"I don't get you people," the young lady complained. "I'm a Roman Catholic who was placed on your newsletter list, no doubt by one of my well-meaning Protestant friends. Some of the stuff you write is interesting, if not worthwhile, but I'm sick and tired of your continually picking on my Church! We love Jesus just as much as any of you non-Catholics. And why are you promoting ExCatholics For Christ? Why don't you push ex-Baptists, ex-Methodists, or ex-Presbyterians for Christ? Quit attacking us Catholics!!"
We receive a few such letters from Roman Catholics voicing their objections to what we write about their Church's beliefs and practices. That neither greatly surprises nor disturbs us. It is disheartening, however, to hear from an increasing number of professing evangelicals who are just as critical of our "attacking Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ." Even some of our longtime readers wonder why at times we seem to be "so preoccupied" with Roman Catholicism.
As many of you know, TBC is a ministry actively concerned about trends, movements, events, organizations, influential church personalities, teachings, practices, etc., which adversely affect the body of Christ. Our bottom-line evaluation of any teaching or practice is simply: Is it biblical? (Is 8:20; Acts 17:11). This is what God has called us to do, as well as to exhort believers in Christ to grow in personal discernment, that they may be encouraged to test all things by the Scriptures (2 Cor 13:5; 1 Thes 5:21).
So how does Roman Catholicism fit into this?
From a biblical perspective, nothing impacting the church today, other than possibly the influence of psychology, is more detrimental to evangelicals' understanding, application and proclamation of the gospel that saves souls than is their increasing acceptance of the Catholic gospel. In this two-part series, we will detail some of the reasons for giving this so much of our attention.
Our motivation includes: 1) Our concern for the eternal destiny of nearly one billion Catholic souls worldwide (one in four in the United States) who are lost if Roman Catholicism teaches an unbiblical gospel. 2) Our concern over the lack of discernment, and consequently the decreasing spiritual fruitfulness in the body of Christ because Catholics are not only being accepted as fellow believers by increasing numbers of evangelicals today, but some of their false beliefs and rituals are also being assimilated. 3) Our compelling love for Christ and our obedience to His Word.
Central to this issue is Roman Catholicism's gospel of salvation. If the differences between what the Bible teaches and what the Catholic Church teaches are insignificant, then we are to be blamed (as some have already complained) for being divisive, and therefore destructive to the unity of the faith. However, if the differences are irreconcilable, then the wrong belief condemns its adherents to an eternity separated from God. Are the differences significant? Are they reconcilable?
For all its serious problems, the Roman Catholic Church cannot be faulted for misunderstanding what evangelicals believe is the gospel of salvation, since it is spelled out in no uncertain terms in Rome's official canons and decrees. The following citations are from the Council of Trent, which met over a nineteen-year period primarily to denounce the teachings of the Protestant Reformation. Although the Council met in the sixteenth century, its decrees were reaffirmed by the Church's most recent councils, both Vatican I and II. Consider Catholicism's position on what evangelicals uphold as the gospel (that is, that salvation is by grace through faith alone in Christ alone who, through His sacrificial death on the cross, paid the full penalty for all the sins of humanity): [See Salvation]
6th Session, Canon 9: If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification...let him be anathema.
6th Session, Canon 12: If anyone shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ's sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
6th Session, Canon 30: If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.
7th Session, Canon 4: If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law [canons and decrees of the Church] are not necessary for salvation but...without them...men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification...let him be anathema.
An anathema, according to Webster's New World Dictionary, is a condemnation, "a formal curse, as in excommunicating a person." As the above decrees demand, Roman Catholicism requires more than faith in Christ for salvation. Obedience to the laws of the Church, regarded as "grace-enabled" works and including participation in the sacraments, is necessary for entrance into heaven. Breaking the laws (i.e., committing mortal sins) consigns one to eternal separation from God if such sins are not absolved by a priest before death.
In contrast to the Roman Catholic process of salvation through meritorious works, the Apostle Paul gives the biblical teaching that salvation is by grace through faith and not of works, but it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8-9; Romans 6:23). Paul insists that "to him that worketh not, but believeth on [Jesus Christ who] justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5). Again in Galatians: "But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith" (3:11). Demanding that works are necessary for salvation is an outright rejection of Christ's perfect and complete atonement for sins on the cross. Yet Roman Catholic dogma insists there is something one can and must do to complete his redemption and to be reconciled to God. It teaches that, without personally appeasing God for one's sins through suffering here on earth and almost certainly in purgatory, there is no hope of salvation. Referring to those who have suffered for sins, Vatican II states, "They have carried their crosses to make expiation for their own sins and the sins of others" (ID chp 2:5). The Bible, however, declares this to be an impossibility.
Can the unjust justify the unjust? No. Christ alone is the justifier of the unjust (1Pt 3:18; Romans 3:25-26). Divine justice could only be satisfied sacrificially by one who was not under condemnation for sin. Peter (whom Catholics claim as their first infallible pope) writes, "...ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, ...but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot" (1 Pt 1:18-19). Furthermore, without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins (Hebrews 9:22). Therefore, in order to remove sins according to the Scriptures, the one atoning must be sinless and his sacrifice must involve the shedding of blood. That disqualifies everyone except Jesus Christ, "in whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins" (Eph 1:7; Col 1:14) and who "loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood" (Rv 1:5). Thus not only is every penitential work by a Catholic futile, but even more grievous is the fact that it denies the finished work of Christ on the cross one's only hope for salvation.
Vatican II (which many evangelicals and professing born-again Catholics wrongly assume has redirected Roman Catholicism on a more biblical and therefore more evangelically compatible course) states that "From the most ancient times in the Church good works were also offered to God for the salvation of sinners, particularly the works [i.e., sufferings and miseries] which human weakness finds hard.... Indeed, the prayers and good works of holy people were regarded as of such great value that it could be asserted that the penitent was washed, cleansed and redeemed with the help of the entire Christian people..." (ID chp 2:5). "Penitential expiation" in Catholic teaching requires that sins be paid for by the sinner through purifying punishments. Vatican II explains:
Sins must be expiated. This may be done on this earth through the sorrows, miseries and trials of this life and, above all, through death. Otherwise the expiation must be made in the next life through fire and torments or purifying punishments....
...in purgatory the souls of those..."who had not made satisfaction with adequate penance for their sins and omissions" are cleansed after death with punishments designed to purge away their debt (ID chp 1:2). See Purgatory
On the contrary, believers sing with profound thankfulness of that which the Bible tells us over and over again Christ's sacrifice: "He paid a debt He did not owe, I owed a debt I could not pay...." God's Word declares that "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). Only the blood of Jesus Christ, i.e., His death, can cleanse us from sin (1 Jn 1:7). Roman Catholicism clearly preaches another gospel condemned by Paul (Gal 1:6-9).
Some may be thinking, "Why does TBC spend so much time telling us something that is so obvious?" The primary reason is that those who see the obvious are a rapidly decreasing minority. The majority of evangelicals are simply following their leaders toward Rome. Nearly all the highly visible Christian personalities and parachurch organizations are either blind to Catholicism's false salvation, or, for their own reasons or agendas (regarding which I hope our readers will inquire of them), they choose to dismiss this critical matter of the eternal destiny of a vast number of souls. They get very upset when we state that the Roman Catholic Church is an enemy of the gospel. What other term should we use? The clear denunciation of the biblical gospel by the Council of Trent, with its more than 100 anathemas (in addition to the four listed above), and reaffirmed by the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s, comes from the highest Roman Catholic authority.
So why would those who claim to be evangelicals, and whose ministries seem to be effective for God's kingdom, compromise with a Church which is the enemy of the gospel?
Why would a host of evangelical leaders (Bill Bright, Chuck Colson, Pat Robertson, J.I.Packer, Max Lucado, Os Guiness, Timothy George and others) sign an agreement calling Catholics "brothers and sisters in Christ" and agreeing not to evangelize them? See Holding Hands With The Pope
Why would James Dobson accept an honorary degree from Catholic Franciscan University? Or why would Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson, allow a Catholic bishop to say Mass on campus, or the school's president declare that his goal was "to make room for all of the historic Christian traditions, both Protestant and Catholic"?
Why would Billy Graham say in 1952, "Many of the people who have reached a decision for Christ at our meetings have joined the Catholic Church, and we have received commendations from Catholic publications for the revived interest in their church following one of our campaigns" (Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph 9/6/52)? And add, 25 years later, "I've found that my beliefs are essentially the same as those of Orthodox Roman Catholics....We only differ on some matters of later Church tradition" (McCall's 1/78)?
How is it that more than 70 percent of the chaplains for Prison Fellowship are Roman Catholic? Why did Chuck Colson, a co-developer with Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus of the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" accord, recently turn over the reins of Prison Fellowship to Michael Timmis, a practicing Roman Catholicand.. why is Timmis a Promise Keeper board member?
Dallas Theological Seminary's leadership conference for evangelical pastors and seminarians is being held this month. Why would they have as a keynote speaker William Bennett, a founding director of Catholic Campaign for America, which has the following mission statement: "We are a lay Catholic movement to energize and mobilize Catholics to renew their faith and, through that renewal, to help transform American public policy, culture, and society"?
Why would Hank Hanegraaff, president of the evangelical apologetics organization Christian Research Institute, and host of "The Bible Answer Man" radio program, claim that Roman Catholicism is "foundationally Christian"?
The cries we hear from both Catholics and evangelicals are that TBC is living in the "dark ages," or that we have a "Reformation hangup," or aren't we aware that Vatican II has redirected the Roman Catholic Church along biblical lines? If their concerns are valid, we need to acknowledge it; if however such critics are mistaken, that should be exposed.
My sister, who was helping with the inaugural ExCatholics For Christ Conference, met a friend while shopping. The conversation got around to what my sister was doing, and her friend, an evangelical, was dismayed that there would be such a conference. "After all," she explained, "my sister-in-law is a Catholic and she's saved. She has no intention of leaving the Catholic Church because that's where she's comfortable." It seems that this lady and her sister-in-law are uninformed concerning what the Bible teaches, or the Catholic faith, or perhaps both. They have a great deal of company among evangelicals who are asking: "Does it really matter?" and "Isn't TBC engaged at times in nothing more than veiled Catholic bashing?"
One of the most frustrating aspects of addressing the Roman Catholic gospel is the prevailing ignorance regarding what Catholicism actually teaches. Most evangelicals are clueless regarding Catholicism. And many practicing Catholics (including a surprisingly high number of priests and nuns) simply do not know the actual extent of the salvation requirements of their Church. Surveys of Catholics reveal the common understanding about attaining heaven: that it centers around doing works which are pleasing to God (i.e., living one's life as a basically good person), performing a preponderence of good deeds to outweigh the bad, and living up to most of what the Church teaches. Nearly all Catholics believe this affords them the best chance for getting to heaven. However, this hope falls far short of what their Church officially requires. Also See The Catholic Catechism
All Catholics "know" that it is the Church which saves them, but few understand what the Roman Catholic legalistic system of salvation demands. Foundationally, it is this: Refusal to obey the laws and decrees of the Church is a mortal sin which condemns one to hell if each such transgression is not confessed to and absolved by a priest before death. As Vatican II declared in the 1960s,
[When the Bishops are] assembled in an ecumenical council, they are, for the universal Church, teachers of and judges in matters of faith and morals, whose decisions must be adhered to with the loyal and obedient assent of faith.
...when the Roman Pontiff, or the body of bishops together with him, define a doctrine, they make the definition in conformity with revelation itself, to which all are bound to adhere and to which they are obliged to submit... (Lumen Gentium 252). [Emphasis added]
Considering all the laws of the Church (a task most lawyers would find overwhelming), it's doubtful that even the most zealous Catholics know and obey every one of them. Catholics more often than not take a "cafeteria" approach to their religion, picking and choosing what laws they want to obey. For example, many reject the Church's teachings and regulations regarding contraception (even abortion!), marriage to a non-Catholic, divorce and remarriage, annulments, etc. Many wrongly think the Church has done away with some of its infallible doctrines such as indulgences (yet Vatican II condemns with anathema those who reject this doctrine). Some Catholics don't believe that transubstantiation actually changes the communion wafer into the real body, blood, soul and spirit of Jesus Christ, and some refuse to believe that purgatory is a reality. Regardless of what individual dissenting Catholics think, they are condemned by their Church for rejecting its teachings.
In addition to the myriad doctrines to "all" of which Catholics are "bound to adhere" and "obliged to submit," an inordinate and often hopelessly confusing number of other requirements are imposed which also carry the penalty of damnation if not obeyed. For instance, it is the rare Catholic who attends Mass on all the holy days of obligation. Not to do so is a mortal sin, yet one would be hard pressed to find a Catholic who can name them. Recently in a debate, Dave Hunt asked a leading Catholic apologist, Robert Sungenis, to enumerate them for the audience. He offered only three, two of which were incorrect (TBC offers this informative audio tape set). Part of the problem here for Sungenis and every other Catholic (other than their Church making this a sin which potentially separates them from God forever) is the complexity of this manmade requirement. Ten holy days of obligation are recognized worldwide, but in the U.S. only six require attendance at Mass. The conference of bishops decides which ones are abolished and which feast days are to be transferred to a Sunday. It seems rather incredible, as well as unbiblical, that having a current liturgical calendar (in order to know what days of each year attendance is required) should be necessary to qualify one for heaven!
But it's far more complicated than that.
Few lay Catholics are familiar with the Code of Canon Law, containing more than 1,750 laws which dictate Church rules and practice. Most know the laws they agree with and which ones they reject, but few Catholics understand that they have no such liberty of choice in this comprehensive legalistic system. Any ongoing conscious disobedience with regard to the commands of the Church excludes one from "the state of grace" thus condemning one to hell. This bondage to law brings to mind the rebuke Jesus directed at the religious leaders of His day. From their extrabiblical tradition they imposed on the people "the commandments of men" (Mt 15:9), i.e., a profusion of rules and regulations. As a consequence the people are put under tremendous legalistic burdens and shut out of the kingdom of heaven (Mt 23:13).
Unlike God's immutable laws, Catholicism's extra biblical legalities are arbitrary and variable yet carry eternally damning consequences. For example, eating meat on Friday was once a mortal sin; today, it's not. Formerly, a divorced Catholic who remarried was excommunicated; that's not the case today where changes in the laws seem to have been made in order to accommodate changes in our culture. While it is claimed that these are rules ordained by God, would our Lord make hell the penalty for generations of people, and then remove the penalty for a subsequent generation committing the same act? Not the God of the Bible.
Some Catholics have told me that they simply do not buy all the salvation requirements of their Church: "God will sort it all out in the end!" Rather than giving one peace of mind, however, this ill-founded hope raises a troubling question: For those Catholics who reject certain teachings of their Church, why would they nevertheless accept as valid the more agreeable doctrines Roman Catholicism promotes? For example, on what basis would one who rejects the teaching that contraception is a mortal sin be confident that receiving the Eucharist as Viaticum at the point of death assures one of eternal life? This quandary concerning one's eternal destiny is manifest for liberal and "cafeteria" Catholics, and especially for a rapidly growing, relatively new category of those who refer to themselves as "evangelical Catholics."
According to the pamphlet, "What is an Evangelical Catholic [EC]?" written by thirty Roman Catholics (mostly priests and nuns) and published "With Ecclesiastical Permission," ECs are those who
...have come into a personal faith in Jesus. They are evangelical in the strictest sense of the term in that they have received the basic gospel, accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Saviour and are manifesting the fruit of the Holy Spirit in their daily lives. [They] have a growing love and respect for Scripture as the Word of God....They would identify themselves variously as committed Christians, Charismatic Catholics, renewed Catholics, born again Catholics, or simply Catholics who love the Lord. Surely they are brothers or sisters in Christ of all true Evangelical Christians in the various Protestant Churches. (Emphasis added)
Are they, "surely?" Is it possible to truly believe in two diametrically opposed gospels at the same time?
Can a faithful Catholic agree with what the Bible requires for salvation... faith alone in Christ alone while also agreeing that "the sacraments of the New Law [canons and decrees of the Church] are... necessary for salvation" and "without them... men" cannot "obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification..." (Trent, 7th Session, Canon 4)?
"Faith alone" is condemned by the Roman Catholic Church. Adding anything to faith is condemned as a false gospel by the Apostle Paul (Gal 1:6-9). Can an "evangelical" Catholic priest transubstantiate a piece of bread into the body and blood of Christ and then during the Mass "immolate" Him ("to kill as in a sacrifice," according to Webster's New World Dictionary)? Can this priest, while celebrating the Mass, also deny that the Eucharist is "truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ..." (Trent, 13th Session, Canon 1)? Evangelicals believe that the communion elements are simply symbolic, a view anathematized by the "infallible" Council of Trent. Can "evangelical" Catholic communicants believe that the Eucharist is only symbolic of Christ and at the same time believe that the bread and wine become "the Body and Blood of Christ"? Not while claiming to be rational!
The heartbreak in all of this is that every evangelical who loves Catholics wants to believe that they really have "received the basic gospel." But which one? Rome's or the biblical gospel? And with which Jesus do they have a personal relationship? The One who cried out from the cross, "It is finished!" (i.e., the debt is fully paid), or the one who continues to be sacrificed around the world (more than 120 million times per year) on Catholic altars? And what of charismatic Catholics who seem to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit? Does He energize their sacraments (which deny the gospel), rituals, prayers (rosaries?), and revitalize their devotions to Mary as nearly all of them claim? No, not the Spirit of truth!
What then do we make of all this "evangelical" Catholic talk? It's part of an aggressive strategy to subvert evangelical Christianity. But why would the Roman Catholic Church even consider such a thing? The Church of Rome views itself as the visible head of Christianity; it claims authority over all who would call themselves Christians. Evangelical Christianity, which rejects Roman Catholic salvation and Rome's control in favor of the true gospel and submission to Jesus Christ personally and directly, is Catholicism's most productive enemy. The primary reason? Catholics hear the biblical gospel of salvation; they believe it and are saved. They then leave the Church. These conversions have been taking place for millions of Catholics around the world, and especially in Latin American countries where the Pope has called evangelicals "sheep-stealing rapacious wolves" and dangerous "sects" (the Vatican term for cults).
To counter those losses, beginning with Vatican II, Rome has donned evangelical apparel and added some biblical accessories (although her unbiblical salvation remains the same). Her goal has been to seduce evangelical Christians into believing that Roman Catholicism is proclaiming the same gospel and the same Jesus, so converting Catholics is redundant at best, un-Christian at worst. Rome's success in this ploy has been astounding (see Part I for just a few examples). But haven't the modifications instituted by Vatican II, the ecumenical dialogues with Baptists, Mennonites, Assemblies of God, etc., the agreement on justification with Lutherans, and the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" accord at least demonstrated that the Roman Catholic Church is indeed changing, becoming more biblical? Augustin Cardinal Bea, president at the time of the Vatican Secretariat for Promoting Christian Unity, and ardent suitor of leading evangelicals, makes clear Rome's intentions:
The Roman Catholic Church would be gravely misunderstood if it should be concluded that her present ecumenical adventuresomeness and openness meant that she was prepared to reexamine any of her fixed dogmatic positions. What the Church is prepared to do is to take... a more imaginative and contemporary presentation of these fixed positions. (Emphasis added)
Millions of former Catholics are now attending evangelical churches. I've spoken in one church (of more than 500 members) where more than 90 percent of them were born-again ex-Catholics. Most such believers, although thankful for their own deliverance from spiritual bondage, nevertheless grieve daily over their lost loved ones. Yet what compounds their sorrow is not only the animosity shown by Catholic friends and family members because they left the Church, but the fact that too often their evangelical churches offer little or no help in reaching Catholics for Christ; some even disdain the activity as offensive and unloving. Pastors! Elders! Ministry leaders! You and your church or organization must "offend" Catholics with the truth that they are lost and then with the good news of what they need to believe to be saved! It is our heart's cry that this would matter deeply to every evangelical who claims to love Roman Catholics. Anything less is real "Catholic bashing." TBC [See Reaching Catholics With The Gospel]