Sunday, June 26, 2011

Infallibility: Truth or Fiction?

Infallibility – a word definitely invented and appropriated by humans. Only God is perfect and infallible. For humans to claim even a semblance of such infinite virtue is not only presumptuous but arrogant as well. God did give the keys (plural, take note) to His kingdom; but He gave them to all twelve apostles, not one. And the same keys anyone can receive as well by faith in Christ to unlock the door to the same kingdom, for that is the will of God. (I Cor. 4:1: “This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed.”)

The Roman Catholic Church bases its teaching on papal infallibility on the supposed position granted to Peter as the first pope and Supreme Pontiff (an unbiblical concept and office). Their claim is anchored on the statement of Jesus that upon Peter (Petros, a masculine name in Greek meaning stone) the kingdom of God would be established. However, Christ was clearly referring to petra (a feminine noun meaning rock), which was Peter’s good confession that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. That truth – hence, upon Christ (The Rock), not Peter (a stone) – is the solid foundation of the Kingdom. Notice that Peter confessed Christ as He really was – Son of the living God. In return, Jesus confessed Simon (the unsteady) as He wanted him to become -- a firm believer, the new Peter. His new status brought about by his transforming faith in Jesus qualified him to receive the keys to God’s kingdom (keys to open the mysteries of Heaven), something the rest of the apostles could have equally received and did receive, as Paul attested. There is no talk whatsoever about any office or special rank Peter alone received at that moment or later on.

If so, Christ is the first and only pope (father) we should recognize. But He Himself said the Father in Heaven is greater than Him and that is why He left and took His place beside the Father in Heaven. Peter as a pope is as wild a conclusion as saying Marcos is a genuine hero or BB Gandanghari (Rustom Padilla) is a real woman.

How could we miss this simple fact and the obvious fact that Peter denied Christ three times and again denied Him before the Gentiles later on. This does not mean that Peter remained weak for he became a strong defender and preacher of the Gospel of Christ. Upon his and the rest of the apostles’ teachings, the assemblies of the first-century Christians were founded. (Acts 2:4-14 records the fact that all the 12 apostles were speaking foreign tongues through the Holy Spirit. Only Peter stood up to answer the crucial question: What is happening?) As messengers, they merely proclaimed Christ’s message through their words and works as the Holy Spirit enabled them. How could unlearned peasants and mere publicans have overturned the world otherwise? How could they have gotten the ability to uproot centuries of erroneous pagan beliefs and immoral living without Heaven’s direct interference? Please read the Book of Acts again and see how everything was all but the work of the Holy Spirit accomplished through fallible people. (Remember Ananias and Sapphira?) Even the so-called council in Jerusalem in Acts 15 merely echoes previous general pronouncements Moses declared against idolatry, dietary impurity and immorality. Nothing new at all was added. But many ensuing councils under the Roman and Greek Churches would loosen the strong fabric of genuine apostolic doctrines. At that point, the Roman Church slowly became both an ecclesiastical and a political entity.

Beyond the miraculous manifestations of divine power, the apostles had wisdom to rule over believers without the trappings of political, economic and military rule. By divine precept, there was a plurality of leadership in the early assemblies, not a hierarchy under one head. One pretentious head is, in fact, a dangerous formula for dictatorship while many humble heads are a safeguard against abuse of power. Remember how the Israelites angered God by asking for a king (so they could be like the tribes around them) when they already had a plethora of judges? And was God not their King?

How then can a divine kingdom be founded upon one unsteady person (Lord, save me for I am drowning! Matt. 14:30) who merely derived power through the miraculous gifts of the Holy Spirit? True, Peter healed the sick and raised the dead. But so did Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles. In that regard, they were equal in rank, so why was Paul never claimed by the Romans (the first Gentile convert was a Roman centurion) as a pope as well? Because Peter was an “original” apostle whereas Paul was “born out of time”? Upon a dubious interpretation of a verse, the whole Roman Catholic Church hinges its claim to Christ’s throne on Earth which does not exist. Why? Because He reigns in Heaven. Hence, a claim to an earthly throne is all that the pope has. Politics is its real weapon; religion is its mask. How obvious is this?

Any sincere student of history will see through the dark chapters of the Roman Church’s rule and see how far it stands in harmony with Christ’s infallible quality, or even the excellent nature of the apostles’ deeds. In fact, if Apostle Paul were to be the real paragon for popes, every pope would have worked for his own keep in order to support himself and his co-workers and not expect to be supported by millions of souls throughout the world with alms big and small that make their the way to what is probably the wealthiest bank in the world -- the one in Vatican. (Infallible and rich: how favored can one person be?) For Paul vowed not to be a burden (as long as he was able to do it physically) to anyone and worked as a tentmaker. It is one thing to work as an evangelist and expect to be paid for doing so and another thing to work for a pay and then preach the Gospel free-of-charge. That was Paul’s way. He was not infallible (“I am the chief of sinners.” I Tim. 1:15); but he was less fallible than Peter as an apostle. Even when he was ready to be poured out finally, he never set himself at par with God’s perfect status (“Not that I have . . . already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.” Phil. 3:12)

In terms of numbers, Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, would technically have a greater claim to a papal seat than Peter who preached mainly to the Jews. It was he who established the churches in Asia and later on over a big part of Europe though his missionary journeys. Peter supposedly died in Rome, giving him greater right to the seat being claimed by the Roman Catholic Church. But Paul apparently did more to encourage the believers in Rome and other parts of the Roman and Hellenistic world as seen through his letters, his travels and his travails. It was he who appealed once to Caesar as a Roman citizen himself and defended the faith in Rome. That he lived to be an old man and, perhaps, also as a martyr like Peter makes him as qualified to be pope as much as Peter. So, why is he not recognized as a pope? Is it because two popes could not rule at the same time, as seen from Rome’s obvious historical disdain for the Patriarch of Constantinople and the teachings of the Greek Orthodox Church? Who knows what motives people have to distort history and the truth?

The truth is that there was no such office to talk or argue about. Peter, Paul or John were mere messengers, not supreme heads of any organization, least of all, that of a sovereign state. The pope in Rome, like Queen Elizabeth, sits on a titular throne whose roots go back to the Roman Empire, not to Kind David, from whom Christ descended. Peter, the lowly, unlearned (not ignorant) fisherman is the stepping stone used to claim Christ’s glory for a religion that falls short of the first-century model of purity and simplicity. Open your minds to history’s irrefutable lessons. See the disparities between first-century Christianity and many modern-day churches, not just Catholic. Better still, why submit to defective modern versions when the original model only awaits our simple faith and compliance. (Please visit this blog.)

What do we mean then when we say the assemblies were founded on the teachings of the apostles? Does it mean they founded a formal organization or a religious group? If hiding in an upper room to evade persecution from Jewish leaders is the way to go about it, then they must have. If worshiping in catacombs can be seen as a convenient way of espousing a religion, then they were far from being very effective.

After many years of persecution by Roman emperors, it was Constantine, a Roman emperor himself, who took Christianity and made it into a formal religion, changing entirely the character of the original foundation the apostles built.

There were obvious benefits to the believers when persecution stopped and a washed-down form of Christianity became officially acceptable. For the entrance of pagan teachings and practices diluted the purity of the early assemblies. Councils conducted both by the Greek and Roman branches of the Catholic Church introduced new doctrines not consistent with the teachings of Christ and the apostles. The formalistic conduct of the original pure and simple rites of the early assemblies became a rule. The Mass took over the love-feasts or agapes they held spontaneously and daily in their homes (Acts 2:42). A priesthood patterned after the Levitical model arose (even though Christ taught that every believer was a priest in the eyes of God, worthy to offer his or her body as a living sacrifice, our acceptable spiritual service --nothing more, nothing less, Romans 12:1). A formal, global hierarchy under one head took over the simple plurality of pastors or bishops overseeing (not lording it over) the lives of believers in various cities.

Christ knew what would happen if humans were given power and authority that is why He claimed “all power and authority” having been granted to Him by Heaven just before He ascended. He never gave part of that to anyone or any group of people. Least of all, His apostles whom He knew to be helpless without the Holy Spirit empowering them spiritually and not politically or legally. He did say that “greater works” than He had done the apostles would also perform. Obviously, He was referring to miraculous acts and the unlimited spiritual progress of the kingdom till now, not political, military or financial progress as the Catholic Church has obtained for herself in the past and much of it in the present.

Papal infallibility’s claim to religious correctness is a dead giveaway to the false and pretentious progress of the Roman Church. It was she who went through a painful reformation in Europe, not the Greek branch, for its excesses under profligate and “infallible” popes. Our very own hero, Jose Rizal, died in the hands of the Spanish rulers through the evil machinations of the friars. If Galileo could be forgiven for espousing a scientific fact, why cannot Rizal be officially “pardoned” or reinstituted for exposing truths about the friars? (Silencing Galileo and killing Rizal are only two of many clear proofs of the religiously intolerant nature of the Roman Church.) Because Rizal rightly recognized and taught against a religion that in reality makes slaves of us instead of setting us totally free. (Donde la fe no mata, donde el que reina es Dios.) To uphold Rizal’s teachings would mean rejecting erroneous Catholic teachings. He remains an enemy to Catholicism and to many priests. And yet, they treat him like a friend for the sake of display. Across almost every Catholic Church in every town in the Philippines, Rizal’s statue stands in the plaza maintained by the government. But in Dumaguete City, for some reason, he seems to face away from where the church stands. This shows that even Rizal’s statue still knows how to look the other way.

Catholic priests would conveniently qualify the pope’s infallibility by limiting it to his professions as Supreme Pontiff on matters of faith and of morals. This despotic qualification holds all Catholics captive to any and all pronouncements of the pope. Hidden behind this dogma, however, is the tendency to add or to subtract from the plain teachings of Christ, for the very position he claims is an invented office, as we already said. In fact, as an example, cardinals and archbishops (obviously with papal permission and as a matter of conscience, hence, of morals) can justify the use of money from lottery or gambling for its religious purposes. This, therefore, excuses from sanction his or other priests’ arbitrary actions. Another case is that they allow marital annulment but not divorce. This is like saying, “Whatever I say is right and whatever else I may indirectly allow is also right.” Such sophistry they have perfected as their trademark. Only the truly discerning can see through the hocus-pocus.

We would easily believe that the pope is infallible if he chose his archbishops, bishops and priests such that they would at least be half as infallible as he is. But, no, the fact that the branches can be as corrupt as the trunk simply means the teaching on infallibility is a hollow, dead and sapless stump full of termites.

The only time any person can be considered technically as infallible (not in error but not necessarily free of sin) is when he or she proclaims eternal truths revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures. An example would be Peter’s confession that Christ is the Son of God. Another would be that Christ reigns in Heaven and that he will return to judge the living and the dead. These are basic and universal truths. But to say something that is and has not been revealed to the apostles and the gospel writers is “adding” to God’s word (a grievous offense and subject to divine condemnation). Such invented doctrines divide people and cause dissensions – something we are going through now. We must, however, contend for the purity of God’s word.

When Christ prayed in Gethsemane for the apostles, He said, “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.” (John 17:14-19 - With highlighting) To be sanctified is to be made holy or whole. Our teachings and faith can only be complete through the revealed word of God given to the twelve apostles, not theological inventions or misinterpretations pronounced by false teachers and other wannabes.

Catholics, in general, are sincere believers. But the teaching on infallibility is one matter that even non-believers will find hard to follow into its logical conclusion. Why believers would believe a lie is certainly amazing. The “father of all lies” is still very much alive and gathering harvest everywhere.

Have I now become your enemy by telling you the truth? (Gal. 4:16)