of Roman Catholics are finding Christ and leaving the Catholic Church.
Some evangelicals, however, think leaving is a mistake. "Work within
the system," they advise. "Share with others what you have
found. If everyone leaves, how is the Catholic Church ever going to
Such advice is both misinformed and unbiblical.
Born-again Catholics staying within the Church are not going to change it.
Rome’s history over the past 500 years shows that it is moving away from
the truth, not toward it. When in the sixteenth century several of the
Church’s theologians and priests called for reform, the Church responded
with the sword and the stake. At the Council of Trent (1545-1563),
Rome’s bishops turned errors into unchangeable dogmas, and pronounced
solemn judgment upon anyone who taught otherwise. Most significantly,
Trent formally rejected the doctrine of salvation through faith in Christ
alone.i Since then the Church has been steadily moving further from the
truth. In 1870, 533 Roman Catholic bishops proclaimed that the pope was
infallible, immune to error in His official teaching. This placed the
words of a man on the same level as the words of God in inspired
Scripture. In 1854 the Vatican formally declared the doctrine of Mary’s
Immaculate Conception and in 1950 her Assumption into Heaven. These two
doctrines fueled the modern Marian movement in which many Catholics have
come to regard Mary almost as a goddess. Catholicism is getting worse, not
Some point to the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) and
the Catholic Charismatic Renewal that began in 1967 as evidence that the
Church is changing for the better. They claim that over the past 40 years
the Catholic Church has become increasingly evangelical in its outlook.
But what has really changed? The goal of Vatican II was
to update the Church, not to reform it. The Council modernized some
practices; refocused the goals of the clergy and laity; refreshed the
liturgy, making room for the language of the people to replace Latin at
the Mass; and formally expressed the Church’s new openness toward both
other Christians and non-Christians. Vatican II did not change a single
doctrine of Roman Catholicism. To the contrary, the Council reemphasized
the Church’s traditional teachings, repeatedly citing in its documents
the teaching of the previous 20 councils, and stating:
This sacred council accepts loyally the venerable
faith our ancestors… it proposes again the decrees of the Second
Council of Nicea, of the Council of Florence, and of the Council of
Trent. —Second Vatican Council ii
In 1994 the Catholic Church again restated in the Catechism
of the Catholic Church its commitment to the traditional teachings of
Roman Catholicism. The Catechism, the Church’s first official
summary of the faith in some 400 years, cited the Council of Trent 100
While Vatican II did nothing to bring the Catholic
Church back to biblical Christianity, some good did come out of the
Catholic Charismatic Renewal, as the large numbers of born-again former
Catholics now in evangelical churches attest. In its early days in the
late sixties, the Renewal was largely a lay movement. As Catholics began
to seek God and read the Scriptures, the Renewal spread quickly through
the Catholic Church.
The experience of former priest Bob Bush, a Jesuit
serving in California at the time, is typical of the era. He began a
charismatic prayer meeting at the high school where he taught in 1970. It
quickly grew to over 1000 people and had to move to a larger facility.
"When it began," Bob told me recently, "people were hungry
for God. The focus was on prayer directly to God and the reading of
Scripture. Many people were touched by God and by the power of His Word.
That all changed by the late seventies. Bishops began to
issue directives that brought the movement firmly under Church control.
They assigned liaisons to each group to keep watch and help guarantee
Catholic orthodoxy. Teaching from Church-authorized books began to replace
the Scriptures. Clergy became more visible at the meetings and the praying
of the Rosary prominent. Devotion to Mary and the celebration of the Mass
became the focus.
"What happened," Bob Bush recounts, "was
that everything got watered down and compromised. There was no longer any
power in the movement. People stopped hearing from the Holy Spirit. They
weren’t having the radical changes in their lives as before. The Renewal
became just another form of Catholicism." A more traditional priest
was assigned to lead Bob’s prayer group in 1978. Within a few years, it
had dwindled down to nothing. Bob left the Church a short time later.
The recent emergence of an evangelical-looking form of
Catholicism in certain countries is presently spawning new claims that
Rome is becoming more biblical. But once again the change is only
external. As will be discussed later in this book, the new look is nothing
more than old-time Catholicism repackaged to capitalize on the success of
the modern evangelical movement.
Others think that Rome must be changing because they
have heard of a particular parish where the priest, supposedly having been
born again, is preaching the gospel each week at Mass. I have never,
however, been able to verify such a case. Occasionally a priest does get
saved, but he will not be wearing a Roman collar for long if he starts
preaching the gospel, refuses to perform the Sacrifice of the Mass, stops
leading prayers to Mary, and ceases to hear confession. Even if a number
of such born-again priests could be found, with over 400,000 Roman
Catholic priests in the world, what 10, 20, or even 100 priests do would
hardly be a trend. The opposition that these men would be sure to
experience from the Church would be a better indicator of the true course
on which Rome is heading.
The Roman Catholic Church has not changed and it is not
about to change. Consequently, counseling a newly born-again Catholic to
remain within the system and make a difference is foolish. Practically
speaking, what’s the person supposed to do? Talk to a few of his
friends? Go see the priest? Write a letter to Rome? Do such things really
have the potential of reforming the Church?
The truth is that neither priests nor parishioners have
any significant say in the direction of the Church. The Roman Catholic
Church is not a democracy, but a hierarchical monarchy. Bishops, some 3250
in number, lead it. The seat of power is the Vatican. From there the pope
rules as the supposed Vicar of Christ and head of the bishops. Aiding the
pope are his top advisers and administrators, known as cardinals.
These oversee the Roman Curia, the powerful administrative and
judicial offices of the Vatican.
This structure leaves no room for democratic change or
for a grassroots coalition seizing power. It is a top-down organization.
The most the average Catholic can hope to do is influence the thinking of
the hierarchy through means such as letters, petitions, and protest. None
of these are encouraged or welcomed by the Church.
Even if a significant mechanism for popular change
existed, think for a moment what would have to change in order for the
Roman Catholic Church to become a biblical church. The pope would have to
resign, acknowledging that Christ is the head of the church (Colossians
1:18). The bishops would have to drop their claim to sole teaching
authority, recognizing the Holy Spirit as the church’s only infallible
and authoritative teacher (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 John 2:27). The Catholic
priesthood would have to disband, confessing that the Sacrifice of the
Mass is an insult to the finished work of Christ and that no one can
forgive sin but God alone (Mark 2:7; Hebrews 10:18). Altars would need to
be torn down, confession booths removed, statues destroyed (Exodus 20:4).
Veneration and prayer to Mary and the saints would have to stop, so that
Catholics might know that there is "one mediator also between God and
men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5). The Church would have to
confess that it has been preaching a false gospel, leading countless
millions down the wide path that leads to destruction. It would have to
acknowledge that baptism is not the instrument of justification, that its
sacraments cannot dispense the grace of God, that eternal life is not a
merited reward, and that venial sin, acts of penance, purgatory, and
indulgences are all the inventions of men. Finally, the Church would have
to begin proclaiming salvation by grace alone through faith alone in
Christ alone, and, forsaking all dependence upon Tradition, begin using
the Scriptures alone as its guide to truth.
Clearly there is no indication that any of this is
likely to happen. Neither should we expect God to step in at this late
date and revamp the Church of Rome. God is in the business of saving
people, not restructuring man-made institutions such as the Roman Catholic
God’s instruction to those who find themselves in
apostate churches teaching a false gospel is to get out.
Come out of her, my people, that you may
not participate in her sins and that you may not receive of her plagues;
for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her
iniquities. —Revelation 18:4-5
For anyone, therefore, to advise a born-again Catholic
to remain in the Church and try to change it is to exhibit an appalling
lack of understanding of the commands of God, the nature of the Roman
Catholic Church, and the needs of a new believer. Newly born-again
Christians need nurturing and the "pure milk of the word" (1
Peter 2:2), not the half-truths, lies, and the confusion of Roman
Catholicism. They need the fellowship of like-minded believers. They need
to be part of a church in which they can worship God free of idolatry and
Adapted from Conversations with Catholics by
James G. McCarthy (Harvest House Publishers: Eugene, 1997)
i. "If anyone says that a person is absolved from
sins and is justified by the fact that he certainly believes he is
absolved and justified; or that no one is truly justified except one who
believes that he is justified, and that by that faith alone are forgiven
and justification effected: let him be anathema" (Council of Trent,
"Canons Concerning Justification," session 6, no. 14).
"If anyone says that justice once received is
neither preserved nor increased in the sight of God by good works, but
that the works themselves are no more than the effects and signs of the
justification obtained, and not also a cause of its increase: let him be
anathema" (Council of Trent, "Canons Concerning
Justification," session 6, no. 24).
ii. Second Vatican Council, "Dogmatic Constitution
on the Church," no. 51.
Mr. Mike Gendron
Mr. Greg Durel
Carlos Tomas Knott