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As I typed this innocent headline, I felt a million hackles rising around the world. After all, it’s politically correct to pretend that every church is equally valid even though some of them are rapidly crumbling fossils, some are ethnic clubs, some are 180 degrees off from the Bible on every major doctrine, some are studiously devoted to irrelevance, and some are 5 percent Bible with 95 percent ritual and rigamajig copied from pagan religions.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was reared in various fundamental churches, discipled through a staid college ministry, and graduated on to a series of evangelical churches, most of them pretty darned good. If there were an award for Most Churches Visited, I would at least be a finalist.

This diverse background has prepared me to be an equal-opportunity church basher. Or back patter. So with a pocketful of gold medals and a few handfuls of mud, I proceed.

My first target of opportunity is the ultimate ecclesiastical pyramid, the Roman Catholic Church. Why start here? Because it has a set of traditions that soldiers might call a “target-rich environment.”

To her credit, Holy Mother Church has remained solid on basics like the deity of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, the atonement and resurrection, plus social issues like the right to life. Also, there are large pockets of vibrant spirituality in such movements as Cursillo and the Catholic charismatics. Much-loved Pope John XXIII once gave the first-ever audience to a gathering of Catholic charismatics. After reading a few paragraphs of his speech, he looked up, saw the sea of beaming faces, pushed his speech aside, and said, “Oh, I don’t have to use this with you people.”

I’m also encouraged by Benedict XVI, who seems to have inherited John Paul II’s humility as well as his loyalty to foundational doctrines. On Jan. 22, 1998, when he was still a cardinal and the grand Inquisitor (yes!) of the Roman Catholic Church, he declared that their archives (4,500 large volumes) indicate a death toll of 25 million killed by the Catholic Church for being “heretics.” And likely two-thirds of the original volumes are lost. That kind of honesty will help relations (though there is no basis for uniting the RCC with Bible-believing Protestant churches).

On the downside, Catholics still persecute Protestants worldwide much more than vice versa, they don’t know their Bibles as well, and they are far more apt to have a syncretistic faith mixed with native religions. As a result, their annual growth rate (1.24 percent) barely keeps up with world growth as a whole. In fact, on any given Sunday in Latin America, you’ll now find more Protestants in church than Catholics. The typical Catholic is also less likely to be a born-again Christian. If “born-again” confuses you, it means someone who, meeting a cement truck head-on, would go to Heaven instead of Hell. Ironically, the current popularity of that phrase sprang from the title of Chuck Colson’s autobiography, and was thought up by his Catholic wife as they were sitting in a Catholic mass!

But the worst of the Catholic Church’s problems is their added-on doctrines and customs. “Megashift” lists 56 of them, ranging from quirky (kissing the pope’s foot, begun in 709) to damaging (indulgences sold for forgivene$$ of $in$, 1190) to horrendous (the current drive to declare Mary as co-redemptrix along with Christ – spearheaded by Vox Populi Mariae Mediatrici, whose petition to John Paul II was signed by millions of Catholics, including 40 cardinals, 480 bishops, and Mother Teresa. Mel Gibson also supports the movement, as did John Paul himself. (To be fair, they state that “co-redemptrix” does not imply deity.)

By papal decrees, Mary was already named mediatrix in 1931 and “Queen of Heaven” in 1954. Admiration for admirable people like Mary is wonderful, but this is way over the top. See Jeremiah 44, where God angrily condemns the Jews to death by famine and sword for paying homage to the “Queen of Heaven.” The tens of thousands of Catholic martyrs, apostles, missionaries and devoted religious who have given their blood, sweat and tears to their supreme Lord Jesus for centuries deserve a purer posterity than this.

In a future column, I’ll discuss how the Catholics could capitalize on their historical role as guardians of the original faith, make a clean start without their accumulated theological baggage, and save themselves from near-extinction. But for next week, I’ll gather some fresh mud for the Protestant traditions that so richly deserve it.

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