Is Roman Catholicism a faith based on the Bible? Was the Reformation a mistake which split Christendom or an act of God to rescue true Christianity from a false church?
In asking these questions I do not wish to stir up hostility to Roman Catholics as people and I am not doubting that many Catholics are sincere in their faith. However sincerity is not a guarantee of truth and it needs to be recognised that there are very significant errors in Roman Catholic teaching when looked at in the light of the Bible. Down through the centuries true Christians who sought to bring these errors to light have often been persecuted and even put to death by the Roman Catholic Church. The major false doctrines of Roman Catholicism are:
Justification by works
Article 135 of the Catholic Catechism says,
‘Faith alone will not save us without good works.’
The Bible teaches we are saved by faith in the work of Jesus Christ dying as a sacrifice for our sins. Good works are the result of our faith, but they do not save us: ‘For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.’ Ephesians 2.8- 10.
Article 256 of the Catechism says, ‘Baptism is a Sacrament which cleanses us from original sin, makes us Christians, children of God and members of the Church’ (i.e. a baby becomes a Christian through being baptised). Article 259 says this sacrament is given by pouring water on the head of a child. (NB the Greek word ‘baptizo’ means to immerse in water not to sprinkle with water). It does not take long for parents of babies who have had water poured on them in this way to discover that they are not cleansed from original sin!
The Bible teaches that we must be born again (John 3.5-8) through repentance and faith in what Jesus Christ has done for us, after which we are baptised. On the Day of Pentecost Peter explained the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection. His hearers responded by asking him, ‘What shall we do?’ Then Peter said to them, ‘Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ (Acts 2.38). A baby cannot possibly make such a decision.
Use of images
Article 186 of the Catechism says, ‘We should give relics, crucifixes, and holy pictures a relative honour, as they relate to Christ and his Saints, and are memorials of them.’ Catholic churches are full of images, especially of Mary, which become objects of worship. The 10 commandments forbid idolatry and remain valid for Christians. ‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God’ (Exodus 20.4-5).
The Catechism says: ‘When I say that the Pope is infallible, I mean that the Pope cannot err when, as Shepherd and Teacher of all Christians, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals, to be held by the whole church’ (Article 93). The Catechism goes on to say that ‘the Church cannot err in what she teaches as to faith or morals, for she is our infallible guide in both’ (Article 100). The Bible tells us that only God is infallible and that all human individuals and institutions are tainted by sin and liable to error. ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3.23). The sole authority for fixing Christian doctrine is the Bible, not fallible human beings.
The hierarchy of priests going up to the Pope as ‘Vicar of Christ’ on earth entirely conflicts with the concept Jesus taught the disciples about spiritual authority. Jesus told us not to call any man ‘Father’ (Papa / Pope). ‘But you, do not be called Rabbi; for one is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for one is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for one is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant’ (Matthew 23.8-11).
Celibacy and the Priesthood
The Roman Catholic Church forbids priests to marry, thus creating a distinction between the priesthood and the laity. The word priest is never used of special servants of the Lord in the New Testament, but is used to describe all who believe in Jesus. There is never any distinction in the New Testament between clergy and laity. Probably the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, mentioned in Revelation 2.6, 2.15, as something which Jesus hates, relates to the rise of the clergy having a special status. Nicolaitanes is taken from two Greek words meaning ‘victory over the people (laos or laity)’.
The New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers. ‘But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, his own special people’ (1 Peter 2.9). ‘And they sang a new song, saying: “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth”’ (Revelation 5.9-10).
Peter, considered falsely to be the first Pope, had a wife as the following scriptures indicate. ‘But Simon’s (Peter) wife’s mother lay sick with a fever, and they told him about her at once. So he came and took her by the hand and lifted her up, and immediately the fever left her. And she served them’ (Mark 1.30). ‘Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? (Aramaic form of Peter)’ (1 Corinthians 9.5).
Enforced celibacy is described as a „doctrine of demons. ‘Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron, forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth’ (1 Timothy 4.1-3).
In Catholicism people are told to go to confession, where sins are confessed to a priest who then declares absolution for those sins. The Bible teaches that we confess our sins to God and receive forgiveness through the blood of Jesus. ‘This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world’ (1 John 1.5-2.2).
Purgatory is neither heaven nor hell, but ‘a place where souls suffer for a time after death on account of their sins’ (Catechism, Article 106). But in the Bible the only places mentioned where we go after death are heaven and hell. Those who are saved in this life by trusting in Jesus to forgive their sins need no further suffering to refine them and prepare them for heaven.
‘Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ … ‘But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death’ (Revelation 21.1-8).
According to this concept Jesus needs to be sacrificed continually through the Mass. The bread and the wine are changed literally into his body and blood. Article 267 of the Catechism says: ‘The bread and the wine are changed into the Body and Blood of Christ by the power of God, to whom nothing is impossible or difficult.’ Article 278 says: ‘The Holy Mass is one and the same Sacrifice with that of the Cross, inasmuch as Christ who offered himself, a bleeding victim on the Cross to his heavenly Father, continues to offer himself in an unbloody manner on the altar through the ministry of his priests.’
But the Bible teaches that Christ’s sacrifice was complete and final and can never be repeated. Communion or the Lord’s Supper is the remembrance of that sacrifice.
‘For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another. He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many’ (Hebrews 9.24-28).
‘For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lords death till He comes’ (1 Corinthians 11.23-26).
In the Middle Ages priests went throughout Europe persuading people to give money to the Church claiming that as a result a persons time in purgatory could be reduced. But since there is no such place as purgatory, this became a trick to deceive people into parting with their money for the benefit of the church. There is no way that we can buy favour with God. ‘Knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot’ (1 Peter 1.18-19).
It was also taught that by inflicting pain and torment on ones body one could reduce time in purgatory. Self inflicted suffering to atone for our sins is of no value at all, since Christ’s sufferings are enough to redeem us. ‘For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit’ (1 Peter 3.18). Self denial from sins of the flesh is of course taught in the Bible.
The Roman Catholic church elevates Mary to the status of ‘mother of God’ (Catechism, Article 167) and ‘Queen of Heaven’ (Article 168a). Although the Catechism does not say she should be worshipped and seen as a mediator along with Jesus Christ, this is the result in practice of this teaching, as can be seen by the size of the images of the Madonna in many Catholic Churches. Article 117 says: ‘All mankind has contracted the guilt and stain of original sin, except The Blessed Virgin and her Divine Son.’
Mary was in fact a faithful Jewish woman called Miriam who played a vital role in bringing Jesus into the world through the miracle of the virgin birth. There is not a word in the New Testament suggesting she was sinless or had a different nature from other people. After giving birth to Jesus, she had other children in the natural way and was saved by her faith in her Son, the Lord Jesus. There are a number of references in the New Testament to Jesus’ brothers and sisters. ‘These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers’ (Acts 1.14).
There is no other mediator between God and man except the Lord Jesus. ‘For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all’ (1 Timothy 2.5-6).