What Could Be Wrong with Roman Catholicism?

By: Deji Yesufu

A few weeks ago, media personality Candace Owens announced that she was now Roman Catholic. The news was not shocking to most people who have followed Owens’ career, the development of her thinking and her life. In 2019 Owens married George Farmer, an English man, who is Roman Catholic, and it only made sense that with time she would adopt her husband’s religious persuasions. Roman Catholicism is experiencing a revival in the West because of much of the apostasy that many Protestant churches are witnessing. Roman Catholicism is conservative by nature. Owens explained that what drew her to that faith was that her husband told her that to understand historic Christianity, is to be Roman Catholic. Catholicism boasts that they are the historic church; Jesus passed the mantle of leadership of the Church to Peter, who himself passed it to Bishops in Rome; and the Catholic Church of today has received these traditions through the years. The true church, Roman Catholics argue, is the Catholic Church because Catholicism alone possesses historic Christianity. Having laid this introduction, I want to take my readers to the University town of Nsukka (Nigeria) and recount a conversation that has just been relayed to me via the phone.

One of the blessings of being a religious writer and sharing one’s thinking on social media is that a few people read one’s thoughts and adopting one’s worldview. While I would prefer that such people reach out to me and tell me about the development of their thinking, they usually do not – and it is ok. There is time for everything. But in Nsukka, it is a bit different. I have a young friend in that town who has become reformed simply by reading my articles on social media. She is fifteen years old. My friend’s name is Ebere. In her zeal, Ebere keeps sharing her worldview with anyone who cares to hear. Ebere tells me that she has a baby sister who is eleven years old and that her sister told her something that blew her mind recently. In the sister’s school, they do a subject called Religion Moral Instruction (RMI). Ebere’s sister told her that one day her subject teacher was discussing with a young boy in class, and I think perhaps to refute a strong claim the boy was making, the teacher said “… I will advise you to listen less to your priest, and read more of the Bible…” Ebere told me that she did not know that that statement left an impression on her baby sister’s mind. So much so that the young lady came home and told Ebere. Ebere has been sharing a lot of reformed theology around the house, but she said she was surprised that her sister had been listening. What that good teacher said to that boy is what reformed theology calls “sola scriptura” – or only scriptures.

Now, because of much of the apostasy that has enveloped most of the Protestant world, Roman Catholics and Reformed Christians share a lot in terms of orthodoxy. Catholics, like reformed Christians, frown deeply at divorce. If they can help it, they will insist that a union between a man and a woman will remain forever. If they must separate, they can but they should remain unmarried. In the same manner, Catholics and Reformed Christians commit to preserving babies in the womb. The two groups are the leading campaigners against abortion in the West. Catholics and reformed Christians also frown against euthanasia. We believe that God alone gives life, and God alone must take life. There is no place for taking the life of a person medically. And, finally, Catholics and Reformed Christians have a deep aversion to homosexuality and gay marriages. The two groups hold to a commitment to the historic marriage union between men and women, only. The mass exodus of Christians from the Anglican Communion to Roman Catholicism in the Western world today is owing largely to the fact that many Christians cannot espouse the liberal position of many Protestant churches and their permissive position on homosexuality. Despite the similarities between Roman Catholics and Reformed Christians, there remain some deep and fundamental differences.

The most important difference between Catholics and Reformed Christians is the issue of where both Christian groups take their authority from. Roman Catholics take their religious authority and instructions from the Bible and church traditions. Protestants, specifically Reformed Protestantism, accept their authority from the Bible alone – sola scriptura. There is a big difference here. Catholics hold the position that religious thinking has developed throughout the centuries and that modern Christians cannot be isolated from what other Christians of previous generations believed. This is true and also acceptable to reformed Christianity. The problem however is that reformed Christians hold the position that whatever we believe and do as Christians today must be found within the pages of scriptures. The Bible must lead the argument, it must never be the other way around. So practices like belief in purgatory, honouring and praying to Mary, use of relics, confessing sins to a priest, extreme unction, submission to papal authority, etc, must exhume from the pages of the Bible for the reformed Christian to believe them. If these positions have simply been theological developments through the centuries, without a firm rooting in the Bible, Reformed Christians would not hold to them.

To be honest, no stream of Christianity is specifically reformed. Ulrich Zwingli, one of the three magisterial reformers of the 16th century, coined the term “Reformed Theology” to point at what God was doing in his time in the area of religion – reforming the churches through biblical teachings. Zwingli was killed at battle in 1531 and the mantle to carry on the reformed message fell on John Calvin. Calvin, a master theologian, organized reformed thinking into systematics so that his Institutes of the Christian Religion became the textbook of reformed Christians throughout the centuries. So, anyone who espouses the teaching of Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, or John Calvin, that person is said to be reformed. In other contexts, some hold that a reformed Christian is anyone who believes in a sufficient scripture (sola scriptura), salvation by faith alone (sola fide), salvation through grace alone (sola gratia), salvation by Jesus Christ alone (sola Christus) – all to the glory of God alone (soli Deo Gloria). However, to minimise it all, I think that anyone with a commitment to the scriptures, as it was exemplified in the speech of that good teacher when he advised students to listen less to his Catholic Priest and read more of his Bible, is a reformed Christian.

The first and last time I was in Nsukka was in 2018 when my friend John Ibekwe drove me to the University town for a burial. We drove through the campus and then went to see his friend who was burying his Dad. I was in Enugu that period to promote my book Victor Banjo and I used the occasion to also speak to secondary school students about writing. I have told Ebere that she will be the person who will take me to Nsukka next.

Roman Catholicism in Nigeria has taken a nose dive. The situation is even worse in Eastern Nigeria. Catholic Priests have become quite autocratic in their behaviour – the well-publicised spat between Chimamanda Adichie and a Roman Catholic Priest during the burial of one of her parents is a case in point. The challenge that autocratic Catholicism will have in the East is that world religions are all coming face to face with the internet – particularly social media. Persons like me now have the freedom to share our thinking with the world and people like Ebere can sit in the confines of their rooms and read what I have to say. If I make sense, they will adopt my worldview. If I don’t, they discard my thinking. This is how the 16th-century reformation began in Europe through the revolution in learning that followed the invention of the printing press. Autocracy in religion cannot survive for too long. We will all have to come to that point where we must be reasonable in our presentation of biblical beliefs. Gone are the days when someone will put a knife to your head and demand you accept religion, or force you to go to a church you do not wish to go to. The children we are giving birth to today are deeply rational in their worldview. My children will ask me “… daddy, why…?” and rather than browbeat them into a position, I take my time to explain issues to them. Despite so much that Roman Catholics and Protestants share in beliefs today, there is still a world of difference between them. One group has a firm commitment to the Bible alone, the other permits the freedom of bringing historical traditions into how they imbibe biblical teachings.

That, in a succinct way, is what I think is wrong with Roman Catholicism.

Deji Yesufu is the pastor of Providence Reformed Baptist Church Ibadan. He is the author of HUMANITY.

Posted by Deji Yesufu


  1. Insightful commentary. Well written, as always.

    Nevertheless, I have a different take on Catholicism.

    To comapare Catholicism to Reformed Theology is akin to comparing apples and oranges. The two belief systems are at variance. There are no basis for comparison.

    While it’s true that many Catholics profess to have moral values, we need to remember that morality isn’t the same thing as spirituality.

    Anyone can have moral values. You don’t have to be a Christian to be a moral person. Just as we have Catholics who are good moral people, we also have moral Atheists, moral Agnostics, moral Gnostics, moral New Agers, moral Muslims, moral Hindus, moral Pagans, moral whatever…

    Given the beliefs, doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church, I wouldn’t consider them a Christian Church. To the extent they are Christians at all, they’d be apostate, in my humble opinion.


    1. Always refreshing to read your comments


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