Why I am Not Roman Catholic

This is another blog in the series of “Why I am not.” In today’s blog I’ll explain why I am not Roman Catholic.

I have a lot in common with Roman Catholics. They believe that Jesus is the son of God; I believe that Jesus is the son of God. They believe in the virgin birth; I believe in the virgin birth. They believe in the Trinity; I believe in the Trinity. We could go on and on because we hold a lot in common. However, I’m not Roman Catholic… why?     

Well, to answer that question we’d have to take a look at our differences, and in particular one major difference, and that would be authority.  The most significant difference between Roman Catholics and most non-Roman Catholics is that Roman Catholics see that Jesus authorized them to be the visible, authoritative church on earth. In other words, they hold that Jesus Himself has authorized the church in Rome to be His official presence, His official church, His authority. And they claim to get this information from the same source that most Protestants hold as authoritative, the Bible.   

This authority to be Christ’s church is found in a two-fold process. Roman Catholics hold that

1. Jesus gave special authority to Peter to be the head of His Church. 

2. Peter’s authority was to be passed down to whoever holds Peter’s office.

This first point is a doctrine called the Primacy of Peter. In other words, Catholics observe that Jesus made the Apostle Peter the head over Jesus’ Church. He was made Primary. 

The second point is a doctrine called Apostolic Succession. Catholics believe that Jesus desired that whoever would take Peter’s office when he died would have the same authority as Peter. When that person died, then someone else would step in and so on.

Therefore, these two doctrines the Primacy of Peter and Apostolic Succession set Roman Catholics apart from non-Roman Catholics.  Catholics believe that the current Pope is the one who sits in the same seat that Peter once sat.    

Now, if Jesus did authorize Peter to be the head of His Church, and if Jesus declared that whoever sits in Peter’s chair, when he vacates it, is the new leader of the Church, then I must become Roman Catholic. There is no escaping it. I can’t claim to follow Jesus and not follow Jesus. And so the questions before us are this: Did Jesus place Peter as the person in charge, and did Jesus authorize whoever takes Peter’s place to have the same authority as Peter? Both of these conditions must be in place for the Roman Catholic Church to be the true Church that Jesus has authorized.  Both of these conditions must be in place for me to become Roman Catholic.  

So, let’s take a look at this here today.     

Fortunately for us we really only have two major passages to focus on. The first is Matthew 16:13-20. This is Peter’s very famous confession of Christ, which took place in Caesarea Philippi. Jesus had asked His disciples what was being said on the street about Him, and they told Him that some say he’s John the Baptist, Elijah, or one of the other prophets. Jesus then brought it home for them and asked, “But who do you say that I am?”

Now, it’s at this point that Peter made his very famous declaration, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus told Peter that he didn’t get that information from flesh and blood, and then Jesus said something very interesting to Peter. He said, “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”  

Now, it’s out of Jesus’ reply that the Primacy of Peter doctrine is believed to be born.  As I see the passage, Jesus gave Peter two things; He gave him the keys to the Kingdom and the power to bind and loose. Binding and loosing was something that the rabbis were known to do in Jesus day. To bind something was to create a mandate to practice something. To loose something was to free the people from practicing something.

Now, although it would appear that Jesus gives Peter something of significance here, we should note two things: first, the New American Standard Version renders the passage, “and whatever you bind on earth  – shall have been bound – in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth –  shall have been loosed –  in heaven” So, it would appear that Jesus isn’t’ handing Peter a blank check to make customs and traditions. Rather, Jesus appears to be saying that Peter will be simply reflecting what has already been declared in heaven.

The second thing to note is that whatever binding and losing means, Peter isn’t given this privilege alone. Two chapters later, in Matthew 18:18, Jesus gives this same honor to ALL of His disciples. It isn’t reserved for just Peter. 

But what about the keys to the kingdom? Well, we can say for certain that Jesus didn’t give that privilege to any of the other disciples. This was said to Peter. But what does it mean?      

Well, Roman Catholics tell us that by handing the keys of the kingdom to Peter, that Jesus was giving Peter special access – special authority. If I give you the keys to my car or to my house, Catholics would say that that I am giving you special access to those things that not everyone has. … and, that makes sense to me.    

It would sound as though Jesus may well be handing Peter something special here. But whether or not Jesus made Peter primary may be up for debate.  When we look at the rest of the New Testament, we don’t see clear evidence that everyone knew that Peter was in charge. For example, in Galatians 2, Peter was checking out Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles in Antioch, when some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem arrived in town. Peter, fearing those Jews, withdrew himself from the Gentiles.  Now, one would think that if Paul knew that Peter had been placed in charge by Jesus to set precedent and to create a model to follow, that Paul would have followed Peter’s lead and separated himself from the Gentiles. Instead, however, Paul got in Peter’s face and confronted his hypocrisy. So, Peter actually followed Paul’s lead here.

Later, during the first ecumenical Council in Acts 15, when the matter of circumcision was being settled, it’s James who clears his throat and makes the final verdict. Peter is only there as one of the many voices heard. Again, one would think that if Peter was the one whom Jesus had put in charge that everyone would have looked to Peter to lead the council and finalize the matter. They didn’t.

So, if Jesus had put Peter in charge it’s not clear to me that the other disciples even knew that.    

But, for the sake of argument here today, let’s concede to the point and say that Peter had been given special authority over the church by Jesus, and that he was primary among the disciples. We still have a very important second point to consider, and that is: was Peter’s authority to be passed down to whomever holds Peter’s office?

To answer this question, we must turn to our second passage of scripture: Acts 1:15-26. In this passage, we do find Peter taking a lead role. He stands up and reminds the other disciples that Judas had committed suicide, leaving his place among the disciples. Peter cites two passages; Psalms 69 & 109, and says that what David wrote concerning Judas must be fulfilled.

The disciples review some names, come up with two possible candidates, and Matthias is selected to replace Judas. Now its from this passage that Catholics have developed the doctrine of Apostolic Succession. They believe that as the Apostles died, Jesus wanted them to select a new person to fill that vacancy. The person who takes up the office has the same authority as the person before them. But, is this true?     

Well, we first have to remember that the book of Acts describes many things that the early church did that may not be prescribed for us today. We must ask ourselves if something is Described or Prescribed. Does it merely describe what they did, or is it a prescription for all of the church to do?      

For example, in Acts 3 when Peter and John go to the temple, they encounter a lame beggar who asks for a handout. Peter responds, “Silver and gold have I none…” Now, does this passage only describe the fact that Peter & John didn’t have any money, or, does it prescribe to us that no church bishop should ever have any money, or at least not carry money with them?  Does it describe what had happen, or does it prescribe what we should do?  

When we read Acts 1 we need to make the same determination. Is this a command from Jesus that all of the Apostles authority must be passed on, or, does this only describe what they did?      

Well, first, there isn’t an explicit command in Scripture anywhere telling us that this is what Jesus wants for all of the Apostles. Second, in Acts 12, Herod had James killed. Yet, we find no Biblical record of the early church seeking to replace him. There’s no record of a discussion, or a description of the process to replace James.    

Lastly, and this is quite important: the two passages in Psalms that Peter cites in Acts 1, are actually about wicked men, not faithful.     

James died a faithful witness of Jesus. Judas, on the other hand, had become an apostate and had left the fold.  If you read the two passages that Peter cites – in context – you’ll find that they’re specifically about wicked men. In fact, Peter specifically says that these Scriptures came from the mouth of David about Judas (Acts 1:16).  We shouldn’t miss that. All of the other disciples died faithful men. They never left their office and didn’t need to be replaced.     

Who in good conscience would stand over the tomb of Peter, for example, and read these words from Psalm 109:

“For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful, Have opened against me; They have spoken against me with a lying tongue.”

And verse 6: “Set a wicked man over him, And let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is judged, let him be found guilty, And let his prayer become sin. Let his days be few. And let another take his office. Let his children be fatherless, And his wife a widow?”    

No one would read those words over the graves of Peter or any of the other disciples, because they died as faithful witnesses to Jesus. Psalm 69 & 109 simply don’t apply to them.      

So, let me repeat my argument clearly in case you want to respond to it:    

1. There’s no explicit prescription in the Bible that the faithful Apostles must be replaced. None.

2. There’s no Biblical description of any faithful disciple being replaced. (such as James) 

3. The Scriptures cited by Peter from Psalms are about wicked men, such as Judas, not faithful. They don’t apply to any of the other disciples.    

If Peter had any special authority given by Jesus, then it died with him. Apostolic Succession exists only in the mind of the Roman Catholic Church, not in reality and certainly not in the Bible. And that is why I am not Roman Catholic.        

Dane Cramer is a backpacker, follower-of-Jesus blogger, jail chaplain, amateur filmmakerPodcast host, and author of two books: Romancing the Trail and The Nephilim: A Monster Among Us , and has worked as an investigator for over 35 years.




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