Lecture notes by CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL
Right at the outset, I want to say that this is not a mean-spirited attack on Catholic people. I love Catholics. I have Catholic friends. This is an examination or comparison of what the Catholic Church teaches side by side with what the Bible teaches. I pray it would be helpful to Evangelicals who desire to share the truth in love with their Catholic friends and eye-opening to Catholics who may have not seriously considered these issues previously.
I. The Origin of the Catholic Church
I. THE ORIGIN OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
For example, consider this: In the first century AD the apostle Paul wrote a letter to the church at Rome. It’s now called the Book of Romans. At the close of his letter (Romans 16:3-16), Paul greets more than two dozen people by name, but not Peter. Friends, that would be a strange omission if Peter was living in Rome, and especially if he was the overseer of the church there.
Another blow to the belief that Peter was the first Pope (or first bishop of the church in Rome) comes from a man named Eusebius. Eusebius lived from c. 260 – c. 340. He was a Christian pastor and respected church historian. He never mentions Peter as the bishop of Rome. He does tell us that Peter went to Rome “about the end of his days” and was crucified there. So Peter apparently made it to Rome and even died in Rome, but there’s no compelling evidence he was the bishop of the church in Rome.
Far more than protesting trivial, debatable matters, the protest against the Catholic Church revolved around
• the power of the Pope
The Greek word for the word “gospel” is evangelion and, as you know, means “good news.” So Martin Luther dubbed his breakaway movement the “evangelical church.” And the division that took place nearly 500 years ago between Catholics and Evangelicals exists to this day. (Evangelicals would include: Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, just about all Christians outside of the Catholic Church.)
Despite the Reformation and the large number of people who left the Catholic Church, the Church continued to grow. As of 2010, there are 1.1 billion Catholics in the world; that’s 16% of the world’s population (about 1 out of every 6 people).
The word “Catholic” comes from the Greek word “katholikos” meaning: universal. The Catholic Church began referring to itself as the Catholic Church because for so long it believed that it was the one and only true church universally. For centuries it was taught that there was no salvation outside of the Roman Catholic Church.
We rejoice that we have so much in common with our Catholic friends (and these are good starting points for conversation). But in addition to our agreements, there are…
According to the Catholic Church, salvation is not by grace alone through faith in Christ alone (as evangelicals believe). According to the Catholic Church, being justified (declared righteous) before God is a process that begins at the moment of baptism and then progresses and is maintained by a person’s participation the Catholic Church's "Seven Sacraments."
The Seven Sacraments of the Catholic Church are:
The Catholic Church teaches that as a person participates in these sacraments, grace for salvation is dispensed piece by piece from birth to death. The official Catechism of the Catholic Church, right on the Vatican’s website, plainly states: “The Church affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant are necessary for salvation.” (p. 319)
In response to this, Evangelicals Christians believe that to make participation in any of these things a requirement for salvation is to pervert the Biblical gospel. Why?
The Bible, over and over, teaches that salvation is by grace alone, through faith in Christ alone, and not the result of our efforts, baptism, confession to a priest, or any other work of man (Ephesians 2:8-9). Listen carefully to the following verses which, interestingly enough, were all originally written to the believers in the city of Rome.
And of course Paul was not the only one who made this clear. Speaking to Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus Himself said there was only one condition for salvation and that was belief:
John the Baptist taught that there was only one condition for eternal life. In John 3 he said,
The apostle John taught that there was only one condition for eternal life. In 1 John 5 he said,
1 John 5:13
These verses and many others, clearly and I think forcefully, refute the Vatican's teaching that salvation is obtained piece by piece through our ongoing participation in their Seven Sacraments.
But, at the Council of Trent in 1546 the Catholic Church stated something that stands to this day. Listen carefully to this:
“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 [defined by Catholics as being excommunicated]."
This is the official teaching of the Catholic Church to this very day.
Well, the Catholic Church's position obviously contradicts the Scriptures! Is this a serious issue, that the Catholic Church has tampered with the gospel? Let’s allow God’s Word to speak on the matter:
The Greek word there for accursed is anathema. The word refers to that which is doomed to eternal destruction. That is a heavy warning to those in the Catholic Church who are preaching a different gospel. It is heartbreaking to think about how many people in the Catholic Church today believe they are going to Heaven because of their good works, their attendance at mass, their baptism, or their confirmation but who have never really placed their trust in Jesus Christ.
A second area that Evangelicals and the Catholic Church disagree has to do with…
The Catholic Church teaches that the redeemed, people who have trusted in Jesus Christ, will suffer in a place called Purgatory after death for a time of purging that will prepare them to enter Heaven.
The Catholic Church says that time of suffering in Purgatory cleanses an individual of imperfections, sins, and faults. Catholics differ in their opinions as to the nature of the suffering in Purgatory. Most believe that suffering will include the physical pain of burning in fire.
Regarding Purgatory, the official teaching of the Catholic Church says:
“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.” [Council of Trent]
In other words, the Church is saying: 'If a person thinks someone can just go straight to Heaven after having their sins forgiven, without having to suffer for those sins first, let him be anathema!' Well, that’s exactly what Evangelical Christians believe!
Evangelicals believe that the doctrine of Purgatory is a man made tradition that denies the sufficiency of what Christ did on the cross for our sins. The Bible teaches that upon death, a born again Christian is immediately ushered into the presence of God in Heaven.
Where? Well, for one example, Luke 23:43.
If ever there was a person who deserved to go to “Purgatory”––if there was such a place––it would have been the thief on the cross next to Jesus (Luke 23). He was a brand new believer. He didn’t get baptized. He never attended Mass or confirmation classes (there weren't any). He had no time to do any good works or pay people back for his crimes. But where did he go when he died? Jesus said to him…
Not Purgatory. Paradise.
Friend, if you've placed your faith in Jesus, you too will immediately go into the presence of God in “Paradise” (Revelation 2:7) when you die. The apostle Paul knew this and that's why he was able to say…
2 Corinthians 5:8
That is what happens when a follower of Jesus dies. He goes “home” to be “with the Lord.”
To say that a Christian must suffer in the future for the same sins Jesus died for is an insult to Christ’s sacrifice.
The Bible says in 1 John...
1 John 1:7
What a beautiful truth that is!
Purgatory is an unbiblical man-made doctrine and a second area Evangelicals disagree with the Catholic Church.
First, let’s consider praying for the dead. The Catholic Church teaches that Christians who are alive on Earth can and should come to the assistance of souls in Purgatory by intercessory prayers that can ease their suffering and speed up their release and send them on their way to Heaven.
Evangelicals reject all of this on the basis that there is no Scriptural support whatsoever for these kinds of prayers; nor is there even a single example anywhere in the Bible of anyone praying this way. And for good reason:
There is no Purgatory where
(For more on this see Norman L. Geisler and Ralph E. MacKenzie, Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Disagreements, p. 348ff.)
Second, let’s consider praying to Mary and the saints. The Catholic Catechism says:
“The witnesses who have preceded us into the kingdom, especially those whom the Church recognizes as saints, share in the living tradition of prayer by the example of their lives...They contemplate God, praise him and constantly care [not true] for those whom they have left on earth. Their intercession is their most exalted service to God's plan. We can and should ask them [the saints] to intercede for us and for the whole world.” (p. 645, #2683, p. 249, #956)
This is right off the Vatican’s website here!
And so, the Catholic Church encourages its followers to pray to saints and even gives us sample prayers to pray like this one they encourage us to pray to Mary…
“O Mother of Perpetual Help, thou art the dispenser of all the gifts which God grants to us miserable sinners; and for this end He has made thee so powerful, so rich, and so bountiful, in order that thou mayest help us in our misery. Thou art the advocate of the most wretched and abandoned sinners who have recourse to thee: come to my aid, for I recommend myself to thee. In thy hands I place my eternal salvation, and to thee I entrust my soul. Count me among thy most devoted servants; take me under thy protection, and it is enough for me. For, if thou protect me, I fear nothing; not from my sins, because thou wilt obtain for me the pardon of them; nor from the devils, because thou art more powerful than all hell together; nor even from Jesus, my judge, because by one prayer from thee He will be appeased. But one thing I fear: that in the hour of temptation I may through negligence fail to call on thee and thus perish miserably. Obtain for me, therefore, the pardon of my sins, love for Jesus, final perseverance, and the grace ever to have recourse to thee, O Mother of Perpetual Help.” (This prayer is available on numerous Catholic websites, including this one http://www.dailycatholic.org/perpetua.htm)
Catholics are encouraged to pray prayers like this—not to God, but to Mary! Well, in response to this, the Catholic Church’s instruction to pray to Mary and other saints is absolutely contradicted by the Bible. The Bible says in...
Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father who art in Heaven" (Matthew 6:9).
The apostle Paul writes, “For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5).
There are prayers recorded in the Bible from Genesis all the way to the Book of Revelation, and none of them are addressed to a saint, an angel or anyone other than God.
Numerous passages in the Old Testament condemn all attempts to communicate with the dead. Those verses include Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Leviticus 20:6, 27; 1 Samuel 28:5-18; Isaiah 8:19-20.
Is it a serious thing that the Catholic Church would mislead multitudes of people away from the living God and into prayer to people (who have died)? Absolutely! In Old Testament times, if a Jew violated these commands prohibiting communication with the dead, they were to be put to death. Am I suggesting we put people to death who do this? No. We are living in a different dispensation. Those laws were given to govern the nation of Israel under the old covenant. But those commands do reveal how much God detests the practice.
• was immaculately conceived
Evangelical Christians reject all of these teachings. We believe Mary was a great example for believers in her faith and in her obedience. But there are numerous Scriptures that contradict the traditions the Catholic Church has attached to her.
Mary’s reference here to God as her “Savior” implies that she too was a sinner. You don’t need a “Savior” if you are not a sinner. Her statement here is in perfect harmony with Romans 3:23, where it states:
We have all broken a variety of God's commandments.
There is also the passage in Luke 2:22-24, where Mary goes to Jerusalem “to offer a sacrifice…a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons” for her sinful condition (fulfilling the requirement put forth in Leviticus 12). A sacrifice would not have been necessary if she had been sinless.
DISAGREEMENT NO. 5 / The Bible
“If anyone, however, should not accept the said books as sacred and canonical [ i.e. part of the Bible], entire with all their parts…and if both knowingly and deliberately he should condemn the aforesaid tradition let him be anathema." (Cited in Roman Catholics and Evangelicals: Agreements and Differences, by Geisler and MacKenzie, p. 157.)
Well, that’s precisely what Evangelicals do say. Why? Why do we reject the Apocrypha as authoritative or divinely inspired? Why did the early Christians reject these writings?
1. Neither Jesus nor the New Testament writers ever quoted from the Apocrypha as Scripture.
Though Jesus and the apostles cite the Old Testament nearly 300 times in the pages of the New Testament, they never quote any of the apocryphal books accepted by the Roman Catholic Church.
In Jude 1:9, 14-15 there are some allusions to some extrabiblical writings, such as the Book of Enoch (v.14-15) and the Bodily Assumption of Moses. But this doesn’t lend any support to the Catholic position because even they reject those books as non-canonical. And none of these are cited as Scripture or as divinely authoritative. The New Testament simply refers to a truth contained in those books which otherwise may (and do) have many errors. These writings are rejected by Roman Catholics as well as Protestants. Remember that even the apostle Paul quotes pagan poets in Acts 17:28. That didn’t mean they were divinely inspired.
2. The Apocrypha contains numerous historical, geographical, and chronological errors.
For example, in the Book of Judith, it speaks of Nebuchadnezzar reigning in Nineveh. But it is a historical fact that this was never the case. Nebuchadnezzar was the king of Babylon.
The Apocrypha claims that Tobit was alive when the Assyrians conquered Israel in 722 B.C. and also when Jeroboam revolted against Judah in 931 B.C., which would make him at least 209 years old; yet according to the account, he died when he was 158 years.
Click here for additional information on errors in the Apocrypha.
3. The Jews themselves never accepted the Apocrypha as inspired.
The Jewish people—and the leading Jewish teachers of that era—recognized that this collection of Jewish writings did not belong in the Hebrew Bible. The first century Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus, tells us in his writings that the Hebrew Bible was composed of the same books that make up our Old Testament today. Philo, an Alexandrian Jewish teacher, who lived from 20 B.C. to A.D. 40 quoted the Old Testament numerous times from virtually every Old Testament book. And he never once quotes from the Apocrypha.
4. The Apocrypha contains no predictive prophecy to help substantiate its claims.
The Bible over and over substantiates its claim to divine inspiration with hundreds of fulfilled prophecies. In fact, 27% percent of the Bible contains predictive prophecy, and half of them have already been fulfilled (see Every Prophecy of the Bible by John Walvoord).
Unlike the books of the Bible, the Apocrypha contains none.
5. The Apocrypha never claims to be the inspired Word of God.
Unlike the Old Testament books that over and over say things, like “thus says the Lord” or “the word of the LORD came unto him” the Apocrypha never says anything like this.
Since that is the case, it seems unwise to call the authors of the Apocrypha “prophets” or “spokespersons of God,” when that is something that they themselves did not claim to be.
6. The Apocrypha was rejected by many of the leading early church fathers.
The early church recognized a distinction between the Old Testament and the apocryphal books. Many of them, men such as Athanasius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Origen, spoke out against them.
7. Jerome rejected the Apocrypha and left them out of His Latin translation of the Bible (the Vulgate).
Jerome (who lived from 340-420 A.D.) was the man, who translated, for the first time, the Bible from Greek into Latin. Jerome is considered to be the greatest biblical and Hebrew scholars of the early medieval period. Jerome’s translation (known as the Vulgate) became thee Bible translation for centuries to follow. It even became the official translation of the Roman Catholic Church.
So if Jerome left them out of his translation, how did the Apocryphal books end up in the Vulgate, the Catholic Bible? The Church inserted them into the Vulgate after he died.
8. The Apocrypha contains numerous non-biblical and heretical doctrines.
The Apocrypha teaches...
These are doctrines that are not supported in the Bible, and are clearly even contradicted by authentic Scripture.
9. The Apocrypha was not formally declared to be authoritative and inspired by the Catholic Church until 1546.
...1500+ years after they were written! Why did they do this so late? They did it to counter the teachings of Martin Luther and the other reformers. These men were exposing the fact that the Catholic Church was basing certain teachings on the Apocrypha, and not the sixty-six books of the Bible. So, the Catholic Church, officially declared that the Apocrypha was part of the Bible.
So for these nine reasons, Evangelicals reject the Apocrypha as divinely authoritative.
A sixth area of disagreement between Evangelicals and Catholics is…
A. The Bible (which includes their 11 added apocryphal books that they added to the Bible, the Apocrypha)
B. The Church (or what the Church calls "sacred church tradition").
Authoritative sacred Church tradition includes the decrees of various councils (meetings of Church leaders) as well as certain sayings of the Popes.
The Catholic Church teaches that when the Pope speaks ex cathedra (literally “from the chair”) he is absolutely infallible. And throughout the history of the Church, the various Popes have said numerous things in this manner. Those teachings stand irreversibly to this day, as truths that are equal in authority to the written Word of God.
So, when you read something on the Vatican’s official website, or in a Catholic book on theology, you’ll read something that says something like “Such and such is true” and instead of it giving you a Scripture reference for justification for a particular belief, it will just say something like: “Pope Pius XII.”
To the Catholic Church, the teachings of the Popes are absolutely equal in authority to Biblical revelation.
Well, in contrast to this, Evangelicals believe that authority for faith and practice rests solely upon one foundation, the sixty-six books of Scripture.
This is something that the men who led the reformation (i.e. Martin Luther and John Calvin, and Ulrich Zwingli) called sola scriptura, Latin for “Scripture alone.”
We believe that Scripture alone is the final court of appeal on all doctrinal and moral matters. Evangelicals believe that any tradition or teaching that contradicts the Scripture it is to be rejected, no matter how sacred or old it is!!!
Any “tradition” (v.8) that conflicts with the absolute Word of God, as contained in the Scripture, is to be rejected (Acts 17:11; Isa. 8:20)
Turn over to Matthew 15 with me. Listen to Jesus rebuke the Pharisees here for voiding the Word of God with their traditions...
This is a why Evangelicals reject many of the Catholic traditions. They often contradict the commandments of God, and of course God does not contradict Himself.
Another reason Evangelicals reject most of the traditions of the Catholic Church as authoritative is because if tradition is needed to supplement God's Word (as the Catholic Church teaches) then that means the Bible is insufficient as a guide for living. But that is exactly the opposite of what the Bible says about itself.
The Bible tells us that written “Scripture” is sufficient. Writing to Timothy, Paul said…
2 Timothy 3:14-17
The Word of God, “the Holy Scriptures” (v.15) are able to make a man “complete” (v.17). The Greek word there for “complete” (in v. 17) can also be translated: adequate, capable, fully furnished, proficient in the sense of being able to meet all demands (The Bible Knowledge Commentary).
Jesus said, "The Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).” He never said, “Tradition cannot be broken.”
Jesus said, “For assuredly, I say to you, till Heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled (Matthew 5:18)."
Again referring to the authority of written Scripture, not oral tradition. Jesus used Scripture as the final court of appeal in every matter under dispute.
To the Sadducees He said, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God (Matthew 22:29).”
To the devil, Jesus consistently responded “It is written...” three times in Matthew 4:4, 7, 10.
To the Pharisees, Jesus said, “For laying aside the commandment of God [the written Word], you hold the tradition of men — the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do. He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition (Mark 7:8-9).”
It was the man-made traditions that people elevated above the written commandments of God that Jesus consistently had to condemn!
So, Evangelicals follow Jesus’ lead and believe that Scripture alone is the supreme and final authority. The Word of God itself tells us that it will equip us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17).
But what about those verses that uphold “tradition” as being valuable? Paul does tell the Thessalonians to: “hold the traditions” in 2 Thessalonians 2:15.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 Paul writes to the believers in Thessalonica...
Paul seems to say here that believers should hold on to “tradition”!
But, notice the critically important word there in v.15: “our”
Paul’s not referring to traditions in general, but things that he, along with Silas, and Timothy [see 1:1] had taught them previously.
And notice, Paul said...
Paul was writing to people here in this epistle that he had previously and personally “taught” (v.15, 1 Thess. 2:1-2, 13) as an apostle of God.
The apostles, for a time, communicated their teachings orally until those teachings could be permanently recorded in written form.
Those are the traditions that Paul had in mind, not the traditions that the Roman Catholic Church would develop hundreds and even a thousand plus years later!
Did you realize many of the traditions of the Catholic Church have no ties to the apostles or to Jesus? Many of them were developed long after the apostles. Listen to when the following Roman Catholic Church doctrines came into being:
• The perpetual virginity of Mary: 553
And I could go on! Monks. Nuns. Convents. Cardinals. Lent. Ash Wednesday. The Catholicism that is practiced today does not resemble the Christianity of the New Testament or the first century church. (The dates above are largely taken from The Moody Handbook of Theology, p.404, 531-32; Roman Catholics & Evangelicals by Norman Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie).
Another verse the Catholic Church points to in support of its view of tradition is 2 Thessalonians 3:6, where Paul writes: “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us.”
Again, notice the words “from us” here in this verse. Not from the church to come and the leaders that will come on the scene hundreds of years from now. The traditions or teachings that came directly from the apostles are the ones that are binding. Also, notice that Paul speaks again in the past tense (v.6): "according to the tradition which he received from us.”
Those are the traditions that are authoritative––and we believe that were even written down––not the Catholic traditions introduced centuries later! Paul said to hold to the tradition which “you were taught” (in 2 Thess. 2:15) and that which you “received from us” (in 2 Thess. 3:6). Those would exclude the traditions of the Catholic Church.
So those are some of the areas that Evangelicals disagree with the Catholic Church: The Gospel, Purgatory, Praying for the dead and to the dead, Mary, the Bible, and the authority of Church tradition.
1. Remember to be speak kindly, with humility and gentleness.
Our goal as ambassadors of Christ is never to shoot down people of other persuasions. No. We need to be merciful to our Catholic friends. Many of them are Catholics because they were raised in Catholic homes. Many of them have never even heard some of the verses we’ve considered tonight. So, God desires that we be loving, gentle, kind and patient with them. Notice...
2 Timothy 2:24-25
2. Ask about their beliefs.
Don’t just assume that every Catholic believes the same thing. Some may not believe in Purgatory or praying to the saints. So you need to be sensitive to that.
3. Identify some of the beliefs you have in common.
As I mentioned earlier, Evangelicals and Catholics have a lot of agreements. I encourage you to bring some of those up. A person is much more inclined to talk about disagreements after a friendly chat about areas of agreement.
4. Ask about their salvation.
I like to ask the Catholics this question:
“If you were to die today and stand before God and He was to ask
Many Catholics, having not understood the gospel, say, “Because I am a good person” or “Because I am a Catholic.” Well, as you know, that is the wrong answer. They are trusting in themselves or their church membership. Jesus said there was none who was good except God alone (Mark 10:18). There is none righteous no not one (Romans 3:10, 23). Point that out to them.
5. Share the gospel.
And keep it simple (no big theological words!). Share verses from the Bible if you have a Bible on you. Seeing the Word of God with their own eyes will often be more effective than just telling them what the Bible says.
6. Invite them to church.
Numerous Catholics have been led into the light after experiencing a church service where there was genuine, heart-felt worship taking place and where the Bible was taught in an expository way!
7. Encourage them to read the Bible.
Many Catholics never read the Bible. And that is why they continue to believe much of what the Catholic Church teaches. Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth will set you free (John 8:32). If a Catholic will only start reading the Bible, God will show them wonderful things!
I talked to a man at our church a while back and asked him how he became a believer. He said that he was raised a Catholic. But he began to read the Bible on his own and he realized that the Bible was ALL ABOUT JESUS with very little mention of Mary. This blew him away! The Word of God opened his eyes and he placed his faith in Jesus Christ.
God’s Word is powerful and has opened the eyes of many Catholics. Let’s encourage them to read it. Amen?
One last thing, if you have Catholic friends or family that you would like to dialog with, but could use some additional help, there is a wonderful book I want to recommend: Reasoning from the Scriptures with Catholics by Ron Rhodes.
CHARLIE H. CAMPBELL (Twitter: @charlieabready)
• Scrolls & Stones: Compelling Evidence the Bible Can Be Trusted
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