This Saturday, October 31, commemorates nearly 500 years since one of the greatest movements of God in church history; the Protestant Reformation. Up to the time of the Reformation, much of Europe had been dominated by the reign of Roman Catholicism. To the populace was propagated the idea that salvation was found under Rome and her system alone.
But as the cultural and theological fog cleared in Europe and beyond, God’s people gained a clarity that had been mostly absent for centuries. The Reformers gained this clarity from keeping with a simple principle: sola scritpura, or, Scripture alone. As they searched the word of God, they discovered that Rome deviated radically on the most critical points of biblical Christianity. With one mind, God’s people discerned from Scripture that, tragically, Roman Catholicism was a desecration to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today, nothing has changed. To my evangelical and Catholic friends, it’s important that we no longer erroneously say that Roman Catholicism differs from Scripture only on minor points of doctrine and history. As the Reformers saw clearly, and will be demonstrated here, the differences could not be greater.
In keeping with that movement of God by the word of God, here are a few reminders of how Rome is a desecration to Christ:
- The Roman Catholic Priesthood.
The existence and doctrine of Rome’s priesthood renders itself illegitimate on several grounds. First, the office of priest was annulled by the finished work of Christ, the great High Priest, to which nothing could be added for justification (Heb. 10:11-14). But this is, in part, the reason that Rome’s priesthood continues: Christ’s propitiatory work is insufficient in itself to render sinful men justified before God. In reference to the priest’s work, Roman Catholic scholar John O’Brien writes:
When the priest announces the tremendous words of consecration, he reaches up into the heavens, brings Christ down from His throne, and places Him upon our altar to be offered up again as the Victim for the sins of man…The priest speaks and lo! Christ, the eternal and omnipotent God, bows his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command. Of what sublime dignity is the office of the Christian priest who is thus privileged to act as the ambassador and the vicegerent of Christ on earth! He continues the essential ministry of Christ…No wonder that the name which spiritual writers are especially fond of applying to the priest is that of alter Christus. For the priest is and should be another Christ.
Not even the old covenant priesthood dared to use such language as this of their office and role (Heb. 10:2-4). And, Scripture teaches that old priesthood is terminated because it has been fulfilled in Christ’s solo priestly role (Heb. 7:11-14). Christ is the only Christ, who alone holds the priesthood. He certainly does not bow “his head in humble obedience to the priest’s command,” or that of any other sinful man, especially to be “offered up again…for the sins of man.”
Further, Rome asserts in the 22nd session of the Council of Trent, in Canon 2, that, “If anyone says that by those words, Do this for a remembrance of me, Christ did not institute the Apostles priests; or did not ordain that they and other priests should offer His own body and blood, let him be anathema.”
We must conclude with John Calvin: “The Lord has given us a table at which to feast, not an altar on which a victim is to be offered; He has not consecrated priests to make sacrifice, but servants to distribute the sacred feast” (Institutes IV, xviii, 12).
Rome’s priesthood is quite another thing, and, therefore, a desecration to Christ.
- The Roman Catholic Mass.
Similar to the priesthood, Rome’s mass violates the person and finished work of Christ. In its 22nd session, on Doctrine Concerning the Sacrifice of the Mass, the Council of Trent reads:
“If anyone says that in the mass a true and real sacrifice is not offered to God; or that to be offered is nothing else than that Christ is given to us to eat, let him be anathema” (Canon 1).
“If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mas is one only of praise and thanksgiving; or that it is a mere commemoration of the sacrifice consummated on the cross but not a propitiatory one; or that it profits him only who receives, and ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, let him be anathema” (Canon 3).
In other words, if you believe that Christ’s substitutionary atoning death, in itself, made complete propitiation for sin such that God’s wrath due our sin is satisfied, Rome declares you as under God’s curse. But this clashes with the Christian teaching of the sufficiency of Christ’s propitiatory sacrifice:
“He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people, since he did this once for all when he offered up himself” (Heb. 7:27).
“And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God” (Heb. 10:11-12).
Scripture could not be more clear on the adequacy and finality of Christ’s atoning work. Yet, in every mass, Rome asserts that Christ, cannot really be seated anywhere in heaven, but is ready, waiting, and being summoned back down for additional sacrifice to atone for sin. On this teaching alone Rome renders herself a desecration to Jesus Christ.
Furthermore, if anyone calls Rome’s mass into question, he is declared anathema: “If anyone says that the canon of the mass contains errors and is therefore to be abrogated, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, 22nd session, Doctrine Concerning the Sacrifice of the Mass, Canon 6).
- The Roman Catholic Papacy.
Here is a sampling of Rome’s view of her papacy:
The Pope, Bishop of Rome and Peter’s successor, is the perpetual and visible source and foundation of the unity both of the bishops and of the whole company of the faithful. For the Roman Pontiff, by reason of his office as Vicar of Christ, and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered (Paragraph 882, Catholic Catechism).
“Rule independently on any matter without the consent of anyone else, he himself is judged by nobody because there is no higher judge on earth than he” (Ludwig Ott).
However, as the head of the Body of Christ, the foundation of the unity of Christ’s church depends on him (Eph 1:22-23, Eph. 4:5). Furthermore, the only individual who is “judged by nobody” and possesses “full, supreme, and universal power over the whole Church,” is the head of the church, Jesus Christ. “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22-23).
Further, Cardinal Gibbons wrote of the papacy: “To be true followers of Christ, all Christians, both among the clergy and laity, must be in communion with the See [center of authority] of Rome, where Peter rules in the person of his successor” (James White, 105).
In the papal bull, Unam Sanctum, Pope Boniface wrote, “Consequently, we declare, state, define, and pronounce that it is altogether necessary to salvation for every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff.”
So, Rome maintains that communion with and submission to the pope is necessary to be a Christian. Such teaching is completely unwarranted from Scripture. If communion, or spiritual relationship, with Rome or Rome’s pontiff, were essential for salvation, we would expect biblical statements like, “in Rome,” or, “in the bishop of Rome,” but we see no such thing. Salvation is in Christ alone.
Further, Rome claims the Apostle Peter as her first pope, thus one would think that, given the importance put on the papacy, there would be explicit mention of teachings as Boniface’s in the Bible. However, the idea of subjection to Peter as Vicar of Christ, or any other individual with such a title, is completely absent from the New Testament. The various times that the Apostle Paul writes to or from Rome (e.g. Romans, the prison epistles, 2 Timothy), subjection to Peter as pontiff is never mentioned, much less mention of Peter at all. The only mention of a Christian’s ecclesiastical subjection to one’s local biblically qualified elders/pastors, and has nothing to do with the “salvation of every human creature.”
Salvation hinges on submission to the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Anyone to whom submission must be given for salvation, biblically, must be called “Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11). Therefore, by the Unam Sanctum bull, and the doctrine of the papacy, Rome functionally places her popes in a place of Lord, whether or not she explicitly uses the term. However, there is one Lord; the term is reserved for the One alone to whom submission for salvation must be given. God the Father has given the title to Christ because salvation hinges on no one else (Phil. 2:9).
A pope may occupy the throne of Rome, but never has he occupied the throne of Christ’s church. Because she places a sinful man in a seat reserved exclusively for him, every day that the papacy exists is another day that Rome desecrates Christ.
- The Roman Catholic view of Mary.
“The history of Christian piety teaches that Mary is the way which leads to Christ.”
“Each of us has to keep in mind the prospect of death. I too take this into consideration constantly, entrusting that decisive moment to the mother of Christ and of the Church, to the mother of my hope.”
Rome suggests that Mary is a recipient of prayer and devotion. She is sinless, having bypassed receiving a sin nature. Therefore, she was not in need of Christ’s saving work, but assists him in saving others.
And, for those who recite the Rosary, the Virgin Mary makes this promise:
Those who trust themselves to me through the Rosary will not perish. The sinner will be converted; the just will grow in grace and become worthy of eternal life. Those who recite my Rosary faithfully are all my beloved children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ.
Mary would be horrified to know that she, a sinful woman in need of redemption, was venerated to a place which desecrates the Person and work of Christ. She considered Christ her Savior and herself a sinner in need of Christ’s propitiating death, just like all humanity.
- The Roman Catholic view of justification.
At this point, tragically, Rome further shows itself to propagate another gospel. For example, the Council of Trent reads:
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 temporary punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema (6th session, Canon 30).
In other words, if you believe that a repentant sinner, by faith alone in Christ alone, is declared righteous by God, such that no additional punishment needs to be served for sin, then you are cursed. Yet, that is exactly what Scripture teaches.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:1). The consequence of faith in Christ is justification. The consequence of being declared positionally righteous as Christ is righteous, or justification, is peace with God. No more “debt of temporary punishment.” Nothing additional to be “discharged…in this world or in purgatory.” Why?
“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). Our entire punishment was placed on Christ. His righteousness is instantly placed on us.
Rome’s gospel is the photo negative of the biblical gospel. Therefore, since she dilutes the power of Christ’s finished work, Rome thereby desecrates him.
- The Roman Catholic history of martyring Christ’s people.
Perhaps more than any other religion or people group, Rome has taken the lives of scores of Christians. On the Damascus road, Christ appeared to Saul, that vicious persecutor of the church, and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). Though Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father, it’s as if Saul was persecuting him. When Christ’s people are persecuted, Christ bears their pain with them.
So, when Rome slew faithful Christians such as Jan Huss, Michael Sattler, William Tyndale, Nicholas Ridley, Hugh Latimer, John Rogers, and some 300 torched by Bloody Mary between 1553-1558, Christ was persecuted along with them. With each Christian martyred, whether known or unknown, in the name of Roman Catholicism over the centuries, Christ was desecrated.
More could be said in regards to the ways, for example, that Rome’s doctrine of saints, purgatory, relics, and her practice of sola ecclesia over sola scriptura, also desecrate the Person and work of Christ. Rome may name the name of Christ, but her Christ is not Scripture’s Christ, and, thus, no Christ at all.
God’s people need to stop including Rome as a legitimate figure in the church of Christ. She is no more to be included than Siddhartha Gautama, Santeria, or Satan.
Thus, with John Owen, we say:
The Church of Rome…clings obstinately to its errors, idolatries, blasphemies and superstitions…Only the faithful preaching of the gospel—with such an example of zeal and holiness in those by whom it is preached…begetting in all who hear such a delight in them that they willingly submit to Christ and trust in him alone for salvation…will halt the insidious advances of Romish apostasy.
And with Charles Spurgeon, we cry:
We anticipate the happy day when the whole world shall be converted to Christ; when the gods of the heathen shall be cast to the moles and the bats; when Romanism shall be exploded…when kings shall bow down before the Prince of Peace, and all nations shall call their Redeemer blessed.
This Reformation season, let us pray for Rome to repent and come under the Lord Jesus. And may the true church continue her battle cry of solo scriptura, sola fide, sola gratia, solus christus, all to soli deo gloria.