By Paul Smithson
“Catholic or Protestant…is one more right than the other?” In answering this question let’s begin by reminding ourselves that the Lord’s church was in existence before the emergence of either Catholic or Protestant denominations (Acts 2:47). The early Christians followed God’s pattern that was given through the teaching of His apostles. This New Testament teaching was their only guide for worship, rule of faith, unity, organization, and name. It was their only creed and there were no denominations, Catholic or Protestant.
During this time God warned that “some shall depart from the faith” (1Tim.4:1), and that they would turn away from the truth (2Tim. 4:4). This departure was gradual but by 150 AD history shows noticeable changes in the way local churches were governed. Many had turned from God’s New Testament pattern of elders overseeing a local congregation of which they were members (Acts 20:28), to the practice of “bishops” over seeing several congregations within a district or diocese.
Then came the first human creed in AD 325 written by leading bishops, known today as the Nicene Creed. By doing this they had assumed the authority to make and bind religious laws, a prerogative belonging only to the Lord. Anyone who would not consent to this creed was branded as a “heretic.”
In 606 AD Boniface III took the title of universal bishop (pope). This was the beginning of the Catholic or Universal Church. Many were now looking to a mere man as the head of the church. Not even among apostles was there one who dared to claim such power; for there is but one head of the church, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:22-23; cf. Acts 10:25-26).
As time went on other human practices and doctrines sprang up which the Lord had warned against (see 1Tim. 4:1-3). Gradually opposition arose against Catholic church and its persecutions of “heretics” that lead to the religious Reformation of the 16th century. Men like Martin Luther began to “protest” against the Catholic Church. Thus they became know as Protestants. Men like John Calvin began to defend Protestantism. It must be remembered, however, that their purpose was to reform the existing Catholic Church and not to restore the original New Testament church. The result of these and other men’s efforts was the establishment of denominations around men’s names and doctrines. Even today we see one denomination spring from another, failing to return to the New Testament pattern alone.
Much division exist today as seen by existence numerous denominations both Catholic or Protestant. However, there can be unity without being a part of any denomination if we will simply believe and obey the teaching of the New Testament as those in the first century did (Acts 2:47; Eph. 4:4-6; Gal. 1:6-10). Then we can be Christians and only Christians without being either Catholic or Protestant.