In my Facebook feed, I recently came across someone sharing this picture in a vain attempt to disprove Catholicism:
What I love about this image is that one of these things is not like the other. Five of the images refer to the founders of various false sects:
- Joseph Smith founded Mormonism in the 1820s, during an American Protestant religious movement called the Second Great Awakening;
- Charles Taze Russell founded the Bible Student movement in the 1870s, which later became the Jehovah’s Witnesses. It was an offshoot of a Protestant group called the Millerites, who believed that Christ’s return would be in 1843 (spoiler alert: they were wrong);
- Mary Baker Eddy founded the Church of Christ, Scientist, better known as Christian Science, in 1879. The movement is an outgrowth a wave of “New Thought” religious movements (a strange blend of liberal Protestantism and spiritualism). Eddy was a patient of the hypnotist Phineas Quimby, one of the founders of the New Thought movement;
- Ellen Gould White founded Seventh Day Adventism in 1863. Like Russell, White was a disillusioned Millerite;
- Muhammad founded Islam in 622. A critical influence on Muhammad’s theology was Waraqah ibn Nawfal, a heretical (either Ebionite or Nestorian) priest who was first cousin to Muhammad’s first wife.
We can say who all of these religious founders were, when they founded their groups, and even where they got their ideas. None of them arose in a vacuum. It’s not a coincidence that Islam was founded on the fringe (both theologically and geographically) of Christendom, while the other four sects all arose in 19th century Protestant America in areas heavily impacted by the Second Great Awakening and subsequent Protestant revivals. As St. Jerome once pointed out, to trace a heresy to its origins is to have refuted it. If you can show that a belief doesn’t date back to Christ in some form, but is a later introduction, then we can know that it isn’t an authentic Christian teaching.
But when it comes to Catholicism, the chart looks very different. Instead of knocking our founder, they just write “the papacy.” Why? Because if you were going to put the founder of the Catholic Church, you would have to say Jesus Christ, who founded Catholicism in c. 32. As the Scriptural quote at the bottom of the image suggests, the person who assembled this hit job actually doesn’t believe that He is a false prophet. They want to believe in Him, even while they reject the Church He founded as heretical.
St. Jerome, writing c. 379, applied this simple test to determine the true Church from false religion:
I might spend the day in speaking to the same effect, and dry up all the streams of argument with the single Sun of the Church. But as we have already had a long discussion and the protracted controversy has wearied out the attention of our audience, I will tell you my opinion briefly and without reserve. We ought to remain in that Church which was founded by the Apostles and continues to this day. If ever you hear of any that are called Christians taking their name not from the Lord Jesus Christ, but from some other, for instance, Marcionites, Valentinians, Men of the mountain or the plain, you may be sure that you have there not the Church of Christ, but the synagogue of Antichrist. For the fact that they took their rise after the foundation of the Church is proof that they are those whose coming the Apostle foretold. And let them not flatter themselves if they think they have Scripture authority for their assertions, since the devil himself quoted Scripture, and the essence of the Scriptures is not the letter, but the meaning. Otherwise, if we follow the letter, we too can concoct a new dogma and assert that such persons as wear shoes and have two coats must not be received into the Church.
The Luciferians Jerome was writing against are long gone, as are the Marcionites, Valentinians, and the others Jerome mentioned. In their place have arisen sundry heresies, but Jerome’s test remains as valid as ever in showing their falsehood. If you can name the founder of your church or denomination, and your founder’s name doesn’t end in “of Nazareth, the King of the Jews,” then you’re not in the right Church.