|Why It Matters - Part I
T. A. McMahon
|"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
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 & 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):
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
Can the unjust justify the unjust? No. Christ alone is the justifier of the unjust (1 Pt 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 crossone'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:
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 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.
Reaching Catholics For Christ