The “Evangelical” Seduction
By T.A. McMahon
I know much more about Roman Catholicism today than I did when I was a practicing Catholic. That’s significant because the Church played a major part in my upbringing. The priests and nuns of the various grade schools and of the high school and military school I attended were precious people in my life. I still have loving memories of each of those individuals who, for a quarter century, so profoundly impacted my life. I grew up respecting those who took part in personally rearing me, and those feelings haven’t changed. What has changed drastically, however, is what I believe about the Church to which they had dedicated their lives.
My present knowledge of Catholicism comes from two perspectives. One is my view as a born-again, Bible-believing Christian who has studied the official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church; the other is the experience of one who lived for twenty-five years what he was taught by nuns and priests. That combination has been particularly helpful in recognizing a significant seduction taking place in the body of Christ during these last days before His return. Let me explain.
As I’ve listened intently to Catholics who dialogue with evangelicals, or to those evangelical leaders who to a large degree defend Roman Catholicism, I’ve noticed a couple of very disturbing points. First, the language used by Catholic apologists is largely “evangelical speak,” i.e., terms and phrases very familiar to Bible-believing Christians, but not common to Catholics. They talk about being saved, born-again, taught by the Holy Spirit, having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, engaging in group Bible studies, etc. I never heard such terms when I was growing up, so why are we hearing them from Catholics now? I’m concerned that, for tactical purposes, Catholics use words or identify with practices which are meaningful to evangelicals, but without disclosing that they have a completely different meaning for the Catholic. Whatever their motives for introducing them, the practice can be very deceptive.
“Salvation by grace,” for example, means “without works” to evangelicals. To Catholics, however, grace is the means by which they believe meritorious works are performed in order to “earn salvation.” So in that rare instance when a Catholic might claim that he also believes in salvation by grace, he does not mean what an evangelical means. The difference is not a matter of semantics but of eternal destiny.
Another of many examples is the Catholic who claims he also is “born again.” That assertion would almost never be made except in conversation with an evangelical, who would no doubt be thrilled to hear those words. However, what the committed Catholic means is that he received his spiritual birth when he was baptized–either as an infant or when as an adult he converted to Catholicism. That’s not what Jesus meant when He told Nicodemus he “must be born again” (Jn 3:3-8). The deliberate adoption of biblical terms which have different meanings for Catholics has become an effective tool in Rome’s ecumenical agenda.
My second disturbing point comes from listening to many lay-Catholic (meaning they may be used by the Church but don’t speak officially for the Church) apologists and so-called evangelical scholars telling Protestants what Catholics actually believe. Most of what they say is impressive to naive evangelicals, though foreign to the official meaning of Catholic doctrine and common practice. For instance, the Catholic apologist claims and the evangelical scholar concurs-after checking with Catholic scholars, of course-that “Catholics don’t worship Mary; nor do they pray to her as one would to God.” I grew up worshiping Mary and praying to her more frequently and more passionately than to God, and so did all my Catholic friends and relatives. We did not merely slip into idolatry against the teachings of the Church; we were taught it. The rosary, with its 156 prayers to Mary, was not our invention. And to the thousands of other prayers to Mary you could add litanies to a legion of saints, many of whom regularly displaced my time with God the Father, and with Jesus. My experience is not unique; it’s the common, everyday Catholic experience.
For all of their apologetic protestations, I would love to see Patrick Madrid, Karl Keating and others at Catholic Answers take their program (with its evangelical additives) on a tour of the ethnic parishes where I grew up; better yet, I’d consider raising money for them to tour the local parishes of Spain, Portugal, Haiti, or Mexico. The average Catholic would not only be clueless as to what they were talking about, but would very likely stone them as Protestant sympathizers, with the local priests and nuns delivering the first volley. I’d pay double for Hank Hanegraaff, Jack Van Impe, Chuck Colson, Norm Geisler and the many other evangelicals presently fueling the ecumenical affair with Rome, to spend a week with a missionary family in any Catholic country. That might impart some reality to their vaunted scholarship!
What we see primarily in North America today is an insidious assault, an assault which has been the historic modus operandi of Roman Catholicism. From the time of Constantine (when Christian doctrines were compromised to oblige pagan practices in order to bring the populace under the control of Mother Church) to John Paul II’s ecumenical overtures to Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, voodoos, animists, etc., Roman Catholicism has always accommodated itself to the religious culture of whatever land it purposes to physically and/or spiritually conquer.
In Haiti, for example, voodoo is practiced by the majority of those who consider themselves faithful Catholics. The same is true in African and South American countries, where demon-appeasing Santeria is the popular religious practice. In the Philippines, the overt worship by Catholics of statues is so prevalent that any suggestion of its unorthodoxy would be met by outrage. Why aren’t the Catholic apologists straightening out the millions of these deluded faithful? Instead, their efforts are focused on deluding the Vatican’s greatest threat to its worldwide empire-the Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church of Jesus Christ.
Many evangelicals (who are commonly perceived as church leaders because of their large ministries and high visibility via the Christian media) seem to be oblivious to this “evangelical” seduction by Rome. The problem has proliferated because of the influence which these church leaders exert over millions of evangelicals worldwide. When they give the impression that Catholics are a part of the body of Christ, the multitudes are impressed-and the pontiff rejoices. Pat Robertson is just one of a dozen or more high-profile evangelicals being seduced. His own newsletter reports,
After CBN founder Pat Robertson met with His Holiness, Pope John Paul II…[he] described their meeting as warm. “I think this meeting was historic,” said Robertson, who joined with other Christian religious leaders [including Don Argue of the National Association of Evangelicals, Chuck Colson, and J. I. Packer] in greeting the Pope at the New York residence of His Eminence, John Cardinal O’Connor.
The meeting…came just hours after Robertson [led] an Ecumenical Procession at the Papal Liturgy [and was given a seat of honor at the Papal Mass] in New York’s Central Park. Robertson called the Pope “a humble and caring servant of the Lord.” …Robertson presented a…letter to the Pontiff underscoring CBN’s commitment to work for Christian unity and world evangelization.
Robertson also wrote that he was “encouraged” by the Pope’s recent encyclical on Christian unity, That All May Be One, and praised the Pontiff for his recent call to Catholics to “be more committed to prayer for Christian unity….”1
Either someone’s prayers aren’t being taken seriously, or Pat and the Pontiff aren’t on the same page of the papal program Pat was given. In February of this year, TheOregonian ran two articles with the following headlines:POPE WILL FACE PROTESTANT TREND IN LATIN AMERICA and POPE ISSUES CALL TO DEFEND CHURCH’S PLACE IN CENTRAL AMERICA. The first article carried this AP summary: “The Pontiff’s visit this week will include efforts to win back Roman Catholics who have converted to other churches.”2 The second article was even more to the point: “Directly confronting the challenge to his church’s traditional dominance in Central America, Pope John Paul II accused Protestant missionaries Tuesday of sowing ‘confusion and uncertainty’ among Roman Catholics.”3
If the Latin Americans are simply demonstrating “Christian unity” by moving around within the “Christian household,” why would that upset the world’s foremost ecumenist? It’s upsetting because that kind of unity is not what the Pope has in mind. Months before his private meeting with Pat Robertson and other American evangelicals in New York, John Paul II told his weekly audience at the Vatican, “Christian unity will not become a reality unless all churches accept the authority Christ entrusted to St. Peter and his successors….This unity will not be fully manifested until all Christians accept Christ’s will for the Church and acknowledge the apostolic authority of the bishops, in communion with the successor of Peter.”4
Perhaps the Pope’s most effective pawns in his attempt to undo the evangelical threat to his realm are former evangelicals. They know the evangelical walk, and talk its talk. John Richard Neuhaus, for example, is the Catholic who worked with Chuck Colson in drafting the ecumenical document, “Evangelicals and Catholics Together.” One news source described Neuhaus, in his role in dealing with evangelicals, as a former “conservative Lutheran pastor who became a Catholic priest, thus a perfect bridge figure.”5
Scott Hahn is another very effective “bridge figure.” He is a theology professor at the Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, and a very popular guest on evangelical radio programs across the country. Scott began one interview by gushing over the fact that his Catholic school has impressed leading evangelicals James Dobson and Chuck Colson. He quoted Dobson (on whom the school bestowed an honorary doctorate) as noting that “he had never seen a campus where the students take the lordship of Jesus Christ so seriously.” Scott then added that Colson had nominated the Catholic university for membership in the Evangelical College Coalition because, as Professor Hahn sees it, “it really is a dynamic orthodox Catholic university that is as evangelical as it is Catholic.”6 His name-dropping and unabated promotions were bound to impress the majority of the program’s evangelical listeners.
If you have been reading this article carefully, you’ve probably picked up on a few big-time coups among Rome’s ingenious seductions. Pat Robertson believes that Pope John Paul II is a “servant of the Lord.” James Dobson is convinced that the Catholic students at Franciscan U. (a leading promoter of tours to Medjugorje) are under the “lordship of Jesus Christ.” Colson and former Protestant (and Gordon Conwell seminarian) Scott Hahn believe that orthodox Catholics can also be evangelicals. Scott adds with great enthusiasm that his calling is to train up “Bible Catholic Christians.”
Need I point out that a “servant of the Lord” and one under the “lordship of Jesus Christ” must be saved? Does the Catholic gospel of salvation by works save? Not according to my Bible. “Bible Catholic Christians?” Where in the Bible are they going to find the Immaculate Conception (that’s hers, not His), Purgatory, Apostolic Succession, the Assumption of Mary, Papal Infallibility, Transubstantiation, and on and on and on? Does Scott also train them when to obey Church dogma based upon tradition, as they read scriptural passages which contradict the teachings of their Church? You see, a “Bible Catholic Christian” is similar to a “Christian Science evangelical,” who is only permitted to understand the Bible through the official interpretation of cult founder Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures. Likewise, the Bible-reading Catholic’s understanding must not deviate from the interpretation of the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church.
By God’s grace I was delivered from the spiritual delusion and bondage of Rome. It’s distressing, therefore, to see my brothers and sisters in Christ begin to dance with what the entire evangelical church for 1,500 years (until very recently) called the “whore of Babylon.” Even more heartbreaking, however, is the growing acceptance of the myth that Catholicism saves. This serious misapprehension was recently repeated by two Promise Keepers officials to the head of a ministry which evangelizes Catholics. Approaching his public booth where he was passing out salvation tracts for Catholics, these PK leaders began to rebuke him for giving offense to his fellow Christians. That’s not only sheer ignorance but a grievous error which affects the eternal destiny of nearly a billion lost souls. Evangelicals know that not all who attend Protestant churches are saved; so why are we seeing a “hands off” policy regarding Catholics?
What’s more, truly evangelical churches teach that membership in one’s church or denomination is meaningless if the individual does not have a saving, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. In contrast, it is one’s relationship to the Church of Rome which allegedly saves the Catholic.
Our hope and prayer is that the concerns raised here will help motivate the body of Christ to actively oppose this growing seduction. In particular, our desire is to see the multitude of ex-Catholics in evangelical churches (often comprising the majority in their congregations) rekindle their zeal for the salvation of their Catholic friends and relatives. TBC