The Roman Catholic Church is the single largest denomination in the world. It has about 1.2 billion members worldwide. Half of the “Christians” in the world are Roman Catholics. 25 percent of Americans are Roman Catholic. Roman Catholicism is generally thought of as a Christian denomination that happens to have its roots in Europe almost 2000 years ago.
What are its roots? The Roman Catholic will claim that it’s foundation goes all the way back to the Apostle Peter. In Matthew 16:17-19 where Peter makes his confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. Jesus responds by saying that on this rock he will build his church. Did he imply that Peter has the authority of a modern day Pope? Most likely, the rock that Jesus is referring to is the profession of faith that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus said “you are Peter (Petra- small rock), and on this big rock (Petros) I will build my church.” It is certainly a stretch to think that Jesus was giving Peter authority over all people and the spread of Christianity in the statement. It’s also unlikely that Peter was the first Roman Catholic pope because there is no reliable evidence historically that Peter was ever a church leader in Rome. Rome was the Apostle Paul’s location. Historically, the first pope was Gregory in 440 AD.
One other key factor in the Roman Catholic Church being what it is today came around 318 A.D. Constantine embraced Christianity and made it the state religion of the Roman Empire. He gave church leaders governmental leadership. From that time until the time of the printing press the lay people had to rely on the Bishop’s and priests to explain to them what the Bible says. Anytime simple man is relied on the system tends toward corruption. It was no different with the Roman Catholic Church. Instead of relying on the Bible to be the final authority, the Roman Catholic Church established the church as the final authority. They were able to lord over people by promising them favor with God if they did what the church leader asked of them.
Though corrupt and even apostate , the Roman Catholic Church has always held to many of the main teachings of the Bible. They believe in trinitarian monotheism; that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are the one God. They believe Jesus Christ literally gave himself as a sacrifice for our sins and bodily rose from the dead. If you ask me, the Roman Catholic Church is the only religion that holds to these truths yet is still not presenting the Christian gospel accurately. There are 3 areas of key disagreement that I want to address in this blog. The Eucharist, the mediators between man and God, and Justification.
First, the Eucharist: the Eucharist is the partaking of communion, ingesting the bread and the wine. It is “celebrated” every time the catholics gather for mass, and is the heart of the mass. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is instrumental in their salvation and sanctification. They believe it’s the most important practice a believer can participate in. Saint Thomas Aquinas said “The celebration of the Holy Mass is as valuable as the death of Jesus on the cross”. How can I believe that this ritual is that important? They believe that Jesus Christ descends into the hands of the holy priest and it is offered up again as a sacrifice for sins. The bread and the wine are thought to literally become the body and blood of Jesus, thus fulfilling what Jesus said at the Last Supper- “Unless you eat my flesh and drink my blood you have no part with me”. For some reason Roman Catholics want to interpret this as literally as possible, even though Jesus was known to always speak in parables. They say it’s the body and blood of Jesus, but you’d be hard pressed to find a Roman Catholic willing to have the wafer and wine DNA tested.
Furthermore, the recrucifying of Jesus is completely unbiblical. The catholic says that Jesus needs to be offered as a sacrifice for sins thousands of times. I will let Hebrews 9:24-26 make my case for me: “for the Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true 1) but into heaven itself, that he might now appear in the presence of God for us. He did not do this to offer himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” Verse 28, the Messiah has been offered once for sins. Chapter 10:10, “By this will, we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.” The Eucharist is an insult to the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross.
The priest of a Catholic Church parish has the authority to bring Christ down out of heaven and present him to the people. The priest is the mediator to Jesus Christ on behalf of people. Thomas Aquinas said that “the power of the priest… is equal to that of Jesus Christ.” He even said that, during the Eucharist, Christ “bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command”.
The priest is also the one that has the authority to interpret the Bible for the people. The catholic lay person has historically been discouraged from interpreting the bible for themself. The priest is also the person that has the authority to declare sins forgiven. One could easily see how this could get corrupted.
The pope shares a similar role, but on a much larger scale. The pope has the authority to speak infallibly on behalf of God and for all believers. To the Catholic, if the Pope said it, then that settles it. Since the church has authority over the Bible instead of the Bible having authority over the church, the Pope has the right to have his word supercede Scripture. The New York Catechism says “The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth… the head of the entire church… he is the infallible ruler… God himself on earth.” The title “Pope” is taken from a root word meaning “father”, Catholics also call priests “Father”. Jesus says in Matthew 23:9 to call no man father because we have one Father who is in heaven. There is no New Testament requirement to have a person as the religious authority over you- except to look to Jesus Christ.
Finally, justification: in Roman Catholicism you are taught not to believe that our justification was fully earned by Christ and is enacted through faith in Him alone. In the Council of Trent, Canon 8 it says “If any one saith, that by the said sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred trough the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace; let him be anathema.” In other words, if you believe Salvation is by faith alone, you are cursed by the Catholic Church. Roman Catholicism teaches that grace is earned after following ordinances and rituals of the church. Council of Trent, Catechism 2068 says: “Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and for others all the graces needed to obtain eternal life.
I realize that James Chapter 2 talks about faith and works, but what does the Bible in its entirety teach? First off, James is talking about the evidence of true faith (see Faith vs. Works blog). There are plenty of other verses to substantiate the claim that justification is by grace through faith alone. 9 times in the book of John Jesus says that eternal life is given to those that believe in him. He says that the work of God is to believe on Him who He has sent (John 6:29). Acts 13:39 says “everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything, which you could not be justified from to the law of Moses”. Romans 3:28 says “we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” Galatians 2:16 says “we know that no one is justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 2:8, 9: by grace you are saved through faith… Not from works”. Salvation by grace alone through faith alone is as plain as day in the Bible. Galatians 5:4 concludes this disagreement between biblical Christianity and Roman Catholic tradition when it says, “You who are trying to be justified by the law are alienated from Christ; you have fallen from grace!
To summarize Roman Catholicism: Roman Catholics believe in the same God that the Bible teaches, the same God that lines up with logic and evidence. They accept the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and his literal resurrection. It disagrees with the Bible on important matters such as church leadership, the final authority, the person of Mary and other “saints”, transubstantiation, and justification through following rituals and good works. According to the Bible, Jesus Christ is our only mediator between man and God. His sacrifice on the cross was a one-time, all sufficient, “it is finished”, sacrifice. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all unrighteousness and faith in him is the only route of benefiting from his grace. If a person is seeking a church that will lead them to Jesus and encourage growth in their walk with God, they should find a church that teaches these biblical truths.