valid is an “apostolic line” that contains heretics? If someone is a heretic, then BY DEFINITION, he is not believing apostolic doctrine. And if he is not believing apostolic doctrine, then he can’t be called apostolic. Such an “apostolic” succession without proper doctrine is meaningless.
Furthermore, the New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967) admits:
“But it must be frankly admitted that bias or deficiencies in the sources make it impossible to determine in certain cases whether the claimants were popes or antipopes.” (Volume I, page 632)
My friends, the Catholic version of apostolic succession is simply wishful thinking.
If the Catholic Church can’t demonstrate that their teachings are those of the apostles, and if they can’t demonstrate their connection to the apostles by their own concept of apostolic succession, then why should anyone believe them? And how many other Catholic teachings should be called into question if such a foundational teaching as this is on such shaky ground? We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again… extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, and Catholics have none of that here.
In spite of their boasting, the Catholic Church cannot claim the fullness of “the four marks of the true church.” The truth is, they cannot claim the four marks at all in the way that they do. In fact, they cannot claim even one of them. No, the one true church does not exist in the form of the Catholic Church because, as we have shown in this series, it is neither “one,” “holy,” “catholic,” nor “apostolic.”
We heartily appeal to Catholics everywhere to take note of these empty Catholic claims and break free of that deceptive system. We urge you to embrace the true gospel of peace, where one is saved simply by faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ and not by the Catholic Church’s religion of works. True Christianity is about having a relationship with the Savior, not by following the formulas (or the false teachings) of “Mother Church.”