One of the great temptations when it comes to religion is to level the playing field and approach each religion on equal ground. We have been taught the need to “coexist” with other mainline religions for many years. In recent years, there has been an increasing trend to approach Roman Catholicism as if it’s another denominational group within orthodox Christianity. That is simply not the case. To put it plainly, Roman Catholicism is a heretical religion that preaches a different gospel than the gospel of Jesus. Roman Catholics are not Christians and should not be approached as brothers and sisters in Christ.
We must not embrace Roman Catholics as Christians on the basis of their official teachings. In this article, I will summarize some key doctrinal differences that exist between Roman Catholicism and Christianity.
The False Gospel of the Roman Catholic Church
The Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned and trespassed God’s holy law (Rom 3:23). In order to be reconciled to God, sinners must come to God by faith and embrace the free gift of salvation through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ (Rom 5:8; Rom 10:13). The Scriptures are explicitly clear that no person receives the forgiveness of sins through works (Eph 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift from God so that no person can boast.
According to official Roman Catholic doctrine, in order for a person to be saved, it’s quite a tedious task. It involves steps such as actual grace, faith, good works, baptism, participation in the sacraments, penance, indulgences, and keeping the commandments. In short, the doctrine of soteriology taught by the Roman Catholic Church is a works-based system where a person must work their way to God. Below you will see some citations from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.
The Necessity of Faith (not alone)
Faith is central to Christian theology, but according to the Roman Catholic Church, it’s merely one aspect of the system of salvation. According to their Catechism, they write:
- “Faith is necessary for salvation. The Lord himself affirms: ‘He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned,’ (Mk 16:16)” (CCC 183).
According to the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, faith is necessary for salvation. That’s good, but they don’t stop there. Faith, in Roman Catholic theology, is merely the starting point. They build from there adding to faith other works of man – including “the Church” and tradition.
- “Basing itself on Scripture and Tradition, the Council teaches that the Church, a pilgrim now on earth, is necessary for salvation,” (CCC 846).
The Necessity of Baptism
While we are called as Christians to follow the Lord in baptism as a means of identifying with the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church, we are not to embrace the practice of baptism as a saving ordinance / sacrament. The Roman Catholic Church connects baptism to justification.
- “Justification has been merited for us by the Passion of Christ. It is granted us through Baptism. It conforms us to the righteousness of God, who justifies us. It has for its goal the glory of God and of Christ, and the gift of eternal life. It is the most excellent work of God’s mercy” (CCC 2020).
- “Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude…” (CCC 1257).
As you can see, according to the Roman Catholic Church, baptism is a necessary sacrament whereby a person is granted salvation. In a blasphemous way, they claim, “The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude.” Their reference to “The Church” is a reference to the Roman Catholic Church. They don’t recognize any other church as legitimate. The basis of their claim is centered on their belief that “baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin” (CCC 405). Their errors do not stop with baptism.
In the 1500s, the Reformers broke with the Roman Catholic Church and exposed their false gospel. The Protestants were protesting against the sale of indulgences (literally the sale of salvation) and unbiblical practices of the Roman religion. Later, the Roman Catholic Church would protest against the Reformers with their own statement that emerged from the Council of Trent (1545 – 1563) that contained condemnatory language aimed directly at the Protestants. Consider some key statements that were officially published by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent. It should be noted that the use of “anathema” is intentional and is intended as a statement that anyone who embraces the Protestant teachings is considered damned to hell by the Roman Catholic Church.
- On Justification: The Council of Trent denounced the idea of justification by faith alone, emphasizing the necessity of works: “If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works, but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of its increase, let him be anathema” (Session 6, Canon 24).
- On Sacraments: In regard to the sacraments, the Council reaffirmed the efficacy of the sacraments for salvation and anathematized those who denied their importance: “If anyone says that these sacraments of the New Law do not differ from the sacraments of the Old Law, except that the ceremonies are different and the external rites are different, let him be anathema” (Session 7, Canon 1).
- On Transubstantiation: The Council affirmed the doctrine of transubstantiation and anathematized those who rejected it: “If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and therefore the whole Christ, let him be anathema” (Session 13, Canon 1).
- On Good Works and the Human Will: “If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).
Notice how they place “faith alone” in the direct crosshairs of their teachings. They vehemently oppose the teachings of Scripture that salvation comes by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. Furthermore, they likewise teach that the human will prepares us and cooperates with God in order to bring about justification. This stands in contradiction to the teachings of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church does not embrace Protestant Christians as brothers and sisters in Christ to this very day. Why would we embrace Roman Catholics as Christians?
The Rejection of Sola Scriptura of the Roman Catholic Church
During the time of the Reformation, a list of five key statements were published by the Reformers as flags in the soil that help explain where the Reformers stood on key doctrines of the faith. These statements became known as the five solas of the Reformation.
- Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
- Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
- Sola Fide” (Faith
- Sola Fide” (Faith Alone)
- Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
- Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)
At the top of the list is sola Scriptura. The Bible is sufficient to provide us with everything necessary for saving faith and obedience to God. Sola Scriptura is intentionally placed at the top of the list because if your doctrine of Scripture is polluted, it will result in pollution downstream on other key doctrines such as the doctrine of salvation and the doctrine of the church. Certainly the Roman Catholic Church’s denial of sola Scriptura leads to functional errors of worship in terms of the way they pray to saints and elevate Mary to a co–Redemptrix as well. At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church, in an official capacity, took direct aim at this foundational doctrine of sola Scriptura.
On Tradition and Scripture: The Council defended the authority of both Sacred Tradition and Scripture and anathematized those who rejected this dual authority: “If anyone does not accept the entire books with all their parts … as they have been accustomed to be read in the Catholic Church … let him be anathema” (Session 4, Canon 8).
It is the long-standing position of the Church of Jesus Christ to embrace the inerrancy, infallibility, authority, and complete sufficiency of the Word of God. However, the Roman Catholic Church commits the tragic error of adding the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church to sacred Scripture. In fact, they go as far as elevating tradition to the level of divine authority. Therefore, if the Roman Catholic Church officially recognizes a teaching as truth – no matter what the Bible says – it’s to be taken as sacred, holy, divine, and authoritative.
All throughout church history, the Roman Catholic Church has fought for control over the Bible. They hated men like John Wycliffe and murdered William Tyndale for their work in translating the Scripture into the common man’s language. When the Bible was unleashed in the common man’s language beginning with Martin Luther in German followed by William Tyndale in English, it took the control away from the Roman Catholic Church. This was the spark of the Reformation. Suddenly the people could understand the Scriptures as they were read and preached. The Roman Catholic Church still seeks to gain control by binding people with their traditions as they’re elevated to the level of divine Scripture.
“Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other. For both of them, flowing out from the same divine well-spring, come together in some fashion to form one thing, and move towards the same goal.” Each of them makes present and fruitful in the Church the mystery of Christ, who promised to remain with his own “always, to the close of the age.”1Paragraph 80 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC)
God’s Word doesn’t need any additions or addendums. As Paul said to Timothy, the Word of God is capable of reproving, rebuking, edifying, and educating (2 Tim 4:1-5). To add to the Word of Truth is not only a blasphemous error against God’s holy Word, but against God himself. Did He forget something? Did He overlook something? What a grievous error to suggest that God’s Word is incomplete. This is an error that will have a damning affect upon the soul (Rev 22:18-19). R.C. Sproul has rightly summarized the fact that the Roman Catholic Church has denied the true gospel of Jesus and should not be embraced as a true church:
At the moment the Roman Catholic Church condemned the biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone, she denied the gospel and ceased to be a legitimate church, regardless of all the rest of her affirmations of Christian orthodoxy. To embrace her as an authentic church while she continues to repudiate the biblical doctrine of salvation is a fatal attribution. 2R.C. Sproul, “Is the Reformation Over?” Tabletalk, September 2009, p. 7.
In conclusion, Protestants continue to protest against the Roman Catholic Church. Until such time that the Roman Catholic Church officially repents of preaching a false gospel of works and changes their official doctrines to align with the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ from the sufficient Scriptures—we cannot and we must not embrace Roman Catholics as Christians.
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