Essentially every pagan religion, including ancient Babylon, has had priests who offered sacrifices to the gods. These were a counterfeit of the Old Testament sacrificial system in which priests offered sacrifices that were a “shadow” of the one great Sacrifice Jesus would offer on the Cross. The book of Hebrews makes it very clear that the Old Testament shadow was done away with and Jesus is now our High Priest, ministering for us in heaven. [1] There is no evidence in the book of Hebrews or anywhere else in the New Testament that the Christian Church would have a special class of priests. No one else can fulfill that role here on earth: "there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1Timothy 2:5). All believers are "priests"[2] in the sense that they minister to those around them, directing their attention to Jesus who died for their sins.

But in the Catholic system the Lord’s supper or communion is not just a memorial or commemoration of Christ’s sacrifice—it is actually a renewal of His sacrifice, and a sacrifice requires a priest. The priest supposedly “creates his Creator” on the sacrificial altar and then feed His real flesh and blood (which has been “transubstantiated” into the appearance of bread and wine) to the worshipers, who are thereby partaking of salvation.

The Catholic encyclopedia explains, “Jesus Christ in a wonderfully condescending manner responds to the natural craving of the human heart after a food which nourishes unto immortality, a craving expressed in many pagan religions, by dispensing to mankind His own flesh and blood. All that is beautiful, all that is true in the [pagan] religions of nature, Christianity has appropriated to itself.” “The church intends the Mass to be regarded as a ‘true and proper sacrifice,’ and will not tolerate the idea that the sacrifice is identical with Holy Communion [the Protestant communion service]. That is the sense of a clause from the Council of Trent (Sess. XXII, can. 1): ‘If any one saith that in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God; or, that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat; let him be anathema.”[3]

The repudiation of the nearly incomprehensible arguments[4] which are used to “prove” the true sacrificial nature of the mass is beyond the scope of this chapter. The Bible clearly teaches that the sacrifice on the cross was a one-time event that is effective for all sins and for all time. “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all…He…offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (Hebrews 10: 10, 12). Suffice to say that the system of priests who hear confession, dispense forgiveness and make the performing of a false sacrifice the center of worship has been one of the most potent means of obscuring Jesus from the minds and hearts of His people.

The Catholic Church insists that the priests (as well as Bishops, monks, nuns, and even deacons) must be celibate. It is admitted that this was not a requirement in the apostolic church—“We do not find in the New Testament any indication of celibacy being made compulsory either upon the Apostles or those whom they ordained.”[5] Although the apostle Paul felt that being single was an effective way for those who had this calling to focus their attention on serving the Lord,[6] he clearly stated that “the bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife.”[7] The fact that Peter and other apostles were married[8] is another example which shows that Catholic traditions such as celibacy of the priesthood do not have their foundation in apostolic teaching.[9]

Paul clearly warned, “Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons...forbidding to marry” (1 Timothy 4:1-3). The news is full of shameful and disgusting revelations of gross immorality, homosexuality and child abuse among priests all over the world, as well as the efforts by the church to cover up and hide the extent of the crimes. This is not so much an indictment of the priests and leaders involved as it is of the Babylon system they have inherited.

The head of the priesthood is the pope, who, through “apostolic succession” is supposed to have inherited authority over the universal church from the unbroken chain of popes who began with the apostle Peter. Peter himself supposedly received this universal authority after his confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” when Jesus responded, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, (Greek Petros) and on this rock (Greek petra) I will build My church” (Matthew 16:16-18). This single text is insufficient evidence for such a critical doctrine, especially since the Greek words in the text, Petros and petra, are not the same, which makes it doubtful that Jesus intended to say that He was building His church on Peter. Peter never claimed for himself universal authority, and in fact he said that all Christians are “living stones being built up a spiritual house” and that “Jesus Christ…has become the chief cornerstone” (1 Peter 2:4-9). Paul maintains that all the apostles and prophets are the foundation, not just Peter—“The household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19,20). Rather than singling out Peter, Paul mentioned “James, Cephas [Peter] and John, who seemed to be pillars” (Galatians 2:9).

In the first “universal council” in Jerusalem, it was James, not Peter, who was the obvious leader.[11] Paul, rather than deferring to an infallible pope, rebuked Peter for his errors.[12] The “unbroken succession” itself is highly suspect since there were conflicting claims by rival popes, not to mention the gross immorality and criminal behavior of some of the popes who constitute links in the chain.[13] The insistence on the universal authority of the pope has been and continues to be one of the most divisive issues in Christendom.[14] Although individual popes have been great moral leaders, this does not change the fact that they preside over a fatally flawed system.

In the final analysis, the problem with the Catholic system of priests and the pope is that the attention is on their work instead of on the work of Christ. In the Old Testament era the priests were a necessary symbol of the Messiah who was to come. But now that the symbol has become a reality in Christ, the effort to symbolize Him with human priests is only a distraction from the true source of our salvation.

Continue to next section: SALVATION BY SACRAMENTS

[1] See Hebrews 7:11-13, 8:1-6, 13.

[2] “But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2;9, See also Revelation 1:6, 5:10).

[3] Joseph Pohle, "Eucharist," The Catholic Encyclopedia (accessed Sept 19, 2014). Joseph Pohle, "Sacrifice of the Mass," The Catholic Encyclopedia (accessed Sept. 18, 2014).

[4] The Catholic Encyclopedia can be researched on-line. The article “Sacrifice of the Mass” is full of the obtuse arguments which are used to try to rationalize the illogical nature of the mass.

[5] Herbert Thurston, "Celibacy of the Clergy." The Catholic Encyclopedia (accessed Sept. 19, 2014).

[6] See 1 Corinthians 7.

[7] 1 Timothy 3:2, 11-13.

[8] “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord and Cephas [Peter]?” (1 Corinthians 9:5).

[9] The Catholic Encyclopedia in the article “Celibacy of the Clergy” quoted above admits that the decision to marry was a matter of personal choice for hundreds of years. “This freedom of choice seems to have lasted during the whole of what we may call, with Vacandard, the first period of the Church's legislation, i.e. down to about the time of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea.” However, celibacy is justified with human logic such as this example, “From the earliest period, the church was personified and conceived of by her disciples as the Virgin Bride and as the pure Body of Christ, or again as the Virgin Mother (parthenos meter), and it was plainly fitting that this virgin church should be served by a virgin priesthood…The conviction that virginity possesses a higher sanctity and clearer spiritual intuitions, seems to be an instinct planted deep in the heart of man.”

[11] Acts 15:6-21. After Paul, Peter and others gave their testimonies, James was the one who made the pronouncement that was recorded and sent to all the churches.

[12] Galatians 2:11-14.

[13] Just one of many examples is Benedict IX. The Catholic encyclopedia calls him "a disgrace to the Chair of Peter." The first pope said to have been primarily homosexual, he was said to have held orgies in the Lateran palace. He was also accused by Bishop Benno of Piacenza of 'many vile adulteries and murders.' Pope Victor III, in his third book of Dialogues, referred to 'his rapes, murders, and other unspeakable acts. His life as a pope wa so vile, so foul, so execrable, that I shudder to think of it" Wikipedia contributors, "Pope Benedict IX," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, (accessed Sept 24, 2014).

[14] The most important issue in the great schism between the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches in 1054 (which still divides them today) was papal authority.