"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? (Isa: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):
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 (Eph:2:8-9; Rom: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" (Rom: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; Rom: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 (Heb: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 designedto purge away their debt (ID chp 1:2).
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?
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 Catholic—and 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.
We will explore this aspect of the evangelical rush toward Rome further in the November issue. TBC