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Mohler debates papal authority on CNN ‘Larry King Live’ panel

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–Differences between evangelicals and Catholics are as pronounced today as they’ve ever been, R. Albert Mohler Jr. said March 22 on CNN’s “Larry King Live” news/talk show.

“As an evangelical, I believe that the Roman Church is a false church and it teaches a false gospel,” Mohler said. “Indeed, I believe that the pope himself holds a false and unbiblical office.”

The show’s specific topic was Pope John Paul II’s visit to the Holy Land, but panelists also addressed relationships between Catholics, evangelicals and Jews.

Other guests included Donald Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Ill.; Father Gregory Coiro of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles; Father William Byron of Georgetown University in Washington; and Rabbi Harold Kushner, author of “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.”

One of the problems with the papacy as a whole, Mohler said, is its claim to both temporal and spiritual power, which is a “dangerous mixture.”

“It’s hard to say that he’s going [to the Holy Land] for spiritual and not for political reasons as is seen by all the jockeying of all the groups who want to meet with him and have something specific they hope he will say,” Mohler said. “Who knows in what role he is speaking?”

In addition to his objections to the papacy as a whole, Mohler also cited a specific disagreement with John Paul II that concerns the nature of the gospel.

“The larger problem I have with the pope — this pope in particular — however, is how he has redefined Christianity and the gospel,” Mohler said. “He has actually embraced all monotheists, both Jews and followers of Islam, as long as they’re sincere within the penumbra of the gospel. That is just unbiblical and, by the way, not very pleasing to either Jews or to Muslims.”

The pope recently issued an apology on behalf of the Catholic Church for sins committed against Jews. While many Catholics and Jews alike see this as a significant event, Mohler called it only an “interesting historic development,” but said the concept of forgiveness is important.

“Central to the Christian gospel is the need for forgiveness of sins and the promise of forgiveness of sins by the atonement accomplished by Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “Of all people, Christian people ought to know how to ask forgiveness and to ask forgiveness of a holy God who forgives us by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Mohler had several opportunities to present the gospel during the program, and to take issue with beliefs that are opposed to traditional Christian teachings.

Kushner, for instance, said his definition of the truth of a religion was if it made someone a better person.

“We need to be very honest about our disagreements,” Mohler said. “We have a fundamental disagreement on the issue of truth. I’m not concerned with a definition of truth that is related to how happy a person is. I want to know whether what I believe corresponds with the reality of the true and living God and what he has set forth himself as the gospel.”

Kushner also said he thinks God bases salvation merely on people doing their best to live good lives.

“I can’t agree with the rabbi that what God expects is that we’ll make a good go of it,” Mohler countered. “He is a holy God who hates sin with an eternal hatred and the outpouring of his wrath. The question is how we may be saved.”

It’s a question Catholics and evangelicals have debated for centuries, Mohler said. Whereas Catholics insist on salvation by works cooperating with grace, evangelicals hold to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and salvation by grace alone.

“I believe there is only one gospel whereby men might be saved, and that is the pure gospel of salvation by grace through faith as accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ,” Mohler said. “I believe that there may very well be some members of Catholic churches who know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.” But, Mohler said, the Catholic Church itself teaches and represents a false gospel — “a gospel of works rather than grace.”

Another distinction between evangelicals and Catholics regards the salvation of “anonymous Christians,” Mohler said. While panelists Coiro and Byron each said someone who didn’t believe in Christ could be saved if they lived a good life, Mohler disagreed.

“I can understand the desire on the part of many theologians and many groups to try to find another way to embrace other persons who do not know Christ, but the Scripture itself is just emphatically clear that salvation is in the name of Jesus Christ and in his name alone,” Mohler said.

A caller from Richmond, Ky., asked Mohler when Southern Baptists would follow the lead of the pope and engage in more inter-denominational dialogue. Mohler said Southern Baptists are having conversations with Catholics, but that “the differences are so fundamental” that unity will be almost impossible to attain.

“We have to pray for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to be one, but that oneness is going to be on the basis of the pure gospel of Jesus Christ and upon the authority of God’s Word alone,” Mohler said.

    About the Author

  • Tim Ellsworth

    Tim Ellsworth is associate vice president for university communications at Union University in Jackson, Tenn. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists’ concerns nationally and globally.

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