Many are saying there are no differences between the Roman Catholic Church and the Evangelical Churches. This is because they share a number of things in common. They share the same history, creeds, and inspired books of the Holy Scriptures. However, a careful look at the teachings of these two will make you conclude that they are diametrically oppose with each other.
It is true that we can hold hands with our Roman Catholic friends in standing against terrorism, abortion, same sex relationships, dysfunctional marriages, extrajudicial killings, corruption, extortion, bribery, and dictatorship. But this should not stop us from seeing the great divide between our doctrinal belief and their teachings. As one Roman Catholic priest observed, “We can go as far as the Evangelicals are doing but they cannot go as far as we can go.” I agree. Our goal must be to reach them with the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The Evangelical faith strongly maintains the four theological pillars: Sola Gratia (grace alone), Sola Fide (faith alone), Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), and Solus Christus (Christ alone) in relation to salvation. Despite the push of many Roman Catholic apologists to explain their belief in salvation by “grace alone” the role of good works in saving a person still comes to the surface. As one Roman Catholic defender explains,
“The Catholic Church teaches that good works can be truly good before regeneration and justification (over against total depravity), but not that they can in any sense justify us or be meritorious. Good works done after justification are (if certain conditions are met) meritorious and can contribute to salvation and attainment of eternal life, but only hand-in-hand with, soaked in, enabled by, grace, which alone saves us. Catholics believe in sola gratia.” Dave Armstrong, “Biblical Catholic Salvation: Faith Working Through Love,” (2010).
Notice, how the writer carefully insert the words “Good works done after justification are (if certain conditions are met) meritorious and can contribute to salvation and attainment of eternal life.” This is one of the major hindrance for both camps to be working together in unity. In addition to this, the Roman Catholic movement also embrace Mary as the Queen of Heaven, the Mediatrix of all Grace, their Mother of Mercy, their Hope, and their Life. (Please see The Glories of Mary by St. Alfonso Maria de Liguori) They also believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity and freedom from original sin. Another Roman Catholic defender argued that the reason why Mary is free from original sin it’s because she was named “full of grace” (Gk. charitoo) by the angel in Luke 1:28. According to him,
“This greeting of the angel is one clue into the unique character and calling of the Mother of God. Only Mary is given the name ‘full of grace’ and in the perfect tense, indicating that this permanent state of Mary was completed.”
Tim Staples, “Hail Mary, Conceived Without Sin.”
A careful study of the word “κεχαριτωμενη” will reveal that this is not really a name given to Mary but a description of her being granted a complete favor. In fact, the word is not a noun but an adjective that describes Mary in v. 27. To contrast that with Jesus Christ who was named the Word of God by the apostle John in the Book of Revelation. (See Rev. 19:13) In addition, this reasoning by the author will surely break apart if he learns that all believers were also given not just one portion of grace but grace upon grace from His fulness (Gk. pleroma, complete, abundance). (See Jn. 1:18)
The following teachings are also held by Roman Catholics:
- The Roman Catholics pays homage or veneration of the dead saints are termed dulia, while their highest veneration that goes to Mary is hyperdulia, and that of the Lord is latria which is worship. The fact that an individual venerates a creature is already an act of idolatry. The Scripture is clear that we should not “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man.” (Exo. 20:4-5)
- The Roman Catholics believed the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass gradually developed in 11th century is the highest and central act of worship. As defined by the Council of Trent the Mass is, “The same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross, is present and offered in an unbloody manner.” But the question must be ask, why offer Christ again in an unbloody manner when the author of the Book of Hebrews states, “since he did this once for all when he offered up himself.” (Heb. 7:27) A Roman Catholic priest is at a lost in answering this question.
- The doctrine of purgatory which is held dearly by the Roman Catholics was established by Gregory the Great in 593 AD. They are hoping that this imaginary place that temporarily torments their love ones will purge him of his sins before finally entering heaven. This spiritual cleansing can be done by offering them a Mass. In fact, the Council of Trent says, “The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, the Perpetual Sacrifice, is the greatest of all suffrages for the Holy Souls.” They also believed that continuous offer of Mass for thirty times through a Gregorian Mass will liberate a deceased soul from the punishment of purgatory. But the Scripture does not say anything about purgatory. And once a person dies, he will immediately be judged. (See Heb. 9:27)
- The Roman Catholic Pope (Latin, papas, patriarch) holds the highest position inside the Vatican. Whenever he speaks from the chair of St. Peter (ex cathedra) he teaches infallibly in the capacity of a universal shepherd. They believe the Pope is the successor of the apostle Peter not withstanding that the latter was married. (See Lk. 4:38-40) The fact remains that the apostles did not left one spiritual leader to oversee the universal Church. Their teaching on this is just based on assumption.
- The Roman Catholic Bible has additional fourteen more books on top of the sixty-six books we have as Evangelicals. Two of the books were titled First and Second Maccabees, which is where they got the idea of purgatory.
We have not mentioned the other traditions yet like kissing of the popes feet (709 AD), introduction of wax candles (320 AD), extreme unction (526 AD), canonization of the saints (995 AD), holy water (850 AD), the celibacy (1079 AD), the rosary (1090 AD), among others. That local church in Rome slowly went through a spiritual dark age that they followed human traditions rather than being faithful to the word of God. This is also the problem of the Scribes and Pharisees during their time. A reason why Jesus said,
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” Mark 7:9
Although there are a number of similarities between Born Again Christians and Roman Catholics like the Trinity, virgin birth, etc. this can be a good reason to sit down and discuss in light of God’s word. It is surprising though that some former Evangelical pastors in the west are sliding back to become a part of the Roman Catholic group. But millions are coming to know Jesus Christ in Latin Americas. Let’s continue to pray for our Roman Catholic friends that we will not only be united in dealing with the immoralities and perversions on this side of the world but we will be spiritually one someday in proclaiming the Good News of Christ Jesus. Let’s continue to engage with our Roman Catholic loved ones with patience and gentleness.