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.
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.
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.
Logically speaking, the outward behavior of Christian people should be irrelevant to the truth of Jesus Christ. Even true believers who know the gospel are prone to fail once in a while. What matters is what the Bible actually teaches, which is far from what the world sees in Christians.
Still, this objection is still very real to a lot of people, so it deserves to be addressed.
*Taking off the robot hat.
As a human being, it’s easy to discredit a belief system or religion if you see its adherents acting in unflattering ways. It’s just a natural response. In fact, Jesus was well aware of this natural tendency of human beings and instructed Christians to be like salt or a light to the world (Matthew 5:13-16), meaning we’re supposed to set a good example and positively influence the world around us. Salt is meant to represent something that not only brings out full goodness (flavor), but also to preserve and keep things from rotting. We are to be holy and uphold morality in a world that naturally degenerates toward sin. A light, obviously, shines and counters the darkness, showing the right path.
Unfortunately, Christians seem to be failing in great measure (though to be fair, some succeed). Instead of drawing people toward Christ, many of us are turning off the world to the message. As Ghandi famously said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”
So what exactly is the problem? Let’s start with the root of the problem…
Most “Christians” are not actually saved.
This part should come as no surprise to some people, especially considering my deluge of posts about this topic recently. Sadly, many modern churchgoers—especially in America—believe themselves to be Christian, but are really participating in just another religion. A true relationship with Christ and the changing power of the Holy Spirit cannot be found in them.
Some people estimate that perhaps only 5–10% of so-called Christians in America are actually true followers. This means that the vast majority of people are living by their own flesh, and therefore are just as likely as the rest of the world to succumb to temptations and fall to sin. The problem is, if an atheist person committed some morally questionable act, no one would flinch. But if a “Christian” does it, it sets off alarms and people cry “hypocrite!”
What is it exactly that we do that offends the secular world?
1. An average situation…
Imagine a scenario where a churchgoer is on a business trip with a few of his work buddies. Let’s call him Jim. His buddies decide one night, after a hard day of negotiations, to hit up the local strip club and down a few beers. What is the right response for Jim? Admittedly, he’s in a rough spot.
On the one hand, he could succumb to peer pressure and decide to go along. After all, he doesn’t want to offend them or come across as a Jesus freak, would he? But the problem is, he has just undermined the gospel and any possible platform he might have to share the message in the future. If a month from now, Jim is alone with one of his work friends and brings Jesus up, that friend might be thinking about Jim’s behavior that night at the strip club. His friends might think to themselves, “There’s no difference between Christians and us except we get to save our time and money on Sundays.”
On the other hand, if Jim declines the invitation, he might face added pressure. “Why not, come on man!” This is where he needs a lot of discernment and tact. Jim has to communicate that he doesn’t agree morally to such activities without coming across as pious or overly judgmental. This is an extremely hard line to walk, and most will fail miserably. (It’s probably a lose-lose anyway, practically speaking.) If he condemns the activity too hard, he adds to the stereotype that Christians are condescending and judgmental. If he’s too soft, he’s not standing up for his beliefs and is perhaps being ashamed of the gospel.
As 1 Peter 3:15 says: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This might mean that Jim will become less popular and that he won’t get invited to future events. They might label him as a party-pooper. So be it. At least he stood up for the truth without compromising and committing the sin of pride and condescension.
From that simple example, what I was trying to illustrate is that Christians either fail by going along with the world or by going against it with pride and spiritual piety.
2. Priests and pastors…
First off, I’ll share this rant by Christopher Hitchens, the militant anti-religious atheist: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NOamsF5r3TE.
I have to say, this is one of those rare times when I actually agree with a lot of what he says. The church has a lot to be sorry for, especially (historically) the Catholic church. Priests molesting young boys who are entrusted to their care and instruction is abominable. A history of anti-Semitism is not only abhorrent, but it’s strikingly UNbiblical and simple-minded. This kind of twisted behavior can only come about when we take something meant for good—the church—and turn it into a man-made institution, sullied by power grabbing and the substitution of earnest faith with rituals and rites. It’s no wonder so much has gone wrong over the past centuries.
But the Protestant church is not without blemish, either. You have pastors who are more interested in rubbing shoulders with the Washingtonian elite rather than being set apart from this world. There are people like Ted Haggard who embarrass the name of Christ by engaging in an active lifestyle of sexual sin and betrayal. Countless thieves, like Benny Hinn, use the name of God to fatten their wallets by deceiving the naive and trusting.
So what is going on?
It’s simple: they forgot—or never really knew—the Bible. They left the Holy Spirit out of their lives and they carried on alone, puffed up in their own pride and accomplishments (and congregation size).
Catholic priests mistakenly were taught that celibacy was holier than married life, and they chose a lifestyle that so precious few are actually called to. Think about it: Paul in the New Testament lived a celibate life, but he spent every waking minute preaching and arguing for God’s Word. When he wasn’t doing that, he was locked up in prisons and suffering. Do you think he had time to be a husband? Meanwhile, you have modern priests who interact with their parish members time to time and preach, but are left living a fairly comfortable life otherwise. With their weak flesh and idle time, it’s no wonder so many priests fall. Celibacy isn’t the way to go for most people.
Protestant pastors see their churches growing and they think, “Wow, I must be a good preacher!” They don’t spend every day in their Bibles, nor do they guard against the enemy. Pride or complacency (or straight-up being a fraud) opens the door and lets temptation come right in, besetting their lives with sin.
If only people would stay true to God’s word instead of their own insights and willpower. Man-made institutions and systems will always fail.
3. The bizarre and newsworthy…
You hear about it on the news all the time. The “Christian” mother who killed her kids because she thought God told her to (more like a demon). The “Christian” who opens fire on a Jewish crowd, thinking he’s fighting for some righteous cause (nevermind that Jesus was a Jew and that they are still God’s original chosen people).
Side note: Please stop calling Hitler a Christian and using him as an example. It’s ignorant and ridiculous. He was not a Christian, pure and simple. A person might call himself one for political purposes, but when your actions go against the Bible and you even plan on replacing scripture with your own book (Mein Kampf) in every classroom, that is not the work of a person indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It’s obvious as night and day.
Or how about the parents who beat their adopted children to death because they read from the Bible not to spare the rod? I guess they missed the part about being careful to discipline them. Perhaps they read Proverbs 23:13, which says: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.” Common sense (and the countless other times in the Bible that refer to death as the opposite of salvation) would tell a normal person that the “he will not die” part refers to moral and spiritual death. By lovingly disciplining a child and correcting him, the parent is saving him from a future life of debauchery, corruption, and self-destruction. Heck, reading the very next verse should have made it obvious: “Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”
Again, this is just a result of bad biblical interpretation, twisting words to fit our own sinful agendas, or plain and utter stupidity. A wicked person can easily open up the Bible and find a way to justify his or her actions, but this blatant misuse doesn’t demean the actual word of God one bit.
So what can Christians do to fix this?
First, much of the criticism is justified, so we as a body of believers need to take responsibility and do better. Granted, we are judged more harshly than the rest of the world, that’s hard to deny. We could do the same things as a nonbeliever, but be impugned or labeled as a hypocrite for it. Is it a fair standard? Yes and no. Yes, because as true believers, we ARE supposed to be in a process of sanctification, so we simply cannot continue to live as the rest of the world. But no, it might not be completely fair because it’s still a process; none of us ever achieve perfection in our flesh.
Second, so-called “Christians” either need to give their lives over to God or stop calling themselves Christians. The word itself means “followers of Christ,” which entails actually following Christ’s way. They can attend church and call themselves seekers if they want, but they need to get it out of their heads that they’re set because of their false flu-shot salvation.
Third, we all need to bring the real Bible back to the church. Let’s ditch the man-made stuff that distracts from the true gospel—all the unbiblical rules, rites, rituals, and other things that supposedly make you holy. These things give people a false assurance and complacency that is dangerous in light of constant spiritual attack. If people were more biblical, they couldn’t possibly live their embarrassingly immoral lives and cast mud on the name of Jesus to the world.
Ultimately, the goal is not to be liked or to fit in. The Bible tells us straight up that the true gospel will probably bring hate upon us or persecution. But what we can’t do is undermine God’s glory by being poor representatives on earth. We can be hated for standing up for the truth, but we shouldn’t be hated for being hypocrites, thieves, and perverts.
1 Peter 2:11-12 tells us: “Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.”
Our good deeds might not make an impact now, and in fact, standing up for the truth may bring persecution upon us. But it will bring further glory to God in the end. May we let the Holy Spirit guide us always.