- I believe that the Roman Catholic Church was and is Christian. That being said, I do believe that it, like any other denomination has made errors. I feel that the main error is its belief that it cannot err in matters of doctrine and morals so that if it is wrong it must strain to come up with some way of dealing with it without admitting that it was wrong. I think that an example is the way the Church deals with non-Catholic Christians. I think that the teaching that outside the Catholic Church there is no salvation presented a problem. It meant that nobody who was not in full communion with the Catholic Church could not be saved. Pope Boniface VIII Unam Sanctum appears quite clear in its statement and goes on to say:
Furthermore, we declare, we proclaim, we define that it is absolutely necessary for salvation that every human creature be subject to the Roman Pontiff.
That sounds to me as if it was intended to be an infallible statement. The Church had to struggle to find some way to say that non-Catholic Christians could be saved and came up with its statements that somehow non-Catholic are imperfectly part of the Church and can find salavtion. I don’t know how the above quote was dealt with, other than essentially being ignored, since neither the Orthodox Church or Protestants are subject to the Pope.
As I have said in a number of different places on these boards, I believe that all denominations, including the Catholic Church have tried to define too much. Men want to know everything and feel that they have a right to know everything. If God has not clearly revealed something, men will subject it to their “reasoning” to come up with something to satisfy their desire to know everything. They then look for some foundation in the Scriptures to fit their reasoning or, in reverse, they will latch onto a passage and force their meaning into it, even if it means straining the passage and ignoring or explaining away others.
For example, many Protestants have done this with the “once saved always saved” doctrine. They want perfect assurance and find it by this doctrine. If someone falls away from Christ, they must fall back and say that they were never really saved. It may or may not be true, but even if it is true, to define it as a doctrine is dangerous. Protestants deny antinomianism but the doctrine can lead people to underestimate the value of works to their own detriment.
Catholics have also done this, in my view with some of the Marian doctrines. They may or may not be true. I am not arguing against their truth here, but even if they are true should they be defined as infallible truth that must be believed. For example, the perpetual virginity of Mary. One of the main reasons I have seen for this doctrine is that it would not be fitting that the womb that carried Jesus carry any other. That is applying reasoning to reach the desired conclusion. It then requires finding someway to explain away all the passages that refer to Jesus’ brothers. I believe that if it was a necessary belief that God would have made Scripture clearer on it and not used the term brother. After all God does not create confusion.
I believe that the Marian dogmas present a danger to believers. I know that Catholic Church says that they do not worship Mary and I know that Catholics honestly believe that they don’t. But there is the risk that declaring too much about Mary will cause some people, even if they don’t intend it, to cross the line and turn veneration into worship. They may not intend to do this but “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. It may not be called or thought of as worship but if it actually amounts to it then the believer is hurt to their detriment. As Hebrews says, the old sacrifices were for sins committed in ignorance, so intention does not necessarily change something from being wrong.
Since I have said that I don’t think that the Catholic Church ever stopped being Christian, it goes without saying that Luther did not restore Christianity. He tried to correct some errors in the Church, but because the Church could not admit error, it ended up in a new denomination being created. This is not to say that Luther, or other Reformers, did not make errors. Again as humans they make mistakes by trying to define to much. Calvin tried to define everything and ended up creating a system where everything is robot-like in operation. He corrected some errors but introduced others.
There have been ongoing splits since the Reformation for a number of reasons. One is that Protestants do not believe their leaders to be infallible. If they find error and cannot change the denomination they may split. Even if they correct the error they may introduce new ones. There are also splits because of human pride and the desire to know, define and explain everything. Someone tries to explain or know something, comes up with the conclusion and then a split occurs.