Sunday, March 4, 2012

Defining Roman Catholicism

Had a really interesting conversation with a staunch Roman Catholic the other day. Interesting because (as I told him), I'm certain he would have been branded a Protestant and joined the Reformation if he was alive with Martin Luther and John Calvin. And I'm convinced he's saved.

He does hold to many 'official' Catholic doctrines which (I think) we all disagree with, but he holds them in a way which is ALMOST Biblical in my opinion (although I still disagree) :) Even more strange - he is certain that his beliefs are official Vatican-endorsed doctrine. Yet they differ drastically from what I think about Catholicism, based on my experiences with other Catholics, my readings from Roman Catholic authorities, and of course many Protestant teachers.

I'm not going to detail his beliefs here, as he may read this post. And I don't want to mis-represent his views! But I just found it extremely thought-provoking. And I wondered if it would be helpful to discuss it here:

1) What differences are there between Roman Catholicism and Reformed Protestantism?
2) Do these differences actually exist - for the Vatican, for all Catholics, for just some Catholics? Do they (or similar differences) exist between groups of Reformed Protestants?
3) Are these differences actually important? Why? Are they more important than differences that exist between groups of Reformed Protestants? Why?
4) Are there ways to hold to these points in Catholic doctrine, which minimize the difference or minimize its importance?

Please comment away!


  1. Hey man, would love to comment but will have to do a bit of research I think :) Always good meeting people that think differently.

  2. OK - just read the Catholic Catechism (whew!)

    1) This guy is NOT Roman Catholic!
    2) Roman Catholicism is MOSTLY extremely solid, Biblical, and God honoring.
    3) There are several random but important false doctrines. Unlike the rest of the Catechism, they are not discussed or justified, they do not flow logically or coherently, and they are presented in a dominating spirit.

    Here's a list:
    1) Tradition - church tradition is just as authoritative as Scripture. Both are God's infallible revelation to the Church.
    2) Apostolic Succession - only those in Church authority can interpret God's infallible revelation (Scripture & Tradition). Church authority can only be passed down from existing authority, tracing back to the Apostles. This is only given to those who are willing to remain celibate. Peter was supreme amongst the apostles, so his successor (the Pope) is supreme in infallible authority. He has also been given "supreme, full, immediate, and universal power in the care of souls".
    3) Veneration - excessive focus is given to 'Saints', angels, and Mary. Such veneration manifests especially in prayer. The angels and Saints intercede on our behalf along with Jesus, and they can all help us with our needs on earth - so we should pray to them all.
    4) Mary - Mary is seen as completely free from original sin and remaining completely sinless (and a virgin) throughout her life, finally being taken up into heaven without dying. She is the mother of the church - our representative to Christ. Its like this: we need perfect righteousness, but we don't have it - so we accept Jesus on our behalf. BUT we can't even have the perfect faith (and accompanying sanctification, etc) needed to accept Jesus! So we accept Mary on our behalf for that. Praising Mary for this role as our representative is just as fitting as praising Jesus for His role.
    5) Eucharist - If the right formula is followed, transubstantiation occurs and Christ becomes 'present' in both the minister and in the elements. The bread and wine atoms don't change, but they take on the real, practical, substantial 'essence' of Christ's actual body and blood (while continuing to wear a 'bread and wine' costume). We actually hold a divine piece of the real Christ, and that Christ is really there in the Priest, offering the elements. They worship the bread and the wine, and the priest. Christ 're-presents' that once-and-for-all sacrifice on the cross, every Eucharist. The Eucharist provides forgiveness for minor sins that don't require penance.
    6) Merited Grace - the Church can only forgive the sins of the baptized, and forgiveness is only granted in response to confession, repentance, the Eucharist, and Penance (for graver sins). Additionally indulgences can earn the remission of temporal punishments for sin, or a hastening of the Purgatory process for others. Saints go through purgatory if they are imperfect at death, to prepare them for heaven. Justification, sanctification, blessings in this life, and glorification all have to be EARNED by our own merit, from the Church (not from God directly). The only unmerited grace we ever receive is God calling us prior to conversion - the rest is merited by us, as we obey the Holy Spirit.
    7) Faith Progression - Baptism brings New Birth, and enables forgiveness by the Church. This New Birth happens BEFORE faith, as part of the unmerited calling of God, and destines you for salvation (since there are no requirements, babies can be baptized). Confirmation happens when there is a personal response of faith, and brings the baptism of the Spirit. Both sacraments leave permanent spiritual character marks, so can never be repeated. All progresses in holiness either happen in this life or in purgatory.