In discussing the doctrinal aberrations of Catholicism with Catholics, it is likely that at some point you will be presented with something like the following claim about the Catholic Church and the "gates of hell":
Q. Why do you say that a church, to be the true Church of Christ, must have perpetually existed, without any interruption, since the time Christ established it?
A. Simply, because Christ promised such perpetuity to his Church.
Q. What are the words of Christ on this subject? Matth., xvi. chap., 18 ver.; and Matth. xxviii—20. [pg. 42]
A. "Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build by church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;" and, "Go, therefore, teach all nations . . . .and lo! I am with you all days, even to the consummation of the world."
Q. How does St. Paul speak of the Church of Christ? (1 Tim., iii. chap.)
A. He calls her the pillar and ground of truth.
Q. Were it true that the Church had in reality fallen into idolatry, what inference would you draw from that fact?
A. That Christ was an unskilled architect and a false prophet; because he must then have built his Church, not upon a rock, but upon sand, like that stupid architect of whom he himself speaks—Matth. chap. viii.; and because the gates of hell would then have really prevailed against the Church in spite of his prediction.
Q. What conclusion do you draw from all this?
A. That Christ established a Church; that that Church has existed in every age; that she exists at present; that she never could, and never can, fall into any error dangerous to salvation on matters of faith or morality; that every one, in fine, is bound with a firm and [pg. 43] unshaken faith to believe what she teaches, because her doctrines are, like those of her Divine Master, the same yesterday, to-day, and forever.
Q. What say you to those who admit that the Catholic Church was the true Church up to Luther's time, but that many errors and abuses had crept into her, which it was necessary to correct?
A. If the Catholic Church was the Church of Christ before Luther, she must be so still; hence, those who have left her are, to say the least, schismatics. Again, either these supposed errors were prejudicial to salvation, or they were not. If they were, then Christ has failed in his word,—then the gates of hell have prevailed against the Church, and this in the very teeth of Christ's promises and security to the contrary. If these errors were not prejudicial to salvation, then they mere only the errors of individuals, not the errors of the Church teaching ; and, accordingly, it was merely necessary to correct the individuals, but on every account to cling to the Church, as the pillar and ground of truth; to act otherwise, was to be guilty of the dreadful crime of schism, so awfully denounced by St. Paul.
Q. What do Protestants teach as regards the Church?
A. That she fell into gross errors, and corrupted the purity of the Gospel doctrine of Christ.
Q. Is this clearly in opposition to Scripture?
A. Yes; because the Gospel tells us, that the Church can never fall into error: "Upon this rock I will build my Church and the gates of hell shall never prevail against it." (Matth xvi, 18) A rock is its foundation, Christ its builder, [pg. 96] and his power its prop and support. "He that will not hear the Church," says Christ, " is to be reputed as a heathen and a publican." (Matth xviii, 17,) "I will be with you," says Christ again, to his Apostles and their successors, "all days (that is each and every day) to the end of the world." In fine, St. Paul calls the Church the pillar and ground of truth. 1 Tim. iii, 15.
Source: A Doctrinal Catechism, by Rev. Stephen Keenan, Imprimatur by John Cardinal McCloskey, Archbishop of New York, Copyright 1876 by T. W. Strong.
So the Catholic is assured by their church that it can never fall into doctrinal apostasy, that the dogmatic teachings of the successors of Peter are guaranteed to always be the pure truth, and that to believe otherwise is to make Jesus a liar or false prophet in Matthew 16:18. This claim of "infallibility" for the Catholic Church, which considers Tradition the equal of scripture, stands in direct opposition to the Protestant's Sola Scriptura, which considers the Bible as the infallible teacher and final authority for all doctrine. Let's examine some scripture on the subject of the church:
2 Th 2:3 Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition;
2 Th 2:4 Who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God, or that is worshipped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God.
2 Th 2:7 For the mystery of iniquity doth already work: only he who now letteth will let, until he be taken out of the way.
2 Th 2:8 And then shall that Wicked be revealed, whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy with the brightness of his coming:
From the above passage it is clear that "the man of sin" will be in control of the church, making blasphemous claims and exalting himself above God during a "falling away" or period of doctrinal apostasy. Note also that this apostasy is only brought to an end by the second coming of Jesus. Once in apostasy, this church does not recover, even until the very end of time.
Acts 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Acts 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Again, here in the book of Acts, it is clear that apostasy and false teachers will arise within the church. In scripture the church is spoken of as a woman, and her fidelity is defined by particular attributes. For example, in Revelation 12 the church is described in admirable terms:
Rev 12:1 And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
Rev 12:13 And when the dragon saw that he was cast unto the earth, he persecuted the woman which brought forth the man child.
This woman is symbolically the doctrinally pure church at the time of Christ, which soon was to suffer severe persecution for their faith. Another woman in Revelation is described in a dramatically different manner:
Rev 17:1 And there came one of the seven angels which had the seven vials, and talked with me, saying unto me, Come hither; I will show unto thee the judgment of the great whore that sitteth upon many waters:
Rev 17:2 With whom the kings of the earth have committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth have been made drunk with the wine of her fornication.
Rev 17:3 So he carried me away in the spirit into the wilderness: and I saw a woman sit upon a scarlet coloured beast, full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns.
Rev 17:4 And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet colour, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication:
Rev 17:5 And upon her forehead was a name written, MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.
Rev 17:6 And I saw the woman drunken with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus: and when I saw her, I wondered with great admiration.
Note that this women is described as a harlot, indicating doctrinal apostasy, and that she is full of names of blasphemy. This is also a persecuting church, drunken with the blood of God's true martyrs. Indeed the apostate church of Revelation 17 is the church that persecutes the doctrinally pure church of Revelation 12. Satan thru the apostate "mother" church makes war on God's true people:
Rev 12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
Note that God's true remnant church is defined as a "commandment keeping" church? This presupposes that the apostate mother church of Revelation 17 is by definition a commandment "breaking" church. So if the mother church falls into apostasy and becomes a persecutor, then what of Jesus' promise back in Matthew 16 about the "gates of hell"
Mat 16:13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
Mat 16:14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
Mat 16:15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
Mat 16:16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
Mat 16:17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
Mat 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Now to see what Jesus was talking about, lets compare with other places in scripture:
Job 38:17 Have the gates of death been opened unto thee? or hast thou seen the doors of the shadow of death?
Psa 9:13 Have mercy upon me, O LORD; consider my trouble which I suffer of them that hate me, thou that liftest me up from the gates of death:
Psa 107:18 Their soul abhorreth all manner of meat; and they draw near unto the gates of death.
Isa 38:10 I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years.
Who has the keys to the gates of death and the grave?
John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
John 10:27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me:
John 10:28 And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
John 17:2 As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him.
John 17:3 And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent.
Rom 2:7 To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life:
Rom 2:8 But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath,
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
1 Tim 6:12 Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou art also called, and hast professed a good profession before many witnesses.
Titus 3:7 That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Rev 1:18 I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.
It is clear from the above texts that whoever has faith in Jesus Christ (the rock on which the church is founded) will gain eternal life and not perish. Those with a true faith are promised that they will triumph over the grave and live forever. This is exactly the same promise that Jesus made in Matthew 16:18 to Peter! He actually said there that the second death, the grave (the gates of hell), will have no claim on the people of God, who as their reward for faith will inherit eternal life. The gates of hell will, however, claim the wicked, who will perish forever. So, it was not a promise that the Catholic Church would be protected from apostasy and remain doctrinally pure from the time of Christ through to the second coming. Rather, as shown above, it is clearly prophesied by the book of Revelation that the "mother" Catholic Church would fall into apostasy, persecute God's true people, and never recover from her apostasy even unto the second coming!
What Does the Word Vatican Mean? for more on the woman of Rev. 17.
Upon this Rock - is it Peter that the church is founded on?
The Pillar and Ground of Truth - Is it the Roman Catholic Church?
Seducing Spirits and Doctrines of Demons - for more on apostasy.
Time, Times, and Half a Time? for more on the time period of persecution.
Papal Claims to Authority and 2 Thess 2: 3-4 for the blasphemous man of sin.