Friday, August 24, 2012

Roman Catholicism, Part 2

Q: I have a friend who is considering joining the Roman Catholic Church. I've heard a lot of different opinions on Catholics... some people I know say it's just another denomination, others say they aren't really Christians, and still others say that they're the only true Christians! Any help you can give to clear this up for me?

A: In Part 1 we set the table for the importance of this issue. In this post we will examine the major dividing issues between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism.

Of first importance is the nature of the Gospel. Part 1 ended with the Apostle Paul's strong words that any other gospel other than the one he preached leads to eternal damnation (anathema).

According to the biblical text, the grace of God for forgiveness of sins is received by repentance (turning from your sins and turning to God as Lord and King) and putting your complete trust in Him by faith as your Savior and only means of salvation. This was the cry of the Reformation and here is a small sampling of these statements in Scripture.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9, NASB)

He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:5-7, NASB)

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, NASB, bold added for emphasis)

(See also Romans 3:21-28; 9:30-33; 11:6; and Galatians 3:18-23)

One of the most common errors made by human beings is the attempt to "earn" our salvation based on some "works" we do. Jesus was confronted with this mentality in John 6:

Therefore they said to Him, "What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?" Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent." (John 6:28-29, NASB, bold added for emphasis)

Notice the striking contrast between their works (plural) based mentality of earning God's favor and Jesus' work (singular) based mentality of believing in the Messiah! The gospel is offensive because there is nothing you can do to earn right standing with God ... you've sinned way too much to be able to overcome your debt. Contrast this with the teaching of Rome from the infallible ecumenical Council of Trent:
•CANON IV.-If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary unto salvation, but superfluous; and that, without them, or without the desire thereof, men obtain of God, through faith alone, the grace of justification;-though all (the sacraments) are not ineed [sic] necessary for every individual; let him be anathema. (!!)
•CANON V.-If any one saith, that these sacraments were instituted for the sake of nourishing faith alone; let him be anathema.
•CANON VI.-If any one saith, that the sacraments of the New Law do not contain the grace which they signify; or, that they do not confer that grace on those who do not place an obstacle thereunto; as though they were merely outward signs of grace or justice received through faith, and certain marks of the Christian profession, whereby believers are distinguished amongst men from unbelievers; let him be anathema. (!!)
•CANON VIII.-If any one saith, that by the said sacraments of the New Law grace is not conferred through the act performed, but that faith alone in the divine promise suffices for the obtaining of grace; let him be anathema.
(bold added for emphasis; all of the above are available here: http://history.hanover.edu/texts/trent/ct07.html)

The "economy" of sacramental grace is a works-based religion, by which the member of the Roman Catholic Church participates in working for their salvation by participation in the sacraments throughout their life. These "works" are what constitute the faith and are the vehicle through which grace is actually received into their life. The anathemas at the end of these statements by the Roman Catholic Church are the same as the Apostle Paul pronounced in Galatians 1:8-9, but in reverse, calling for eternal condemnation upon all who believe that they receive grace through faith alone and not through the sacraments.

Genuine saving faith should produce an active lifestyle of good works, just like a living fruit tree will continue to produce good fruit (see James 2:18-26; Matthew 3:10; 7:17-19; 12:33-37, etc.). A dead fruit tree produces no fruit. However, the fruit isn't what makes the tree alive, but is merely the proof of life! You cannot make a dead tree live by simply hanging good fruit on it. In the same way, we are not told in the Scriptures to work for our salvation, but instead to work out our salvation by producing fruit that is keeping with the life of God which is at work in us:

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13, NASB)

The most important thing to understand from all of this is that Rome has placed an eternal condemnation upon all who believe the biblical gospel of salvation by grace through the singular work of faith in Jesus and have replaced this gospel with an ongoing process of works-based righteousness which is received through the sacraments, which are in turn only received through the Roman Church and her priesthood.

The biblical description of how we can come to the Father is through Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5), and therefore Paul preached Jesus. If Rome's gospel is correct, then we ought to preach Roman Catholicism, because they are the mediator between us and Jesus. Read the Canons cited above again -- the sacraments confer the necessary grace, and they are given only through the Roman liturgy.

The Bible lifts up Jesus as the Savior, while the Roman Church lifts up herself as the mediator of grace, entrusted with the "treasury of merit" that she then dispenses to the faithful.

This becomes even more clear in the second major issue, which focuses on the nature of communion. As a sacrament, communion or The Eucharist, is considered to be the "blessed sacrament" by Rome because (according to Roman Catholic teaching) in this rite the bread and wine actually become the literal body and blood of Jesus. This "mystery" is what is called Transubstantiation.

When you attend a Mass and the priest holds up the wafer and says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world...", he isn't kidding! According to the teaching of Rome, that is actually Jesus and is worthy of worship and adoration.

To be quite blunt, this doctrine makes it impossible for Protestantism and Roman Catholicism to be reconciled. If Rome is right, then we must literally eat Jesus each week or we are turning our back on God. If this view of what happens at the mass is incorrect, then what is transpiring is nothing less than idolatry.

The final issue to consider for this post is the matter of Tradition (with a capital "T"). Here's the official position from the Catechism:
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. (Paragraph 82, bold added for emphasis)

While the "traditions" (lowercase "t") that have been handed down are beneficial (for example, communion and baptism, regular meeting together of the saints on the Lord's Day for worship and instruction, the fellowship of believers, etc.), "Tradition" is derived from the teaching Magesterium of the Roman Church (the Bishops, Cardinals, and the Pope) and is the interpreter of the faith.

Because of Tradition, we find in the Roman Church many doctrines that are (at best) extra-biblical (in that they are not found in the pages of Scripture), or (at worst) anti-biblical (in that they deny explicit doctrines taught in the Scriptures).

Tradition is the source of authority for its own authority! That is, Rome says Tradition is real so we ought to "accept" and "honor" it with equal devotion and reverence to the Scriptures (see above paragraph 82 again). Why? Because Rome says so!

But what does the Scripture say?

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints. (Jude 1:3, NASB)

The Christian faith is not an "evolving" faith, but a faith which has been revealed in its fullness through the Scriptures and through Jesus (Hebrews 1:1-2). Yet "Tradition" has been used throughout the years to "reveal" new doctrines and replace old ones. To be clear: "traditions" are good and have been handed down for our benefit by the Apostles, while "Tradition" is appealed to in order to create, change, and overturn doctrines and dogmas and also to interpret and reinterpret what the Bible says.

This idea of a Faith that changes is contrary to the revelation of God in the Holy Scriptures. "The Faith" doesn't change, even if your personal faith grows and does change. And while it may sound right at first that God would give us an infallible interpreter of the Scriptures in the Church (after all, look at all the denominations who can't agree on what the Bible teaches), the logic fails when we realize that if we can't understand God's Word without an interpreter, then how can we be sure that we'll understand the interpreter without an interpreter? There is an infinite regress that is entailed, since God is either capable of communicating with us or He is not. If He is, He doesn't need an interpreter of His word. If He isn't, then an interpreter falls short of communication for the same reasons.

Unfortunately for "Tradition," it is its own worst enemy. Studying the history of the evolution of doctrines demonstrates the foolishness that has transpired. Only revisionist history, turning a blind eye, or simple ignorance can overcome these problems. One small example will suffice: the evolution of the doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The Bible clearly teaches that Mary was a virgin when Jesus was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit in her womb. However, the Bible also tells us the names of Jesus' brothers and sisters (Matthew 13:55-56)! And while some claim that these are merely Jesus' siblings from a previous marriage by Joseph (a claim based on "Tradition" without any evidence that I've ever encountered), the text of Scripture seems to indicate otherwise:

He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus. (Matthew 1:25, NAB, bold added for emphasis)

Joseph did not have relations with her "until" Jesus was born. The word "until" is a temporal ("time") conjunction which denotes that something continued up to a certain time, at which point something changed. Matthew's Gospel is recording this miraculous event in which a virgin is found to be with child and her husband refrains from all sexual activity with her throughout the entire conception, gestation and delivery process. The usage of "until" is very telling, because this highly unusual situation does not continue, since he kept her a virgin "until" Jesus was born. Not after.

They were married, after all.

There are many other directions, doctrines, and details that could be discussed. However, the above three issues (to me) are the big ones. To consider joining the Roman Church one must wrestle with these issues soberly: 1) the nature of the Gospel; 2) the "presence" of Jesus Christ in communion; and 3) the role of Tradition.

Of course, with all of this said, there are still some things that are of value in the Roman tradition which have been rejected largely in Protestantism, which is also an error. While the doctrines and dogmas of Rome lead me to believe that this is a false church in which there is no salvation (at least, not if you agree with their works-based gospel of sacramental grace), many Protestants have so reacted to this by throwing out everything in history prior to the Reformation!

As Christians, we must understand that the Church began at Pentecost (Acts 2), not at the Reformation. There is much value in church history and the theological conversations of our faithful brothers and sisters throughout the centuries. Many of the problems and errors that the modern church faces have already been dealt with in the past. The devil doesn't need new tricks, because the old ones keep working just fine!

One of the biggest allures of the Roman Church is their apparent interest in church history. I've known several individuals who have left "Protestantism" and turned to Rome simply because of the perception that they were accepting the fullness of our heritage as Christians. If you are going to study the history of the church, be sure to read widely and fully. Because so many things have happened, it is very easy to get an obscured view of reality, especially when the source of the information you are receiving has an agenda! The agenda of Rome is to get you to trust Rome. The agenda of the Scriptures is to get you to trust Jesus.

Choose wisely.

He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him. (John 3:36, NASB)

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