Category: (1) What is Roman Catholicism?


The Counter-Reformation was Roman Catholicism’s response to the Protestant Reformation. In the late 15th and early 16th centuries, Christians began to openly criticize the Roman Catholic Church for teaching things contrary to the Bible. The Reformers objected to the veneration (worship) of Mary, the selling of indulgences, the insistence that rituals and sacraments were necessary for salvation, and so forth. As the Reformation took hold culturally and theologically, Catholicism responded with its own efforts. Some of these were intended to change the Catholic Church itself, but most were designed to resist the claims of the Reformers. Collectively, these Catholic efforts became known as the Counter-Reformation.

In truth, the Counter-Reformation wasn’t really much of a “reformation” of Catholicism, at least not from a theological perspective. It was truly a “counter to the Reformation”; that is, it was primarily concerned with refuting and silencing Protestant disagreements. Much of the Counter-Reformation was driven by politics. In Spain, for example, kings and queens were more than happy to apply Catholic resources toward stamping out dissenters—in their case, mostly Protestants. Deportation, excommunication, and execution were common tools used in the Counter-Reformation.

Two lasting effects came out of the Counter-Reformation: the Jesuit Order (the Society of Jesus) and the Council of Trent.

The Jesuits are a religious order formed specifically to counter Protestantism. Their tactics during the Counter-Reformation involved intellectual and theological arguments, although they also used less spiritual methods of accomplishing their goals. The Inquisition was a product of Jesuit influence. The Jesuits also produced an Index of Prohibited Books: texts Catholics were officially forbidden to read. The Jesuits’ influence on Catholic philosophy and theology was significant.

The Council of Trent was, in theory, an attempt to change those aspects of Catholicism that Protestants were justified in complaining about. Unfortunately, the council itself came far too late. By the time the council convened, the Reformation had been in full swing for nearly a quarter-century. By that time, the church was well and truly split.

The Council of Trent did positively address some complaints of the Reformers. The sale of indulgences was stopped, the roles of priests were more carefully defined, and the use of sacred artifacts—relics—was greatly reduced. Certain aspects of music and liturgy and other practical issues were discussed as well.

However, on the most critical issues, the Council of Trent, like the rest of the Counter-Reformation, was mostly a doubling-down on entrenched Catholic theology. This council, and the other Counter-Reformers, doggedly defended transubstantiation, upheld the necessity of sacraments for salvation, rejected sola fide, and claimed outright that Catholic tradition was as equally authoritative as the Bible. In addition, the council members determined that the Latin Vulgate was the one and only acceptable Bible for church use. And they insisted that, since politics was instituted by God, all political leaders were subject to papal authority.

Even though some aspects of the Counter-Reformation were aimed at repairing broken parts of Catholicism, the primary effect was to stabilize and reinforce Catholic errors. It would be fair to say that the Counter-Reformation, especially the founding of the Jesuits and the results of the Council of Trent, slammed the door shut on any possible reconciliation with Protestantism or the Reformers.

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The Society of Jesus, more commonly known as the Jesuits, is a society within the Roman Catholic Church that was founded by Ignatius of Loyola and instituted by Pope Paul III. The Jesuit society demands four vows of its members: poverty, chastity, obedience to Christ, and obedience to the Pope. The purpose of the Jesuits is the propagation of the Catholic faith by any means possible.

Ignatius of Loyola was a Spanish nobleman and intended to have a career as a professional soldier. A cannonball shattered his leg in 1521, and his career was shattered with it. During his long recovery at the castle of Loyola, he spent much time reading religious books, fasting and praying. As a result of these studies, Ignatius decided to become a soldier of Christ, and hung up his sword at the altar of Mary in Montserrat. From 1522 to 1534, Loyola traveled to monasteries and schools, studying and praying in preparation for a life consecrated to Christ. Toward the end of his graduate studies at the University of Paris, he and six friends who had been meeting for times of extended prayer and meditation vowed to continue their companionship after graduation by living in evangelical poverty and traveling as missionaries to Jerusalem. When war between the Turks and Venice prevented their passage to Jerusalem, they determined to work in the cities of northern Italy. Loyola presented his plan for service to the Vatican and received a papal commission from Pope Paul III in 1540, with Loyola receiving a lifetime appointment as General.

With the threat of Islam spreading across the Mediterranean region, the Jesuits’ first focus was the conversion of Muslims. Shortly after the founding of the order, their focus shifted to counteracting the spread of Protestantism. The Counter-Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries was largely due to the Jesuits. With their vows of total obedience to the Pope and their strict, military-style training, the Jesuits became feared across Europe as the “storm troopers” of the Catholic Church, and they led armies which recaptured large areas for the Roman Catholic Church. Along with the military actions, their work centered on education and missionary expansion, and by the end of Loyola’s life in 1556, there were Jesuits in Japan, Brazil, Ethiopia, and most parts of Europe. Many of the explorers of that period were accompanied by Jesuit priests, eager to bring Catholicism to new lands.

The Jesuits are still active in the world today, though the military actions of those early years have been left behind. The goal of spreading the Catholic faith is still their primary objective, and they do it through missionary work and education. As for their beliefs, they hold to the historic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. The practice of “Ignatian spirituality” follows the spiritual exercises of Ignatius Loyola and forms the foundation of their daily lives. The goal of these practices is to conquer and regulate the inner personal life so as to be submissive to God. One of the key practices is separation from all friends and acquaintances, in order to attend Mass and Vespers daily without interference. Another practice is deep and constant meditation on the sins that have been committed, so as to rouse intense sorrow for sins. To address all of their exercises would take far more space than this article allows.

As is the case with the Catholic Church in general, there is certainly an appearance of godliness and spirituality that is readily seen in the Jesuits. When we compare their beliefs and practices with the Bible, however, it would appear that they have “a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof” (2 Timothy 3:5, KJV). The difference between Roman Catholic belief and the biblical presentation of the gospel has been well phrased in a question “do or done?” What must I do to get to heaven (Catholicism), or what has Christ done to get me to heaven (biblical Christianity)?

The Inquisitions were judicial institutions or tribunals that were established by the Roman Catholic Church in order to seek out, try, and sentence people that the Roman Catholic Church believed to be guilty of heresy. The purpose of the inquisitions was to secure and maintain religious and doctrinal unity in the Roman Catholic Church and throughout the Holy Roman Empire, through either the conversion or persecution of alleged heretics. Historians generally distinguish the Inquisitions based on four different time frames and areas that they took place in. These are the Medieval or Episcopal Inquisition, the Spanish Inquisition, the Portuguese Inquisition, and the Roman Inquisition.

Prior to the founding of the Roman Catholic Church and the establishment of their version of Christianity as the official state religion of the Roman Empire in the 4th century, the punishment for heresy among Christians was usually excommunication from the church. However, with the marriage of church and state that arose in the 4th century, people that the Roman Catholic Church considered to be heretics also came to be considered as enemies of the state and were subject to many forms of extreme punishment, including death. It wasn’t until the 12th century that official Inquisitions were organized and sanctioned by the Roman Catholic Church to officially deal with what they saw as a rise in organized heretical groups within the Holy Roman Empire.

The first of the Inquisitions is known as the Medieval or Episcopal Inquisition and refers to the various tribunals that started around 1184. It includes the Episcopal Inquisition (1184-1230) and the Papal Inquisition (1230), which arose in response to large popular movements in Europe that were considered to be heretical by the Roman Catholic Church. It was during this time (1231) that Pope Gregory IX shifted the power to punish heretics away from the local bishops and put the inquisitors under the special jurisdiction and authority of the papacy. He also established severe penalties for those found guilty of committing heresy, and his decree set forth new guidelines for investigating and punishing heresy in the Holy Roman Empire. Generally, when an Inquisition was set up to investigate heresy in a particular area of the Holy Roman Empire, the Pope would appoint two inquisitors, each of which had equal authority in the Inquisition or tribunal. Because these inquisitors had the power to investigate and excommunicate even princes, they wielded enormous power and influence in the Holy Roman Empire.

While some of the inquisitors had reputations as being men of justice and mercy, others were known to subject people to cruel and unusual punishment, including many different kinds of torture, which is what the Inquisitions are generally remembered for. Because they could imprison suspects that they thought were lying, some inquisitors used torture as an attempt to get them to admit what the inquisitor wanted to hear. In 1252 Pope Innocent IV officially sanctioned torture as a way of extracting the “truth” from suspects. Prior to that time, this type of extreme punishment was foreign to church tradition and practice. During the Spanish Inquisition alone, as many as 2,000 people were burned at the stake within one decade after the Inquisition began.

The next major Inquisition period is known as the Spanish Inquisition. It was set up by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain in 1478 with the approval of Pope Sixtus IV. Unlike the previous Inquisition, it was completely under royal authority and was staffed by secular clergy. It mainly focused on Jews who had professed to be converts to Roman Catholicism but who were suspected of having continued to practice Judaism. Later on, with the spread of Protestantism into Spain, the Inquisition would also begin to persecute Protestants who broke away from the Roman Catholic Church. However, after the decline in religious disputes in the 17th century, the Spanish Inquisition essentially became more like a secret police that would investigate and retaliate against internal threats to the Spanish authorities. The Spanish Inquisition is probably the most infamous for its torture and the number of people executed as a result of it. One historian estimated that over the course of its history the Spanish Inquisition tried a total of 341,021 people, of whom at least 10 percent (31,912) were executed.

Another important period is known as the Portuguese Inquisition and was established in Portugal in 1536 by the king of Portugal, João III, and operated much like the more famous Spanish Inquisition. Later, in 1560, in India and other parts of the Portuguese Empire in Asia, the Goa Inquisition was set up in the Indian city of Goa to deal with converts from Hinduism who were suspected of continuing to practice or hold to some Hindu beliefs.

The last period is known as the Roman Inquisition, and it was established in 1542 when Pope Paul III established the Holy Office as the final court of appeals in all trials of heresy. This group was made up of cardinals and other officials whose task was to maintain and defend the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church. This group played an important role in the Counter-Reformation, and it was also this body that condemned Galileo for “grave suspicion of heresy” and banned all of his works in 1633 for teaching that the sun was the center of the universe and that the earth revolved around it. In 1965, Pope Paul VI reorganized the Holy Office and renamed it as the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and it remains in effect today.

Should church traditions be accepted as equally authoritative as Scripture? Or, should church traditions be followed only if they are in full agreement with Scripture? The answer to these questions plays a large role in determining what you believe and how you live as a Christian. It is our contention that Scripture alone is the only authoritative and infallible source for Christian doctrine and practice. Traditions are only valid if they are built on the firm foundation of Scripture and in full agreement with the entirety of Scripture. The following are seven biblical reasons supporting the teaching that the Bible should be accepted as the authority for faith and practice:

(1) It is Scripture that is said to be God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and it is Scripture that has the repeated, “Thus saith the LORD…” In other words, it is the written Word that is repeatedly treated as God’s Word. Never is it said of any church tradition that it, too, is God-breathed and infallible.

(2) It is to Scripture that Jesus and the apostles appeal time after time in support or defense of their actions and teachings (Matthew 12:3, 5; 19:4; 22:31; Mark 12:10). There are over 60 verses in which you find “it is written…” used by Jesus and the apostles to support their teachings.

(3) It is to the Scriptures that the church is commended in order to combat the error that was bound to come (Acts 20:32). Likewise, it was the written Word that was seen in the Old Testament as the source of truth upon which to base one’s life (Joshua 1:8; Deuteronomy 17:18-19; Psalm 1; Psalm 19:7-11; 119; etc.). Jesus said that one of the reasons that the Sadducees were in error concerning the resurrection is that they did not know the Scriptures (Mark 12:24).

(4) Infallibility is never stated as the possession of those who would become church leaders in succession of the apostles. In both the Old and New Testaments, it is seen that duly appointed religious leaders could cause the people of God to err (1 Samuel 2:27-36; Matthew 15:14; 23:1-7; John 7:48; Acts 20:30; Galatians 2:11-16). Both Testaments exhort people to study the Scriptures to determine what is true and what is false (Psalm 19; 119; Isaiah 8:20; 2 Timothy 2:15; 3:16-17). While Jesus taught respect toward religious leaders (Matthew 23:3), an admonition which the apostles followed, we have the apostles’ example of breaking from the authority of their religious leaders when it was in opposition to what Jesus had commanded (Acts 4:19).

(5) Jesus equates the Scriptures with God’s Word (John 10:35). In contrast, when it comes to the religious traditions, He condemns some traditions because they contradict the written Word (Mark 7:1-13). Never does Jesus use religious tradition to support His actions or teachings. Before the writing of the New Testament, the Old Testament was the only inspired Scripture. However, there were literally hundreds of Jewish “traditions” recorded in the Talmud (a collection of commentary compiled by Jewish rabbis). Jesus and the apostles had both the Old Testament, and the Jewish tradition. Nowhere in Scripture does Jesus or any of the apostles appeal to the Jewish traditions. In contrast, Jesus and the apostles quote from or allude to the Old Testament hundreds of times. The Pharisees accused Jesus and the apostles of “breaking the traditions” (Matthew 15:2). Jesus responded with a rebuke: “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:3). The manner in which Jesus and the apostles distinguished between the Scriptures and tradition is an example for the church. Jesus specifically rebukes treating the “commandments of men” as doctrines (Matthew 15:9).

(6) It is Scripture that has the promise that it will never fail, that it will all be fulfilled. Again, never is this promise given to the traditions of the church (Psalm 119:89,152; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; Luke 21:33).

(7) It is the Scriptures that are the instrument of the Holy Spirit and His means for conquering Satan and changing lives (Hebrews 4:12; Ephesians 6:17).

“And that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17). “To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them” (Isaiah 8:20).

According to 2 Timothy 3:15-17, it is Scripture that is able to give one knowledge of salvation, it is God-breathed, and it is what we need to be thoroughly equipped for every good work. To be “thoroughly” equipped, means that it has all that we need. Scripture contains the information from God that is all we need for salvation and to live a life of good works. According to Isaiah 8:20, it is the “law and testimony” (terms used to refer to Scripture, see Psalm 119) that is the standard by which to measure truth.

“Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:10-11). Here the Jewish people of the town of Berea were commended for testing the teachings they were hearing from Paul by the Scriptures. They did not just accept Paul’s words as authoritative. They examined Paul’s words, compared them with Scripture, and found them to be true.

In Acts 20:27-32, Paul acknowledges publicly that “wolves” and false teachers would arise from “among yourselves” (within the church). What did he commend them to? To “God and the word of His grace.” He does not commend them to the “church leaders” (they were the church leaders) nor to the traditions of the church nor to a particular overseeing elder. Rather, Paul pointed them to the Word of God.

In summary, while there is no one verse that states that the Bible alone is our authority, the Bible over and over again gives the examples and the admonitions of turning to the written Word as one’s source of authority. When it comes to examining the origin of a prophet’s or religious leader’s teaching, it is Scripture that is appealed to as the standard.

The Roman Catholic Church uses a number of biblical passages to support their use of tradition as of equal weight with Scripture. Here are the most commonly used of these passages, along with a brief explanation:

“Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). “But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us” (2 Thessalonians 3:6). These passages relate to the traditions the Thessalonians had received from Paul himself, whether oral or written. They do not relate to traditions handed down, but to teachings that they themselves had received either from the mouth of Paul or from his pen. Paul is not giving his blessing on all tradition, but, rather, only on the traditions he had passed on to the Thessalonians. This is in contrast to the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, which have been handed down from the fourth century and later, not from the mouth or pen of one of the apostles.

“These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15). The phrase “pillar and ground of the truth” does not indicate that the church is the creator of truth, or that it can originate tradition to supplement Scripture. The church being the “pillar and ground of the truth” simply means that the church is the proclaimer and defender of the truth. The New Testament praises churches for proclaiming the truth, “for from you the word of the Lord has been spread abroad” (1 Thessalonians 1:8). The New Testament commends early Christians for defending the truth, “partakers with me…in the defense and confirmation of the gospel” (Philippians 1:7). There is not a single verse in all of Scriptures which indicates that the church has the authority to develop new truth, or to decree new truth as being from the mouth of God.

“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). This was a promise given to the apostles alone. The Holy Spirit would help the apostles to remember everything that Jesus had said to them. Nowhere does this Scripture state that there would be an apostolic line of successors, and that the promise would also be for them.

“And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). These verses are used by the Roman Catholic Church to support their teaching that Peter was the first pope, and that the church was built upon him. But when taken in context with what takes place in the Book of Acts, you find that Peter was the one who opened up the gospel to the world in the sense that it was he who first preached the gospel of Christ on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). It was he who first preached the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 10). So, the binding and loosing was done through the preaching of the gospel, not through any Roman Catholic tradition.

While it is clearly evident that Scripture argues for its own authority, Scripture nowhere argues for “authoritative tradition equal with Scripture.” In fact, the New Testament has more to say against traditions that it does in favor of tradition.

The Roman Catholic Church argues that Scripture was given to men by the Church and therefore the Church has equal or greater authority to it. However, even among the Roman Catholic Church’s writings (from the First Vatican Council), you will find the acknowledgment that the Church councils that determined which books were to be considered the Word of God did nothing but recognize what the Holy Spirit had already made evident. That is, the Church did not “give” Scriptures to men, but simply “recognized” what God, through the Holy Spirit, had already given. As A. A. Hodge states, when a peasant recognizes a prince and is able to call him by name, it does not give him the right to rule over the kingdom. In like fashion, a church council recognizing which books were God-breathed and possessed the traits of a God-inspired book, does not give the church council equal authority with those books.

In summary, one cannot find a single passage that states that “the written Word alone, and not tradition also, is our sole authority for faith and practice.” At the same time, what must also be admitted is that repeatedly, the Old Testament writers, Jesus, and the apostles turn to the Scriptures as their measuring stick, and commend the same to any and all that would follow them.

A catechism is best defined as a summary of instructions through a series of questions and answers, prepared in book form, containing instruction on the religious doctrine of a Christian church. It wasn’t until the 16th century, since the time of the early church fathers, that the word catechism was applied to these religious handbooks. The intent of these instructions is that they be used in a class environment or other means of formal instruction. The catechism of the Westminster Confession, every part of which is scripturally proven, is one such set of instructions.

However, the catechism of the Catholic Church is not written in a question-and-answer format. Instead, it is a summary of the official teachings of Catholic beliefs including creeds, sacraments, commandments, and prayers, divided into four parts:

• Profession of Faith (the Apostles Creed)
• Celebration of the Christian Mystery (the Sacred Liturgy, especially the sacraments)
• Life in Christ (including The Ten Commandments in Roman Catholic theology) • Christian Prayer (including The Lord’s Prayer)

Also, the Catholic catechism is replete with footnotes referencing not only the Scriptures, but also the Church fathers, their ecumenical councils, and other authoritative statements, especially those delivered by the Popes. And therein lies the greatest difference between Catholicism and Protestantism. Whereas Protestant churches cite the Bible as their sole source of authority for church doctrine, the Roman Catholic Church equates Catholic traditions with the Bible as authoritative for their beliefs and teachings. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 82, reads,

“. . . 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.”

The Catholic Church relies on the authority of church tradition for their source of doctrines and teachings which are not found anywhere in the Bible. These doctrines include such controversial issues as these:

• the Mass
• penance
• veneration of Mary
• purgatory
• indulgences
• the priesthood
• the confessional
• the rosary
• venial and mortal sins

Protestants assert that the Bible alone is intended by God to be the sole source of doctrinal truth (2 Timothy 3:16; Revelation 22:18–19). But Roman Catholics have said, “Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God . . .” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 97).

The Catholic’s reasoning is as follows:

• “The apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority.’” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 77).

• “This living transmission, accomplished through the Holy Spirit, is called tradition . . .” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 78).

• “Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 82).

A classic example of this kind of thinking lies with the number of doctrines concerning Mary, the mother of Jesus. Throughout the centuries, since the close of the apostolic era (AD 70–100), Catholics have “revealed” new doctrines concerning Mary nowhere found in the Holy Scriptures, including:

• Mary is called the Mother of God – AD 431
• Prayers offered to Mary – AD 600
• Immaculate Conception, i.e., her sinlessness – AD 1854
• Assumption of Mary – AD 1950
• Mary proclaimed the Mother of the Church – AD 1965

Another example is the doctrine of purgatory:

“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). Nowhere is this doctrine or teaching found in the Bible.

Additionally, though the Catholic Pope is revered as the head of the church on earth by nearly 60 million Roman Catholics, the Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ has all authority in heaven and on earth; He is the exclusive Head of the church (Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:18).

From the above teaching, we can only conclude that Catholic catechism is not biblical and, in fact, contradicts the Scriptures in many aspects. Once the teachings of man are elevated to the same level as the Word of God, error naturally follows. No man, whether priest or Pope, is divine. Only the Holy Scriptures, from the mouth of the Holy Spirit, are divinely inspired (1 Corinthians 2:12–13; 2 Peter 1:21). No manmade teaching, including the Catholic catechism, is on the same level with the Bible.

The most crucial problem with the Roman Catholic Church is its belief that faith alone in Christ is not sufficient for salvation. The Bible clearly and consistently states that receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, by grace through faith, grants salvation (John 1:12; 3:16,18,36; Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9-10,13; Ephesians 2:8-9). The Roman Catholic Church rejects this. The official position of the Roman Catholic Church is that a person must believe in Jesus Christ AND be baptized AND receive the Eucharist along with the other sacraments AND obey the decrees of the Roman Catholic Church AND perform meritorious works AND not die with any mortal sins AND etc., etc., etc. Catholic divergence from the Bible on this most crucial of issues, salvation, means that yes, Catholicism is a false religion. If a person believes what the Catholic Church officially teaches, he/she will not be saved. Any claim that works or rituals must be added to faith in order for salvation to be achieved is a claim that Jesus’ death was not sufficient to fully purchase our salvation.

While salvation by faith is the most crucial issue, in comparing Roman Catholicism with the Word of God, there are many other differences and contradictions as well. The Roman Catholic Church teaches many doctrines that are in disagreement with what the Bible declares. These include apostolic succession, worship of saints or Mary, prayer to saints or Mary, the pope / papacy, infant baptism, transubstantiation, plenary indulgences, the sacramental system, and purgatory. While Catholics claim Scriptural support for these concepts, none of these teachings have any solid foundation in the clear teaching of Scripture. These concepts are based on Catholic tradition, not the Word of God. In fact, they all clearly contradict Biblical principles.

In regards to the question “Are Catholics saved?”, this is a more difficult question to answer. It is impossible to give a universal statement on the salvation of all members of any denomination of Christianity. Not ALL Baptists are saved. Not ALL Presbyterians are saved. Not ALL Lutherans are saved. Salvation is determined by personal faith in Jesus alone for salvation, not by titles or denominational identification. Despite the unbiblical beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church, there are genuine believers who attend Roman Catholic churches. There are many Roman Catholics who have genuinely placed their faith in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. However, these Catholic Christians are believers despite what the Catholic Church teaches, not because of what it teaches. To varying degrees, the Catholic Church teaches from the Bible and points people to Jesus Christ as the Savior. As a result, people are sometimes saved in Catholic churches. The Bible has an impact whenever it is proclaimed (Isaiah 55:11). Catholic Christians remain in the Catholic Church out of ignorance of what the Catholic Church truly stands for, out of family tradition and peer pressure, or out of a desire to reach other Catholics for Christ.

At the same time, the Catholic Church also leads many people away from a genuine faith relationship with Christ. The unbiblical beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church have often given the enemies of Christ opportunity to blaspheme. The Roman Catholic Church is not the church that Jesus Christ established. It is not a church that is based on the teachings of the Apostles (as described in the Book of Acts and the New Testament epistles). While Jesus’ words in Mark 7:9 were directed towards the Pharisees, they accurately describe the Roman Catholic Church, “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions!”

Simcha suggests some very intriguing motivations behind Constantine’s adoption of Christianity as the Roman state religion. I have long believed that Constantine was at his core an opportunist…

2 Corinthians 5:1-9

A great many people believe falsely in purgatory—a miserable place where people supposedly go after death. In order to advance to heaven, a person supposedly must either suffer long enough to make restitution for his or her sins or be prayed out by loved ones still living. The doctrine is an unbiblical lie, because purgatory is a thinly veiled second chance for people to get into heaven.

There is not a single verse with which to defend the false theology of purgatory. In fact, the very idea of a second route to heaven runs counter to God’s redemptive plan. Jesus Christ was the substitute for you and me, and His death paid our sin-debt. He obtained our eternal redemption with His blood (Heb. 9:12). If there is a place where people can go to suffer for their own sins—in other words, pay their own penalty—then God sending His Son to die makes no sense.

In John 14:2, Jesus told the disciples that He was going away to prepare a place for His followers. Nowhere in scripture do we find any mention of a detour into misery where we “earn” a pass into heaven. The Bible says that believers are either at home in the body, or absent from it and present with the Lord. There is simply no in-between stopover.

I respect the right to believe as one chooses. However, I have a responsibility to present biblical truth. Those who reject Christ get no second chance after death. They are eternally separated from God. But whoever receives salvation is completely forgiven of all sin and guaranteed an eternity with Him.

The issue concerning any church and its practices should be “Is this biblical?” If a teaching is Biblical (taken in context), it should be embraced. If it is not, it should be rejected. God is more interested in whether a church is doing His will and obeying His Word than whether it can trace a line of succession back to Jesus’ apostles. Jesus was very concerned about abandoning the Word of God to follow the traditions of men (Mark 7:7). Traditions are not inherently invalid…there are some good and valuable traditions. Again, the issue must be whether a doctrine, practice, or tradition is Biblical. How then does the Roman Catholic Church compare with the teachings of the Word of God?

Salvation: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation is by baptismal regeneration and is maintained through the Catholic sacraments unless a willful act of sin is committed that breaks the state of sanctifying grace. The Bible teaches that we are saved by grace which is received through simple faith (Ephesians 2:8-9), and that good works are the result of a change of the heart wrought in salvation (Ephesians 2:10; 2 Corinthians 5:17) and the fruit of that new life in Christ (John 15).

Assurance of salvation: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that salvation cannot be guaranteed or assured. 1 John 5:13 states that the letter of 1 John was written for the purpose of assuring believers of the CERTAINTY of their salvation.

Good Works: The Roman Catholic Church states that Christians are saved by meritorious works (beginning with baptism) and that salvation is maintained by good works (receiving the sacraments, confession of sin to a priest, etc.) The Bible states that Christians are saved by grace through faith, totally apart from works (Titus 3:5; Ephesians 2:8-9; Galatians 3:10-11; Romans 3:19-24).

Baptism: In the New Testament baptism is ALWAYS practiced AFTER saving faith in Christ. Baptism is not the means of salvation; it is faith in the Gospel that saves (1 Corinthians 1:14-18; Romans 10:13-17). The Roman Catholic Church teaches baptismal regeneration of infants, a practice never found in Scripture. The only possible hint of infant baptism in the Bible that the Roman Catholic Church can point to is that the whole household of the Philippian jailer was baptized in Acts 16:33. However, the context nowhere mentions infants. Acts 16:31 declares that salvation is by faith. Paul spoke to all of the household in verse 32, and the whole household believed (verse 34). This passage only supports the baptism of those who have already believed, not of infants.

Prayer: The Roman Catholic Church teaches Catholics to not only pray to God, but also to petition Mary and the saints for their prayers. Contrary to this, we are taught in Scripture to only pray to God (Matthew 6:9; Luke 18:1-7).

Priesthood: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that there is a distinction between the clergy and the “lay people,” whereas the New Testament teaches the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9).

Sacraments: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a believer is infused with grace upon reception of the sacraments. Such teaching is nowhere found in Scripture.

Confession: The Roman Catholic Church teaches that unless a believer is hindered, the only way to receive the forgiveness of sins is by confessing them to a priest. Contrary to this, Scripture teaches that confession of sins is to be made to God (1 John 1:9).

Mary: The Roman Catholic Church teaches, among other things, that Mary is the Queen of Heaven, a perpetual virgin, and the co-redemptress who ascended into heaven. In Scripture, she is portrayed as an obedient, believing servant of God, who became the mother of Jesus. None of the other attributes mentioned by the Roman Catholic Church have any basis in the Bible. The idea of Mary being the co-redemptress and another mediator between God and man is not only extra-biblical (found only outside of Scripture), but is also unbiblical (contrary to Scripture). Acts 4:12 declares that Jesus is the only redeemer. 1 Timothy 2:5 proclaims that Jesus is the only mediator between God and men.

Many other examples could be given. These issues alone clearly identify the Catholic Church as being unbiblical. Every Christian denomination has traditions and practices that are not explicitly based on Scripture. That is why Scripture must be the standard of Christian faith and practice. The Word of God is always true and reliable. The same cannot be said of church tradition. Our guideline is to be: “What does Scripture say?” (Romans 4:3; Galatians 4:30; Acts 17:11). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 declares, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

After the separation of the Eastern and Western churches in 1054, the holding of councils by the pope became a way to give guidance to the church, both locally and ecumenically (for the entire church), on varying ecclesiastical matters. One of the most significant of these was the Council of Trent, held in the mid-1500s, which considered such weighty matters as the Lutheran Protestant Reformation and how to counter it, disciplinary reforms in the church, the definition of dogma, and ways to establish key tenets of Roman Catholicism. In fact, the growing complexities of the issues at stake grew so voluminous that it took 18 years, spanning the reigns of five popes, for the Council of Trent to actually convene.

During the Council of Trent, both Scripture and tradition were declared authoritative for the Roman Catholic Church, with tradition just as authoritative as Scripture. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone, one of the Reformers’ rallying cries, was dumped overboard in favor of “sacramental” and “works” righteousness.

There are seven sacraments instituted by Christ, according to the council: baptism, confirmation, communion, penance, unction, orders and marriage. The council condemned anyone who said sacraments were not necessary for salvation, or that through faith alone without any sacrament man can be justified. “Works” righteousness is the belief that one can win God’s favor by doing good things.

The council also confirmed the belief in transubstantiation, that the substance of bread and wine given during communion (the “Eucharist”) is changed into the actual body and blood of Christ, while the appearance of bread and wine remains.

Trent attendees stressed man’s incapacity to save himself, yet confirmed the necessity for the cooperation of his free will, including his resolve to receive baptism and begin a new life. They denied that predestination to salvation can be known with certainty (one rebuttal to this belief is found in Romans 8:28-30). Modern Roman Catholicism, in general, continues to hold to the beliefs put forward and accepted at Trent.