With Roman Catholicism making headlines this week in the election of a new Pope, it’s useful for Protestants and Catholics alike to sit down and think through our differences. I have had the unexpected and (at least from my side) pleasant opportunity to engage in a couple conversations on this matter that show, I think, the ignorance on both sides of the aisle. Protestants and Catholics alike seem insistent that what unites us is greater than what divides us–and that what divides is just a small matter. Now I know that not every adherent to Roman Catholicism agrees en toto with the teaching of their church. For that reason I want to be careful at the outset to say that I love any who love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity and truth. But we must be equally adamant that Rome and true Protestantism are not alike in many things, making union and communion between the two seemingly impossible.
What do I mean by that? Unless I should be accused of being a cranky Protestant, let me demonstrate this reality from the side of Roman Catholicism. I know it’s very difficult for us in our overly individualistic day to think in terms of corporate identity. Nevertheless, the Roman Catholic Church has a corporate identity which has been expressed through her councils, catechism, and canons, an identity many individual Catholics are unaware of (even as many Protestants are unaware of what makes us Protestants!). I don’t claim to be an expert on all things Catholic, but I also can’t ignore the black and white. The Council of Trent, Rome’s response to the Protestant Reformation, set out to define and defend Catholic doctrine against the Protestantism of Lutherans and the Reformed, and in so doing pronounced “anathemas.” An anathema is a denunciation by means of curse (see Galatians 1:8). To this day the anathemas that were pronounced by the Council of Trent have not been revoked by the Catholic Church. Despite the ecumenical efforts of Vatican II, the anathemas remain the teaching of the Church. So would you pass the test?
- Do you reject the Apocrypha as not being a part of the Scriptures contained in the Old and New Testaments? Then according to Rome you’re anathema.
- Do you accept that we are justified by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ apart from works? Then according to Rome you’re anathema.
- Do you reject that Christ is present physically in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper? Then according to Rome you’re anathema.
- Do you believe that Christ was sacrificed once and for all on the cross of Calvary, rejecting that the Eucharist is a perpetual propitiatory sacrifice? Then according to Rome you’re anathema.
- Do you believe in the priesthood of all believers and that the church does not reside within the clergy? Then according to Rome you’re anathema.
- Do you reject the authority of the Bishop of Rome (the Pope)? Then according to Rome you’re anathema.
Do you see what the official teaching of Roman Catholicism is? They consciously rejected the truth and doctrine that was reclaimed by the Protestant Reformation and to this day continue to reject it and curse not only the doctrines but the people holding to them. Rome recognizes, as have Protestants in times past, that the “gospel” of Catholicism and the “gospel” of Protestantism are not the same thing, and Paul is quite forceful about preaching a false gospel (Galatians 1:8). And to say that, is to say nothing different than what the Church in Rome teaches. To pretend that there is little to no difference is only to the think the Emperor is wearing clothes.