©FOUNDATION Magazine, Nov-Dec 1998
Has Roman Catholicism Changed?
In recent years, the Roman Catholic Church has become the latest friend of
Protestant evangelicals. Roman Catholic theologians and apologists such as
Keith Fornier, Peter Kreeft, Michael Novak and others are often defined as "evangelical
Catholics." They write best-selling books that are lauded by evangelical Protestants and
widely read and endorsed by even those who claim to be Fundamentalists. Para-church
organizations often refuse to evangelize Catholics and, instead, say they will
work together with Catholics in an attempt to reach the world for Christ. The
Promise Keepers Movement, for example, not only encourages the participation
of Roman Catholics but has even altered its doctrinal statement in order to accommodate
its Catholic constituency. Conservative political coalitions seek to unify Protestants
and Catholics under the banner of political or moral reform. Lutherans and Roman
Catholics, after 500 years of theological division, recently proposed a Joint
Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification. Highly respected Protestant evangelists
such as Billy Graham work hand-in-hand with Roman Catholics during evangelism
crusades, even receiving the endorsement of local Roman Catholic archbishops.
Charles Colson, Bill Bright, Max Lucado, James I. Packer and many other evangelical
Protestants have signed the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Gift
of Salvation" document which attempts to re-define key soteriological terms
in order to find a unity with Roman Catholics. Eastern Orthodox leaders such
as the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomeos I have praised the ecumenicity of Pope
John Paul II and are searching for ways to dialogue with the Vatican and heal
the rifts that have divided the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches for hundreds
At this point, any discerning believer must begin to wonder why the shift
toward an acceptance of Roman Catholicism has become so popular. Has the
Roman Catholic Church actually changed its doctrine? Do the post-Vatican
II Catechism of the Catholic Church and the decisions of the ecumenical
councils no longer apply to today's Roman Catholics? These questions have
been asked not only by Fundamentalists and Evangelicals who noticed a trend
toward unity with Rome but also by many Roman Catholics. Pope John Paul II
has struggled with those Catholics who deny much of the teaching of the Roman
Catholic Church as well as with the secularists who deny the plausibility
of religion as a whole. In his latest encyclical to the Roman Catholic bishops, Fides
et Ratio (Faith and Reason), the pope has sought to answer those Catholics
who seek to undermine the authority of the Roman Catholic Church and those
secularists who claim that faith and reason are incompatible. This latest
letter should be an eye-opener to all Fundamentalists and Evangelicals, for
it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that Roman Catholicism still upholds
the unbiblical doctrines it has held since its inception.
Many Roman Catholics accuse Fundamentalists of misrepresenting or misinterpreting
Catholic beliefs. They often claim that Fundamentalists should read a particular
book written by a certain Roman Catholic theologian or apologist in order
to understand what the Roman Catholic Church actually teaches. While it may
be true that some Fundamentalists have haphazardly handled or taken out of
context some Roman Catholic teachings, most of the time the accusers themselves
are confused and deceived concerning the teaching of their own church. Throughout
its 70-year history, the Fundamental Evangelistic Association has sought
to draw upon only the authoritative documents of the Catholic Church when
addressing the issue of Roman Catholic doctrine. The FEA has refrained from
citing a particular theologian or apologist's interpretation of Roman Catholic
dogma but rather has documented and expounded upon the authoritative, clear
statements of the Roman Catholic Church itself.
The Papal Encyclical on the Relationship Between Faith and Reason harmonizes
well with both the Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Vatican
II documents, both of which are authoritative sources concerning Catholic
dogma. Therefore, it can be reasoned that the contents of the latest encyclical,
especially concerning the Magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church, are definitive
and authoritative for today's Roman Catholics. The entire 154-page encyclical
is much too large to reproduce here, but one particular portion of the encyclical
is especially pertinent to Bible-believing Christians who are contemplating
any association with the Roman Catholic Church or considering lending credibility
to the belief that Roman Catholicism is a viable "Christian" denomination.
It is this portion of the papal letter which will soon be evaluated in the
light of Scripture.
Early in the encyclical, Pope John Paul II reinforces the importance of the
Eucharist. In a section entitled "The Revelation of God's Wisdom," the
Pope discusses the mysterious revelation of God's truth to man. He writes
to the bishops:
In a sense, then, we return to the sacramental character of Revelation
and especially to the sign of the Eucharist, in which the indissoluble
unity between the signifier and signified makes it possible to grasp
the depths of the mystery. In the Eucharist, Christ is truly present
and alive, working through his Spirit; yet, as Saint Thomas said so well, "What
you neither see nor grasp, faith confirms for you, leaving nature far
behind; a sign it is that now appears, hiding in mystery realities sublime."
This statement stands in complete agreement with the Catechism of the Catholic
Church. The Catechism expressly states:
1374. ...In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist:
"the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our
Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really,
and substantially contained"
(Council of Trent, 1551: DS 1651). "This presence is called 'real'-by
which is not intended to exclude the other types of presence as if they
could not be 'real' too, but because it is presence in the fullest sense:
that is to say, it is a substantial presence by which Christ,
God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present"
(Paul VI, MF 39).
Fundamentalists firmly believe that no "sacramental character of Revelation" exists.
On the contrary, God revealed Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. After
Christ's death, resurrection and ascension, the Holy Spirit guided the New
Testament writers into all truth (John 14:26; John 16:13). Through the miracle
of inspiration, the New Testament writers recorded only the words that the
Holy Spirit led them to write, and the canon of Scripture was soon finished.
God's complete and final Revelation to man was accomplished once the final
New Testament book had been written.
Later in the encyclical, Pope John Paul II reinforces the historic teaching
that the Roman Catholic Church is the guardian and expositor of God's revealed
truth by writing:
It is the Church's duty to indicate the elements in a philosophical system
which are incompatible with her own faith. In fact, many philosophical
opinions—concerning God, the human being, human freedom and ethical
behavior—engage the Church directly, because they touch on the
revealed truth of which she is the guardian.
This teaching also coincides with the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Fundamentalists,
however, believe that the Roman Catholic Church is certainly not the guardian
of God's revealed truth as the pope claims. Fundamentalists believe the Catholic
Church has actually distorted and perverted the true Gospel message of Jesus
Christ, which can only be found in the Word of God.
Yet most striking of all is Pope John Paul II's attack against what he calls "biblicism." The
following excerpt from the Papal encyclical is the most recent public statement
by the pope which reveals, without question, that the Roman Catholic Church
has certainly not changed its theology:
There are also signs of a resurgence of fideism, which fails to recognize
the importance of rational knowledge and philosophical discourse for
the understanding of faith, indeed for the very possibility of belief
in God. One currently widespread symptom of this fideistic tendency is
a "biblicism" which tends to make the reading and exegesis
of Sacred Scripture the sole criterion of truth. In consequence, the
word of God is identified with Sacred Scripture alone, thus eliminating
the doctrine of the Church which the Second Vatican Council stressed
quite specifically. Having recalled that the word of God is present in
both Scripture and Tradition, (73) the Constitution Dei Verbum continues
emphatically: "Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture comprise a
single sacred deposit of the word of God entrusted to the Church. Embracing
this deposit and united with their pastors, the People of God remain
always faithful to the teaching of the apostles." (74) Scripture,
therefore, is not the Church's sole point of reference. The "supreme
rule of her faith" (75) derives from the unity which the Spirit
has created between Sacred Tradition, Sacred Scripture and the Magisterium
of the Church in a reciprocity which means that none of the three can
survive without the others. (76)
Moreover, one should not underestimate the danger inherent in seeking
to derive the truth of Sacred Scripture from the use of one method alone,
ignoring the need for a more comprehensive exegesis which enables the
exegete, together with the whole Church, to arrive at the full sense
of the texts.
This portion of Pope John Paul II's encyclical to the bishops speaks for itself.
Again, the Catechism as well as the authoritative documents of the
Roman Catholic Church completely agree with the Pope's statements. Roman
Catholicism has certainly not changed. The Roman Catholic Church still dogmatically
clings to tradition as a means through which God communicates His saving
grace. The Roman Catholic Church still dogmatically rejects the belief that
Scripture alone is the believer's sole authority for faith and practice.
The Roman Catholic Church still dogmatically opposes those who fail to accept
its false teachings.
How is it possible for any evangelical Christian to confidently believe he
can join with Roman Catholics for evangelism or spiritual growth after reading
such a statement? Today's ecumenical movement, through avenues such as Promise
Keepers, the Billy Graham crusades and Campus Crusade for Christ, has successfully
deceived the world into believing that the Roman Catholic Church either has
changed its doctrine or has always been an acceptable way to God. Groups
such as these have deceived many into thinking that the loyal Roman Catholic
does not need to be evangelized or
"proselytized." In fact, Billy Graham's latest evangelistic crusade
in Tampa, Florida, has received complete support from the local Roman Catholic
Diocese of St. Petersburg, Florida. Diocese spokesman Bill Urbanski told
the Tampa Tribune that Catholics welcomed Graham because "the crusade
isn't trying to recruit Catholics to become Protestants."
Many times, evangelicals attempt to rationalize their ecumenical efforts by
claiming to unite with those who call themselves Roman Catholics but who
say they do not actually believe the doctrines of the Catholic Church. It
is certainly possible for one who calls himself a Roman Catholic to be a
true believer in Christ. However, if a Roman Catholic disagrees with his
own church on the vital doctrinal issues that pertain to an individual's
salvation, then he should certainly separate from the Church, not remain
in it and claim to accept the label "evangelical Catholic."
If he refuses to separate from the Catholic Church and if he still desires
to label himself a Roman Catholic, then no Christian should seek to join
him in any religious endeavor, thereby identifying himself with such diabolical
Pope John Paul II is one of the most unique popes to occupy the primary position
in the Holy See for the following reason: He often is called one of the most
ecumenical popes as well as one of the most conservative. This combination
is not only unique but also is especially dangerous to Christendom. While
striving for greater ecumenical ties, Pope John Paul II remains steadfastly
loyal to the dangerous doctrines of the Catholic Church. He will not compromise
Roman Catholic dogma. The unity that arises from his ecumenical endeavors
must occur on his terms, and it cannot conflict in any way with traditional
Roman Catholic doctrine regarding the authority of the Roman Catholic Church,
the Magisterium of the Church and the doctrine of salvation.
The recent evangelical strides for unity and ecumenical ties with Rome combined
with the doctrinal position of the pope bring the true believer to a devastating
conclusion: The evangelical world is quickly drifting into the arms of the
Roman Catholic Church, and it does not even realize what truth is sacrificed
nor what inestimable damage is done to the souls of millions. All who embrace
the Roman Catholic Church or give credibility to the Roman system as a viable
means to God are not winning the Christian battle or even "breaking
even" with Rome as they might wish. Ecumenical ties with the Vatican
only benefit the Catholic Church itself and actually lead millions to an
eternity apart from Christ. God's salvation is found only through Jesus Christ
and is revealed only in the inerrant, written Word of God (Romans 10:17).
Any additional "truth" derived from Rome is "another gospel" which
bears God's curse (Galatians 1:9).
*Pope John Paul II died 2 April 2005.