Notes on “The Big Issue” Session 1 – 21 September 2010
Listen to this podcast (or download – right click here and ‘Save as’):
In September 2010 the Pope, the head of the entire Roman Catholic Church worldwide visited Britain for the first ever state visit by a Pope. How should we view such a visit?
First of all a few caveats…
Distinguish between the “…..ics” and the “….ism
This is not a paper on the subject of Roman Catholics. There are many wonderful Roman Catholics whose godliness would put many of us to shame, who are born again, filled with the Spirit and who love Jesus. We would discuss for hours many good things about Roman Catholics. What we want to consider today is Roman Catholicism as a belief system and as an established church. This is much the same as if we were discussing atheism – we would not spend our time – except incidentally – discussing atheists. Our subject would be atheism
Many people, especially of an older generation and in certain parts of the world have had a deep inbuilt hatred of all things Roman Catholic inbred into them. If that exists amongst us, we need to discard it. We must have an objective, Biblical view about Roman Catholicism, one built on facts, not on prejudice.
On the other hand, if we have had a good experience of Roman Catholics this must not blind us either! Often the kind of comment that is made is something like: “I knew a Catholic priest and he was a lovely man….” This may be true but it does not help us with an objective view of Roman Catholicism.
Recognise the diversity within Catholicism
Within Roman Catholicism there is huge diversity, from a very traditional deeply sacramental approach, to a view of Christianity that has much in common with evangelicalism. The latter have almost discarded traditional Catholic dogma, yet remained within the Catholic Church. So it is tempting to think that some are OK and some are not. But what we have to do is to look at the doctrines held by all Roman Catholics, and decide whether we can, in all conscience, accept these as Christian beliefs.
Recognise that most Catholics haven’t a clue what their church believes!
Most Roman Catholics love the practices of their church, without having a clue about what many of the doctrines actually are. This means that, if we come to the conclusion that some of the teachings are wrong, we cannot charge many Catholics with error as they don’t know what it is that they believe!
Points of Agreement
There are some fundamental points on which those who believe the Bible agree wholeheartedly with what Roman Catholicism teaches. Amongst them are:
The person of Jesus
One of the marks of cults is that they are ambiguous about the person of Jesus. Jehovah’s witnesses, Mormons and the other cults –as well as non-Christian religions such as Judaism and Islam – all say that whoever Jesus was, He was not God and Man. Both Biblical Christianity AND Roman Catholicism affirm that Jesus is God and is also man.
Biblical Christianity clearly has the Trinity – one God in three persons – clearly defined as a basis of faith. Again Catholicism affirms this quite clearly.
The Historical record
Again, both Roman Catholicism and Biblical Christianity affirm the historicity of the Biblical record. Roman Catholicism clearly affirms the virgin birth, crucifixion, the resurrection and the ascension of Jesus
On the basis of the agreement between Catholicism and Biblical Christianity on both the above points Roman Catholicism (whatever other differences we may have with it) show itself to be different from the corruptions of Christianity normally referred to as cults.
The Crucial Issues
However, notwithstanding the above, there are four matters on which we have to put Roman Catholicism up against the spotlight of God’s word, to see whether or not we can, as Bible believers, accept Roman Catholicism as a genuine and legitimate expression of Christianity.
There are four crucial issues we will consider here:
The question of truth
The issue here is: how do you and I and any church determine what is true and what is not?
“Sola Scriptura” – the reformers were very clear. God is truth and he has communicated his truth to us in language. God’s truth is therefore that which is in the Bible, the revealed, inspired and authoritative word of God. Anything in addition to this is unreliable, and Scripture can only be interpreted by other Scripture. It stands on its own and there is no authority higher than it. The motto “sola scriptura”means “only scripture”. That is the position of all who are Biblical Christians today.
The Bible plus……is the mark of all corruptions of Christianity
What all corruptions of Christianity have in common is that they rely on the Bible…plus something else. It is the “something else” which is the danger. So the Jehovah’s witnesses use the Bible, as interpreted by the teachings of the Watchtower society. The Mormons add the book of Mormon.
Any “Christian” group has to be assessed by how it determines truth. What is the authority in the case of the Roman Catholic Church?
Catholicism….truth is the Bible plus
The infallibility of the Pope – the Pope has the authority to declare truth himself, when he pronounces infallibly, thus putting his own authority above that of Scripture. (Incidentally, he has only done so twice – once to affirm the doctrine of papal infallibility and once – incredibly – to affirm the doctrine of the assumption of the Virgin Mary – these are the only two occasions on which the Pope has spoken infallibly!)
The inerrancy of the church. Roman Catholic doctrine is that the Church of Rome cannot deceive or be deceived in its teaching.
In other words…according to the Catholic church, truth is whatever they say it is is! This teaching ultimately makes the Catholic Church, with the Pope as its head, the arbiter of truth. Not the Holy Spirit, not the word of God – but the word of the Roman Catholic Church. This is completely unacceptable for Bible believing Christian and runs counter to the teaching of Jesus, his apostles and the word of God. In this respect, the Roman Catholic Church places itself in the same position as one of the cults.
The Question of Salvation
To say this is a crucial question is putting it mildly. How does someone come to be saved from their sins, forgiven by God and spend eternity with Jesus in heaven?
The issue is very clear. In Biblical Christianity we are saved by faith in Christ alone, apart from the works of the law. In every religion other than Biblical Christianity, in order to be acceptable to God there have to be works to make yourself good enough. The contrast is stark. Where does Roman Catholicism sit?
The position is quite clear: in Roman Catholic teaching, salvation is NOT achieved purely by faith in Christ.It is achieved by a mixture of faith and works, and depends on our own efforts, and the receiving of certain sacramental rites carried out by the church. In other words, the issue that caused the reformation – salvation by faith alone – is still an issue today. Biblical Christianity states that we are saved by faith alone. Roman Catholicism teaches that we are not. This makes the teaching of the Church of Rome unacceptable to Biblical Christians.
The Question of the Atonement
It can appear that we are getting technical here. But the question of the atonement touches every aspect of Christianity. The atonement is the doctrine that teaches that when Jesus died on the cross, he paid the penalty for the sins of those who he has redeemed. Nothing else is required or can be added to the finished work of Calvary. If any group departs from this they are not only guilty of departing from basic Christian beliefs, but we have to say that blasphemy is an appropriate word.
Again one of the marks of false religion and the cults is that it denies that the blood of Christ can pay penalty for sins. What does Rome say?
The position of the Roman Catholic Church is that Christ died for our sins. However we have to dig beneath the surface and see what the practices of the church really say:
In the Mass (the Catholic Communion Service) the Roman Catholic Church teaches that the bread and wine literally become the body and blood of Jesus, and that at Mass, said every day by every priest, Christ is literally being offered for our sins. Here are some extracts from the Roman Catholic Catechism:
# 274 The Blessed Eucharist us not a Sacrament only; it is also a sacrifice
#275 A Sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to god alone…
#277 The Holy Mass is the sacrifice of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, really present on the altar under the appearance of bread and wine, and offered to God for the living and the dead
#278 The Holy Mass is one and the same sacrifice with that of the Cross who… continues to offer himself…on the altar through the ministry of his priests
#279The sacrifice of the mass is offered…to satisfy God for our sins…
This teaching stands in total opposition to the teaching of the word of God, that Jesus offered himself for our sins once and for all.
The teaching contradicts the truth that Calvary was a once and for all, never to be repeated sacrifice.
It has to be described as dangerous and blasphemous
But it doesn’t end there….
The Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory teaches that when an individual dies he may well have to be purified from his sins in purgatory before he is fit to go to heaven. Again, this stands in total opposition to the truth that the blood of Jesus purifies us from all sin.
In the matter of the atonement the Roman Catholic Church has to be seen to be dangerously opposed to Biblical Christianity.
The Question of Worship
Biblical Christianity teaches that we should worship the one only true God. Roman Catholicism teaches this also. However the practices of the church are very different….
Here are a couple of prayers offered to the Virgin Mary:
“Hail Holy Queen, Mother of Mercy. Hail our life our sweetness and our hope. To thee do we cry poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears. Turn then , most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy towards us and after this, our exile show us the blessed fruit of thy womb….O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary”
“We fly to thy protection, O Holy Mother of God. Despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers O glorious and blessed virgin.”
“Hail Mary full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
No one reading these prayers could come to any conclusion other than that worship of the Virgin Mary as the Holy Mother of God is advocated by the Roman Catholic Church.
We have looked at four areas of Roman Catholic doctrine that depart from Biblical Christianity on matters that are fundamental and critical. Each of these taken on their own would make it impossible for a Bible- believing Christian to endorse the Roman Catholic Church.
Taken together, we have to conclude that Roman Catholicism, sadly, is not a legitimate expression of Christianity.