Chapter 11: Roman Catholicism
and Catholic Change
are the views of Roman Catholicism, then why would any Evangelical
Christian want closer ties with that church? Part of the
reason is undoubtedly the weakening doctrinal stance of
the major denominations and many Evangelical and Charismatic
churches. Another major reason is an apparent change in
Catholicism since the Second Vatican Council (1962-65),
commonly called "Vatican II." The popular perception
is that in Vatican II the Roman Catholic Church underwent
major changes that opened the door to cooperation between
Catholics and non-Catholics.
II did introduce significant changes to the Catholic Church.
The council encouraged Bible study and authorized new translation
work. It revised the church liturgy and dropped Latin in
favor of the common languages of the people. Catholic liberals
saw a new openness toward liberalism by the council. Most
significantly, the Catholic Church began to call non-Catholics
"separated brethren" instead of heretics and claimed
that both sides had sinned in the Reformation controversy.
The council's decree "Catholic Principles on Ecumenism"
encouraged discussions about unity between Catholics and
Vatican II introduced changes into the Roman Catholic Church,
what is often missed is that these changes did not affect
the questions that have divided Catholics and Protestants
since the Reformation. The tone was friendlier, but there
was no change on essential points of doctrine. The decree
on ecumenism, for example, still teaches, "All those
justified by faith through baptism are incorporated into
Christ" (sect. 3). The decree calls non-Catholics "separated
brethren" but chides many of them who "have not
preserved the genuine and total reality of the Eucharist
mystery" (sect. 22), that is, who do not believe in
the physical presence of Christ's body in the Eucharist
or that in the Mass is offered a real sacrifice of Christ's
how little Catholicism had changed was illustrated some
thirty years after Vatican II. In 1994 the Catholic Church
published a new catechism summarizing official church teaching,
the first such official summary since the Reformation.9
This catechism, although maintaining the friendly tone of
Vatican II, reveals no major change in Catholic doctrine.
for example, the catechism says that "the Church, to
whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is
entrusted, 'does not derive her certainty about all revealed
truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and
Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments
of devotion and reverence'" (para. 81). The "interpretation"
of this revelation belongs to the church, in particular,
"to the bishops in communion with the successor of
Peter, the Bishop of Rome" (85).
question of justification, the catechism does not differ
from the Council of Trent. The catechism, in fact, quotes
Trent on this point: "Justification is not only the
remission of sins, but also the sanctification and renewal
of the interior man" (1989). "Justification is
conferred in Baptism, the sacrament of faith" (1992),
the catechism says, and "includes the remission of
sins, sanctification, and the renewal of the inner man"
(2019). Salvation to the Catholic Church is still partly
by Christ's merit and partly by human merit: "No one
can merit the initial grace which is at the origin of conversion.
Moved by the Holy Spirit, we can merit for ourselves and
for others all the graces needed to attain eternal life,
as well as necessary temporal goods" (2027). Essential
to salvation are the church's sacraments: "The Church
affirms that for believers the sacraments of the New Covenant
are necessary for salvation" (1129). In light
of such statements, it is clear that the gulf between Rome
and biblical Protestantism has not narrowed. Despite the
reform of many Catholic practices, the doctrinal divide
between Catholicism and Protestantism is as great as it
The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation. By
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