THERE IS A WAY WHICH SEEMS RIGHT TO A MAN
The guilt that I felt for not practicing my Roman Catholic faith heightened as my children began to ask questions about God and just what our family believed. Like most children their friends were from a variety of religious backgrounds; some were Catholics, some were Protestants, while others seemed to have no religious affiliation at all. It was little wonder that they were confused about God, religion, and just where they fit in.
I knew that I had failed in my responsibility to teach my children the "Faith of My Fathers." As far back as I can remember Catholicism was a big part of my life. My parents sacrificed to send my brothers and me to Catholic schools and were always faithful to the teachings of Catholicism. My boyhood home was a model of Catholic living. My parents were faithful in their home, as I was not in mine.
Such was their example, that upon my eighth grade graduation, I entered a seminary to study for the priesthood. It was a religious missionary order. After three years of rigorous religious and academic training, I left the seminary because I then believed that I did not have a true calling to the priesthood. I attended a local Catholic high school for my senior year.
As you can see, I had had many years of Catholic training both inside and outside of the home. From an early age I knew how blessed I was to have the Catholic faith. But so far in my adult life I had not been a faithful Catholic. I believed that my faith had become weak because, like a muscle, it was not being used or practiced. I knew that if I was going to instill any real or meaningful faith in my children I must be strong myself.
I had taken my family to Mass on an irregular basis for several years. My wife, although she was from a fundamentalist Christian background, would accompany me to Mass in order to strengthen and unite our family. During this period of half-hearted Catholicism, neither one of us received any spiritual uplifting or encouragement from attending Mass. During this same period of my life, I visited several non-Catholic services at the church where my wife's family attended. Unlike the Mass, these services were very inspiring and I found myself actually enjoying church services. I felt closeness to God. It seemed so right, but I knew it was wrong.
After all, the Catholic Church was founded by Jesus Christ, and her doctrines are based on apostolic teachings and, of course, on the Bible. I always approached non-Catholic religions with distrust. I had been warned that these religions took scriptures out of context and distorted their meaning to support their false doctrines. Even though I was attracted to the non-Catholic services, I knew the danger of emotionalism. Religious doctrine must be a matter of what God teaches and wants, not what feels good for me. This was, however, a source of internal conflict for me.
I determined that the best way out of my dilemma was to study the Bible for myself to reaffirm the truth of Catholicism. I decided to read through the entire New Testament several times in order to get the total picture and flavor of the first century, or Catholic, church. I had never read the Bible before but I knew that reading it was publicly encouraged by the Catholic Church. (However, I cannot recall even seeing a Bible in my eleven years of Catholic training, including my three years at the seminary).
My Catholic training made me aware of the errors of Protestant Bibles, with their omissions and mistranslations. Consequently, I chose an ecumenical version approved by Catholics and Protestants alike. It is known as the "Common Bible" and is the Revised Standard Version. As I have further studied a variety of Bibles and translations, I have discovered that most all of them are adequate to provide the Gospel and the way of salvation.
I was, like most Catholics, familiar with the Gospels concerning the life of Christ. However, the rest of the New Testament was for the most part a mystery to me. To my pleasant surprise, I soon discovered that the book of Acts, along with the letters of Paul, Peter, John and the other New Testament writers, described in much detail the first forty to fifty years of the early church. This was exactly what I was looking for: scriptural proof of Catholic doctrine.
As I began to read I became engulfed in God's Word. I began to understand Jesus' words when he said, ". . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4). As I searched the scriptures, I focused on the doctrines and practices which were different from most protestant denominations: the Mass, priesthood, Eucharist, Mary, prayers to saints, Papacy, Confession, baptism, Bible study, and tradition. I would like to share with you what I discovered the Bible teaches concerning these major Catholic doctrines and practices. As you read on with me, I will share something with you that is guaranteed to change your position with God on the Judgment Day.
The focal point of Catholic worship is the Mass. The Mass is the unbloody reenactment of Christ's sacrifice on the cross. Christ, through the mystery of the Eucharist, is physically present on the altar and at each Mass is offered again for our sins. I can still remember the Sisters in religion class comforting us with the fact that somewhere in the world a Mass was being offered every minute of every day.
The worship activities of the first century church are recorded for us in the Bible. In reading the book of Acts, along with the letters in the New Testament, I was surprised to find no mention of the early church coming together to participate in anything resembling the Mass as practiced by Catholics today.
The absence of any reference to a sacrificial ceremony was, in itself, disturbing. However, in studying the letter to the Hebrews I found explicit teaching concerning the lack of any need for the repetitive sacrifice of Christ. A basic theme of the seventh through tenth chapters is the finality of Christ's work at Calvary. That is, Christ's redemptive work is complete. This teaching can be found throughout many other New Testament writings, but the book of Hebrews most clearly shows this doctrine. Consider the following:
Hebrews 7:27: "He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, . . . he did this once for all when he offered up himself."
Hebrews 10:10: "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all."
Hebrews 10:12: "But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins ."
Hebrews 10:14: "For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified."
Hebrews 9:25-28: " Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the Holy Place yearly with blood not his own; for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the age to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many..."
Hebrews 10:17, 18: "I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin."
Hebrews 9.12: "he entered once for all in to the Holy Place, taking not the blood of goats and calves but his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption."
Hebrews 9:2: "without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."
It became apparent to me that the basis for the Mass (the repetitive and unbloody sacrificing of Christ for our sins) is not only unfounded in scripture but is in direct opposition to it because it diminishes the work done by Christ at Calvary.
As I came to grips with the Bible teachings concerning the Mass, I faced another dilemma. With no Mass, what is to become of the Catholic priest? The priest's primary purpose is to offer the sacrifice of the Mass. A priest, by definition, needs something to offer (Hebrews 8:3: "For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; hence it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer"). If Calvary was the ultimate and final sacrifice, why did Christ establish the priesthood? Or did he?
In my search through the New Testament, I found that the subject of priests and the priesthood are mentioned in three different ways. First of all, priests are discussed in reference to the Jewish faith. As a Catholic, you are probably somewhat familiar with the Jewish high priests mentioned in the Gospels. The second reference is to the priesthood of Christ.
Hebrews 2:17: "Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people."
Hebrews 3:1: ". . . consider Jesus, the apostle and high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God . . ."
Clearly, Jesus Christ is our high priest. Hebrews 7:23 states that "the former priests were many in number . . .but he holds his priesthood permanently." The old requirement for a special class of priests passed away with Christ. With his work on Calvary complete, the need for inferior human priests and offerings ceased. The third reference to the priesthood is made by Peter in his first letter. This letter is addressed to all Christians as evidenced by the introduction.
I Peter 1:1: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To the exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia."
In his letter, Peter calls all Christians "a holy priesthood" (I Peter 2:5) and "a royal priesthood" (I Peter 2:9). But if we are all priests, what is our sacrifice? For we have seen that priests need a sacrifice but Christ's work is complete. Paul in the twelfth chapter of Romans explains:
Romans 12:1: "I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship."
As Christians, our very lives are our sacrifice and worship to God. A special class of priests, separate from the laity, is not mentioned in the New Testament. The priesthood and sacrifice of the Mass as practiced by the Roman Catholic Church are simply unknown in the scriptures and directly contradict Bible teachings.
An important element of the Mass is the miracle of transubstantiation. This is the belief that at the moment of consecration the bread and wine actually change into the literal body and blood of Christ, although they still remain under the appearance of bread and wine. Obviously, this presents another dilemma. If there is no priest, who performs this miracle? And if there is no Mass, when is it performed?
Again, there is no support for this doctrine in the scriptures. The New Testament covers the first forty to fifty years of church history. Surely Paul would have mentioned, or at least alluded to, such a doctrine somewhere in his writings. The book of Acts records Paul's many adventures and imprisonments. Why wasn't such a miracle mentioned?
The Lord's Supper, as presented in the Bible, is a memorial feast. When Jesus said, ". . . this is my body" (Matthew 26:26), is it to be taken literally? Obviously, he was still sitting at the table. Jesus often spoke in figurative terms:
"I am the light" (John 8:12).
"I am the door" (John 10:9).
"I am the vine" (John 15:5).
Did our Lord turn into a light, a door or a vine? Of course not.
The major discussion of the Lord's Supper is not recorded in the Gospels (as I would have expected) but rather in Paul's first letter to the Corinthians. Paul retells the events of the Las Supper and its meaning in the eleventh chapter, verses 23 through 29.
I Corinthians 11:23-25: "For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, 'This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying, 'This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.'"
Paul tells us here that the Lord's Supper is a memorial, not a miracle. This is made clear in verse 26.
I Corinthians 11:26: "for as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes."
Consider, for a moment, the words "until he comes." If Christ were present, or more precisely, if the bread were the literal body of Christ, this verse would be nonsense. Why would Paul say, "until he comes," if he were already there? Has the Holy Spirit erred in the scriptures? Or, is perhaps the doctrine of transubstantiation false? I know that what I am saying, or rather what the Bible teaches, is difficult to accept since it strikes at the heart of years of training in school and at home.
An important person in any Catholic's life is Mary. The Catholic Church teaches that Mary, like Jesus, was sinless and perfect throughout her life. Compare that teaching to the following scriptures:
Romans 3:10: . . ."None is righteous, no, not one"
Romans 3:23: ". . . since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God . . ."
Even Jesus said in Matthew 11:11, ". . .among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist" (Mary was born of a woman). Jesus continued to say, ". . . yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." In Luke 11:27 and 28, a woman in a crowd cried out as Jesus passed by, . . . "Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts that you sucked!" But he said, "Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!". Another teaching of the Catholic Church concerning Mary is that of perpetual virginity. The Bible emphatically teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. But what about after Christ's birth? Luke records in Chapter 2 verse 7 that Jesus was Mary's "first-born son." Doesn't that imply that others followed? Remember that Luke wrote this passage long after Christ's death so he knew if Jesus was an only child or not. That would be a strange term if Mary had had no other children. Also Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph "knew her not until she had borne a son." What does "until" imply? Doesn't the meaning seem clear? Other scriptures support this:
Matthew 12:46: ". . . his mother and his brothers stood outside . . ."
Matthew 13:55,56: "Is not this the carpenter's son? I snot his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all his sisters with us?..."
Galatians 1:19: ". . . James the Lord's brother."
John 7:3: "So his brothers said to him . . ."
John 7:5: "For even his brothers did not believe in him."
In the prophetic 69th Psalm, the Lord says in verse 8, "I have become a stranger to my brethren, an alien to my mother's sons." Is it so inconceivable that Mary and Joseph had a normal marriage relationship? Wasn't marriage instituted by God (Genesis 2:24)? Not surprisingly, the Bible is also silent concerning the doctrines of the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption. This does not in any way belittle Mary, but rather puts her in her proper place of honor as a faithful and great servant of God.
PRAYERS TO SAINTS
Another practice of Catholicism is to pray to God through Mary and the saints. The reasoning for this always seemed so logical to me. the saints are in heaven and are God's friends. I felt much more comfortable in talking to them in prayer that directly to the Almighty God. Surely God would be more willing to listen to them if they prayed on my behalf. Praying to Mary would be even better. Certainly Jesus would listen to this mother. It seemed like the most humble and best approach to God's throne ("There is a way which seems right to a man . . .", Proverbs 14.12).
As with the other Catholic doctrines, let's search God's Word for truth. Exodus 34:14 declares, "for you shall worship no other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God." Our God seeks our worship for himself (John 4:23). consider these scriptures in light of the "intercession of the saints" as taught in Catholicism.:
I Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus . . . ."
Hebrews 9:15: "Therefore he (Jesus) is the mediator of a new covenant . . . "
John 14:6: . . . "I am the way . . . no one comes to the Father but by me."
Romans 5:1,2: ". . . through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand . . ."
Romans 8:34: "Is it Christ Jesus, who dies, yes, . . . who indeed intercedes for us?"
Acts 4:12: ""And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
In fact, communicating with the dead (which would include canonized saints) is forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:9-12, Exodus 22:18, Leviticus 20:6). In Isaiah 8:19 we read,
". . . should not a people consult their God? Should they consult the dead on behalf of the living?"
Do you think that Jesus, who loved us enough to die in agony on the cross, is unapproachable in prayer? Can he not feel with us?
Hebrews 2:17: "Therefore he had to be made like his brethren in every respect . . . ."
Hebrews 4:15: "For we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses . . . ."
Again the Bible is clear: ". . . There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:5).
I believed that the Pope was the head of the Church and that Peter, the first Pope, was appointed by Jesus himself. Peter was the rock upon which Christ's Church was built. I believed that Peter resided in Rome during most of his ministry and was consequently the first Bishop of Rome, and that this line has been unbroken to this day. I also believed that the Pope, when speaking concerning Church doctrine "ex cathedra" was infallible.
I remember very well the scripture passage where our Lord appointed Peter the head of the Church. This was one of the few Bible verses which the Sisters made us memorize.
Matthew 16:18: "And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it."
The name Peter means "rock." So Christ built his church on the "rock" or Peter. This seems plain enough. As I stated earlier, one of the accusations I always charged against non-Catholic Bible study was that scriptures were taken out of context and ideas were formed without a full understanding and exploration of the subject. I have found the opposite to be true. But you be the judge.
Just prior to our Lord's words in verse 18, we find Jesus asking his disciples, "Who do men say that the Son of man is? And they said, "Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets." He said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter and on this rock . . ." (Matthew 16:13-18). But what is the rock? Peter or his statement that Jesus was the Christ? Let's explore this.
The Greek word for Peter is Petros. It is masculine in gender and literally means a detached stone, a pebble, or a stone easily thrown or moved. Petra is a feminine Greek work meaning a massive rock or ledge. It is an immovable foundation. Our Lord said, "You are Petros, and on this petra, I will build my church." Who is the foundation of the church: Peter or the Christ?
Jesus was often referred to as a "rock" in the Old Testament: Isaiah 8:14, Isaiah 28:16 and Psalm 118:22. Consider the New Testament scriptures concerning the "rock" as the foundation of Christ's church:
I Corinthians 3:11: "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ."
I Corinthians 10:4: ". . . For they drank from the supernatural Rock (petra) which followed them, and the Rock (petra) was Christ." (The parenthesis is mine to show the Greek word used.)
Ephesians 5:23: ". . . as Christ is the head of the church . . . ."
Colossians 1:18: "He is the head of the body, the church . . . ."
Ephesians 2:20: ". . . built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone . . . ."
Look at what Peter himself wrote:
I Peter 2:4: "Come to him, to that living stone . . . ."
I Peter 2:7,8: ". . . the very stone which the builders rejected has become the head of the corner, and "A stone that will make men stumble, a rock (petra again) that will make them fall . . . ."
In addition to these scriptures, we have additional writings of Peter, Paul and the history of the book of Acts to help us search for God's truth. How did Peter's contemporary brothers regard him: fellow servant of God or infallible head of the church? An interesting story is recorded in Mark 10:35-45. This was after Peter had supposedly been named Pope. The scene is Jesus with the twelve. James and John ask him for the two highest places of honor in his kingdom. "And when the ten heard it, they began to be indignant . . . " (verse 41). This would be a strange request if James and John understood Peter to be the Pope.
A study of the conference at Jerusalem (described in the 15th chapter of Acts) also provides insight into Peter's position. A council was convened to resolve a doctrinal issue concerning the need for circumcision. Note the following verses:
Acts 15:6,7: "The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate . . ."
Peter was there. Why not just ask him? Peter, Paul and Barnabas all spoke on the issue.
Acts 15:13: "After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brethren, listen to me."
James was apparently presiding over the meeting (you'd think it would have been the Pope.)
Acts 15:19: (James speaking) "Therefore my judgment is . . ."
After James' decision, a letter was sent to the Gentiles in Antioch pronouncing the council's position. It was not signed by the Pope but was addressed:
Acts 15:23: ". . .The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch . . ."
Again in Acts 16:4, it states ". . . the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem," not the decisions reached by the Pope. After Peter baptized Cornelius (the first Gentile Christian, Acts 10), he was met with much criticism by the brethren in Jerusalem. He was required to explain his actions. Who would dare criticize the Pope concerning spiritual matters? The early Christians did, if Peter was their Pope.
Paul also had a particularly interesting encounter with Peter which he recorded in his Galatian letter. Paul, writing to the Galatian church, relates his trip to the Jerusalem conference (Acts 15). Paul declares:
Galatians 2:6: ". . . those reputed to be something (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality) - those I say, who were of repute added nothing to me . . . " (parenthesis Paul's).
Paul identifies these men "reputed to be something" in verse 9: James, John and Cephas (another name for Peter). What! Peter, the Pope, could add nothing to Paul? God shows no partiality? Doesn't it make you wonder about the Catholic teaching of the Papacy?
Paul saw Peter as his partner in the work of spreading the Gospel, not as his Pope.
Galatians 2:7: ". . . I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel to the circumcised . . . ."
Paul never regarded Peter, or anyone else, as superior to him. Paul says:
II Corinthians 11:5-6: "I think that I am not in the least inferior to theses superlative apostles. Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not in knowledge. . . "
II Corinthians 12:11: ". . . for I was not at all inferior to these superlative apostles, even though I am nothing."
In fact, when Peter came to Antioch, Paul openly confronted him:
Galatians 2:11: "But when Cephas (Peter) came to Antioch I opposed him face to face, because he stood condemned. "
This confrontation was on a "matter of faith." Did Paul oppose the Vicar of Christ, the Head of the Church, the infallible Pope, appointed by Christ himself? No. He opposed Peter, his partner in the gospel and fellow servant of God. Paul knew nothing of a Pope, neither did the first century church of Christ.
But how did Peter consider his position? After all, he spent three years with Jesus. It was to him that Jesus said, "You are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church" (Matthew 16:18). The New Testament scriptures contain two letters from Peter. You decide if these passages sound like the writings of a Pope.
I Peter 1:1: "Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ . . ."
II Peter 1:1: "Simon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ . . ."
II Peter 1:12: "Therefore I intend always to remind you . . ."
II Peter 1:13: ". . . to arouse you by way of reminder . . ."
I Peter 5:1: "So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder. . ."
PETER AT ROME
Even the teaching of the Catholic Church that Peter was Bishop of Rome (let alone Pope) is in conflict with scriptural evidence. Catholic tradition places Peter in Rome from about 42 A.D. until his death in approximately 67 A.D. Consider Paul's letter to the Romans written about 58 A.D. The theme of the letter to the Romans is the power of the gospel and salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This letter is a theological threatise concerning basic Christianity.
Why would Paul write a letter which expounded on the basic truths of Christianity to the church led by Peter, who, according to tradition, had been there for sixteen years? Paul addresses the letter to "all God's beloved in Rome" (Romans 1:7). No mention of Peter. In chapter 1 verse 11, Paul writes "For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you . . . " Peter wasn't doing a very good job, was he? At the end of the letter (chapter 16), Paul sends personal greetings (by name) to twenty-six Christians in the Romans church. No mention of Peter. Just an oversight &endash; or was Peter there? Paul was in prison in Rome from 60 - 62 A.D. while Peter was supposed to have been Bishop there. Paul wrote the letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and to Philemon during this time. Never a single mention of Peter.
According to Catholicism, Peter was the first infallible Pope. According to the Bible, the church Christ built had no Pope. Like Mary, I do not mean to minimize or belittle Peter. He was a great and faithful servant of God. But he was a man and the Bible teaches us to keep our eyes on Christ.
As we have already seen, after the death and resurrection of Christ, there ceased to be a need for priests since the offering for our sins was complete. Therefore a discussion of the doctrine of the auricular confession of our sins to a priest is not needed. This argument notwithstanding, let's explore this doctrine in the light of Bible teachings. According to Catholic doctrine, the priest has direct power and authority to forgive sins. He does not ask God on our behalf for forgiveness but rather he forgives in Christ's name. As a result, the Catholic sinner is taught not to go to God for forgiveness but to the priest. Nowhere in the New Testament did I find such a practice. Consider the following passages:
1 John 2:1: ". . . but if any one does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous."
I John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins . . ." (note: "he" refers to Christ).
In the 8th chapter of the book of Acts, Peter confronts a man named Simon who tried to buy the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter knew that this was a great sin. Turning to Simon, Peter said, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of god with money" (Acts 8:20). Peter called on Simon to repent of his sin. As the first Pope (and certainly a priest), Peter would have been in a good position to "hear his confession" and forgive him in Christ's name. Read Peter's words:
Acts 8:22: "Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you."
To whom was Simon to go for forgiveness? To the priest or to God? As I have said, since there were no priests in the church that Christ built, confession to a priest could not have existed. And as we have seen, even if there had been priests, the practice was and is contrary to the scriptures.
As you may know, many of the Catholic doctrines and practices are based on tradition. This is more properly referred to as sacred tradition. According to the Catholic Church sacred tradition is on par, or of equal weight with the written Word of God. Let's look at what the Bible says about tradition. Jesus thought little of tradition. He said:
Matthew 15:3: ". . . and why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?"
Matthew 15:19: ". . . in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men."
Paul also attacks the use of tradition in Christ's church.
Colossians 2:20,22: ". . . Why do you submit to regulations, . . . according to human precepts and doctrines?"
Colossians 2:8: "See to it that no one makes a prey of you by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition . . ."
Consider these practices of the Catholic Church, which are based on tradition, in light of these Bible passages:
Special days of fast and abstinence
"Therefore let no one pass judgement on you in questions of food and drink or with regard to festival or a new moon or a Sabbath " (Colossians 2:16).
Feast Days, Holy Seasons, Church Years, Holy Days
"You observe days, and months, and seasons, and years! I am afraid I have labored over you in vain" (Galatians 4:10-11).
"Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of . . . a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath" (Colossians 2:16).
Litanies, Rosaries, Chants
"And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for the many words" (Matthew 6.7)
Corporal Punishment (Sackcloth and Ashes), Prayers to Angels, Apparitions
"Let no one disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, taking his stand on visions... "(Colossians 2:18).
". . . and I will remember their sins no more" (Hebrews 8:12).
"And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment . . ." (Hebrews 9:27).
Paul in writing to Timothy, describes a false church which is to come.
I Timothy 4:1-3: "Now the Spirit expressly says that in the latter times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods . . ."
Does any of that sound familiar?
AUTHORITY AND STUDY OF THE BIBLE
If practices and doctrines based on tradition are forbidden and there is no infallible Pope, what do we use then as our source of authority? So far, I have been using the Bible as the only source of truth. But am I right to do that?
Deuteronomy 4:2: "You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it . . ."
Revelation 22:18-19: "I warn every one who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if any one adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if any one takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life . . ."
Galatians 1:9: ". . . If any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed."
Paul in writing to Timothy teaches us that the man of God is complete when he walks by God's Word.
II Timothy 3:16: "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."
Let the Word of God be our only teacher and guide. It is not the Bible plus anything. As I read and reread the New Testament, I could see ever more clearly that many of my Catholic practices and beliefs were contrary to the Word of God. Although the scriptures seemed clear, was I distorting their meaning? Should I even be reading and studying them?
As a Catholic, I had never studied the Bible in all my years of religious training, not even in the seminary. While Bible study is publicly encouraged by the Catholic Church, the absence of any Bible study during my 11 years of formal training must certainly be a commentary on the Catholic Church's true position.
I was told by the priests and Sisters that in order to understand the scriptures one needed years of theological training. I was told that, although the scriptures held secret and complex meanings, I had no need to worry. The Catholic Church would tell me all I would need to know. That was comforting.
So, are we to personally study the Bible? Can we properly understand its mysteries? Jesus chastised the Jews for not having a personal knowledge of the scriptures.
Mark 12:24: ". . . is not this why you are wrong, that you know neither the scriptures nor the power of God?"
Paul praises Timothy for his study and knowledge of God's Word.
II Timothy 3:15: ". . . from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus."
Notice that we are instructed in the way of salvation through the study of God's Word. Paul also praised the Jews of Beroe'a for their study of the scriptures.
Acts 17:11: "Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so."
In fact, Paul not only praises those who study God's Word, but he commands us to do so.
II Timothy 2:15: "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth."
Think about this for a moment. Much of the New Testament is comprised of Paul's letters to the first century Christian congregations and brethren. Does it seem logical that he would write to them, knowing they would not understand? This would be especially strange since he commanded that the letters be read and shared with other congregations.
Colossians 4:16: "And when this letter has been read among you, have it read also in the church of the Laodiceans; and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea."
Paul states emphatically in his second Corinthian letter:
II Corinthians 1:13: "For we write you nothing but what you can read and understand . . ."
I am not suggesting that you will glean all truth and knowledge from only a casual reading of the Bible. There are many passages which require insight, background, historical perspective and other related scriptures before they can be understood. One can never fully comprehend all the truth and depth and meaning of the written Word. However, the basic principles of Christianity and God's plan for salvation are clear. The study of the Bible is a lifelong journey. I regret that so many years were lost to me, but I rejoice that I may now experience the joy of drawing near to God through his Word.
Paul prayed that the Colossians would be filled with knowledge, wisdom and understanding (Colossians 1:9), and he exhorts us, ". . . work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). I firmly believe that anyone who approaches the study of God's Word with an open and right heart, and in a prayerful manner, will draw near to Jesus. For God gives us his promise, ". . . my word . . . shall not return to me empty" (Isaiah 55:11).
THE CHURCH OF THE BIBLE
If the doctrines and practices of the Catholic Church are not founded in the scriptures and, in many instances, stand in direct conflict with the commands of God, where do we go from here? That was the questions that haunted me. I found the answer in the Bible. My purpose at this time is not to present an exhaustive study of the New Testament church, but I would like to briefly share with you the fundamentals of the church described in the Bible.
My primary concern is to be saved, that is, to avoid the fires of hell and spend eternity with God in heaven. I want to live my life in the way which most pleases god. The Bible describes God's plan for salvation, as well as what our life of Christian service and worship on earth should be.
The first century church (the church that Christ built) is described in much detail in the scriptures. We are given guidelines and commands in areas such as: organization, leadership, worship services, Christian practices and more. The church described in the bible was known by several different names:
Church of God (I Corinthians 1:2)
(Church) of the first-born (Hebrews 12:23)
Churches of Christ (Romans 16:16)
Members of the early church were called simply:
Saints (Ephesians 1:1)
Brethren (Colossians 1:2)
Christians (Acts 11:26)
The early church was comprised of autonomous local congregations which were united by their common belief in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christ was the head, ruling in heaven, and the congregations were governed by a plurality of elders on earth.
". . .Christ is the head of the church . . . " (Ephesians 5:23).
". . . appoint elders in every town . . ." (Titus 1:5).
"And when they had appointed elders for them in every church . . ." (Acts 14:23).
The local congregations assembled on Sunday for worship services. There were five main areas of worship: (1) the Lord's Supper, (2) praying, (3) singing, (4) preaching, and (5) giving. Participation and attendance for church members was commanded.
"On the first day of the week (Sunday), when we were gathered to break bread "(Lord's Supper) . . . " (Acts 20:7).
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers" (Acts 2:42).
". . . and sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs . . . " (Colossians 3:16).
"Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart . . . " (Ephesians 5:19).
. . . when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them; . . . he prolonged his speech . . . (Acts 20:7).
"Command and teach these things" (I Timothy 4:11).
"preach the word . . . "(II Timothy 4:2).
"On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper . . . " (I Corinthians 16:2).
"not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some . . . "(Hebrews 10:25).
Another basic activity of the early church was fellowship.
". . . so that you may have fellowship with us . . . "(I John 1:3).
"And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship . . . "(Acts 2:42).
The purpose of Christian fellowship is to grow in love for one another and to be spiritually encouraged and uplifted. The members of the early church were a family. They knew one another and they loved on another. Fellowship does not make the church a social club as I once believed. Rather it is part of the church that Christ built. And once experience, it is a joy to the heart.
BECOMING A CHILD OF GOD
The church of the New Testament seemed very attractive to me. But how do you join this apostolic church? The Bible says that technically no one joins the church. God adds to it.
"And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved "(Acts 2:47).
So you see the Lord adds you to his church when you are saved. To be a member of the church of God, you must be a child of God. You must accept and obey the Gospel. The steps to becoming a New Testament Christian, as you have probably already guessed, are recorded for us in the Bible. The scriptures say:
You must hear the Gospel and believe (Faith).
"So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes by the preaching of Christ" (Romans 10:17).
"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16).
You must repent and turn away from your sins.
". . .Brethren, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them "Repent . . ." (Acts 2:37, 38).
"The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent . . . " (Acts 17:30).
"Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out . . . " (Acts 3:19).
You must confess that Jesus is the Christ.
". . . if you confess with your lips that Jesus is lord . . . you will be saved" (Romans 10:9).
"For man . . .confesses with his lips and so is saved "(Romans 10:10).
"So every one who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32).
You must be baptized.
"He who believes and is baptized will be saved . . . " (Mark 16:16).
". . . Brethren, what shall we do?" And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. . . " (Acts 2:37, 38).
"Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you . . . "(I Peter 3:21).
Live the Christian Life.
". . . but if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, . . . the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin" (I John 1:7).
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only . . . " (James 1:22).
After being raised in the Catholic Church, you probably don't find these steps to salvation shocking. I would, however, like you to notice several things. First, consider the simplicity of God's way. Compare his plan and his church to the rules, laws, traditions, and organization of the Catholic Church which is the ultimate example of human organization and efficiency. As a result of the second Vatican Council, the Catholic Church now has 1,752 canon laws (reduced from 2,414). Each law is built one upon the other and is always logical from a human perspective. But as we have seen, its foundation is not from God.
"There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death." (Proverbs 14:12).
The second thing I would like you to notice is that each step to salvation requires a conscious and willing response from the individual. Every example of a New Testament conversion depicts an adult responding to the Gospel.
As a Catholic, you have always believed that baptism is an essential part of salvation. And, as we have seen, you are correct. However, the baptism of the New Testament differs in two ways from our Catholic baptism. The baptism of the first century church took place after a believer learned of God's love for him, repented of his sins, and confessed Jesus as Lord. New Testament baptism was a faith response, an act of obedience to the command of Christ. It has meaning and can save only if th3e heart is right. It has no power in itself. Because an infant cannot hear the Word, believe, repent and confess the Lord, his baptism has no meaning. Without those elements baptism merely gets one wet. This is confirmed by the teachings and examples we find concerning baptism in the New Testament scriptures.
The second way New Testament baptism differs from Catholic baptism is in its manner of mode. The word baptism is a transliteration of the Greek word baptizo which means simply "to dip" or "immerse". The practice of sprinkling or pouring is simply unknown in the Bible. Even the Catholic Church acknowledges that total immersion was the original mode of baptism in the early church. Consider the following scripture passage:
Romans 6:3-5: "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
Do you see the picture of a burial and resurrection? Baptism by immersion is symbolic of our unity with Christ as we are buried (immersed) and resurrected (come up out of, Acts 8:39) in water and spirit. What does sprinkling or pouring represent? I did not want to take a chance on my eternal soul. Therefore, I too was buried with Christ in baptism.
In my search for the church that Christ built, I found a brotherhood of Christians, who, like me, seek New Testament Christianity - to be Christians only. I am a member of one of the local churches of Christ, and we in this congregation try very hard to maintain the purity of the apostolic church. It is the joy which I have found in being part of a loving church family, dedicated to serving God and feeding from his Word, which I also want for you.
I can still remember Sisters in religion class saying that all the teachings of the Catholic Church were true and sure and from God. And to doubt even the smallest point is to deny it all. I find the evidence against Catholic doctrine overwhelming.
My hope is that you will consider prayerfully and with an open heart what you have read. All my life someone has told me what God says, what the Bible teaches, and what the truth is. Don't take my word for it; and, like the more noble people of Berea (Acts 17:10-12), search the scriptures to see if these things are so.
My prayer is that somehow your heart has been touched and your mind challenged to seek God's truths. In the beginning I promised that if you read this booklet your position with God was guaranteed to change. If you have read this then my promise is fulfilled. For you see, when you put this booklet down:
You can: 1) Read the Bible with an open and responsive heart to seek truth and salvation.
You can: 2) Open your Bible with a closed mind and heart.
You can: 3) Wonder about these things but never bother to search for the truth.
But on that day ("For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of God . . . So each of us shall give account of himself to God," Romans 14:10,12):
You cannot now say, "But Lord, no one ever told me."
1 Loraine Boettner, Roman Catholicism (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed
Publishing Co., 1962), p. 117.
2 Alvin Jennings, "Changing Church Laws, " Gospel Advocate, 19 January 1984, p 35.
3 Parish Priests, Instructions in the Catholic Faith (Fare, Inc., 1980), p. 88.
- Tony Dupree
- 20th Century Christian Foundation
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