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The pitfalls of (Roman) Catholicism

April 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Sola scriptura. That’s how it should be in the church, right? By scripture alone should we determine authoritative truth.

Sadly, the Catholic church has strayed far from this ideal for centuries. Are Catholics still “Christian”? Well yes, by definition they believe in the fundamental doctrines of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, the Trinity, the virgin birth of Mary, and so on. However, I do think that Catholics have more obstacles and pitfalls in the way to true understanding. As I’ve pointed out in earlier posts, many (if not most) churchgoers who identify themselves as Christian may actually be in danger of lacking salvation. This danger is even more pronounced in Catholicism where distractions and false doctrines abound in alarming fashion. Some even say that deep, hardcore Catholicism toes the line that could condemn the souls of its adherents. I’d want to stay far from this line if possible, and my hope is that others will feel the same.

So what’s so wrong about Catholicism anyway? If I had to summarize it in two very succinct points, it’d be like this: 1) It is not biblically sound in some of its beliefs and practices; and 2) the work of Jesus Christ seems unfinished in the eyes of Catholics.

Let’s examine some specific points and you can decide for yourself.

Sacraments and Rituals

Out of all of Catholicism’s distinct features, the emphasis on sacraments might be the most understandable. For instance, many Catholics believe that baptism and the eucharist are necessary parts of being a true believer. In other words, in addition to placing one’s faith in Christ and following Him, a person also needs to carry out the sacraments to activate their faith and salvation. They justify this by pointing out that Jesus himself commanded that believers be baptized and to carry out the eucharist in remembrance of him.

However, while we should obey Christ and even carry out the sacraments carried out in the Bible, these are not prerequisites for salvation. Many verses clearly state that we are saved by faith alone and not by any works we do. Ephesians 2:8-9 states: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,not a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

Furthermore, Jesus told the thief on the cross next to him: “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” The thief was saved by a repentant heart that chose to place all faith in Christ alone. He obviously didn’t get baptized or carry out any other sacrament. When it comes to salvation, God does not make exceptions to the rule of redemption by faith. While I certainly do not recommend disobeying God, acts of disobedience alone cannot disqualify someone from salvation. After all, Jesus also commands us not to hate or lust, and yet none of us would seriously consider breaking these commands on occasion to mean that your spiritual doom is ensured.

As far as Catholic rituals such as all the kneeling, chanting, and repeating what the priest reads, this is purely human tradition and nothing more. The Bible does not prescribe these things at all, and personally, I don’t see how anything repetitive and habitual (and relatively mindless) could be edifying to one’s soul. If anything, it would simply foster a sense of false accomplishment and holiness. But these empty works do not earn you brownie points in God’s eyes. Works are evidence of what’s within, but they have no saving power in and of themselves. Apart from a real relationship with God, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). The only time rituals had any place in worship was when God specifically instructed His people what to do (i.e., Leviticus), and each step had a purpose. God never told us to go ahead and develop our own.

I imagine that when a Catholic person visits a Protestant church, it would seem “too easy” and almost like cheating. In their minds, perhaps religion is supposed to be difficult, as most good things in life come from hard work and effort. But rituals on Sunday do not qualify. If coming to worship God is painful, something is probably wrong in either our hearts or in the service itself. The difficulty in the Christian life comes from daily sanctification, dying to ourselves, and from letting the Word of God pierce our hearts even when it hurts and is uncomfortable to our pride.

Reverence of Mary (and other “saints”)

Surely, being chosen as the earthly mother of Jesus Christ is an immense blessing. Mary deserves our respect and admiration. But there is no biblical basis to think she plays any further role in our relationship with God.

There is not a single mention in the scriptures that we need to pray to Mary or come to her as an intermediary. Paradoxically, Mary is a child of God—just as we are. Why do Catholics pray to her or use beads and such? I imagine this came about as some kind of guilty response after generations of sexism and relegating women to second-class citizens in the church. Perhaps it came from human logic after recognizing the importance and authority of mothers. But this is a unique case in human history where the child was superior to the parent in every way. Jesus obeyed her in accordance to the scriptures as an example to us, but also to indulge her out of his love and sympathy. When I read the stories of the wedding miracle (wine to water) or even when Jesus stayed behind in the temple and worried his parents, I don’t sense that he feels subjected to Mary or is dependent in the usual way a child is, do you?

The reverence of Mary is not biblically based and frankly, it is a distraction away from our complete focus on the triune God. In fact, you see frequent examples of apostles and spiritual leaders deflecting attention away from themselves and calling attention to Jesus instead.

Priesthood

After Christ’s death on the cross, the traditional role of priests became obsolete. They are no longer necessary as far as acting as intermediaries between us and God. Sorry, but that’s just how it is. Sure, they can still serve an important teaching role, but Catholic priests unknowingly overstep their bounds.

Why can we not come directly to God in prayer and confession? Are we not called children of God after we are saved? Can children not openly and honestly talk directly to their fathers? Is God a worse version of Captain Von Trapp? What gives priests the authority to take our confessions and to give absolution? Even worse, what gives any “man of the cloth” the authority to ex-communicate or condemn anyone? Only God is the righteous judge with this authority! (I won’t even delve into the grievous offenses of the past, such as indulgences and other corruptions.)

I couldn’t help noticing when watching the recent The Bible series (backed by the Catholic church) on The History Channel that there was very little emphasis on the tearing of the veil in the temple of Jerusalem. In fact, it was quickly portrayed as a thin, silky curtain falling to the ground after Christ’s death, which could happen to any curtain in an earthquake. The reality was far more miraculous: a hefty thick curtain supernaturally tore in half down the middle. This event had massive significance.

Before this happened, a High Priest would have to approach this place—the Holy of Holies—with much cleansing, prayer, and trepidation. They would even tie a rope around themselves in case they dropped dead from God’s fearsome presence…then his fellow clergy could pull his body out without risking their own lives by entering. But the tearing of the veil was a clear signal that we can now approach God boldly as his children. Once we are washed with the blood of Christ, we are pure in His sight and no longer need a priest to act on our behalf.

Only Christ can forgive our sins. A priest has no such authority, and actually never has, even according to Levitical law.

Another strange part of the Catholic priesthood is their requirement of celibacy. I’m sure they quote Paul who says that celibacy can be ideal for someone in the ministry since even marriage can be a distraction.

But celibacy is a very rare calling indeed. Most people in history have not been called or built for it. Even Peter the apostle whom Catholics revere so much was married. Are priests today called to something higher than “the original pope” himself, Peter? Marriage is more often portrayed in a positive light and is even used as a metaphor for the church’s relationship with Jesus Christ.

Consider this: Paul had to be single as the most prolific missionary the world has ever known. His calling was much different than the everyday clergyman. He was personally approached by Jesus Christ after the resurrection and ascension. Paul was directly shown glimpses of heaven and the future glories that laid ahead just to empower and motivate him to the end. He spent every waking minute preaching the Word to hostile crowds, traveling, being brutally punished and imprisoned, fleeing from death, and writing letters that compose almost half of the New Testament.

What is it that modern day priests do exactly that precludes marriage in their ministry? Marriage is a blessing and would probably prevent so many of the problems that plague the Catholic church today. It also teaches people so much about their own wretchedness and can be a great source of accountability and support.

The vast majority of men simply were not made for celibacy, and this is not an indictment on character or righteousness.

The Infallibility of the Pope

Where in the world does this notion come from? That once a person is chosen as the Pope that he suddenly becomes infallible? Show me a verse, any verse, please!

Was any person other than Jesus ever perfect and blameless? How can it be that the Pope can declare something and then every follower has to adopt that as truth? The only source of ultimate truth in our lives is the Bible. No man today qualifies as having equal footing with God’s Word.

People may reason that God chooses certain people to be pope, and maybe this could be true. Certainly, nothing happens without God allowing it. But just as kings appointed by God could fail or even fall away, popes are still prone to error. Human sin and free will are always factors.

Maybe people compare popes to prophets. It is true that prophets in the Bible always declared truth (otherwise, they would be false prophets)—even if they were sinful in other areas of their lives—but the Bible and the events that helped shape it are already finished. Prophets are used for specific purposes in light of significant historical events with heavy spiritual consequences. God always chooses prophets directly by speaking to them. God does not appoint prophets using man’s voting procedures or councils.

Crucifixion of Christ

What is it about the crucifixion of Christ that seems unfinished to people? We are not “crucifying Christ over and over again” as some people like to dramatically put it. Mel Gibson, a Catholic, insisted on using his own hands to nail the hands of Christ in the movie portrayal The Passion of the Christ because he feels he crucifies Christ with every sin.

You may notice that Catholics have crosses that depict Jesus hanging on it still. He is risen! He has defeated death and sin on the cross and left it behind. He is in glory in heaven right now, preparing for his triumphant return as king and conqueror. Why is he still on the cross in Catholicism?

To me, this seems like a clever trick of Satan. He may put it into people’s minds that this is a good way to always remember the cost paid and the pain suffered. While these things are important indeed, the more important part is Christ’s victory over death and sin. If he had simply suffered and died, he would be a false prophet and nothing more than every other criminal who died the same Roman death. But it is his resurrection that validates his claims and his deity, not the hanging on the cross.

Purgatory

Jesus uttered his famous words toward the end of his life, “It is finished.”

That means sin was defeated and that people now have a direct bridge to God (and heaven).

How in the world did the idea of purgatory come about? I am utterly confused. It is not mentioned or even hinted at in scripture at all. The Bible tells us that once we come to faith in Christ, we are seen as blameless in God’s sight. We are “white as snow.”

According to the doctrine of purgatory, our sins are NOT fully paid for, and we’re not quite ready yet. We need a little more punishment, a little more purification. Again, this plays into the erroneous emphasis on works and payment for sin outside of Christ’s redemptive work for us. It is completely unbiblical.

This is really just scratching the surface, but you’ve probably noticed the trend again and again by now; unbiblical, Jesus’ work was unfinished, not enough…these are serious red flags that make Catholicism seriously deficient in some ways. No denomination is perfect, of course, but I think this goes beyond small theological differences and misunderstandings. Hopefully, people can focus on the doctrines that are correct and find a way toward a better, more biblical truth. Sola scriptura—not tradition, not man-made systems and bureaucracies.

Misinterpreting Scripture (Part 3: Hyperbole – Updated 5/25/12)

May 24, 2012 1 comment

Yes, even the Bible uses hyperbole (and metaphors, analogies, etc.). What’s the point of this, you ask? Well, to make a point clearer or to convey emotion and urgency rather than straight information.

You see it often in the Old Testament prophets whose jobs were not simply to predict the future, but to warn people of their disobedience and to snap them out of their spiritual malaise. They would use very graphic and extreme language to voice the displeasure of God. Otherwise, the Jews wouldn’t have listened with ears perked because of their stubbornness. Saying “Nation of Israel, God is not happy with you right now” simply doesn’t have the same sobering effect of comparing them to “whores” (essentially cheating on God with other false gods).

Jesus uses hyperbole as well. Consider this passage from Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple.”

Now, as we saw in Part 2, let’s ABC (assume basic competence) here. Nobody could have possibly thought this was actually telling us to hate our own parents in the traditional sense. Heck, honoring our parents is even one of the 10 commandments (Exodus 20:12)! Not only that, but Jesus himself affirms this command in Matthew 15:4.

So what is Jesus saying here? Well, first of all, the word translated as “hate” does not mean to have an intense feeling of dislike as we might assume. In Greek, it means something closer to loving something much less. (There’s a lot of subtle meaning that English apparently doesn’t have that Hebrew and Greek do. This is one of the lingering negative effects of man’s rebellion at the Tower of Babel, I suppose…dealing with translation issues.) For our purposes, “hate” is still a close-enough translation, hyperbole considered.

Basically, if we are truly followers of Jesus Christ, He must come clearly first. If parents are to be honored, as is emphasized multiple times throughout the Bible, but we must “hate” them in following Jesus, how much more must we relegate the lesser things in our lives! Things like social status, money, or pleasure…they need to take an ever further back seat.

Practically speaking, this means that the will of God takes precedence over our parents. If we are clearly called by God to become missionaries, for example, but our parents want us to become doctors or lawyers, we must obey God and ignore our parents’ wishes in this case. If our parents are nonbelievers and want nothing to do with you because of your Christian faith, you must choose your faith over your parents’ unbelief. Better still, you should continue to try to evangelize to them.

Of course, as with everything, we must have a balanced view here. Jesus is not telling us to ignore our parents’ commands completely. We are to love and honor them whenever possible, and importantly, they are still above us in the chain of command. If this life is like a big company, our parents are still our day-to-day, immediate supervisors—but Jesus is the President and CEO. Obviously, if the CEO comes down to ask something of you personally, you do what he says.

Often, our parents’ wishes will function as confirmation of what God wants us to do IF they are continually in prayer and living their lives in accordance with God’s will. If they are worldly parents, then they can still bestow worldly wisdom and experience, which can be helpful, but such advice is ultimately hit-or-miss and contingent upon circumstances.

If you feel led by God to do something, but your godly parents are wholly opposed to it—and have good reasons as well—then God might be telling you, “I don’t know where you felt that leading from, but it certainly wasn’t from me.” If you feel that your prayers have been answered, then confirmation from reliable outside sources should also follow if it is legitimate.

*Update: Another example of hyperbole would be this famous passage:

Matthew 5:29-30: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

First, let’s consider this passage at its most basic level. What is Jesus saying? One of the more obvious points he’s making is that sin is very serious—in this context, especially lust. We need to take drastic measures to keep ourselves from continually sinning. Too often, we abuse God’s grace thinking, “We’re forgiven anyway, what’s the big deal?” This mentality simply cannot persist in a true believer.

Also, Jesus is telling us that sin can actually cause a person to go to hell.

Give that a second to sink in. I’m sure a number of objections are popping into your mind at this moment.

“But we’ve all sinned!”

“Sinning can’t make me go to hell if I’ve already accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior!”

I agree wholeheartedly on both counts. What I think Jesus is indicating here is that a person who perpetually sins—and is not already saved—is driving himself away from God, making the likelihood of coming to salvation more and more unlikely. If a person tries to be humble and does not engage in a very sinful lifestyle, he is naturally more receptive to the word of God. If a person is living recklessly, continually indulging in his lust (which is the primary focus of this passage, really) or pride, then they are pushing themselves away from God. Ultimately, they are driving themselves closer and closer to hell.

A person may also presume upon his salvation when he is really not there yet. Many people attend church and think themselves to be saved, but if they continue to live in sin, they are doing two things: 1) indicating that they are not being sanctified and may have not received the Holy Spirit to begin with; and 2) they are not interested in following Jesus Christ with their lives.

There are also some Bible-believing Christians who think that Christians can actually exercise their free will to such an extent as to lose their salvation. While many do not agree with this position, it would be prudent not to completely dismiss it either.

Now, is Jesus literally saying to gouge out your eyes? Maybe. If a pedophile really cannot help himself, gouging out his eyes might be what he needs in order to prevent himself from sinning and harming others. Maybe that’s the only way he can recenter his life and try to focus on God. In extreme cases, it’s possible that such measures would be worth it.

More likely, however, this passage is another example of hyperbole. Jesus is teaching a poignant truth: the extreme seriousness of sin and lust. If this passage were completely literal, there would be Christians with eye patches everywhere. I don’t think that’s what Jesus expected, but like God does in other parts of Scripture, He’s making a point we can remember. He’s shocking us to wake us up from our spiritual and moral slumber. He knows our tendency to ignore soft wording.