The Historical Development of Roman Catholicism -- By: Norman L. Geisler

Journal: Christian Apologetics Journal
Volume: CAJ 04:1 (Spring 2005)
Article: The Historical Development of Roman Catholicism
Author: Norman L. Geisler


The Historical Development of Roman Catholicism

Norman L. Geisler

It is the claim of the Church of Rome that it is the one and only true church on earth which is in direct continuity with the church established by Christ and His apostles in the New Testament. However, this conclusion faces serious challenges both governmentally and doctrinally.1 For there is a radical, significant difference and discontinuity between the hierarchical authority of the present Roman See and that of the churches of the New Testament and early Christian centuries. First of all, in contrast to the claim of a divinely authoritative and infallible governmental and doctrinal structure of current Roman Catholicism, the immediate successors of the apostles followed the pattern of government laid down in the New Testament, namely, independent, autonomous local churches led by a plurality of elders (also called bishops).2

Second, it was not until the second century that even a basic episcopal form of government emerged with one bishop over each church. And even then there was no sole authority of this local leader over a

given church, to say nothing of authority over even a group of churches. Further, this short step into episcopalism was still a long way from the later claim of Rome to have infallible authority over all churches.

Third, it took some time before more authority was given to bishops and before eventually there was a bishop over a whole region and ultimately a bishop over bishops, the bishop of Rome. Indeed, it was not until the late nineteenth century that the Papacy made the bold claim of infallible authority for the bishop of Rome in official pronouncements on faith and practice. The course of this gradual development is a fascinating study in the creeping authority that over took the autonomous, self-governing, Bible-based churches of the Apostles and their immediate successors. Our study begins with the apostolic Fathers who were contemporary with or immediate successors of the apostolic age itself and is thereby the most valuable historic testimony.

Apostolic Fathers on Church Government

The late first century apostolic Fathers and even most of the early second century Fathers followed the New Testament pattern of church government of a plurality of elders (synonymous with bishops) in independent, autonomous local churches that are united by a common apostolic authoritative doctrine expressed in the Old and New Testaments.

The Epistle of Barnabas (A. D. 70 and 90 ?)

Many scholars consider this work the earliest of all ea...

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