Has the Roman Catholic Church changed?
Aren't Catholics and Protestants closer together than ever before?

See the related article: Roman Catholicism: Another Christian Denomination?

A prominent professed leader of the evangelical Protestant world converts to Roman Catholicism. His reason? Protestants and Roman Catholics no longer have any major doctrinal reason to keep them apart.1 While sadly this is true for many modern protestant churches, it is not because the Roman Catholic Church has changed; it is because many Protestant churches no longer know what's important.

Decades of hearing that ecumenical talks will heal the rift between Roman Catholics and Protestants - as if talking itself would somehow accomplish this - has led many to believe that there are only trivial issues dividing them which would enable simple compromise perhaps by both to mend the parting.4

In reality, the only compromise acceptable to the Roman Catholic Church is when Protestants become Roman Catholic. While the RC Church can and does make small adjustments to external practice (including the language of the Mass) and now makes an appearance of dialog (including with Muslims and Protestants) it remains intractable in regards to its central doctrines. This would be commendable if they were right, based in the absolute truth of Scriptures, but they are a cumulative compilation of the centuries anchored only in themselves. They unashamedly claim that truth is Scriptures plus tradition, as established and interpreted by themselves. Moreover, they claim that Scriptures was written and accepted by their authority... they alone have the ability to declare a book Scriptures at any time (even as they did with the apocryphal books at the Council of Trent in 1545-1563). Far more of their aberrant teachings are not promulgated by their official canonization as Scriptures, but through the absolute authority of their head, the Pope. These pronunciations are accepted as the word of God on earth apart from Scriptures, but no less equal.

You can find Roman Catholic scholars who disagree with many teachings of their church and even Scriptures itself. Likewise you hear of hosts of professed Roman Catholics who disagree in practice to RC teachings (especially in the west, consider birth control for example). Regardless, by the Roman Catholic Church, all who would disagree with the Pope and the official stance of the church, at this moment, are wrong. I say at this moment, because their increase of error through the adoption of traditions of man, combined with a professed inerrancy of the Pope making it functionally impossible to reform, has led them to pronounce Anathemas [curses] that would encompass teachers of earlier generations claimed by them. For example, Jerome who worked on the Latin Vulgate translation of Scriptures, clearly distinguished apocryphal books from Scriptures and warned against those who would make them such. He would now be under the condemnation (anathemas) of the RC Council of Trent. Proof that many modern Catholics disagree, in word or in practice, with the official stance of the RC church, is not proof of change, merely that there are a lot of bad Catholics in the view of their own church. 3

I like the current pope (Benedict XVI). And before anyone misquotes that statement by taking it out of context, make sure you understand why. While I can disagree with him completely, on grounds of Scriptures, at least he appears to wholeheartedly and openly adhere to what he professes to believe.2 Too many (popes and Protestants) hide their beliefs behind platitudes and niceties to the point of concealing the truth from those who hear. Not this Pope! He speaks it like he knows it and doesn't matter who it offends. So, in his words, did the "reforms" of Vatican II change the Roman Catholic Church? Are they now merely separated brothers of the Protestant church?

Pope Benedict has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released yesterday that says Orthodox churches are defective and that other Christian denominations are not true churches. ... That document set off a firestorm of criticism among Protestant and other Christian denominations because it said they were not true churches but merely ecclesial communities and therefore did not have the "means of salvation." In the new document and an accompanying commentary, which were released as the Pope vacations in Italy's Dolomite mountains, the Vatican repeated that position. "Christ established here on earth only one church," the document said. The other communities "cannot be called churches in the proper sense" because they do not have apostolic succession -- the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ's original apostles. (Non-Catholic denominations not true churches: Vatican document, Times & Transcript, July 11, 2007)

The Roman Catholic Church alone claims that it is the absolute repository of truth and that salvation can only be found in her. Talk all you want, maybe for another five hundred years (as in from the Reformation till now) and this will not change. Unless your talk is for the purpose of moving you toward the Roman Catholic Church, you can be sure it will never move them towards you. So, of course, they welcome the dialogue.

Despite the harsh tone of the document, it stresses that Benedict remains committed to ecumenical dialogue. (Ibid)

The Roman Catholic Church hasn't changed.5 If you catch yourself thinking so, perhaps it time to reexamine just what you believe. If it's not grounded 100% in God's Word (Sola Scriptura), apart from the traditions of man, odds say you're the one that is changing.

End Notes:

1. Francis Beckwith, a Baylor University Professor, was also the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. In early 2007 he announced his conversion to Roman Catholicism and his resignation as the president of the Evangelical Theological Society. He does not consider his continued membership in the Society or as a professor at a professed evangelical university as being incompatible with his new religion.

Because I can in good conscience, as a Catholic, affirm the ETS doctrinal statement, I do not intend to resign as a member of ETS. (Excerpt from Beckwith's blog at Right Reason updated as of May 10, 2007)

While understanding that they key issue of the Protestant Reformation was justification through faith alone (sola fides), he holds that this is no longer a real issue. Asked "What did I lose?" His response was "'Nothing,' he decided. 'I'm not giving up any fundamental doctrinal beliefs. All I'm doing is making a choice to return to the church (in which) my parents baptized me.'" (Reversion to Catholicism brings professor full circle, Eileen Flynn, July 07, 2007). Obviously his "fundamental" doctrinal beliefs, as an evangelical, were so far from those of the reformation that it was true for him that he had nothing to change. As for Baylor University, one news article stated that they already had 80 Catholic faculty members... Beckwith will feel right at home in that evangelical university. Just imagine what education, in regards to their spiritual beliefs, the students are getting (at this and many other evangelical universities with similar hiring policies). For the sake of "good qualifications" our children are being sold out to spiritual wolves in sheep's clothing.

2. Another article on the Vatican's statements emphasizes that this Pope released this because he "seeks to clear up 'confusion and doubt' which has crept into the Church's relationship with other faiths." (Vatican reiterates hardline on primacy of Catholic Church, by Martine Nouaille, AFP, July 10, 2007)

3. The article cited in end note 1 has the obligatory rebuttal view point, no matter how obscure, that most news articles seem compelled to now include... "Tuesday's document was immediately seen by one Catholic prelate, who wished to remain anonymous, as espousing a 'restrictive' view of the council." With hundreds of thousands of Roman Catholic officials worldwide, the mere fact that they could only find one who would voice cautiously mild disagreement (and require anonymity) itself speaks volumes. This timid prelate knows quite well that highly visible opposition to the Pope's authority would result in his dismissal. Good Catholic can't disagree, only bad Catholics or non-churches would challenge the Primacy of the Pope - it's the very message of this pronouncement.

4. Another article, which also had to find opposing views (see end note 2), showed how far the Protestant church has fallen. Including praise for their "ecumenical relations" with the Catholic Church, this pastor shows a complete lack of understand the real significance of the Pope's proclamation... "But the Rev. Buckner Fanning, retired pastor of Trinity Baptist Church, said he's not alarmed by the document's language and said doctrinal differences between Christian denominations aren't as important as proclaiming the message of Jesus' death and resurrection." (Pope defines 'true church', J. Michael Parker and Abe Levy, Express News, 07/11/2007)

5. The Pope's message made this claim: "What earlier generations held as sacred, remains sacred, and great for us, too, and it cannot be, all of a sudden, entirely forbidden or even considered harmful." While this was directly in support of again allowing the Latin Mass to be widely used (something that had mostly ceased since Vatican II in 1962-1965), it is also true of all other teachings and pronouncements of any earlier Pope as well. If any subsequent Pope was to declare an earlier Pope wrong or irrelevant it would destroy their doctrines which espouse the primacy and inerrancy of the Pope as Christ's representative on earth. How far can this go? I often wonder. Consider this last statement by the Pope in light of historical practices of the Roman Catholic Church, such as the persecutions of the Inquisition - if they were once sacred, following this train of thought, it only holds that they must remain sacred as they "cannot be, all of a sudden, entirely forbidden or even considered harmful."

Written by Brent MacDonald of Lion Tracks Ministries. (c) 2007
Duplication permitted as long as the source is cited.