SEVEN REASONS WHY I AM NOT A ROMAN CATHOLIC
By Joseph Mattera
With the election of Pope Francis and his imminent visit to the United States, there is a resurgent interest in the Roman Catholic Church. It is without dispute that the Roman Catholic Church is a major force in the earth with 1.5 billion adherents, its roots in the first century church, it has historically been an amazing bulwark against the secular humanistic tide of liberal social values, and has a vast array of effective institutions such as universities, hospitals, charitable organizations and adoption agencies to name a few.
It also goes without saying that the divisions in the church since the first millennia have weakened the influence of Christianity in the nations. (I wish there was never a split between the Roman and Eastern Church, and then between the Protestant and Roman Catholic Church.) Also, Vatican II made many good and necessary changes that made the Roman Catholic Church more relevant and biblical.
Furthermore, I have worked closely with many Roman Catholic leaders who were just as committed to scripture as I am, and I also know many who have a deep relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
So then, why am I not a Roman Catholic practitioner? (Keep in mind that I was raised a Roman Catholic.)
The following are seven reasons why I am not a Roman Catholic:
1. They have institutional unity without oneness with the Father and Son (John 17:20-23).
No doubt the Roman Catholic Church has a strong understanding of the church (ecclesiology) that outshines most Protestants and Evangelicals. However, their claim to be the one true Catholic (universal) church is undermined by their distinct “Roman” name. As soon as you say “Roman” you demonstrate that it is only one aspect of God’s church and not representative of the whole Body.
Also, just because they have organizational unity and historical continuity does not mean they function in the “oneness” demanded by the prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23. This biblical oneness first and foremost is spiritual and organic because it is supposed to mimic the ontological oneness of Jesus and the Father. Many make the mistake of equating political, programmatic, hierarchical and institutional unity for biblical oneness. You can have this kind of unity without spirituality. The oneness Jesus described implied a spiritual, mystical unity that transcends titles and structures, resulting in spiritual power that causes the world to believe in Jesus.
Although the Protestant Reformation resulted in thousands of denominations, those congregations and individuals that preach the gospel and uphold the Word of God have a commonality that unifies them irrespective of institutional structures.
2. They believe in papal authority over the church universal.
As much as I like the present pope as person, he has no biblical grounds to be the titular head of the church universal. Just a cursory reading of the book of Acts 11-15 shows that the Apostle Peter deferred to James (half-brother of the Lord Jesus) as the apostolic leader of the church. Since the Pope claims apostolic succession from Peter, this biblical narrative undermines the Petrine view of papal authority.
Also, reading church history shows that in the first five centuries of the church, there was never universal acclaim that the bishop of Rome was the bishop over all other bishops. The bishops of Jerusalem, Antioch, Constantinople as well as those from several other cities, all vied for positions of power and did not initially cede their final authority to Rome. Furthermore, one of the primary reasons the Eastern Church separated from Rome approximately 1000 years ago was because they refused to recognize ultimate papal authority.
Consequently, there is no substantive biblical or historical proof that the bishop of Rome was set up by the Apostle Peter (or by God) as the bishop of all other bishops.
3. They practice Mary worship.
While I believe that Mary was the most blessed of all people because she had the privilege of giving birth (as a virgin) to the lord Jesus Christ, to say that she is the greatest human ever born (besides Christ) is unbiblical, because Jesus said that John the Baptist was the greatest human ever born. (Matthew 11:11, since Mary was also born of a woman, John was greater than her.)
The fact that many in the Roman Catholic Church worship Mary is seen in the following popular Roman Catholic song devoted to Mary;
“Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy! Our life, our sweetness and our hope! To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve. To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping, in this valley of tears? Turn, then, most gracious Advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us; and after this our exile show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus. O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.”
While there are various views regarding Mary, the fact that the Roman Catholic Church prays to her to intervene on our behalf in such prayers as the “Hail Mary” and “Rosary”, violates what Jesus taught us in John 14-16 when He taught the church to ask the Father in the Name of Jesus. Furthermore, 2 Timothy 2:5 says that there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Jesus Christ. So to ask Mary or any of the saints to go to the Father on our behalf is against the clear teaching of scripture.
There are supposedly five major dogmas regarding Mariology (the study of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church).
The first one, in the Council of Ephesus is biblical, but the next four dogmas are as unbiblical as you can get! Basically saying that she ascended body and soul into heaven without sin, that she was co-redemptrix with Jesus, that she was born without original sin and that she remained a virgin after the birth of Christ. (Matthew 13:55-56 mentions the names of the other children Mary had with Joseph and Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph knew her not (did not have intercourse) until after the birth of Christ, implying that she did not remain a virgin.)
Romans 6:23 also teaches that all humans have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Mary notwithstanding!
Check out the following five dogmas related to Mary.
“Mother of God, not that the nature of the Word or his divinity received the beginning of its existence from the holy Virgin, but that, since the holy body, animated by a rational soul, which the Word of God united to himself according to the hypostasis, was born from her, the Word is said to be born according to the flesh. Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. Mary, at her conception, was preserved immaculate from Original Sin. ‘Perpetual virginity of Mary’, means that Mary was a virgin before, during and after giving birth.”
Although there are only four Marian dogmas, popular support for a “fifth Marian dogma” which establishes Mary as Co-Redemptrix and Mediatrix appeared in the 20th century both from lay groups and the clergy. According to L’Osservatore Romano, in 1996 the Holy See formed a commission to seek the opinion of scholars regarding the possibility and the opportuneness of establishing a fifth Marian dogma on Mary as Co-Redemptrix, Mediatrix and Advocate. A lay movement called Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici is promoting the doctrine of Mary as Mediatrix and provides petitions that can be signed by Roman Catholics at large and sent to the Pope in support of a formal dogmatic definition.
4. They practice celibacy in the priesthood.
The first command God gave Adam and Eve was to bear fruit and multiply (Genesis 1:28), which means as a married couple they were to have children. 1 Timothy 4:3 says that those who forbid marriage are teaching a doctrine of demons! To force men and women who want to serve God to take vows of poverty and remain celibate opened up a door for many sexual abuse scandals that have rocked the Roman Catholic Church. It is not good that man should be alone and marriage is a sacred sacrament instituted personally by God. I totally disagree with the Roman Catholic Church in this area and cannot support such a doctrine. (Of course, it is cheaper for the Roman Catholic Church to support single men and women then those who get married and have children. So this doctrine may also be driven by economics more than theology.)
5. They equate church traditions and canon law as equal to the writings of the Bible.
The Roman Catholic Church believes that since the church gave scripture, the church has a right to change it. Hence, they place church traditions, which arose out of their various councils and canon law, on equal ground and/or above the Bible. This is why they can and will continue to hold to unbiblical doctrines such as praying for the departed saints, asking the saints in heaven to intercede for them, purgatory, and infant baptism (paedo baptism) to name a few. (Not even Vatican II corrected the error regarding tradition and scripture.)
6. They have allowed a culture of secularism in their seminaries.
By and large, the Roman Catholic Church places natural law as either above or equal to the Bible in regards to epistemology (the process of discovering truth). Consequently, when a person attends a Roman Catholic Church seminary to study for the priesthood, they will probably learn that classical philosophy; anthropology, sociology, psychology, and all the sciences, serve as the primary grid for determining truth while the Bible is used as an ancillary epistemological tool at best.
Furthermore, when they determine that science and the Bible clash, the biblical narrative is regarded as myth and parabolic. It’s no wonder that many priests, nuns and bishops have a liberal higher critical view of the Bible which eventually leads to dumbing down the Bible to fit cultural norms.
7. They violate the spirit of the teachings of Christ as found in Matthew 23.
Generally as we read this amazing discourse of Christ, He compares man-made religion with the true faith. Man-made religion focuses on hierarchical structures, titles, pomp, institutional power, religious attire, and man-made traditions more than inward holiness and relational faith. The Roman Catholic Church generally seems to fit into this framework. Many in these structures have a form of godliness but deny the power (2 Timothy 3: 5).
This is not to say that just because someone has a high church service and wears clerical garb that they are not manifesting true Christianity. However, from my perspective, the Roman Catholic Church is a massive institutional structure that too often emphasizes the ritual over knowing the manifest person and presence of Christ. (Of course, you can also place some Orthodox and Protestant groups in this Matthew 23 category as well.)
All creation yearns for the true manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19), and our world will not be transformed with mere religion and ritual.
In closing, in spite of all of the above, I still hope and pray for a greater working relationship between Roman Catholics and Evangelicals, especially as concerning biblical ethics in culture and freedom of religion (First Amendment issues). As persecution becomes more intense, we will all be forced to work closer together. We probably have more in common than that which divides us. My prayer is also that all expressions of Christianity including Protestant Evangelicalism become more biblical and Christ-like so the world will believe that Jesus was sent by the Father.
Dr. Joseph Mattera has been in full-time ministry since 1980 and is currently the Presiding Bishop of Christ Covenant Coalition and Overseeing Bishop of Resurrection Church in New York, a multiethnic congregation of 40 nationalities that has successfully developed numerous leaders and holistic ministry in the New York region and beyond. This article was first published on his website at: http://josephmattera.org.
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