This is the second in a four-part series on Roman Catholicism.
While Roman Catholics and evangelicals agree on a number of Christian doctrines, as we learned in the last column, there are profound differences between the teachings of Rome and the revealed word of God in Scripture.
As Protestant theologian Harold Brown once warned, while Catholicism holds to key fundamental articles of the faith, the church “so overlays them with extraneous and sometimes false doctrines that the foundations are no longer accessible to the majority of Catholic believers.”
Roman Catholics embrace at least seven doctrines that evangelical Christians reject as inconsistent with Scripture. In this article, we explore five of these divergent doctrines, with two more doctrines to follow in the next installment.
The Apocrypha. While evangelicals hold to the “canon” of 66 books in the Bible, Catholics argue that the apocryphal books – seven books and four parts of other books – belong in the canon. They call them deuterocanonical – literally, “second canon.”
The Council of Trent (A.D. 1545-1563) canonized these books, which include Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1st and 2nd Maccabees. Among other things, these books support such Catholic teachings as prayers for the dead and justification by faith plus works.
The Roman Catholic Church traces its beginning to the apostle Peter, claiming he is the rock upon whom Jesus built His church (Matt. 16:18). As the first pope, Peter is followed by an unbroken line of successors stretching to Pope Francis today. Non-Catholics establish the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church at A.D. 590 with Gregory I, who consolidated the power of the bishopric in Rome.
In any case, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members. The Catholic hierarchy includes cardinals and bishops and is led by the bishop of Rome, also known as the pope.
The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true church divinely founded by Jesus Christ. In addition, it teaches that its bishops are the successors of Jesus’ apostles, and that the pope, as the successor to the head of the apostles (Peter), has supreme authority over the church.
Categories of Catholics
While the Catholic Church claims to be the one true church, Catholics worldwide hold to a diversity of beliefs. Researcher Ken Samples has concluded that there are six primary categories of Roman Catholics:
Ultratraditional Catholics defend historical Catholicism and are critical of recent changes such as those coming out of Vatican II in the 1960s.
Traditional Catholics resist liberalism and modernism within the church, yet they generally accept the reforms of Vatican II.
Liberal Catholics celebrate human reason over the authority of the church; they also question the infallibility of the pope, church councils, and the Bible
Charismatic/evangelical Catholics emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the importance of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit-filled life.
Cultural Catholics are “womb-to-tomb” Catholics – born, baptized, married, and buried in the church. However, they essentially go through the motions of their faith without much regard for its meaning.
Popular folk Catholics predominate Central and South America. They combine elements of animistic or nature-culture religion with traditional medieval Catholicism (Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993).