There are Roman Catholics in my family but I’m not one: why not?

Bible study that hits the spot
Bible study that hits the spot

In this post, I have a couple of challenges to Roman Catholic doctrine. The point of this post is not to piss off my Roman Catholic readers, it’s more to explain why I’m not Roman Catholic. And maybe to explain how Protestants like me think about religion.


Here’s the first article from Cold Case Christianity, by the Master of the Evidence J. Warner Wallace. He writes about the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory, and his experience with studying and then rejecting it.

Here is his introduction:

The notion of purgatory assumes many of us die with unforgiven sins that need to be purged from our account; some of us are not good enough to go to heaven, but not bad enough to go to hell. Purgatory, therefore, is a temporary, intermediate place (or state of being) where good deeds and works can be performed in order to purge our impurity prior to our final destiny with God. Although millions of Catholics believe purgatory to be a reality, the idea needs to be tested in light of the Scripture. Is purgatory something we, as Bible believing Christians, should accept as true?

He’s got a stack of Bible verses to make two points against Purgatory: first, that Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to atone for all our rebellion against God, and we don’t need to endure any suffering or punishment to supplement it. And second, the teaching about the afterlife in the Bible says that believers are immediately ushered into the presence of God after they die (without resurrection bodies, yet), while unbelievers are separated away from God.

Here’s what he says about the first point:

Our Salvation Isn’t Based On Our Good Works
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, forgiveness is not based on the good works of the believer. For this reason, deeds or works performed for those in purgatory are both unnecessary and ineffectual:

Romans 3:21-24, 27-28
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus… Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.

Romans 8:1
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.

Our Salvation Is Based On Jesus’ Work on the Cross
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus’ work on the cross (His blood) purifies us from allsin. For this reason, there isn’t a lingering sin problem requiring the existence of a place like purgatory:

Titus 2:13-14
…we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

1John 1:7b
…the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

1John 1:9b
…he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1John 2:2
He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.

Hebrews 10:14
…because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

Our Salvation Has, Therefore, Already Been Guaranteed
According to the Biblical doctrine of Salvation, Jesus has already purified and purged believers of sin based on our faith in Him. For this reason, there is no need for a place like Purgatory where additional purging must be performed…

[…]The Biblical doctrine of Salvation clearly eliminates the need for purgatory.

I was never able to find anything in the Bible to support purgatory. It’s a very very late doctrine that was unknown to the early church until the late 2nd / early 3rd century, where it is spoken about by a handful of people. But lots of weird doctrines were creeping up on the fringe around that time, so we shouldn’t be surprised… the point is that they have no support from the Bible, and not in the community of believers for the first 150 years after the death of Jesus.

The bodily assumption of Mary

Anyway, my turn now. The Roman Catholic church teaches that Mary was “bodily assumed” into Heaven after her death, i.e. – she didn’t just stay in her grave. Let’s see if that is in the Bible or in the early church.

Here’s what I found:

  1. To be a Roman Catholic, you need to believe in Papal infallibility in matters of dogma.
  2. In 1950, the Pope pronounced the assumption of Mary to be infallible dogma.
  3. This pronouncement was solicited by a petition featuring over 8 million signatures.
  4. There is no historical record of this doctrine in the Bible.
  5. No early church father mentions the assumption until 590 AD.
  6. Documents dated 377 AD state that no one knows how Mary died.
  7. The assumption appears for the first time in an apocryphal gospel dated about 495 AD.


I only cite Roman Catholic sources for my facts.

6. “But if some think us mistaken, let them search the Scriptures. They will not find Mary’s death; they will not find whether she died or did not die; they will not find whether she was buried or was not buried … Scripture is absolutely silent [on the end of Mary] … For my own part, I do not dare to speak, but I keep my own thoughts and I practice silence … The fact is, Scripture has outstripped the human mind and left [this matter] uncertain … Did she die, we do not know … Either the holy Virgin died and was buried … Or she was killed … Or she remained alive, since nothing is impossible with God and He can do whatever He desires; for her end no-one knows.” (Epiphanius, Panarion, Haer. 78.10-11, 23. Cited by Juniper Carol, O.F.M. ed.,Mariology, Vol. II (Milwaukee: Bruce, 1957), pp. 139-40).

7. “The idea of the bodily assumption of Mary is first expressed in certain transitus–narratives of the fifth and sixth centuries. Even though these are apocryphal they bear witness to the faith of the generation in which they were written despite their legendary clothing. The first Church author to speak of the bodily ascension of Mary, in association with an apocryphal transitus B.M.V., is St. Gregory of Tours.” (Ludwig Ott, Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma(Rockford: Tan, 1974), pp. 209–210).

It should be noted that the apocryphal gospel in which the doctrine of the assumption of Mary first appeared was condemned as heretical by two Popes in the 5th and 6th centuries. However, I was not able to find a CATHOLIC source for this fact, so I deliberately chose not to use it in my case.


The first thing I want to say is that the Bible is not the only place you look to decide these issues. You also look in church history, and you are looking for a clear chain of custody of the doctrine as far back as it can go. Purgatory and the perpetual virginity of Mary have some track record, but the bodily assumption of Mary is just nowhere – not in the Bible, not in the Early Church fathers. So that’s the silver bullet against Roman Catholicism, since they made it “infallible”.

This post is more directed to non-Christians to sort of show you how we do our homework. I am the first Protestant in my family. We have half the family who is Muslim, and the other half mostly Hindu, with some Catholic. I had to debate all these people growing up, and I wiped the floor with them. It was not even close. I simply settled on the beliefs that allowed me to win every argument, every time. That’s how you do religion. If you have to go against your whole family in order to be right, you do it. It’s not good to be wrong about things just because that’s what your family believes. These things were not pushed hard on me by my parents, I studied them on my own in order to win arguments. After a while of winning, I found myself acting consistently with what I was arguing for. Although that might sound really weird to you, that’s probably the right way to do this. Don’t listen to parents and church, find your own way forward by winning arguments, and believing only what the evidence supports.

Although most people think that if I had kids, I’d bully them into my beliefs, I actually would not. Because that’s not what worked on me. What really works is fighting about evidence, welcoming questions, and allowing differences of opinion. Being free to pursue truth is more important in the long run than coercing your kids to act nicely.

26 thoughts on “There are Roman Catholics in my family but I’m not one: why not?”

  1. “We have half the family who is Muslim, and the other half mostly Hindu, with some Catholic. I had to debate all these people growing up”

    Oh, how I wish we had video of this – it would be as entertaining as a WLC debate!

  2. The concept of Purgatory is supported by the Books of Macabees which were removed from Protestant versions of the Bible around the Protestant Reformation.

    I haven’t read Macabees nor the Catholic Church’s catechism on the topic of Purgatory, so I don’t take any hard stand on the concept. I just thought it would be interesting to bring up.

    1. Response here:

      Second Maccabees 12:39-46 and Prayers for the Dead. This passage from the Apocrypha says nothing about purgatory. It is merely the interpretation of the writer concerning a bizarre incident. A closer reading of this text indicates four things. First, Second Maccabees makes no direct reference to purgatory. Second, the passage is self-contradictory and inconsistent. It states that these dead “had gone to rest in godliness” (v. 45), but then it tells us that these dead warriors were idolaters, killed by God due to their idolatry. Third, there is nothing in the law of Moses that comes close to advocating prayers for the dead. What we find in Second Maccabees and the rabbinical writings surrounding these events are the syncretistic merging of pagan ideas with Israelite religion. Fourth, the Apocrypha, while useful for background information, is full of historical inaccuracies, myth, superstition, and ideas contrary to the rest of Scripture. The anonymous author of Second Maccabees does not purport to speak for God, but rather merely to condense some five volumes of a man named Jason of Cyrene (2 Macc. 3:23).9 We cannot and should not look to Second Maccabees for Scripture-based doctrines.


    2. Hmm, firstly I would strongly contest the claim that the OT deuterocanonicals were ‘removed’ from Protestant versions of the Bible, jgecik. The books were always a matter of contention within the church prior to the Council of Trent, as one can see from the doubts of St. Jerome, Rufinus, and St. John Damascene regarding the books and whether they should be considered inspired. Its rather intriguing that the early Church Fathers who knew the most about Old Testament backgrounds were the least likely to hold to the Apocryphal books (e.g. Origen and Jerome understood Hebrew, and Melito of Sardis was well-versed on such matters).

      Regarding the Catholic Church’s official position on Purgatory, the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2nd Edition) states the following:

      “1030 All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.

      1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.”

      Basically, the concept of Purgatory is absolutely essential to Roman Catholic belief and flows naturally from their understanding of sanctification. Almost every Catholic who has ever lived (bar those with mortal sin upon death, for example) will end up there to be purged of their remaining sin. It is also here where prayers for the dead and indulgences come in; further concepts which have sharply divided Protestantism from Catholicism. The dogma is so critical that if one is a serious Catholic, one must take a stance upon the issue, not least because it is asserted to be divinely, infallibly revealed dogma (i.e. not merely a hypothesis which one can take or leave). Hope this helps a bit.

      1. This makes sense. I know some REALLY strong (daily mass) Catholics who not only believe in purgatory but welcome it.

        1. Unfortunately, it goes against the Gospel. 1 John 1:7 makes it clear that Jesus’ sacrifice was enough to cleanse us of ALL our sins. I speak as an ex-RC priest, now an evangelical pastor and evangelist, working with cult groups. If we require purgatory after death, then Christ’s cry ‘Tetelestai’ (it is finished, paid in full, mission accomplished) in John 1930, was either a lie by Jesus Himself or inadequate enough to require further action (works) on our part, which goes against Ephesians 2:8, 9.

  3. Jerry Walls is a Protestant who defends the doctrine of purgatory in his book, Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002), chap. 2 – he also responds to the very many misconceptions surrounding it.

    1. Jerry Walls, whom I admire, is still wrong, scripturally. Not only does he argue in favour of a type or ‘almost’ form of purgatory, but in a form of universalism, where all, eventually, will be saved – nd not really addressing the problem of evil in the world.
      As someone, who believed in and taught purgatory, I found his book assumed, for the most part, that purgatory is true, and so the question is, what type of purgatory fits best with protestant theology. As far as an actual persuasive argument goes, pretty much it’s just a brief argument from free will that is sort of tacked on. In fact, more of an argument is put forth for the idea of post-mortem repentance of the unsaved than for purgatory itself, despite verses like Hebrew 9:27 that speak strongly against this.

  4. As a former RC missionary priest, now an evangelical Christian (pastor & evangelist), with a ministry to the cults, I think this is an excellent piece of apologetics, :)

    1. Wow! Love to hear a snippet of what turned you away from Catholicism, if it is not too personal. Just curious.

      1. In a nutshell, as a Roman Catholic, growing up in the ‘troubles’ in Northern Ireland, I was an ‘all or nothing’ Catholic.
        Many Protestant/Brethern groups tried to convert me through ridicule, cajoling, bullying, sneering, patronising me.
        I would say, which is true, that through the Holy Spirit I was saved; but, someone taking the time and showing me what the Bible says FOR the Gospel and not Against the RC church.
        It was a series of friendship, walk alongside, be available, type encounters at which Christian are very bad. Christians want to bring potentioan converts to their churches. I’ve had an outreach to the cults for many years – JWs, Mormons, 7th Day Adventists, Muslims…and I always listen to their stories about where they’re at and why. It’s THEIR story, and I give them the room and space to tell it. Catholics are very difficult to evangelise for many reasons – even harder than Muslims and JWs – becuaes everyone wants to tell them the Gospel, but no-one wants to listen to them. Everyone wants to show them what’s wrong with their theology, and no-one want to find out why they believe what they believe, and get them to explain their faith to them.
        I’m speaking, also, as someone who has worked as a Clinical Psychologist (PTSD) with the military (Falklands & 1st Gulf War) as well as women, who have been sexually abused, raped, victims of incest, domestic violence (specialising in depression/self harm & suicide) etc as well as abuser/abused men, addicts, paedophiles etc. Everyone wants and needs to tell their story and to be heard – for good or evil. Christians need to listen more (not just accept or justify) but listen to othersof different faiths in order to walk in their shoes whilst looking for an opportunity to present the Gospel at an opportune time.
        Listening is key…if we’re prepared to spend the time, which most Christians refuse to do.
        Please feel free to ask further. :)

        1. VERY solid advice – thank you for sharing. I’m one of those Christians who does not listen enough. I will take this to heart.

  5. I know not all Christians will agree with me on this point, but I say it out of concern for all those that claim that the Roman Catholic Church is simply one of the many legitimate Christian denominations. Having studied the doctrines of Rome exstensively, I am absolutely convinced that it is an apostate church in the same camp as LDS and the Watchtower.

    I say this because of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Justification. Per the official teachings of Rome, Jesus death on the cross was not sufficient to atone for sins. Rather, Jesus continues to be sacrificed daily when a Catholic priest calls him down out of heaven and sacrifices him on the altar in the sacrament of the Eucharist.

    To be fair, I have met self identifying Catholics who claim they do not believe this, but per official Catholic doctrine, a Catholic must accept all the infallible doctrines of Rome.

    There may be self identifying Catholics who are in fact saved, but if they are truly saved, they must reject the church’s official teachings about salvation and are thus not truly Catholic.

  6. I have found that Catholics are some of the most difficult people to speak to about the gospel. It never matters what the Bible actually says, because their final authority is the organization of the Roman Catholic Church.

    But then they deny that this is so! It’s so frustrating. If they’d simply say that, admit it, then maybe productive dialogue could occur. But they deny it, while at the same time doing it.

  7. I have a few other serious objections to the Roman Catholic faith.

    One is their insistence on celibacy for their church leadership. This is not only unBiblical, but is at least part of the reason that there are so many sexual scandals among Catholic priests. When you teach that your church leaders must remain celibate, even though the Bible teaches that church leaders are to have a wife to help them avoid temptation, you’re likely to end up with a lot of frustrated and tempted church leaders. Forcing people who weren’t given the gift of celibacy to be celibate is very problematic. That doesn’t excuse their immoral actions, of course, but it does mean the church has a problem in what it is doing with its leadership.

    The Bible certainly does not mandate celibacy for church leaders. In fact, the Bible has something to say about those who forbid marrying. It says they have departed from the faith and are following doctrines of devils (see I Tim. 4:3). That’s pretty strong.

    On the other hand, I Timothy 3 gives the necessary qualifications for a bishop to include being “the husband of one wife.” This is likewise required for deacons in the church. The idea seems to be that you know someone is fit for church office when they have a family they have shown they can lead well before they are given leadership in the church.

    Even if you argue that the requirement of being the husband of one wife only means that IF he is married, he should have one wife and rule his household well, it still indicates that most church leaders should be married and that forbidding church leaders to marry is unBiblical.

    Another objection to the Catholic church is that they confess their sins to a priest instead of seeking forgiveness directly with God. The Bible says that Jesus is the ONLY mediator between God and man (I Tim. 2:5). Thus, asking forgiveness of a priest is both unnecessary and unBiblical.

    Along the same lines, praying to Mary or to dead saints is not Biblical. They claim they only ask Mary (or the saints) to pray for them, but since Mary (or any other dead human), if she can even hear people on earth praying to her, cannot possibly hear all of them. She isn’t omnipotent or omnipresent like God is. So the idea of millions of people talking to Mary or Peter or some other dead saint and them hearing all those petitions attributes characteristics to those people that belong only to God.

    And why would you pray to a dead saint when you can pray directly to God? Unlike mere humans, He can hear every prayer. Christians are His children, whom He always hears when they pray. We don’t need someone “more important” to bring our requests to God. We are just as important to Him as any other Christian, living or dead.

    1. Although I generally agree that a celibate priesthood is unBiblical, I’m going to push back a little bit on this one. As you say, the Biblical case against it is pretty solid – especially from the position that even the first alleged Pope – the Apostle Peter had a wife. A strong reason I have against the teaching of celibacy is its ties to the idea that the priest is an ‘Alter Christus’ – another Christ. Part of the argument for priestly celibacy comes from Christ’s own life, and since the priest is an Alter Christus he is required to model that celibate life. I’m uncomfortable about arguing against celibacy from the position that it causes priestly scandals largely because I am unconvinced that there is genuine causation here (we’ve had our own scandals in the Anglican Communion), the priests are not being forced against their will (they freely chose this way of life, knowing what was required of them) and I’ve seen similar arguments employed by the so-called ‘Gay Christian’ movement to undermine a Christian ethic of sexual self-control. It just makes me somewhat uncomfortable. But that said, a lot of very good points.

  8. I have never understood about praying to saints or to Mary. That prayer you spoke to Mary? You wasted time you could have been praying to God, and a God who can actually hear all of the prayers uttered at the same time and give them each time and attention according to His power, rather than Mary or another saint, who even though glorified and perfect now are still limited and finite in both their understanding and power. I genuinely believe Mary is horrified by what the Catholic Church teaches regarding her and the reverence in which she is held.

    With respect to purgatory, the main rebuttal to that doctrine is found in the repentant thief on the cross. Jesus responds to his plea “Today, you will be with me in paradise.” If purgatory is a correct doctrine, then this man, a self-confessed criminal who apparently deserves his death sentence, should wind up there and not in paradise on the day of his death. Instead, Christ speaks to him as though his salvation is fully accomplished in his own concurrent death.

    With respect to the apocryphal books, it is my understanding that they were never part of the canon, even in Old Testament days – that the Jews themselves understood them to be useful but not Scripture. Further, that they only became part of the Catholic Canon at the Council of Trent in the 1500s in response to the Reformation.

    1. The Catholic response would be along the lines of: “Well, why bother to ask a Christian friend or your pastor to pray for you? The time you spent asking them to pray for you is time you could have spent praying to God directly!” That would be their attempted reductio ad absurdum–not that I necessarily agree with it, but, as Thad said, it’s important to understand what they are saying.
      Along those lines, their view of Purgatory depends on a distinction between eternal and temporal payment for sins. One example would be the death of David and Bathsheba’s first son, as a penalty for that sin, in 2 Sam. 12. Note especially vv. 11-14, where Nathan says that David is forgiven, but will still suffer certain consequences. If a man steals many times, but then truly repents, his theft is paid for by Christ with respect to the Book of Life, but he may still need to go to prison, he may still be distrusted, he may need to labor to learn to work hard and give to others, since his soul has grown so used to desiring and taking from others.
      On the other hand, some of their proof texts are dubious: particularly their appeal to the passage on the unforgivable sin, where it refers to sins being forgiven in this life and the life to come. As with the doctrine of transubstantiation, they consider this literal, rather than a figure of speech (in this case, hyperbole). They also misunderstand the Greek word, since aeon is a measurement of time in history, an “age” or “epoch.”

  9. I am Catholic and would like to try to clarify the thinking about Purgatory just a little. The best conversations that I have had with non-Catholics are those where we try to help the other understand what we are trying to say.

    I think that the best way to think about Purgatory is that it is there not to forgive sins. Christ’s death and resurrection did that. It is more to help make us perfect on the journey to God. Even very serious Christians have problems that they try to overcome their whole lives: selfishness, tendency towards anger, etc. Purgatory is to help us get past that.

    The Catholic Church does not say much about Purgatory. The Orthodox say even less, but they still have the core of the idea. Is it fast, slow, or immediate? Is it like what Dante described? There is a lot of room for private speculation. Frankly, I wish Augustine had not used the word, as it makes things more difficult to explain than they already are.

    1. Hi There, as a former RC priest (Missionary) and now biblical Christian, I can state that the doctrine of Purgatory runs contrary to the teachings of the Bible at every turn.

      God bless,


  10. Hi Thad,

    My one point was that purgatory is not a second chance to have you sins forgiven.

    Out of curiosity, which type of priest were you?

    1. Hi,
      I was a missionary priest (White Fathers) – we were trained by White Fathers, Jesuits & Dominicans.
      I would be interested in how you would explain or clarify the concept or doctrine of purgatory, and its purpose?


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