A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism — Three More Erroneous Beliefs

Title: A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism – Three More Erroneous Beliefs

Text: Luke 1:26-28, Hebrews 9:27, Hebrews 10:11-12

Time: July 20th, 2012


Last message I started a series entitled, “ A Friendly Critique of Roman Catholicism,” by pointing out what in my opinion are the top three errors within the Roman Catholic church. I see Catholics as brothers and sisters in Christ who have taken on some false doctrines that need to be reformed. The false doctrines I talked about last time were first, the confusion of works and faith within the Catholic church; next, the infallibility of the church; and finally, the infallibility of the Pope. This time I’d like to talk about three more false teachings found within Catholicism – the exaltation of Mary, the doctrine of purgatory, and teachings on indulgences. I plan one more message after this one that I hope will cover still three more erroneous teachings, such as prayers to the saints, the sacrifice of the mass, and the practice of priestly absolution. There are still more questionable and even false teachings within Catholicism, but I think these are the main problems that cause trouble. As a Bible-believing Protestant Christian I believe, along with the 16th Century Reformers such as Luther, Calvin and Zwingli, that everything — every doctrine and every practice within Christianity — must be tested by the Bible. If the teaching or practice isn’t biblical, it shouldn’t be taught as doctrine or practice within Christianity. So as we go through the erroneous Roman Catholic teachings we should keep in mind that the reason they are judged in error is because they either aren’t biblical teachings or they contradict biblical teachings. Some false Roman Catholic teachings are judged false because they aren’t taught in the Bible, while other false Catholic teachings considered are wrong because they contradict clear biblical teaching. But in either case, the teaching introduces something into the Christian faith without biblical warrant. In other words, it isn’t biblical. One might respond by saying, “Well, just because a doctrine or practice isn’t found in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s automatically false.” True, but if something isn’t found in the Bible, the church has no right to teach it as doctrine or practice. For example, today, in our first point, I’ll talk about the erroneous Roman Catholic practice of exalting Mary the mother of Jesus. Many Catholic teachings about Mary are not found in the New Testament. Does that make them necessarily false? No, but it makes them unbiblical, or without the authority of God’s Word. Then by whose authority are they taught? Catholics would argue, by the authority of the church. But I’ve already explained that no church is infallible, not the Roman Catholic, not Eastern Orthodoxy, not Protestantism. So then “on the authority of the church” isn’t good enough to justify introducing a doctrine or practice into Christianity. Only the Bible can authorize Christian doctrine and practice. But let me review three more erroneous Catholic teachings.


First, Roman Catholicism teaches the exaltation of Mary. Luke 1:26-28, “In the sixth month, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.’” Or, as Roman Catholics pray in the rosary, “Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.” The Bible describes Mary as the virgin selected by God to bear the Incarnate Word, Jesus the Son. The New Testament gives us very little additional information about Mary, except in relationship to giving birth and raising Jesus – and then some additional information about her at the end of Christ’s life and after his resurrection. All Christians should admire and respect Mary for who she was and what she did in God’s divine plan. But Roman Catholics go further – they supply additional and questionable information about Mary that then forms the foundation for doctrines and practices within the Catholic church. For example, there is the Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception of Mary. Or in other words, Mary was conceived and born without original sin. Even though the New Testament clearly teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23), somehow this doesn’t apply to Mary. They also teach the Assumption of Mary. Or in other words, that Mary never died but ascended into heaven supernaturally at the end of her life. Even though the Bible clearly teaches that “it is appointed unto man once to die, then the judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27), evidently Catholics ignore this passage in order to teach the Mary ascended into heaven. Roman Catholics teach that Mary remained a virgin all her life, although the New Testament teaches that Joseph had no intimate relations with his wife Mary “until she gave birth to a son” (Matthew 1:25). Catholics pray intercession to Mary, although there is no New Testament authority to do so. Mary is even called co-redemptrix with Christ concerning salvation. And there are many other teachings and beliefs Catholics hold concerning Mary that have no New Testament basis, or even contradict biblical teachings. Now back in the 16th Century, the Reformers were careful to honor and respect Mary the mother of Jesus; they had been raised on Catholic piety themselves, so they all held a fond spot in their hearts for Mary also. But they had to be honest with themselves when it came to the proliferation of Marian devotion that had falsely developed and spread throughout the years unchecked within the established Catholic church. We need to be honest about it as well. Honoring Mary is one thing; exalting her is another. We need to be careful not to go beyond biblical teachings, or else error will spread. This is what has sadly happened with Marian devotion today. I’m encouraged to hear the present Pope, Benedict XVI, warn the faithful against unauthorized Marian piety; I just wish earlier popes had been as cautious. We have today the product of the Catholic church’s failure to reign in unchecked misguided Marian piety and devotion in years past. These excesses can only properly be labeled false teachings and erroneous practices.


Second, Roman Catholicism teaches the doctrine of purgatory. Hebrews 9:27, “It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.” The New Testament doesn’t teach the doctrine of purgatory. This is another example of a teaching that found its way into the Catholic Church without biblical authority. Here’s how the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains it, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” So purgatory is where people who are headed to heaven go first in order to burn off all their impurities and imperfections in order to prepare them for their perfect eternal heavenly life. I can understand the logic of purgatory as a preparation stage on the way to heaven, but the problem is the Bible doesn’t teach this at all. Roman Catholic theologians have tried to pull in a few biblical passages about fire to justify the doctrine; some have pointed to extra-biblical, non-canonical writings to support purgatory; but the truth is, it’s really a theological construct, a hypothetical, theoretical stage that theologians have postulated might exist to prepare the departed soul for heaven. But as far as we really know, as far as the biblical evidence points to, the departed soul doesn’t need a separate stage to prepare itself for heaven. As far as we know biblically, the soul is prepared by God all at once upon entrance to heaven. There is certainly no clear and plan teaching in the New Testament by Jesus, the Apostles or any New Testament writer that purgatory exists. It’s bad enough that Catholics follow a hypothetical, theoretical theological construct as doctrine, but what’s even worse is the abuse that follows from this unbiblical teaching. All kinds of mischief has followed the doctrine of purgatory. My third and final point in today’s teaching is on the Catholic doctrine of indulgences. This false doctrine comes directly from the false doctrine of purgatory. So the whole mess that comes from indulgences originally comes from the mess of purgatory. Another false Catholic teaching that I don’t have time to cover, prayers for the dead, also supports the doctrine of purgatory. Why pray for the dead? To lessen their time in purgatory. And so on and so on. Once we leave the firm foundation of biblical teachings we stand on the unstable terrain of unchecked, unaccountable religious ideas. The religions of the world are full of theological and spiritual beliefs and practices. How can we tell the difference between what is true and false? There is only one way – test all things with Scripture, hold on to what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If we test the doctrine of purgatory with the Bible we find it fails the test, and so we must reject it as false teaching.


Third, Roman Catholicism teaches the doctrine and practice of indulgences. Hebrews 10:11-12, “Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin. But when this priest (Jesus) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God.” According to the Roman Catholic church, “An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the actions of the church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin. Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead,” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). In this one doctrine of indulgence we see the source of more abuses and mischief in the Catholic church than anything else. What the church claims is that souls are being purified in purgatory presently, and they may continue in this state for hundreds or countless years until they are fully purified to heaven. Through indulgences, the time in purgatory for departed souls may be lessened or even completed through the activities of living Catholics in this life. The church can satisfy the requirements of purgatory for certain departed souls by granting Catholics indulgences for good works, financial giving, prayers, pious activities, and more. At the time of the Reformation in the 16th Century, the Pope was selling indulgences for contributions to construct Saint Peter’s Cathedral in Rome. In other words, people could help get a departed loved one out of purgatory for contributing money to the building of Saint Peter’s in Rome. This is what bothered the monk Martin Luther enough to protest – and that was the start of the Reformation. But it’s not just a medieval practice, indulgences. I was present one morning in a Roman Catholic church during the time I was completing my Fuller Seminary doctorate and I heard the local priest read a letter from then Pope John Paul II which promised a full and complete indulgence for anyone who participated in the Millennial celebrations of the Roman Catholic church! No time in purgatory if one participates in the special millennial program of the church! In another case, I read in an old Catholic Daily Missal this, “Prayer to the Holy Family (a one paragraph prayer). . . An indulgence of 5 years. A plenary indulgence on the usual conditions for the devout recitation of this prayer for a month.” I’ve also seen indulgence lists that included the activity required and the indulgence in years off from purgatory. And the list was very specific on the years off for each activity! I was shocked to find such a thing included in actual Christian practice today.


Now the whole system of time off from purgatory through indulgences rests on the authority of the church to enable such things to happen. If people truly believe that the church holds enough power to free up souls from purgatory, then they will invest in indulgences. But where in the New Testament are Christians taught to seek indulgences? Where is there any mention of an indulgence to begin with in the New Testament? Where is this teaching in the Bible? The fact is there is no evidence in the Bible for the existence of purgatory, nor is there any teaching concerning indulgences. This is a prime example of why the Roman Catholic church desperately needed reforming during the time of the Reformation – and yet the church resisted reform and refused reform. What started the whole Reformation, what triggered the whole thing was when Martin Luther saw a traveling monk peddling indulgences among the common, poor people in order to pay for the Pope’s building projects in Rome. Luther saw this as cheap exploitation of God’s people. His original 95 Theses merely objected to the way in which funds were being raised through the extravagant claims of the monks promising indulgences in exchange for money. One would think that Rome might recognize the truth in Luther’s protest and reform itself away from such extreme abuses of its power as an institution. But it didn’t. It came against Luther for questioning the church and the Pope. Years later Rome called a Council of Trent where instead of reforming itself, it used the occasion to anathematize the Reformers, while digging its heals in deeper. The sad fact is that hundreds of years after the Reformation the Catholic church still peddles indulgences, still promises outrageous things such as time off from purgatory for contributions and pious works, and so forth. The church still uses the corrupt and false system of indulgences in its operations. It stretches the credibility of even the extremely gullible to read through an indulgence list, with the certain specific activities required and then the reward of so many years off purgatory for the indulgence. Can anybody really believe any of this in the 21st Century? Can anybody honestly teach this stuff with a clear conscience? Fortunately, Catholic leaders, bishops and priests have downplayed or quietly omitted much of the teachings on indulgences today. But because the Catholic church claims infallibility it cannot eliminate the doctrine or the teaching altogether. Because this corruption has entered the church, because it gained official sanction, because it is now official “tradition” it cannot be rejected. That’s unfortunately the result of the false teaching of church infallibility that we looked at last time. Time and time again we see the same problem – one false doctrine leads to another; one false practice feeds on another. Let us pray God delivers us from all false doctrines and practices.


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