Is Roman Catholicism a Cult?

By | 20 Nov 2013


Some people, after reading some of my blog articles, might get the impression I am anti-Catholic. Others might go so far as to accuse me of being divisive, promoting schism within the Body of Christ by calling out the Catholic Church on their issues, saying we Protestants need to play nicey-nice with them in the name of unity against a common cultural foe (secular humanism, postmodernism, abortion, LGBTQ+, etc.) in a religious variant of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

Let me be very direct in my clarification of where I stand: I am not anti-Catholic! That being said, I am completely opposed to Roman Catholicism and there is a vast difference between those two positions! Let me explain:

  • Hating Catholics would violate Jesus’ command to love — and not judge, I might add! — my fellow human beings. That would be a sin in and of itself on my part. The vital question of whether or not any given Catholic is truly born-again and heaven-bound — or not! — can be answered only by Someone way above my pay-grade!
  • Opposing the heresies of the apostate Roman Catholic Church is me simply continuing in the spirit of the original Protestant reformers who broke away from that morally bankrupt organization back in the late 1500s and thereafter.

It is perfectly consistent to detest and expose the perfidy, abuses, and heresies of Roman Catholicism while loving and caring for those precious souls trapped in the grip of its bondage.

Does that imply Protestants are perfect, without spot or blemish?

Not even close!

The tragic fact of the matter is that, as many mainline Protestant denominations (e.g., Lutheran, Episcopalian, Methodist, Presbyterian, etc.) have compromised their values — straying from their doctrinal foundations in a desperate yet futile attempt to remain culturally relevant and socially acceptable — they themselves have become just as corrupt and flaky as the Catholic leadership their denominations were founded to replace. Leaders from all these groups are frequently in the news as they proudly proclaim their “tolerance” and “inclusiveness” at the expense of biblical truth.

Even some theologically conservative — denominational and non-denominational alike, including charismatic — churches have allowed theological error into their teaching/practices and/or moral corruption in their leadership. We need only to look at recent headlines of pastoral moral failures (adultery, pedophilia, etc.) and “deconversions” (leaders publicly renouncing their faith in Christ) for examples of this.

More than a few ex-Catholic Protestants have become severely disillusioned with American Protestantism and returned to the Catholic Church for those very reasons, one of my closest friends being one of them.

Along with him, there is a small remnant of true born-again believers within the Catholic church — an insignificant minority in terms of percentage of the Catholic population and having insufficient numbers to influence any internal reforms of Catholic doctrine, but precious in the eyes of God nonetheless — the last holdouts of true faith among an otherwise totally apostate organization. Such believers are scattered throughout the Catholic community and the vast majority of them are charismatics.

All that is beside the point I am trying to make here: Roman Catholicism is the world’s single-largest cult system. If my claim is indeed accurate, then I am not promoting schism in the Body of Christ because a cult is by definition not a part of the Church Universal.

What Are the Earmarks of a Cult?

How can I say this? It’s easy! It all boils down to our answering 2 simple questions:

  1. What are the major earmarks of a cult system?
  2. How do the official documents and behaviors of the Roman Catholic Church compare against that list?

All Cult Systems Exhibit These 5 Characteristics

  1. They exalt extra-biblical writings or traditions as equal or superior to the Scriptures.
  2. They present an unscriptural view of the Person & works of Jesus Christ. In other words, they may sound Christian at first blush, but at the core they conceptually have the wrong Jesus.
  3. They impose a system of “salvation by works” upon its followers. There is always a list of things (do this, don’t do that, cut this off, grow that out aka dead religious works) its followers must do in order to qualify for entering heaven.
  4. They impose its belief system upon its followers through psychological manipulation and/or physical force. Brainwashing and abuse of all kinds (physical, verbal, emotional, psychological, religious, sexual) are the norm rather than the exception.
  5. They usually have a single powerful founder/leader who declares himself — or is declared by others — to be God/Jesus incarnate on this earth.

How Does Roman Catholicism Stack Up Against That List?

1. Roman Catholicism Exalts Extra-Biblical Writings or Traditions as Equal or Superior to the Scriptures

These are doctrinal writings or sayings that cannot be found anywhere in the Bible, but are exalted to the same level as Scripture. Excellent examples would be the Book of Mormon, Doctrine & Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price, all of which are accepted as equal to the Bible by the Mormons. Other examples would be the so-called Christian Scientists’ (a double misnomer: it is neither Christian nor scientific) exaltation of the writings of Mary Baker Eddy to scriptural status or the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ similar regard for the writings of Joseph Franklin Rutherford.

In the case of Roman Catholicism, we have papal bulls issued over the last several centuries, commands issued by the pope ex cathedra establishing doctrines contrary to the New Testament and regarded as superior to and superseding the Word of God. Want proof? Here are quotes from official Catholic publications:

“…the Church is above the Bible, and the transference of Sabbath observance is proof of that fact.” Catholic Record of London, Ontario Sept 1,1923

“The authority of the Church could therefore not be bound to the authority of the Scriptures, because the Church had changed…the Sabbath into Sunday, not by command of Christ, but by its own authority.” Canon and Tradition, page 263

(82) As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence. Catechism of Catholic Doctrine page 31

“The Scriptures indeed is a divine book but it is a dead letter, which has to be explained, and cannot exercise the action which the preacher can obtain.” Our Priesthood, p. 155

“The doctrines of the Catholic Church are entirely independent of Holy Scripture.” Familiar Explanation of Catholic Doctrine, Rev. M. Muller, p.151.

2. Roman Catholicism Presents an Unscriptural View of the Person & Works of Jesus Christ

Some classic examples of such views from antiquity are:

  • The Gnostics’ view that Jesus was all God, while denying that He was truly human in every sense of the word yet without sin
  • The Arians’ position that Jesus was indeed a human being, while denying His divinity

Roman Catholicism teaches the vicarious substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross and His shed blood are insufficient to cleanse us from all sins, past, present, and future. Here is a quote from The Original Catholic Encyclopedia

Christ’s saving work did not at once blot out every individual sin and transform every sinner into a saint; it only procured the means thereto. Personal sanctification is effected by special acts, partly Divine, partly human; it is secured by loving God and man as the Savior did. Christianus alter Christus: every Christian is another Christ, a son of God, an heir to the eternal Kingdom. Finally, in the fulness of time all things that are in heaven and on earth shall be reestablished, restored, in God through Christ (Eph., i, 9-10). The meaning of this promise is that the whole of creation, bound up together and perfected in Christ as its Head, shall be led back in the most perfect manner to God, from whom sin had partly led it away. Christ is the Crown the Center, and the Fountain of a new and higher order of things: “for all are yours; And you are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s.” (I Cor., iii, 22-23) Article entitled “Christ as Mediator”

3. Roman Catholicism Imposes a System of “Salvation by Works” Upon Its Followers

True, biblical Christian salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone and is a free gift from the One True God and cannot be earned, purchased, or deserved, period, full stop.

One of the earliest attacks on Christianity, predating the Gnostics and Arians, were Judaizers opposed by the Apostle Paul in the Book of Galatians. Their position was that, in addition to submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ for salvation, all believers also had to strictly follow the Law of Moses as practiced by the Jews. These included the rite of circumcision, observing Jewish dietary laws (keeping kosher), and celebrating all the feasts prescribed in the Old Testament, among others.

Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, ably and thoroughly refuted this particular heresy in his letter to the Galatians, the summation of which is grace + works = works. The Catholic Church believes its members must follow their rules to go to heaven and that Catholics can purchase their way there through something called indulgences, if they don’t.

Salvation by Works

The following passages are quoted from the Council of Trent held in AD 1545-1563 (FYI, that council was convened to oppose the Protestant Reformation):

If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, excluding grace and charity which is poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit and inheres in them, or also that the grace which justifies us is only the favour of God, let him be anathema. Canon 11

If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema. Canon 12

If anyone says that the justice (righteousness) received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema. Canon 24

If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema. Canon 30

If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ (of whom one is a living member), the justified does not truly merit an increase of grace, and eternal life, provided that one dies in the state of grace, the attainment of this eternal life, as well as an increase in glory, let him be anathema. Canon 32

It’s interesting to note the NT Greek word anathema used in the texts quoted above is the same Greek word used by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians when he said:

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed (anathema). As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed (anathema).Galatians 1:8-9

a man accursed, devoted to the direst of woes

The bottom line: according to the official doctrines of Roman Catholicism, anyone who trusts solely in the shed blood and completed work of Jesus Christ on the cross is under the direst of curses.

Contrast that with the Apostle Paul who calls down the same curses upon anyone who preaches a gospel other than the one he preached, a gospel which bears precisely ZERO resemblance to the teachings of Roman Catholicism. Oops!


Here are direct quotes from the Catechism of the Catholic Church concerning indulgences:

The doctrine and practice of indulgences in the Church are closely linked to the effects of the sacrament of Penance. What is an indulgence? An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.” “An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.” Indulgences may be applied to the living or the dead. Item# 1471 Page 411

An indulgence is obtained through the Church who, by virtue of the power of binding and loosing granted her by Christ Jesus, intervenes in favor of individual Christians and opens for them the treasury of the merits of Christ and the saints to obtain from the Father of mercies the remission of the punishments due for their sins. Thus the Church does not want simply to come to the aid of these Christians, but also to spur them to works of devotion, penance, and charity. Item# 1478 Page 413

Since the faithful departed now being purified are also members of the same communion of saints, one way we can help them is to obtain indulgences for them, so that the temporal punishments due for their sins may be remitted. Item# 1479 Page 413

It is important to emphasize here that indulgences are sold for money. This was one of the primary issues raised by Martin Luther in his 95 Theses which were foundational to launching the Protestant Reformation.

4. Roman Catholicism Imposes its Belief System Upon Its Followers Through Psychological Manipulation and/or Physical Force

For centuries, the Roman Catholic church excommunicated, outlawed, tortured, and murdered people who it declared to be “heretics.”

Excommunication has always been the “big stick” in the arsenal of manipulative tools available to Roman Catholicism. Excommunication literally means to be “separated from communion.” Since communion has been transformed into a dead religious work by Roman Catholic doctrine, that work having sway over one’s eternal destiny, being excommunicated meant eternal damnation. Prior to the Protestant Reformation, there was no alternative doctrinal viewpoint on this issue, so for centuries the Vatican was able to manipulate and control vast areas of Europe and elsewhere — rulers and subjects alike — through this heretical threat.

Those who had thus been excommunicated were adjudicated “outlaws.” Declaring someone as an “outlaw” meant something completely different from our modern-day concept. Today, “outlaws” are merely criminals who, despite their criminal behavior(s), still possess basic human and legal rights under the law. Back in the day, being declared an outlaw meant you were outside the law, the implication being you had zero human or legal rights. Someone could kill you and your family, rape your wife, enslave your children, steal any/all of your possessions — even with witnesses present! — without any requirement for further legal justification. The outlaw had no legal recourse and the attacker would not be held legally accountable for his actions. In fact, such a perpetrator was often esteemed and rewarded for his crimes. We witness a variant of this in modern times when “honor killings” occur in Moslem countries with the murderer(s) walking away scot free, many times without even the legal mockery of a show trial.

Over the centuries, there were, of course, actual heretics who espoused false doctrines contrary to God’s Word. However, for every one of them there were literally tens of thousands of people tortured, burned at the stake, and massacred in open warfare during the Protestant Reformation — a move of God still very much in progress, I might add — for simply daring to believe its tenets.

Both secular and church history all document these bloody and evil events in detail. Tragically, such persecutions are often cited in the modern era as justifications for atheism.

5. Roman Catholicism Has a Single Powerful Leader Declared to be God/Jesus on This Earth

David Koresh of the Branch Davidians, Jim Jones of the People’s Temple, Moses David of the Children of God, Charles Manson of the Manson Family, Victor Paul Wierwille of The Way Bible & Tract Society, and Sun Yung Moon of the Unification Church (aka the Moonies) have all claimed to be Christ.

Amazingly, the Pope claims the same thing! Here are the astonishing claims of various Catholic publications:

“The Pope is not only the representative of Jesus Christ, he is Jesus Christ himself, hidden under the veil of flesh.” Catholic National, July 1895

“We hold upon this earth the place of God Almighty” Pope Leo XIII Encyclical Letter of June 20, 1894

“For thou art the shepherd, thou art the physician, thou art the director, thou art the husbandman, finally thou art another God on earth.” Labbe and Cossart’s “History of the Councils.” Vol. XIV, col. 109

The title “Lord God the Pope” is found within a gloss of Extravagantes of Pope John XXII, title 14, chapter 4, In an Antwerp edition of the Extravagantes, the words, “Dominum Deum Nostrum Papam” (Our Lord God the Pope) can be found in column 153. In a Paris edition, they are found in column 140

“The pope is the supreme judge of the law of the land…He is the vicegerent of Christ, and is not only a priest forever, but also King of kings and Lord of lords” La Civilta Cattolica, March 18, 1871

“It seems that Pope John Paul II now presides over the universal Church from his place upon Christ’s cross,” said Bishop Dunn, who traveled with seven other prelates to Rome. Taken from an article entitled, “Auckland Bishop Says Pope Presides From the Cross” Aukland, New Zealand, September 20, 2004

Related Information


As you can see, I’m not just dredging up ancient history. These false doctrines and abuses are very much alive and well within modern-day Roman Catholicism, none of them ever having been recanted of to this day.

The single exception to this has been a halt to the mass torture and murder of so-called heretics as Western governments have cast off Roman Catholic political domination and rightfully forbidden such heinous atrocities. Had the Protestant Reformation not taken place, those ancient abuses would still be very much with us.

The truly monumental travesty is the secular world equates Roman Catholicism with Christianity.

And that is simply not true.

Thanks for reading!

3 thoughts on “Is Roman Catholicism a Cult?

  1. Mark Smith

    Thanks Steve for another well thought out and articulate read. I grew up Catholic, but broke away when I was about 18 or 19. Then, unfortunately I married a Mormon. I was totally nieve to the whole doctrine of being equally yoked. So in trying to convert my jack-mormon wife to true Christianity, I read a ton of Mormon and anti-Mormon books, and found the similarities between Catholism and Mormonism striking. One more thing that all cults believe is that ‘THEY’ are the ONE True Church”. Have you ever wrote on Mormonism or the Jehovah Witness’? Do you believe that all Mormons, Muslims, J.W’s or any other cult members are all doomed to an eternity in Hades? I personally believe that there might be some sincere Christians in these cults, but have been swept into the mind-set (brain-washed)of that particular cult,…but their hearts could be in the right place, I guess ultimately it’s up to God to do the final judging.

    1. Steve Willis Post author

      A cult by its very nature rejects or redefines one or more of the essential doctrines of biblical Christianity. Essential doctrines are those core beliefs required to receive salvation and enter heaven. Egro, anyone who accepts and believes such false doctrines is doomed.
      That being said, I agree with you that there are sincere believers existing within certain cults who do have the right Jesus and the right doctrine despite what that cult teaches and stands for.
      And you are absolutely correct in your statement that it is up to God to judge who such people really are. We are not allowed to pass judgment on cult members as to their eternal destiny, we are only allowed to pass judgment on the belief system a cult preaches and practices.

  2. Lynn Nichols

    I converted to Catholicisim before I married. It felt very much like a cult. My husband actually didn’t have much interest himself. I read the entire Bible and left the Catholic church. I am truly sad for those who are being deceived and are lost. I also do believe there are Catholics who have found Jesus and will see heaven, tho not enough of them. I spent time with a woman today who was a plesant sweet lady. When I found out she was a Mormon I was really sad for her as she told me what a blessing the Book Of Mormon was to her. She has a Bible as well but doesn’t place much value on it. I guess she may as well throw it away. She tried to tell me that the comming of Mormonism is in the Bible. I asked her where and she couldn’t tell me. I went home and got on my pc to see exactly what they believe. I was appaled! None of us have it all right, but she is truly lost and deceived by this cult. God help us ……..

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