Why I’m not a Roman Catholic (MP3 audio file)
by Dr. Norman L. Geisler
Copyright 1994 – Norman Geisler – All rights reserved
45 minutes in length
Why I’m not a Roman Catholic
by Dr. Norman L. Geisler
This is approaching October 31st, which is Reformation Sunday. The whole Catholic-Evangelical issue has been a controversy in the news recently with the publishing of the Colson-Neuhaus statement on Catholics and Evangelicals Together. This is the second of a two part series. The first I did in the previous hour; it was titled What Roman Catholics Believe. And this one is titled Why I’m not a Roman Catholic. I really should have been! I should have been because my father was and normally when your father is, you are too. In fact, almost all my relatives on both sides are Roman Catholic. I have over a hundred first cousins so that makes a lot of relatives. In fact I went to two Catholic schools—two Jesuit schools. I did my Master’s work at the University of Detroit and my doctoral work at Loyola University. My favorite philosopher and theologian of all time is a Roman Catholic theologian—Thomas Aquinas. I should have been a Roman Catholic. But I’m not. Why?
I like to divide my comments into two categories. There are many reasons why I never became a Roman Catholic to begin with. And there are many reasons why I continue to not to be one in the present.
There are a lot of evangelicals who have jumped camp and become Roman Catholics. Neuhaus is a recent example. He was a Lutheran who became Catholic. Peter Kreeft is another example. He from Calvin College became a Catholic. [Thomas] Howard from Gordon Seminary is another example. When I look at the reasons for which people are becoming Roman Catholic I find them inadequate. For example, let me tell you why my father left the Roman Catholic Church before I was ever born. He was reared German Catholic . . . very faithful and attending church . . . St. Clement’s Parish north of Detroit, Michigan. My father was very faithful in helping to build the church. . . a very devout catholic family. He fell in love with a Protestant and wanted to marry her. He went to his priest and the priest said, “You cannot do that. That is against the teaching of the Catholic Church.” Deeply in love with my mother, he decided to leave the Catholic Church because he didn’t feel that [this teaching] was right. Incidentally, history has proven my father right because the Catholic Church has changed its position since then. [Note: Norm did not mention here that the Priest tried to get his father to pay him a 500$ bribe to make it happen. Norm mentioned that in an interview at another time.]
I remember sitting on an airplane once and next to me was a gentleman who had a little card. It was Friday and we were eating steak. I looked mine; I looked at his. He was a Roman Catholic and he was eating steak. I said, “Now you’re a Roman Catholic so how can you eat that?” The card said for purposes of flights on airplanes he had a special dispensation that allowed him to eat meat on Friday rather than fish. I said to him, “You know there really is no difference whether you’re several feet above the ground or on the ground, is there?” And I tucked that away because just previous to that at the University of Detroit one of my top philosophy professors said, “I do not believe the Pope is infallible when he talks about dietary matters like whether we should eat fish on Friday or not.” And as we all know, the Roman Catholics changed on that. But I was taught that the Roman Catholic Church never changes. They changed on fish. They changed on mixed marriage. They changed on whether the mass should be in Latin or not. They changed on some of the issues that kept my father from being a Roman Catholic.
Secondly I saw nothing in the lives of my Roman Catholic relatives that was appealing to me. All of them lived an unsaved life just like I did. Oh they would go to confession on Saturday but they would swear and curse just like I did. Oh they would go to Mass on Sunday but on Saturday night when the family got together they would get drunk just like everyone else in the family got drunk. I saw nothing in any life of any Catholic I knew—and I knew a lot of them because almost all my relatives and friends were Catholic—which made me want to become one. No change whatsoever.
At the same time, at age nine, since my parents did not take me to church a little Sunday school bus came and picked us up. The boy down the road had asked me to go to Vacation Bible School, I had said yes, and they said, “Why don’t you come back for the same thing on Sundays?” And then I began to see a difference. I began to see a belief system that made a difference in peoples’ lives. These people loved me. These people lived consistent lives. They practiced what they preached. These people prayed for me. These people picked me up in that little school bus 400 times before I became a Christian at age seventeen. I only remember two things: they loved me and they were happy. It made a difference in their life and they were concerned about me as a result. And at age seventeen I committed my life to Jesus Christ in this little Bible Church at ten mile and brown road north of Detroit, Michigan. And then I started to study the Bible. For the next five years I studied the Bible full time, day and night.
I went to Detroit Bible College (now William Tyndale College) and I studied the Bible. I studied the Bible for myself and I saw nothing in it that would make me want to become a Roman Catholic. In fact it was contrary to what I knew about Roman Catholicism and it resonated in my own heart and with what I believed to be true. I studied the Bible and saw no support for any unique Catholic doctrine. And then, after I was through, I decided I wanted to take another look—a closer look—[at the Catholic question].
I wanted to go right to the top and study it at a Roman Catholic institution. And so for the next five or six years I went almost full time to two Jesuit institutions. I studied Roman Catholicism from the sharpest philosophers and teachers that Roman Catholicism has—the Jesuits, the great defenders of the Papacy. I did my Master’s work in the University of Detroit. I wrote my Master’s thesis in a Catholic seminary—Maryknoll Fathers near Wheaton, Illinois, on a Catholic philosopher—Thomas Aquinas. I went on to do my doctoral work at a Roman Catholic university—Loyola University of Chicago, one of the best Catholic schools in the entire United States. In all of the exposure I had to Catholicism on the popular level with my relatives and on an intellectual level with the top, I never once was tempted to become a Roman Catholic because I never once saw any good reason why anyone should.
But that’s not really the reason that I am not a Roman Catholic; that’s just the reason I never became one even though I should have been. . . I never saw anything that changed someone’s life. I never saw anything comparable to what I had that I learned in that little Bible Church north of Detroit and the Bible school I attended.
There are many reasons, however, why I remain a Protestant and why I don’t become a Roman Catholic.
One of these reasons involves looking at the reasons people give for becoming Roman Catholic—like Howard, Kreeft, and Neuhaus. I see several fallacies with their reasoning. One [reason] seems to be an aesthetical reason—having to do with beauty. It’s a beautiful institution. If you’re into pomp and circumstance, if you’re into ritual, it is hard to find a system that is more beautiful and ritualistic than the Roman Catholic system. I’ve seen many people attracted to Rome because of its beauty. But of course beauty is not a test for truth. There are very beautiful people who are unsaved. There are very ugly people who are Christians. Which one has the truth? There are some very ugly buildings—I’ve been in mud huts in the middle of the jungle with the Jivaro headhunters in South America where they take your head and shrink it to the size of a grapefruit—and I’ve worshiped with them in their mud huts, but you know I’ve seen the beauty of holiness there. You don’t judge truth by beauty. If you judge truth by beauty, you might be a Buddhist because Buddhism is a very beautiful religion. The gold statues of the Buddha, the pomp and circumstances, they rival if not excel the Roman Catholic Church in ritual and beauty. They’ve got monks. They have colored robes. It’s a beautiful religion. Many are attracted to Roman Catholicism for its beauty but they fail to realize that beauty is not a test for truth.
Other people are being attracted for historical reasons. It’s an old institution that goes way back—they claim all the way back to the beginning, to the first bishop of Rome who they think was Peter. It is certainly an old institution. It has a history to it. But that’s not a good reason for becoming a Roman Catholic. After all, the Eastern Orthodox Church is just as old as the Roman Catholic Church; in fact it is older. . .
[Incomplete transcription. To be continued later. Reached minute 11:23 of 44:48.]
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