Articles by Norman L. Geisler

President & CEO of Southern Evangelical Seminary

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Norman L. Geisler
President & CEO of Southern Evangelical Seminary
     Professor of Theology and Apologetics
     B.A., Wheaton College
     Th.B., William Tyndale College
     M.A. Wheaton Graduate School
     Ph.D., Loyola University, Chicago, IL
     Copyright 1994 by the Christian Research Institute
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"What Think Ye of Rome?  An Evangelical Appraisal of
Contemporary Catholicism (Part Two)" (an article from the
Christian Research Journal, Spring 1993, page 32) by Kenneth
R. Samples.
The Editor-in-Chief of the Christian Research Journal is
Elliot Miller.
    Catholicism possesses a foundational orthodoxy reflected
in its affirmation of the crucial doctrines expressed in the
ancient ecumenical creeds. Nevertheless, Protestants detect
serious problems in Catholic theology in that the church
affirms teachings that are extraneous and inconsistent with
its orthodox (Christian) foundation. These doctrinal errors
are of such a serious nature that aspects of orthodoxy are
undermined, thus warranting the Protestant Reformation of
the sixteenth century and the continued separation of
present-day Protestantism from Catholicism. These divergent
views, however, do not warrant classifying Catholicism as a
non-Christian religion or cult. The doctrinal disputes of
the Reformation era remain substantially unchanged today,
extending to: (1) religious authority, (2) the doctrine of
justification, (3) beliefs concerning the Virgin Mary, and
(4) sacramentalism and the Mass. The twentieth century trend
toward religious pluralism has also become a serious
    A prominent evangelical theologian was asked the pointed
question,"What separates Catholics from evangelical
Protestants?" The theologian retorted, "Nothing and
everything!" This response, though paradoxical, is actually
keenly insightful. When one examines the common doctrinal
ground between the two camps, it seems _nothing_ separates
Catholics from evangelicals. When one explores the areas of
difference, however, it seems that virtually _everything_
separates Catholics from evangelicals.
    In Part One of this series we gained some appreciation
and understanding of contemporary Catholicism by exploring
some of its unique sociological features. We also began our
theological appraisal by probing the common areas of
doctrinal agreement between classical Catholicism and
historic Protestantism -- especially those crucial doctrines
succinctly summarized in the ancient ecumenical creeds.
    In the present article we will extend our appraisal of
Catholicism by, first, discussing to what extent evangelical
Protestants consider the Catholic church to be an authentic
Christian church. Second, we will respond to the charge made
primarily by popular fundamentalists that Catholicism is a
completely invalid expression of Christianity, and therefore
a "non-Christian" or "anti-Christian" cult or religion. In
this connection we will also address the common errors in
reasoning and methodology made by those who insist that
Catholicism should be classified as nothing more than an
apostate, non-Christian cult. Third, we will begin our own
critical evaluation of Catholicism by outlining the central
doctrinal issues that sharply separate evangelical
Protestants from Roman Catholics.
    My research convinces me that the majority of
evangelical Protestant theologians and scholars who are
knowledgeable concerning Catholicism would be perplexed to
hear Catholicism classified _simply_ as a "non-Christian
religion" or an "anti-Christian cult."[1] This perplexity
would stem from the fact that no matter how theologically
deviant Catholicism might be -- even if in some respects
apostate -- it certainly does possess a structural or
foundational orthodoxy, reflected in its adherence to the
ancient ecumenical creeds (see Part One).[2] As such, it
should be considered at least provisionally a Christian
church body. Certainly most evangelical Protestant scholars
would also insist that the unfortunate unbiblical elements
found in Catholicism mitigate against, or in some instances
tend to undermine, aspects of that foundational orthodoxy.
    Recognizing and understanding this _tension_ in Catholic
theology of the _right hand giving_ (foundational orthodoxy)
and yet the _left hand taking away_ (affirming teaching that
is inconsistent with that orthodoxy) is, in this writer's
opinion, a key to formulating a sound Protestant evaluation
of Catholicism. Despite this tension, however, most
evangelical scholars believe that the core orthodoxy is
never entirely eclipsed. For example, though very critical
of Catholicism at numerous points, evangelical theologian
John Jefferson Davis of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary
stated that "conservative evangelicals could affirm about 85
percent of what Catholics believe."[3]
    Even the Protestant Reformers[4] themselves clearly
acknowledged that Catholicism as a system affirmed the basic
articles of the historic Christian faith. The Reformers
simply charged that in both belief and practice the medieval
Catholic church compromised its formal adherence to
orthodoxy -- specifically as related to its obscuring and
undermining the gospel message.
    Because the Catholic church would not itself reform, the
Reformation became an unavoidable though tragic necessity.
However, while the Reformers called into question the
Catholic church's right to be called a "true church"
(because it was failing to preach the true gospel), they did
not think it had lost all the qualities of a true church.
For example, they did not require the rebaptizing of those
who had once been baptized as Roman Catholics.[5] In a book
discussing the relationship of heretical doctrine to
historic Christian orthodoxy, theologian Harold O. J. Brown
of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School made this insightful
comment concerning Catholicism:
     The strongest accusation that can be made against Roman
     Catholicism from this perspective is not that it is
     heretical in structure, but that it is heretical in
     effect, in that it effectively undercuts its own formal
     adherence to the major Christological stands of its
     official creeds. In other words, Reformation
     Protestantism acknowledges that Catholicism possesses
     the fundamental articles of the faith, but claims that it
     so overlays them with extraneous and sometimes false
     doctrines that the foundations are no longer accessible
     to the majority of Catholic believers.[6]
    While Catholicism is foundationally or structurally an
orthodox Christian church (affirming the creeds), Reformed
theologian Roger Nicole is nevertheless correct in stating:
"Reformation Protestants believe that much in Catholic
theology tends to undermine and compromise that orthodox
Christian confession -- especially as it relates to the
crucial issue of the gospel message."[7] In agreement with
most evangelical scholars, then, the Christian Research
Institute regards Roman Catholicism as neither a cult
(non-Christian religious system) nor a biblically sound
church, but a historically Christian church which is in
desperate need of biblical reform.[8]
    The compromises in Catholic theology are so serious as
to warrant the sixteenth century Reformation and the
continued separation on the part of present-day
Protestantism. At the same time, however, these compromises
are _not serious enough_ to warrant the extreme
classification of Catholicism as a non-Christian religion or
anti-Christian cult. Some have criticized this position for
not being more definite; however, rarely does one find
simple black and white answers to complex theological
issues. As theologian Desmond Ford has articulately stated:
"Theological truths are seldom pure, and almost never
simple." The task of correctly understanding and evaluating
the long history, intricate doctrine, and diverse practices
of Roman Catholicism is no simple chore.
    Even with the significant areas of doctrinal agreement
between Catholics and Protestants (_see_ Part One), a
notable number of Protestant fundamentalists insist that
Catholicism is an anti-Christian cult. Organizations and
individuals (some of them quite popular) who classify
Catholicism as a cult include: Chick Publications, Alberto
Rivera's Anti-Christ Information Center, Tony Alamo's
Christian Foundation, Bill Jackson's Christians Evangelizing
Catholics, Albert James Dager's _Media Spotlight,_ and Dave
Hunt's _The Berean Call._ (This is not to say that all of
these people belong in the same category -- the latter three
are more respectable than the former three.) Actually this
is just a few of many individuals and organizations that
classify Catholicism as an anti-Christian cult. Because
their position receives a wide hearing in some evangelical
circles, we must address their claim.
*Ten Reasons Why Catholicism Is Not a Cult*
    What those who label Catholicism a cult do not seem to
understand is that even if one considers Catholicism to be
unscriptural and greatly mistaken on many important
doctrinal issues (certainly this writer does), it is simply
misplaced and erroneous -- for a variety of reasons -- to
classify Roman Catholicism as an anti-Christian cult. Let me
give ten reasons why I say this.[9]
    (1) Cults, generally speaking, are small splinter groups
with a fairly recent origin. Most American-based cults, for
example, have to a greater or lesser degree splintered off
from other Christian groups, and emerged in the nineteenth
or twentieth centuries. Catholicism, on the other hand, is
the largest body within Christendom, having almost a
two-thousand-year history (it has historical continuity with
apostolic, first century Christianity), and is the
ecclesiastical tree from which Protestantism originally
    (2) Cults are usually formed, molded, and controlled by
a single individual or small group. The Catholic church, by
contrast, has been molded by an incalculable number of
people throughout its long history. Catholicism is governed
by creeds, councils, and the ongoing magisterium.
    (3) Cults typically exercise rigid control over their
members and demand unquestioning submission, with
disobedience punished by shunning and/or excommunication.
While Catholicism has exercised a triumphalism and an
unhealthy control over its members in times past, this is
far less true today, especially since the Second Vatican
Council. Contemporary Catholicism's broad diversity as
illustrated in Part One of this series certainly proves this
    (4) An appropriate description of a cult is "a religious
group originating as a heretical sect and maintaining
fervent commitment to heresy."[10] Regardless of one's
criticism of Catholicism, even if it _is_ heretical at
certain points, it does not fit this description. It does
not _originate_ in heresy, and, as was mentioned before, it
possesses a structural orthodoxy that other cults simply do
not have (_see_ comparison chart).
    (5) Cults (when defined as heretical sects) are
classified as such because of their outright denial or
rejection of essential Christian doctrine. Historically,
this has principally been a denial of the nature of God (the
Trinity), the nature of the incarnate Christ (divine-human),
and of the absolute necessity of divine grace in salvation
(the Pelagian controversy).[11] While Protestants have
accused Catholicism of having an illegitimate authority and
of confusing the gospel (two serious charges to be examined
later), Catholicism _does_ affirm the Trinity, the two
natures of Christ, and that salvation is ultimately a gift
of God's grace (a rejection of Pelagianism).[12] I challenge
anyone to name a recognized cult that affirms the Trinity or
the full deity and humanity of Jesus Christ (_see_
comparison chart).
    (6) Cults frequently have a low view of the Bible,
replacing or supplementing it with their own so-called
"sacred writings." In fact, cults often argue that the Bible
has been, to some extent, corrupted and therefore their
writings are needed to restore the truth. While
Catholicism's acceptance of noncanonical writings (the
Apocrypha) and placing of apostolic tradition on par with
Scripture are fundamental problems to the Protestant,
Catholics nevertheless retain a high view of the Bible
(inspired and infallible) and see it as their central source
of revelation.
    (7) Cults usually have some kind of authoritarian,
totalistic leader or prophet. While some feel that the pope
fits this category, in reality the pope governs the church
with heavy dependence upon the bishops (college of
cardinals), and within the restrictions of the official
teaching of the church. Protestants clearly disagree with
the authority and exalted titles given the pope, but he
still does not fit the category of a cult leader.
    (8) A frequent characteristic of cults is their emphasis
on a "remnant identity" -- that is, they claim to be God's
exclusive agent or people who restore "authentic
Christianity," which has been corrupted or lost. Usually
this type of restorationism has an accompanying anticreedal
and antihistorical mindset. While Catholicism has at times
been guilty of an unfortunate exclusivity[13] (some
Protestant churches have also), they emphatically deny
restorationism, and strongly emphasize the continuity of
God's church throughout history.
    (9) Those who classify Roman Catholicism as a cult (an
inauthentic and invalid expression of Christianity) usually
also give the Eastern Orthodox church the same
classification. What they do not realize, however, is that
if both of these religious bodies are non-Christian, then
there was no authentic Christian church during most of the
medieval period. Contrary to what some Protestants think,
there was no independent, nondenominational, Bible-believing
church on the corner (or in the caves) during most of the
Middle Ages.[14] Additionally, the schismatic groups who
were around at the time were grossly heretical.[15] So much
for the gates of hell not prevailing against the church
(Matt. 16:18).
    Some try to sidestep this argument by reasoning that as
long as there were even a few individuals who remained
biblically orthodox apart from the institutional or
organized church, then those select individuals constituted
God's authentic church (a remnant) -- thus the church was
never truly overcome. This thinking, though containing an
element of truth, is not completely correct. It is true that
the church has an invisible[16] and local dimension to it,
but it also has a visible and organizational dimension (John
17:21). While the church is primarily a community of
believers, it also functions as an institution through which
believers encounter the ministry of the Word and the
sacraments (baptism and the Lord's Supper). Scripture does
not allow for the sharp distinction between the spiritual
and organizational dimensions of the church that some would
like to draw.[17]
    (10) Even with the serious problems evident in Roman
Catholic theology from a Protestant point of view, Catholic
doctrine overall does not fit the pattern of the recognized
cult groups (_see_ comparison chart). Catholicism affirms
most of what the cults deny and possesses an orthodox
foundation which all cult groups lack.
    In summary, a cult generally emerges as a group that
rejects orthodoxy and remains fervently committed to heresy.
Catholicism's problem, by contrast, is of a different
nature. It affirms teaching which is both extraneous and
inconsistent with its historical affirmation of orthodoxy.
From an evangelical Protestant viewpoint, Catholicism is
definitely "too much" -- but the cults are clearly "not
    Roman Catholicism is _not_ a cult. The classification of
Catholicism as given above is much more accurate and
preferable to the overly simplistic and misguided
classification of Catholicism as a non-Christian cult.
       *A Doctrinal Comparison of Catholicism and the Cults*
     DOCTRINES       RC     JW    LDS     CS    WCG*   TWI    UPC
  + -------------+------+------+------+------+------+------+------+
  |All Theistic  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |Attributes Of |affirm| deny | deny | deny | deny | deny |distor|
  |     God      |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Triune     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Nature     |affirm| deny | deny | deny | deny | deny | deny |
  |   Of God     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  | Personality  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Of The     |affirm| deny |distor| deny | deny | deny |distor|
  | Holy Spirit  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  | Two Natures  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |  Of Christ   |affirm| deny |distor| deny | deny | deny |distor|
  | (God-Human)  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |     The      |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Virgin    |affirm|affirm| deny | deny |affirm|distor|affirm|
  |    Birth     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |Justification |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |     By       |compro| deny | deny | deny | deny |distor|compro|
  |    Faith     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  | Sufficiency  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  | Of Christ's  |compro| deny | deny | deny | deny |distor|distor|
  |  Atonement   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Christ's   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Bodily    |affirm| deny |affirm| deny | deny |compro|affirm|
  | Resurrection |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Eternal    |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |  Conscious   |affirm| deny |distor| deny | deny | deny |affirm|
  |  Punishment  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Literal    |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |  Return Of   |affirm|distor|distor| deny | deny |affirm|affirm|
  |   Christ     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |      An      |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Immortal   |affirm| deny |distor|distor| deny | deny |affirm|
  |     Soul     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  | Infallible/  |affirm|distor| deny | deny |distor|distor|distor|
  |   Inerrant   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Bible     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |  Authority   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Of The    |compro|compro|compro|distor|compro|compro|compro|
  |    Bible     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |  Continuity  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Of The    |affirm| deny | deny | deny | deny | deny | deny |
  |    Church    |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |              |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |Predestination|affirm| deny | deny | deny | deny | deny | deny |
  |              |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |  Salvation   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Outside    |compro| deny |compro|compro|compro|compro|compro|
  | Their Ranks  |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Total     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |              |compro| deny | deny | deny | deny | deny | deny |
  |  Depravity   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Eternal    |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |   Life In    |affirm|distor|distor| deny | deny | deny |affirm|
  |   Heaven     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |Consciousness |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |In The Inter- |affirm| deny |affirm| deny | deny | deny |affirm|
  |mediate State |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |    Final     |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
  |              |affirm|distor|distor| deny |distor|distor|affirm|
  |   Judgment   |      |      |      |      |      |      |      |
*These positions more rightly reflect Armstrongism. The
current Worldwide Church of God seems to have moved somewhat
toward orthodoxy, but has yet to accept the Trinity and
remains in a state of flux.
      *Identifications:*         |      *Definitions:*
 *RC:* Roman Catholicism         | CRI distinguishes between
                                 | teaching that is
 *JW:* Jehovah's Witnesses       | *aberrational* (a serious
                                 | confusion or compromise of
*LDS:* Latter-day Saints         | essential biblical truth) and
                                 | teaching that is *heretical*
 *CS:* Christian Science         | (a continued outright denial
                                 | or rejection of essential
*WCG:* Worldwide Church of God   | biblical truth).
                                 | *affirm:* declare to be true
*TWI:* The Way International     | *deny:* declare to be untrue
                                 | *distort:* (distor) a serious
*UPC:* United Pentecostal Church | change or negative alteration
                                 | *compromise:* (compro) an
                                 | unacceptable blending,
                                 | settlement, or concession
*Rome's Seduction of Evangelical Christianity?*
    There is certainly legitimate room for disagreement
among evangelicals as to just how Catholicism should be
viewed (though, as previously noted, most scholars would
concur in large part with our discussion above). But the
approach to Catholicism taken by some Protestant
fundamentalists is simply unacceptable. This approach not
only condemns Catholicism as a non-Christian religion or
cult, but also suggests that anyone who disagrees with that
condemnation is somehow being seduced by the allegedly
all-powerful Vatican. If one dares defend Catholicism from
the unfair charge of being called a cult, then one is either
knowingly or unknowingly aiding and abetting the enemy, and
betraying the Protestant Reformation.
    While this writer derives no pleasure from singling out
other Christians for criticism, in this case it is both
necessary and appropriate. There are many who take this
unfortunate approach to Catholicism, but one fundamentalist
writer in particular consistently makes very serious
charges: the popular and controversial discernment ministry
author, Dave Hunt. Hunt, in an article entitled "A Cult Is a
Cult," states that Catholicism is "the most seductive,
dangerous and largest cult...."[18] He also states that
major evangelical leaders, apologists, and cult experts are
cooperating with, and therefore being seduced by,
Catholicism as never before.[19]
    Hunt does at points raise some legitimate doctrinal
concerns regarding Catholicism. However, his overall
approach in evaluating and classifying Catholicism is both
logically and theologically flawed. As our previous
discussion demonstrated, Catholicism simply does not fit the
category of a non-Christian cult. Further, Hunt seems
unwilling to take into account the vast areas of doctrinal
agreement between classical Catholicism and historic
Protestantism. While he rightly points to many unbiblical
elements and false teachings within Catholicism (issues
which, by the way, have been pointed out by the very
apologists he criticizes[20]), he fails repeatedly to
identify and draw carefully nuanced theological
distinctions. Instead he erroneously asserts that Catholics
embrace a "different God, a different Jesus Christ...."[21]
Certainly no one has been more critical of the excesses of
Catholic theology than were the Reformers. However, even
they affirmed that Catholicism embraced the triune nature of
God and the two natures of Jesus Christ as expressed in the
creedal statements of Nicaea, Constantinople, and Chalcedon.
    What is worse than Hunt's assertion that Catholicism is
a cult is his insistence that anyone who arrives at a
different position is simply deceived -- and thus at risk of
compromising their gospel witness. Consequently, Hunt
impugns the character of all of those individuals and
ministries simply because they disagree with his theological
assessment of Catholicism.[22]
    The fact is that all of the cult experts and apologists
Hunt has criticized have very strong criticisms of
Catholicism at numerous points (this writer knows most of
them personally). They simply do not classify the Catholic
church as a non-Christian cult. They are not being seduced,
nor are they compromising -- they merely disagree with many
of Hunt's conclusions! Cannot evangelicals have honest areas
of disagreement without being labeled compromisers?
    The last of Hunt's charges which should be addressed is
his claim that "to deny that Roman Catholicism is a cult is
to repudiate the Reformation and mock the more than 1
million martyrs who died at Rome's hands as though they gave
their lives for no good reason!"[23] I find this charge to
be personally unsettling. As a Reformed (Calvinist)
Christian and apologist, I have great admiration for the
sixteenth century Reformers. In fact, as a conservative
Presbyterian, I adhere to the Westminster Confession of
Faith (a Reformed confession of 1647). However, while I am
not willing to repudiate the Reformation, neither am I
willing to classify Catholicism as a non-Christian cult
(though I remain staunchly critical of Catholic theology
    Let us examine Hunt's reasoning on this point. His
argument seems to follow this pattern: Either one classifies
Catholicism as a non-Christian cult, or one is guilty of
repudiating the Protestant Reformation. As a Protestant, one
could not possibly want to repudiate the Reformation.
Catholicism must therefore be classified as a cult. This
argument is a classic example of the informal logical
fallacy known as the "false bifurcation" (also known as the
"black-and-white," "either-or," or "false alternatives")
    The error in Hunt's reasoning is twofold. First, he
assumes _too few_ alternatives. There are other possible
alternative classifications for Catholicism that would not
repudiate the Reformation, including other critical
classifications such as the one we discussed earlier. By
erroneously reducing the number of alternatives, he has
oversimplified the problem and is clearly thinking in
extremes. Second he assumes (illegitimately) that one of his
jointly exhaustive alternatives must be true (ergo --
Catholicism is a cult). Hunt's disjunctive (either-or)
premise is false, and his argument is unsound.
    While some individuals unfortunately exaggerate the
theological faults of Catholicism, there remain in reality
some central doctrinal differences between Roman Catholics
and evangelical Protestants. It is to these areas of
difference that we now turn.
    There are many areas of difference between Catholicism
and evangelical Protestantism.[25] These areas extend to
both doctrines and practices, and range from very minor
differences to those that can only be considered major
points of contention. The following is just a brief list of
the most consequential doctrinal differences between the two
groups.[26] These are areas in which Catholicism generally
differs with virtually all of the specific denominations
within evangelical Protestantism. These areas obviously
overlap and have significant implications for further areas
of theology and religious practice. We will briefly note the
general concerns expressed by Protestants.
    The question of authority is an area of central dispute
between Catholics and Protestants. The Reformers referred to
it as the _formal cause_ of the Reformation. Catholics
affirm a triad of authority: Scripture, apostolic tradition,
and the teaching office of the church (magisterium).
Implications of this authority system include: the Petrine
doctrine (primacy of Peter), apostolic succession, papal
supremacy and infallibility, and, as it relates to
Scripture, the acceptance of the Apocrypha.
    Protestants, by contrast, reject the Catholic system in
favor of the Reformation principle of _sola Scriptura_
(Scripture alone as the primary and absolute norm of
doctrine). _Sola Scriptura_ implies the authority, clarity,
and sufficiency of Scripture, and uniquely gives Scripture
alone the role of final arbiter in all matters of faith and
    Evangelicals charge the Catholic church with affirming
an illegitimate authority system and express great concern
about Catholicism's decision to: (1) place human traditions
on par with God's written Word, (2) grant infallibility to
the church (magisterium), (3) subordinate the individual
believer's interpretation of Scripture to the magisterium,
(4) affirm the primacy and infallibility of the pope, and
(5) introduce noncanonical books into the canon (the
Apocrypha). Evangelicals believe that Catholicism's
misguided authority structure has allowed numerous
unbiblical teachings to arise in the church.
    We will return for a more thorough discussion of this
crucial issue of authority in Part Three of this series.
    Also of central dispute between evangelicals and
Catholics is the crucial soteriological doctrine of
justification. The Reformers referred to this doctrine as
the _material cause_ of the Reformation. Although we can
only summarize the views here, we will also return to this
issue in Parts Three and Four.
    Theologian and Reformation scholar Peter Toon summarizes
the main features of the official Roman doctrine of
         1. Justification is both an event and a process. An
     unrighteous man becomes a righteous man. Becoming a child
     of God in baptism and having the remission of sins, the
     Christian is made righteous. (If during this process he
     should lose faith or fall away, he may be restored
     through the sacrament of penance.)
         2. Justification occurs because of the "infusion" of
     the grace of God into the soul, whereby inherent
     righteousness becomes one of the soul's characteristics.
         3. This imparted, "infused" righteousness is
     described as the "formal cause" of justification. The
     "meritorious cause" is Christ's passion and death.
         4. The believer will only know for certain that he is
     justified at the end of the process. In the meantime, his
     constant duty is to co-operate with the grace of God
     given to him.[28]
    Oxford theologian and internationally recognized
authority on the Reformation doctrine of justification by
faith, Alister McGrath, summarizes the Reformation
Protestant position on justification:
         1. Justification is the forensic [i.e., legal]
     declaration that the Christian is righteous, rather than
     the process by which he or she is made righteous. It
     involves a change in status rather than in nature.
         2. A deliberate and systematic distinction is made
     between justification (the external act by which God
     declares the believer to be righteous) and sanctification
     or regeneration (the internal process of renewal by the
     Holy Spirit).
         3. Justifying righteousness is the alien
     righteousness of Christ, imputed to the believer and
     external to him, not a righteousness that is inherent
     within him, located within him, or in any way belonging
     to him.
         4. Justification takes place per fidem propter
     Christum [by faith on account of Christ], with faith
     being understood as the God-given means of justification
     and the merits of Christ the God-given foundation of
    While the Protestant Reformers were essentially unified
in their understanding of justification, modern-day
evangelicalism is much less so.[30] Nevertheless, today's
Reformation Protestants have consistently criticized the
Catholic position for: (1) failing to recognize that
justification is solely a judicial act of God that changes
our status but not our state; (2) not making the necessary
distinction between justification (being _declared_
righteous) and sanctification (being _made_ righteous); (3)
interpreting justifying righteousness as infused and
intrinsic, rather than imputed and extrinsic; (4) failing to
see that assurance is a necessary byproduct of being
justified; and (5) making justification a synergistic (man
cooperating with God) process rather than a monergistic (God
working alone) act.
    Because Reformation Protestants see the doctrine of
justification by faith as the very heart of the gospel, this
dispute takes on extreme significance. While it is important
to understand the nuanced doctrinal points described above,
the issue of how one is justified before God is more than
just an academic theological debate. Reformation Protestants
believe that to confuse or compromise the doctrine of
justification is to run the dangerous risk of obscuring the
very gospel of Christ. Following the Reformers, today's
Reformation Protestants believe that the Catholic church's
soteriological system has actually placed obstacles in the
way of Catholics entering in to an authentically saving
relationship with Jesus Christ.
    It might rightly be said that evangelicals have a
tendency to ignore Jesus' mother Mary. Catholics, on the
other hand, greatly exalt her. Such dogmas as the Immaculate
Conception and bodily Assumption, coupled with such titles
as "Queen of Heaven," "Queen of all Saints," and the
"Immaculate Spouse of the Holy Spirit," make Mary in the
minds of Catholics the most exalted of all God's creatures.
    While Catholics propose Mary as a point of unity with
other Christians, most evangelicals see Mariology as a
formidable barrier between themselves and Catholics. Even
evangelicals who are for the most part sympathetic to
Catholicism generally view this element of Catholic belief
as grossly unbiblical. One evangelical commission on
evaluating Catholic Mariology stated: "We as evangelical
Christians are deeply offended by Rome's Marian dogmas
because they cast a shadow upon the sufficiency of the
intercession of Jesus Christ, lack all support from
Scripture and detract from the worship which Christ alone
deserves."[31] Although the documents of Vatican II inform
us that Mary's exalted role "neither take away from nor add
anything to the dignity and efficacy of Christ the one
Mediator,"[32] most evangelicals believe Catholic Mariology
actually undermines the foundation of orthodox Catholic
*Sacramentalism and the Mass*
    Sacramentalism is a central and vital component within
Catholic theology. For Catholics, sacraments are "effective
signs" of grace instituted by Christ. Catholicism's seven
sacraments (baptism, confirmation, Eucharist, penance,
extreme unction[last rites], holy orders[ordination into the
priesthood], and matrimony) both signify grace and cause it
to happen _ex opere operato_ ("they work by their own
    While various evangelical denominations differ in their
acceptance and approach to sacraments (or ordinances),
generally speaking evangelicals differ with the Catholic
view in number, nature, and operation of the sacraments. The
Eucharist and the sacrificial nature of the mass in
particular engender great dispute between Catholics and
evangelicals. Both of these areas of concern have direct
Christological implications.
*Religious Pluralism*
    From the time of Cyprian until modern times, the
Catholic church has affirmed the slogan _extra ecclesiam
nulla salus_ (no salvation outside the [visible body of the
one institutional] church). Vatican II affirms, however,
that salvation is "not only for Christians, but for all men
of good will in whose hearts grace works in an unseen
way."[33] These statements of Vatican II clearly opened the
door for German theologian Karl Rahner's "anonymous
Christianity" -- the belief in the possibility of salvation
without explicit Christian faith, even through non-Christian
    While Catholic theology assures us that all the redeemed
are ultimately saved through Christ alone, evangelicals are
greatly concerned that these pluralistic trends greatly
detract from the uniqueness of Christianity and open the
Pandora's box of universalism. In light of this pluralism,
is there any necessary reason to consider becoming Catholic,
or even Christian?
    In Part Three of this series we will examine the issues
of authority and justification in more detail.
 1 I have personally interviewed many of Protestant
   evangelicalism's finest theologians (Reformed, Lutheran,
   Baptist, Episcopal, Evangelical Free, Dispensational, etc.),
   virtually all of whom thought the classification of Catholicism
   as a non-Christian religion or cult was misguided and
   inaccurate. Most were extremely critical of Catholicism at
   numerous points, but still rejected the above classification.
 2 Orthodoxy refers to the body of essential biblical teachings,
   especially (but not completely) reflected in the ancient
   ecumenical creeds. The doctrines summarized in the creeds are
   the foundation of Christian orthodoxy. _See_ Robert M. Bowman,
   Jr., _Orthodoxy and Heresy_ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House,
   1992), 116.
 3 Dr. Davis expressed this to me during a private interview
   regarding Catholicism.
 4 When I speak of the Reformers, in this context I am speaking of
   the magisterial or classical Reformers, including Martin Luther,
   John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli, and John Knox. I am specifically
   excluding those who would be part of the radical reformation.
 5 _See_ John M. Frame, _Evangelical Reunion_ (Grand Rapids: Baker
   Book House, 1991), 37. If the Catholic church were a completely
   false church, then its sacraments would be completely invalid.
 6 Harold O. J. Brown, _Heresies_ (Garden City, NY: Doubleday &
   Company, 1984), 310.
 7 Dr. Nicole expressed this to me during a private interview
   regarding Catholicism.
 8 Some people have charged that this view of Catholicism does not
   reflect the view held by CRI's founder Walter R. Martin. This is
   a false charge. This writer has been CRI's specialist on Roman
   Catholicism for the past seven years, and I came to embrace this
   view, at least in part, from interacting with Martin himself.
 9 Peter Kreeft offers five good reasons why Catholicism is not a
   cult. All five, to some extent, are included in my list. ("The
   Catholic Market," _Bookstore Journal,_ February 1992, 28.)
10 Bowman, 115.
11 The primary doctrinal controversies of early church history
   centered on these three issues, as is reflected in the creeds.
   Pelagianism was a heresy that originated in the late fourth
   century stressing man's ability to take the initial steps toward
   salvation, apart from the special intervening grace of God.
   _See_ Walter A. Elwell, ed., _Evangelical Dictionary of
   Theology_ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984), s.v.
   "Pelagius, Pelagianism," 833-34.
12 Council of Trent (Canons on Justification no. 1): "If anyone
   saith that man may be justified before God by his own works,
   whether done through the teaching of human nature or that of the
   law, without the grace of God through Jesus Christ let him be
   anathema." _Dogmatic Canons and Decrees_ (Rockford, IL: Tan
   Books and Publishers, 1977), 49. Some Reformation Protestants
   have nonetheless accused Catholicism of affirming
   semi-Pelagianism; _see_ Robert C. Walton, _Chronological and
   Background Charts of Church History_ (Grand Rapids: Zondervan
   Publishing House, 1986), s.v. "The Pelagian Controversy," 17.
13 Statements from the Second Vatican Council concerning ecumenism
   reflect a new approach taken by Catholicism toward other
   churches (Decree on Ecumenism, no. 3). _See_ Walter M. Abbott,
   gen. ed., _The Documents of Vatican II,_ trans. Joseph Gallagher
   (New York: The American Press, 1966), 345-46.
14 _See_ Jaroslav Pelikan, _The Christian Tradition,_ vols. 1 and
   3 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1971).
15 _See_ Walton, s.v. "Medieval Dissenters and Heretical Groups,"
16 The "invisible church" consists of all truly regenerate
   believers (i.e., the elect) throughout history. The "visible
   church" consists of all persons (true believers and merely
   professing believers alike) in the current church on earth.
17 Frame, 28.
18 Dave Hunt, "A Cult Is a Cult," _CIB Bulletin,_ June 1991, 1.
19 _Ibid._ Hunt indicts numerous ministries for their compromising
   cooperation with Rome, including: Campus Crusade for Christ,
   InterVarsity, Youth with a Mission, Billy Graham Evangelistic
   Association, and Chuck Colson's Prison Fellowship. In the wake
   of this seduction, however, Hunt asserts that "most cult experts
   refuse to identify this horrendous cult as such! Instead they
   accept it as 'Christian.'" These cult experts and apologists
   include the late Walter Martin, Hank Hanegraaff, Norman Geisler,
   Josh McDowell, Don Stewart, Bob and Gretchen Passantino, and
   James Sire.
20 The Christian Research Institute has published numerous works
   which have been very critical of certain areas of Catholic
   theology. _See,_ for example, Elliot Miller and Kenneth R.
   Samples, _The Cult of the Virgin_ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book
   House, 1992). Simply because we do not classify Catholicism as
   a cult does not mean that we give Catholicism a clean bill of
   theological health, or that we are not uncompromisingly critical
   of Catholicism at numerous points. In fact, one Catholic
   apologetics organization accuses CRI of being anti-Catholic.
   While the accusation is false (CRI is not anti-Catholic in
   emphasis, but pro-Protestant), it serves to illustrate that CRI
   is consistently critical of the excesses of Catholic theology.
21 Dave Hunt, _Global Peace_ (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers,
   1990), 141.
22 When discussing why evangelical apologists do not list
   Catholicism as a cult, Hunt stated: "The current deafening
   silence concerning the Catholic Church may have less to do with
   one's courage than with the practical concern that to oppose
   Rome severely limits one's audience" (_Ibid_). Likewise, the
   Research and Education Foundation affirms that "it is to be
   feared that the desire to get money out of millions of Catholics
   is stronger than the desire to defend the truth by exposing
   error wherever it is found." (Larry Wessels, "Lack of
   Discernment among Apologetic Ministries?" _The Researcher,_
   Jan.-Feb. 1993,3.) This is an unconscionable ad hominem -- and
   patently false. The anti-Catholic approach seems to sell quite
   well within fundamentalism -- just ask Jack Chick.
23 Hunt, "A Cult Is a Cult," 1.
24 _See_ T. Edward Damer, _Attacking Faulty Reasoning,_ 2d ed.
   (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1987), 56.
25 Certain differences can be attributed to the vast diversity
   found within evangelical Protestantism. Some Protestant
   denominations will have many more areas of agreement with
   Catholicism than others (e.g., liturgical and sacramental
   Protestant churches).
26 For an excellent overall evaluation of Catholicism from an
   evangelical perspective, _see_ "An Evangelical Perspective on
   Roman Catholicism I and II," _Evangelical Review of Theology_ 10
   (1986): 342-64, and 11 (1987): 78-94; and Tony Lane,
   "Evangelicalism and Roman Catholicism," _Evangelical Quarterly_
   61, 4 (1989): 351-64.
27 Richard A. Muller, _Dictionary of Latin and Greek Theological
   Terms_ (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1985), s.v. "Sola
   Scriptura," 284.
28 Peter Toon, _Protestants and Catholics_ (Ann Arbor: Servant
   Books, 1983), 87-88.
29 Alister McGrath, _Justification by Faith_ (Grand Rapids:
   Zondervan Publishing House, 1988), 61.
30 The Reformed and Arminian theological traditions have important
   differences in their formulation of this doctrine. In a similar
   way, current Dispensational theologians are sharply divided
   concerning the so-called "lordship salvation" controversy.
31 "An Evangelical Perspective on Roman Catholicism I," 356-57.
32 "Dogmatic Constitution on the Church," chapter 8, _see_ Abbott,
33 As cited in Lane, 353.
Samples is currently serving as director of the Augustine
Fellowship Study Center at Post Office Box 23, Hemet, CA
92543; (909) 654-1429.
End of document, CRJ0096A.TXT (original CRI file name),
"What Think Ye of Rome?  An Evangelical Appraisal of
Contemporary Catholicism (Part Two)" release A, May 15, 1994
R. Poll, CRI
(A special note of thanks to Bob and Pat Hunter for their
help in the preparation of this ASCII file for BBS
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