Roman Catholicism: Doctrines of Error

Last week (CLICK HERE), I wrote on some of the differences between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We learned that Roman Catholicism is not part of orthodox Christianity. We reviewed their own declarations from the Council of Trent as well as the Catechism. Today, we are going to focus on what Scripture has to say regarding some of the other doctrines and dogmas of the Catholic Church. As was the case with last week, this is not meant to belittle anyone simply because they have a different faith from ours. It is merely meant to point out the differences from a Scriptural perspective to further your understanding of the Truth. I agree with the below statements by the great theologian:

I neither hate you nor despise you; nor do I wish to persecute you; but I would be as hard as iron when I behold you insulting sound doctrine with so great audacity.

John Calvin (to Michael Servetus)

A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.

John Calvin

As always, my goal is to proclaim the truth of Scripture in light of Scripture alone. Sola Scriptura! Our first area we are going to touch on is the doctrine of purgatory. This is one I feel most have heard of but few properly understand.

All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030

If you die in the love of God but possess any stains of sin, such stains are cleansed away in a purifying process called Purgatory. These stains of sin are primarily the temporal punishment due to venial or mortal sins already forgiven but for which sufficient penance was not done during your lifetime.

Handbook for Today’s Catholic, page 47

According to Roman Catholicism, all men die with a stain of sin. The only exceptions to this are infant babies who have been baptized and the saints who were deemed exceptionally holy. All others are blemished with sin even until the point of death. As a result of this, one cannot enter into the joy of heaven until he has been purified. This purification is as by fire. Catholicism does not rely primarily on Scripture for this doctrine. It is a doctrine that stems from their own teaching which they refer to as Sacred Tradition. It is also a doctrine that comes from the Apocrypha, which is included in the Catholic bible, but it is not found in the Protestant Bible. These deuterocanonical books can be used as history lessons but they were written by fallible men and are not to be included among the inspired Word of God. However, they have attempted to fit it to Scripture by referencing various passages. One passage in particular is from 1 Corinthians.

If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15, NASB)

In essence, the doctrine of purgatory teaches that one is to live a good and holy life, but that he will eventually end in a state of sin with the need to be purified by fire and cleansed from the stain. It’s ironic that false teaching would stem from a verse that is actually referring to the danger of falsehoods by teachers and hollow teachings that contain zero eternal value. Before I get into the doctrine of purgatory as a whole, I’d like to touch on a couple other areas: penance and indulgences.

Like all the sacraments, Penance is a liturgical action. The elements of the celebration are ordinarily these: a greeting and blessing from the priest, reading the word of God to illuminate the conscience and elicit contrition, and an exhortation to repentance; the confession, which acknowledges sins and makes them known to the priest; the imposition and acceptance of a penance; the priest’s absolution; a prayer of thanksgiving and praise and dismissal with the blessing of the priest.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1480

The whole power of the sacrament of Penance consists in restoring us to God’s grace and joining us with him in an intimate friendship.” Reconciliation with God is thus the purpose and effect of this sacrament.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1468

In other words, penance is a part of the process of reconciliation. We become reconciled to God through a string of actions on our part. We earn the grace of God by the works that we complete on this earth. According to Catholicism, the proper way to be reconciled to God is by being greeted and blessed by a priest, reading Scripture in public, and confessing our sins to a priest. It is by this method that one can attempt to achieve a state of holiness so as to reduce the amount of time they have to spend in purgatory. After all, isn’t the goal to get to heaven as soon as possible?

All of this ties into indulgences. While penance is the active process of sanctification and obtaining holiness and the good grace of God, indulgences are the method of obtaining forgiveness for sins already committed. It is not actually a way of obtaining forgiveness of the sin itself, but rather a method of spiritual stain removal. Penance is preventative whereas indulgences are corrective. Like penance, indulgences are meant to reduce the amount of time one has to spend in purgatory. This is done by drawing from what is known as the Treasury of the Church, also known as the Treasury of Merit. Just as the Roman Catholic faith is based, in part, upon works, these same works are stockpiled in a heavenly storehouse where merit can be drawn on by members of the Church. However, all drawings of indulgences are given through the Church by its priests through official sacraments.

Penance and indulgences are both a form of works based salvation. They deny the efficacious atonement of Christ and places it in the hands of the priests. Regarding penance, the Catholic Church tells us we can perform works to earn justification and be considered righteous. However, Scripture tells us nothing of the sort. Scripture is very clear when it says we are not saved by our works (Galatians 2:16) nor is there anything we can do to justify ourselves. It is faith alone (Romans 5:1) through the blood of Christ (Romans 5:9) that makes us righteous (Romans 4:3). We are not justified by penance and indulgences. We are justified by His blood. The doctrine of penance and indulgences clearly detracts from the atonement provided in the blood of Christ. It removes the sufficiency of Christ and amounts it to nothing more than a fraction of plan of salvation. Interestingly enough, a certain apostle battled a type of people similar to this.

These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. (1 John 5:13, NASB)

John was combating a particular type of crowd in his day. That crowd was the Gnostic movement. They taught a secret knowledge that was pertinent to salvation that only they could reveal. John speaks boldly and bluntly in his use of the word “know.” He wanted the readers to understand that there was no hidden knowledge regarding salvation. It was cut & dry. They could KNOW whether or not they were saved. They could be confident! The Roman Catholic Church functions in much the same way as the Gnostics. They say, outside of the Catholic Church, there is no preservation from error. They say, outside the Catholic Church, one cannot be saved. Sure, this is not the spoken word taught today but it is to be understood so long as they affirm the declarations of the Council of Trent that we went over last week. They teach that they have a hidden knowledge that is preserved within their organization (which they claim to be Christ’s only Church). It is only through the priests that this knowledge and revelation can be shared and experienced. It is modern Gnosticism in more ways than one.

Not only are indulgences unbiblical, they were also created as a money making scandal. In the early Church, indulgences were often sold to the people. The people would bring the priests money and the priests would then offer up indulgences on their behalf. These indulgences would often be purchased for the dead in a hope to speed up their time in purgatory so they could enjoy the peace of heaven. Indulgences were sold in the form of time periods. There were basic indulgences sold during the Mass that would shave time off of purgatory for basic sins. Additionally, there were more expensive indulgences offered by bishops. These would only be available to certain people in higher financial standing. Of course, if it meant getting to heaven faster, isn’t it worth it to give some money? You can’t take it with you, after all, right? On top of this, the quality of the pardon varied based on the motives of the priests. If they didn’t have the proper attitude while performing the sacrament, the quality was reduced. Of course, they were collecting money from people so the sacrament was not considered null and void. It was just reduced in effectiveness. An undisclosed amount of time would still be shaved off purgatory just for going through with the hollow ritual. Because a man’s heart is only known by God, it made sense to keep repeating it over and over just in case. On top of that, nobody knew how long a man would spend in purgatory. Again, it only made sense to keep paying for indulgences in hopes that you would free your dead loved ones from the fires of purgatory as well as avoid having to go there yourself. As long as you pay, you can enjoy the riches of heaven in an expedient manner. So long as you perform works in the Church, purgatory will go by much faster for some than for others. However, if you really care about the others, you can help them out by paying some more. This is the grim reality of how it all started. Things may have changed over the years but the roots still remain.

All of this leads to the concept of purgatory and how it completely assaults the concept of grace and forgiveness in Christ. Since we already covered the basics of what purgatory is all about, I now want to go over the Scriptural response. As Christians, we have no fear of going anywhere but heaven, as there is no condemnation awaiting us (Romans 8:1). Paul had no fear of death. He knew the moment he left his body, he would be at home with the Lord experiencing the joy of heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8).

Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30, NASB)

The Greek word used here is teleo, and it refers to something coming to an end. Regarding monetary matters, the word was used to refer to a payment of debt. Christ was saying that all debt was considered paid in full. Through his blood, there is no more debt. Why is it that the Catholic Church teaches otherwise?

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, (Hebrews 9:27, NASB)

This verse looks like it could almost be used to justify purgatory. Isn’t it saying there is judgment after death? Can’t it support the notion of God judging us to an intermediate place of purgatory to be cleansed of the stain of our sins? Most certainly not! That is what the blood of Christ perfected! Let’s revisit that ever-popular fire from 1 Corinthians 3:15.

If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:15, NASB)

Upon death, there will indeed be judgment from God. For the unsaved, this judgment will end in eternal death and suffering of hell. For the saved, this judgment will result in eternal life with the Father. However, our works will be judged as well. They may not play a part in our timeline from death to heaven but they most certainly affect our rewards in heaven. Instead of attempting to find out the meaning of 1 Corinthians 3:15, the Roman Catholic Church invents a meaning in order to make it fit their pre-existing doctrine of purgatory. It is dangerous practice to invent doctrine and then make Scripture fit. If it is not explicitly in Scripture, it is to be excluded. This is the very essence of the Regulative Principle of Worship, as well as the intent of Sola Scriptura.

Again, Paul is not saying one must be purified in purgatory. In those days, fire was the method of removing the dross. Dross is all the waste product of metals being purified in fire. Let’s look at the entire passage.

According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15, NASB)

Notice it is not saying that a man must perform works or else be saved through the fires of purgatory. As I alluded to earlier, it’s speaking of the hollow teachings of men. The foundation of Christ had already been laid, yet some were building on the foundation with materials that were of zero reward. Perhaps it was their charm or a flashy stage, or maybe it was of some other valueless substance. The point is that, one day, the judgment of God will come to all. The atoning blood of Christ is the only thing that can save. This will be the first step. Among Christians, however, there is yet another judgment. This judgment will determine the eternal rewards in Heaven. While specifically referring to teachers, there is a certain universal application that can be extracted. We must always remain focused on Christ and things of eternal value. Outside of Christ, even our greatest works are as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). In the Hebrew, this literally meant the rags used to catch the bloody flow of a menstruating woman. However, when we have Christ as our foundation, those works take on a whole new meaning. They may not purify us, speed up entrance to heaven, or work off past sins of others, but they do indeed build up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20). In the Day of Judgment, all of our works will be burned up (2 Peter 3:10). The only ones to remain will be the eternal works in Christ. These works are described as being of even higher quality than gold (1 Peter 1:7). Gold and empty works will burn away, but our works in Christ will remain forever.

We are justified by faith alone (Romans 5:1, 8). The Roman Catholic Church teaches we must work for justification, work for heaven, and experience suffering by fire in order to reach heaven. Not only is this unbiblical, but it is also anti-biblical.

According to Romish theology, all past sins both as respects their eternal and temporal punishments are blotted out in baptism and also the eternal punishment of the future sins of the faithful. But for the temporal punishment of the post-baptismal sins the faithful must make satisfaction either in this life or in purgatory. In opposition to every such notion of human satisfaction Protestants rightly contend that the satisfaction of Christ is the only satisfaction for sin and is so perfect and final that it leaves no penal liability for any sin of the believer.

John Murray (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.49)

Christ said it himself. It is finished (John 19:30)! Roman Catholic teaching does not believe this and, in turn, adds to the gospel. Anything added to the Gospel is a false gospel. Anything that adds to the finished work of Christ is a false gospel, and a false gospel is to be condemned (Galatians 1:8-9). To close with another excellent and highly relevant quote by John Murray:

This polemic against Romish blasphemy is just as necessary today as it was in the Reformation period. The atonement is a completed work, never repeated and unrepeatable.

John Murray (Redemption: Accomplished and Applied, p.51)

~ Travis W. Rogers

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