The Cult of the Virgin: Catholic Mariology and the Apparitions of Mary
By Elliot Miller and Kenneth B. Samples
Baker Book House, 1992, 188 pages
“The Cult of the Virgin” is an interesting examination of Roman Catholic Mariolatry. Catholicism’s elevation of Mary to semi-deity as Mediatrix and Co-Redemptrix has absolutely no scriptural foundation and seriously detracts from the work of Jesus Christ. I especially enjoyed the chapters on Medjugorje and the other alleged Marian apparitions.
However, a serious problem with this book is that the authors, Elliot Miller and Kenneth Samples, approach Roman Catholicism as a legitimate branch of Christianity. Both authors are connected with the Christian Research Institute, an evangelical apologetics ministry that researches cults and non-Christian religions. The founder of CRI, Walter Martin, stated in 1980 that “if any Catholics are saved they are saved not because of the Roman Catholic Church but in spite of it.” Since the death of Martin in 1989, CRI has progressively softened its stance toward Catholicism. Despite Rome’s many unscriptural doctrines, CRI refuses to categorize Catholicism as a heretical church. Hank Hanegraaff, Martin’s successor, believes that while Rome teaches several doctrinal errors it is, at its core, a Christian church. There’s a recording of Elliot Miller, co-author of this book, on You Tube stating it’s possible for Catholics to be saved by following official Catholic doctrine (see here).
But for many evangelicals who remember the reasons for the Reformation, it’s still quite clear that the gospel of Rome is fundamentally different from the Gospel of Jesus Christ of the New Testament. For Rome, salvation comes by receiving its clergy-administered sacraments and by obeying the Ten Commandments. In contrast, evangelical Christians believe the Biblical message of salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Is justification by faith or by works? It can’t be both (Romans 11:6). Yes, Rome does espouse some orthodox doctrines, but its position is wrong on so many others, most importantly regarding justification, that it doesn’t warrant the respect and legitimacy offered by Miller and Samples.
The accommodating authors even go so far as to include a short rebuttal from popular Jesuit priest, Mitch Pacwa! They introduce Pacwa by asserting that his “manner of life evidences a strong personal relationship with Christ” (p.161). Hmm. As a Catholic priest, Pacwa teaches the Catholic faithful that they must merit their salvation by receiving the sacraments and by refraining from mortal sin. Even one unconfessed “mortal” sin dooms a Catholic to an eternal hell. How does that square with having a “personal relationship with Christ” who came to save sinners, not the self-righteous, works-religionists? Pacwa is a fiercely traditionalistic Catholic apologist who has frequently debated evangelical Christians and appears regularly on the conservative Catholic EWTN cable network. I have personally witnessed Pacwa on EWTN promoting the Catholic doctrine of salvation by sacramental grace and merit. Search Amazon for books authored by Pacwa and you’ll find he has written many, many titles which promote Catholicism’s standard, unbiblical doctrines, unchanged since the Reformation. By embracing Pacwa as a “brother in Christ,” Elliot and Miller are burying their heads in the sand since Pacwa and his church clearly teach a “different gospel” of sacramental grace and merit. Speaking as an ex-Catholic who left religious ritualism and legalism for the GOOD NEWS of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone, I am perplexed by Elliot’s and Miller’s blindness.
Rome has changed none of its doctrines since the Reformation so why do some evangelicals now embrace it? Co-author Samples has pointed elsewhere to theologian Peter Kreeft as an example of a Catholic who allegedly holds the Reformation in high regard and supposedly believes the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith alone. As a Catholic, Kreeft is obliged to believe God’s salvific grace is dispensed through the sacraments like water from a tap. Search Amazon for books authored by Kreeft and you’ll find an amazing number of titles written by him which all promote Catholicism’s false gospel of sacramental grace and works-righteousness.
The authors openly confess that “The Cult of the Virgin” is an effort to promote “ecumenical dialogue.” Miller, Samples, Norman Geisler (who wrote the forward to this book), and other compromising evangelicals can quibble with Catholics over issues like Mariolatry, but the bottom-line issue for evangelicals is Catholicism’s works-based justification, which is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Of course, Catholic apologists object to accusations that their religion teaches works righteousness. They claim their teachings on salvation are also based on faith and God’s grace. But the truth of the matter is Catholics believe God’s grace, infused into their souls via the sacraments, enables them to perform meritorious works and avoid sin in order to earn their way to heaven. Despite the sophistry it all boils down to works and merit.
Hanegraaff and CRI have devoted a large amount of energy and resources confronting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and smaller groups but the number of souls led astray by these cults are but a tiny fraction compared to the number of souls deceived by the legalism of Rome.