Before I list some very basic reasons why I am not Roman Catholic, I have to confess something... While I think Tridentine Romanism (post Council of Trent) de facto espouses a mangled presentation of the gospel that ends up being "false" and "fatal" for those who subscribe to the systematic details, I am not a frothing-at-the-mouth Rome-basher. Don't get me wrong - I believe post-Tridentine Romanism articulates false doctrines and creates fatal errors for people who consume them in their entirety, but unlike one of my heroes, Lorraine Boettner, I can't bring myself to call Rome a "cult." Romanism is not a cult - it is a church in error. The differences between being a "church in error," a "false church," and a "cult" deserves another blog, but that isn't my mission today...
I don't have time or space to get into everything, but here are some of the things that are top of mind:
- Misunderstanding Authority - Romanists believe ultimtate authority lies within their institutional Church because they see "sola scriptura" as a historical and an epistemological impossibility. They proport that the Bible has authority because the church first determined what the "canon" of Scriture was. They further postulate that if the Scriptures stand outside of the interpretation of the church (the magesterium), they become subjective putty in the hands of every individual. While both of these sound good enough on the surface, they are both overwrought. As for the historical / canonical issues, we believe that the church "received" or "recognized" the Scriptures, the church didn't "choose" them as an authoritative body in and of itself. The church had a role in the establishment of the canon, but that role was one of receptive submission, not active authority. As for the epistemological argument, Romanism is attacking a straw-man. Reformation theology does not call for "solo scriptura" - or the Bible in an interpretive vacuum, but for "sola scriptura" - which indicates ultimate authority is only vested in the prophetic / apostolic message. The church has a responsibility to defend and propagate the faith "once for all delivered to the saints," but it does so in submission to God's word - not over or alongside of it.
- Misunderstanding Unity - Roman Catholics would respond to my comments under #1 by saying that such a posture makes church unity impossible - as the history of Protestantism seems to prove. Their implicit assumption is that the highest expression of church unity is institutional unity. I too long for institutional unity, but I do not equate institutional unity with unity itself. The apostle Paul constantly exhorts Christians to be of the "same mind" in Christ - and Jesus prayed that we would be one in the "truth," but there is never a sense that true unity equals mere institutional unity. There is "one body, one Spirit, one faith, one baptism," but not necessarily "one institution, one pope over all." Yes, there are institutional divisions and we pray for them to mend, but this happens by being united by the truth, not a particular institution. We can be united under a pope and divided in spirit - which is what any honest Romanist will readily admit.
- Misunderstanding Grace - Without using the most appropriate technical categories, "grace" in Romanism becomes a "substance" or a "thing" to be "dispensed" out of or into "receptacles." Instead of grace being understood as a relational category indicating goodness - grace is a certain value that becomes traded via the currency of "merit." In fact, there is a "treasury of merit" that holds the grace deposited by Christ and the "super erogating" saints. This "merit" / grace is then "dispensed" to people so they can be right with God. This kind of theology stems from pagan philosophy, not from the Bible. When it is perpetuated, the gospel is distorted because people can't be right within God until they "receive" enough "merit" / grace to fill themselves up. Romanists confuse justification with sanctification because they reject "imputation" as a "legal fiction." Justification, or being "declared righteous," is only a legal fiction if a receptacle has to be filled with "stuff" before it can be judged as "full."
There is more to say - and I will say it later, but the downstream impact of getting these things wrong is dangerous... and that is why I am not a Roman Catholic.