Roman Catholics: Mission Field or Family?

In this article, I want to bring something to the table that has confused many people over the years. It is a controversial discussion. It is a topic that many people feel they know the basics of but fall short when asked for an explanation. The subject is whether Roman Catholicism should be considered a valid option when it comes to matters of Christian faith. Specifically, it is whether Romans Catholics are brothers and sisters in Christ, or if they are the mission field. I want to let it be known that nothing said here is meant to belittle anybody else as a person. It is simply meant to inform so that you will never again be without an appropriate response when presented the title question.

Beginning in 1985, there was a movement. This movement was called Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT). In 1994, there were many people of both Protestant and Catholic persuasion who signed an official document. The purpose of the ECT was to work together for the common good. Although they may have had their differences, they believed they were following the same Christ. Instead of fighting each other, they desired to work for the common good and share Christ with others. On the surface, this seems like a great idea. If we all worship the same Christ, why not work together? It was a joint effort to stop treating each other like the mission field. However, this simply is not possible regardless of what piece of paper is signed so long as each party holds their beliefs unwavering. There are simply too many irreconcilable differences.

To realize why it is impossible, a Protestant must only look at his own name. The key word is protest. There are some very clear things being protested among us Protestants. In fact, the Catholic Church had some very strong things to protest as well toward us. In the 1500’s, over the course of 18 years, a council took place to put together an official statement. This assembly was known as the Council of Trent. Protestantism was gaining popularity in the way it held dear to Scripture alone (Sola Scriptura) and did not place Church Tradition on the same level of authority as the Catholic Church had done.

…the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.

Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 82

The Council of Trent had it in mind to put a stop to the Sola Scriptura Reformers. In their attempt, they declared 125 anathemas. Dictionary.com defines anathema as, “a person or thing accursed or consigned to damnation or destruction.” However, words have meaning. Many Catholics contend that being outside of the visible Catholic Church does not automatically equate to Hell. That said, if there is truly “no salvation outside of the Church,” and one is in open opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church, the orthodox Catholic position is that such a person is a heretic with no salvation. In other words, the Catholic Church gave 125 different ways a self-proclaiming Protestants can be eternally cut off and cursed by God. We are going to review a few of those ways and then learn the truth.

If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to cooperate 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.

Canon 9, Justification

In other words, if you believe you are justified by faith alone and that there is no work we can possibly do to justify ourselves, you are eternally cursed and cut off from God. Yet, Scripture is clear that no works of the Law can justify (Romans 3:20), and that man is justified by faith, apart from works of the Law (Romans 3:28). We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8), “not on the basis of deeds done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5). The Law does not justify us. If anything, it does the exact opposite. It shows how there is nothing we can do to justify ourselves. It shows our total depravity and dependence on God. It gives us knowledge of sin. It shines light on sin so that we can see it for what it really is and how impossible it is to be justified apart from God or by anything else other than God.

If any one saith, that a man once justified can sin no more, nor lose grace, and that therefore he that falls and sins was never truly justified; or, on the other hand, that he is able, during his whole life, to avoid all sins, even those that are venial,- except by a special privilege from God, as the Church holds in regard of the Blessed Virgin; let him be anathema.

Canon 23, Justification

Canon 23 says it is possible, indeed likely, to lose your salvation. If you say it is impossible to lose your salvation and that one who falls away from the faith was never truly saved to begin with, be eternally cursed by God. Yet, John tells us that all who permanently depart from the faith actually had no faith at all (1 John 2:19), and that he who believes in the Son has eternal life (John 3:36) and will be raised on the last day (John 6:40). All with faith will persevere and none will be snatched out of His hand (John 10:28). Salvation is not something which is here today and gone tomorrow. It is eternal. What good is eternity if it is only temporary and always changing? The answer is that it isn’t. Thankfully, Scripture promises something quite different: a man who has obtained salvation through faith will remain secure in his salvation until the end.

If any one saith, that the justice received is not preserved and also increased before God through good works; but that the said works are merely the fruits and signs of Justification obtained, but not a cause of the increase thereof; let him be anathema.

Canon 24, Justification

The Council of Trent declares that good works are not merely the fruit of a Christian but are actually a method of obtaining justification. If you believe the former and not the latter, you are eternally cursed by God. If good works are more than just fruit and do indeed justify, why is it that Paul so clearly states otherwise in Galatians? Does the Catholic Church now charge Paul with being a liar? He tells us we are to not be subject to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1). By putting our faith and hope of justification in works, we are binding ourselves to them. We are hoping we will perform well enough so that we might one day be considered justified. Paul rebukes the Galatians for this. He calls them foolish to think something that was started by the Spirit could be made perfect by our own doing in the flesh (Galatians 3:1-3). Justification is by Christ alone. Those whom He calls, He justifies (Romans 8:30). Our own works have nothing to do with it.

If any one saith, that, after the grace of Justification has been received, to every penitent sinner the guilt is remitted, and the debt of eternal punishment is blotted out in such wise, that there remains not any debt of temporal punishment to be discharged either in this world, or in the next in Purgatory, before the entrance to the kingdom of heaven can be opened (to him); let him be anathema.

Canon 30, Justification

In other words, if you believe the blood of Christ fully cleanses and does not leave some form of spot or blemish in which we must purify ourselves of in the fires of purgatory, you are anathema. That’s great and all, but what does the Bible actually say on the matter? It says we are forgiven of all of our transgressions. Christ canceled out all of our debt (Colossians 2:13-14). He rescued us from the domain of darkness; from Hell (Colossians 1:13). While we are not to sin, even if we do, we have an Advocate in Christ (1 John 2:1). That is in the current tense. We currently have an Advocate making intercession for us at all times. Every little thing that might be held against us is nailed to the cross. As a result, we are fully justified and declared “not guilty” before the eyes of God. In Christ, we have been made complete (Colossians 2:10).

If any one saith, that the sacrifice of the mass is only a sacrifice of praise and of thanksgiving; or, that it is a bare commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross, but not a propitiatory sacrifice; or, that it profits him only who receives; and that it ought not to be offered for the living and the dead for sins, pains, satisfactions, and other necessities; let him be anathema.

Canon 3, The Sacrifice of the Mass

To understand, the Catholic Mass would be similar to our communion. Another name for it is the Eucharist. In other words, if you do not believe that communion is a sacrifice of Jesus, you are condemned. If you do not believe that communion is profitable for the dead as well as the living, you are damned. If you do not believe that communion is a means of propitiation, you are cursed. If you believe communion to be merely symbolic and not the imparting of grace, you are eternally cut off from the Father. Here are some quotes from official Catholic teaching:

The mass is the sacrifice of the new law in which Christ, through the Ministry of the priest, offers himself to God in an unbloody manner under the appearances of bread and wine. The mass is the sacrifice of Christ offered in a sacramental manner…the reality is the same but the appearances differ.

New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Vol 2 Question 357

Their catechism clearly teaches that the mass is a sacrifice of Christ. Now the question remains as to what they mean by sacrifice. Thankfully, they answer this question:

A sacrifice is the offering of a victim by a priest to God alone, and the destruction of it in some way to acknowledge that he is the creator of all things.

New Saint Joseph Baltimore Catechism, Vol 2 Question 358

Based on those two statements alone, we can clearly see the mass is the sacrifice of Christ, their victim, which a priest offers up to God countless times over and over again to purposefully destroy him on the altar. Unfortunately, there is more.

The sacrifice of Christ the only Mediator, which in the Eucharist is offered through the priests’ hands,

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1369

How is it that they can possibly be proud to claim something so vile and disgusting? The Roman Catholic Church attempts to use Scripture to back itself up but it fails miserably. They use verses such as Matthew 26:26-28 and Luke 22:19 in an attempt to justify their position. Instead of taking this as a command to perform communion on remembrance of the death of Christ, the Romans Catholic Church teaches that Christ was passing on a sacrament to the apostles and their succeeding priests, and was giving them the power to transform the bread and wine into the literal flesh and blood of Christ. As we read, they do not teach that it is bread and wine, but literal flesh and blood that only appears to be bread and wine, although the bread and wine is no more. This is where the priest comes into play with his sacrifice. He goes to the altar where the bread and wine await him. He lifts it up to the sky in the action of raising it to God. He then brings it down and offers it to the people. According to their teaching, it is not bread and wine that he offers up but is literally Christ being sacrificed by the priest under the appearance of bread and wine. The Catholic Church does not deny that Christ alone is our propitiation. However, with their teaching of the Mass, it allows them to claim propitiation in the act of the priest for it is Christ being sacrificed.

According to Scripture, Christ died once for all (Hebrews 7:26-27). There was no need for countless reoccurrence as was the habit of the priests. We are told the repetitious sacrifices are in vain as they can never take away sins (Hebrews 10:1, 10-12). If Christ died once for all, who is it that the Catholic priests are sacrificing? It is bad enough that they claim to sacrifice Christ countless times over but it is even worse that they are lifting up someone other than Christ since we know Christ was only sacrificed once, and that was by God. Once was sufficient. Once for all. The one they are lifting up certainly is not our Lord. The whole concept of the Mass is an extremely anti-biblical, pagan, and dare I say, satanic practice.

The Catholic Church will deny their claim that they re-sacrifice Christ over and over. They do this because the claim of repetitious sacrificing completely goes against the Scripture that says he was sacrificed once for all. They instead say that they are simply re-presenting the one-time sacrifice of Christ. Despite these claims, this is not what they teach.

For it is in the liturgy, especially in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist, that “the work of our redemption is accomplished”

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1068

The sacrifice of Christ and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice

Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1367

By their own admission, they go against Scripture. However, they will never claim error because they believe they are preserved from such. They can never be wrong in their doctrine or dogmas (even if such a position is circular reasoning). They clearly teach a sacrifice of Christ and will never recant these teachings for to do so would crumble the whole system. If one thing is admitted to be wrong, how many countless other things are wrong as well? Again, if Christ is not being sacrificed over and over again (as per the Scriptures), who is it that they are lifting up week after week all over the world?

If any one saith, that, by the Catholic doctrine touching Justification, by this holy Synod inset forth in this present decree, the glory of God, or the merits of our Lord Jesus Christ are in any way derogated from, and not rather that the truth of our faith, and the glory in fine of God and of Jesus Christ are rendered (more) illustrious; let him be anathema.

Canon 33, Justification

In other words, if you disagree with even one jot or tittle of the declarations and teachings of the Catholic priesthood, you are eternally cut off from the glory of Heaven, eternally cursed by God, and are destined for Hell. I must be in big trouble then because I denounce every single one of those and I have the truth of Scripture to bring me confidence in these matters. One may ask if the Catholic Church still holds to these teachings. Wouldn’t it be highly possible that they would have renounced these absurd teachings so many years after the Reformation? After all, if the entire purpose of them was to scare people from leaving the Roman Catholic Church during a time when so many were converting to Protestantism, shouldn’t changes in culture have allowed for a more lenient view by now? Despite the time that has passed, the Roman Catholic Church still clings to each and every declaration of the Council of Trent. In fact, it was only 61 years ago that Pope John XXIII affirmed them. To say otherwise is to go against the very core of Catholic teaching.

but in case I am delayed, I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:15, NASB)

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. (Matthew 16:18, NASB)

They teach that they are Christ’s one true church and that they are preserved from error. They claim the truth abides with them and that they will never teach doctrinal error because the gates of Hell will not overpower Christ’s Church. Because of this, nothing they declare as doctrine, dogma, anathema, and especially ex cathedra will ever be wrong. As a result, instead of preserving the truth, they have done nothing more than preserve error upon error under a system of works.

I have only touched on a few of the decrees from the Council of Trent. According to the Roman Catholic teachings, a few other things that will get you booted to Hell include:

1) Rejecting the Apocrypha as being the inspired Word of God

2) Saying baptism is not a requirement for salvation

3) Claiming infant baptism is wrong

4) Believing confirmation is just a ceremony and not a sacrament that imputes grace

5) Denying penance

6) Denying the priesthood

7) Denying the doctrine of purgatory

Where exactly does the grace of God ever come into play in all of these preposterous claims?

The Mass is the sum and substance of our faith.

Pope Benedict XVI

If the Mass is the substance of faith, the Catholic Church does not have saving faith. The Mass lifts up someone they call Christ but is not actually Jesus. It worships a counterfeit and makes sacrifice after sacrifice of this counterfeit Christ. Again, how can this be the substance of faith? It follows after a system of legalistic works that teach you can earn your salvation as if by merit (in addition to faith) so long as you follow their rituals and make payment on time. It teaches that there is some other way of justification and some other source of propitiation and then places it at the feet of the priest who lifts it up to a false god. No, the Catholic Church cannot be considered a valid alternative. It cannot even be defined as a Christian denomination any more than Mormonism or Jehovah’s Witnesses can be. Their counterfeit Jesus is not an all-sufficient Savior but merely a person who helps them to save themselves.

All that said, please keep in mind that not everyone in the Catholic Church fully affirm its teachings. Some people know the truth for what it is but do not see the harm in staying in the local Catholic church they grew up in. Being in a local Catholic church is not the same as being a part of the Catholic Church, or a devout follower of Catholic teaching. If you know anybody in this predicament, I urge you to speak with him or her on the importance of leaving. While it may seem harmless, I hope the examples brought to you in this short article can show how it is far from safe. It is very dangerous and we need to understand why. It is the mission field through and through.

~ Travis W. Rogers

THE PERSPICUITY OF SCRIPTURE: An Antidote to Rome’s Epistemological Sophistry

Have you heard this argument before?

“Sure, the Bible may be infallible, but are you infallible? If you’re not infallible, how do you know your interpretation of the Bible is correct? An infallible Bible isn’t helpful without an infallible interpreter, and therefore we need the infallible interpretation of [insert authority here]!”

In most cases, the preferred “infallible interpreter” is the magisterium of the Catholic Church, but it could also be the Patristics, the Watch Tower Society, the teachings of the LDS prophets, etc. But regardless of the proposed solution, the problem raised against Bible-believers is the same: “how can you have certainty without an infallible interpreter?” Many Catholic apologists view this as their trump card, and boast it as the insurmountable epistemological weakness of Protestantism. How would you answer it?

The key to answering this so-called “dilemma” lies in what’s tacitly conceded even by the challenger: words have meaning. They must concede this, because if words didn’t have objective, discernible meaning, then their remedy (and the conversation altogether) would be as pointless as enforcing a 10-person-or-less quarantine policy at an Episcopalian church. If language was so utterly opaque and uncertain, then having an infallible interpreter would do nothing to solve the problem, because we would be in the same danger of fallibly interpreting the infallible interpreter as we would the infallible Bible. How can little ol’ fallible me have any certainty in correctly interpreting the infallible interpreter? I suppose I’d need an infallible interpreter to interpret the infallible interpreter, and then an interpreter for that interpreter, and so on ad infinitum.

But if that’s absurd, the obvious reason is because words have meaning. When someone says, “water is wet,” my confidence in understanding that doesn’t in the least bit hinge on having access to an infallible magisterium. I don’t have to be infallible to know the meaning of “water is wet” anymore than I have to be infallible to know that grass is green. Both of these I simply receive as facts of the world – facts that are self-evident independent of any subjective interpretation. Understanding the meaning of words doesn’t depend on the infallibility of the one who hears them; they can be grasped with confidence by anyone who has a minimal understanding of the English language.

So, if our interlocutor confesses that words have discernible meaning (as they ultimately must), what is it they’re asserting? Really, they’re not asserting that language in general is always unclear, but that the Bible is. And so, since the Bible is unclear, we need to consult an authority that is clear. Cutting through their epistemological sophistry, we now see the meat of their argument, and what it takes to answer it. The answer to Rome’s challenge is that the Bible is clear, and that – while we appreciate the gesture – we are not in need of their assistance. We have no need for man to add to what God made perfectly clear in the first place.

Perspicuity

The technical name for the doctrine expressed above is the Perspicuity of Scripture. Perspicuity is a word that’s ironically not very perspicuous, but it simply means “clarity.” When we say Scripture is perspicuous, we mean that it’s not dark or mysterious, and that it’s easy to understand for anyone who puts in the time and effort to understand it. This doesn’t mean that every doctrine is equally clear, but that all doctrines can become apparent through diligent consultation of the Word, and that the essential doctrines are especially clear to all. Concerning the latter, the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith puts it as follows:

“…those things which are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.”

1689 LBCF 1.7

No advanced degree, ordination by a bishop, or time in a monastery is necessary to understand what God says plainly; even “the unlearned” are perfectly able to see that the way of salvation is by Grace Alone through Faith Alone according to the merits of Christ Alone. The Bible says, “The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7), and “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130). If God’s words can give understanding to the simple and make them wise, how can you say they aren’t clear? The Bible also says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105). Could something dark and obscure be a light to us? And if that’s not enough, it says, “I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts” (Psalm 119:99-100). How could someone have more understanding than his teachers by studying the Word if he can only understand the Word through his teachers? When could a papist affirm these words of the psalmist, and say that a believer may know more than the ancients and his teachers through studying Scripture? In light of these clear, perspicuous statements in the Word of God, it’s hard to imagine why anyone would deny this doctrine without a motive to put themselves in the place of the Bible.

The “30,000” Argument

“But,” interjects the Romanist, “if the Bible is so clear, why are there 30,000TM Protestant denominations?” For starters, those numbers are wildly inflated, as even the more honest Catholics will concede. Secondly, not being under the ecclesiastical authority of another denomination doesn’t necessarily imply disfellowship or lack of a spirit of unity, and the reverse is also true. A Reformed Baptist and an Orthodox Presbyterian usually get along much better than a CCR participant would with a typical Augustinian monk. I’d wager that the range of beliefs among those who uphold the three pillars of Biblical epistemology (inerrancy, sufficiency, and perspicuity) is much smaller than the range of beliefs under the jurisdiction of the Pope.

But regardless of how much doctrinal unity there is among those with a Biblical worldview, we cannot deny the differences between us altogether. Do we disagree on secondary issues because the Bible is only clear about the essentials? While some doctrines may not be as immediately clear as others, and some things may take more effort to understand than others, we should not rashly say that this means the Bible’s not clear on those subjects, too. God forbid that we imply His Word is somehow at fault for our divisions! As Herr Luther so strongly says:

“…the notion that in Scripture some things are recondite and all is not plain was spread by the godless Sophists … who have never yet cited a single item to prove their crazy view; nor can they. And Satan has used these unsubstantial spectres to scare men off reading the sacred text, and to destroy all sense of it’s value, so as to ensure that his own brand of poisonous philosophy reigns supreme in the church …. the entire content of the Scriptures has now been brought to light, even though some passages which contain unknown words remain obscure. Thus it is unintelligent, and ungodly, too when you know that the contents of Scripture are as clear as can be, to pronounce them obscure on account of those few obscure words. If words are obscure in one place, they are clear in another.”

Martin Luther, The Bondage of the Will. II.ii

God has given us the perfect Book to lead us into all truth. So perfect is it that – while it’s a great help to consult others who have spent more time in it than we have – we don’t need any help to understand it if we are willing to immerse ourselves in it.

“But the anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him”

1 John 2:27

The Holy Spirit is the infallible interpreter for the believer, and the primary means He teaches us is through His Word, which He opens our eyes to receive. Through His Word, He is perfectly able to teach us “all things.” If there’s anything that was at one time dark and uncertain, all is illuminated through Jesus Christ, the light of the world, whom we receive by His Spirit. So, again, why do godly Christians so often disagree? The answer isn’t God’s Word; the blame lies solely with us – 1) on our ignorance, and 2) on our flesh.

  1. Ignorance: Some doctrines are complex and require much study. There’s a difference between complexity and clarity; the Bible is perfectly clear on all its subjects, but the doctrine itself may be inherently complicated, and the Holy Spirit’s explication of it may span multiple books of Scripture. After putting all the pieces together, the doctrine will indeed be clear. But because most of us haven’t memorized the entirety of the Bible, and because most of us aren’t so attentive that we always recognize the relevancy of a passage to a doctrine, disagreement inevitably emerges among ourselves.
  2. The flesh: Oftentimes, even believers will resist a truth of Scripture. The Holy Spirit can lead you to water, and He can make you drink it, too, but in God’s wisdom He’s chosen to make sanctification a process rather than an event. And so, the Holy Spirit will always point the believer the right way, but our unsanctified flesh will resist until He subdues it. There are cases where we might not like the implications of the doctrine, where it might wound our pride to admit we were previously wrong about it, where the doctrine might go against the views of one of our favorite theologians – there are many possible reasons for resisting that none of us are exempt from this side of glory. As such, we must always remain vigilant.

No Christian is immune to either of these weaknesses, and this is why there can be doctrinal disagreement even among believers. But in neither case is the fault attributable to God’s Word or its clarity, and so the doctrine of perspicuity isn’t threatened by them. On the contrary, the doctrine of perspicuity gives hope that resolution is available, and that we can obtain certainty even on secondary issues, regardless of the many good, educated believers who disagree; it just takes work and humility. Because the Word of God does teach all of its doctrines clearly, whoever is willing to be humble, receive instruction by the Holy Spirit, and become devoted to thoroughly studying His Word is guaranteed to find the answers he or she is looking for. Our problem is that we seldom ever do this, and rely on the speculations of others and/or ourselves rather than properly consulting Him with a believing heart. But when our problem is a heart problem, none of the authorities our opponents proffer are of any help. Even if they had an infallible authority, there’s nothing they could add to the one God already gave us.
To Him be honor and glory for giving us a perfect authority for all matters of faith and practice!

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