Similarities and Differences
The Pope, discount along with most Catholics, would be in agreement with Protestants on the Apostle’s Creed, which reads:
“I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ His only son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into hell; the third day He rose from the dead; He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit; the holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body; and life everlasting. Amen.”
The Pope would also agree with Protestants on certain doctrines. He believes in the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Birth, and the sinlessness of Christ and the atonement of the cross.
The Pope along with traditional Catholicism continued to equate Catholic tradition with the Bible. Catholic traditions have changed over the centuries, the Bible has never has changed. In other words, the Pope holds Catholic tradition and the Bible as equals in authority. Protestantism places the Bible above all tradition; it is the only supreme authority for understanding and applying the faith.
The Pope’s infallibility
On November 21, 1964, Pope Paul VI proclaimed “the title of Mary as Mother of the Church.” To Protestants this proclamation seems preposterous since the Bible says nothing about Mary being the Mother of the Church. But the mind of a devout Catholic would willing accept this because it was spoken by the Pope, who according to Catholic tradition is the Apostle Peter’s successor and speaks with infallibility regarding doctrines of faith and morals. To Catholics, the Pope is the Vicar of Christ the visible Head of the whole Church.
This is difficult for most Christians outside of the Catholic Church to accept, because they all know the Pope is just a man, one who makes mistakes like everyone else. There is no place in Scripture where there is even a hint that any man would be given the gift of infallibility.
In October of 1996, John Paul the II himself issued a document known as the “papal bull” which clearly shows an error in his thinking. In order to bridge the gap between Catholic teaching and modern science, he wrote a document to the Vatican’s Pontifical academy of Sciences stating, “Fresh knowledge leads to recognition of the theory of evolution more than just a hypothesis.” This courting of evolutionists might have gained the Pope some popularity with secular scientists, but is sadly illustrates the drift of the Vatican from the truth of God’s Word.
The Pope’s view of salvation
Throughout the centuries Catholics under the leadership of their Popes, including John Paul II, base their salvation on the Seven Sacraments. This is a defined path of works when followed leads to salvation and heaven. Through their sacraments, Catholics are in effect, working their way to heaven. However, even with these works they think they will have to spend time in purgatory before entering heaven. Catholics believe “grace” is given through the sacraments. “What Catholicism offers its one billion members is, in effect, a priestly or a ‘sacerdotal’ religion. In such a system, salvation is mediated through the functions of the priesthood (in this case through the Catholic Sacraments). Only Catholic priests and those above them can perform the sacraments.”
Before we look at these 7 sacraments (Baptism, Confirmation, Holy Eucharist, Penance, Extreme Unction, Holy Orders, Marriage), I will review the path the Bible lays out for salvation.
Matthew 4:17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
I John 1:9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness
John 11: 25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?”
Ephesians 2:8-9 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.
Romans 10:9-11 If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be disappointed.”
How does one gain salvation according to Roman Catholicism?
Gate Breakers (SF. Fleming p.341-344)
Sacrament 1 – Baptism
The act of Baptism at birth cleanses one from original sin, infuses one with sanctifying grace, and imparts the gifts of faith, hope, and love as well as the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Infant baptism is common in Catholicism but not at all supported by Scripture.
Refutation: Baptism is scriptural (Acts 2:38), of course, and should be done by all believers, but infant baptism is not, since an infant is too young to repent. Peter’s words put “repentance” prior to “baptism.”
Sacrament 2 – Confirmation
Theologically, Catholicism uses Acts 2:37-38; 8:17; and 19:1-7 to show the need for bestowing the Holy Spirit in a special sense after water baptism.
Refutation: While the Scriptures mentioned above can be used to demonstrate that a greater measure of the Holy Spirit (baptism) is available to all believers, the Holy Spirit according to the Bible comes to all believers the minute they make Christ Lord and Savior, and not after baptism.
Sacrament 3 – Holy Eucharist
This is celebrated at the Catholic Mass and is considered the most important sacrament. To the average Christian, the ceremony would convey the idea of simple communion, hence remembering what Christ did for us on the cross and giving Him thanks. But that is a misnomer. In Roman Catholicism, the Mass is an important vehicle through which “the blessings of Christ’s death are applied to believers. Therefore, the blessings of Christ’s death are not produced solely by faith alone in what He accomplished at the cross…In the Catholic Mass… we find Rome’s doctrine of transubstantiation. This view details that the bread and wine each literally become the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ…Furthermore, because Christ is actually present in His entirety in the Eucharist, the Catholic Church believes that the Eucharist should be worshiped. This is why priests and Catholics genuflect [bow] when the host is present – because it is really Christ present.” A final point to understand is that Catholics believe that “the Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed [in purgatory] who ‘have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,’ so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ.”
Refutation: The verses of Hebrews 9:12, 26, 28 and 10:12, 14 all show us that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ was a one time event and not a continual process. To believe that He is sacrificing Himself over and over again in a literal sense is well beyond any scriptural reasoning. 1 Cor. 11:23-32 shows us the proper attitude for communion and the Bible says nothing about purgatory. Communion at the Lord’s Supper should be a part of a Christian’s life but for the right reasons, and not mixed with the traditions of men.
Sacrament 4 – Penance
This is popularly called confession. However, that is only one aspect of it. “Catholicism teaches the sacrament of penance has three parts: first, ‘contrition’ – a person must be sorry for his sins; second, ‘confession’ – a person must fully confess each one of his mortal sins to a priest; and third, ‘satisfaction’ – a person must do works of satisfaction such as fasting, saying prayers, almsgiving, or doing other works of piety the priest gives him to do.”
Most people understand the tradition of a confessional. The priest sits in a dark booth and listens to the confessions of a sinner located in an adjoining booth. They speak in whispers through a small grill, a small window-like structure obscured by curtains or a wooden or metal grate. The priest is not suppose to know who he is talking to, although repeated visits can make it obvious. It is in John 20-23 that Catholicism finds a basis for confession, when Jesus gives authority to this disciple to forgive or retain someone’s sins.
Catholicism sees sin in two forms, mortal and venial. Mortal sins are not always clearly defined but include such things as sexual immorality, murder, envy, abortion, artificial birth control, and thievery. These are very serious and remove salvation and justification immediately. If someone dies in mortal sin (no confession and forgiveness), they go straight to hell. Venial sins are also moral sins, but are not as serious. Whereas mortal sins separate one from God, venial sins do not; but they make the relationship imperfect. A sinner must do penance for a mortal sin before he or she is reinstated into God’s grace and can participate in Mass and the Holy Eucharist. Catholic obligation to annual communion (Holy Eucharist) normally brings them to the confessionals at least once a year.
Refutation: While it is very good to “confess our sins to one another” (James 5:16), Catholicism has made a ritual and tradition that the Scriptures never intended. Jesus Christ is our high priest (Heb. 8:1-2) and our mediator (1 Tim. 2:5) between God and man. He has called each of us to be priests (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). He forgave us all of our sins (Col. 2:13) and is not impressed with our “desire or effort” to work for it (Rom. 9:12, 16). While Catholicism’s desire to raise a standard for morality can be commended, its assumption that it can determine the eternal state of someone’s soul is quite out of character with Scripture.
Sacrament 5 – Extreme Unction
This is also referred to as “anointing the ” or “the last rites.” This is based upon James 5:14-16. The priest is requested to come and minister to those on their deathbed. This is only done when the condition is serious enough that death appears to be imminent. Sometimes the person is unconscious or unable to respond to the priest or bishop. If a person is in mortal sin but can no longer receive the Sacrament of Penance because of his or her critical condition, then the Sacrament of Extreme Unction eradicates the grievous sin, thus renewing their justification before God.
Refutation: There is nothing wrong with the elders praying for the and anointing them with oil. However, this goes far beyond Scripture, once again, in that it becomes a means of working out salvation. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins and pray for the healing. Since an unconscious person cannot confess sins, it is unreasonable to assume that Extreme Unction erases any sins.
Sacrament 6 – Holy Orders
This is the ordination of deacons, priests, or bishops. It is done through the laying on of hands and imparts power to administer the various sacraments. Of the three, the deacons have the least authority and the bishops the most, being the only ones who can ordain. All of these are ordained for life and believe that the sacred power conferred is never lost.
Refutation: The Bible in both the Old and New Testament speaks of elders as rulers over the flock, not priests. The priests of the Old Testament came from the tribe of Levi and were limited to the administration of Temple ceremonies, sacrifices, and teaching. In the New Testament, all Christians were given the responsibility and title of a priest. (1 Peter 2:6, 9).
Furthermore, the hierarchy of Catholicism is unscriptural. The New Testament clearly speaks of leadership roles. We see elders and deacons in many places. The elders are given more to spiritual issues and the deacons to the physical and natural needs. We also find the five offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher (Eph. 4:11-12). Elders appear to have one of these five gifts. Since the early church did not have a large hierarchical system, a possible clarifying view regarding the words elder, bishop, and pastor is in their function. They all speak of the same individual but in different aspects: elder is the character, bishop is the office, and pastor is the work.
Sacrament 7 – Marriage
This is considered a sacrament because it reflects Christ’s marriage with His bride, the Church.
Refutation: Although marriage is a very wonderful and scriptural institution, it is stretching it to say that it is a sacrament since the word literally means a visible sign of an inward grace. Furthermore, if the marriage sacrament confers grace, then why do priests and nuns need to be celibate? The priests of the Old Testament married. Peter was married.
Other doctrines and problems with Catholicism
While every God-fearing individual should respect Mary, the mother of Jesus, for her virtuous life and example of servant-hood, Catholicism goes far beyond scriptural boundaries and exalts her almost to the position of deity. The following paragraph from the Vatican II documents (1962-1965) speaks clearly of their view of Mary:
“Finally, preserved free from all guilt of original sin, the Immaculate Virgin was taken up body and soul into heavenly glory upon the completion of her earthly sojourn. She was exalted by the Lord as the Queen of all, in order that she might be the more thoroughly conformed to her Son, the Lord of lords and the conqueror of sin and death.”
The fact that Scripture supports none of this does not seem to interfere with Rome’s view of Mary’s position. To say that there has been no controversy within Catholicism over this issue would not be accurate. Heated debates have raged over the exaltation of Mary when there is no scriptural support. Catholic theologians that support the above view of Mary hang all their arguments on a few misinterpreted fragments of Scripture and much assumption. Unfortunately for those Catholics who do regard Scripture highly, tradition has won out one more time.
Refutation: The Bible clearly teaches us to worship God and Him alone (Ex. 20:1; John 4:23; and Rev
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. 7:9-12). There is only one mediator between God and man and that is Jesus (1 Tim. 2:5). Mary did unite with Joseph and consummate their marriage with sex after Jesus was born (Matt. 1:25) and the Scripture appears to indicate that Mary did have other children besides Jesus (Matt. 13:55). The Bible (Rom. 3:23) tells us that “all” people have original sin and does not exclude Mary. Finally, no one knows when or where Mary died. There is no early tradition regarding their view of her resurrection, ascension into heaven, or sitting as the Queen of heaven. Certainly, the Bible does not support this. Mary was a very humble woman to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude for her obedience and faith, but Catholicism has idolized her deed and memory.
Apparitions of Mary have been reported down through the ages as a result of Catholicism’s emphasis on her. Some Catholic theologians think that there have been as many as 21,000 claimed sightings of Mary in history and this number is increasing. Just in the past sixty years, there have been over two hundred different sightings reported. In their book The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary, Elliot Miller and Kenneth R. Samples explain how sightings of Mary in places such as Mexico, France, Belgium, and New York, have drawn millions of people.
One of the most recent and on-going sightings began in the early 1980’s at Medjugorje, Yugoslavia. Several young people claim that they have had daily apparitions of the Virgin and over 1,000 messages. As with other apparition sights over the centuries, people are claiming to see miracles. Thousands stare into the sun at Medjugorje claiming that it changes colors, spins, throbs, pulsates and throws off rainbow color. Others see crosses spinning, rosaries turning color, fires on hillsides that don’t scorch, and physical healings.
It seems these same kinds of miracles were also seen at Lourdes, France, in 1958, and again in Fatima, Portugal, in 1917. The Vatican itself does not readily accept all apparitions. Yet, millions of Catholics (and others) rush to these sights to see what the clamor is about. However, Miller and Samples give caution to those who would embrace these sightings/miracles as divine. They point out that these types of miracles could be a lure from Satan.
“It should also be recalled that the signs and wonders allegedly performed at Lourdes and Fatima could have been done by Satan. In fact, when one analyzes many of the alleged miracles that accompany Marian apparitions, they seem to be of a kind different from those found in Scripture. This is true of Biblical miracles as a whole, as well as the miracles of Jesus’ public ministry. When did Jesus ever make the sun dance or crosses spin? All of his miracles were done in the context of ministry (service to human needs for the glory of God.) Biblical miracles had a strong practical aspect. Moreover, when Jesus performed a miracle, all who were present, even those who were against Jesus, did not perceive it by only a few people but. In contrast, many of the miracles associated with Marian apparitions seem dramatic and sensational – attention-getting if you will – the kind of miracles that Jesus consistently refused to perform (Matt. 12:38-39). This is a good reason to at least suspect the source of these miracles.”
Legend says that Mary herself gave the prayer beads to Saint Dominic. They became popular in the tenth century. A person uses the beads to pray both mentally and vocally. “In mental prayer the participant meditates on the major ‘mysteries’ (particular events) of the life, death, and glories of Jesus and (particular events) of the life, death, and glories of both Jesus and Mary. The vocal aspect involves the recitation of 15 ‘decades’ (portions) of the ‘Hail Mary’, which involves contemplating 15 principal virtues that were practiced by Jesus and Mary.”
However, if one were going to use repetitious prayers, it would be wiser to use the prayer that Jesus Himself gave us, “Our Father who are in heaven…” (Mt. 6). But the real problem with the rosary is that millions of Catholics use it to maintain and increase their justification before God. It is a ritual of works for salvation.
This became a required doctrine in 1438 at the Council of Florence. Among Catholics, there are different views of purgatory. However, it is definitely not a place one wants to go. They teach that after death a Christian will most likely be purged of all sins in the hellish fires of purgatory. It is a little less intense than hell itself and does not last forever. It completes the final stages of sanctification for a good Catholic. Length of stay depends on the amount of sins to be purged and the number of indulgences offered on earth by those still living.
There is no scriptural support for this doctrine, and Catholicism must go outside the Canon to their Apocryphas (2 Meccabees 12:46) to find anything related to it. The doctrine violates the atonement work of Christ by teaching that all sins – even those forgiven – must be purged. Also, the fear of death that it places Catholics under is wrong (Heb. 2:9-15).
Did Pope John Paul II experience salvation and go to heaven? I personally hope so, because he did a lot to embrace some great biblical values during his time here on earth. But not even the Pope inherits the kingdom of God because of good works. The reward of heaven is based on one thing, faith, and faith alone.
Galatians 2: 16 Nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified.
When I was a young man, I worked as a teacher for two Catholic high schools. I actually taught some of the religion classes in those schools. Many told me that I was the first Protestant to do so. I found in my experience that some priests, brothers, and nuns (not all) abandoned a path of work’s salvation for a faith salvation, one who repents and let’s Christ do the saving.
If Pope John Paul II did indeed make the same commitment these priests, brothers, and nuns made, then I look forward to seeing him in heaven and asking what he thought of my article. But regardless of whether the Pope is in heaven or not, there is no use praying for him now; he is either there or not. There are no second chances, there is no purgatory.
Most reference material was taken from S.F. Fleming’s book, Gate Breakers. It is an excellent resource. I purchased it through www.christianbook.com