Rebutting a Catholic apologist, #4: “Where Two or Three Are Gathered”

Today, we continue our series responding to “Meeting the Protestant Challenge: How to Answer 50 Biblical Objections to Catholic Beliefs” (2019), written by Karlo Broussard. The Catholic apologist continues his six-part section on church hierarchy and authority with this chapter devoted to countering alleged Protestant assertions that the church is not the worldly-minded religious institution headquartered on the banks of the Tiber River in Rome, but is any place where “Where Two or Three Are Gathered.”


Broussard writes that Protestants mistakenly cite Matthew 18:20 as a rebuttal to Rome’s claim that it is THE visible, institutional church founded by Jesus:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” 

Broussard accuses Protestants of having a stunted understanding of the church as just a spiritual entity rather than that of the church being both a spiritual and a structural (institutional/hierarchical) entity that he claims Christ intended. Broussard cites the preceding passage, Matthew 18:15-19, to show that Jesus had an institutional church in mind when He gave instructions for disciplining unrepentant members. A church of a strictly spiritual nature does not have the organizational ability to discipline anyone.

Broussard attempts to win his argument with a straw man fallacy. Protestants certainly do recognize the structure of the local church as it is presented in Scripture. In numerous passages of the New Testament we see mentioned the offices of pastor, elder, and deacon for leadership and administration of the local church. See here. These offices can be found (perhaps under different names) in Gospel-preaching, local Christian churches.

What Protestants object to is Rome’s claim to be THE monolithic institution divinely authorized by Jesus Christ. A few relevant thoughts come to mind:

  • After the Roman emperors legalized Christianity and shortly afterwards adopted it as the state religion, its clergy began assimilating many of the beliefs and practices of its former pagan competitor. Simple faith in Jesus Christ as Savior was replaced with grandiose and complex legalism, ritualism, and sacramentalism, all administered by an increasingly privileged and authoritarian clerical class.
  • As the early bishops of Rome consolidated their power in competition with the other centers of the early church, they patterned their ascendant institution after the imperial Caesars. The acquisition of wealth and political control  – and the elimination of rivals – were the key drivers. Jesus commanded His apostles NOT to create the very type of hierarchy that the RCC instituted. See Matthew 20:25-28.
  • Roman Catholics cannot imagine the comparatively “structureless” mulit-denominational Protestant movement as being legitimate. For a millennium, Catholic clerics taught that membership in their religious institution was tantamount to salvation. However, adhering to standard Catholic theology – salvation by sacramental grace and merit – has never led anyone to salvation in Christ Jesus. It’s precisely in the noncentralized, patchwork quilt of evangelical Christianity that the Holy Spirit has done His salvific work using God’s Holy Word.

Important: Broussard makes great claims for the Roman Catholic church being the visible institution authorized by Jesus Christ and headed by the pope, the alleged “Vicar of Christ.” However, beneath the elaborate and grandiose organizational structure with its veneer of monolithic unity is actually great discord. Conservative and traditionalist Catholics are appalled by the doctrine-bending reforms of the current progressive pope. Many conservative Catholics accuse pope Francis of “spreading confusion” within the church and some even denounce him as a heretic. When Broussard makes these claims for Catholicism’s authority, is he referring to the progressive, doctrine-defying Catholicism of pope Francis or is he referring to the conservative, doctrinaire Catholicism of cardinals Burke and Sarah? We’ve examined four of Broussard’s six chapters on church authority and so far he’s dishonestly failed to mention the current crisis within his church regarding papal authority and pope Francis.

Next up: “All Are One in Christ”

RCC fast facts:

The number of Catholic cardinals, bishops, and priests:

214 cardinals, 5839 bishops, and 415,000 priests.

The number of people who work at the Vatican, the RCC’s worldwide headquarters:


The total number of clergy employed by the RCC worldwide:

One million

The total number of Catholic parishes and members:

223,000 parishes and 1.3 billion Catholics.

The amount of land owned by the RCC:

Estimated at 177 million acres, or 277,000 square miles (Texas is 262,000 square miles.

The amount of the RCC’s annual spending worldwide:

Estimated at $170 billion

The number of times the genuine Gospel is preached in Catholic churches on a given Sunday?


25 thoughts on “Rebutting a Catholic apologist, #4: “Where Two or Three Are Gathered”

  1. Athanasius has some very hard truths for our delusional Romanist apologist, Karlo.

    Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria, on the Arians: May God comfort you. I know moreover that not only this thing saddens you, but also the fact that while others have obtained the churches by violence, you are meanwhile cast out from your places. For they hold the places, but you the Apostolic Faith. They are, it is true, in the places, but outside of the true Faith; while you are outside the places indeed, but the Faith, within you. Let us consider whether is the greater, the place or the Faith. Clearly the true Faith. Who then has lost more, or who possesses more? He who holds the place, or he who holds the Faith? Good indeed is the place, when the Apostolic Faith is preached there, holy is it if the Holy One dwell there. (After a little:) But ye are blessed, who by faith are in the Church, dwell upon the foundations of the faith, and have full satisfaction, even the highest degree of faith which remains among you unshaken. For it has come down to you from Apostolic tradition, and frequently has accursed envy wished to unsettle it, but has not been able. On the contrary, they have rather been cut off by their attempts to do so. For this is it that is written, ‘Thou art the Son of the Living God [Matt. xvi. 16, 17.] ,’ Peter confessing it by revelation of the Father, and being told, ‘Blessed art thou Simon Barjona, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to thee,’ but ‘My Father Who is in heaven,’ and the rest. No one therefore will ever prevail against your Faith, most beloved brethren. For if ever God shall give back the churches (for we think He will) yet without such restoration of the churches the Faith is sufficient for us. And lest, speaking without the Scriptures, I should [seem to] speak too strongly, it is well to bring you to the testimony of Scriptures, for recollect that the Temple indeed was at Jerusalem; the Temple was not deserted, aliens had invaded it, whence also the Temple being at Jerusalem, those exiles went down to Babylon by the judgment of God, who was proving, or rather correcting them; while manifesting to them in their ignorance punishment [by means] of blood-thirsty enemies. And aliens indeed had held the Place, but knew not the Lord of the Place, while in that He neither gave answer nor spoke, they were deserted by the truth. What profit then is the Place to them?

    For behold they that hold the Place are charged by them that love God with making it a den of thieves, and with madly making the Holy Place a house of merchandise, and a house of judicial business for themselves to whom it was unlawful to enter there. For this and worse than this is what we have heard, most beloved, from those who are come from thence. However really, then, they seem to hold the church, so much the more truly are they cast out. And they think themselves to be within the truth, but are exiled, and in captivity, and [gain] no advantage by the church alone. For the truth of things is judged… NPNF2, Vol 4, Festal Letters, Another Fragment, Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library, Pg 1324-1325

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      1. Broussard’s boasting isn’t very impressive. If he had any consistency, he’d leave the communion of Rome to the East since Pentecost was at Jerusalem and it was at Antioch where the disciples were first called “Christians” (Acts 11:26).

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    1. Thanks, Jimmy! This series requires a bit more work than my other posts, but I’m glad Catholic apologist Broussard presents each of his arguments in short, 5-page chapters.

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      1. I know the feeling! Or at least I see it somewhat analogous with my project of refuting the Skeptic Annotated Bible where I just finished my 120th post from his list. There are three accidental repeats though…

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  2. I posted this before, but I think this needs to be reiterated. No Bishop of Rome until late 2nd century, three tier episcopacy is a post NT development! Earthy churches were a network of house churches led by a plurality of elders.

    Francis A. Sullivan S.J. : The question whether the episcopate is of divine institution continues to divide the churches, even though Christian scholars from both sides agree that one does not find the threefold structure of ministry, with a bishop in each local church assisted by presbyters and deacons, in the New Testament. They agree, rather, that the historic episcopate was the result of a development in the post—New Testament period, from the local leader- ship of a college of presbyters, who were sometimes also called bishops (episkopoi), to the leadership of a single bishop. They also agree that this development took place earlier in the churches of Syria and western Asia Minor, than it did in those of Philippi, Corinth and Rome. Scholars differ on details, such as how soon the church of Rome was led by a single bishop, but hardly any doubt that the church of Rome was still led by a group of presbyters for at least a part of the second century. From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church, Paulist Press, 2001, Pg vii-viii

    Francis A. Sullivan, S.J.: There exists a broad consensus among scholars, including most Catholic ones, that such churches as those of Alexandria, Philippi, Corinth and Rome most probably continued to be led for some time by a college of presbyters, and that only during the course of the second century did the threefold structure become generally the rule, with a bishop, assisted by presbyters, presiding over each local church. Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., From Apostles to Bishops: The Development of the Episcopacy in the Early Church (Paulist Press, 2001), p. 15.

    Raymond Brown S.S.: The claims of various sees to descend from particular members of the Twelve are highly dubious. It is interesting that the most serious of these is the claim of the bishops of Rome to descend from Peter, the one member of the Twelve who was almost a missionary apostle in the Pauline sense – a confirmation of our contention that whatever succession there was from apostleship to episcopate, it was primarily in reference to the Pauline type of apostleship, not that of the Twelve. Priest and Bishop, Biblical Reflections,” Paulist Press, 1970, pg 72.

    Raymond Brown S.S. and John P. Meier: We have no accurate knowledge of Paul’s relation to Rome between that imprisonment and the time of his death. As for Peter, we have no knowledge at all of when he came to Rome and what he did there before he was martyred. Certainly he was not the original missionary who brought Christianity to Rome (and therefore not the founder of the church of Rome in that sense). There is no serious proof that he was the bishop (or local ecclesiastical officer) of the Roman church–a claim not made till the third century. —Raymond E. Brown, S.S., John P. Meier, Antioch and Rome, 1983, pp 98.

    Klaus Schatz, S.J.: The further question whether there was any notion of an enduring office beyond Peter’s lifetime, if posed in purely historical terms, should probably be answered in the negative. That is, if we ask whether the historical Jesus, in commissioning Peter, expected him to have successors, or whether the author of the Gospel of Matthew, writing after Peter’s death, was aware that Peter and his commission survived in the leaders of the Roman community who succeeded him, the answer in both cases is probably “no.” Klaus Schatz, S.J., Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present, trans. John A. Otto and Linda M. Maloney (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996), pp. 1-2.

    Klaus Schatz, S.J.: In fact, this “letter of Clement,” written around 95, is the first document indicating that the Roman community felt responsible for other churches. Its name is a subsequent addition, of course: according to Hegesippus’s list of bishops Clement was a bishop of Rome at that time, the third in succession. However, he is not named as the author of the letter; instead, the true sender is the Roman community. We probably cannot say for certain that there was a bishop of Rome at that time. It seems likely that the Roman church was governed by a group of presbyters from where there quickly emerged a presider or “first among equals” whose name was remembered and who was subsequently described as “bishop” after the mid-second century. Klaus Schatz, S.J., Papal Primacy: From Its Origins to the Present, trans. John A. Otto and Linda M. Maloney (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1996), p. 4.

    Klaus Schatz, S.J.: If one had asked a Christian in the year 100, 200, or even 300 whether the bishop of Rome was the head of all Christians, or whether there was a supreme bishop over all the other bishops and having the last word in questions affecting the whole Church, he or she would certainly have said no. Klaus Schatz, ” Papal Primacy, from its Origins to Present [Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996],” page 1

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: If some of the Roman sojourners in Jerusalem were among the three thousand Jews converted to Christianity according to the Lucan account (Acts 2:10-11,41), they may have formed the nucleus of the Christian community in Rome on their return there. Thus the Roman Christian community would have had its matrix in the Jewish community, possibly as early as the 30s, and thus was made up at first of Jewish Christians and God-fearing Gentiles (or even of proselytoi, Acts 2:11, also mentioned in Roman Jewish funerary inscriptions), who had associated themselves with Jews of Rome. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 29.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: A more reliable tradition associated Paul with Peter as “founders” of the Roman community, not in the sense that they first brought Christian faith there, but because both of them eventually worked there and suffered martyrdom there (or in its immediate environs), and because their mortal remains were in possession of the Roman church (see Ignatius, Rom. 4.3; Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses 3.1.1, 3.3.2 [SC 211.22-23, 32-33]). Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 30.

    Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J.: In any case, Paul never hints in Romans that he knows that Peter has worked in Rome or founded the Christian church there before his planned visit (cf. 15:20-23). If he refers indirectly to Peter as among the “superfine apostles” who worked in Corinth (2 Cor 11:4-5), he says nothing like that about Rome in this letter. Hence the beginnings of the Roman Christian community remain shrouded in mystery. Compare 1 Thess 3:2-5; 1 Cor 3:5-9; and Col 1:7 and 4:12-13for more or less clear references to founding apostles of other locales. Hence there is no reason to think that Peter spent any major portion of time in Rome before Paul wrote his letter, or that he was the founder of the Roman church or the missionary who first brought Christianity to Rome. For it seems highly unlikely that Luke, if he knew that Peter had gone to Rome and evangelized that city, would have omitted all mention of it in Acts. Joseph A. Fitzmyer, S.J., Romans, A New Translation with introduction and Commentary, The Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday, 1993), p. 30.

    Eamon Duffy: These stories were to be accepted as sober history by some of the greatest minds of the early church – Origen, Ambrose, Augustine – But they are pious romance, not history, and the fact is that we have no reliable accounts either of Peter’s later life or of the manner or place of his death. Neither Peter nor Paul founded the Church at Rome, for there were Christians in the city before either of the Apostles set foot there. Nor can we assume, as Irenaeus did, that the Apostles established there a succession of bishops to carry on their work in the city, for all the indications are that there was no single bishop at Rome for almost a century after the deaths of the Apostles. In fact, wherever we turn, the solid outlines of the Petrine succession at Rome seem to blur and dissolve (Saints & Sinners: A History of the Popes, Yale University Press, 2006, Pg 2).

    Peter Lampe: Thesis: The fractionation in Rome favored a collegial presbyterial system of governance and prevented for a long time, until the second half of the second century, the development of a monarchical episcopacy in the city. Victor (c. 189-99) was the first who, after faint-hearted attempts by Eleutherus (c. 175-89), Soter (c. 166-75), and Anicetus (c. 155-66), energetically stepped forward as monarchical bishop and (at times, only because he was incited from the outside) attempted to place the different groups in the city under his supervision or, where that was not possible, to draw a line by means of excommunication. Before the second half of the second century there was in Rome no monarchical episcopacy for the circles mutually bound in fellowship. Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 397.

    Peter Lampe: It was useful to assign to someone in Rome the work connected with eternal communication. Hermas knows such a person by the name of Clement. In The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3, Hermas prepares two copies of his small book and sends (πέμπω, within the city) one of them to Clement, who forwards it “to the cities outside, for he is entrusted with that task” (πέμψει Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται).
    It is important to note that Hermas’s “minister of external affairs” is not a monarchical bishop. In the second next sentence, Hermas describes how he circulates his little book within the city. He makes it known “to this city together with the presbyters who preside over the church” (εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας). A plurality of presbyters leads Roman Christianity. This Christianity, conscious of spiritual fellowship with the city, is summed up under the concept “ecclesia,” but that changes nothing in regard to the plurality of those presiding over it. In Vis. 3.9.7, Hermas also calls them προηγούμενοι [ verb roughly trans. “leading,” but can function as a noun] or πρωτοκαθεδρίται. See Peter Lampe, From Paul to Valentinus: Christians at Rome in the First Two Centuries, trans. Michael Steinhauser (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 398.

    Shepherd of Hermas: Therefore you will write two little books, and you will send one to Clement and one to Grapte. Then Clement will send it to the cities abroad, because that is his job. But Grapte will instruct the widows and orphans. But you yourself will read it to this city, along with the elders (i.e., presbyters, πρεσβυτέρων) who preside over the church. See J. B. Lightfoot and J.R. Harmer, eds. And trans., The Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations of Their Writings, 2nd Edition, The Shepherd of Hermas, Vision 2.4.3 (Grand Rapids: Babke Book House, 1992), pp. 345-347.

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  3. I have no idea why Broussard even bothers when his own Pope says that good atheists can be saved and Vatican II taught that good Muslims can be saved.

    Vatican II, Lumen Gentium: But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Moslems, these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind’s judge on the last day. Nor is God Himself remote from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, since he gives to all men life and breath and all things (cf. Acts 17:25–28), and since the Saviour wills all men to be saved (cf. 1 Tim. 2:4). Those who, who through no fault of their own, do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, but who nevertheless seek God with a sincere heart, and, moved by grace, try in their actions to do his will as they know it through the dictates of their conscience—those too may achieve eternal salvation.Vatican Council II The Conciliar and Post Conciliar Documents, Austin Flannery, O.P., General Editor (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1980), Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, Lumen Gentium II:16, p. 367.

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    1. SB, you pose a question that I OFTEN ask. That’s right, it makes no sense for Catholics to go to obligatory Sunday mass and sit through the boring liturgical rigmarole when according to their pope and bishops all “good” Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jews are also able to merit Heaven. Francis has said even atheists who follow their conscience can merit Heaven. Yes, in light of that teaching it is foolhardy for Broussard and the others at Catholics Answers and EWTN to debate theology with anyone. They’re still marching to the drumbeat of militant Catholicism that has long been silenced by their own leaders.

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  4. Rome is so strange and this interesting interpretation of Matthew 18 confirms it further it is quirky and unbiblical. Good response brother also appreciated the fast fact on the RC in the end as well too

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  5. I spoke too soon on Acts 15! I do hate how Protestants can Scripture twist Matt 18. In many churches, discipline is not practiced. I agree with you that Protestants most certainly adhere to governing structure/oversight. I was absolutely stunned when I learned that the Vatican did not help small perishes and that each church had to raise their own support. Today’s Pope is preaching liberation theology and equal distribution of wealth yet the Vatican does not help poor parishes. Talk about hypocrisy. How does the Vatican explain its vast wealth? Sorry, those thoughts have to do with your facts at the end and little to do with your post. Sorry if I am getting on your nerves!

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    1. Hi Mandy. Yes, I agree that Protestant churches generally do not practice Biblical discipline. It’s an impossible notion now that these mega-churches have 3-4-5 thousand members. I’ve written about the Vatican’s wealth in the past, but need to write more. That’s right, the Vatican does not subsidize dioceses and parishes. Dioceses merge and close parishes that are not self-sustaining. The Vatican predicts a huge financial shortfall this year because of C-19. The Vatican does have major investments but counts on the dividends to run the operations. The Vatican does have a huge number of non-liquid assets (land, buildings, and art work) but will argue the property is essential for running the operation and the artwork attracts the tourist trade, which is their biggest moneymaker.
      Sorry, I don’t mean to defend the Vatican or the Roman church. Their replication of the Roman imperial model (wealth and political power) was the antithesis of what Jesus and His apostles taught. Below is a link to my review of a scholarly book that examined how the early church devolved from the simple Gospel to imperialism.

      p.s. I’m happy to address any questions or feedback you may have.

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