From “How to Become a Christian”: Chapter 4 – How the church got into its current condition
The Roman Catholic Church is not the “original” or “true” church. It does not date back to the first century, or to the apostle Peter, as it claims to do. In fact it really began to develop properly from AD 312, when the Roman Emperor, Constantine alleged that he had become a Christian. He did so because he said that he had seen a vision of a cross in the sky and when he was successful in a subsequent battle he attributed it to this. As a result, this Roman Emperor, who had known nothing other than paganism all his life, suddenly “joined” the early fourth century church in Rome. He effectively took it over.
Thus, overnight, the real church, which had existed for three centuries, and which had had to be underground for some of that time due to persecution, was suddenly legal. The persecution was over and the Emperor was now supposedly a Christian. Multitudes of practising pagans flooded into the church. They joined the church, not because they believed in the Bible or had repented. Many of them did so because they now calculated that it would be socially and financially advantageous to join this institution called the “church”, which the Emperor had taken over.
Thus, the church changed from being a persecuted group, whose biblical values and beliefs were the opposite of those around them, to a group with official state backing. A massive influx of insincere, unrepentant pagans, who had no genuine Christian beliefs, took over the church. It was an invasion by the pagan world into the church as it then was.
The pagans brought with them into the church all of their own occult beliefs and practices. Instead of abandoning these and taking up Christianity in their place, they kept their pagan beliefs and practices. They simply added some bits of Christianity alongside, to create a mixture.
So, many of the traditions which still exist in the Roman Catholic church come directly from paganism, not from the Bible. It dates back to the fourth century and does not reflect the pure church of the first century which the apostles set up.
Many of the genuine believers within the fourth century church felt they had no option but to leave. They had to go outside of the newly institutionalised church which was now meeting in former pagan temples. They carried on meeting in homes as they had done for three centuries. Those genuine Christians who left were the real church, not the semi-pagan/semi-Christian church that Emperor Constantine was now leading. That real church carried on separately, and has always carried on, to this day.
Meanwhile, from the fourth century onwards, this huge institution that we now know as the Roman Catholic church, developed steadily. It added more and more unbiblical features that came from paganism or just from men’s imagination and blended them with Christian beliefs and practices. The mixing of different beliefs and practices is known as ‘syncretism’. It continues in the church today.
Many even view this mixture as a good thing. They think it brings together all the best aspects of different religious beliefs. However, the Bible condemns this kind of mixture. It sets out clearly what the truth is and forbids us from adding anything to it, taking anything from it, or mixing it with anything else. Jesus condemns this very clearly in Matthew’s gospel. He is referring to the way Jewish leaders of the first century ignored God’s Word, as set out in the Bible. Instead they focused on their own ideas and traditions which they or their predecessors had invented:
1Then some Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said,2“Why do Your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” 3And He answered and said to them, “Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition…..Matthew 15:1-3 and 7-9 (NASB)
…… 7“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: 8‘this people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 9‘but in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.'”
What Jesus said to the Jewish leaders back then is equally applicable to us today. We have allowed all sorts of humanly invented ideas and traditions to replace what the Bible says. The net effect of this unhealthy mixture of Christianity and paganism, that we now know as the Roman Catholic Church, is that I was able to remain in it for 19 years but never find salvation or become a genuine Christian. To make matters worse, I had no idea that I was lacking anything, or that I was believing in a mixture of truth and error. If someone had asked me at that time what would happen to me if I was to die, I would have had no idea. If someone had asked me what “salvation” is, or how it is obtained, I would have been unable to answer.