Archive for the ‘Roman Catholicism’ Category

Neither the Bible nor Christian Church History support Restorationist Great Apostasy claims

The interior of St. Thomas Syro-Malabar Church, in Palayur, India. This East Indian church building has serviced Christian worshipers continuously since, it is claimed, it was established in 52AD by Christ’s Apostle Thomas.

by Fred W. Anson

Introduction
Mormonism is fueled by faith-promoting stories. No one said this better than Mormon Apostle, Bruce R. McConkie, “We have in the Church an untapped, almost unknown, treasury of inspiring and faith-promoting stories. They are the best of their kind and there are thousands of them.” (“The How and Why of Faith-promoting Stories”, New Era magazine, July 1978). Unfortunately, some of them, as another Mormon Apostle said well, only provide “…a kind of theological Twinkie—spiritually empty calories?” (Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Teacher Come from God”, Spring General Conference 1998). This series exposes the following ten “Twinkies”…

10 Myths That Mormonism Tells About Biblical Christianity

  1. Biblical Christianity apostatized.
  2. The Bible has been corrupted.
  3. Biblical Christians believe in cheap grace.
  4. Biblical Christians believe Christ prayed to Himself.
  5. The Biblical Christian God is a monster who sends good people to hell just because they never had a chance to hear the gospel.
  6. Biblical Christians worship the cross and the Bible.
  7. Biblical Christians have no priesthood.
  8. Biblical Christian Pastors and Apologists practice Priestcraft – they’re only in it for the money.
  9. Biblical Christians hate Mormons.
  10. Biblical Christianity is divided into 10,000+ sects, all believing in different paths to salvation.

… and replaces them with nourishing truth. Let’s talk about the one that’s bolded, shall we?

The Myth
No one said it better than Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith:

“Nothing less than a complete apostasy from the Christian religion would warrant the establishment of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints”
— Joseph Smith, Jr.
(quoted in B.H. Roberts, “History of the Church” 1:XL)

And modern Latter-day Saint scholars have echoed Joseph Smith’s words nearly word-for-word:

“It is the apostasy of early Christianity which creates the very need for the [Mormon] faith. If there had not been an apostasy, there would have been no need for a restoration.”
— Kent P. Jackson, Mormon Scholar and BYU Professor
(“‘Watch and Remember’: The New Testament and the Great Apostasy,” in “By Study and Faith: Essays in Honor of Hugh Nibley on the Occasion of His 80th Birthday”, ed. J. M. Lundquist and S. D. Ricks (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1990), p.81)  

The interior of St. Thomas Kottakavu Church in Kochi, India. This is another East Indian church that was founded by the Apostle Thomas and has been in continuous use since.

Why It’s a Myth
I actually agree with misters Smith and Jackson, they are 100% correct on every point here. The problem is that when Restorationist Great Apostasy claims1 are scrutinized against objective Christian Church history no complete apostasy ever took place. As the Early Church Father Irenaeus explained in 180 AD:

“It is possible, then, for everyone to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the apostles which has been made known throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the apostles and their successors [down] to our own times; men who neither taught anything like these heretics rave about.”
(Against Heresies Book III, ch.3, p.1)

As one Roman Catholic2 author writes,

“The Mormon Church simply has no convincing answer to the ocean of the biblical and historical evidence of which this is just a drop. All of it contradicts the complete apostasy theory. Yet there’s another problem with the theory: the problem of silence. There’s no evidence of any outcry from the first or second-century “Mormons” denouncing the introduction of “Catholic heresies.”

Mormons might respond that, since Catholics gained the upper hand in the struggle for control of the true Church, they simply expunged any trace of the Mormons—a comforting but inviable argument. We have records of many controversies that raged in the early days of the Church (we know in great detail what turmoil the early Church passed through as it fought off various threats to its existence), and there just is no evidence—none at all—that Mormonism existed prior to the 1830s.

It’s unreasonable to assume the Catholic Church would allow the survival of copious records chronicling the history, teachings, and proponents of dozens of other heresies, but would entirely destroy only the records of early Mormonism.

If Mormons want their claim of a complete apostasy as to be taken seriously, they must evince biblical and historical evidence supporting it. So far they’ve come up empty-handed. Honest investigators will see the unavoidable truth: The Mormon “great apostasy” doctrine is a myth. There never has been—nor will there ever be—a complete apostasy. Jesus Christ promised that his Church, established on the solid rock of Peter, will remain forever. We have his Word on it.”
(Patrick Madrid, “In Search of ‘The Great Apostasy’”, EWTN website)

Both Roman Catholics and Protestants affirm that the Christian Church has always, regardless of which side of the Reformation one is on, that true Christianity has always been beholden to the Bible and the teachings of the Apostles as their plumb line and standard for life and faith. From Jesus Christ until today this has been the case. And we haven’t even brought in the Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodox, and other non-Western Christian traditions that are in complete agreement with us despite being untouched by either Roman Catholicism or Protestantism.

In short, while Christian Church shows Christianity has gone, and will no doubt, continue to go through cycles of error and even corruption, reform has always followed in its wake. However, there has never, I repeat never, been a period of time in which “the common salvation… the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (see Jude 1:3 KJV) was ever missing from the planet or that a complete apostasy from the original Apostolic Christian faith established by Christ Himself existed as Mormonism claims. As our Roman Catholic source said so well, “The Mormon ‘great apostasy’ doctrine is a myth.”

How It’s a Myth
A further problem is that the proof texts used by the LdS Church to support Great Apostasy claims fall short of a complete, universal, apostasy themselves. I am specifically referring to passages like these:3

“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.”
— 1 Timothy 4:1-3 KJV

“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away. For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts, ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
— 2 Timothy 3:1-7 KJV

“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 KJV

But as Latter-day Scholar and BYU Professor, Charles Harell has noted well:

“On careful examination, none of the New Testament passages referring to heresies within the church or persecution from without seems to predict a wholesale departure from the faith; all seem to assume that there would be faithful saints who remain on the earth until Christ comes”
(Charles R. Harrell, “This is my Doctrine’: The Development of Mormon Theology,” p. 34)

 To validate, Professor Harrell’s point, consider how in each of these passages it’s not just assumed but explicitly states that apostasy would only touch some members of the Christian faith not all (“some shall depart from the faith”; “this sort are they”; “Let no man deceive you by any means”). Furthermore, consider the biblical passages that Restorationists conveniently ignore when they are cherry-picking the bible to support their Great Apostasy case:4

“I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
— Matthew 16:18b KJV

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”
Hebrews 12:28-29 KJV

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have  commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
—  Matthew 28:18-20 KJV

Could Christ have been any clearer: The Church that He was establishing could not be shaken nor would the gates of hell prevail against it. Why? Answer: Because He would be with us always to the end of the age. Therefore, to suggest that there was a complete, universal apostasy as Mormon leaders have in light of the words of Jesus is to suggest that He was lying in the above passages, isn’t it?

Coptic Christians worship at The Monastery of Saint Simon (also known as the Cave Church) located in the Mokattam Mountain in southeastern Cairo, Egypt. The Coptic Egyptian Church is traditionally believed to be founded by St Mark around AD 42.

 Why It Matters
In reality, the only way that Mormon Great Apostasy dogma works is if one first makes modern Mormonism the standard for what constitutes, “True Christianity” and then compares everything else against it. And guess what, using that confirmation bias driven, “come to the conclusion first and then bend the facts to fit it” methodology everything really is apostate, it would be amazing if it weren’t so blatantly fallacious, wouldn’t it? And in fact, this isn’t the way that all Restorationist churches claim that all other churches but theirs are apostate?

However, when one uses both the Bible and Christian Church History as the objective standard then this methodology fails because Mormonism (past or present) simply can’t be found anywhere in the body of historical evidence that we have for the primitive Christian church. This is just as I noted in another article:

“The hard fact of the matter is this: No trace of the unique distinctives that Mormonism declares as “restored” can be found in Church History prior to the advent of Joseph Smith. Further, those distinctives contradict what we find in recorded Early Church History up to and including the Didache.”
(Fred W. Anson, “The Didache v. Mormonism”, Beggar’s Bread website, July 5, 2020)

Thus ironically, the very type of apostasy that Latter-day Saints accuse others of is exactly what they have fallen into, just as some of their favorite proof-texts for their claimed Great Apostasy state:

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.”
— Acts 20:29-30 KJV

“That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition.”
— 2 Thessalonians 2:2-3 KJV

Summary and Conclusion
Simply stated Christian Church History doesn’t support Restorationist Great Apostasy claims. Plainly stated, the LdS Church doesn’t just lie about its own history, it lies about the history of other churches as well. There never was the type of complete, universal apostasy of the Christian Church that Restorationism teaches, and if the words of Christ are true, there never will be.5

“I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” (Jesus Christ, Matthew 16:18b KJV) [photo: A National Geographic photo of the Darvaza “Gates of Hell” gas crater]

ENDNOTES
1 I’m using the term “Restorationist” rather than Latter-day Saint throughout this article because this Great Apostasy dogma didn’t originate with Joseph Smith, it was already in place thanks to the Stone-Campbell restorationist movement which congealed during the Cane Ridge Revival in 1801 at Cane Ridge Kentucky. Joseph simply “borrowed” a doctrine that had already been in place before he was even born on December 23, 1805, as the neutral source, Wikipedia, explains:

“The ideal of restoring a “primitive” form of Christianity grew in popularity in the US after the American Revolution. This desire to restore a purer form of Christianity played a role in the development of many groups during this period, known as the Second Great Awakening. These included the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Baptists and Shakers.

The Restoration Movement began during, and was greatly influenced by, this second Awakening. While the Campbells resisted what they saw as the spiritual manipulation of the camp meetings, the Southern phase of the Awakening “was an important matrix of Barton Stone’s reform movement” and shaped the evangelistic techniques used by both Stone and the Campbells.

James O’Kelly was an early advocate of seeking unity through a return to New Testament Christianity.  In 1792, dissatisfied with the role of bishops in the Methodist Episcopal Church, he separated from that body. O’Kelly’s movement, centering in Virginia and North Carolina, was originally called Republican Methodists. In 1794 they adopted the name Christian Church.

During the same period, Elias Smith of Vermont and Abner Jones of New Hampshire led a movement espousing views similar to those of O’Kelly. They believed that members could, by looking to scripture alone, simply be Christians without being bound to human traditions and the denominations brought by immigrants from Europe.”
(“Restoration Movement”, Wikipedia)

And for those of you unfamiliar with the Cane Ridge Revival, here’s a primer  from Wikipedia:

“The Cane Ridge Revival was a large camp meeting that was held in Cane Ridge, Kentucky, from August 6 to August 12 or 13, 1801. It has been described as the “[l]argest and most famous camp meeting of the Second Great Awakening.” This camp meeting was arguably the pioneering event in the history of frontier camp meetings in America.”
(“Cane Ridge Revival”, Wikipedia)

Finally, for those who would like to do a deep dive into the American Restorationist Movement that was already in place prior to the advent of Joseph Smith and Mormonism, I would recommend Church History magazine, Issue 106, “The Stone-Campbell Movement”. The reader can read this issue online and/or download an Adobe Acrobat edition of this issue by clicking here.

Meanwhile in the Membership Class of another non-LDS Restorationist group down the street from the Mormon Chapel…

2 Yes, you read that right, to drive my point home I, a Protestant, and a Reformed Protestant at that, am citing from the very folks that Latter-day Saint love to hate the most, that great “Church of the Devil” (at least according to Mormon, Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, that is): The Roman Catholic Church. Here are Mr. Madrid’s Roman Catholic credentials:

“Patrick Madrid has been a Catholic apologist since 1987. He hosts The Patrick Madrid Show on Relevant Radio weekdays 9-noon ET, discussing current events, modern culture, apologetics, and a variety of “God topics.” Madrid does not have guests or conduct interviews on his show, but instead, engages listeners with personal commentary and interacts extensively with callers. He has conducted thousands of apologetics seminars in English and Spanish at parishes, conferences, and universities across the United States, as well as throughout Europe, Canada, in Latin America, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. Since 1990, he has been a regular presenter at the Franciscan University of Steubenville’s “Defending the Faith” summer apologetics conferences[4] and has been a guest lecturer in theology at Christendom College in their “Major Speakers” program. Madrid has engaged in at least a dozen formal public debates with Protestant, Mormon, and other non-Catholic spokesmen.”
(“Patrick Madrid”, Wikipedia) 

3 For the sake of brevity, these Latter-day Saint Great Apostasy proof texts are just a sampling. For a comprehensive roster of proof texts, I would refer the reader to Mormon Research Ministry’s excellent online compilation here: https://www.mrm.org/great-apostasy

4 Again, for the sake of brevity, these proof texts refuting Great Apostasy teachings are just a sample. For a comprehensive roster of yet more refuting proof texts along with some superb analysis of both the LdS proof texts and the texts that refute them, I would refer the reader to Mormon Research Ministry’s excellent online compilation here: https://www.mrm.org/great-apostasy

5 One need go no further than how LdS Church leaders lie about what happened at the first Council of Nicea in 325AD to see this:

“The collision between the speculative world of Greek philosophy and the simple, literal faith and practice of the earliest Christians produced sharp contentions that threatened to widen political divisions in the fragmenting Roman empire. This led Emperor Constantine to convene the first churchwide council in a.d. 325. The action of this council of Nicaea remains the most important single event after the death of the Apostles in formulating the modern Christian concept of deity. The Nicene Creed erased the idea of the separate being of Father and Son by defining God the Son as being of “one substance with the Father.”

Other councils followed, and from their decisions and the writings of churchmen and philosophers there came a synthesis of Greek philosophy and Christian doctrine in which the orthodox Christians of that day lost the fulness of truth about the nature of God and the Godhead. The consequences persist in the various creeds of Christianity, which declare a Godhead of only one being and which describe that single being or God as “incomprehensible” and “without body, parts, or passions.” One of the distinguishing features of the doctrine of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is its rejection of all of these postbiblical creeds (see Stephen E. Robinson, Are Mormons Christians? Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1991; Encyclopedia of Mormonism, ed. Daniel H. Ludlow, 4 vols., New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992, s.v. “Apostasy,” “doctrine,” “God the Father,” and “Godhead”).

In the process of what we call the Apostasy, the tangible, personal God described in the Old and New Testaments was replaced by the abstract, incomprehensible deity defined by compromise with the speculative principles of Greek philosophy. The received language of the Bible remained, but the so-called “hidden meanings” of scriptural words were now explained in the vocabulary of a philosophy alien to their origins. In the language of that philosophy, God the Father ceased to be a Father in any but an allegorical sense. He ceased to exist as a comprehensible and compassionate being. And the separate identity of his Only Begotten Son was swallowed up in a philosophical abstraction that attempted to define a common substance and an incomprehensible relationship.”
(Dallin H. Oaks, “Apostasy and Restoration”)

Now, since, the LdS Church has repeatedly and consistently taught that Apostasy came out of the 325AD Council of Nicea via the corrupting influence of the Doctrine of the Trinity, then consider this:

In addition, if Christ’s Church turned away from what the LdS Church teaches about God at Nicaea, then why there was no denunciation or defense of the following Mormon doctrines at the Council of Nicaea:

  • God was once a man.
  • God is now an exalted, deified man.
  • Jesus Christ is the spiritual son of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
  • Jesus Christ, Lucifer, and all other human beings are the spiritual children of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
  • The Godhead consists of three gods – in other words, “God” is Tri-Theistic, not Monotheistic.
  • Heavenly Father had intercourse with Mary in order to produce the incarnated Jesus.

These issues were simply never discussed at all. The one and one theological issue, according to the author, John Anthony McGuckin, in his article: “The Road to Nicaea” (see Church History magazine, Issue 85, “Council of Nicaea: Debating Jesus’ Divinity”) was how Jesus Christ could be both divine and human. That was it. Period.

Even the agnostic, skeptic Bart Ehrman validates all this in his writing:

“Constantine did call the Council of Nicea, and one of the issues involved Jesus’ divinity. But this was not a council that met to decide whether or not Jesus was divine…. Quite the contrary: everyone at the Council—in fact, just about every Christian everywhere—already agreed that Jesus was divine, the Son of God. The question being debated was how to understand Jesus’ divinity in light of the circumstance that he was also human. Moreover, how could both Jesus and God be God if there is only one God? Those were the issues that were addressed at Nicea, not whether or not Jesus was divine. And there certainly was no vote to determine Jesus’ divinity: this was already a matter of common knowledge among Christians, and had been from the early years of the religion.”
(Bart Ehrman, “Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code: A Historian Reveals What We Really Know About Jesus, Mary Magdalene, and Constantine”, 14-15)

So as you can the LdS Church doesn’t just lie about its own history, it lies about the history of other churches as well. If you doubt me just read up on what really happened at the First Council of Nicea to see this.

An icon of the Bishops of the First Council of Nicaea with Constantine (in the crown).

RECOMMENDED RESOURCES
The following resources are recommended for exposing the Restorationist Great Apostasy myth. Yes, Christian Church History is messy, there is just no question about that. However, no, there never has been – and if the Bible is true, will be – the type of complete, universal apostasy that Mormon leaders claim justified the advent of Mormon Restorationism. Furthermore, these resources will show that mainstream Christianity, unlike Mormonism, doesn’t lie about its own history – warts and all, it’s all there to be seen, read, and openly discussed.

Church History Magazine
Subscriptions to the Christian History Institute’s quarterly journal “Church History” are done on a donation basis. For every issue, they do a deep dive into a chosen issue. I read every single issue cover-to-cover, and I suspect that you will too. Christian Church History is just fascinating stuff. Click here to subscribe.

For those who would like a deep dive into the deep dive not only do they give additional resources to consider in every issue, but you can also download Adobe Acrobat editions of all their back issues going all the way back to their very first issue by clicking here.

Church History in Plain Language, Fifth Edition Kindle Edition
by Bruce L. Shelley
Shelley’s book has been the textbook of choice for Christian Colleges for General Christian History Survey courses across denominations and traditions for decades. There’s a reason for that, it’s fair, it’s objective, and it’s a good read, Shelley is just a great writer.

The Story of Christianity: Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation
The Story of Christianity: Volume 2: The Reformation to the Present Day Kindle Edition
by Justo L. González
While Bruce L. Shelley’s book gives a quick, short overview of Christian History, Justo L. González’s two-volume set represents a deeper dive into the particulars. It is the logical next step after the shorter and more succinct Shelley book.

Church History Boot Camp
Michael Patton and Tim Kimberley
For those who prefer a real-time lecture format, this Credo House course is an overview of Church history in four parts. This course gives people a much-needed introduction to the entire history of the Christian church, looking at the major events and turning points that have brought us to where we are today.

The History of Christianity: From the Disciples to the Dawn of the Reformation
Luke Timothy Johnson, Ph.D. Professor, Emory University
In this Great Courses course, Professor Luke Timothy Johnson of Emory University follows the dramatic trajectory of Christianity from its beginnings as a “cult of Jesus” to its rise as a fervent religious movement; from its emergence as an unstoppable force within the Roman Empire to its critical role as an imperial religion; from its remarkable growth, amid divisive disputes and rivalries, to the ultimate schism between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism; and from its spread throughout the Western world to its flowering as a culture that shaped Europe for 800 years.

The History of Christianity II: From the Reformation to the Modern Megachurch
Molly Worthen, Ph.D. Professor, The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
This Great Courses course features Professor Molly Worthen who is a marvelous storyteller that brings individuals to life as she shares broader points in the story. For example, in a lecture on the Cold War, she considers how Pope John Paul II’s moral courage helped bring about the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. In another lecture, she shares the story of Rebecca, an American slave whose story offers a representative glimpse of religion among people whose stories have largely gone untold.

Whether it’s Mormons in the American West, Catholics in Latin America, or a Nigerian megachurch, this course examines the actors and ideas that have made Christianity a global religion—and offers a clearer perspective on our own time and place. Professor Worthen introduces you to scientists and theologians, revolutionaries and social justice crusaders, intellectuals, and ordinary people living out the great drama of Christian history. From Martin Luther’s 95 Theses to Latin American liberation theology, The History of Christianity II is a magisterial course, and a great resource for students of history and religion, as well as philosophy, literature, culture, and life.

About the Author
Fred W. Anson is the founder and publishing editor of the Beggar’s Bread website, which features a rich potpourri of articles on Christianity with a recurring emphasis on Mormon studies. Fred is also the administrator of several Internet discussion groups and communities, including several Mormon-centric groups, including two Facebook Support Groups for Ex-Mormons (Ex-Mormon Christians, and Ex-Mormon Christians Manhood Quorum). Raised in the Nazarene Church, Fred later became an Atheist but then returned to the Christian faith during the Jesus Movement in 1976. He is currently a member of Saddleback Covenant Church, a non-denominational church, in Mission Viejo, California.

SLC Temple and Milan Cathedral

The Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City and Il Duomo Roman Catholic Cathedral in Milan.

by R. M. Sivulka

Introduction
For me as a committed Protestant, this subject of Catholicism’s theology on the gospel, justification, and works is quite complicated.  I’m not going to answer all the questions here, because I’m just not competent enough to do so, and I’d rather be spending my time in other areas I feel more important to my ministry.  So please offer me some grace even if you disagree with my conclusions.  If you want more competent authorities on the matter, I offer three sources: 1) Norm Geisler and Ralph MacKenzie’s “Roman Catholics and Evangelicals”, and Geisler’s recent statement in The Evangelical Dictionary of World Religions”“These doctrinal similarities are too strong to place a non-Christian label on the essential doctrines of official Roman Catholicism” (“Roman Catholicism,” [Baker, 2018], 434), 2) Ken Samples, Is the Catholic Church Christian? and Is Catholicism a Cult?,” and 3) Francis Beckwith’s “Return to Rome”.  (The latter is written by a former top evangelical apologist and a former president of the Evangelical Theological Society, who went back to his Catholic roots.)  I do think it’s important to note from Ken Samples above “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’” (“Is the Catholic Church Christian?”).  Even the greatest Christian apologist today, William Lane Craig, has stated that Catholicism is part of “Mere Christianity.” This could not be the case if these scholars understood Catholicism to be in fact teaching a false gospel.

Catholicism and Mormonism
I still don’t find Catholicism identical to what LDS teach on the matter at hand, viz., that one is only made right with God only after doing all one can do (i.e., personal perfection).  There is no initial justification for LDS, and as the late LDS President Spencer W. Kimball taught,

“Trying is [n]ot [s]ufficient [n]or is repentance complete when one merely tries to abandon sin.  To try with a weakness of attitude and effort is to assure failure in the face of Satan’s strong counteracting efforts.  What is needed is resolute action.

…This connection between effort and the repentance which attracts the Lord’s forgiveness is often not understood.

…[Concerning the woman caught in adultery,] [t]here seems to be no evidence of forgiveness.  His command to her was, ‘Go and sin no more.’  He was directing the sinful woman to go her way, abandon her evil life, commit no more sin, transform her life.  He ways saying, Go, woman, and start your repentance; and he was indicating to her the beginning step – to abandon her transgressions.

…[W]hen she had done these things the forgiveness of the Savior could overshadow her and claim her and give her peace.

…The Lord cannot save men in their sins but only from their sins, and that only when they have shown true repentance”
(The Miracle of Forgiveness, 164-6).

Furthermore, in LDS categories, Christ didn’t even die for all sins since some sins are not forgivable (e.g., killing and subsequent offenses of adultery in D&C 42, and also LDS leaders’ past teaching on one’s own blood atonement for certain grievous sins).  This is certainly all something Catholicism would doctrinally disagree.

Catholicism and Protestantism
The subject turns on the role of works in Catholic theology.  Do those works invalidate the true gospel making it a false gospel or is the true gospel simply packaged in a way that’s confusing to the hearer?  There’s a really important difference here.

It reminds me of the Positive Confession speakers’ claim that we are begotten gods.  Walter Martin made the controversial claim that these guys are still Christians.  (Martin also, by the way, held that Catholicism wasn’t a cult or heretical to the extent that it would qualify as “non-Christian” even though he certainly had problems with it.  Even after his debate on the John Ankerberg Show against Father Mitch Pacwa, SJ, Walter Martin [according to his daughter Jill] regarded him as a brother in Christ. Further, Martin had Pacwa on the editorial board of the Christian Research Journal and had him, among other ordained clergy, lay hands on Martin in his Southern Baptist ordination [Beckwith, Op. cit., 42-3]. Such would be impossible if Walter knew Pacwa’s doctrines were damnable heresy. I used to go to Walter’s Sunday school class while in college, I used to regularly listen to him on the Bible Answer Man Program, and I would attend a number of his lectures. In fact, I was looking forward to being his intern at the Christian Research Institute for the fall semester of 1989 when he suddenly died in June of that year. The phrase “Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox” was continuously used by him to bring the weight of the authority of the historical Church against any heresy. Perhaps long before I knew him Martin was more disparaging of Catholicism. Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church was never included in his standard textbook of the cults—The Kingdom of the Cults. Also, by the way, the new General Editor for that book, the well-known Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias, with the endorsement of Martin’s family, has continued to keep Roman Catholicism out of it. When asked specifically, Zacharias wouldn’t label Catholicism as a cult.)  Robert Bowman in his article on various views of deification says that the Positive Confession view isn’t easily classified.  These Positive Confession speakers clearly affirm monotheism, and yet they speak in such a convoluted way.

For the average individuals untrained in theology, even cases of orthodox Christian deification are such that they conclude advocates of such a position must be polytheists and outside the Christian doctrine of monotheism.  Yet, whether it is Positive Confession speakers or orthodox theologians who teach deification, all steadfastly affirm monotheism and adamantly decry polytheism.  Yes, we have problems understanding what they are talking about since prima facie it seems so contradictory.  However, it’s not really fair to be so dismissive of these people given the parameters they’ve already clearly articulated.  In situations like this, if we have a hard time really understanding what’s being taught, then it’s better to use the principle of charity and give the benefit of the doubt to such people until we come to see how there really is no contradiction in their minds.  And this seems especially true when most evangelical Protestant theologians and scholars hold Catholicism to be classified as genuinely “Christian.”

There’s a fundamental problem with the Protestant mind when it comes to thinking in the Catholic categories of justification.  Catholics conflate the clear distinction that Protestants have made between justification and sanctification.  The Council of Trent put it this way: “[J]ustification itself, which is not only a remission of sins but also the sanctification and renewal of the inward man through the voluntary reception of the grace and gifts whereby an unjust man becomes just and from being an enemy becomes a friend, that he may be an heir according to hope of life everlasting” (Chapter VII).  Catholics teach a difference between initial justification and justification that ought to follow throughout one’s life.  The former is what Protestants typically mean by “justification.”  The other justification for Catholics is a matter of staying justified by works.

The Most Reverend Bishop John Charles Wester of the Salt Lake City Diocese of the Catholic Church speaks to students at the LDS Institute of Religion and at the Alumni House on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah Tuesday Sept. 18, 2012. (August Miller, UVU Marketing)

The Most Reverend Bishop John Charles Wester of the Salt Lake City Diocese of the Catholic Church speaks to students at the LDS Institute of Religion and at the Alumni House on the campus of Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah Tuesday Sept. 18, 2012. (August Miller, UVU Marketing)

Now if a Protestant objects that this latter type of justification is not about works, then they would not simply be objecting to Catholicism, but to many other branches of Protestantism as well.  The objecting Protestant (typically one of a more Reformed bent) would also have to conclude that these other branches of Protestantism are outside of Christianity and preaching a false gospel.  That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow.  These other branches of Protestantism affirm that performing works of righteousness may be freely abdicated after our conversion, and thus, one’s salvation may be lost.  I disagree with this position and hold to the eternal security of the believer, but that’s beside the point.  They are all Christians who affirm the true gospel that our salvation on behalf of all our sins is ultimately given as a gift from God through the sacrifice of His Son.

The Council of Trent in chapter IX is clear that none of us can be absolutely certain that any of us have received the forgiveness of sins.  After all, Paul did say to test ourselves to see whether we are in the faith (2 Cor. 13:5).  As a result, chapter X talks about being further justified by one’s “faith co-operating with good works.”  One of the arguments given here is James 2:24: “Do you see that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”  So continued justification is just as biblical as what the Protestants mean by “sanctification.”  Then in chapter XI it goes on to talk about how Jesus taught that if we love Him, then we keep His commandments (Jn. 14:15).  Earlier Jesus ties belief with obedience when He says, “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (Jn. 3:36).  John is clear in his epistle that we know that we love Jesus if we keep His commands, and if we say we love Him and don’t keep His commands, then we’re liars (1 Jn. 2:3-4).  Hence, “the necessity” of keeping His commands.

There’s nothing that a Protestant should disagree with here per se.  Of course and again, a certain type of more Reformed Protestant may object to an understanding of this necessity of keeping the commands implying a loss of one’s initial justification if the commands aren’t followed, but as Trent stated the issue above, it’s all biblical and every Protestant should uphold that.

At this point, a Protestant may object by saying that Catholics are still teaching a false gospel, since the initial justification is dependent on baptismal regeneration whether that be for an adult or an infant, and belief is certainly ruled out for the latter.  However, again one would have to exclude various Protestant denominations that hold to the same means of initial justification.  Again, a pretty hard pill to swallow.  Certainly the nature of belief is up for debate here and is a secondary issue to the nature of the gospel itself, viz., that Christ paid for all our sins, He resurrected, and invites sinners to currently live in His kingdom by learning to live life as He would live (cf. Mat. 4:23 and 1 Cor. 15:1-5).  Such debates on the nature of belief have to do with how individual beliefs arise in a context of community.  Nonetheless, there is no passage of scripture that explicitly says that not getting the right answer here lands one in hell.

Anathema
Speaking of hell, the final issue I’ll address concerns the issue of “anathema” the Catholic Church has offered from the Council of Trent in reaction to Protestantism.  Canon 30, for example, says, “If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.”  Is this the gospel and does this entail that those who reject this are cursed of God and not saved is that they are outside the Church of Christ?

Even if that is what is meant by anathema, this is no reason to hold that this entails a false gospel.  Believers who have received the grace of justification may still have to be punished by God for their own transgressions, because “whom the Lord loves, He also chastens” (Heb. 12:6).  David had imputed righteousness apart from works (Rom. 4:4-8), but the Lord still chastened him in taking his son who was the product of adultery.  Whether the Lord metes out punishment in this life or the next prior to entering paradise, what real difference does it make?  Even though I take it that the Bible never says anything about a temporary punishment for believers after this life, that doesn’t entail such could not be the case.  To conclude this would be based on an argument from silence, and that’s fallacious.

Regardless of this point, it’s been argued that the literal meaning of anathema is not what is to be understood from the judgment of a Church council.  There was no intention of permanent damnation to hell.  The Lonely Pilgrim notes, “When the councils pronounced holders of a doctrine anathema, it marked a formal excommunication from the Church: nothing more and nothing less.”  He argues that if there was a connotation of permanent damnation, then the missionary efforts to Protestants by the Jesuits wouldn’t make much sense.  Further, he argues that if there is a problem here, it’s specifically for those who rebel against the judgments of their church.  There is no general relevancy to all Protestants today.  He says, “You can’t very well be excommunicated from something you were never formally a part of.”

Now even if The Lonely Pilgrim is wrong on all this, I don’t see why a group of believers being hyper-exclusionary of one’s judgments marks them as “false Christians” or “heretics,” who teach a false gospel and land them in hell anyway.  I don’t see the chapter and verse on that either, and again, we can easily think of other Protestant Christian groups who act in this way.

rob_sivulka_mugAbout the Author
R.M. Sivulka is the president of Courageous Christians United which is an outreach to Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Muslims. Mr. Sivulka reside in West Jordan, UT with his wife Tara, and daughters.

Originally published January 19, 2016 on the Courageous Christians United website. Reprinted with permission. Please note that this article was updated on February 1, 2019.

Pope Francis and Henry B. Eyring First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At a 2014 Vatican Summit of religious leaders on marriage.

Pope Francis and Henry B. Eyring First Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. At a 2014 Vatican Summit of religious leaders on marriage.

BACK TO TOP