As a Reformed Protestant, it should be no surprise that I have numerous problems with Roman Catholic theology. We actually agree on some things, such as the Real Presence of Christ in communion. Roman Catholics describe this process as transubstantiation whereas I prefer to keep it a mystery and eschew the outdated Aristotelian categories of accidence and substance. I also agree with Roman Catholics that all forms of birth control are Satanic. And I agree that abortion is sinful. So next, I’ll briefly go over some areas of Catholic Theology where I have the strongest disagreements.
Here I discuss how Roman Catholic theology deals with sin. Catholics believe a person’s water baptism (which regenerates them) cleanses them of their sins and puts them in a state of grace. Were they to die in a state of grace they’d go to either Heaven or Purgatory. However, if someone sins and it’s serious enough (mortal sin) and they die not in a state of grace they will go to Hell, irrespective of their degree of sanctification and their walk with Christ. I disagree with the venial (minor) and mortal (major) sin distinction. I don’t find it to be biblical. All sin is serious, and even the least serious of sins can still send a person to Hell. Catholic theology does not adequately understand what Christ did on the cross. As a perfect propitiation for our sins, Christ paid the price of all of our sins, not just our past sins before we got regenerated, not just our current sins, but all of our sins including our future sins. I also disagree strongly with Roman Catholic theology that a believer can lose their salvation. In the lifetime of a typical Catholic, they will lose and regain their salvation in an almost endless cycle until they finally die. So they could repeat this cycle hundreds or even thousands of times! This undercuts the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement on the cross for us sinners.
There was no regal system of ecclesiastical power in the Roman Catholic church with the pope as the absolute head, until the 4th century when the state and church powers became closely enmeshed. There also were no cardinals. Roman Catholic theology claims this existed since the very early church in the 1st century AD. This claim is without historical proof.
The office of the pope is extremely problematic. There is no support in Scripture for what is in effect a super bishop with supreme and unchallengeable authority, and possessing universal jurisdiction over the entire church. The early church was collegial with a 5 person pentarchy. One for each of the major cities where Christians were represented in the Roman Empire. There is nothing in Scripture that says that the bishop of Rome is to be in charge of all other bishops. Christ in Matthew 24 did not build His church on a fallible human being as Catholic theology asserts. Christ’s church was built on Peter’s confession that Christ is the rock. The majority of Church Fathers agree with this interpretation. A minority favor the Roman Catholic position. The Pentarchy consisted of the five ancient patriarchates of the undivided Church of the first millennium of her history, including the Churches of Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. The apostle Peter was the bishop of Antioch, not Rome. The Eastern Orthodox church can make a very strong case that Rome did not exercise authority over the Eastern church.
Communion of the Saints
In Roman Catholic theology the saints in Heaven make intercession for us to God. They act as relays conveying requests from us on earth to God in Heaven. This doctrine has several problems. First, there is no evidence in Scripture that those who have died in Christ can hear our prayers (let alone thousands or even millions of prayers simultaneously). Second, it is unnecessary since Christ opened up direct access to God the Father for us. We are to pray in Christ’s Name and Father God will hear us. In my understanding, the saints in Heaven (and Scripture says all of us who are in Christ are saints) are praising and glorifying God continuously.
Mary as Mediator
In Roman Catholic theology, there are 3 types of worship: latria (for God alone), dulia (for the saints in Heaven), and hyperdulia (for Mary). These different types of worship are unbiblical. God alone is to be worshipped and venerated. Mary is a mere creature, she is not divine. Catholics view Mary as a mediator between us one earth and God in Heaven. It’s akin to the intercession of the saints we just described. However, Mary’s role is elevated. Her prayers on our behalf are considered especially efficacious for her unique position as the Mother of Christ the Lord. Unlike some Protestants, I have no problem with the title Mother of God. The logic is that Jesus is obligated to honor his mother and will not refuse her petitions on our behalf. Catholics cite the Wedding at Cana miracle (Christ’s first miracle of His public ministry) as proof that Christ will not refuse his mother. There are obvious problems with this logic. It is also blasphemous as it has Christ the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the living Word of God, beholden and subservient to His mother. Jesus respected His mother the same as any other Jewish male was expected to. He did not elevate her to a special status, nor is it true that Christ cannot refuse our requests. We can go boldly directly to Christ with our petitions. We need no intermediaries, no matter their closeness to Christ.
For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus1 Timothy 2:5
The Immaculate Conception of Mary
Roman Catholic theology teaches that Christ was not the only sinless human to ever walk the earth. Mary too, it asserts, was sinless! She was apparently saved from original sin defiling her at the moment of her conception. The rationale given is that Christ the perfect Messiah could not have entered the world through the womb of a sinful woman. There are several problems with this doctrine. First, there is no logical necessity that Mary is sinless to bear a sinless child. Mary, a sinless child, came forth from sinful parents, so by their own logic why can’t a sinless Christ come forth from a sinful Mary? It is also blasphemous to assert that any other human has the same unique status which Christ does. Scripture is clear that all men are sinners.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.1 John 1:8
Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
“Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with lies.”
“Snake venom drips from their lips.”
“Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
“They rush to commit murder.
Destruction and misery always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace.”
“They have no fear of God at all.”
Obviously, the law applies to those to whom it was given, for its purpose is to keep people from having excuses, and to show that the entire world is guilty before God. For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.Romans 3:9-20
The Ever Virginity of Mary
Roman Catholic theology teaches that Mary was a virgin before, during, and after bearing Jesus and that she and Joseph has no offspring together after Jesus was born. This is directly contradicted by more than a few Scriptures which explicitly mention the brothers and sisters of Jesus. I’ve seen many Catholics bristle in disgust at the mere thought that Joseph and Mary had children after Jesus was born like any other normal healthy Jewish couple! This shows how unbiblical their thinking is when it comes to marrying. Sex between husband and wife is good and is not sinful. The creation mandate set forth by God is that man be fruitful and multiply. See Matt. 12:46; 13:55; Mark 6:3; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor. 9:5; Gal. 1:19. So this notion that Mary was a perpetual virgin is absolutely false. Scripture even explicitly mentions that Mary and Joseph had conjugal relations after Jesus was born.
When Joseph awoke from sleep he did what the angel of the Lord told him. He took his wife, 1:25 but did not have marital relations with her until she gave birth to a son, whom he called Jesus.Matthew 1:24,25
The Assumption of Mary
Roman Catholic theology further teaches that at the end of her natural life Mary was assumed bodily into Heaven. There is disagreement on whether she was actually alive or dead when this happened. This doctrine is without biblical support.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that the teaching authority of the church (the Magisterium) is infallible. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates or promises our interpretation of Scripture will be protected from error and is infallible. By our very nature, we see through a glass darkly. We are fallible people. I believe the clear and direct meaning of Scripture can be discerned by anyone who is literate, by following good hermeneutical principles. I believe we can have confidence we get the majority of biblical theology correct. But there is still the chance we could be wrong in our interpretation of certain parts of Scripture. The fact is that we all have a magisterium. Rome’s magisterium is the teachings of the various popes throughout history, the opinions of the Church Fathers, and the beliefs of the bishops. It is this select group of fallible men that the Roman Catholic church trusts. We Reformed also have a magisterium of the theology of the magisterial Reformers, certainly respected theologians whether ancient or contemporary, our pastors, elders, and our seminary professors. But we have a distinct difference with Roman Catholics. We believe in Sola Scriptura, that Scripture is the highest and our only infallible authority. Rome has no such guiding structure to inform their theology. They rely heavily on tradition.
Role of Tradition
Roman Catholic theology places Tradition on the same level of authority as Scripture. This is obviously problematic. There is no such teaching in Scripture. What is really being elevated is the fallible traditions of men (man-made). By placing Tradition on such a high level all manner of unbiblical practices has crept into the church. I have challenged Catholics to name one Tradition that they can demonstrate can be directly traced to an Apostle. Catholics claim there are many things the Apostles and even Jesus taught which were passed on orally and never written down. There is no way to verify or differentiate true from false teaching in this scheme. Plus we know from Scripture that when we are told to hold fast to tradition it is describing what was written down under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said we can make the Word of God of no effect by our traditions (cf. Mark 7:13).
The so-called deuterocanonical are disputed books (7 additional books beside the 66 books Protestant canon) which the Roman Catholic church includes in their canon, and Protestants do not. I have read these books and they are clearly not inspired by Scripture. They contain historical inaccuracies, contradictions, and blasphemous heresies such as the prayers for the dead. We Reformed absolutely reject these. We favor the 66 books biblical canon which the Jews attested to. It is claimed by Roman Catholic apologetics that Jesus and the Apostles quoted from the Septuagint (the Old Testament translated from Hebrew to Greek). But there were different versions of the Septuagint and the one Christ used did not contain the spurious Apocrypha! Further, no book written in Greek was ever accepted by the Jews. See the council of Jamnia.
Roman Catholic theology teaches that there are two possible destinations or states for a person when they die. They will either go to Heaven, or to a place called purgatory. So named because in this place their sins’ corrosive effect on their soul is purged away. This doctrine is absolutely unbiblical. It is an affront on the sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sins! Scripture is clear that for a believer in Christ to be absent the body, is to be present with the Lord.
The Roman Catholic church teaches that it is the one true church. And that Protestants belong to “ecclesial communities” which are inferior to the Catholic church, and which are not themselves legitimate churches. This is absolutely cult-like teaching! We Reformed believe in the invisible Church. It is comprised of all those who have been regenerated by grace alone through faith alone whether they belong to Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or Protestant churches. Many are called but few are chosen Scripture says. Broad is the path to damnation, and narrow the one to salvation. The sad reality is that the vast majority of people who make up the institutional church are Hellbound false converts who were never regenerated!
We Reformed believe justification is the moment God declares a sinner righteous based solely on Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. This happens through double imputation (penal substitutionary atonement). Our sins are imputed to Christ, and His perfect righteousness is imputed to us. This act is forensic and juridical. It is a one-time act. Roman Catholic theology, on the other hand, teaches that justification is both an act and a process. Final justification, in their view, doesn’t happen until they died and their good works are weighed in judgment by Christ. This teaching is absolutely unbiblical. One major problem in Roman Catholic theology is that it conflates justification with sanctification. Sanctification is the lifelong process whereby God sanctifies us and we are made holy. It is distinct from justification.
I have presented my main contentions with Roman Catholic theology. It is clear that, in many points, Roman Catholic theology departs from the sound teaching of the Scriptures. This heresy must be strongly opposed. I still recognize select Roman Catholics as my brothers and sisters in Christ (just as I recognize select Eastern Orthodox and even select Protestants), but as a church, in the sense that it continues, via Trent, to anathematize the true gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith alone, it constitutes a false church in direct opposition to God’s Word. If you’d like to give feedback (whether positive or negative) please post a comment below. Thank you.