Vatican Pushes for ‘Reunited Church’

Vatican Pushes for ‘Reunited Church’

The Catholic Church is trying to focus Christians on the bishop of Rome.

Pope Francis has laid a lot of groundwork for the reunion of Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant denominations. On June 13, the Vatican published a 130-page study containing suggestions from Orthodox and Protestant communities on how the “bishop of Rome” should lead a “reunited church.”

The Bishop of Rome: Primacy and Synodality in Ecumenical Dialogue and Responses to the Encyclical Ut Unum Sint outlines the entire debate on papal primacy.

The Bishop of Rome is a follow-up text to Pope John Paul ii’s 1995 ecumenical That They May All Be One. It proposes that “a clearer distinction be made between the different responsibilities of the pope, especially between his ministry as head of the Catholic Church and his ministry of unity among all Christians, or more specifically between his patriarchal ministry in the Latin Church and his primatial ministry in the communion of churches.” In other words, “a reconciled Christianity” may have to accept a system were the bishop of Rome delegates more authority to regional leadership.

In response to questions from journalists about his document, Cardinal Mario Grech acknowledged that different Christian churches have different ways of conceiving “synodality.” So debates about papal primacy will undoubtedly continue. Yet the one point that Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches seem to agree on is that early Christianity “was organized on major apostolic sees occupying a specific order, the see of Rome being the first in the hierarchy.”

For centuries, Christians have taken it for granted that the Apostle Peter was the first bishop of Rome. And since Jesus Christ made Peter the chief apostle (Matthew 16:18), many Christians have viewed Rome as having some sort of primacy above other cities. Yet the Bible never mentions Peter performing a work in Rome, and it follows the apostle’s travels pretty closely until about a.d. 52. So why did early Christians believe “the see of Rome” came first in a hierarchy of apostolic sees?

Many Christians are now saying the pope needs to lead a reunited church, so it is of utmost importance that you understand who the first bishop of Rome was.

The earliest historical documents we have placing Peter in Rome are the Acts of Peter and the Ascension of Isaiah, two second-century gnostic texts about a showdown between the Apostle Peter and Simon Magus. These texts allege that Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome during the latter part of the reign of Emperor Nero (a.d. 54–68), but they do not claim that Peter served as the bishop of Rome before his crucifixion. Roman historians like Hippolytus of Rome (a.d. 170–235) and Origen of Alexandria (a.d. 185–253) reaffirmed that Peter was crucified by Nero in Rome with his head downward, yet also make no claim that the Apostle Peter served as the bishop of Rome.

Clement of Alexandria (a.d. 150-215) noted that “Peter had preached the Word publicly at Rome,” yet Lucius Caecilius Firmianus (a.d. 250–325) specifies that “while Nero reigned, the Apostle Peter came to Rome.” Since Nero didn’t become emperor until a.d. 54, this indicates Peter was in Rome for a relatively short period before his death. He came on a specific mission to oppose the counterfeit Christianity of Simon Magus, not make Rome his new headquarters.

The first person on record to claim Peter served as bishop of Rome was Jerome of Stridon (a.d. 342–420). He wrote that Peter went to Rome in a.d. 42 and opposed Simon Magus for 25 years before he was crucified. This contradicts earlier records, so the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge concludes: “The 25 years’ episcopate of Peter at Rome is evidently due to the statement of Justin Martyr regarding the labors of Simon Magus at Rome …, combined with the tradition of Peter’s residency in the same city, especially as it would seem that the Roman Church had been formed early in the reign of Claudius through the indirect influence of the Petrine Christianity of Palestine. All this giving rise to the belief that Peter himself came to Rome early in the reign of Claudius, the combination of it with the tradition of his martyrdom toward the close of Nero’s reign evidently giving rise to the legend of his 25 years’ residence in Rome.”

It was Simon Magus who ruled from Rome for 25 years. Peter came to Rome to oppose Simon Magus in the reign of Nero and was crucified. He never made Rome the new headquarters of the Church. Some sources say he ordained a man named Linus (mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21) to lead the Roman congregation, but Peter was succeeded as chief apostle by the Apostle John. John was the only living eyewitness to the transfiguration of Jesus (Matthew 17:1-11; 2 Peter 1:16). Later Christians confused Simon Peter with Simon Magus and claimed Christians had to follow whoever was bishop of Rome.

Orthodox Christians rebelled against the pope during the Great Schism, and Protestants rebelled during the Protestant Reformation. But now Christians around the world are looking to form a “reunited church” around a man whose only claim to ecclesiastical authority rests on the 25-year residency of Simon Magus in Rome. Most people have never examined this history.

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry writes in his book The True History of God’s True Church:

Simon Magus became a confusing counterfeit of the Apostle Simon Peter whom Christ put in charge of the Church He founded (Matthew 16:16-19; Mark 3:16). The Bible makes clear that Christ placed Peter in the office of highest authority within His Church. This is the form of governmental organization God uses. … Satan used Simon Magus to set up a counterfeit version of that governmental structure within his false church. Simon Magus is the so-called Simon Peter of the Catholic Church.

Prophecies in Isaiah 47 describe a church called “the lady of kingdoms” that has power over many nations. Yet this church has protesting daughter churches that have split away. The Prophet Isaiah states that these protesting daughters will be brought back under their mother’s control. So the indication is that many Orthodox and Protestant denominations will reunite with the Catholic Church and accept the pope’s authority. This makes it all the more important for Bible-believing Christians to prove for themselves whether the real Apostle Peter established the city of Rome as the eternal headquarters of a universal church.

Read The True History of God’s True Church for more information on the first-century apostasy that occurred in Christianity.