What is the history of the Roman Catholic church? Did they originally start out in the right direction? How did they end up teaching doctrinal error?
The Roman Catholic Church has its roots in historic Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church was the Christian church until the great Reformation.
The Roman Catholic Church slowly evolved into what it is today. After the apostles died, the early church continued to grow and expand. It struggled with persecution, support for one another, organizational adjustments and defense against false doctrine from different groups. The teaching or the doctrine of the early church was what the apostles had taught. Consequently, it is not surprising that Satan attacked their teaching on all fronts. The books of the New Testament were challenged even though they had been given by the apostles through the Holy Spirit. Their writings were challenged and so the early church had to defend them. The first major proof that we have that the New Testament contained twenty-six books is the Muratorian manuscript (A.D. 170). The damaged parchment that we have contains almost all of the books. The New Testament was also challenged by false doctrine. Gnosticism was a major problem. The early church had to defend the truth.
As the church defended the truth, it also organized itself. The church in Rome was one of the first, as far as we know, that had a “pastor” or bishop, elders and deacons (A.D. 110). The Gnosticists claimed to know the truth and to have apostolic succession. So the church not only defended the truth, but claimed apostolic succession as well. The church was fighting for the truth. It wanted to demonstrate that its teaching agreed with the apostles. Here is a quote from an early church father, Irenaeus of Lyons.
It is within the power of all, therefore, in every church, who may wish to see the truth, to contemplate clearly the tradition of the apostles manifested throughout the world and we are in a position to reckon up those who were by the apostles instituted bishops in the churches, and (to demonstrate) the succession of these men to our times.
Eventually, the church claimed Christ’s promise to Peter in Matthew 16:18-19 as its authority.
And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. (NASB) Matthew 16:18-19
On To Error
In the years that followed, a papal form of government was formed and the church started drifting from its harbor of truth into waters of error. So often good beginnings turn to wrong because we forget our God – the Jesus is Lord! We become focused on our cause, our problem, our teaching, our group and forget Jesus! We try to do it without His Holy Spirit.
I have provided a very terse overview of how the early church evolved. Let me recommend a short book on church history entitled, The Church by Carl S. Meyer. May the Lord bless you.
1. Roberts, A. & Donalson, J. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Henrickson Pub., Peabody, MA, 1999. p. 415