Tom McMahon and Mike Gendron of Proclaiming the Gospel discuss the question of how Catholicism differs from true Christianity.
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 is joined by Mike Gendron whose ministry Proclaiming the Gospel focuses on reaching Catholics. Now, along with his guest, here’s TBC executive director, Tom McMahon.
Tom: Thanks, Gary. Today and next week, we’ll be talking to Mike Gendron. Mike, along with his wife, Jane, have a ministry that addresses Roman Catholicism called Proclaiming the Gospel. He’s the author of Preparing for Eternity: Should We Trust God’s Word or Religious Traditions? Mike’s also one of the co-directors of a cooperative ministry titled Reaching Catholics for Christ. Mike, thanks for joining me today on Search the Scriptures 24/7.
Mike: Well, Tom, thanks for having me. It’s always a pleasure to be on the radio with you.
Tom: Yeah. Mike, could you give our listeners some background information about yourself and why you started Proclaiming the Gospel?
Mike: Well, Tom, very similar to your background, I was a very devout Roman Catholic for over thirty years, and it was only when I opened the Word of God for the first time at the age of 34 and began reading it that I realized I was woefully deceived about life’s most critical issue, and that is, “What must I do to be saved?” The Bible was teaching me a different plan of salvation that was diametrically opposed to the Roman Catholic plan of salvation.
And so during that process of abiding in God’s Word and learning the truth, the Word of God finally set me free, and God gave me eyes to see, and I repented of all the things I was doing to save myself, and [I] put all of my trust and hope in the Lord Jesus Christ. He became my all-sufficient Savior. I understood what it meant to be saved by grace alone apart from anything that I could contribute. And so shortly thereafter, I began worshipping in an evangelical Bible church, and I couldn’t get enough of God’s Word.
Every morning of the week I was in a different Bible study, just absorbing the riches of God’s Word that had really been kept from me for so many years. I don’t know about you, Tom, but when I grew up Catholic, we were discouraged from ever reading the Bible, because we were told it was too difficult to understand, and we needed to rely on the priest to interpret the Word for us. And so I found it very easy to read, but now I know it’s because God gave me the eyes to see.
And so shortly thereafter, my wife—who was also a former Catholic—we were introduced to a video by Jim McCarthy—Catholicism: Crisis of Faith—and we had such a compassion for Roman Catholics that are where we were, believing they were on their way to heaven, but yet destined for a Christless eternity. And so we began showing that video in our home every Tuesday night, and we invited every Roman Catholic we knew to come and watch it, and within three months, we saw 17 Roman Catholics exchange their religion for relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. And not everybody received the message with gladness and joy; there were some that stormed out of the house and slammed the door so hard that we thought we would need foundation repair!
But as a result of that first three months, we sensed a real need to continue to reach out to Roman Catholics. We began inviting them back on Wednesday night to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord, and it was through those meetings on Wednesday night that we began developing gospel tracts and resources for them to share with their Roman Catholic loved ones, and that was the genesis of the ministry that we’ve now been doing for 22 years.
Tom: Hm. Mike, yeah, there are so many things that I can relate to, and I’m so thankful for you guys, and not only what the Lord’s done in your life but how you’ve been able to reach out and touch so many other lives.
Mike, since we’re going to be talking about Roman Catholicism today and, Lord willing, next week, my guess is that most of our listeners only have a superficial view of what the Church of Rome teaches. Can you give, as succinctly as you can, the basic gospel that Rome teaches compared to the biblical gospel? I mean, this is the issue, right?
Mike: Well, definitely. But, you know, before I do share that, Tom, in case there are any Roman Catholics listening—our ministry, like yours, is a ministry of compassion. We don’t want to see anyone perish. We want to share with victims of deception the truth of God’s Word so they can be set free just like you and I were.
But the false and fatal gospel of Roman Catholicism actually starts with a distorted view of Christ. The Catholic Christ is insufficient to save Catholics completely and forever, so whenever you have another Christ, you always have another gospel that instructs Catholics what they must do that Christ was unable to accomplish by His death and resurrection. And so Rome adds to the finished work of Christ. They say that you must be baptized as a sacrament of regeneration and the sacrament of justification, and then you need to receive the sacraments. They are required for your salvation.
Catholics must also obey the law. Little do they know that puts them under a curse, because of Galatians 3—we see no one can obey the law perfectly, and anyone who tries to obey the law for entrance into heaven places themselves under a curse. They also must do good works. They must attend the weekly sacrifice of the Mass, and whenever they commit a mortal sin, they have now been de-justified, and they must confess that sin to a priest and do works of penance in order to be re-justified. So a Roman Catholic doesn’t have eternal life, they have conditional life. Their salvation depends on what they do rather than what Christ has done, so it’s a works-righteousness salvation very similar to all the other religions of the world.
Tom, you and I both know that biblical Christianity sets itself apart from all the religions of the world, and that we trust an all-sufficient Savior, and because of that, we are saved by God’s unmerited grace. In fact, Paul said if you add anything to the grace of God, you have nullified the only means by which God will save you. And so, Roman Catholicism teaches you must add to the grace of God and in doing so, they have nullified the only means by which God will save them.
Tom: You know, Mike, some people listening, whether they be evangelicals or maybe Roman Catholics, they’d say, “Well, that’s just Mike’s opinion.” You know, Mike, one of the things—and I’m sure this was you and every Catholic I’ve ever talked to—when I had an issue, when I had a problem, when I had a concern, when I had a question (which I had from St. Mary’s grade school all the way through Catholic military school, Notre Dame High School), and even when I was in college—I was in a Catholic fraternity for awhile, and I had the Nouwen Center, I had the Paulist priest to question, to ask questions to—you know, I always got the same answer: bottom line, it’s because the church says so. But after—I’m sure, Mike, after you became a believer, after I became a believer, we looked into this: what does the church really teach? What are the documents? What are the dogmas, and what are the dogmas based upon?
And, you know, I’ll just give our listeners one quote out of the Council of Trent. Now, every time the church puts together a council, whether it be Vatican Council I, Vatican Council II, but I’m going back to a council that was a reaction to the Reformation, and that is the Council of Trent—and here’s the Session 6, Canon 9—and again, folks, you’ve got to understand that the Catholic Church claims to be an infallible church. When they come up with a dogma, with a doctrine, you can’t change it, or else the church couldn’t claim infallibility, which it does. So this is Session 6, 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.” Anathema—Paul uses it in Galatians; anathema means “cut off, condemned, excommunicated,” in the sense of the Roman Catholic Church. So they claim that the person is not justified by faith alone, that works are required, and this is not what the Bible teaches, right, Mike?
Mike: Well, that’s correct, and don’t you find it interesting that there are only two anathemas in the New Testament, and you mentioned one of them: for anyone who perverts the gospel of grace, they are to be condemned, or cut off, or turned over to God for destruction. And the other one you find in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church: anyone who does not love God is anathema. So those are the only two occurrences, but Rome thought, “Well, we need a hundred more,” and so they came up with the Council of Trent and all of the anathemas that condemn born-again Christians who are trusting Christ alone. And, Tom, I find it interesting that they even added another anathema at Vatican Council II because they recognized that they were abusing the doctrine of indulgences…
Mike: …and so they condemned with anathema anyone who said that indulgences were not efficacious in remitting temporal punishment for sin. So these anathemas are similar to praying the rosary or wearing a scapular around your neck.
Tom: You know, Mike, the other thing about an anathema—a Catholic is in a position of making a decision: do they believe the anathemas of their Church, or do they believe the anathemas that Paul gave—you just articulated them—under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit? If you want infallibility, we go with God’s Word, God’s direct communication to mankind. So again, it’s a choice, and the decision that the Catholic makes, a Roman Catholic makes, is one that has eternal consequences. So this is no small issue. And, Mike, I think we need to communicate this to the evangelical church, because they are sort of massaging some things around; they are accepting some things that, really, with regard to Roman Catholic—“Well, you know, they love Jesus. Yeah, they’ve got Mary and they’ve got all these other things, but basically, they love Jesus.” But as you pointed out, Mike, in your testimony, this is another Jesus. This is not the Jesus that paid the full penalty for our sins, and that payment can only be received by grace, by faith, and by faith alone, as the Scriptures teach.
Mike: Well, you’re so right, Tom, and just to accentuate the point that you made, the only infallible source for truth that we have on this earth today is the Word of God. And whether it be a Roman Catholic priest, bishop, or pope, or evangelical pastor, everyone needs to come under the scrutiny of God’s holy Word. That is our only infallible test for whether or not someone’s speaking the truth.
Tom: Right. Old Testament, New Testament, Isaiah writes, “To the law and the testimony,” speaking about the Word of God. If they do not hold to the teachings of the Word of God, there’s no light in them. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have some things right, but especially with issues of such a critical nature, they’re lost if they don’t have their understanding of the Word of God.
Mike: Well, that’s so true. In fact, as we developed resources to reach Roman Catholics for Christ, what we did is we presented their Bible verses right alongside their catechism paragraphs, and we forced Roman Catholics to make a decision: “Am I going to trust my eternal destiny on Christ and His Word, or on the teachings and traditions of my religion?” When you look at both of these contrasts, you can see that a choice must be made, because they are diametrically opposed to one another. It’s impossible to believe the Catholic catechism and at the same time believe the Catholic Bible.
Tom: Right. And, Mike, as you mentioned at the beginning, for—you know, I was a Roman Catholic, I would say devout, maybe twenty-some years until I got into college, and then I got married. I wasn’t a practicing Catholic—but basically, my Irish pride was, “I was born a Catholic, I’ll die a Catholic,” you know, especially after my wife, who had an Episcopal background, she came to the Lord about a year and a half before I did, and I got to hang out with evangelicals, and I enjoyed them. I enjoyed the relationship. But I was born a Catholic, I’ll die a Catholic. That was my prideful attitude.
Now, as far as the Bible goes, we had a Bible on our coffee table as a Roman Catholic, and I thought it weighed 40 pounds; it was a big red one—I don’t know if you had one like that…[laughing]
Mike: Same one!
Tom: Okay. Mike, we never got past the baptism and the confirmation page, but the rest of it, as you said, almost like Christian Science and Mary Baker Eddy, you couldn’t understand—we were told we couldn’t understand it without the insight of a priest. Now that’s—as I came to find out, especially when I had questions for the Paulist fathers and so on, they don’t know the Bible. They don’t read the Bible, they don’t study the Bible, because they’ve got the Code of Canon Law, you know, the 1,752 rules and regulations that the Church claims to go by. So Mike, again, we were not encouraged to read the Bible—although today, Rome is at least giving us a variation on that. What about Catholic Bible studies now?
Mike: Yeah, well, the Catholic Church tries to emulate or syncretize with the dominant culture in whatever country they’re in. The American culture is evangelical, and so they were losing a lot of their people who wanted to learn and study the Bible to evangelical churches. So the Catholic Church came up with a similar Bible study that’s comparable to Bible Study Fellowship and Community Bible Study; it’s called the Little Rock Scripture Study, and back in 1981, as a devout Catholic, I was responsible for bringing the very first Catholic Little Rock Scripture Study to St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Dallas.
And so, as a result of that, Catholics are now encouraged to participate in these studies, albeit through the grid of Roman Catholic tradition, and so they don’t see the Word of God clearly. It’s almost like they’re looking through a filter of Roman Catholic tradition. And so their teachers are twisting and distorting the Scriptures so they conform to Roman Catholic tradition, and Peter spoke about people that would do that, who would twist and distort the Scripture to their own destruction.
But, yeah, so we’re finding a different breed of Catholics today. Some of them are following former Protestants who are now apostate and they’ve joined the Catholic Church. And so they’re the teaching authority within Rome now, these former Catholic apologists, or these former Protestants who have become Catholic apologists.
Tom: Mike, you make an interesting point. Back when we were kids, there was such a clear distinction between the Protestants, okay, and that term is not used correctly. You’re a Protestant, I’m a Protestant, because we were Catholics, and we’re protesting against the church, but most evangelicals have never been Catholic. But anyway, back then, I remember as a youth walking home from St. Mary’s grade school. Mike, I wouldn’t even pass through the shadow of a Baptist church, you know, I mean, that was the clear distinction. And I think one of the reasons for this separation and distinction was that evangelicals were truly evangelicals back then. Today, I don’t even know if you can use that term to identify a group with any accuracy. But people claim—they claim to be, “Well, yeah, I’m an evangelical, I read the Bible, I go to a Bible church,” and so on. But the application of the Bible in their lives and in the church and in the teaching, certainly, isn’t what it was when we were young kids.
Now, as Rome would go to other countries, as you said, Mike, they would either mimic or take in part of the religious culture and adapt it to the Catholic Church. For example, if you go to Haiti, the saying there is, “Haitians are 85 percent Catholic, but 100 percent voodoo,” and you see this integration of the belief systems. Even in public ceremonies you will have a voodoo priest along with a Catholic priest and so on.
Now, that didn’t work in the United States, because of the fundamental evangelical perspective, because you couldn’t, back then, sort of integrate Catholic teaching with the basic teachings of evangelical Christianity, Bible-believing Christianity. But as that has been kind of diluted, really, evangelicals being weaned off the Word, the doors have opened for Roman Catholicism to bring their beliefs, or at least to have their beliefs accepted by evangelicals.
Now, Mike, there’s some good reasons for that as of, let’s say, we could go back…well, let’s go back to Evangelicals and Catholics Together. Now, you and I and Reaching Catholics for Christ, we did a lot of preaching and teaching about how wrong that was. Can you give our audience, our listeners, some…
Mike: Yeah, that took place in 1994 at “The First Accord,” and Chuck Colson coauthored that with Richard John Neuhaus, and they basically, in the “Accord,” called for unity among Catholics and evangelicals and decided that we were all brothers and sisters in Christ sharing the same faith.
But even prior to that, I mentioned former Protestants that left to join the Catholic Church. In 1986, you had Scott Hahn and Gerry Matatics that both left their seminary training at Gordon-Conwell to join the Catholic Church. So we started seeing some graying of the issue, but as you mentioned, when we grew up as Catholics, everybody on the Protestant side remembered the Reformation. We knew what the Reformers died for. We knew this was an issue that really divided Catholics and Protestants over the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we knew it was a salvation issue. But today we’ve got evangelicals such as Chuck Colson and all those that signed the ECT…
Tom: Yeah, the late Chuck Colson.
Mike: Right, yeah, and Bill Bright—he now knows the truth and the year he signed the Accord. So we’ve got a recent one, the “Manhattan Declaration,” though now I’ve heard that there’s over 600 thousand evangelicals that have signed the “Manhattan Declaration,” stating that we’re all brothers and sisters in Christ.
And so this has got to be so upsetting to those who came out of the Roman Catholic religion and know the false and fatal gospel, and they know that these evangelicals are wrong by signing accords. So more than ever, I think, we need to instruct the evangelical church concerning the false and fatal gospel of Rome so that we will not continue to have these unity accords.
Tom: And, Mike, as you well know, it’s spread way beyond that. I’ll take you back even further, which you know quite well. Back in the 1940s, Billy Graham stated that the three evils in the world are communism, Mohammedanism, and Roman Catholicism. It was less than a decade later that he began working with the Roman Catholic Church at his crusades. They sponsored…now, folks, I’m laying this out; this is common knowledge, even if you don’t know about it. This isn’t some kind of a grenade being thrown by an anti-Catholic, okay? This is—you can check this out, and I hope some will really look into this, the things that we’re talking about.
But anyway, his crusades, they were sponsored by, in the 1950s, beginning in the 1950s by the Roman Catholic Church, and in doing that, they would have counselors who were Catholic priests and Catholic nuns, and Billy would present a gospel. I’m not saying that people didn’t get saved through his crusade, but once they did, if they were Roman Catholic, they were directed to the counselors at the crusades and directed back into the Roman Catholic Church. Now, Mike, is that true?
Mike: Well, it is true. And, Tom, you’ve really touched on a reason why the issue has become so gray. Nowadays, evangelicals and Protestants are following personalities rather than following the Word of God, and so when somebody that’s so highly visible and highly influential as Billy Graham starts embracing Roman Catholicism, then all of his followers say, “Well, it must be true if Billy Graham is embracing it.” And so that was the snowball effect, and since that time, we’ve had so many other evangelicals jump on the ecumenical bandwagon. And, you know, people that I’m sure a lot of listeners would recognize—J. I. Packer, Robert Schuller, John Stott, Oz Guinness, Richard Land, Timothy George, Tony Campolo, James Dobson, Luis Palau, Franklin Graham, Bill Hybels, Jack Van Impe—these are just some of the…
Tom: Rick Warren.
Mike: …yeah, some of the most highly influential evangelicals are all embracing Roman Catholicism as a valid expression of Christianity.
Tom: And, Mike, this is why we started the program, as you well know, by showing a clear gospel, the gospel of Rome, which cannot save anyone. So whether this is, you know, and I’d have to say, at least unwittingly for some but wittingly maybe for others, there are some who have joined Rome just as Billy Graham did, and his crusades, to expedite, to get it into countries, to get the resources that they need to put on these crusades.
You mentioned Luis Palau, you know, he’s called the Latin American Billy Graham, and Bill Bright and others who have worked with Roman Catholics in other countries just to have access, to get in, like that was going to solve the problem of bringing these people to the Lord. No! Confusion at least, and a false gospel at worst, which is what we’ve seen over the years.
Mike: Well, Tom, what you’re really expressing is of utmost importance: that people need to look to the Word of God as their supreme authority in all matters of faith. We should not be listening to evangelicals that are compromising the gospel, that are tolerating false religions and false gospels. We need to contend earnestly for the faith that was once and for all delivered to the saints. That’s what we need to do in these days of great deception.
Tom: Amen, Mike, and—Mike, we’re out of time for this session, but the Lord willing, we’re going to come back to this and deal with some really critical issues.
Mike was delivered from the bondage of Rome, I was delivered from the bondage of Rome—we are just two of the many millions who have come out of her, and I thank the Lord for that. So we’ll pick up with this next week, Mike.
Gary: You’ve been listening to Search the Scriptures 24/7 with T.A. McMahon, a radio ministry of The Berean Call. We offer a wide variety of materials 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, OR, 97708. Call us at 800-937-6638 or visit our website at the bereancall.org. In our next program, Tom will continue his conversation with Mike Gendron whose ministry Proclaiming the Gospel is an outreach to Catholics. We hope you can be here. I’m Gary Carmichael. Thanks for tuning in, and we encourage you to Search the Scriptures 24/7.