Bowing the Knee to Rome
By T.A. McMahon
We live in strange times. When I became a born-again believer nearly four decades ago following thirty years as a Roman Catholic, not one non-Catholic Christian chided me for leaving the Church of Rome. In those days it was fairly obvious to evangelicals that the teachings and practices of Roman Catholicism were at odds with the teachings of the Bible. Yes, there were a few things, at least superficially, that Catholics and Bible-believing Christians held in common. The virgin birth of Christ, which involved the conception of Jesus by the Holy Spirit, is one example. Yet, regarding Christ’s miraculous birth, the Catholic Church added to the virgin Mary the dogmas of her Immaculate Conception, i.e., her having been conceived without sin, and her perpetual virginity. Although those extra-biblical teachings are serious errors, they do not directly contradict the gospel that is essential for salvation.
I would hope that everyone who is reading this article, (particularly if they profess to be Bible-believing Christians) has understood and received the true gospel, which requires the belief (and belief alone) that Jesus, through His sacrificial death and resurrection, paid the penalty for sin in full for every man, woman, and child. That is the gospel that the Bible teaches explicitly in more than one hundred verses and implies in hundreds more. However, that is not the gospel according to the Roman Catholic Church. In truth, the Catholic Church’s opposition to the biblical gospel in its teachings and practices has been made evident through its councils and murderous inquisitions down through history.
During the Reformation, many individuals (primarily former Catholics) worked to restore the biblical gospel. In truth, it had never ceased to be believed by a remnant outside the Catholic Church. Yet the Reformation helped to get the Scriptures back into the hands of multitudes of believers. In response, the Church of Rome made its official position on the gospel crystal clear in its counter-reformation Council of Trent (1545-1563). Here are just three of the so-called infallible Council’s more than one-hundred condemnations for those who believe what the Bible teaches about the gospel: “If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone, meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification…let him be anathema” (6th Session, Canon 9). It is because the Catholic Church requires far more than faith for salvation that it must anathematize (condemn) those who reject its sacramental works.
“If anyone shall say that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone by which we are justified: let him be anathema” (6th Session, Canon 12). Again we see that according to Rome, belief alone in Christ’s finished sacrifice on the cross is condemned.
“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema” (6th Session, Canon 30). Though many Catholics wrongly believe that their Church has moved beyond the declarations of its Councils such as Trent, they nevertheless cling steadfastly to the necessity of Purgatory in the hope of burning off their residue of sins, thus making them fit to enter Heaven. That is a rejection of the finished work of Christ and therefore a “gospel” that will save no one.
It is essential for everyone who claims to be a Christian and says that they love Roman Catholics—and who believe that most Catholics are saved simply because they “love Jesus”—to understand the official Catholic “gospel” (which every Catholic is obligated to believe) and to realize how diametrically opposed it is to the biblical gospel. To truly love Jesus means to love Him as the Scriptures declare: “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John:5:20). The Catholic “Jesus,” who did not pay the full penalty for sin and who remains on crucifixes above the altars in Catholic churches is said to be “immolated” during the Mass. Immolation means to be killed—and not simply as a symbolic gesture, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The sacrifice of the altar, then, is no mere empty commemoration of Calvary, but a true and proper act of sacrifice, whereby Christ the high priest by an unbloody immolation offers himself a most acceptable victim to the eternal Father, as he did on the cross. ‘It is one and the same victim; the same person now offers it by the ministry of his [Catholic] priests, who then offered himself on the cross. Only the manner of offering is different’” (pp. 445-46). This direct denial of the finished sacrifice of Christ takes place daily on millions of Catholic altars in clear-cut contradiction to Hebrews:10:10: “By [God’s will] we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
The truth is that if we honestly love Catholics and want them to receive the forgiveness of their sins and the gift of eternal life that Jesus has paid for and that He offers through a simple act of faith on their part, then any form of encouraging the false gospel of Rome (no matter how well-intentioned) by those who profess to know Christ is a betrayal of the truth and insures for Catholics eternal separation from God. Tragically, that leaven of compromise is what has been infiltrating the church for the last three decades.
Through its newsletter articles and resource materials over many years, TBC has addressed such lethal appeasement of Roman Catholic dogmas by highly visible leaders in their evangelism efforts—men such as Billy Graham, who used Catholic priests and nuns as counselors at his crusades; Bill Bright, who placed practicing Catholics in Campus Crusade leadership positions in Ireland; and Luis Palau, who collaborated with Catholics in South America. Under the leadership of Chuck Colson and Catholic priest Richard John Neuhaus, among others, influential evangelical and Catholic leaders signed the Evangelicals and Catholics Together document, thereby committing themselves to working together to convert the world to Christ. Promise Keepers, led by Roman Catholic Bill McCartney, strived to break down the historic wall of division between Catholics and non-Catholic Christians. Hank Hanegraaff’s Christian Research Journal ran a series on Roman Catholicism, declaring that the Church held a biblical view of justification by faith. It was written in part by apologist Norm Geisler and defended by Hanegraaff on his radio program, claiming that the gospel of Rome is fundamentally biblical. Tridentine Catholic movie writer and director Mel Gibson won the hearts of multitudes of evangelicals with his The Passion of the Christ, which was based on the sacred Catholic ritual of the Stations of the Cross, a rite that is dedicated to Mary as co-redemptrix with Jesus.
Dave Hunt, writing about the response to the death of Pope John Paul II, noted,
The praise heaped on the pope upon his death by evangelical leaders is incomprehensible! Incredibly, Billy Graham praised John Paul II for “his strong Catholic faith.” Increasing numbers of evangelicals are joining Colson, [J. I.] Packer, Billy Graham, and others in accepting as fellow Christians Roman Catholics who embrace this false gospel…. Pat Robertson said that “the most beloved religious leader of our age [has passed] from this world to his much-deserved eternal reward.”…Mark Oestreicher, president of Youth Specialties, called the pope’s death “a key point in history where we have the opportunity to embrace [Catholics as] fellow children of God.” That is like failing to set up flares and warning signs for motorists traveling along a highway where a bridge is out and waving them on to their death instead!
Like Billy Graham, Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, emphasized that any disagreements Protestants may have had “with John Paul II are [irrelevant] to the foundations of the faith.” Land praised the pope’s “staunch defense of traditional Christian faith….” Yet John Paul II, on more than one occasion, gathered together for prayer witch doctors, spiritists, animists, Hindus, Buddhists, Muslims, and other leaders of world religions, declared that they were all “praying to the same God” and credited their prayers with generating “profound spiritual energies” that would create a “new climate for peace.”
The 4,000-member Evangelical Theological Society’s president Francis Beckwith resigned to return to his Catholic roots (with the official blessing of ETS’s leadership). Rick Warren brought his Purpose Driven church-growth program to the Catholic Church showing no apparent concern for that church’s false gospel.
But that was then; so what is the situation now? Anyone who is saddened over what has taken place in the recent past, e.g., the blatant disregard of the biblical gospel as the only hope for the salvation of mankind, should be deeply grieved at what’s taking place today. The Vatican appears to be turning up the heat in its efforts to romance “Protestants,” a misnomer for non-Catholic Christians. Vatican II’s declaration referring to baptized non-Catholic Christians as “separated brethren,” a change from their having been referred to historically as “heretics” as defined by the Council of Trent, has been surprisingly successful in endearing many evangelical leaders to Rome. There is a saying related to this approach that is borne out in the Church of Rome’s practice: “Rome, when in minority is as gentle as a lamb, when in equality is as clever as a fox, and when in the majority is as fierce as a tiger.” We seem to be in the “clever as a fox” stage here in the US, if what is taking place is any indication.
The “retired” Benedict XVI, the former prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (with its roots in the Roman Inquisition), surprised many by his extraordinary ecumenical efforts as pope. Doctrine became a nonissue, at least on the surface. His successor, Pope Francis, has not only followed the lead of popes John XXIII, John Paul II, and Benedict, but he has put ecumenism in warp speed. Early last year, Francis sent an iPhone video greeting to the audience at a Kenneth Copeland Conference via Anglican-Episcopal bishop Tony Palmer (now deceased), who was also a director of the Kenneth Copeland Ministries in South Africa. For those not aware, Copeland and his wife, Gloria, have led millions into their unbiblical prosperity-and-health doctrines, which feature a false gospel and “another” Jesus who paid for sins by being tortured by Satan in hell. The greeting led to an invitation from the pope to Copeland and some of his false teaching compatriots (James Robison, Geoff Tunnicliff, John and Carol Arnott) to meet with him at the Vatican. Influential Charismatic mystic and false prophet Kim Clement declared that God told him that He had chosen Pope Francis to bring Spirit-filled Protestants and Catholics together.
Rick Warren has hardly taken a back seat on the journey to Rome. In a series of interviews that he gave last year to EWTN, the Catholic network (which, by the way, he confessed was one of his favorite TV channels), Rick defended Catholicism and attempted to explain the misconceptions held by evangelicals. In keeping with his unbiblical Global P.E.A.C.E. Plan, which stresses the cooperation of the world’s religions, he spoke at the Vatican’s International Religious Colloquium on the Complementarity of Man and Woman. He later “called for adherents of various Christian denominations to unite with Roman Catholics and Pope Francis to work together on three shared goals, focusing on the sanctity of life, the sanctity of sex, and the sanctity of marriage”.
Hopefully, every believer reading this is asking “What of the sanctity of the biblical gospel?” Without that, all other attempts at “sanctity” are a temporal delusion and an eternal tragedy! Yet fewer and fewer of those who profess to be Bible-believing Christians seem to be concerned about this and are comfortable with what has become Warren’s ecumenical mantra: “If you love Jesus,” he claims, “we’re on the same team.”
If you are puzzled or perhaps even dazed by what’s going on in Christendom, the Scriptures supply the answers: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (2 Timothy:4:3-4). Where sound doctrine has given way to experientialism, subjectivism, and emotionalism, as it has among the millions of followers of the false Signs and Wonders teachings, biblical discernment has been abandoned; being a Berean is impossible.
However, hyper-Charismatics and Pentecostals are not the only ones ripe for Rome’s seduction. Consider again conservative theologian Francis Beckwith, the former head of the Evangelical Theological Society who returned to his earlier Catholic faith (emphasis added). How could he have done this if he had truly understood and received the simple and foundationally sound doctrine of salvation? How could one rationally give up the unfathomable free gift that Christ provided and turn instead to a salvation by works—unless he had never received that gift? You could also ask how Beckwith could have been elected president of such a prestigious “Protestant” organization.
Beckwith, however, provides some insights that are reflective of the attitude and beliefs of most Christians today. When asked if he thought the historic hostility between Catholics and evangelicals is eroding, his response was: “Yes. I think it is largely the result of working together on cultural questions [Rick Warren’s approach], which has led to more careful and charitable reading of each other’s beliefs. So, for example, it is rare today to a find a serious Evangelical accusing the Catholic Church of believing in ‘works righteousness.’ Sure, the more flamboyant voices say such things, but most sophisticated Evangelicals do not take them seriously” (The Catholic World Report 11/5/2014). “Flamboyant voice” here refers to a vocal, narrow-minded fundamentalist, versus “sophisticated Evangelical,” which describes one who takes “more careful and charitable reading of each other’s beliefs.” Tragically, such a mindset is the growing trend among professing evangelicals.
I thank Jesus every day that the evangelicals who witnessed to me more than three decades ago loved me enough to reject such soul-damning “sophistication” and to minister to me in truth. For this I am eternally grateful, and I pray that my fellow believers will do the same for their Catholic acquaintances, friends, and loved ones. TBC