The study of Church History, according to Professor A. M. Renwick of the Free Church College, Edinburgh, “is not merely one which satisfies our curiosity as to what happened in past times; it is of great practical value for the present. Man is essentially the same in every age, although his surroundings and the circumstances of his life may differ. He has had, essentially, the same weaknesses and the same aspirations all through history. In spite of changing circumstances, and the presence and absence of certain factors, man has basically varied but little within historic times.”
In sketching the story of the Church of Rome from its origin to its growth to this day, it is hoped we can also obtain some lessons for our own admonition, that we may the more profit thereby.

According to the introduction of Paul’s letter to the Romans, we gather that about the year AD 60, when Paul was making plans to visit Rome, there had already been established there a community of Roman Christians. How they became thus organised into a church, there is no record. The Roman Catholic Church today, in her claim to apostolic succession in St Peter, dates his bishopric at Rome from AD 42 to 67. This is highly questionable. Professor Renwick says, “Had Peter been there before AD 61 Paul could not have failed to mention him in his Epistles he wrote from that city just prior to the date.” At any rate, “the fact that Peter probably visited Rome as an apostle would not make him Bishop of Rome, much less Pope of Rome.”

The origin of the Church of Rome could well be traced to Pentecost. Among the 16 nationalities and languages represented at the coming of the Holy Spirit, whereby 3,000 were saved, “visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism),” are mentioned (Acts 2:10, 11). These returning to Rome years before either Paul or Peter reached Rome could well have witnessed their newfound faith to the people of Rome. It was not necessary that many be won to the Lord before a church could be established. The Bible-Presbyterian Churches of ten thousand today began with a mere handful of 30. And there was no great bishop, like St Peter, as claimed by the Roman Catholic Church, to start it, but a gathering of humble disciples.

The origin of the Church of Rome insofar as their faith was concerned was also commendable. Paul thanked God for them that their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world (Romans 1:8). Calvin says, “The faith of the Romans had been voiced in the whole world by all the faithful who were able to form a proper opinion of it, and pass a right judgment on it.” What is the reputation of our Bible-Presbyterian Church? We are known as a separatist church, separated from unbelief and worldliness, but can we say we are living up to our testimony?

The Church of Rome Today in Apostasy
Alas, Rome that was once a faithful Church, a Church which occasioned for us the Epistle to the Romans, in which the magna carta of God’s salvation plan for man is enshrined, is today become far fallen from her original position. In a visit I paid to Rome in the sixties, I found myself under the dark pall of Roman Catholic superstitions and idolatry. There was not a single Protestant Church I could go to on a Sunday morning except the “upper room” of an American Protestant missionary. Here he had gathered a handful of his converts from among the Italian people, and there I recited Romans 1:1-17 to remind them of the noble beginnings of the Church of Rome about AD 60, her faithfulness and purity. Let the Bible-Presbyterian Churches also take heed. I said at the Silver Jubilee Celebrations of the B-P Church at the National Theatre in 1975 that if we did not take heed, this Church that was founded to defend the faith and withstand the flood of liberalism and ecumenism would be carried away by it in the next quarter-century. When the B-P Synod was dissolved October 30, 1988, this apprehension was fulfilled in younger leaders who also took on charismatism.

How did the faithful Church of Rome in the days of the Apostle Paul fall to its present-day position? As it is with all flesh, it is by a gradual process of deterioration and degeneration. The scriptural word is “apostasy,” a falling away from the faith.

There were the early days when the Church underwent persecution by the Roman emperors. Most notorious and first of the ten emperors that persecuted Christians was Nero. Paul was executed at the end of his reign.

When Christianity finally won the struggle against the Roman rulers and be-came the state religion under Constantine the Great (AD 274-337) then were sown the seeds of decay. The favours that the State now accorded the Church, welcome though they were, tended to produce an arrogant spirit in the clergy. The humble spirit of a suffering Church as exemplified by Smyrna gave way to the haughty and lethargic spirit of a well-to-do Church as exemplified by Laodicea.

Nevertheless, it is with the entrance into the Middle Ages in AD 590 when Gregory I, also called the Great, became Bishop of Rome that he was considered the first Pope who could securely wear this title. From that time on-wards, the Pope, with arrogance over all the churches, enters into the political arena to subdue kings and emperors. With a billion 45 Catholics behind him the Pope today is the same, but he does it now more subtly, through diplomacy. The Pope is no Preacher but Politician.

It is most important for us to study the corruption of the doctrines of the Church of Rome through the ages. The following list adapted from Dr. Loriane Boettner shows a selection of Roman Catholic heresies and inventions:

1. Prayers for the dead, began about – AD 300
2. Veneration of angels and dead saints, and use of images – 375
3. Beginning of the exaltation of Mary, the term “Mother of God” first applied to her by the Council of Ephesus – 431
4. Priests began to dress differently from laymen – 500
5. Extreme Unction – 526
6. The doctrine of Purgatory – 593
7. Prayers directed to Mary, dead saints and angels, about – 600
8. Worship of the cross, images and relics, authorised in – 786
9. Canonization of dead saints, first by Pope John XV – 995
10. The Mass, developed gradually as a sacrifice, attendance made obliga-tory – 1000
11. Celibacy of the priesthood – 1079
12. The Rosary – 1090
13. Sale of Indulgences – 1190
14. Transubstantiation – 1215
15. Bible forbidden to laymen by the Council of Valenica – 1229
16. The doctrine of Seven Sacraments affirmed – 1439
17. Tradition declared of equal authority with the Bible by the Council of Trent – 1545
18. Immaculate Conception of the Virgin – 1854
19. Infallibility of the Pope in matters of faith and morals – 1870
20. Assumption of the Virgin Mary (bodily ascension into heaven shortly after her death) – 1950

Has the Roman Catholic Church Changed for the Better?
But you will say, has not the Roman Catholic Church lately changed for the better from its previous absolutist position? Has not the Roman Catholic Church begun to take part in the Ecumenical Movement and now addresses Protestants not as heretics but as “separated brethren”?

Our answer is: Although the Roman Catholic Church has begun to call Protestants “separated brethren,” she continues to hold firmly to her age-old errors and superstitions. The Roman Catholic Church not only thinks of reuniting with the Protestant Church and the Greek Orthodox Church, but also with Judaism and the great non-Christian religions, yea, even atheism! The way is now open not only to acknowledge Protestants as “brothers by baptism” but to see in Muslims and Hindus, and even atheists, those who by exercising “implicit” faith are in the “hidden” church. To hasten the work of reunion with Protestants, the Roman Catholic Church today has also caught up with the Charismatic movement. As Catholics and Protestants worship together in common tongues-speaking, it is proclaimed to be the work of the Holy Spirit. Under this professed outward manifestation of the Holy Spirit, so must the outward reunion between Rome and Protestants and the creation of a world church of various faiths be declared the work of God! What a departure is the Church of Rome today from that which flourished in the days of the Apostle Paul.

“Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing: and I will receive you, And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty” (II Corinthians 6:17,18). Let every Protestant treasure the precious heritage of justification by faith alone which Luther had reclaimed for us but still anathematised by the Roman Church. Reformation is an unending, ongoing fight for the faith to the death till He comes again. Amen.

Editor’s Note: Some food for thought – Will the B-P Church in Singapore also go down the same route? She will if we do not learn the lessons from the fall of the Church of Rome. May the Lord spare us from such a tragedy!