Program Description: Tom welcomes guest Jim McCarthy, author of The Gospel According to Rome and Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical. The two discuss the merging of the Catholic Church with Protestant churches.
Gary: Welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7, a radio ministry of The Berean Call featuring T.A. McMahon. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in. In today’s program, Tom begins a two-part series with guest, author and documentary producer, Jim McCarthy. Here’s TBC executive director Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. You know, once again, the topic for today is Roman Catholicism - in particular, and fundamentally so, the gospel that the Church of Rome teaches and preaches, and I guess it’s about a billion and a quarter or so Catholics accept, or actually are obligated to accept. And our guest to discuss this subject is Jim McCarthy. He’s the author of a number of books, including The Gospel According to Rome and Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical. He’s also produced a terrific documentary, a DVD titled Catholicism: Crisis of Faith.
Jim, welcome to Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Jim: Thank you, Tom. It’s been some time since I’ve been on your show, and it’s good to be back with you.
Tom: Yeah! Jim, you, like I did - we grew up Roman Catholic, and one of the many things that I greatly appreciate about your book The Gospel According to Rome - which, by the way, when I teach about Catholicism locally or wherever, that’s the book I like to use - obviously the Scriptures, but it’s really a helpful book.
But the thing I appreciate about it is you address some of the experiential aspects of Catholicism which non-Catholic apologists can’t really do if they’ve never been Catholic. And that may not seem like - that it’s important to evangelicals, but I think it’s quite helpful for Catholics who read your books. I think it supplies an added measure of validity.
So, Jim, tell us about your background, your growing up Catholic.
Jim: Well, I was raised in San Francisco. My parents were from Ireland, so my upbringing was part-American, part-Irish, and very Catholic. There was quite a bit of clergy in the family, and my brothers and sisters and I all went to the parochial schools and had a very good experience. Our lives really revolved around the parish, and priests and nuns who were really wonderful people. You know, you hear all these scandals today, and we didn’t experience any of that. It was a very good experience.
Tom: Jim, I just want to interject this: it was the same with me. I know people are outraged by some of the things going on within the Catholic Church today, but it didn’t seem to affect our lives. I didn’t understand the belief system really well; I’m not sure many Catholics did, but still, in terms of people and their effect on our lives… So I just want to underscore that. It was true with me, as well.
Jim: Yeah, that’s right, Tom, and I think it’s true for many people, and that’s why they remain Catholic; they like being Catholic, and it’s their culture, it’s their identity, and it’s meant a lot to them. And I’m grateful for not only that, but the things I was taught, you know, as a child about God, and much of the doctrine I was taught was correct. So all that to this day I benefit from, and I got a great education on top of it.
Tom: Yeah. So what was the problem? I mean, looking back on it now.
Jim: I first and foremost want to say the problem was with me, not with the Church. The Church has its own problems, no doubt, but I can’t really excuse my problems, saying, “Well, you know, it’s all because of the Church.” What happened, Tom, is despite 12 years of religious education and serving as an altar boy and all those things, when I went off to university here in San Francisco, within a year I was just like everybody else, you know? I learned, looking back, that my Christianity was really just skin-deep. It was rituals and it was creeds, but there was no inward reality in my life [that] showed it. And then about - when I was 23 I was invited to a home Bible study, and for the first time I heard the gospel of Jesus Christ in a clear way from the Scriptures, and that had a life-changing effect upon me.
And then the next two years were very difficult, Tom, because I spent about two years trying to figure out, “What did I miss? I mean, how did I go through all that Catholicism and miss the most important thing,” which was how to have a proper relationship with God through Jesus Christ.
Jim: And with that study of looking at the doctrines of Roman Catholicism from an adult perspective, that ended in the decision that I was going to leave the Catholic Church, which was a very difficult decision for me because of the reasons I gave a moment ago, but one that I felt before God I had to take.
Tom: Yeah. Jim, for a number of years, you headed up a ministry called Good News for Catholics. Now, based on what you said, how did that come about, and what was your motivation for starting such a ministry?
Jim: When I became a Christian and began to study the Scriptures, Tom, I searched for good materials who would help me understand Catholicism from a biblical perspective, and there are some good materials, but none of them were really written for a person like me with a Catholic background. They were very Protestant. Some of them, I thought, were a little unbalanced, harsh. So as I matured as a Christian and studied more, I actually approached an author and asked him - a Christian author who had done some good work - asked if he would write something on Catholicism, and he wasn’t interested. And eventually I felt God saying to me, “Well, why don’t you do something yourself?” So I began producing materials and the video documentary Catholicism: Crisis of Faith…
Jim: …pamphlets, and things like that. And Good News for Catholics came about more or less to publish and handle the distribution of those materials.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Jim, again, your approach - I remember first watching the Catholicism: Crisis of Faith, and in that, for folks that don’t know - and we offer it through The Berean Call here - you had former nuns and priests for the most part. I mean, you see, what people don’t understand as you - not just alluded to, you said straight out, and I have the same feeling - you know, it was like I was raised by Catholic priests and nuns. I went away to private school. We had priests over at our house all the time. Best buds were Monsignor Matthew Howard from Saint Mary’s - with my dad, I’m talking about - so we had this relationship and this involvement. And what I’m getting at here is that people - unless they understand that the respect that you had and that I had for nuns and priests… But our heartbreak was and now is that they committed their life - you know, nuns are supposed to be the bride of Christ, priests serving Him, and it was not the biblical Jesus. It was not what the Scriptures say, so that’s where the heartbreak was. So we love the people, but the issue with regard to their belief system is contrary to the Scriptures.
Jim: Yeah, I fully agree with you, Tom, and maybe some of your listeners don’t really get that, because I think until you personally understand the gospel of Jesus Christ and what it’s really saying, and why it’s not something that can be confused or added to, you just don’t get - why are people being so precise and argumentative about this thing? Can’t we just kind of live and let live? I mean, isn’t belief in Jesus close enough?
Jim: You either have it or you don’t, and you understand it or you don’t. And that’s why, you know, it’s true what you said: these are beautiful people, sincere, well-meaning, but there’s basic doctrines in Roman Catholicism that are just absolutely wrong.
Tom: You know, Jim, I would add to that: I would say, folks, it doesn’t just apply to the system - the belief system of Roman Catholicism - it applies to denominations; it applies to local churches; it applies to…I don’t care if you call yourself a Baptist, Seventh Day Adventist, or whatever it might be, the issue is not the denomination, per se, it’s do you know the biblical Jesus? Do you understand His teaching? You know, you can believe it, but are you living it out in your life? That’s where the personal relationship comes in, and it’s - I find it missing in many so-called Protestant…and by the way, folks, that’s kind of a misnomer: Jim’s a Protestant, I’m a Protestant, because we protested against the Catholic Church. But if you’ve never been a Catholic…
Well, anyway, I don’t want to make too big a deal of that, but again, going back to denominations, the things that we’re going to talk about right now with regard to Roman Catholicism, I see applying to denominations, so-called Protestant or non-Catholic denominations - not every one; not every local fellowship, and so on, but it’s there, and it’s there in spades. Would you agree, Jim?
Jim: I would, Tom. And I mean, we’ve already got a very big topic with Roman Catholicism, but as you mentioned, the confusion we’re talking about, the adding to the gospel, unfortunately, it’s pretty widespread denominationally in Christendom today. And much of what we’re saying applies just as much to many Protestant churches as it does to the Catholic Church.
Tom: Right. Well, Jim, as we’ve talked about what’s taking place among those who profess to be Bible-believing Christians (at least alluding to that), the change, the shift in the church from the time we became believers…now, for me, it’s been about 38 years through today. You know, I see the change as absolutely staggering.
I had young people back then, 38 years ago - evangelical young people…they had no problem - not in a harsh way or a “I’ve got the truth and you don’t” way, in my face - but they challenged me with regard to what I believed as a Roman Catholic, and what was the basis for that? How about with you?
Jim: Well, for me, I wasn’t so much confronted by people as I was by Scripture.
Jim: The group that I met of Bible-believing Christians were very kind of mild and scholarly, and didn’t really seem to know much about Catholicism, so they never really spoke about it. But when I started comparing what the Bible said with what the Catholic catechisms and theology books that I had, that’s where I started seeing the difference. Then I began reading the more official documents of the Church - for instance, the documents of the Council of Trent, and the Vatican II council…
Jim: …and it was a hard process, because I was an engineer. I wasn’t a theologian, and so I had to do a lot of kind of background education on these things. My education in Catholicism was really just at a layperson’s level, so I had to buy seminary books that were used for instructing men training for the Catholic priesthood to really get down to the level of what is the Church really saying?
Jim: And when you get down to that level, it’s undeniable there’s a huge difference between what the Church says and what the Bible says. And at least as I understand what the Bible says, and this is kind of what the Reformation was all about and why you have these Protestant denominations, because in the 16th century, Catholic theologians and priests had the same problem that I had when I started looking at these documents and comparing them to Scripture: they just don’t line up.
Tom: Mm-hmm. Jim, let’s spell that out for people: the Bible says - the Scriptures tell us that even a child can understand the simple gospel and be saved. So let’s start with that: what is the simple gospel that we need to believe…well, let’s start with that; what do we need to believe?
Jim: Well, John:3:16 probably says it best: “God so loved the world He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” I mean, it doesn’t get any simpler than that.
Jim: And where it gets confusing, Tom, is a Catholic priest could quote that verse and say, “That’s what we believe, as well.” The problem is that’s not all that they believe. They add to that so many things that you as a Catholic need to do in addition to believing in Jesus for salvation. The whole thing gets muddled and confused, and pretty soon, you start, you know, realizing that faith in Jesus is just one thing on a long list of requirements for salvation; and it eventually gets to the point for the confused Catholic, which I was one, you forget Jesus all together! You’re doing this, and you’re doing that, you’re going to Mass, receiving the sacraments, keeping the Ten Commandments, and trying to do good works, and love your neighbor… And when you ask people, like I was, “Well, why should God let you into heaven?” you may not even mention Jesus! You mention what your side of the equation is, all the things that you have to do. And what becomes clear is Jesus is just lost in the shuffle, and it’s not faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, it’s basically faith in Catholicism.
Tom: You know, and I would just add to that, then it becomes a rejection of what He’s done. Did He pay the full penalty for our sins? Who else could do that, and what could we do to pay the full penalty for our sins individually? You can’t! You know, it’s called eternal separation from God. So the point is, and just to underscore a few things, Jim, when I have people say, “Well, I’m an evangelical Catholic,” and I’m not quite sure what they mean by that, but rather than just to get into all of it, I say, “Well, just…can I ask you a question? What’s your perspective on purgatory?”
And they will explain, “Oh, yeah, well, you know, there are some sins that I haven’t been able to work through or expiate on my own through suffering, and prayers, and in Mass, and all of these things, so there’s going to be some residue, and I need to have that burn off before I can have entrance into heaven.”
Well, folks, that’s a rejection of Christ. That’s a rejection of what not only He did, but He alone could do! So that’s how it works into a situation where for somebody to say, “Well…” You know, we’ll get into this more as we go on here, but it’s a matter of somebody not recognizing that they’ve rejected the salvation that can only come through faith in Christ, putting our trust in Christ alone.
Jim: I want to add to that, Tom, because…
Jim: …I could just imagine somebody listening to this program, hearing what you’re saying, but not getting it, because it’s kind of counterintuitive. Generally speaking, more is better.
Jim: If faith in Jesus is good, well, then faith in Jesus plus good works plus keep the Ten Commandments plus loving your neighbor and all these other things, we’d be better! But what you’re saying, and I totally agree, is that when you add to what Christ has done for salvation, you’re denying what Christ has done as sufficient for salvation.
Jim: And that denial is very serious, and we learn how serious it is by reading the Bible, particularly Paul’s letter to the Galatians where they had the same problem: where he had come in and he preached the gospel to the Galatians, and they had put their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation, they’d been justified or declared right before God - at least that’s what Paul had taught them - and after He left, false teachers came in with a Jewish background saying they were Christians, and they said, “Yeah, what Paul told you was good there, you know, about trusting Jesus, but you also have to keep the Jewish law. You need to be circumcised, and keep the Sabbath and the feasts and the sacrifices,” and all these things started adding on. And when Paul heard about it, he wrote a letter to the Galatians, the harshest letter in the New Testament.
Tom: Right. Mm-hmm.
Jim: And he tells them very clearly that if you do those things - if you’re circumcised, you’re in obligation to keep the whole law for salvation; it’s impossible, and you’re severed from Christ. You’re cut off from what He did for you; you’ve fallen from grace. In other words, “The good news that I have preached to you about how God is willing to forgive you freely, you have nothing to do with that. You’ve got to work your way to salvation, and that cannot be done.”
Jim: And that’s what we have in Catholicism today is the same heresy that you find in the book of Galatians: it’s Jesus plus.
Jim: And the wonderful thing - the difficult thing when a person raised in Catholicism comes to the point and says, “You know, I’m trusting what Jesus did for me plus nothing.” The rest of that stuff, it may be good, you know - keeping the Ten Commandments is good - but I deny that it has anything to do with my salvation. It’s all about what Jesus did for me.
Tom: Right. You know, Jim - well, you mentioned Galatians. Some people refer to it as, really, the Catholic heresy. “Oh, foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you?” Just to underscore what you said, they’ve turned away.
One of the most difficult things for me as a Roman Catholic - when my wife became a believer about a year and a half before me, and so she started hanging around with these evangelical young people, and they were great! I loved them, but I didn’t want any part of what they were about. You know, I loved my wife, and it was good for her, because, you know, she wasn’t a Catholic. She grew up Episcopalian, so you know… Talk about pride - talk about arrogance on my part. But the biggest problem for me, Jim, was faith! How could that be? You need just faith? Come on!
Well, Jim, as a believer - and I’m still learning this; I’m still understanding how miraculous faith is! In other words, faith covers every condition, every circumstance, and so on. It’s being drawn to believing and putting your trust in Christ and Him alone. Now, I didn’t get that, because, you know, just like you, Jim, growing up in a works-salvation environment and being taught that, it was difficult for me to get past that. But now I understand not only how true it is, because the Scriptures claim - I mean, what did the Philippian jailer…when Paul is imprisoned, and he cries out, “Brothers, what must I do to be saved?”
What does Paul say? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” Believe! And that belief is believing in what He did, understanding what He did, accepting what He did, and then committing yourself to Him to live your life…I mean, that’s part of the faith program here.
Now, it’s miraculous, I say, because…you’re on an airplane, and all the engines go out, and it’s going down. All an individual has to do, according to the Scriptures, is cry out to the Lord in belief, and he will be saved! Now, am I making short of that, Jim, or am I adding too much, or what do you think?
Jim: I think you’re absolutely right, Tom, and that’s what I experienced, that’s what I see in Scripture, and that’s what I see works in people’s lives when they stop presenting to God their works for salvation and come empty-handed to Him, putting their faith in Christ alone. Their lives change, and they become different people…
Tom: Right, right.
Jim: …with the ability to live a life pleasing to God. And when I see people who add to the gospel all these other things, I see the opposite. I mean, religion in many ways turns us into hypocrites…
Jim: …because it causes us to think that we can achieve some kind of level of righteousness before God, and then we try to live up to that lie, and we have to cover our tracks, because we can’t do it. We’re always, like, two-faced about things. There’s what we say we would like to do, but then there’s the reality of who we really are which, for me, was two different people.
Jim: And the wonderful thing about salvation is when Christ comes into your life and changes you, for the first time in your life you begin to live the Christian life, and over time, you become more and more like Him.
Jim: And it’s a very humbling thing to say, “You know, I can’t do this. I’m not worthy of heaven, I’m worthy of hell, but Christ died for me. My sins put Him on the cross.” It’s very humbling, but it’s very wonderful, too.
Tom: Yeah, and “humbling” is the right word, because I know in my own case, and maybe in many others out there, pride got in my way, because - what are you talking about, Jim? You know, the Scripture says - I mean, which I didn’t know - but these evangelicals said, “Well, it’s a gift! It’s a free gift.” Jim, explain that - explain that to us, because my pride would not allow me to accept the free gift, because I wanted to, you know, as it says in Ephesians:2:8,9, I wanted to boast about this. Maybe I didn’t think that, but that’s really where my heart was. Is it a free gift?
Jim: Almost by definition it has to be a free gift, because what God has given you in salvation is so great and so far beyond anything you could earn or deserve that how else could a sinner receive it but as a gift from God? What do the Scriptures say? That “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans:6:23.
Tom: Amen. Jim, we’ve got about a minute left before we get to part two of this. What we want to talk about when we get back together is, well, what’s going on with the church? With all that we’ve laid out, why is the church for the most part - you know, there are exceptions; I’m not laying this on everyone - but the mental attitude here is that, “Well, if you love Jesus, that’s all you need. So we can all work together. We can all do these certain things.” And we have seen a shift at least within the last 20 years of a movement toward Rome, a movement toward evangelicals, whether they be called charismatics or Pentecostals or conservative Christians, we see definitely a trend toward the Vatican, toward Rome, toward Roman Catholicism. So the Lord willing, we’ll pick up with that in our program next week.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. Jim McCarthy’s books and documentaries are available from The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of resources to help you in your study of God’s Word. For a complete list of materials and a free subscription to our monthly newsletter, contact us at PO Box 7019 Bend, Oregon 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638, or visit our website at thebereancall.org. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we hope you can join us again next week. Until then, we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.