I’d been there before, a couple of times. It bothered me then, but I didn’t say anything. This last time, though, I couldn’t help myself; I had to say something. Like Paul at Athens, my spirit was provoked within me.
I was at a Christian bookstore, and they had a small collection of books they called “Catholic Corner”. I wanted to ask them why they didn’t have a “Mormon Corner”, or a “Jehovah’s Witness” corner. Instead, I engaged an employee and asked why they were selling Catholic books. What transpired was a disturbing display of Scriptural ignorance.
I don’t mean to sound arrogant here, but this IS a Christian bookstore. They have a certain level of responsibility to not sell books that are going to lead Christians astray. As a result, they should have a level of Scriptural understanding to ensure they aren’t selling any unbiblical books. (Amazingly, one of the Catholic books for sale was about the false doctrine of purgatory, written, in a positive way, by a Protestant!)
I first asked this person if she knew what Catholics believed about salvation. Her answer was that they believe in Jesus and pray to the pope to go to heaven. This is not even what the Catholic church teaches. There were several other things about Catholicism she didn’t understand, which only made the fact that they were selling Catholic books all the worse. The bottom line is that she believed the Catholic church was simply another denomination, like Baptists or Methodists. Her main reason was that because they believe in the Trinity, they are Christian. While it would be true to say that belief in the Trinity is necessary to be a Christian, is belief in the Trinity what makes a person a Christian? According to Scripture, the answer is clearly no.
There are at least two places in Scripture that show us this. First, James 2:19 says, “You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder.” Do the demons believe God is “one” and not a Trinity? Remember, the demons at one point were angels. They know what God is like. They know God is “one” in the sense of Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” The Hebrew for “one” is echad, the same word used in Genesis 2:24 speaking of a man and woman becoming “one” flesh. It is not a singular one, but a unity of one.
Maybe I’m stretching this interpretation, except that Jesus’ encounter with demons shows that is not the case. In Matthew 8, Jesus encounters two demon possessed men, and the demons are clearly terrified of Jesus. “29 And they cried out, saying, “What business do we have with each other, Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?” 30 Now there was a herd of many swine feeding at a distance from them. 31 The demons began to entreat Him, saying, “If You are going to cast us out, send us into the herd of swine.” 32 And He said to them, “Go!” And they came out and went into the swine, and the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and perished in the waters.” The term “before the time” refers to the time God will send the devil and his angels into the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41). God is the one who will send them into the lake of fire, so clearly the demons were acknowledging Jesus as God, thus recognizing the second person of the Trinity.
Second, in Galatians 1, Paul condemns the Judaizers for teaching a false gospel. They were teaching that to be saved, one had to believe in Jesus but also be circumcised. This is the only thing for which Paul condemns them. The implication is that they recognized Jesus as God, otherwise Paul would have surely condemned them for teaching He was not God.
So, we can see that a person can believe in the Trinity yet not be a Christian. As Galatians shows, however, a person cannot have a false gospel and still be a Christian. Yet, this is exactly what the Catholic church teaches. In addition to faith in Christ, the Catholic church falsely teaches (among other things) that a person must also become inherently righteous by doing good works. This denies the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer (see Romans 4 and 5). As a result, this bookstore is selling books related to a church that has a false gospel. This is no different than if they were selling Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness books.
The really sad part, however, was this person’s knowledge of Scripture. As I gave her several passages of Scripture that demonstrated the false gospel of Catholicism, it was clear she was not that familiar with the Bible. She finally said she was comfortable selling Catholic books because wise men taught that Catholics were Christians. She specifically mentioned C.S. Lewis, and said he converted to Catholicism (he didn’t).
We are not to rely on the wisdom of men, especially when such “wisdom” contradicts God’s word. As 1 Corinthians 1:25 says, “Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” Sadly, that is not what this particular Christian bookstore has chosen to do.
What does this have to do with believers? Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” Therefore, what we think makes a difference. What we think drives how we behave. If Christians believe that Catholics are simply another denomination, that they are Christians, then they will not witness to them. This potentially leads believers into disobedience, albeit disobedience borne out of ignorance.
Just as Paul’s spirit was provoked by all the idols he saw in Athens, our spirits should be provoked when we encounter false teaching, especially when it’s being peddled to believers as truth. False teaching robs God of His glory, and can lead believers astray. The solution to this is for believers to study God’s word. As Romans 12:2 says, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”