Posts Tagged ‘Ecclesiology’
Note: portions of this article have been edited to more accurately reflect portions of Petrus Romanus in response to comments by one of the authors, Cris Putnam concerning the original version of the article.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:3–5)
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Peter 2:1–2)
On March 13, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio Of Buenos Aires was elected as the newest pope of the Roman Catholic Church in the wake of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI on February 23. Jorge Bergoglio is the first Latin American pope, the first Jesuit pope, and the first pope to take the name “Francis.” However, will Pope Francis be history’s last pope?
That this pope likely will be the last one is the message of Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here, a 2012 book by Thomas Horn and Cris Putnam. Because Petrus Romanus suggests that the pope after Benedict XVI will be history’s final pope, the book has received a lot of attention over the past year, and especially since Pope Benedict XVI’s resignation. Now the book has received yet another significant boost with the selection of Cardinal Bergoglio.
Petrus Romanus focuses on an obscure prophecy by a 12th century Catholic bishop, St. Malachy (1094-1148), concerning a list of the last 112 popes who would reign from his day until the end of the present age. The Catholic Answers website provides the following information concerning Malachy’s prophecy:
St. Malachy was an Irish bishop who lived in the 12th century. By far the more famous of his prophecies concerns the sequence of popes.
The prophecy consist [sic] of 112 short Latin descriptions of future popes; the prophecies were discovered in 1590 and attributed to Malachy. Each description indicates one identifying trait for each future pope, beginning with Celestine II, who was elected in 1130. In some instances, the descriptions hit home in an uncanny way; they have led to centuries of speculation that the prophecy might be a real one.
For instance, the description of the future John XXII (1316-1334) is “de sutore osseo“–”from the bony shoemaker.” This pope was the son of a shoemaker, and his family name was “Ossa,” which means bone. In another example, “lilium et rosa” was the phrase used to describe the pope who would be Urban VIII (1623-1644), whose family coat-of-arms was covered with “lilies and roses.”1
In Petrus Romanus Horn & Putnam further explain the prophecy as it relates to the pope who will follow Benedict XVI, and thus be the 112th pope:
As the legend goes, Malachy experienced what is today considered a famous vision commonly called “The Prophecy of the Popes.” The prophecy is a list of Latin verses predicting each of the Roman Catholic popes from Pope Celestine II to the final pope, “Peter the Roman,” whose reign would end in the destruction of Rome. According to this ancient prophecy, the very next pope (following Benedict XVI) will be the final pontiff, Petrus Romanus or Peter the Roman. The final segment of the prophecy reads:
In persecutione extrema S. R. E. sedebit Petrus Romanus, qui pascet oves in multis tribulationibus: quibus transactis civitas septicollis deruetur et judex tremendus judicabit populum. Finis.
Which is rendered: In the extreme persecution of the Holy Roman Church, there will sit Peter the Roman, who will nourish the sheep in many tribulations; when they are finished, the City of Seven Hills will be destroyed, and the dreadful judge will judge his people. The End. 2
Horn & Putnam have captured the imaginations of many Christians who, through their work, are being seduced by the possibility of insight into future events through the prophecies of a 12th century Catholic monk. And just as when Jonathan Cahn caught the attention of WND (formerly World Net Daily) and its founder and CEO Joseph Farah with The Harbinger, Farah’s team is once again putting a lot of effort into getting another very troubling story involving prophecy out to its large subscriber base. The following is from a WND Exclusive on March 14:
An author who predicted Pope Benedict XVI would be the first pontiff in nearly 600 years to resign believes the election today of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Roman Catholic pontiff lines up with a medieval prophecy that would make him the “final pope” before the End Times.
Tom Horn, co-author with Cris Putman of the book “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here,” told WND today Bergoglio’s selection was a “fantastic fulfillment of prophecy.”
His book examines St. Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes,” said to be based on a prophetic vision of the 112 popes following Pope Celestine II, who died in 1144.
Malachy’s prophecies, first published in 1595, culminate with the “final pope,” “Petrus Romanus,” or “Peter the Roman,” whose reign ends with the destruction of Rome and the judgment of Christ.
Horn has said a pope of Italian descent would fulfill the prophecy, noting Bergoglio is the son of Italian parents and a Jesuit. 3
On February 11, an article by Jerome Corsi on the WND website is obviously an effort to get this story out and to establish Tom Horn’s credibility and authority on this matter:
Although a Roman Catholic pope had not stepped down in nearly 600 years, the startling resignation of Pope Benedict XVI was predicted by the co-authors of a book published last spring about a medieval prophecy that the next pontiff will be the last.
In “Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope is Here,” co-authors Tom Horn and Cris Putnam examine St. Malachy’s “Prophecy of the Popes,” said to be based on his prophetic vision of the next 112 popes, beginning with Pope Celestine II, who died in 1144. Malachy presented a description of each pope, culminating with the “final pope,” “Peter the Roman,” whose reign would end with the destruction of Rome and judgment.
Horn explained to WND in an interview today that his conclusion [that] Benedict would resign rather than die in the papacy was based not only on St. Malachy but also on a host of historical and current information. “We took ‘The Prophecy of the Popes,’ we took what was happening in Italian media, and we determined, based on a great deal of information, that Pope Benedict would likely step down, citing health reasons, in 2012 or 2013,” he said. 4
All of this is so problematic on so many levels, it would take several articles to deal with it adequately, so for the sake of relative brevity I’ll just discuss a few of the major issues.
NOTE: This article is not intended to be anything close to full-fledged review of Petrus Romanus. Horn and Putnam have done an enormous amount of very good research and accumulated compelling evidence concerning the convergence of many historical elements in setting the stage for history’s final drama leading to the return of Christ. They accurately deal with significant errors within the Roman Catholic church, especially as they undergird the power of the papacy. They also lay out a strong argument for how powerful pagan influences have shaped much of world history, including that of the United States. However, the problem is that this good work is entangled with the parts of the book that are quite questionable. In addition, a large portion of the beginning of the book, as well as the end of the book, specifically focuses on the question of the final pope as it relates to Malachy’s prophecy of the popes and what they believe is corroborating evidence. This article only focuses on concerns related to the weight the book gives to the idea that extra-biblical prophecy is being fulfilled in the election of the current pope as being history’s final one, Peter the Roman—who, according to the subtitle of the book, “is here.”
The source of the “prophecy”
It is difficult to imagine why Horn and Putnam, who are considered evangelicals, would lend so much credibility to Malachy’s prophecy. Their work does not simply explore the question of whether Malachy may have accurately predicted all future popes. Rather the point of Petrus Romanus is to demonstrate that his prophecy is accurate, meaning they obviously think it is a genuine prophecy to be accepted as true. So, then the question is, Was Malachy actually a prophet of God—or was he at least inspired by God to give this list of popes to the world?
First of all, it is important to understand just who Malachy was. The following are excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia (available online at NewAdvent.org):
St. Malachy, whose family name was O’Morgair, was born in Armagh in 1094. St. Bernard describes him as of noble birth.
He was baptized Maelmhaedhoc (a name which has been Latinized as Malachy) and was trained under Imhar O’Hagan, subsequently Abbot of Armagh. After a long course of studies he was ordained priest by St. Cellach (Celsus) in 1119. . . He was then chosen Abbot of Bangor, in 1123. A year later, he was consecrated Bishop of Connor, and, in 1132, he was promoted to the primacy of Armagh.
In 1127 he paid a second visit to Lismore and acted for a time as confessor to Cormac MacCarthy, Prince of Desmond. . . . On the death of St. Celsus (who was buried at Lismore in 1129), St. Malachy was appointed Archbishop of Armagh, 1132, which dignity he accepted with great reluctance.
During three years at Armagh, as St. Bernard writes, St. Malachy restored the discipline of the Church, grown lax during the intruded rule of a series of lay-abbots, and had the Roman Liturgy adopted.
Early in 1139 he journeyed to Rome, via Scotland, England, and France, visiting St. Bernard at Clairvaux. He petitioned Pope Innocent for palliums for the Sees of Armagh and Cashel, and was appointed legate for Ireland. On his return visit to Clairvaux he obtained five monks for a foundation in Ireland, under Christian, an Irishman, as superior: thus arose the great Abbey of Mellifont in 1142. St. Malachy set out on a second journey to Rome in 1148, but on arriving at Clairvaux he fell sick, and died in the arms of St. Bernard, on 2 November.
Numerous miracles are recorded of him, and he was also endowed with the gift of prophecy. St. Malachy was canonized by Pope Clement (III), on 6 July, 1199, and his feast is celebrated on 3 November, in order not to clash with the Feast of All Souls. 5
The point of including all of this rather detailed biographical information is to show that Malachy was a thoroughly Roman Catholic bishop of the medieval period. This means that the heretical theology and pagan practices that shaped the Church of Rome in the centuries leading up to and actually precipitated the Reformation were undoubtedly an integral part of Malachy’s life. That being the case, should Malachy really be regarded as a prophet of God by evangelicals (when this is even questioned by some Catholic theologians)? Furthermore, if he was not a prophet of God yet had mystical experiences and claimed to have visions of the future, does that not rather make him a false prophet by definition? Again, how can two evangelical authors appeal to such a person for support—and why would evangelicals among their readership be willing to accept their conclusions concerning Malachy?
In Petrus Romanus Horn and Putnam seem to uncritically accept that God was also actively working in and through one of Malachy’s mentors, specifically as a performer of at least two miracles (which, it should be noted, is precisely the number of confirmed miracles required for someone to be considered for canonization as a saint by the Roman Catholic Church):
Eventually Malachy headed to Lismore to revise and sharpen his knowledge of the canon under the teaching and advice of well-known scholar Bishop Malchus. (St. Bernard writes that Bishop Malchus was “an old man, full of days and virtues, and the wisdom of God was in him.” He goes on to further explain that the bishop was later acknowledged as performing two miracles, one wherein he healed a young boy of a mental disorder who later became his porter, and another wherein “when the saint put his fingers into his ears on either side he perceived that two things like little pigs came out of them.” These distinctions of Bishop Malchus’ reputation are of importance to St. Bernard, “that it may be known to all what sort of preceptor Malachy had in the knowledge of holy things.” Needless to say, Malachy worked and studied with associates whose names circulated within the Church as significant.) 6
Such acceptance of notoriously inaccurate and problematic medieval accounts of Roman Catholic miracle workers, mystics and prophets only serves to underscore concerns that biblical discernment is fast disappearing even among some more theologically conservative Christians. “Two things like little pigs came out?” Is it reasonable to believe that these bishops of the medieval Roman Catholic Church (who held to such unbiblical doctrines and practices as they did) were genuinely serving the God of the Bible and being used by Him in this way? And is it reasonable to believe that the Lord would have been involved with these things when they would have only served to validate the heresies these men believed, practiced and taught?
Furthermore, the authors don’t even acknowledge the possibility that these may be entirely false reports—or worse. If these reports are actually true, it must also be considered that there may have been supernatural forces at work that were not of God. Undoubtedly many false prophets are simply deceivers. However, others may be acting under the demonic influence of those beings who have the desire and ability to influence the outcome of events such that these prophets are able to accurately “predict” the future. Of course, because only God in His omniscience can know and reveal the future, false prophets (even those under demonic influence) are very susceptible to errors in their predictions—which is obviously one reason they can actually be caught and identified as false prophets.
Unfortunately, Horn’s and Putnam’s failure to at least consider the possibility of them being false prophets highlights a very real problem that plagues an increasingly large segment of Christianity. It seems to be broadly assumed and often taken for granted that if something inexplicable and apparently supernatural takes place in almost any sort of Christian religious setting, then it must be from God.
However, such thinking fails to recognize the reality of false signs and wonders with the potential to deceive even the elect, as Jesus warned in Matthew 24:
“For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.”(Matt. 24:24)
Likewise, the Apostle John also warned his readers:
“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world.” (1 John 4:1
Although unbelievers are easily deceived by false teachers and prophets in the world at large, this is not as much of a problem for believers who can fairly readily recognize the errors in that realm. The greater danger for believers is found in the Apostle Peter’s words when he clearly warned that deception would arise from within the church:
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Peter 2:1–2)
In light of these warnings, to rely on Malachy as a legitimate source of prophecy requires so many questionable and misguided presuppositions that any conclusions that they are from God can never be more than outright speculation. Yet, there is no doubt, and it requires no speculation to recognize that Malachy was most certainly a false prophet during a time when false prophets flourished within Christendom. Unfortunately, the situation today is no better—and arguably it has become worse.
The evidence for the “prophecy”
Another significant problem with Malachy’s prophecies is that there are serious doubts about the authenticity of the documents in which they appear. There is important and compelling evidence (which is widely accepted) that strongly points to the fact that these documents were actually forgeries created in the 16th century.
The Catholic Answers website, which states that its purpose is “to defend and explain the faith,” provides the following as part of an answer to a question from a reader about the possibility that Malachy’s prophecy may indicate that we are living in the end times:
Malachy’s prophecy has been cast into doubt by the fact that the descriptions become vague from the 16th century on–about the time the prophecy was “discovered” in the Roman Archives. But there have been a few good matches in modern times. The phrase “pastor et nauta,” meaning “shepherd and sailor,” was attributed to John XXIII. This pope hailed from Venice, historically a city of sailors, and on the day he took office he indicated the goal of his pontificate was to be “a good shepherd.”
There have been many more misses, though. Describing the popes to follow John XXIII are the phrases “flower of flowers” (Paul VI), “from a half-moon” (John Paul I), and “from the toil of the sun” (John Paul II), none of which is an obvious connection. After our current pope there are only two left in Malachy’s prophecy, “the glory of the olive” and “Peter the Roman.” The latter will supposedly lead the Church through many tribulations, concluding with the last judgment.
Is “Malachy’s” prophecy legitimate? Probably not. The consensus among modern scholars is that it is a 16th-century forgery created for partisan political reasons. 1
In Petrus Romanus Horn and Putnam discuss the forgery issue in great detail and present convincing evidence that the original document had likely been altered:
The bad news is that part of the prophecy may be a forgery which was fabricated in the late sixteenth century. We say forgery meaning that over half of the prophecies, the first seventy or so predictions, could be vaticinia ex eventu (prophecy from the event). It seems likely that someone irrevocably altered the original medieval document and the original is either hidden away or lost to history. According to Vatican insiders, there is ample evidence that the original twelfth-century manuscript was discovered in 1556 by a Vatican librarian. Even so, the first known publication of the “Malachy Prophecy of the Popes” was in Arnold de Wion’s massive eighteen-hundred-page volume entitled Lignum Vitae (Tree of Life), which was published in 1595.That text will be presented and examined below. Even though we have good reason to believe a much older document is still visible, we must accept that the earliest instance of the prophecy surfaced nearly four hundred years after its alleged origin in 1139. Despite the legend which pleads it was locked away in a musty Vatican vault those four hundred years, the skeptics still have valid points. 8
The forgery question has to do with only about the first half of the list. However, according to Horn and Putnam, it is the second half of the list which deals with the next 400 years of popes after the forged documents that is significant. They argue that because of what they suggest are uncanny fulfillments, these prophecies, whether they come from Malachy or Nostradamus or someone else, they are still genuine prophecies from a true prophet. They continue the preceding section in the book:
Even so, it very well could be the work of Saint Malachy coarsely corrupted by a forger. Of course, this would fall neatly in line with the Roman Catholic practice demonstrated by the Donation of Constantine and Pseudo–Isidorian Decretals. Alternatively, some have suggested it was partially the work of Nostradamus cleverly disguised to protect his identity. While the identity of the actual prophet remains unclear, the author was a prophet whether he knew or not.
The exciting news is that the Prophecy of the Popes, although tainted, is still a genuine prophecy. Despite the superficial insincerity detectable in the first section of “prophecies,” the post publication predictions show astonishing fulfillments. We have no critical analysis to explain away the sometimes jaw-dropping, post-1595 fulfillments. Indeed, we are currently at 111 out of 112 and believers argue they seem to have increased in precision over time. 9
How is this “exciting news,” and how is it “still a genuine prophecy?” If there really are so many “sometimes jaw-dropping” fulfillments, why would there be so much skepticism among scholars, even within the Roman Catholic Church (given that the Church has historically accepted such dreams, visions and prophecies)?
An alternate theory, which the authors seem to accept as possible, is that even if there is no genuine original first half, the second half was written by Nostradamus or someone else who was a genuine prophet. It is difficult to comprehend the logic at work as Horn and Putnam go on to explain that their conclusions depend heavily on the scholarship of John Hogue in his book The Last Pope:
In recent history, the most popular and exhaustive handling of the Prophecy of the Popes is arguably the book, The Last Pope, by author and self-proclaimed “prophet” John Hogue. Hogue is a regular guest on the Coast to Coast radio show with a pretty impressive bio, and we have availed ourselves of his scholarship. While his own predictions do not typically fare so well, he is a well-respected figure in Nostradamus studies. 10
So, although the authors rely on Hogue for support, he is, by their own admission, a false prophet who is highly regarded as an “expert” on another false prophet, Nostradamus. (And the fact that Hogue is a regular guest on Coast to Coast is not exactly a positive since that radio program showcases some of the most outlandish personalities and topics of any program in the nation.) Furthermore, the “Nostradamus” section of Hogue’s website makes it clear that he, too, fully believes the prophecies of Nostradamus are genuine, just as much as Malachy’s are.
It would seem that Horn and Putnam could hardly have found a more unreliable and biased source of information pertaining to this particular issue. However, it appears that the authors view prophets and prophecy the same way Hogue does, namely that genuine prophets aren’t necessarily 100% accurate.
Hogue follows the conventional theory dividing the prophecy at Wion’s 1595 publication: “He left us a list of 35 mottos, numbered 77 through 111 that, unlike the previous 76, are not 100 percent accurate; however, the average of success makes their author one of the most astounding prophets in history.”11
The biblical view would not be that the prophecies’ author was one of the most astounding prophets in history, but rather that he was a false prophet with an astounding accuracy rate. This is consistent with the prevailing view in the Charismatic movement that prophets of the present age do not need to be 100% accurate to be genuine prophets of God.
There are two significant problems with this view because it contradicts both the Old Testament and New Testament standards for prophecies and prophets. The first problem is that the OT standard is 100% accuracy and failure to be completely accurate is an identifying characteristic of a false prophet. The second problem is that it essentially eliminates “false prophet” as an objective category since someone could have multiple false prophecies and still be considered a genuine prophet of God. Yet, Peter makes it clear that false prophets will be a problem faced by the church in this age, which means they must be identified—but how?
“But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2 Peter 2:1–2)
Horn and Putnam apparently believe that the entire original Prophecy of the Popes did exist, and although tainted (by forged alterations), is still a genuine prophecy. They appeal to book written by a Jesuit mystic:
Written by René Thibaut (1883–1952), a Belgian Jesuit, the book is a meticulous reading of the prophecy which comes to completely different conclusions than his skeptical predecessors. Adopting the methodology of a mystic as well as a scholar, he makes a compelling case that the Prophecy of the Popes is a real supernatural prophecy. [1. Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 727-730).]
Therefore, even though the first half of the list has been altered, the entire original document, if written by the same person, may have also been a record of genuine prophecies because of what they maintain are fulfillments of the prophecies in the second half. The statement about Thibaut being a mystic is also troubling. Horn and Putnam apparently view this favorably and see it as a helpful factor in his arriving at correct conclusions.
As an example of the genuine part of the prophecy, they present an argument used by Thibaut that a prophecy concerning Pius VI, the 96th pope “transparently” contains an anagram of his name:
While he is reluctant to authenticate the legend, he refers to the author as Pseudo-Malachy, believing him to be Irish. He bases this on the stylistic use of numbers and word plays which form many acrostics and anagrams. Commenting on the style, he observes, “Note that this way of dividing the words to sort various meanings is a method dear to the ancient Irish.” A simple example of an anagram is seen in the Latin text “Peregrinus apostolicus” which was the prophecy for the ninety-sixth pope on the list, Pius VI. The anagram not only reveals the papal name, it does it twice: PeregIinUS aPostolIcUS. That’s right! The name “Pius” is rather transparently embedded in the original Latin text twice! 12
At points it becomes rather difficult to take the authors seriously as they appear to be willing to grasp at virtually anything for support no matter how far-fetched it seems. In this case, they rely on Thibeau’s cryptographic analysis of the supposed prophetic text. Much could be said about just this issue when discussing just the matter of an encryption key alone.
The Mayan calendar ends in 2012 with the return of their flying dragon god Kulkulkan.
The Aztec calendar ends in 2012 and their flying dragon god Quetzalcoatl returns.
The Cherokee Indian calendar ends in the year 2012 and their flying rattlesnake god returns. The “Cherokee Rattlesnake Prophecies,” also known as the “Chickamaugan Prophecy” or the “Cherokee Star Constellation Prophecies,” are part of a series of apocalyptic prophecies made by members of the Cherokee tribe during 1811–1812. Like the Maya, the Cherokee calendar ends mysteriously in the year 2012 when astronomical phenomena related to Jupiter, Venus, Orion, and Pleiades cause the “powers” of the star systems to “awaken.”
According to ancient Mayan inscriptions, in 2012, the Mayan underworld god Bolon Yokte Ku also returns.
The Hindu Kali Yuga calendar ends in the year 2012 at the conclusion of the age of “the male demon.” 13
After this series of pagan prophecies, the authors then cite Jonathan Edwards:
Over two hundred sixty years ago, the leader of the first Great Awakening in America, Jonathan Edwards, tied the arrival of the Antichrist and Great Tribulation period to the timeframe 2012. 14
Then they refer to William J. Reid, a 19th century Presbyterian minister:
One hundred thirty years after that, in 1878, Reverend William J. Reid did the same, writing in his “Lectures on the Revelation” concerning the papal system: “…we are prepared to answer the question, When will the Papal system come to an end? [It] will be destroyed in the year 2012.” 15
The obvious question this raises is, How is this minister’s prophecy any different from the utterly failed prophecies of Harold Camping concerning the Rapture taking place in 2012? Or how does it differ from Edward Whisnant’s predictions, which are set forth in his book 88 Reasons Why the Rapture Will Be in 1988?
But there is more. For additional support, Horn and Putnam also delve into the mystical writings of the Zohar, the most important text of Jewish Kabbalah:
In addition to interpreting Scripture, the “Vaera” section (volume 3, section 34) includes “The signs heralding Mashiach,” or “The coming of the Messiah.” The fascinating date for “his” appearance is set in the Zohar in late 2012! Given the rejection of Jesus by orthodox Jews as Messiah, Christians understand this “coming” would herald the unveiling of Antichrist in 2012.
J. R. Church of Prophecy in the News called our office a couple years back and led us through verses 476–483 of this part of the Zohar to point out what nobody in the 2012 research community had written before—that the time of Jacob’s trouble (the Great Tribulation, which some Catholic scholars say begins with the election of Petrus Romanus) will commence according to this ancient text in the year 2012 when the “kings of the earth” gather in Rome, possibly during a papal conclave, and are killed by fiery stones or missiles from the sky. 16
With all of the above prophecies, Horn and Putnam make exactly the same mistake made by Jonathan Cahn in a message when he said of parts of the text of the Zohar, “God just got in there.” 17 Perhaps the authors would also defend their conclusions on the same grounds as Jonathan Cahn, as he has countered that the Zohar is simply a “hostile witness.” However, this defense only works if the rabbis weren’t inspired by God. If God was directly involved, as Cahn says, this removes the significance of it being a “hostile witness.” In fact, the authors do cite Balaam’s prophecy concerning the Messiah, referring to it as a “hostile witness.” (This is discussed more in a note after the next paragraph.)
Even though angelic beings (elect or evil) might be able to make good guesses about the future, they are not omniscient and therefore cannot see or otherwise know the future with certainty. Another possibility is that demons manipulate events so as to give the impression of fulfilled prophecy. (Horn and Putnam acknowledge both of these near the beginning of chapter 2.) Therefore, prophecies cannot be considered reliable unless it is presumed that God is involved in some way—that somehow “God just got in there” and in some way inspired all those pagans to accurately prophesy. If this were not true they would be relying on false prophets, who are either making predictions on their own or are being influenced by demonic forces.The problem is that they have no objective way to determine which of the various possibilities is actually occurring, yet in the final analysis they choose in favor of God’s inspiration and genuine prophecies through multiple pagans and false prophets.
NOTE: Cris Putnam responded to the first version of this article, citing Balaam’s prophecy which he says concerns the star that guided the magi at Jesus’ birth to justify seeking support from the Zohar, pagan prophecies, Nostradamus, etc. (For what it’s worth, the star is probably Christ himself, but that doesn’t matter here.) However, there are at least a couple of problems with this defense. First, false prophets not only get things wrong, they also get things right by guessing or by demonic influence, which is how they can be deceptive. Second, Balaam’s attitude had changed by the time he gave the “star” prophecy and he knew that he was speaking exactly what the Lord had verbally given him to say. He wasn’t just inspired in some subjective, mystical way. And third, we only know that the Lord gave Balaam the words to say because the Holy Spirit has revealed this in Scripture. However, Horn and Putnam have no way of knowing whether God actually inspired any of the prophecies they use for support. They are guessing as much as a false prophet does when he tries to foretell the future. And they can only hope they are right just as the false prophet. (This is not to say Horn and Putnam are false prophets, but that their methodology is similar.)
And if all this were not enough to recognize the insurmountable problems with Petrus Romanus, the authors actually go so far as to appeal to “prophecies” made by a computer program known as the “Web Bot Project”:
Also of interest is the Web Bot Project, which was developed in the late 1990s for tracking and making stock market predictions. This technology crawls the Internet, much like a search engine does, searching for keywords and following “chatter” in order to tap into “the collective unconscious” of the global community for tipping points regarding past, current, and future buying patterns. In 2001, operators began noticing what looked like more than coincidences, and that the “bot” was taking on a mind of its own, accurately predicting more than just stock market predictions, including June of 2001 when the program predicted that a life-altering event would be felt worldwide and would take place within sixty to ninety days. On September 11, 2001, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center fell. The Web Bot also predicted the 2001 anthrax attack on Washington DC; the earthquake that produced the December 26, 2004, tsunami; Hurricane Katrina; and more. The Web Bot has now foretold global devastation for late December 2012. 18
Did God “just get in there,” too? 19. Beyond the absurdity of appealing to a computer program because of its supposed accurate “prophetic” abilities, Horn and Putnam seem to miss the obvious explanation for the program’s prediction of apocalyptic events in December 2012. The results provided by the Web Bot Project depend entirely upon tracking references on the internet to the end of the world. The end of the Mayan calender cycle on December 21, 2012, which was interpreted by many as marking doomsday, was discussed by countless writers on countless websites and media outlets around the world. How can it be actually suggested that this is a prediction by a computer program that was “taking on a mind of its own?” Any search engine would have produced the same results, as it was only monitoring things that had already happened. The fact that the Web Bot Project even needs to be discussed at all is probably sufficient commentary on the whole issue by itself.
The authors also spend a lot of time discussing the historicist view of the book Revelation, which holds that the last book of the Bible portrays how history will play out. This is in contrast to the futurist view which sees the entire fulfillment of Revelation in the future, after the rapture of the church. Although they argue for a “hybrid view” with elements of both the historicist and futurist views, they lend a lot of weight to the work of historicists, particularly a number of date calculations that point to 2012 as the endpoint and year of the culmination of these events. While not drawing firm conclusions based solely on these, they do believe all of these things seem to provide significant support for their overall thesis.
The fulfillment of the “prophecy”?
Unfortunately for Horn and Putnam, we are now well into 2013 and none of the supporting pagan prophecies were fulfilled in 2012. And yet, in spite of the overwhelming problem this presents, Horn remains unfazed as is clear from the quote in the WND story cited earlier where it is reported that he “believes the election today of Jorge Mario Bergoglio as the 266th Roman Catholic pontiff lines up with a medieval prophecy that would make him the ‘final pope’ before the End Times.” [1. http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/pope-francis-historys-final-pontiff/#jEkZ7zX5UAzSW7OM.99]
Although Horn now believes that Cardinal Bergoglio likely became the fulfillment of Malachy’s prophecy on March 14, when Petrus Romanus was released almost a year ago, he and his co-author spent a great deal of time trying to show how several other cardinals could fulfill the prophecy and become Peter the Roman. In fact, they provide a list of their top ten candidates based on their extensive research.
Besides Francis Arinze, Tarcisio Bertone, Peter Turkson, and Angelo Scola, we would round out our top ten candidates for the Final Pope in descending order with Cardinals Gianfranco Ravasi, Leonardo Sandri, Ennio Antonelli, Jean-Louis Tauran, Christoph Schönborn, and Marc Quellet. 20
How is it that the authors can have such a high degree of confidence in their research and conclusions concerning everything else, when Bergoglio was not even on their radar as a possible candidate? Perhaps this is connected to a pattern particularly characteristic of Horn’s approach (both in this and other works, which I may deal with in a future article). The pattern that seems to emerge is that no matter what actually happens it is inevitably interpreted as either a confirmation of one of his theories or the fulfillment of a prophecy, including those of mystical and pagan origin. The matter of Bergoglio being elected as the pope is just one clear example of this tendency. In spite of the fact that they apparently had not even considered Bergoglio as even being in the running, Horn now confidently declares Bergoglio’s election to the papacy to be a “fantastic fulfillment of prophecy.”
Horn has explained that Pope Francis fulfills the specific prophecy of being “Peter the Roman” even though he didn’t take the name Peter and he is not from Italy (i.e., Rome)—and yet Horn has explanations for how he fulfills this part of the prophecy, as well. Part of his explanation includes the fact that Bergoglio’s parents were Italian immigrants to Argentina. However, Bergoglio was born in Argentina and is an Argentine citizen. But, even if Horn is given the benefit of the doubt on this point, another major point is at best very contrived and less than convincing—and at worst it is misleading and arguably dishonest:
He [Horn] also sees significance in Bergoglio naming himself after Francis of Assisi, an Italian, or Roman, priest whose original name was Francesco di Pietro (Peter) di Bernardone, “literally, Peter the Roman.” 21
So, what this means is that not only is Pope Francis not “Peter, the Roman,” neither was Francis of Assisi, as is claimed in the cited article. Rather, Francis of Assisi’s name means “the son of Pietro, the son of Bernardone.”
However, this is not the only problem in Horn’s argument concerning prophetic fulfillment and the name Benedict XVI’s successor would take for himself. One person with great influence on the author’s theories is Ronald Conte, Jr., who believed that Francis Arinze would be the next pope (and who also happened to be black). Conte is a Roman Catholic layman who identifies himself as a theologian and to whom Horn and Putnam refer as a mystic in Petrus Romanus.
On this order, the man who in 2002 correctly predicted that the pope succeeding John Paul II would be named Benedict XVI, Ronald L. Conte Jr., believes the next pope will be Cardinal Francis Arinze and that he will take the name Pius XIII. This name (Pius) is associated historically with popes who emphasized authoritative doctrine during their pontificates. Cardinal Arinze fits this description, and Conte interprets this qualification as best fulfilling “Peter the Roman” as a pope who “will reaffirm the authority of the Roman Pontiff over the Church; 22
Clearly, his argument is no more convincing than Horn’s. Furthermore, while they mention a supposedly accurate prophecy by Conte, thereby giving credence to Conte’s claim (and apparently their belief) that he is a genuine prophet, he made a number of predictions concerning 2011 that demonstrate that he is nothing more than a false prophet of the highest order. The following are just some of those predictions:
Pope Benedict XVI suggests building three places in Jerusalem, a Temple, a Church, and a Mosque, so that the three religions, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, can worship in peace in the City of Peace. (But it does not happen soon; instead there is war.)
The Jews decide to build the Third Temple of Jerusalem
There is war, insurrection, and coups among the Arab/Muslim nations of the Middle East and northern Africa. Extremist leaders fight against more moderate leaders, and the extremists win. If they cannot win by coups and insurrections, then one Arab nation attacks another in outright war.
The war and the insurrections and coups end within the same year that they began. Then the leader of Iran and the leader of Iraq will have much power and influence over the other Arab/Muslim nations, all of which will be led by extremists.
The holy Pope Benedict XVI dies.
The holy Pope called ‘Peter the Roman’ by St. Malachy is elected. I think that he will be Cardinal Arinze and that he will take the name Pope Pius XIII.
New York City will be struck by a nuclear bomb (not a missile; not a dirty bomb) in 2011 (sometime after the Miracle, in the same calendar year). You will make them like an oven of fire, in the time of your presence. The Lord will stir them up with his wrath, and fire will devour them.
World War 3 begins as a result of the nuclear attack on New York City. World War 3 is the first horseman of the apocalypse and the first of the Seven Seals.
World War 3 is a war in which the Arab/Muslim nations of the Middle East and northern Africa invade and conquer all of Europe, parts of Eastern Europe, parts of Scandinavia, and the northern part of Africa above the equator.
During the Reign of Pope Pius XIII (2011 to 2013) he will emphasize the authority of the Roman Pontiff.
In the year 2012, during World War 3, he will flee the Vatican at night, he will flee to a location to hide, but then he will be captured by the Arab forces, he will be taken to Syria, he will put on trial and be given an unjust verdict and sentence, he will watch as they kill members of the clergy in front of him. Then they will blind him by putting out his eyes. They will bind him and send him to prison in Iraq. Soon he will die in that prison in Iraq; no one will be able to rescue him.
For a time, the Popes after him will not reign from Rome, until the year 2040, when the papacy returns to Rome. He is NOT the last Pope ever; there will be many more Popes and many centuries before Christ Returns.
It is difficult to fathom the sort of ethic and methodology that would allow Horn and Putnam to use part of Conte’s work as support for their theories while remaining completely silent about the vast majority of his predictions, which have turned out to be patently false and / or completely contradicted other portions of their theories.
Horn also believes that another way in which Bergoglio is a “fantastic fulfillment of prophecy” is the fact that the new pope is a Jesuit, and thus a “black pope.” What is truly astonishing about this “fulfillment” is that the “black pope” issue has nothing to do with Malachy’s prophecy, but rather involves a “prophecy” from none other than Nostradamus:
In Quatrain 6.25 Nostradamus wrote:
Through Mars adverse [a time of war] will be the monarchy
Of the great fisherman [the pope] in trouble ruinous
A young black red [a young black Cardinal] will seize the hierarchy
The predators acting on a foggy day 23
Apart from the serious problem of Horn directly relying upon a false prophet for support, his conclusion that Pope Francis fulfills the prophecy by being a “black pope” seems to be a real stretch. It is true that the Superior General of the Jesuit order is sometimes popularly (or pejoratively) referred to as the “black pope” because of the fact that the he wears a black cassock and has worldwide authority, usually for life, over the order. However, there is nothing official about this title and it is is not one used by the Jesuits themselves. Beyond that, it is a completely different type of fulfillment than the one he and Putnam suggested in Petrus Romanus. After giving their list of potential papal candidates, they write:
With these in mind, a finishing thought each of these papal contenders may want to consider is how many Catholics believe the sixteenth-century seer Nostradamus was actually the author of “The Prophecy of the Popes.” If that is so, a point made by the National Catholic Reporter earlier in this chapter concerning the popular West African Cardinal Peter Turkson being “young” in terms of electability at age sixty-three may have a way of coming back around. The “dark horse” candidate Turkson—and his ideas for a one-world financial and political authority housed in the United Nations—could become a remarkable and unexpected fulfillment of both the Prophecy of the Popes and Nostradamus’s prediction of an end-times “young black pope” who seizes control of the Roman Hierarchy with the assistance of conspirators during times of darkness and war. 24
So, rather than even considering that “black” might refer to a Jesuit, they were focused on two Cardinals who are racially black. Then the authors demonstrate that they are willing to grasp at anything to prove their points as they go on to suggest that Barack Obama’s election as the first black American president could actually pave the way for a black pope.
And this is where things start getting interesting, as some soothsayers were already predicting that the author of the document, Peter Turkson of Ghana (Peter the Roman?) could be the next pope, as he is considered papabile by the College of Cardinals. Following the election of America’s first black president in Obama, analysts around the world began speculating that perhaps Rome would follow suit and roll out the red carpet for a black pope, the first in fifteen hundred years, in somebody like Turkson. 25
Is it even remotely possible that the College of Cardinals (which is an international group of men who answer to no one except the pope) would be influenced in the least by the race of the President of the United States? It is just this sort of tortured logic that is actually the glue that holds everything in Petrus Romanus together and that even now continues to allow Horn to see fulfillment of the prophecies of Malachy and Nostradamus in the newly elected pope.
And finally, although Horn and Putnam do state that they are not setting dates and argue that they are merely reporting what others have written concerning 2012, in Petrus Romanus they are very focused on 2012 as the likely year of fulfillment of Malachy’s prophecy. This can be seen in the pagan prophecies they cite, all of which point to 2012. They also see significance in the fact that 2012 was predicted by Thibaut, as well.
As we write, it is two days before Christmas, 2011. At the risk of sounding like a “bird of ill omen,” 2012 is here folks! Over sixty years ago, Thibaut derived the ominous date of 2012 by calculating the average length of papal reign up until the time he wrote his book circa 1950 to be eleven years. We have verified his math and extrapolated it to our current time. Astonishingly, the average of eleven has held true to three decimal places, 1/1000th accuracy. For this simple derivation, allowing the average of eleven years per reign and a total of forty popes (11 x 40) he extrapolated 440 years from 1572 (1572 + 440) to arrive at the date for the arrival of Petrus Romanus in 2012. 26
In other words, 2012 was seen as an end-times “event horizon” by at least one Jesuit priest before most readers were born. 27
Also note the quote above asserts, “in many ways” this means he derives 2012 from several distinct methods of cryptographic analysis. These will be examined after we survey some essential background, but as the final year he derived 2012 exclusively. Indeed, while he (and us) acknowledges the folly of setting a date for Christ’s coming, he still centers on 2012 but for no other reason than he believes the prophecy demands it. 28
The work that Thibaut does to come to this conclusion involves tortuous logic and tortuous calculations that even Horn and Putnam agree feel contrived. Yet, in the end, they seem to ultimately yield to Thibaut’s conclusions because they apparently agree with him that the results point to a supernatural origin.29
They further point to what they was an accurate prediction on their part concerning the resignation of Benedict XVI based on Thibaut’s calculations that the penultimate pope would leave office in 2012. They stated in Petrus Romanus that if he were to resign in April 2012 that this would be a “staggering authentication of Thibaut’s work but anytime in 2012 would still be incredible.”30 Even though we know that Benedict XVI resigned on February 23, 2013 the authors argue that he really resigned in March or April of 2012 because they say that is when he informed some within the Vatican of his decision. But, it would appear that whatever Benedict XVI did in 2012, it was not a resignation. To quote Yogi Berra, “It’s not over till it’s over.”
Once again, it seems that no matter what actually happens, virtually everything is interpreted as being a confirmation of their conclusions. However, Horn and Putnam are still faced with the fact that essentially none of the supporting / corroborating pagan prophecies were actually fulfilled in 2012.
To be fair, it must be noted that Horn and Putnam acknowledge the possibility that the Roman Catholic Church, being aware of the prophecies, may actually implement certain strategies in order to cause the fulfillment of Malachy’s prophecies. However, they also dismiss that this is sufficient to account for what they believe are many things over which individuals and the Church as a whole could not exercise influence.
Summary and conclusions
So, is Pope Francis history’s final pope? The Lord certainly knows. But that he is the final pope cannot be known based on the research, evidence and logic used by Horn and Putnam in drawing their conclusions on this point. Although they have done a tremendous amount of helpful research, the emphasis they place on the accuracy of extra-biblical prophecies and conjecture, including those from pagan sources, and the conclusions they draw from these present serious problems. As it relates to the prophecies, much of the foundation upon which the authors have built is made up of the work of pagans, mystics, frauds, forgers, heretics and false prophets.
The following is just one of numerous examples of how the authors acknowledge the potential problems with their methods and conclusions, but seemingly dismiss those problems and proceed:
Please note that we do realize that date-setting has a well-documented 100 percent failure rate but, even so, we must acknowledge, there it is, 2012, brazened all over the pages of this 1951 tome. The simplest calculation which derives 2012 for the last pope is based on extrapolating the average papal reign of eleven years.31
This issue is even reflected in the subtitle of Petrus Romanus—The Final Pope Is Here. On the one hand, even though in a comment criticizing this article Putnam says that he only assigns a 60-70% probability that they are right, the subtitle of the book implies that they are quite confident they have it right when they conclude that the pope following Benedict XVI would be the final one.
One concern with this is that despite these problems, the authors are apparently having a tremendous influence on at least certain segments of the Body of Christ. As of today, March 22, 2013, the paperback version of Petrus Romanus is ranked at #945 out of millions of books on Amazon.com, with it sitting at #4 in the “Religious Warfare” category, #4 in the “Catholicism” category and #74 in the “Christian Living category. However, even more telling and more sadly, the Kindle version of Petrus Romanus is ranked at #1 in both the “Eschatology” and “Prophecy” categories, and #10 in the “Christian Reference Works” category. This represents a lot of books being sold and a lot of people being influenced—undoubtedly believers and unbelievers alike.
However, beyond their influence through this book as well as interviews and articles, the authors are being offered major speaking platforms. For example, Tom Horn was a keynote speaker at the The Strategic Perspectives Conference in last October, which was hosted by the Koinonia House ministry of Chuck Missler, who was also a keynote speaker. (Other speakers included Jonathan Cahn and David Barton—both of whom have had questions raised about the accuracy of their work, and Joseph Farah, who continues to promote books on the WND website which have serious problems, even heresy in the case of books by Joe Kovacs, one of their contributing writers.)
In June of last year, Tom Horn was keynote speaker at the 2012 Prophecy in the News Conference in Branson Missouri. Speakers at that conference included Jonathan Cahn, Joseph Farah, Chuck Missler, Bill Salus, and Gary Stearman among others.
In July of this year, Horn will be addressing the Pike’s Peak Prophecy Summit, which is already sold out of tickets. The list of other speakers includes Cris Putnam, Jonathan Cahn, Joseph Farah, Gary Stearman, Chuck Missler, L.A. Marzulli, Mark Biltz, Lennart Moller, Bill Koenig, Ken Johnson, Paul McGuire, Jerry Robinson, Stan Monteith, Doug Woodward, Bob Cornuke, Barrie Schwortz, Doug Hamp, Bill Salus, David Olander, Samuel Hoyt, Doc Marquis, Derek Gilbert and David Brennan. I do not know about the work of some of these men, but the list does include those who are respected and have quite a bit of influence among believers. When good men join together with those whose work is problematic, especially in a conference-type forum, it can create a lot of unnecessary confusion within the Body of Christ.
Although we cannot know with any certainty whether or not Pope Francis will be the last pope, we can know with certainty that we continue to witness the ongoing erosion of biblical discernment as evidenced by the sales of books like Petrus Romanus and attendance at conferences where these kinds of things are taught. Beyond this, those who are exposing these issues are coming under fire more than at any time in recent memory.
- http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/do-the-prophecies-of-st-malachy-suggest-we-are-living-in-the-end-times ↩
- Horn, Thomas; Putnam, Cris D. (2012-04-15). Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here (Kindle Locations 421-430). Defender Publishing LLC. Kindle Edition ↩
- http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/pope-francis-historys-final-pontiff/ ↩
- http://www.wnd.com/2013/02/final-pope-authors-predicted-benedict-would-resign/ ↩
- http://saints.sqpn.com/catholic-encyclopedia-prophecies-of-saint-malachy/ ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 327-337). ↩
- http://www.catholic.com/quickquestions/do-the-prophecies-of-st-malachy-suggest-we-are-living-in-the-end-times ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 444-452). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 452-459). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 465-467). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 950-952). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 737-747). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9287-9301). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9305-9307). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9308-9311). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9262-9265). ↩
- This part of Cahn’s message was subsequently removed from YouTube.com by someone at Beth Israel because of the controversy it generated. ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9313-9320). ↩
- To be fair, Horn and Putnam did not use this phrase. It was used by Jonathan Cahn in a similar context as noted above ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9238-9240). ↩
- http://www.wnd.com/2013/03/pope-francis-historys-final-pontiff/#jEkZ7zX5UAzSW7OM.99 ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 8666-8670). ↩
- Horn, Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9246-9253). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9240-9246). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 9046-9050). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 792-797). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 798-799). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 801-804). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 1592-1593). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 1693). ↩
- Petrus Romanus (Kindle Locations 1231-1233). ↩
A Theological and Historical Response to the Contemporary Home Church Movement
By Paul Barreca
Pastor, Faith Bible Church, Vineland, NJ
A recent Associate Press article highlighted a trend among Christians to leave their churches and worship at home instead. (1) Sometimes called Organic Church, Missional Church or House Church, this movement appeals to many who have grown dissatisfied with the corporate and impersonal nature of many American churches. Propelled by books such as Pagan Christianity (Frank Viola and George Barna), Life After Church (Brian Sanders) and They Like Jesus but Not the Church (Dan Kimball), some Christians urge that the only legitimate form of worship is a small, non-institutional gathering. They claim to have re-discovered the true origins of Christian worship. On one extreme are the cultic teachings of Harold Camping, who advocates leaving the church because the church age has ended. More moderate examples include believers who have dropped out of their local church because of theological decay, an emphasis on methodology, and corrupt leadership. As we will discover, some illegitimately transfer these accusations to their church as they excuse themselves from its structure and accountability.
Some proponents of the house church idea foresee the demise of the church as we know it.
“Unless the church in North America makes big changes we are facing sure death, (Reggie McNealy, Missional Church Network).
“American Christianity is dying. Our future is in serious jeopardy. We are deathly ill and don’t even know it,” (Neil Cole, “Organic Church”).
Noted church statistician George Barna wrote,
“If the local church is the hope of the world, then the world has no hope.” “Local churches have virtually no influence in our culture… The church appears among entities that have little or no influence on society.” (2)
Because this trend emphasizes independence, it is difficult to estimate the number of American Christians that worship in this manner. A recent Barna study demonstrates a variety of responses. When Christians were asked whether they attended a religious service in the past month in a place other than a church, approximately 24% said “yes.” However, when asked if “you participate in such a group, sometimes known as a house church or simple church, that is not associated in any way with a local, congregational type of church?” the response dropped to somewhere between 3% – 6%. (3) This statistic reveals that while gatherings such as home Bible studies are popular, the number of Christians who have left their local church is still fairly small. However, this movement is very attractive to Americans who have been raised on a strong diet of anti-institutional free thinking. Our cultural focus on independence and our resistance to authority may very well mean that the house church movement will grow in the days ahead.
Some of the criticisms that cause people to leave their church are valid. We are living in a time when many churches have neglected the gospel and turned their focus on numeric growth by becoming more culturally relevant. Churches have compromised the gospel with bad theology and scintillating antics meant to draw a crowd. Everything from crass talks on sex, to reviews of raunchy movies are common fare in many churches. The response from some believers is to abandon the church all together, but this is throwing the proverbial baby out with the bath water. While there are a growing number of churches that have abandoned the gospel, not all churches have followed the errors of our day.
When the Church Began
Buildings dedicated exclusively for Christian worship did not come along until Emperor Constantine proclaimed Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 325 AD. Before that, Christians worshiped in homes or public gathering places. This was not because worshiping in a home is a better way to worship. It was simply the only way to worship. During this period, Christians were persecuted by the Jews in their synagogues, and by the Romans through a series of local and empire-wide persecutions. Scripture gives us some indication regarding the places where believers met.
Homes. Aquila and Priscilla led a church gathering that met in their house (1 Corinthians 16:19; Romans 16:5). Colossians 4:15 also indicates a church meeting in a home. But we ought not assume that this was a gathering of only a few people. The most likely place for Christians to meet would have been in a large home, rooftop or courtyard. Some Mediterranean homes were large one-family dwellings up to four stories high. (4) Architecture in this warm climate emphasized open air courtyards where large gatherings were held. Some homes could easily accommodate an assembly of up to 100 people, and it is possible that church meetings in such houses could have been at least that large. (5) Their purpose for meeting in homes was not a statement against organization or buildings. Churches during this time were carefully structured and included discipline, elders, and mission endeavors. They were not the casual, free flowing meetings that are common in today’s American version of the house church. Paul’s missionary journeys were organized by the church in Antioch. Paul’s greeting in Romans 16 includes a tally of 28 individuals with at least three entire households included in the Roman church. If these people met in a home it would have been a church of at least 50 people. They met in homes out of necessity. As Kevin DeYoung writes, “They didn’t meet in homes in an effort to start the world’s first nonreligious religion.” (6)
The New Testament contains examples of places other than homes where the believers met. This reinforces the idea that they met where it was most convenient and practical. Other New Testament meeting places include the following:
Solomon’s Colonnade: Acts 5:12 (7) The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade.
The Hall of Tyrannus: Acts 19:9–10 So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.
The Synagogue. James 2:2 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. The word “meeting” is a translation of the Greek word for Synagogue. It is possible that the majority of Jews at this location, or at least the synagogue leaders trusted Christ and their synagogue continued to be their place of worship.
The Beginning of Church Buildings
Church historian Everett Ferguson gives us insight concerning the move to public buildings. “With the Constantinian peace, church buildings became public monuments, and the basilica type predominated. (This type of building) was widely used in Hellenistic and imperial times for both private and public purposes: as audience halls in homes of the wealthy and of the imperial officials, as law courts and exchange buildings on the forums, and as gathering places in the larger baths.” (9) Once it became legal to meet publicly, churches quickly utilized commonly available spaces, allowing their outreach to expand and the church to grow. This practice has been widely followed in various cultures throughout church history.
Today there are many places in the world where Christians meet in homes because they are not permitted to meet publicly. Under these circumstances, there is no alternative other than a house church. Missionary Kevin King reaches many Chinese students through his ministry at Columbia University in New York City. Those who trust Christ are directed to a house church that Kevin leads. He does this because he wants to provide a reproducible form of church worship that they can carry with them when they return to China. Since independent churches in China are not permitted to hold public meetings, Kevin’s example of a house church is the best way for them to learn how to lead a church in their native country.
Churches that meet in homes are also an important part of inner city evangelism. Many new churches begin in a home. But the fact that many churches meet in homes does not mean that every church must meet in a home. This is reductionism. Those who advocate the house church as the only legitimate way seem to be suggesting that most congregations over the past 2,000 years have been worshiping the wrong way. Such a suggestion is very misguided. By their insistence on house churches only, they silently accuse millions of Christians around the world of worshiping in the wrong way. Thanks to their superior enlightenment, the rest of us can be freed from our ignorance if we see the light as they have.
New Testament principles for the local church do not focus on the form of worship, or the location of worship. These have varied from time to time and culture to culture. Rather than determining whether a group is a legitimate church by virtue of where they meet, we should examine the validity of a church according to whether it meets the requirements of the New Testament. It is by these standards that many groups meeting in homes today cannot accurately be described as fulfilling the criteria of a New Testament church.
The Essentials of the Church
1. Properly-appointed godly elders: Nowhere in Scripture do we find self-appointed elders. Leadership must be approved by existing leadership. Every New Testament church was led by elders, and we must insist that our churches today follow the same guidelines. Churches must be led by men whose calling has been verified by other elders. Mission and church planting endeavors must have the support and backing of a church where biblical eldership is present. This continuity of leadership is essential to maintain the “faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).
a. Titus 1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.
b. 1 Peter 5:2–3 Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.
2. Willing followers: A church must have followers who submit to spiritual leadership of its elders (pastors). Hebrews 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
3. The preaching of the gospel: Galatians 1:9 As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!
4. Teaching that produces mature disciples: Matthew 28:19–20 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
5. Ministry through spiritual gifts: The body of Christ is diverse. Each part needs the others. Rather than isolation, the body principle emphasizes cooperation and mutual edification, as we are instructed in Romans 12:5–6, “so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.”
6. Faithful administration of the ordinances: The church is required to conduct the ordinances of Christian baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
7. God-centered worship: The Lord calls us “a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” Public worship is the delight and privilege of God’s people.
The location where a church meets does not determine whether or not it is a legitimate church, or whether or not it is worshiping properly. There are Christian gatherings that meet in homes on Sunday which are not a legitimate churches. And there are groups that meet in ornate buildings with a cross and a steeple who are devoid of spiritual life and do not proclaim the Truth of the gospel.
Some who advocate the house church concept have a misunderstanding of the New Testament examples of house churches. They also oversimplify the problems in the church today and transfer the guilt of some churches which meet in buildings onto all churches which meet in buildings. Pastor Kevin DeYoung responds to the criticism of what house church advocate Frank Viola calls the organized church by writing, “the church is always deserving of some critique, or even a lot of critique at times, but isn’t it a bit sweeping to declare that “everything that is done in our contemporary churches has no basis in the Bible?” We should not disqualify all churches because of the gross failures of some.
For some believers around the world, the house church is the best, and often the only way to conduct corporate worship, teaching and the administration of the Christian ordinances. This will most likely continue until the Lord returns. There may even come a time in what was once “Christian America” where full-fledged persecution may force the closure of public church gatherings. That day has not yet come, but if it does, God’s people will continue to worship in whatever location the Lord provides.
We live in a culture that emphasizes isolation and independence. Many people seldom come out of their homes. Public interaction is avoided by many people who plug in their ear buds, roll up their windows, close their doors, shop online and remain in the comfort of their modern American homes More and more, we are being drawn into our own exclusive bubble of isolation. We need one another, in spite of our weaknesses, peculiarities, and failures. When there are disagreements, the Lord gives us Scriptural guidelines to resolve them. Unless your local church is teaching false doctrine or embracing sin, leaving it is not the best way to honor the Lord and encourage the body. The Lord Jesus died for the church and will return to bring her to glory. Until then, we should honor His body, the church, and embrace every opportunity to promote it’s growth.
1. Linda Stewart Ball, “House Church – Skip the Sermon, Worship at Home.” The Associated Press, Wed Jul 21, 2010, accessed August 12, 2010 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100721/ap_on_re/us_rel_religion
2. Quotations from Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck, Why We Love the Church (Chicago: Moody Press, 2009), 26-27.
3. The Barna Group, “How Many People Really Attend a House Church?” http://www.barna.org/organic-church-articles/291-how-many-people-really-attend-a-house-church-barna-study-finds-it-depends-on-the-definition accessed August 13, 2010
4. Everett Ferguson, Backgrounds of Early Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 128.
5. DeYoung, 120.
6. Ibid, 120.
7. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com.
8. Fergusson, 129.
9. DeYoung, 117.
Larry DeBruyn, the guest writer of this ABI blog post, received his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary in 1974 and has been the Pastor of Franklin Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana for many years. Pastor DeBruyn has published two books; regularly writes articles as a guest contributor on several websites; is a conference speaker; and has taught internationally including at the Word of Life Bible School in Hungary.
“Some thoughts on Sunday night church in a bar.”
As he begins to rip into “a screaming guitar solo,” the band member yells out at the audience, “Let’s go to church boys!” Welcome to Pub Theology. As the reporter describes it, the theology is “a Sunday night show that’s one part church and one part party.” Among other posters on the bar’s walls is an alluding slander of the final verse of the biblical chapter on love. It reads, “Faith, Hope, Love and Beer” (The actual text reads, “But now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love,” 1 Corinthians 13:13, NASB).
Being “shaggy-haired, body-pierced and colored with assorted body art,” some members of the Sunday evening pub rock group double as members of a mega-church’s “worship team” on Sunday mornings. Confessing to love both Jesus and rock ‘n’ roll, band members will burn through a pack of cigarettes and exhort the audience to cozy up to the bar and buy beer. Skeptical about hosting the “Pub Theology” on Sunday nights in his bar at first, the owner of the business admits the band has turned an otherwise dead night into a profitable evening.
Regarding this new outreach—the mega-church’s ministerial staff fully approve of Pub Theology—one of the band’s members says: “We want to be sincere and authentic and be who we really are, whether that is wearing jeans and a T-shirt or having a beer,” remarks one of the band members. “I think that is real, and I don’t think it is wrong or that God is unhappy about that.” Another band member relates, “I can drink a beer and smoke a cigarette and play some of my favorite songs and hang out with my friends and maybe meet someone and tell them about Jesus.”
Interestingly, most of the band members were raised in religious homes. In fact, two of its members are former PKS (i.e., preacher’s kids). Having been a former pastor, their father now sees the light and has become the band’s roadie (a catch-all term covering all those managers and techies that accompany the band). The band accounts for the band’s existence and novel ministerial approach for reason of their legalistic Wesleyan upbringing—“I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t go to R-rated movies, I don’t dance.” But the casual and alcoholically lubricated atmosphere of Pub Theology raises an important issue, for a reporter asks, “Does Pub Theology produce any lasting effects, or is it just a casual encounter with church in a bar—a spiritual one-night stand?”
First, Pub Theology is not church. If it is, then where’s the reading of the Scriptures, the apostles’ teaching, prayer and observance of the Lord’s Table? (Acts 2:42) We can also be certain that the band members will avoid any impression of being preachy.
Second, Pub Theology is not theology. Reportedly, the band’s opening song was Joan Osborne’s one-hit wonder, “What if God was one of us?” The lyrics also add, “Just a slob like one of us.” Imagine . . . God’s a slob like one of us. Given the humanizing of God in the song “What if God was one of us?” what we’re dealing with is not Pub Theology, but pub idolatry as “the glory of the incorruptible God” is being exchanged “for an image in the form of corruptible man” (Romans 1:23, NASB). Do you think Joan Osborne’s lyrical questions affirm the great Christological passages of the New Testament (John 1:1 ff.; Colossians 1:15-17; Philippians 2:5-11). By the way, these three passages are comprised of theological statements extracted from early Christian hymns. Would the pub-theology band sing them? I’d estimate the lyrics of these hymns to be far too dogmatic, stodgy, and preachy for the “boys” at the bar!
Third, Pub Theology is not Christian outreach. It’s the use of carnal-fleshly-worldly means to attain spiritual ends. The Apostle Paul would not have engaged such means for he wrote: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, NIV; Compare Galatians 5:21 where Paul labels “drunkenness” a work of the flesh). Given the atmosphere surrounding the Pub Theology, Paul’s majestic description of love as it exists on the barroom wall might be contemporarily translated, now abide these four, “faith, hope, love, and beer,” but the greatest of these is beer!
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The following are examples of some slogans that are currently in use by churches in America (as reported on www.poetpatriot.com):
“Real church…Real People”
“The Church of Tomorrow…Today!”
“Equipping People for Life”
“The Small Church with a Big Dream”
“The Fortified City”
“A Church Where Miracles Happen”
However, there is one slogan in particular that has gained broad usage in recent years: “A Church for People Who Don’t Like Church”
Although I understand what is meant and why it is used, something about this slogan just doesn’t seem quite right.
Several important issues come to mind:
* Christ said that he was going to build his church (Matthew 16:18)
* Believers as a group make up the church as the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23)
* Believers as individuals make up local churches (cf. the greetings and references throughout Paul’s letters)
* Believers are instructed to consistently gather together for mutual encouragement (Hebrews 10:25) – which seems to be a reference to church meetings
* Most of the New Testament letters were written to functioning, organized local churches
* The instructions in Revelation 1-3 were specifically to churches in preparation for the revelation of Christ to the world and the coming judgment
* Everything related to the spiritual life of believers in the New Testament is in the context of the local church
* In the New Testament, it is assumed that believers need and desire to be together; to function as a loving community gathered together in the name of their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the body – which is the church
* Unbelievers receive virtually no mention in the letters to the churches except when they pose problems for individual believers or disrupt the normal life of the church through things like false teaching or improper behavior
* The structure, function and responsibilities of the local church is always defined in relation to believers, and in this regard unbelievers are inconsequential to the life of the church (it’s not that they are unimportant for they most certainly are extremely important – to God and to believers, they are just not part of the church).
From these, we learn very important truths about the way a healthy, biblical church should function. We learn prescriptively (through commands) and descriptively (through examples) what churches should be like – what is important, what should be emphasized, how and why things should be done.
First, we learn that church is not something to be disparaged, nor minimized in any sense. It is central to the life of the believer as it facilitates one’s relationship with Christ and with other believers. But this slogan feels a bit like a “bait and switch” – which does disparage church (at least as it has traditionally been understood) – but then offers church in its place. It is an unfortunate word play.
Second, we find that church is for believers, rather than unbelievers or even a mixed group. In fact, more than being just for believers, church is comprised of believers exclusively. Without believers, although there can be a gathering of people – even for religious reasons, it does not constitute a biblical church. Church is by and for believers alone. There is nothing in the New Testament that remotely indicates that the meetings of believers, i.e., local churches, are to be formed or function for the sake of unbelievers or to make them relevant to unbelievers. In fact, a biblical local church, by definition, will not be relevant to unbelievers, because deep spiritual truth is beyond the grasp of someone who has not been born again (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Conversely, to whatever degree a meeting is inherently attractive, understandable, relevant, etc. to unbelievers, to that degree it will cease to be a church meeting. This doesn’t mean that we look for ways to be unattractive, incomprehensible and irrelevant. But it is the work of the Spirit of God in the heart of an unbeliever that makes spiritual truth seem relevant to him or her. No amount of repackaging can accomplish this. And because of this, the contents of the package are usually what is changed. (This doesn’t mean that there can’t be meetings, conferences, seminars, etc. for the sake of reaching out to unbelievers – but that is a different function).
To be fair, the slogan in question reflects a legitimate and well-intentioned attempt to address various problems which include things such as stagnating or decreasing church attendance, ministering to believers who are immersed in a culture that is quickly moving away from Christian principles as the foundation for society, reaching the lost for Christ in the face of a deepening disinterest in all things Christian and a disdain for anything that smacks of promoting moral absolutes.
However, in the process of dealing with these things, the focus and purpose of the church has largely shifted away from being a place of encouragement and ongoing spiritual growth for believers. Instead, the mission of the church is shifting toward to creating a place and an atmosphere that is appealing and non-threatening to primarily the “unchurched” (the lost) and the “dechurched” (the disgruntled). In other words, the new “church” that is emerging is being specifically crafted to be a place for people who don’t like church. This necessarily means that over time worldly philosophies and methodologies will ultimately overwhelm biblical ways of thinking and doing things.
But if believers are called to be separate, to come out from the world, to not be conformed to the world, to be in the world but not of the world, to avoid sinful or even questionable practices – then sooner or later, believers will be driven away from these “church” meetings as churches emerge and evolve into these new forms. Unbelievers may be seeking something, but no matter how it may appear they are not seeking God nor his righteousness (Romans 3:10-11). I fear that many have been deceived into making wholesale changes for the sake of unbelievers, while at the same time driving out untold scores of genuine believers who would dare to resist some of the more radical changes.
Consequently, the new “church” is no longer for people who do like church. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t always be seeking ways to be culturally relevant. But being culturally relevant does not mean to constantly chase the latest trends and philosophies and bring them into the church so people can comfortably relate. To be culturally relevant is to be wise and insightful concerning how to apply biblical principles in such a way to affect change in the lives of believers when they are tempted to conform to ungodly cultural norms.
Unfortunately, biblical exposition tends to be one of the first things that begins changing in the remaking of church so that it is more attractive to those who don’t like church. Expositional messages based on sound exegesis tend to give way to superficially-biblical topical messages dealing with the “felt-needs” of a primary target audience that is either unchurched or dechurched. On the one hand, this group cannot grasp spiritually deep truths and on the other, they are generally easily offended by terms like “sin,” “wrath,” “judgment,” “hell,” etc. Of course, unbelievers are welcome to come into a believers’ meeting, but they will never become a part of the fellowship unless they clearly hear the gospel and the Word of God taught authoritatively and unapologetically.
When the centrality of the Word of God is diminished or even eliminated, then church is no longer for those who do like church. And believers should like church. This isn’t about those who are simply against any kind of change for any reason. This isn’t about self-centeredness. This isn’t about fear of stepping outside of one’s comfort zone. This isn’t about a total lack of concern for a lost world.
However, the sad fact is that often those believers (who are often among the most mature) who do resist this emergence into a new kind of church and new kind of Christianity are regularly criticized and vilified – and many are even told that it would probably be better if they found another church.
Rather, it is about keeping church for born-again believers, because the church is born-again believers – and only born-again believers. It is about making sure that the church is always for people who do like church.
There are innumerable legitimate and creative ways for believers to be salt and light in the world – and reach the lost with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Believers can and should go out into the world, not isolate themselves from it in some kind of monasticism. But we don’t reach the lost by transforming church meetings to model worldly thought and behavior. If we do, then there is nothing left to where believers can go for fellowship and to gain the strength, encouragement, knowledge and wisdom they need to be a wise as serpents, but as harmless as doves in a dangerous world of which our mortal enemy is its prince.
The biblical picture is of shepherding in such a way that none of the flock (who love being near the shepherd) are lost in the process of adding to the size of the flock. Unfortunately, much of what passes for modern church-growth methods amounts to little more than sending large parts of the flock over a cliff, just so they can be replaced by a new larger flock – that really doesn’t know any better.
May we never be part of remaking the church in such a way that those who used to like church, no longer do.