Roman Catholicism really be classified as a Christian religion?
Catholicism is not a Christian religion and in this article we will
Evangelical Christians today have very positive feelings about both
the Pope in particular and Roman Catholicism in general. Others are
uncertain as to how Roman Catholicism should properly be classified in
light of biblical teaching. That such support and/or perplexity is
undergirded even by many Christian organizations can be seen in the
following response sent out to those inquiring about Catholicism by a
leading Christian apologetics ministry. This standard reply was given by
a group which specializes in the analysis of comparative religion and
cultic theology. In answer to the question, "Is Roman Catholicism
Biblical?", the verbatim response was as follows (copy on file):
1. Does the
Catholic Church teach orthodox Christianity? Answer: Yes.
2. Does the
Catholic Church teach salvation by good works or by faith? Answer: They
teach it by faith.
3. Does the
Catholic Church teach another gospel? Answer: No.
would certainly lead many to conclude that Roman Catholicism should be
classified as a legitimate Christian faith.
Roman Catholicism claims it alone is the one true Church on earth.
The Catholic Encyclopedia argues, "The term Roman Catholic has come
to be the accepted designation of the one true Church…."1
It also teaches that God has indeed revealed Himself "and that the
Catholic faith is that revelation."2 In addition, it
describes the Catholic Church as "The Church founded by Jesus Christ,"3
and defines the Church in the following manner, "When the Church
is spoken of, it means that visible religious society, founded by Jesus
Christ, under one head, St. Peter, and continuing under the governance
of his successors, the popes.... It is thus the role of the Church to
present the means of salvation given by Christ, [i.e., the
Under the heading of
"Doctrine of the Catholic Church" we read, "It is through Christ’s
Catholic Church alone, which is the all-embracing means of
salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be
Under "Church Membership," we
find Pope Pius XII cited in his On the Mystical Body of Christ
(1943). He teaches that only Catholics are to be considered members of
the one true Church. "Actually, only those are to be included as members
of the Church who have been baptized, and who profess the true faith
[Roman Catholicism], and who have not been so unfortunate as to separate
themselves from the unity of the Body..." [i.e., Protestants].6
the heading "Protestantism," we find that the official position "of the
Catholic Church was set forth in the twenty-five sessions of the Council
of Trent..."7 which thoroughly anathematized Protestantism.
At least here Protestantism retains its curse.
proves that Roman Catholicism claims that it alone is the one true
Church on earth, and that Protestant churches are false—or at the very
best, to be liberal, inadequate.
But what if it
is actually the Roman Catholic Church which fails qualification as the
one true Church—according to at least three of its own requirements? The
Catholic Church itself has officially defined the identifying marks of
the one true Church. In The Catholic Encyclopedia we are told
there are four criteria endorsed by the Council of Trent: 1) oneness of
doctrine, 2) the generation of true personal holiness dispensed through
the Church’s means of sanctification (e.g., sacraments), 3) Catholicity
(universality of mission) and 4) apostolicity—teachings and practices
derived from Christ and the apostles.8
First, can it logically be
maintained that the Catholic Church has a "oneness of doctrine?" In the
sense of doctrine, the term "Catholicity" was classically defined in the
"Vincentian canon" (5th century) as "What has been believed everywhere,
always, by all."9
Individual Catholics aside, have even the popes always maintained unity
of doctrine? How is this possible with the doctrinal contradictions and
controversies in Catholic history, tradition, and Scripture (e.g., the
Apocrypha)? What about the serious differences found in the various
competing forms of modern Roman Catholicism such as liberal, moderate,
conservative, mystical and charismatic? Does Vatican II agree entirely
what biblical basis can true holiness be said to be dispensed
through the Roman Catholic Church and its beliefs and practices?
Biblically, it is clear that sanctification, or growth in holiness,
comes principally through the work of the Holy Spirit applied
individually to true believers in Christ through the renewing power of
both learning Scripture and obeying it. If so, of what value are the
Roman Catholic sacraments and other practices for the process of
sanctification? Especially if individual Catholics are attempting
to earn their own salvation by good works and are not yet even saved? In
fact, by inhibiting personal salvation through unbiblical doctrine and
practices, Roman Catholicism inhibits true sanctification because
sanctification is not possible without regeneration (cf., Jn. 6:63;
of Catholics today think they are Christians when in fact they are
Catholics. Of course, the same may be said of Protestants who reject the
gospel. Nevertheless, perhaps it is the fact of a largely unregenerate
church which explains the strong comments of former Franciscan priest
Emmett McLoughlin. In his Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church
he argues as follows:
The purpose of this book is
to show that the Roman Catholic Church in its most important work
[sanctification] is a failure. Among its members crime and immorality
are greater than the unchurched or the members of other churches.
Whatever else the Roman Catholic Church may be able to do... it
cannot, it has not, and it does not make the majority of its members
better and holier....
That the Roman Catholic
Church has been one of the most powerful influences in the history of
all civilization cannot be seriously denied....
[Nevertheless] It is my
contention and my sincere conviction, from my experience in the
Catholic educational system, my life of fifteen years in the
priesthood, and thirteen years of constant observation and intense
study since leaving the Church, that its influence on all civilization
has been far more of evil than of good....
Morally, this book will
show the high rate of crime and sin among Roman Catholics everywhere,
and particularly in the United States. It will also demonstrate that
this immorality is not in spite of Catholic education and training,
but directly because of it.10
Today, some have even claimed
up to one-third of the 57,000 Roman Catholic priests could be HIV
infected—and now, several books exist on priestly pedophilia—with up to
3,000 priests apparently involved.11
Catholic test for identifying the one true Church is apostolicity. But
if the Roman Catholic Church rejects key teachings of the apostles, how
can it logically be considered apostolic—that is, derived from them?
Thus, the Catholic Church fails in at least three of its four criteria
for evaluation of its own authenticity.
this raises the question, "Can Roman Catholicism truly be considered
some degree of doctrinal orthodoxy does not, by definition, prove
a religion is Christian. For example, in Church history, certain
unorthodox or heretical sects have accepted the doctrine of the Trinity
and yet denied other cardinal doctrines of the faith. Today, Jehovah’s
Witnesses believe in the inerrancy of the Bible far more consistently
than Catholics. Yet, no one argues they are Christian but themselves.
Mormonism provisionally accepts the Bible as the Word of God and in
certain ways believes in the atonement of Christ. Yet no religion is
The Way International teaches "salvation by grace" and other biblical
doctrines, yet denies the Trinity and the deity of Christ. They cannot
be properly classified as Christian either. Even Muslims are devout
monotheists having many moral views in harmony with the Bible. But none
of these religions can be classified as Christian because what makes a
religion Christian is both a) a fundamental body of correct doctrinal
belief that true Christians have always believed in without compromise
and b) religious practices and lifestyle among its members that conform
to biblical standards.
No one denies
that the Catholic Church historically today believes many Christian
doctrines. They are monotheists, they believe in the Trinity, that God
is Spirit, the reality of sin, Christ as God, the virgin birth, and
heaven and hell.
But they also
offer many unbiblical doctrines such as salvation by works. Further,
even the orthodox doctrines they hold have a tendency to become
compromised in various ways. The deity of Christ itself is impacted by
Rome’s teaching that Christ is incarnated in the Church.13
underscores a simple fact. Claims to be Christian need to be
thoroughly evaluated with proper attention to 1) word meanings, 2)
doctrine as a whole and 3) lifestyle and practices. If we look at Roman
Catholic doctrine comprehensively as well as its word meanings and
practices, this would seem to require the categorization of Roman
Catholicism, as a whole, as not being Christian.
perspective of the sociology of religion alone, the Roman Catholic
Church indeed may be called a Christian religion, but certainly it
cannot be considered a biblically orthodox Christian religion.
Even if we
must reduce the issue to a single doctrine, what primarily determines
whether a religious body is Christian or not is the basic gospel message
of salvation, not how close a given religion can come to the historic
doctrines of Christianity. Let’s take an example. Say there is a very
powerful and influential worldwide religion with a half-billion members.
It’s called "the church of Christianity."
Say this world
religion is orthodox on every major teaching of historic Christianity,
such as—the deity of Christ; salvation by faith in Christ alone, the
personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, biblical inerrancy, the Fall
of man, the virgin birth, incarnation, the Trinity, second coming, the
atonement of Jesus Christ, etc.
But now let’s
say this religion is only "ninety-nine percent" orthodox. There is only
one historic doctrine it refuses to accept. It absolutely rejects
salvation by grace through faith alone and teaches that, in the end, a
person is ultimately to recognize that they are saved by their faith and
their good works.
Is it still a
Christian religion? After all, it’s ninety-nine percent Christian. It’s
as orthodox as can be in every area but one. In fifty Christian
doctrines its teachings are biblical; there is only one doctrine it
such a religion cannot possibly be classified as Christian. Again, how
close one gets to Christianity isn’t the issue; it is: Does one accept
the gospel or not?
Roman Catholicism. The fact that it accepts many Christian doctrines is
irrelevant. That it teaches salvation by works proves that it is not a
Christian religion. The fact that some are saved within the Roman
Catholic Church only means that some, like Luther, have found salvation
(by God’s grace) because they studied the Bible—or because Christians
witnessed to them and they were saved by hearing the gospel.
because there are some people who are saved in Roman Catholicism and
because it has a number of biblical teachings is insufficient reason to
conclude that Catholicism is Christian and that therefore Christians and
Catholics can worship together as brothers and sisters in Christ.
said this, "If I declare with the loudest voice and clearest exposition
every portion of God’s Truth except for that one little bit which the
world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing
Christ no matter how boldly I may be professing Christ…."
gospel—anything but minuscule—is what the world and the devil have
always opposed. And it continues to be opposed today in the Catholic
Church. Therefore, Christians who think Roman Catholicism is Christian,
"Evangelical Catholics," who seek to bring their "separated brethren"
back to Rome, and Evangelicals who have converted to Rome need to ask
where their commitment is to the gospel—that doctrine of salvation by
grace alone, that the world and the devil are at this moment attacking.
And if their commitment isn’t to taking a strong stand in defense of the
gospel, is their commitment really to Christ and His Church? We don’t
think so—it cannot be.
On this key
issue alone Catholicism fails the test of being Christian. But Roman
Catholicism also teaches the following doctrines that negatively impact
or deny the biblical teaching on salvation:
Justification as the infusing of righteousness based on
good works, not the imputation of righteousness as a judicial decree
The Mass "as truly propitiatory" and, in some sense,
truly re-sacrificing Christ.
• The seven Catholic sacraments as
infusing grace for purposes of sanctification and salvation. (But if
the Sacrament of Holy Orders confers supernatural power on Roman
Catholic bishops, priests and deacons to "serve as a teacher as
Christ Himself,"14 how is it that Roman Catholic bishops,
priests and deacons can so consistently oppose the key teaching of
Baptism, penance, suffering in purgatory, indulgences
etc., as having the power to remit or forgive sin or its punishment.
Catholicism alone as the one true Church.
No one can
deny that given the above teachings relating to salvation, that
Catholicism offers a different gospel than the one clearly stated
in the Bible.
Catholicism also teaches doctrines which undermine the authority of the
The pope as infallible in matters of doctrine and
morals. Further, Peter was the first pope, and Christ instituted the
office of the papacy.
Catholic tradition has divine authority and is to be
equated with the word of God.
The Apocrypha is also the word of God.
• The teaching authority of the Church as
the final and only correct interpreter of the Bible to its people.
This means that individual Christians cannot properly interpret the
Bible on their own. This is why the Protestant view of individual
interpretation is referred to as a product of "theological
rationalism" and condemned by Rome.15 The Documents of
Vatican II teach, "The task of authentically interpreting the word
of God, whether written or handed on, has been entrusted
exclusively to the living, teaching office of the Church…."16
teachings indicate that the Catholic Church has also undermined the
authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures. But further, the Catholic
Church also teaches the following items listed below, again, none of
which are biblical:
Mary was born without sin, is sinless, ascended bodily
into heaven and is a "co-Redemptrix" "Mediatrix" and "Queen of Heaven"
in God’s plan of salvation. She is to be venerated/"worshipped" and
offers all the graces of Christ to men who adore her, whether in the
Church or at thousands of her shrines/altars throughout the world.
• Faith is an intellectual assent to the
doctrines of the Church. In fact, true faith "demands that we believe"
in Roman Catholic doctrines without which we cannot be sanctified or
saved.17 (Apparently then, Christians whose faith in the
Bible alone compels them in their conscience to reject Catholic belief
are without true saving faith.)
Catholic saints are to be venerated. True "saints" and
"priests" are comprised of an extremely minuscule portion of the body
Sin is to be compartmentalized into moral/venial
would do well to remind Protestants that, historically, one of the
greatest enemies of Christianity has been false religion. It is the
growth of such religion throughout the world that has remained the most
serious threat to the health of the Church and will continue to do so
far into the 21st
Catholicism Christian? In a nutshell, it would seem that there are so
many ways in which Catholicism is not biblical that it is logically
impossible to classify it as a genuine Christian religion.
All this is
why the obstacles between Catholicism and Evangelicalism are
insurmountable, at least until there is fundamental biblical reformation
1 Robert C. Broderick, ed.,
The Catholic Encyclopedia, revised and updated (NY: Thomas
Nelson Publishers, 1987), p. 528, emphasis added.
2 Ibid., p. 44.
3 Ibid., p. 99.
4 Ibid., p. 115.
5 Ibid., p. 170, emphasis
6 Ibid., p. 381.
7 Ibid., p. 499.
8 Ibid., p. 371.
9 F. F. Bruce, The Canon
of Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, Press, 1988), pp.
10 Emmett McLoughlin,
Crime and Immorality in the Catholic Church (NY: Lyle Stuart,
1964), p. 10.
11 Patrick Dixon, The
Whole Truth About AIDS (Nashville: Nelson, 1989), p. 22; cf. Jason
Berry, Lead Us Not Into Temptation and US. News and
World Report, October 5, 1992.
12 John Ankerberg and John
Weldon, Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Mormonism
(Eugene, OR: Harvest House, 1992).
13 Gerrit C. Berkowuer,
The Conflict with Rome (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and
Reformed, 1958), pp. 191-211; Walter M. Abbot, gen. ed., The
Documents of Vatican II (NY: Guild Press, 1966), p. 141; Paul G.
Schrotenboer, ed., Roman Catholicism: A Contemporary Evangelical
Perspective (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980), p. 41; H. M. Carson,
Dawn or Twilight? A Study of Contemporary Roman Catholicism
(Leicester, England: InterVarsity Press, 1976), pp. 41-42.
14 Broderick, ed., p. 438.
15 Ibid, p. 514.
16 Abbott, pp. 117-118,
17 Broderick, ed., p. 213.