Last month, in relation to the shocking rise of anti-Semitism among Christians, we referred to the incredible claim by the Reconstructionists that Christ's promise to "come again" was fulfilled when "He came" in AD 70 in the person of the Roman armies to destroy Jerusalem and slaughter the Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. In fact they claim that the entire Olivet Discourse (Mat 24-25) and all of the prophecies in Revelation (except for Rev:20:4-22:21) were fulfilled at AD 70.
This particular theory was invented in the early 1600s by a Jesuit named Alcasar to counter the Reformers' claim that the Roman Catholic Church was the "great whore...MYSTERY BABYLON" sitting on the beast in Revelation 17. In a stroke of genius, Alcasar realized that if he could establish the theory that Revelation had all been fulfilled by AD 70, then its prophecies could not possibly apply to the Roman Catholic Church. That scenario was eagerly adopted by the Reconstructionists, in spite of the fact that the Book of Revelation was written at least 20 years after AD 70, which destroys this fantasy. For those interested in a scholarly discussion of the date of John's writing, Dominion Theology, Blessing or Curse? by H. Wayne House and Thomas D. Ice is recommended.
In addition to data from the first century, the history of the Roman Catholic Church itself provides overwhelming evidence that the Reformers were correct: John's vision went far beyond AD 70 and was astonishingly accurate. In fact, the undeniable development of the Roman Catholic Church during the Middle Ages into all that John attributes to the "woman sit[ting] upon a scarlet coloured beast" (Rev:17:3) is almost as powerful a proof for the validity of the Bible as the preservation and return of Israel to her land.
The Christianization of the world being pursued today with high hopes by the Coalition on Revival (COR) and other reconstructionists was accomplished 1,600 years ago under the Roman Emperor Constantine and his successors. Far from producing the benefits COR promises, however, it was the undoing of the early church. "Christianity" became so dominant that its profession was essential for those who wanted to gain social, political or even military recognition. As a result, Romans "converted" by the thousands, thus polluting the church. Augustine himself lamented,
The man who enters [a fourth-century church] is bound to see drunkards, misers, tricksters, gamblers, adulterers, fornicators, people wearing amulets, assiduous clients of sorcerers, astrologers...
He must be warned that the same crowds that press into the churches on Christian festivals, also fill the theatres on pagan holidays.
Roman paganism had simply taken on a thin "Christian" veneer to survive to this day under the cloak of Catholicism in an even more dangerous form. As head of the pagan priesthood (a position Constantine never renounced), it seemed only natural that the emperor should also function as de facto head of the church. As such, Constantine convened, gave the opening address and played a dominant part in the first ecumenical council, the Council of Nicaea in 325. Thereafter, the emperors, in partnership with the popes, maintained "the unity of the faith" by persecuting and killing in the name of Christ those who dared to disagree with their dogmas and decrees. Pope Leo I—ascribing to the secular authority an "infallibility" that would later be claimed by the popes—flatteringly declared that the emperor was "incapable of doctrinal error."
It was the emperor who was first called the "Vicar of Christ"—a title inherited by the popes when the Roman Empire disintegrated. Constantine's title of Pontifex Maximus as leader of the pagan priesthood was also taken by the popes. Thus the head of the Roman Catholic Church is called the "Roman Pontiff" to this day. In fact, during the Middle Ages, the popes circulated what is generally believed to be a forged document called The Donation of Constantine in order to give legitimacy to papal powers they were exerting over kings and kingdoms.
The Donation declared that Constantine had moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople in the East and deeded the Western Empire, with all the attendant imperial authority, to Pope Sylvester in order to "exalt the most holy See of blessed Peter in glory above our own Empire and earthly throne, ascribing to it power and glorious majesty and strength and Imperial honor." It further declared:
And we command and decree that...the Pontiff who occupies at any given moment the See of that same most holy Roman Church shall rank as the highest and chief among all the priests of the whole world and by his decision all things are to be arranged concerning the worship of God or the security of the faith of Christians.
In recompense for this we concede to...the Pontiffs who will preside over the See of blessed Peter until the end of the world...our Imperial palace of the Lateran...the crown of our head...[and] the tiara; also the shoulder covering ...the purple cloak and the crimson tunic and all our Imperial garments...
We confer on them also the Imperial sceptres...the spears and standards...the banners and various Imperial decorations and all the prerogatives of our supreme Imperial position and the glory of our authority...[and]...the city of Rome and all the provinces, districts and cities of Italy and the Western regions, relinquishing them to the authority of himself and his successors as Pontiffs by a definite Imperial grant...
Whether the Donation is a forgery or not, the fact remains that the popes used it to justify not only their power but their regal vestments, religious paraphernalia and the pomp that surrounds their office to this day. Moreover, historians proclaim with one voice that the papacy stepped into the gap left in the West by the collapsing Empire, and the sceptre of the Roman emperors unquestionably passed to the popes. Historian R.W. Southern points out,
During the whole medieval period there was in Rome a single spiritual and temporal authority exercising powers which in the end exceeded those that had ever lain within the grasp of a Roman Emperor.
Even military leaders and kings were forced, no matter how unwillingly, to bow the knee to the pope in recognition of the all-pervasive power which the Church wielded over the masses of people. Add to that fact its great wealth, and the Church was a formidable force that even the most powerful rulers found easier to join in partnership than to fight. Historian Walter James reminds us that there was another even more compelling reason why every knee bowed to the popes—which today's Catholic catechisms still insist is valid:
The Papacy controlled the gateway to heaven which all the faithful, including their rulers, hoped earnestly to enter. Few in those days doubted the truth of this and it gave the Popes a moral authority which has never been wielded since.
During the Middle Ages the power the popes wielded reached awesome heights in remarkable fulfillment of the vision given to John in Revelation 17 of that magnificent "whore" headquartered in a city located upon seven hills (v 9) and which "reigneth over the kings of the earth" (v 18). The identification is unmistakable. As Southern points out, the medieval church held the "power of life and death over the citizens of Christendom and their enemies within and without....Popes claimed the sole right of initiating and directing wars against the unbelievers ...[and to protect] their territorial interests." For example, Pope Innocent III never lost a battle! No one could withstand him.
This astonishing power over kings and kingdoms had already been demonstrated even before the Empire's collapse. Take for example the humiliation of Emperor Theodosius in 390, who was required to make public penance upon threat of excommunication. As a later example, consider Charlemagne being crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III during Mass in Rome's St. Peter's on Christmas Day 800 A.D.or the humbled Emperor Henry IV, waiting barefoot in the snows at Canossa to make his peace at last with Pope Gregory VII in 1077. Apparently unaware that he was admitting the fulfillment of John's apocalyptic vision, Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) asserted in no uncertain terms the authority of the Church over all secular powers. Pope Boniface VIII reiterated Innocent III's assertion of absolute dominion over kings in his Bull Unam Sanctam (1302).
The Roman Catholic pope, successor to the ancient Roman emperors, continues to wield similar power today. Most nations—including the United States—maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Even the Soviet Union has maintained high-level contacts with the Vatican over the last two decades, and aides to the Pope and Gorbachev have been negotiating to set up a meeting between these two powerful heads of state. Like other secular rulers, Gorbachev is driven by necessity—he knows and respects the power of the Vatican, which rules over more than 800 million Catholics worldwide. In contrast, there are less than 60 million Lutherans. Today the Lutheran World Federation has its offices at the headquarters of the infamous World Council of Churches, which works for ecumenical union with Rome.
The charismatic movement has been particularly vulnerable to union with Roman Catholicism ever since Catholics began to "speak in tongues." One wonders, however, why most Catholics who have allegedly been baptized in the Spirit become even more enamored of prayers to Mary and various "saints," the reoffering of Christ in the Mass, and other serious heresies so contrary to what the Holy Spirit has declared in Scripture.
The predominant cry today is for "unity." It was the principle weapon with which the Roman Catholic Church attempted to stop the Reformation. Luther was urged to "keep in mind the unity of the holy, catholic, and apostolic church...." As though faith is believing anything, rather than commitment to truth for which we must contend, Earl Paulk suggests that Paul's "unity of the faith" (Eph:4:13) has nothing to do with doctrine. Paulk advocates unity not only with Catholics but even with Mormons. A unity in which sound doctrine plays no part is very appealing to those who wish to be "positive" at all cost. It is today's major weapon in reversing the Reformation.
Among so-called Protestants today, the great issues of the Reformation for which thousands were martyred have been forgotten or are no longer considered important. Describing his feelings as he watched Pope John Paul II perform the unbiblical "sacrifice of the Mass" during his visit to Los Angeles in September, 1987, Robert Schuller reportedly said, "I cried through most of the Mass, because there was nothing that he said in words or in theological content that didn't harmonize with my own belief system." At that time Schuller confided to Catholic priest Michael Manning,
It's time for Protestants to go to the shepherd [the pope] and say, "What do we have to do to come home?"
In contrast to Schuller's attitude, we do well to remember the words of Bishop Ryle. Referring to Bloody Queen Mary's brief re-introduction of Catholicism into England and the resulting death by fire of 288 Christian leaders in four years because they refused to accept Transubstantiation, Ryle wrote with great passion,
I wish my readers to remember that the burning of the Marian martyrs is an act that the Church of Rome has never repudiated, apologized for, or repented of, down to the present day....
Never has she repented of her treatment of the Vaudois and the Albigenses; never has she repented of the wholesale murders of the Spanish Inquisition...never has she repented of the burning of the English Reformers.
We should make a note of that fact and let it sink down into our minds.
Doctrine is important. Truth is vital. We are urged to contend earnestly for the faith. One day we must all stand before our Lord to give an account. In subsequent newsletters, if the Lord tarries and spares us, we want to suggest some ways in which we can contend constructively and effectively for biblical truth. We must not only believe the truth, but we must act upon it and contend for it. TBC