The Catholic Church is a Cult

I’ve been generous to the Catholics this week on matters of Salvation by faith and works, and now what do I get? Pope Benedict XVII kicks me in the face by approving a document that says other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches—that the Catholic church is the only true path to salvation. The other communities “cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense” because they don’t have apostolic succession. Thus their ordinations are not valid. Well, so much for Catholics. Such slurs can go two ways.

I’m going along with many of my former students in their assessment:

48 Responses to “The Catholic Church is a Cult”

  1. What is odd is that despite that language, the Catholic Church has one of the broadest “who can be saved” policies I have ever seen. Basically they say that even Muslims and Hindus can be saved under the right circumstances, and not even know it. I have copied and pasted their policy in another thread, and it really is pretty amazing.

  2. You’re right, Vance. The Catholic church does have a very broad “who can be saved” policy—as do the Mormons. Jehovah’s Witnesses, on the other hand, say only 144,000 go to heaven (except for a lot of other good JWs who’s have a paradise here on earth). What these groups have in common is the notion that they each believe they are the one true church–a notion that is one of the several “marks of a cult.”

  3. I agree that they believe they are the one true Church, but I was just pointing out the distinction between that and a claim to be the only path to salvation, which you mentioned as well.

    On Catholic Answers Live, a radio show (and a podcast), I have heard them describe the Catholic Church as the “best” way to salvation, or the most sure way, since they do represent Christ’s true Church here on earth.

    But they have come a long way from “no salvation outside the Church”, which I believe was a doctrine formerly.

  4. Vance, thanks for the correction. I was simply quoting today’s newspaper (Associated Press) that said the Pope is saying, “Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation.” Is that how you understand it, or does the Catholic church simply say it’s the “best” way, which is what many evangelicals might say about their beliefs?

  5. Well, I have not yet read the Pope’s statement, but here is a general idea of what they believe:

    “At the same time, however, the Roman Catholic Church teaches that through the graces Jesus won for humanity by sacrificing himself on the cross, salvation is possible even for those outside the visible boundaries of the Church. Christians and even non-Christians, if in life they respond positively to the grace and truth that God reveals to them through the mercy of Christ may be saved. This may include awareness of an obligation to become part of the Catholic Church. In such cases, “they could not be saved who, knowing that the Catholic Church was founded as necessary by God through Christ, would refuse either to enter it, or to remain in it.”[11] Catholics believe that people, even those who are not explicitly Christian, have the moral law written in their hearts, according to Jeremiah 31:33 (prophecy of new covenant): “I will write my law on their hearts.” St. Justin wrote that those who have not accepted Christ but follow the moral law of their hearts (logos) follow God, because it is God who has written the moral law in each person’s heart. Though he may not explicitly recognize it, he has the spirit of Christ. According to Fr. William Most’s article for EWTN (the primary Catholic television network), those who have the spirit of Christ belong to the body of Christ. He writes, “Those who follow the Spirit of Christ, the Logos who writes the law on their hearts, are Christians, are members of Christ, are members of His Church. They may lack indeed external adherence; they may never have heard of the Church. But yet, in the substantial sense, without formal adherence, they do belong to Christ, to His Church.””

    From the Wikipedia article on Salvation, under the Roman Catholic section.

    I have heard Catholics describe it as Jesus is the ONLY way to salvation (thus excluding the methods described by other religious groups that deny that fact), but that a person can be “in Christ” without knowing it, under some specific circumstances. At the same time, they believe that they are the one true version of The Church, kind of the “authorized” version of the path to salvation.

    Confusing, I know.

  6. Uhm, wasn’t the author of the catholic section on Wikipedia a fraud?

  7. Could be, but that does jive with what I have heard from them myself. I will check elsewhere to get it “from the horse’s mouth”.

  8. Lutherans, at least LCMS and LCWS, don’t think that either the Baptists or the Reformed constitutes true churches and the Reformed don’t think that the Baptists constitute true churches. And none of them think that Rome is a true church. And the Orthodox don’t think Rome or Protestants constitute true churches either. None of this is hardly news and I can’t see how thinking so constitutes being a “cult.”

    Exclusuvity may be a property of all cults, but it certainly isn’t a sufficient condition for it either.

  9. Slurs can go both ways, but should they?

  10. Richards, my post was a bit tongue in cheek.

    Perry, please document what you’re alleging. I’ve never ever heard that Lutherans think they are the true church and Baptists are not—same with Reformed. In my Fundamentalist years I believed that no one could get to heaven unless they had “personally invited Jesus into their hearts.” BUT, I certainly didn’t tag a denomination to it. Even then I believed that people in all denominations had found true salvation.

    Again, Perry, I don’t want to sound dogmatic on this, but I would have to see documented proof before I would believe that any group such as Lutheran, Methodist, Reformed, Baptist, etc. ever claimed they were the one true church.

  11. Here is an interesting “discussion” describing the Catholic position on salvation outside the Church:

  12. Dr. Tucker,

    Well, why not ask the Lutherans as to what constitutes a true church? What are the marks of the church according to the Classical Reformers? Rightly divinding the word, righly administering the Sacraments, and rightly administering church discipline. Its in the Book of Concord, Muller’s Church Dogmatics, etc. By Lutheran lights the Reformed and the Baptists fail these criteria, which is why the Lutherans will not commune with them. This is also why Presbyterians won’t commune officially with baptists because they reject paedo baptism, hold a memorial view of the eucharist, deny presbyterian polity and have a wrong view of the covenants. The baptists are only too happy to reciprocate. This is hardly news. It has been this way for 500 years.

    Let me be clear, I did not say that the LCMS or LCWS think they are the only true church, but they think they are A true church and they don’t think the Presbyterians or Baptists are. That said, that is entirely different than saying that they are not Christians.

  13. I just posted this in another thread, but here is a funny bit from Emo Phillips and it is equally appropriate for this discussion as well:

    I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said ‘Stop! don’t do it!’

    ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ he said.

    I said, ‘Well, there’s so much to live for!’

    He said, ‘Like what?’

    I said, ‘Well…are you religious or atheist?’

    He said, ‘Religious.’

    I said, ‘Me too!

    Are you Christian or Buddhist?’

    He said, ‘Christian.’

    I said, ‘Me too!

    Are you Catholic or Protestant?’

    He said, ‘Protestant.’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?’

    He said, ‘Baptist!’

    I said, ‘Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?’

    He said, ‘Baptist Church of God!’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?’

    He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God!’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?’

    He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!’

    I said, ‘Die, heretic scum,’ and pushed him off.

  14. Nice little light-hearted interlude, Vance!

    Perry, I still want to see a statement from Lutherans that says they are a true church and Baptists are not. I’m living in a cave here along the Grand River (Grand Rapids, MI), and I don’t get out and mix with Lutherans these days. They may be be found among those of the True Church, but they’re not found among us river-rats. So, show me your stuff.

  15. Dr. Tucker,

    Right now, I have to go put two infants to sleep (twins) but I will dig something up for you. I doubt you will get a statement from the LCMS stating it directly. What there are though are plentyof documents spelling out what the marks of the church are and why baptists or other groups fail these criteria. The historical basis is in the Lutheran/Zwinglian colloquy where Luther and Zwingli battled out and were never able to reach unity. That was five hundred years ago. You can see plenty of this in the book of Concord here->

  16. OK, this bridge building stuff is about to come to an end. My arms are getting tired. Check this out. I thought that this was a thing of the past :(

  17. Dr. Tucker,

    Whoa! This is a big change of tone since your last post.

    And Michael,

    Whatever happened to “let’s meet in the middle?”

    I agree that we need to be thoughtful in all endeavors, especially evaluating religious systems. I also agree that the rhetoric and misrepresentation of Roman Catholicism that occurs at a popular level among some Protestants is deplorable.

    But the simple fact is that Roman Catholicism, in principle, in dogma, is in serious doctrinal error. You don’t have to have a PhD to see that.

    Blessings to you both,


  18. Serious doctrinal error, sure. But not saved? Not with us in heaven?

    This goes back to Dan’s question of whether a person can be in serious doctrinal error in their theology, but still be saved if they have the requisite faith and belief. If so, then, well, the importance of the debate drops about a thousand points, in my opinion. Still important and useful, since we all want to get these details right. But if they are non-salvation issues, then it is a very different thing.

  19. “LCWS” – you mean WELS?

  20. Jay . . . OK . . . I am back. Hand me another plank. Just needed a breather! :)

    Here is a little peice that I have written on how bad a Christian’s theology can be.

  21. Vance,

    I understand that your comment is not addressed to me personally, but it comes right after what I said and uses an exact phrase from what I said, so I feel compelled to clarify what I said (And I think I’ve said this five or six times now throughout these several comment marathons).

    I have never said that all Roman Catholics are necessarily damned to Hell. My thought is that if Christ died for that person who calls himself Roman Catholic, that person is going to be saved.

    Thanks Vance,


  22. Michael,

    I’ll take a look at that. Thanks for the link!


  23. Vance,

    On the issue of theological error being a minor thing. I don’t think that any theological error is ever minor. I think it is sin. Ultimately, there is no such thing as an amoral viewpoint about God regardless of whether it is a doctrine essential for salvation or not. I like what Sproul says, “No one has the right to be wrong in his theology.” Does that mean we should expect perfection? Not at all. Does it mean we should strive for perfection? Absolutely, just as we strive for holiness in all areas of life and thought.

    “We are beggars. This is true”– Luther’s last written words.


  24. Well, we are all wrong about our theology on some point, there can be no doubt about that. The odds of any one of us just happening to get it all correct is slim to none. So, we start from that point and build up. Does the person who is in error think they are in error? Of course not, or they would change their theology. So, all of us who are intellectually honest with ourselves and are earnestly seeking the truth, and open to the leading of the Spirit, but still wrong on some point or other, are in the same boat essentially in regards to error being sin. After all, God looks at the heart, and a sincere and honest seeking but incorrect conclusion on debated and debatable issues applies equally to all of us, guaranteed.

    I do not see incorrect theology as as minor issue, but it is not a salvation issue, so it is hard to even compare the two.

    What must be of MUCH greater import to God is not the degree we happen to get the details of our theology right, but the spirit in which we seek. Are we honest, even with ourselves about our motivations and our biases. Are we humble in our attitude. Are we dedicated to our studies and prayer. Or are we prideful or stubborn or self-seeking or just looking for the theology that fits our own desires.

    I think sin can definitely enter into the picture, but I can’t help but think it is more likely to come in the form of our approach and attitude and behavior than in our conclusions.

  25. Michael, I think the problem is partly that you are trying to build a bridge to the “lowest ranking” Catholic….Which can work for evangelicals, but since Catholic beliefs are from the top down and the man in the pew has to believe whatever the Pope says is true (even when in direct contradiction to the obvious meaning of scripture) I don’t think you can get anywhere. You have to build a bridge to the Pope, and he will only allow a one-way bridge going his way

  26. But, Chad, sometimes the Top is influenced by those who are down lower. The ethos of the street urchin can change the way the “politics” are done up top (I know that this is totally offensive to Catholics) :)

    Who knows?

  27. OK. I am here to help Dr. Tucker on Lutheran thinking.

    The Confessional Lutheran (contra liberal) believes that its church is the visible church. Note, not the invisible church but the visible church. The Lutheran believes there are people who are Christians who will be in heaven from various denominations but not because of their church’s teaching but in spite of it.

    They believe they are a/the visible church because a.) they preach the Gospel /Cross of Jesus b.) they have true Sacraments which were believed by the early church.

    They are catholic (note small c) but not Roman.

    They do not believe the other churches are true visible churches because they do not have literal Sacraments. Any sacrament that is just a symbol or sign is not a Sacrament (for them). When they say this, they do not mean they are not Christians, the term they use is heterodox. A church body that is not well formed, like a body with missing limbs.

    In another sense, the Lutheran church is not a denomination, they describe their Christianity as a Confession not a Denomination. Their belief is found in the Book of Concord. Please start at the Augsburg Confession and Luther’s Small Catechism.

    It is sad that they have been ignored because you will find that they have a very robust view of the Christian life.

    Kurt Vader.

  28. I don’t know what happened I posted a comment to help Dr. Tucker understand the Lutheran Church.

    Kurt Vader

  29. Thanks for the help, Kurt. I guess I had in mind the more “liberal” Lutherans. I certainly know you are correct as regards Missouri Synod and Wisconsin Synod, etc.

    In my own Reformed heritage, we’ve always had open communion. All who profess faith in Christ are welcome at the Lord’s table; we don’t check denominational credentials.

    I’m interested in other traditions–especially those traditions (like Roman Catholic) who would bar other Christians from partaking of the Lord’s Supper.

  30. As a member of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland I’m very, very sad hearing about the declaration of the Pope. This declaration change nothing in my (and many friends of mine) love and deep respect for You, Evangelics.

    Greetings for all my Brothers and Sisters in Christ,


  31. My Dear Norbert,

    Thanks you so much for your kind words. I’m speaking for all evangelicals who appreciate the warm fellowship that we have with Catholics when I say that this declaration has changed nothing from our perspective as well. We love you and all our dear Roman Catholic brothers and sisters in Christ.


  32. Dr Tucker.

    On closed communion. The early Christians practiced this. Now it depends on how this is implemented.

    I am not LCMS/WELS or ELS or one of those in US. In my synod-LC (Australia) practice this. However, how the pastor executes this varies. In my local church, the pastor invites those Christians who can affirm that at the Supper it is the literal body and blood of the Lord and not mere symbols are welcome to participate.

    Sorry for the advert but I wrote something about this in, Lutherans are not being mean when they do this, they are being sincere and well meaning…

    Kurt Vader

  33. BTW, I am so sorry for your disappointment with the RCC Dr. Tucker.

    We Hispanic/Filipino converts to Prots were not surprised though. The Pope did nothing new. The Pope after all is Roman Catholic, in case we forget.

    You must treat RCC from its official pronouncements and not from what you see in its members. Also not from the defenses made by the self proclaimed apologists. Please remember they are not official representatives of the Magisterium. Their interpretations of RCC dogma are not official. The only official interpreters of Magisterial statements are the Magisterium themselves.


    Kurt Vader

  34. Dr. Tucker,

    As for the Reformed and Open communion and even the status of churches, many do not practice it and historically they certainly haven’t. It is a rather new compromise. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church for example doesn’t have open communion and it certainly doesn’t recognize say the baptists as being true churches.

    So again given the fact that most of the major historical bodies don’t consider each other to qualify as true churches, and Rome is a cult for doing so, is everyone else (Lutherans, Reformed, Baptits?) a cult for doing so too?

  35. You’re making some good points, Perry, though I would not consider OPC one of the “major historical bodies.” I doubt that its much larger “sister,” PCUSA, holds the same position.

  36. Dr. Tucker,

    I have no doubt that the PCUSA doesn’t hold the same position. Of course, they have recently floated new names for the Trinity such as “Mother” “Child” and “Womb.” They are having the same kind of debates as the Episcopal Church over approving homosexuality, not to mention permitting other gross heterodox ideas. So, somehow I don’t think they are representative of historic presbyterianism.

    The PCA is another story altogether, but to my knowledge they don’t practice open communion and neither do the Dutch Reformed and they don’t recognize say baptist bodies as true churches.

  37. Dutch Reformed? Are you referring to one of the Reformed bodies in the Netherlands?

    I was for 15 years a member of Fifth Reformed Church (Reformed Church in America) and am currently a member of La Grave Avenue Christian Reformed Church, both of which practice open communion–to all who profess faith in Christ as Savior and who are in good standing in a Christian church.

  38. Ruther Rucker,

    No, I mean like the CRC and the now more conservative venture that has sprung from it, I think the CREC or something to that effect.

    Now as the RCA, from my knowledge Robert Schuller of Cyrstal Cathedral fame is or at least was, for a very long time a member of the RCA. The RCA is quite lax from my understanding and somewhat liberal, so again, I am not sure that they represent historic Reformed teaching.

    As for your local congregation, I don’t know who they are affiliated. In any case, the Lutherans and Reformed have not recognized each other as true churches and neither of them have recognized the baptists as such and the baptists have not recognized them as such.

    So I don’t know why people are freaking out about the Pope’s statement since it says nothing else than what Vatican 2 said in Lumen Gentium and other texts. Protestants are ecclesial communisties of Christians that lack the fullness of the faith. I am not indicating that I agree with Rome (I am not Catholic btw) just that their position isn’t exactly unique and so on that basis alone can’t be called a “cult” anymore than the Lutherans can.


  39. Perry, we’ve probably gone around and around about this long enough. I do not know of any Christian Reformed Church (or the denomination as a whole) that would not recognize Baptists or Lutherans “as true churches.” Please quote an official statement from the church or don’t keep saying such.

  40. Dr. Tucker,

    Ok, I’ll dig something up, but when I was Reformed (REC) and hung around Horton and Riddlebager and Co. it was pretty much well known.

    And of course you thought the same thing about the Lutherans and not to toot my own horn, but I was correct there.

  41. Perry wrote:

    “The PCA is another story altogether, but to my knowledge they don’t practice open communion and neither do the Dutch Reformed and they don’t recognize say baptist bodies as true churches.”

    I cannot speak for the Dutch Reformed, but this is NOT true of the PCA.


  42. Perry wrote:

    “As for your local congregation, I don’t know who they are affiliated. In any case, the Lutherans and Reformed have not recognized each other as true churches and neither of them have recognized the baptists as such and the baptists have not recognized them as such.”

    This is a classic example of a sweeping generalization.


  43. Bennet,

    Hardly. It is based on the colloquy between Luthera and Zwingli. It is also well known that the English Presbyterians persecuted the baptists. The two aren’t in communion, which would indicate their mutual recognition. Again, according to the Reformers, what are the marks of the Church?

    As for the PCA, I double check.

  44. Perry,

    I am not sure we are speaking the same language. In evaluating traditions I am strictly viewing their official teachings (i.e. dogma).

    If you could help me locate Protestant dogma supporting your claims I would greatly appreciate it.



  45. Perry,

    Jay and Dr. Tucker are correct, the Reformed consider the Lutherans as Christian Church but the latter considers the other heterodox because of their view of the Supper.

    Jay’s question is also fair. Show me also from official Reformed Confessions where they condemn – anathematizes the Lutheran, I am curious. I can show you where the Lutheran anathematizes the Calvinist on the Supper, it is in the BoC. The anathema is in the Christological implications of the Supper, hence even today some Calvinist (mainly Presbyterians) are coming much more closer to the Lutheran/Anglican side on this.

    At the Marburg colloquy out of the 15 statements Luther and Zwingli discussed only one item failed – this was on the Supper.

    Also technically you should not lump Calvinist with Zwinglians in their view of the Supper. Remember that Calvin came closer to the Lutherans but not quite in his view of the Supper. Calvinists affirm the spiritual presence of Christ in the Supper, Zwinglians do not.

    BTW in case you guys do not know, Calvin signed the Augsburg Confession (the Variata) so he was in some sense a Lutheran.

    Dr. Tucker,

    I have noticed that it is the fundamentalist who likes to call traditional churches like RCC, EO, Lutheran and Anglican cults.

  46. Thanks, Kurt, for all the good information.

    You write: “I have noticed that it is the fundamentalist who likes to call traditional churches like RCC, EO, Lutheran and Anglican cults.”

    I guess that makes me 1 part fundamentalist, albeit, tongue-in-cheek.

    BTW, though a professor for 6 years at Calvin Theological Seminary (a school that prides itself in not wavering from JC’s teachings), I held steadfastly throughout to a Zwinglian perspective on the Supper. (However, that was not apparently why they booted me out.)

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