I’ve been trying to write blog pieces that are not too controversial. Oh well… ☺
Often in churches I have attended, Evangelical Christians are starting to say things along the lines that Roman Catholics are basically Christian, are the same as us, and the differences don’t amount to much these days. Is this true?
I am sure we would like to ‘get on’ with everyone around us and avoid conflict. And I am sure we are to love our Roman Catholic friends. Furthermore I would make a distinction between Roman Catholic teaching and Roman Catholic people. We may disagree with Roman Catholic teachings, but we are to love those who are under its influence. Nevertheless many Evangelicals today, I fear, are grossly ignorant of what Roman Catholicism (RC) actually teaches. RC may have watered down its beliefs in the last few decades, but those beliefs are still basically the same.
The excellent series of study papers on doctrine called The Blueprint, published by Matthias Media, has a paper on the virgin birth of Jesus. Within the paper the author discusses the official teaching of RC about Mary. Roman Catholics pray to Mary, thinking that she will have unique access to God as Jesus’ mother. The doctrine of the Immaculate Conception teaches that Mary was sinless. The doctrine of the Assumption teaches that Mary rose bodily to heaven (officially promulgated by RC only in the mid-1950’s). It is taught that Mary was perpetually a virgin. A misunderstanding of the angelic greeting to Mary in Luke 1 (from the Latin translation of the Greek) resulted in a wrong view that Mary is so full of grace that she can dispense grace to others. Mary is titled “Co-Redemptrix”, because she co-operated with the Holy Spirit in the conception of Jesus, and therefore redeems us along with Jesus. Many Roman Catholics view Mary as a mediator and even as the Queen of Heaven, the centre of Christian devotion.
The Blueprint rightly says: “This catalogue of ‘Maryolatry’ is an appalling blasphemy. It is a travesty of the gospel and it deeply offends all true Bible-believers.” The astounding thing is that the Bible directly teaches against some of these doctrines. For example, Mary was not perpetually a virgin, because Jesus had other brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3; no they are not cousins). Also, there is one true mediator between us and God, and that is Jesus, not Mary. This is explicit in Scripture (1 Tim 2:5), but also implicit in the gospel. To think that we might need Mary would undermine the perfect and complete work of Christ on the cross. Only through Jesus’ death on the cross can we approach our heavenly Father.
Mary is however a godly Christian woman. She is a great woman of the Bible. And yet all true Christians are just as blessed as Mary: we are likewise forgiven our sins and are right with God, and members of Jesus’ family (Mark 3:31-35).
So, no, RC does not teach the same sort of things as we do. This has been but one example (teaching about Mary). There is an enormous gulf between the teaching of RC and Evangelicalism. Christians need to understand this enormous difference between Bible teaching and RC. We need to pray for our Roman Catholic friends and we need to share the gospel with them. We must not assume that we have the same beliefs because we use the same words (“Jesus”, “Bible”, “church”). We need to dig deeper and ask our Roman Catholic friends what they mean when they say that they believe in Jesus, for it may well not be a belief in the true gospel. Again, we may be offended by the teachings of RC, but we must love our Roman Catholic friends and share the good news of Jesus with them. Understanding the enormous difference between us and what RC teaches is a good first step in this direction.