The following argument was presented by a
Roman Catholic apologist by the name of Phil Porvaznik by means
of the Internet. We provide a brief response and rebuttal that we
hope will be useful to all. Mr. Porvaznik's words are in Times
Roman font, our response in Arial:
1) There was a person who lived in the first
century named Jesus of Nazareth.
Yes, there was.
2) According to the record we have of him,
this person Jesus claimed to be the Son of God.
The "record we have of Him" is
the Bible, primarily. Hence, Mr. Porvaznik's argument begins with
the assumption that we can know what Scripture is, and that prior
to his establishment of any argument for the existence of an
infallible Church. He will later argue that one cannot have the
Scriptures without the Church, yet, his own argument for an
infallible Church rests upon the existence and accuracy of the
Scriptures themselves. It does no good to say, "Well, I am
only assuming the existence of a record of his existence, and not
anything about the accuracy or nature of that record." Such
won't help his argument, since if the record is fallible, flawed,
incomplete, or whatever, his argument rests upon fallible
premises. You can't derive an infallible result from an argument
based upon fallible premises.
3) Also according to the record we have, this
person proved his claim by fulfilling hundreds of prophecies made
hundreds of years in advance concerning his life, by performing
all these miracles including healing the sick and raising the
dead, and finally by predicting and accomplishing his own
Resurrection from the dead.
All of this again assumes the accuracy, and
in fact, supernatural character, of Scripture itself. Note the
use of terms like "prophecies" and
"miracles." In every instance, this argument assumes,
at its start, that the Bible is what the Bible claims to be: a
divine record, God-breathed, and revelatory. That Mr. Porvaznik
will eventually subjugate that infallible and supernatural record
to the authority of the Roman Church is a telling thing indeed.
4) If this person was indeed who he said he
was -- the Son of God -- then the promises he made must be true.
One of the more important promises was that he would found and
build His Church (Matt 16:18-19; 18:17-18; 28:18-20; Luke 10:16;
John 14:16-17; 16:13; 20:21-23) meaning a body of believers in
Him whom he would give His own teaching authority through leaders
called "apostles" (Matt 10:2ff) and whose successors
were early on called "bishops" (see the epistles of St.
Ignatius of Antioch c. 107 AD).
NOTE: The Bible texts are only listed to
support the claims and promises of this divine person Jesus
concerning His Church. I am treating the Bible as only a reliable
historical record of his words at this point in the argument.
Here the argument really begins to fold in
upon itself and become quite convoluted. It is very true that if
Jesus was the Son of God, then it follows that His promises are
true and will be fulfilled. It is also very true that Jesus
promised He would build His Church and would be with her
throughout all ages. But Mr. Porvaznik assumes the end of his
argument when he begins to tell us what kind of church
this is to be. Yes, the Church is a body of believers, as he
says. But then he says that Jesus promised to "give His own
teaching authority through leaders called "apostles."
There is truth in the statement, i.e., that the Apostles
functioned as leaders in the early Church, and that through the
Apostles the Church was guided and grew. But note that this
authority becomes something that exists separately from the
Apostles, and becomes something that is the object of being
"passed down." Mr. Porvaznik says the Apostles
"successors" were called "bishops." Of
course, no biblical passage is cited here--we are only given
Ignatius' view. Why? Because the Bible does not describe bishops
as "successors" of the Apostles. What is more, the
authority of the bishop is based upon the content of his
teaching, not upon his position! That is why Paul speaks so
often of the elder/bishop (one office in the NT) being
"sound in doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:6, 6:3, Titus 1:9,
2:1, 7, 10). It is not a teaching authority that is being
passed on, but sound doctrine itself. Indeed, this is
plainly seen in the words of Paul to Timothy that are so often
cited by Roman Catholic apologists, 2 Timothy 2:2:
which you have heard from me in the presence of many
witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to
teach others also.
Note that Paul is not concerned about some position
but about the content of the message. "Apostolic
succession," if such a term is to have meaning, must be a
succession of truth not of position. [We note in
passing that this passage in no way provides support for the
oft-repeated claim that "oral tradition" is a valid
form of revelation, or that this passage is exhorting Timothy to
pass on such extra-scriptural traditions. As Tertullian rightly
noted (De Praescriptione XXV), such was not Paul's
intention. Instead, Paul here makes explicit reference to his public
teaching, which surely is to be found plainly recorded for us
Next, Mr. Porvaznik says that he is only
using the Bible as a "reliable historical record" at
this point. Such sounds very good, but it makes no sense
upon reflection. How does a mere historical record tell us of divine prophecies and
accomplished miracles? Why treat the Bible as anything other than
what it claims itself to be? And do we ever find the Lord
Jesus using the Scriptures the way Mr. Porvaznik does? Indeed, we
must ask an even more serious question: does the Lord Jesus ever
create arguments with the sole design of subjugating the
Scriptures to a human authority, such as the Church of Rome?
5) This Church (the early believers and their
leaders) would have the authority to speak in this divine
person's name particularly concerning the faith and moral
teachings of His Church. As the divine Founder said -- "he
who hears you, hears Me" (Lk 10:16; Mt 10:40); and "all
authority in heaven and earth has been given to Me. Therefore
go...and [teach] them to obey everything I have commanded
you...." (Mt 28:18-20); His leaders would be guided by the
"Spirit of truth" to the end of time (Jn 14:16-17,26;
16:13); Jesus would be with them to ensure faithfulness to His
teaching (Mt 28:20); and as one of His first converts stated --
the Church would be "the pillar and foundation of the
truth" (1 Tim 3:15 NIV) for His Church is built on a solid
Rock, Peter (Mt 16:18f) and all the apostles (Eph 2:20; Rev
21:14) and their successors as history demonstrates (epistles of
St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus).
Here we have the full argument presented in
all its glory: yet, we can see, plainly, that the conclusions do
not follow from the premises. The Church is indeed given
authority: but it is a derivative authority, one based upon
fidelity to the truth, not upon any inherent characteristic of
the Church. The very "historical record" Mr. Porvaznik
is claiming to use records instance after instance where error
crept into the Church. Acts, Galatians, Romans, the Pastoral
Epistles, Hebrews---all stand as irrefutable testimony to the
fact that the Church suffered from false prophets and false
teachers from her very inception, and that indeed, such was
predicted by the Apostles themselves! Paul warned the Ephesians
elders that this would take place (Acts 20:28-31). Note his
Be on guard
for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy
Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God
which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my
departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing
the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise,
speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after
them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that
night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to
admonish each one with tears.
We note a few things from this passage.
First, Paul exhorts the elders (plural) to shepherd the flock of
God. No Peter, no monarchical episcopate. Indeed, the one-bishop
concept did not evolve in Rome itself until the 140s. Second,
Paul specifically predicts that "savage wolves" will
enter into the Church. Third, even men from among the
elders will arise, speaking perverse things, and will draw
away disciples after them. False teaching would be an enemy the
Church would have to struggle with throughout her history.
Now, the question we must ask is, to what
does Paul entrust the Church in light of the grave dangers facing
her? When we read the next verses in Acts 20, do we find Paul
speaking of Peter, the Papacy, Rome, or the infallibility of the
Church? No, instead we read:
And now I
commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is
able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among
all those who are sanctified.
God and His Word. For Paul, that was
enough. For Roman Catholic apologists, it isn't. Nowhere do we
find Rome, Popes, Councils, or Inquisitors. We find God, and His
grace. That is the hope of the true Christian Church, and no
6) To accomplish what Jesus promised, His
Church must be infallible when teaching officially on faith and
morals otherwise the gates of hell would indeed prevail; His
Church would NOT be guided by the Spirit of truth; Jesus would
have abandoned His own Church; and His Church would be the pillar
and foundation of error.
As we can see, none of this statement
follows from what has come before. Nowhere does Mr. Porvaznik
provide us with the foundation for such assertions. Why must the
Church be infallible to speak with authority? Is Mr. Porvaznik
infallible? Can he speak with authority on what Rome teaches? Mr.
Porvaznik's position sounds much like that presented by one
Vinney Lewis, a Feeneyite Roman Catholic who asserts that unless
you claim personal infallibility, you can't speak with authority
on anything (see our catalog for details).
Yet such is obviously untrue. One does not have to be infallible
to have authority. The authority of the proclamation of
the Christian Church comes from the message that is preached,
not from the nature of the messenger.
Next, the gates of Hades cannot prevail
against the Church because of the faithfulness of Christ,
not because of some alleged charism of infallibility. The
foundation upon which she is built is the confession of Peter
that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. As long as
the Church confesses this truth, the gates of Hades are powerless
against her. She does not have to be infallible in her every
action to be faithful to such a confession.
Finally, the Church is indeed the pillar
and foundation of the truth, as Paul said. However, a pillar and
a foundation support something else. Pillars rest on
foundations; foundations and pillars together support structures.
The Church supports and upholds the truth. That
does not make the Church the truth itself. Such thinking
involves hopeless confusion of categories.
7) This Church did speak infallibly (near the
end of the 4th century and in subsequent "Councils")
concerning this collection of OT and NT documents -- His Church
ultimately decided the canon saying what books are truly the Word
of God and have explained precisely what that means in Councils
and papal encyclicals such as those by Popes Leo XIII and
Benedict XV and Pius XII and now the Catechism.
This is a tremendous leap that involves the
complete misrepresentation of the early Church, and even of Roman
doctrine! Mr. Porvaznik surely knows that the Councils of Hippo
and Carthage, to which he refers, were not "ecumenical"
councils, and as such, are not granted the "charism of
infallibility" that is reserved, even in Roman theology, for
councils of the entire Church. If Mr. Porvaznik would like to
claim these councils are infallible, what, then, does he do with
Seleucia or Ariminum? Indeed, even the New Catholic
Encyclopedia admits that the first dogmatically binding and
infallible pronouncement on the canon that matches the current
Roman edition is found in the Council of Trent! But beyond such
questions, the idea that the Christian people did not know what
was, and what was not, Christian Scripture until Rome
spoke, is simply beyond reason. Such a claim comes only from
modern Rome: it does not come from reading the patristic sources.
How did Athanasius know the Scriptures in his 39th Festal letter,
which precedes the Councils of Hippo and Carthage? Let Mr.
Porvaznik show us how Irenaeus or Ignatius or Polycarp or
Tertullian were indebted to Rome for their knowledge of
We should not miss the import of the words
provided to us here. Rome intends to subjugate Scripture to her
own authority. Roman apologists, even while denying it, prove by
their every effort the truth of the following statement:
Protestants believe in sola scriptura, and Roman Catholics
believe in sola ecclesia. Rome is the final authority for
Mr. Porvaznik and other apologists. Rome defines the extent
of Scripture (canon), and the content of Scripture
(interpretation); she likewise defines the extent of
"tradition," and the content of tradition.
Hence, Rome herself, claiming infallibility, becomes the ultimate
and unquestionable authority, uncorrectable by any outside rule
of faith. Sola ecclesia.
To establish sola ecclesia one must
attack sola scriptura. To convince someone of the
necessity of the Church's sufficiency, one must deny the
Scripture's sufficiency. And that is where the battle rages.
8) The Catholic Church of 400 AD is the same
Roman Catholic Church of 1997 AD because of historical continuity
and identity. No other Church fits the description. Therefore,
the Roman Catholic Church is infallible when teaching officially
on faith and morals.
Mr. Porvaznik knows better.
He knows this "historical continuity" is a myth. He
knows the early Christians did not believe in Papal
infallibility, the Bodily Assumption of Mary, and a whole host of
other doctrines that define modern Romanism. The Church of
AD 400 would barely be able to recognize the Roman Church of
1997. This has been proven over and over again in debates that
Mr. Porvaznik owns and has listened to (see our catalog for examples).
In addition, this divine person Jesus put his
general stamp of approval on what is known as the Old Testament,
"law and prophets and writings" (e.g. Mt 4:1ff;
5:17-18; 22:29-32; Lk 24:25-27, 44ff; Jn 10:35) and we take the
word of His infallible Church for the OT and NT canons.
I have asked Mr. Porvaznik
this question before, and will ask it again: how did the
believing Jew who lived 50 years before Christ know what Isaiah
and 2 Chronicles were Scripture? So far, no consistent,
meaningful response has been given to this question. Whatever
answer is given ends up contradicting the Roman viewpoint. Note
some of the possibilities:
1) The believing Jew
didn't know what was, and what was not Scripture. This answer
has been given to me by a number of Roman Catholics. It then
follows, of course, that the Lord Jesus was wrong in
holding men accountable to those very Scriptures (Matthew
22:29-33). The fact that the Jews did know and were
accountable is indisputable.
2) The believing Jew
knew because of an infallible Magisterium. Again, this has
been offered as a response, but it doesn't work. First, if this
is so, when did the Jewish Magisterium become fallible? Second,
the Jewish Magisterium did not accept the Apocryphal books as
Scripture---so why does Rome? Third, where does the New Testament
ever acknowledge the existence of this infallible source? [For
more on this, see our response
to David Palm on tradition].
3) The believing Jew
could only know by supernatural revelation. Same objections
apply here as in #1.
We ask all who read these
words to take the time to read the 119th Psalm, and then ask
yourself a question: how could the Psalmist utter these words at least
1000 years before any man sat upon a throne in Rome and claimed
to be the Vicar of Christ on earth?
In short, a Christian TODAY cannot know
Scripture is inspired unless the Catholic Church tells him so.
There is no other way to prove the Bible is inspired and
therefore inerrant and completely trustworthy. To attack the
Catholic Church (and her beliefs) is to automatically sabotage
the authority and infallibility of the Bible.
The final and fateful
step is then made: the Bible is inspired only because Rome tells
you it is. The act of subjugating Scripture to the authority of
Rome is complete. And yet, as we have seen, the arguments leading
up to this amazing and anti-biblical conclusion do not hold up to
scrutiny. They are flawed at every step. Yet, sadly, many
continue to fall for this deception, rather than trusting in the