benyola.net

Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and the Biblical Gospel

A Comparative Analysis

by Peter Benyola
Codex Sinaiticus, also known as Codex Aleph (Aleph is the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), is the oldest surviving complete New Testament, and one of the two oldest manuscripts of the whole Bible. Written in Greek in the fourth century, it was discovered by the textual critic Constantine Tischendorf at St. Catharine's Monastery on Mt. Sinai in 1844. It stands as one of the most reliable manuscripts for the reconstruction of the Bible.

Codex Sinaiticus, one of the four great uncial codices, is the oldest surviving complete New Testament, and one of the two oldest manuscripts of the whole Bible. Written in Greek in the fourth century, it was discovered in 1844 by the textual critic Constantine Tischendorf at St. Catharine’s Monastery on Mt. Sinai. Also known as Codex Aleph, it stands as one of the most reliable manuscripts for the reconstruction of the Bible. image: Thornton’s Bookshop

 

Introduction

The premise of the Book of Mormon as a “restoration of the gospel” rests upon the gradual corruption of the Roman Catholic Church unto complete apostasy. But the twofold irony of Mormonism is that in its brazen condemnation of Roman Catholicism, it spawned a new strain of doctrine that repeats many of Rome’s errors — and eclipsed the plain and precious truth of the Christian gospel.

Plenty of helpful resources have been written detailing the problems of Roman Catholicism as well as Mormonism, but very little has been produced showing the doctrinal resemblance of these two systems, as well as their historical relationship. My intent here is not to hector multiple religions in one stroke, but to objectively and factually analyze how Roman Catholic dogma historically was the antecedent for at least one of the major American cult systems that grew out of the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century.

My goal has been to be historically equitable and exegetically sound. Having said that, this article is written from the angle of a confessional Protestant — one who thinks the stakes here are very high and is deeply concerned for the salvation of people who hold to these beliefs. It’s not the individual people of these religions we Protestants take issue with, but the fundamental doctrines of these systems in question. We care enough to confront these issues with people because we are convicted that eternity is hanging in the balance.

Protestants hold that salvation comes by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to Scripture alone, to the glory of God alone. As a Protestant, I believe the five solae, the leading doctrinal formula of the Reformation, when properly understood and applied continue to prove a potent antidote to counteract the effects of all types of toxic doctrine — for the purpose of healing and purifying God’s people.

We find that there were essentially two causes of the Protestant Reformation from the existing Roman Catholic system: the formal cause, which is the dispute over the supreme authority of Scripture to govern God’s people; and the material cause, that is, the dissonance concerning justification by faith alone as the means of salvation for the Christian. We’ll examine the relevance of both, the authority of Scripture as the fundamental element, and that forefront argument which it undergirds: justification by faith alone, which is the real eye of the storm.

Image: j3frea

image: j3frea

“The gospel of Jesus Christ is always at risk of distortion. It became distorted in the centuries leading up to the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century. It became distorted at innumerable other points of church history, and it is often distorted today,” wrote Dr. R.C. Sproul. “That is why Martin Luther said the gospel must be defended in every generation. It is the center point of attack by the forces of evil. They know that if they can get rid of the gospel, they can get rid of Christianity … The Reformation was simply a commitment to biblical truth, and as long as there are departures from biblical truth, we have to be involved in the task of reformation.” (Are We Together? A Protestant Analyzes Roman Catholicism, Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust Publishing, 2012, pg. 1, 8)

Reformed theology is known for making theological distinctions. In this study, the juxtaposition of doctrine will be presented as the Biblical teaching, the Roman Catholic teaching, the Mormonism teaching and finally, the Confessional Reformed teaching, which in history stands between the Roman Catholic Church and the Mormon Church. There are at least a few more parallels that are more peripheral than essential and will not be discussed — as well as Roman Catholicism’s and Mormonism’s own distinctive and categorical aberrations from biblical teaching. For the purposes of this survey, we’re dealing with the mutual errors that most directly pertain to salvation.

5 thoughts on “Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and the Biblical Gospel

  1. Richard Morin

    If you don’t mind, I would like to ask a couple of questions.

    1) Where in Scripture does it say that “Scripture alone” is required? There is a passage in Timothy that says all Scripture is “profitable”, but profitable does not equal “solely”. The Scriptures Paul was referring to was also the writings from Timothy’s youth, the New Testament was not even written yet.

    2) You said “Revelation is entrusted to Christians and every Christian, aided by the Holy Spirit, has the ability, the right and the responsibility to interpret Scripture” – isn’t this what Joseph Smith himself did? And why exactly should we entrust this method when there’s so many denominations claiming to be correct?

    3) How’d we’d get the canon of Scripture? Who put it together in the 300’s? Who was given that authority? And why do you think that the authority would eb taken away when Matthew 16:18 clearly says otherwise?

    4) Have you done studies of the Patristic period? You’ll find that the teachings of the Catholic Church have remained consistent of you look throughout the last 2000 plus years. Have you read the writings of those folks?

    1. Richard Morin

      Specifically, please read the writings of the early Church Fathers regarding Baptism. Also, I really encourage you to read John Henry Newman.

    2. Peter Benyola Post author

      Hello Richard. Thank you for your thoughtful comments and questions. I certainly don’t mind, and I always welcome discussion. I am drawing from your comments that you are probably Roman Catholic. We love you.

      Responding to your questions:

      1) When you ask, “Where in Scripture does it say that “Scripture alone” is required?”, I assume you meant to ask where in Scripture it says Scripture alone is required to communicate a message sufficient for eternal life — which is what we are chiefly concerned with in this discussion. The answer is that even the Gospel of John alone, a single New Testament book, contains a message sufficient for salvation (John 20:30-31). I’m definitely not saying that fact renders everything else in Scripture irrelevant; but from my examination of Roman Catholic claims of Magisterial authority (Catechism of the Catholic Church 82, 95), its teaching is that the Bible is not sufficient for faith and practice of Christians. That means that if we are going to square on the authority of Scripture, then its claims of self-sufficiency are the place we should start.

      2) No, this is not what Joseph Smith did. People who are Spiritually regenerated and indwelt with the Holy Spirit do not take it upon themselves to write their own volumes of scripture contradicting and attempting to denigrate the authority of the Bible in order to elevate their own, and even presume to edit and revise the Scripture itself.

      The other part of your question concerns the existence of different Christian traditions because of divergent interpretations. Please see the Scripture references above to support the point that Christians are equipped and called to interpret the Scriptures. God allows us to interpret His Word ourselves, but He does not give us permission to interpret it incorrectly. Yet, each one of us does this to some degree. It’s part of our fallen condition. But sola Scriptura is not the reason this happens — it’s actually a safeguard against it happening more often than it does.

      3) This is a complex question that I can’t possibly give proper treatment in a blog comment. A very rudimentary answer is that Orthodox Protestants believe the canon of Scripture is a fallible collection of infallible books. In other words, Protestantism does not hold that the church necessarily was infallible in the formation of the biblical canon. We admit the possibility that in its review and deliberations of which books belong in the canon, that the church could have made mistakes in what it included or excluded. However, the books that were chosen are regarded as individually infallible. The council’s decisions, of course, did not change the nature of the books. Scripture is authoritative within itself — it never has and never will depend on a church council to invest it with divine authority.

      By contrast, the Roman Catholic Church believes that the Bible is an infallible collection of infallible books. That is, not only are the writings of the writings themselves infallible, but in the process of assembling the canon, the church exercised an infallible ability to recognize and sanction those infallible books. Protestants stop short of making such a claim, even in the selection of the biblical canon.

      The central issue of division with respect to the authority of Scripture is the relationship of Scripture and the tradition of the church. For specific information on this issue, please refer to Chapter I, no. 2, and Chapter III, no. 1, of this study.

      4) Yes, I have read some of the Patristic writings. I’m sure I have not read all of them. In fact, in this very study, I referred to Cyril of Jerusalem on a comment that is highly pertinent to the principle of sola Scriptura.

  2. Nick

    Hi Peter, I have a couple questions regarding the canon of scripture that some what touch on your and Richard’s conversation as well as past conversations we have had. 1) Under the view of scripture as a fallible collection of infallible books, does this mean that it is the responsibility or every protestant to decide which books they believe to be infallible? If not, why not? If so, by what means should they go about doing this? Where could they even begin?

    2) Are there other books, either ancient or modern, that one should also look to in an effort to determine whether or not those works are infallible? On what grounds can one be confident on the decision that a particular book is infallible? If the collection is itself fallible, what confidence is there that any individual book in the collection is actually rather than only theoretically infallible?

    3) How would you respond to a Christian that rejected, say, Paul’s letters, or James, or John’s Gospel, or Leviticus on the grounds that he thought them fallible? Or who accepted additional books, such as the Didache, The Apostle’s Creed, I Clement, Judith, the Gospel of Thomas, or A Purpose Driven Life based on the fact that, having read them, he thought they had a rightful claim to infallibility (infallibility via inspiration by the Holy Spirit, just to be clear.) I doubt anyone would consider the Purpose Driven Life infallible, but I hope my point is evidence despite my hyperbole.

    1. Peter Benyola Post author

      Hi Nick,

      Thanks for your questions. I will attempt to answer thoroughly but succinctly.

      1) I would say it is not the responsibility of every Protestant to decide which books we believe to be infallible. Synods such as the Council of Hippo and the Council of Carthage are useful and relevant in church history. I’m simply saying that since those things lie outside the Scriptures themselves, that they might not have been subject to the same superintendence of the Holy Spirit that brought forth the Scriptures in the first place. Though, they very well could have been. It’s acknowledgement of the possibility of human error in the process of canonization, which the Roman Catholic Church does not acknowledge. Protestants recognize that no fiat of the church had the power to invest the Scriptures with authority they already had.

      The Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura is not some kind of free-for-all license for people to arbitrarily choose what from Scripture to believe and what not to believe, or interpret Holy Writ however one wants to. On the contrary, it was and still is intended as a call to the Christian’s accountability, to consistent, sound biblical hermeneutics, and a safeguard against unwieldy personal interpretation.

      Your last question here I believe is the most important one: Where could they even begin? I believe a good place to start is John 20:30-31: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”

      2) Not to oversimplify this issue, but Christians should examine the evidence within the Bible itself to verify what books are canonical before looking elsewhere. For instance, the canon of the Old Testament as recognized by Protestants is actually very easy to provide a basis from Jesus’ own words — He canonized the Old Testament in just a few statements, using the order of the books that appeared in the Tanakh (Luke 11:49-51, 24:27, 44-88). All the books in the New Testament accepted by Protestants are books that are written by the Apostles, and they sometimes canonized each other’s writings (Luke 1:1-4, II Peter 3:15-16). Aside from that, yes, there certainly are Patristic and modern writings that deepen our understanding of why we have the Bible we have today. We don’t have room to get into that here.

      A Christian’s confidence in what is Scripture cannot be finally instilled by evidence and commentaries, but only by the inward witness of the Holy Spirit that what the apostles said and wrote is indeed God-breathed (I Corinthians 14:37, II Corinthians 3:4-6). I realize that sounds incredibly subjective because anyone can claim to believe what they believe because of the Holy Spirit — but ultimately, our belief of what is Scripture must be based on sound reason, not all of us can be correct, and even if someone has all the books of the Bible correct, he will never have a perfect and error-free understanding of the content of Scripture this side of heaven.

      3) Well, I believe God inspired those books, consequently, I would respond that unbelief in those books is sin. I would pray for that Christian and ask him to diligently study the Bible, so he will be persuaded by the Holy Spirit of what he is reading. As I mentioned earlier, it is not for every individual to come up with his own canon, but Christians are called to study for themselves to see if what presents itself as the Word of God truly is (Acts 17:11).

      I could address the Protestant view on the Apocryphal books one-by-one, but that would take forever. I would recommend reading some of the resources in the Further Study links in my original post.

      Let’s say for the sake of argument, that the Roman Catholic canon is the correct one and the Protestant canon is the wrong one. Let’s stick with your Roman Catholic Bible, Nick — Apocrypha and all. I’m on your terms now, using your Bible. Please turn with me to John 20:30, 31 (NABRE).

      “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of [his] disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written that you may [come to] believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through this belief you may have life in his name.”

      Nick, is there enough information in the Gospel of John, within the Roman Catholic version of the Bible, for a person to understand how to be eternally saved?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

15 − 12 =