Wednesday, January 9, 2008

ASK THE PASTOR: A Question About Catholicism

ASK THE PASTOR: Since Catholics severely persecuted Christians throughout history, do you consider them an evil institution?

I almost rejected this question because of its tone. After emailing back and forth with the person who asked the question, I came to understand that there was a genuine attempt for understanding on this issue and that the individual was not resorting to "Catholic-bashing". The following is my attempted response:

The question itself needs to be analyzed because it assumes something that is false. Furthermore, the question masks the true problem Protestants have with the Catholic church. Thus, the question has a (1) faulty assumption and (2) a faulty focus. I will try to deal with each issue below.

(1) The question assumes that because a group has had dark moment in its history, that group must therefore be wrong now. There certainly is no denying the violent past of the Roman Catholic Church. Words like "inquisition" still linger in our ears and produce a negative feeling in our soul. Countless individuals were butchered, tortured, imprisoned, banished and killed. The forms of punishment were cruel, inhuman, and vindictive. However, we must keep in mind the effect of culture upon the church throughout the ages. Just like today, Christians in all ages allowed culture to shape their opinion--many times at the expense of the Bible. Though claiming Biblical support, in reality culture was directing the behavior of Christians. One only needs to look at the Southern States' use of Scripture to condone slavery. Furthermore, most Protestant denominations have had a violent past (certainly all those who origins go back a few centuries). Lutherans, Reformed, Anglicans (just to name a few) killed others in the name of protecting orthodoxy. Even Baptists are known to have actively burned the church buildings of other denominations and persecuted their clergy. I, as a Baptist minister, certainly do not want the Baptist denomination judged for the evil deeds of our ancestors. Earlier centuries were dark, ugly, and inhuman. Sadly, all shades of Christianity allowed that culture to infect their faith.

In 1965 Pope John Paul VI issued a statement on human freedom in religion. In that document he writes that " constitutional limits should be set to the powers of government, in order that there may be no encroachment on the rightful freedom of the person and of associations." Furthermore, the document "declares that the human person has a right to religious freedom. This freedom means that all men are to be immune from coercion on the part of individuals or of social groups and of any human power, in such wise that no one is to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his own beliefs, whether privately or publicly, whether alone or in association with others, within due limits." One is thankful that the Roman Catholic church has learned from the ugly centuries of our common past and, like the Protestant world, seeks to be rid of such violence in our present age.

(2) The question focuses on the wrong issue. Our problem with the Roman Catholic church is not its history, but rather its present doctrinal teaching. Though there are several areas of doctrinal disagreement, none is more egregious than the Catholic conception of salvation in relation to faith. This was the great theological battle of the Reformation, and one that should still command our attention today.

Questions for Pastor Josh can be submitted via Email. "Ask the Pastor" is a feature in the monthly newsletter of Indian River Baptist Church. This blog republishes those Questions, along with others not selected for print publication.


  1. You are right on that the questioner asks the right question about the wrong issue. Rome's false doctrine has nothing to do with the Inquisition, but rather an erroneous doctrine of justification. Mormons are nice people but that doesn't make mormonism right. I'm a jerk but that doesn't make being a Reformed Baptist wrong.

  2. Ran across a reference to Jonathan Edwards' will, which reminded me of Pope John Paul II's will. I've posted the contrasts here.

    Paul's instructions/reminder to Timothy come to mind....

    "First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time."

  3. Very interesting way to answer the question. I was curious as to what angle the asker was really getting at... Because although the institution does necessarily do things like the inquistion at present. Leading people into a bondage of salvation by works in my estimation is FAR worse! The doctrinal seperation of protestant and catholic is SO far apart on that issue alone that I would have answered the asker yes in this context. But he was asking about history so great response.