Dr. Ravi Zacharias has done a great deal of good work for the Christian faith. he is eloquent, intelligent, and well-informed. However, it appears his understanding of Roman Catholicism as is compared to biblical theology is very weak. On March 19, 2014, Dr. Ravi Zacharias was at Texas A&M's Veritas Forum. a video excerpt of that time can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=CisY1QTgEis&t=.
During that video, a member of the audience asked him a question. The questioner stated he was involved in evangelism and regularly encountered Roman Catholics. His research about Catholicism led him to see that early Christianity, at the time of the Reformation, called it a heresy. At 58 seconds into the video, he asks,
"Is Roman Catholicism another example of how unity does not equal uniformity within the Christian community, or is it a derivative, or is it at its core a derivative from true Christianity?"
The question is a good one. Dr. Zacharias should have given a well-defined and clear response. After all, he is supposed to be one of America's greatest Christian apologists, and Catholicism clearly teaches many unbiblical things - which I will document below. However, I'm sad to say. His response was completely inadequate and even dangerous.
Following is the transcript of what Dr. Zacharias said. I have numbered in bold, (1), (2), etc., along with underlining the important areas. Then I will then quote what I've underlined and comment afterward. Here is his the transcript of the video found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=CisY1QTgEis&t=.
At 1:47 Dr. Zacharias said, (1) "We as Christian apologists basically defend the biblical worldview as we understand it, see it, and find it represent.[sic].... 2:18 "Let me put it to you in these words without getting specific in you the answer [sic]... 2:43 (2)"the Bible reminds us who is a Christian. It is one who really confesses in his mouth and believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is Lord and that Christ has raised him from the dead and so on. When you get into this theological realm, there are many other additions that come in. So if you ask me what does it take to be a follower of Jesus Christ, my answer may be very brief. If you say to me what does it take to belong to a particular denomination, we may make it longer because the denomination may add its distinctives to find uniformity in that group. Then you may say, what does it take to teach in a theological institution. Now you have to be even more protracted in your answer because, as an instructor, you have to be theologically very correct, crossing your T's and dotting your I's. (3) I know many people, whether they are in Protestantism or in Roman Catholicism, who are truly followers of Jesus Christ. There are many other aspects of their faith that they may not fully subscribe to. That is an accretion across history that was added by the power of leadership or by the power of group or sectarianism. The fascinating thing is prior to the Reformation, we were all sort of divided into Eastern and Western at that point, and there were distinctive in hierarchy and then doctoral distinctives emerged just as well. So my answer to you is, what is a cult? Let me define it for you in the simplest possible way....4:33, But (4) I define a cult this way. Anything that deviates from the historic person and work of Jesus Christ or adds to his teaching and is generally at the instruction of one individual who dictates that belief is most certainly cultic at that time. Oftentimes groups can function as a, a hierarchy within themselves and an individual heteronomically dictating the laws. If that happens, then any one of us, whether in Protestantism or in Catholicism, can end up becoming cultic by following just one particular brand of teaching and deviating from the historic person and work of Jesus Christ. (5) My answer to you is very simple. You follow Christ as best you know how, as revealed in the word of God and serve him and love him and honor him with your life in your heart and in your walk, and that's what you preach to others as well. God will be the ultimate judge of what groups went wrong in which direction. I have a hard enough time dictating whether my family has been right in every way, leave alone historic five, six hundred years of denominations. So I am not dodging the question. I'm just telling you it is wise to be careful and not tar everybody with the same brush in a particular group. The faith that you have in Christ is a personal one, and sometimes I know people who stay within groups in order to bring changes within that group where they see doctrinally they have deviated or gone astray from other belief systems. It is possible that a person may be a good Christian and a bad Roman Catholic."
Examining Ravi Zacharias' statements
(1) "We as Christian apologists basically defend the biblical worldview as we understand it, see it, and find it represent.[sic]
What he said is true. A Christian apologist defends the biblical worldview. But what exactly is the biblical worldview? In light of our present topic, is the biblical worldview best represented by Protestantism or Roman Catholicism? As a Christian apologist, I must state that Roman Catholicism does not correctly represent biblical theology. In fact, it is so egregious in its teachings, that it is apostate and spiritually dangerous. It teaches a false gospel and promotes idolatry. Let me document this from official Roman Catholic writings.
- Catholicism teaches salvation by works
- Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraph 2068, "the mission of teaching all peoples, and of preaching the Gospel to every creature, so that all men may attain salvation through faith, Baptism and the observance of the Commandments."
- "The specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the creator, is necessary for salvation," (CCC 2036). "The Decalogue contains a privileged expression of the natural law. It is made known to us by divine revelation and by human reason," (CCC 2080).
- In Roman Catholicism that which is necessary for salvation includes the church (CCC 846), baptism (CCC 1257), penance (CCC 980), sacraments (CCC 1129), service and witness to the faith (CCC 1816), keeping the ten commandments (CCC 2036 and 2070), and detachment from riches (CCC 2556).
- Catholicism says the God of Islam is the same as Christianity
- CCC 841, "The Church's relationship with the Muslims. "The plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, in the first place amongst whom are the Muslims; these profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us they adore the one, merciful God, mankind's judge on the last day.
- Catholicism exalts Mary far beyond scriptural revelation
- Mary is the all holy one (CCC 2677); second to Eve (Mystici Corpois Christ, par. 110); is prayed to (CCC 2679); sits at the right hand of Christ (Pope Pius X, 1835-1914, Ad Diem Illum Laetissimum, 14); is Advocate, Helper, Benefactress, and Mediatrix(CCC 969); the mother of the members of Christ (CCC 963); Queen over all things (CCC 966); brings eternal life by her intercession (CCC 969); helped make atonement for sins (Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma, Ott, page 213); crushed the head of the serpent (Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus); delivers souls from death (CCC 966). When considering the Church, there is no better way than to look to Mary, (CCC 972). Catholics entrust themselve to Mary's prayer (CCC 2677). And, no man goeth to Christ but by His Mother," (Vatican Website: Encyclical of Pope Leo 13th on the Rosary, Octobri Mense, Pope Leo 13th, 1903-1914).
Of course, there's a great deal more information available on carm.org/roman-catholicism, which documents numerous additional false teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. But, the two main areas of concern are regarding salvation and Mary. Obviously, the Roman Catholic Church adds work to salvation and in so doing, denies the true gospel. Please consider the following verses.
- Rom. 3:28, "For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law,"
- Rom. 4:3, "For what does the Scripture say? “ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS CREDITED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS."
- Rom. 4:5, "But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness."
- Gal. 5:3, "And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole Law."
It should be clear that the Bible teaches our justification before God is without the works of the law. This is in direct contradiction to the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, as cited above. Additionally, in Galatians 5:3, Paul, the apostle, is dealing with Judaizers who are requiring Christians to keep one area of the law, namely, circumcision in order to be saved. He says that if they want to do that, they are under obligation to keep the whole law. But no one can keep the whole law (James 2:10; 3:10), which is why the gospel teaches us that we are justified by faith, not by faith and works.
If you were to look at the paragraph above where Catholicism exalts Mary and attributes various titles and abilities to her, it should be very clear that nothing in Scripture supports what the Roman Catholic Church teaches above. Now, of course, I could expand on the idolatry that the Catholic Church promotes regarding Mary, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias
Dr. Ravi Zacharias should have taken the opportunity to politely but truthfully expose the serious problems within the Roman Catholic Church instead of whitewashing his response to the question.
Confessing Jesus as Lord
(2)"the Bible reminds us who is a Christian. It is one who really confesses in his mouth and believes in his heart that Jesus Christ is Lord and that Christ has raised him from the dead and so on.
Dr. Ravi Zacharias was referencing Romans 10 9-10. This is good when he properly applies scripture. But, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses (who are both non-Christian groups) would agree with that scripture. They claim to call Jesus Lord. The problem is the definition of who Jesus is. Being a Christian is not simply saying Jesus is Lord, but also affirming biblical doctrines. In other words, you can't be a true Christian and add works to salvation (Rom. 3:28; 4:5; Gal. 5:1-5). A person cannot be a true Christian and deny that Jesus Christ is God in flesh, even though they might call him Lord as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do (John 8:24, 58).
As a Christian apologist, I expect Dr. Zacharias to be more specific and forthcoming. If I had been on that panel, I certainly would have laid out the issues clearly and specifically and stated unequivocally that the Roman Catholic Church does not represent true biblical theology and should be avoided. Of course, what I would say would not resonate with all people, but it certainly would resonate with those who believe the word of God and take it seriously.
Followers of Christ in Protestantism and Catholicism
(3) I know many people, whether they are in Protestantism or in Roman Catholicism, who are truly followers of Jesus Christ.
In this statement, Ravi is speaking a personal experience. Nevertheless, I would agree that there are true followers of Christ within Catholicism. But they would be true followers in spite of Roman Catholic teaching, not because of it. God can certainly call his people from within cults and the apostate Roman Catholic Church. So, it is possible to have people who are truly following Jesus exist in the Roman Catholic Church. But one must wonder how can any truly regenerate individual, apart from being there for evangelistic reasons, participate in the many false doctrines proposed and practiced by the Roman Catholic Church?
Defining a cult
(4) I define a cult this way. Anything that deviates from the historic person and work of Jesus Christ or adds to his teaching and is generally at the instruction of one individual who dictates that belief is most certainly cultic at that time.
He is certainly entitled to defining a cult the way he wants. And, I must admit, there have been a variety of definitions. Nevertheless, a define a cult is a group that deviates from biblical truth sufficiently such that salvation is not possible.
In that definition, Roman Catholicism would be included. Nevertheless, we generally call cults such things as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who claim to be Christian but deny the true nature of God, Christ, and salvation. However, Roman Catholicism does not deny the true nature of God, or the true nature of Christ. But it does deny the true nature of salvation, namely, justification by faith alone in Christ alone. Therefore, in light of this, I don't generally call Catholicism a cult. I call it an apostate group that all people should avoid and abandon since it teaches a false gospel as well as idolatry.
Ravi Zacharias should have said basically the same thing.
Follow Christ the best you know how
(5) My answer to you is very simple. You follow Christ as best you know how, as revealed in the word of God and serve him and love him and honor him with your life in your heart and in your walk, and that's what you preach to others as well.
To recommend that we follow Christ the best we know how is a potentially dangerous teaching. The Mormons say they follow Christ, but the Christ they believe in is the brother of the devil begotten through sexual intercourse between a God and his goddess wife, who both came from another planet.
In Jehovah's Witness theology, Jesus is Michael the Archangel, a creation, who became flesh and died on a torture stake, but who did not rise from the dead physically. They "follow Christ" the best they know how, but they are not Christians.
Jesus said in Matthew 24:24, “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and will show great signs and wonders, so as to mislead, if possible, even the elect." So, Jesus himself says there will be false Christs. It is not a matter of following Christ the best you know how because that would open up the Mormons, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Muslims, or whoever else might claim the name of Christ as someone they follow, to being equally open to salvation. The problem, of course, is that to say that a person must follow Christ the best he knows how does not do proper justice to the requirements of knowing who Christ is. After all, Jesus also said in John 8:24, "...I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am, you will die in your sins.” Jesus himself states you must believe he's God or you will die in your sins. So what we do now? Do we say that because someone is following Jesus the best the way they know how, but denies that Jesus God in flesh can then be a Christian? Jesus says no.
As I said at the beginning of this article, Dr. Ravi Zacharias has done a great deal of work for the kingdom of God. But he must repent regarding his whitewashing of Roman Catholicism and publicly declare it an apostate false religion. I suspect that he was trying to be as diplomatic as possible. I understand that. Nevertheless, we Christian apologists don't want to be so diplomatic that we compromise the truth and inadvertently support the Roman Catholic Church, which teaches so many false teachings that it invalidates salvation and promotes idolatry.