The increasingly feeble Pope Paul II, after 25 years in power, seems to be drawing quickly toward death and the giving of an account of himself to God.
The media collectively gush over the Pope, praising his accomplishments, his world-wide travel, his influence, his leadership. Of course, none of them addresses the most basic of issues: have his leadership, his influence, his accomplishments been in the narrow path of Divine truth, or along the broad road of mere human tradition that leads to destruction? (Psalm 1:1-2; Matthew 7:13-14). Jesus with utter solemnity and seriousness warned, "Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter into the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Or, as it is stated in the words of an old Negro spiritual, "Ev’rybody talkin’ ‘bout heaven ain’t goin’ there." That’s bad grammar but good theology.
By what standard shall we evaluate this current pope (as well as all past and any future ones)? Not by the standards of men, nor by the traditions of men, for it is not men but God that shall pass judgement in that great and awful day. Rather, it is by the words of God Himself that the pope, his church, and yes, we ourselves, must be judged. Jesus assured us that His words would confront each man in his hour of judgment:
"There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day," (John 12:48).
But isn’t the Church of Rome the visible kingdom of God on earth, the guardian and guide of Divine truth? Hardly. Thomas Armitage (1819-1896), Baptist pastor and historian wrote, "Th[e] principle of infallibility and Church succession is the central corruption of Rome, and has so polluted her faith that she scarcely holds any truth purely, both in the abstract and the concrete. She believes in the proper Deity of Jesus Christ and of the Holy Spirit,--in the Unity and Trinity of the Godhead,--in the authenticity and inspiration of the Scriptures,--in the doctrine of incarnation and atonement,--and in eternal glory and retribution. But which of these has she not modified and perverted, under pretense that she is endowed with Catholicity and perpetual visibility, as the rightful Church Apostolic, all her defilement to the contrary? And now she makes her errors her real life." (A History of the Baptists. New York: Bryan, Taylor, & Co., 1887, pp. 5-6).
Armitage speaks the truth. While asserting belief in the Divine inspiration and authority of Scripture, Rome has perverted this doctrine by claiming a higher, even final, authority for the Bible in a translation (the Latin Vulgate) rather than the original Hebrew and Greek texts. It has devalued the authority of Scripture by adding to it the authority of tradition, church councils and papal decrees, and in reality subordinating--often nullifying--the teaching of Divine Scripture to these mere human productions. It has diluted the authority of the Bible by adding the Apocrypha, the so-called "Deutero-canonicals" to the true canon, books rejected for cause by the ancient Jews, by Christ and the Apostles, and even by several of the leading church fathers, including Jerome and Augustine.
And historically, no one has fought so long and so hard to keep the Bible out of the hands of the common man than the Church of Rome. As Luther noted, the reason for that is simple: the Bible is not on their side theologically.
Roman has taken the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity and corrupted it by first, practicing the most blatant idolatry--anyone who excuses the statues of Mary, apostles, "saints" and such, as merely aids to devotion, is engaging in abject denial. Such idols are worshipped by the "faithful" in most societies where Rome dominates the religious climate.
Second, the doctrine of the Trinity is corrupted by the virtual deification of Mary--she is called by Rome "the queen of heaven" (an old pagan term for the goddess Ishtar, co-opted by Rome), and "mother of God" (and dozens of other terms, many suitable only for addressing Deity) and deemed a necessary intercessor between God and man (contrast I Timothy 2:5). It is no wonder that Moslems, exposed to Catholicism, think the Christian Trinity is the Father, the Son, and Mary!
Rome has taken the Biblical doctrine of blood atonement and perverted it by declaring that Jesus’ one historical sacrifice of Himself on the cross is NOT a sufficient sacrifice for sin, but must be repeated again and again, multiplied thousands of times each day in the performance of the Mass (which in reality is a "magic show" as the priest, repeating the "magic words"--"Hoc est corpus meum" which became transmongrified into "hocus pocus"--transforms mere bread and wine into the literal body and blood of Jesus). Rome’s pretended sacrifices which must be repeatedly offered, can never take away sin or make the offerer perfect (Hebrews 10:1-3). But Jesus’ "one sacrifice for sin forever" can and does (Hebrews 10:12-14). To Jesus’ triumphal cry as His sacrifice was completed, "It is finished!" (John 19:30)--"Done!"--Rome replies, "Not so fast!"
The doctrine of the church as God’s instrument on earth to propagate the Gospel message has been corrupted into a church which is not merely the distributor of the Good News, but actually the arbiter of grace--Rome determines who will and who will not be saved. It has its seven sacraments (remarkably absent from Scripture) which the seeker must fulfill or the Church withholds forgiveness. Being in the good graces of the Church in essence is more important than being right with God, or rather, the latter is deemed identical to the former.
And of course, salvation solely by the grace of God (Ephesians 2:8,9) is replaced with a mongrel combination of grace and works.
The terrors of hell and the urgency of repentance in this life are lessened by the false hope of a temporary "purgatory" in which a person in essence gets a second chance, so a little--or a lot of--wickedness in this life is not a bar to a blissful eternity, and dying in sin can be "fixed," for a price, after death.
In short, Roman Catholicism is not Biblical Christianity. It is at best a gross caricature, a hideous and grotesque perversion of the Jesus and Christianity of the Bible. It has long masqueraded as though it were actually Christianity, and has horribly distorted the nature of true Christianity in the eyes of the watching world.
J. L. M. Curry in the "Introduction" to Armitage’s Baptist History (p. vii) well-summarizes the matter--"Many infidels have taken refuge in deism, atheism, agnosticism, because they in their ignorance supposed the [Roman Catholic] ‘Church,’ as they saw it, to be the embodiment of Christianity, the authorized exponent of Jesus Christ. Much of the ridicule of priestcraft and denial of the inspiration of the Scriptures is directly traceable to the corruption of the clergy, to autos-da-fe [Spanish for "acts of faith"--a euphemistic term for the barbarities of the Spanish Inquisition--ed.], to the churchly opposition to science and support of political tyranny and kingly wrongs. The genesis of the painful skepticism, so abundant in France, Spain and Italy, one need not search far to find. ‘Le Clericalisme, voila l’ennemi’ [French for "the institutional priesthood, there is the enemy,"--ed.] is the belief of many."
To the Jew, Christianity means chiefly "persecutor" since the Roman Catholic Church has busied itself over the many centuries with repeated and severe persecution, even to the death, of many Jews. Of course, forced conversion and persecution of dissent is wholly alien to the Christ and the Christianity of the Bible, but it is part and parcel of Rome’s modus operandi. If the conduct of Rome in its various persecutions of the Jews were true Christianity, who could blame any Jew for not wanting to hear the message of the Gospel? Of course, as a sop to Jews, the Pope some few short years back "absolved" the Jews of responsibility for the death of Jesus. Such arrogance! Such presumption! Only the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sin (Mark 2:10). The truth is, every man, every sinner, Gentile as well as Jew, is accountable to God for the death of Jesus, because "he was wounded because of our transgressions, he was bruised because of our iniquities" (Isaiah 53:5)
The Moslem believes that Christianity is an idolatrous religion (as does the Jew, frequently), and no surprise: the "Christianity" Muhammad was familiar with was the idol-making and idol-serving corruption of Christianity of Romanism. The Moslem believes that Christians worship three gods--the Father, the Son, and Mary. And again, no surprise, for what called itself "Christianity" in Muhammad’s world did worship Mary as a god. Yes, the Romanist will protest that they do not "worship" Mary, but merely "venerate" her. A rose by any other name, . . . . The truth is, Mary is worshipped and is a god in the historic Catholic theological system. She is prayed to, bowed to, her statutes are kissed and caressed, and her intercession is viewed as essential to salvation. No wonder Moslems misunderstand. Had I no Bible to instruct me, but only Catholic practice to go by, I, too, would believe that Christians worshipped Mary as a god.
And to the Moslem, Christianity is also synonymous with "persecutor," an indelible impression left on them by the medieval crusades which sought to wrest by force the Holy Land from Moslem control. What could be more in violation of the clear declaration of Jesus: "If my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight. But my kingdom is not now from here" (John 18:36). Did not Jesus rebuke Peter for drawing a sword in Gethsemane, and miraculously repair the injury Peter had violently inflicted?
Spreading "the faith" by force has been standard practice with Rome, as the millions in Central and South America during the Spanish conquests would testify. Their choices were simple: convert or die. Perhaps the Moslems got their like doctrine from Rome.
The French Revolution with the subsequent and all-but-universal secularism and atheism in France is a direct reaction to the corruption, greed, tyranny and oppression that characterized the Roman Catholic clergy and hierarchy in France in the decades, even centuries, preceding the Revolution (the same clergy which orchestrated the slaughter of 100,000 French Huguenots--Protestants--on St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1572, likely the spiritually most self-destructive act any nation ever committed). The masses were heavily taxed, abjectly poor and suppressed while the Catholic clergy lived in luxurious corruption and vice, and helped support and sustain the Bourbon dynasty.
And while Europe is in view, let it be noted that Europe, especially Western Europe, is by far the spiritually coldest and deadest portion of the globe--this region where Christianity once held sway. No doubt the unreality, the fraudulence, the mere facade that Catholicism is and has been has convinced millions that there is simply nothing of note or merit about Christ and Christianity--just old myths that are unimportant and irrelevant.
The world at large has largely bought into the oft-repeated but entirely fraudulent claim that the pope is head of the church, the true spiritual leader of Christianity. What must the watching world think of this "Christianity" with the widespread revelations of child-molesting priests, church cover-ups and pay-offs, and, reaching back in history, widespread official Catholic support for the likes of the Third Reich (this present pope during World War II worked in the factory that made the gas for Auschwitz and other death camps)? What would such "Christianity" have to offer to any thinking person? What would it generate but revulsion and contempt?
No, besides the spiritual harm done to those who embrace its Bible-denying, Bible-perverting and soul-condemning doctrines, Roman Catholicism has badly misrepresented the nature of Christianity to those "outside the camp." It is no surprise that such "Christianity" is rejected out of hand by Jews, Moslems, and others--they have been presented with a false bill of goods, a gross mis-characterization of Jesus and the Bible.
The present pope has sought to vigorously sustain and propagate the historic errors and practices of Roman Catholicism. An honest evaluation in the light of Bible doctrine requires that he be declared a false prophet, a blind leader of the blind, an enemy of the truth and of the souls of men, indeed of his own soul.