Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth"

A while ago, a Catholic friend whom I was witnessing to was given a book to read about the Catholic faith to try to strengthen her faith in the Catholic Church. It challenged me to take a closer look at their beliefs; though I already knew a fair amount from talking with friends, this particular booklet is well-loved among Catholics for its simple explanations of the tenants of their faith.

So it was that I decided to order the booklet for myself. I wasn’t impressed. I feel the authors come across as rather pompous and illogical. Their arguments at times are petty and ill-informed. I knew I needed to take down notes of this as I went along.

Here are these notes, outlined according to the sections of the booklet. Pillar of Faith, Pillar of Truth is available online, for free, so you can follow along if you so choose.

An Unbroken History

In page two, there is a large leap taken. The Catholic Church is assumed to be the church spoken of in the Bible. There is an assertion that it is the church that has followed an apostolic line (from the first century), but no evidence to back it up.

There is no biblical evidence for a pope of any kind. When Peter was worshipped by Cornelius in Acts 10, he made Cornelius stand up; Peter reasoned that he, too, is a man and undeserving of worship. Peter is even rebuked by Paul (Gal. 2) – an act unlikely to happen if Peter is the head. There is no indication that Peter was in charge of the apostles at all. He shows informal leadership, but at no point does Jesus put him in charge. Jesus says that Jesus is the rock in Matthew 16, not that Peter is the rock. The Greek word used for Peter (“Petrus”) means “stone”; the word used for the “rock” (“petra”) on which the church will be built means “foundation”. Jesus speaks of Himself in the third person (as He does in other passages: “Destroy this temple;” “If any man eat of this bread;” “Whoso falleth on this stone”) to say that He is the foundation on which HE will build HIS church. Peter is simply made privy to this fact in light of his recognition of who Jesus is. Since Jesus is the anointed Son of God, He is worthy to be the foundation of God’s church. Peter is not.

So if it wasn’t then that the Catholic Church began, when did it begin? It was likely when Roman Emperor Constantine declared himself to be head of the “church” and made this new form of Christianity the standard. To say the Catholic Church was the only church then would be a misunderstanding of the term “church”. The church are all those redeemed by Christ, over which He is the head. The new form of Christianity ushered in the “Dark Ages” in which all other forms of Christianity were outlawed. Up to 75 million people were killed and brutal forms of torture created over the centuries by Inquisitions, ordered by popes, for holding other religious beliefs. If the Catholic Church was the only church during this time, who were they persecuting?

Certainly I do not hold today’s Catholics guilty for the grisly deeds done during the Dark Ages. This fact is important to note, however, to show that there have always been those that have held to the Bible as their only standard of religious doctrine. Jesus called out the Pharisees for ignoring God’s Word to follow after tradition. The Bible holds itself as the ultimate standard since it is the preserved Word of God. This is in contrast to the what the Catechism holds to be the standard: the Bible, the Magisterium, and church tradition – all equal.

There is much more that could be said about the history of the Catholic Church to answer why it is so large and widespread, but it would deviate from the main message that I declare: that salvation comes only through the blood of Jesus, not through a church. My goal is not to cause insult to Catholic friends and family by shoving history in their faces, but to prove the Bible as the true Christian standard and Jesus as the one, true, only way to have a relationship with God.

One other thing is worth mentioning. If indeed the Catholic Church is being guided into all truth by the Holy Spirit, why was it allowed to pick such corrupt leadership in the past, as the author claims? An infallible church should not have picked leadership such as Pope Innocent III: “Anyone who attempts to construe a personal view of God which conflicts with Church dogma must be burned without pity.” Or Clement of Alexandria: “Every woman should be filled with shame by the thought that she is a woman.” The author believes the Catholic Church will be led by the Spirit to be inerrant, but simultaneously claims that church leadership has been in error.

Four Marks of the True Church

The Church is One
Again, the meaning of the church is missed. This does not mean a church under one name; rather, it is a diverse collection of Christians under one Savior.

Certainly the church should follow what the apostles teach. Yet the Catholic Church misses the mark on some important things. The apostle Paul said in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” But the Catechism lays out that it is baptism that takes away original sin and works that keeps one in a state of grace. When did the apostles teach this?
The claim that Catholicism has never changed its doctrine is also bold. The Catholic laity used to receive the wine during communion, but that was changed in 1416 ad. Baptism was by immersion until 1311 ad when it was changed to sprinkling. Just recently, Pope Francis said that the Catholic Church would welcome divorced individuals to take communion when before they were excommunicated. I have a friend that left Catholicism because there was doctrine that changed, which led him to the conclusion that it perhaps is not infallible.

The Church is Holy
I do not know of any Bible passage that names the church to be holy. The church is made up of men and women who are by nature sinful. The head of the church (Jesus), however, is holy.

The Church is Catholic
The church is indeed catholic (“universal”), but this only supports that the church is the people redeemed by Christ, not a specific structure with a specific name.

The Church is Apostolic
As I mentioned before, a comparison between what the apostles taught as recorded in the Bible and what the Catholic Church teaches today yields discrepancies.
(This paragraph was addressed to my friend.) We have already talked about the Eucharist and the evidence I find against Christ’s physical presence being there – though I can certainly send you it again if you have forgotten and can’t find it. Since the author is the one making the claim that forgiveness of sin is through a priest (something you were uncertain about) and the existence of purgatory, the burden of proof is on him. He does not provide evidence, nor do I find any biblical evidence.

Pillar of Fire, Pillar of Truth
Again the author asserts that the Catholic Church is the one true church without evidence. Looking at the one passage used to make this claim (in Matthew 16), the statement that “the gates of Hell will not prevail against [the church]” does not seem to prove all that is needed to say that the true church is the Catholic Church and that it is infallible as a result. I certainly welcome the evidence against what I believe, I just haven’t yet found any very compelling arguments.

The Structure of the Church

The Pope and Bishops
I wish the author would have went into greater detail on John 21:15-17, because I don’t see this as a special commission to Peter. Rather, Jesus is reiterating it because of Peter’s denial. Similarly, in Luke 22, it does not follow that Jesus specifically telling Peter to strengthen his brethren means that job was exclusive to Peter – nor that it elevated him above the rest.

The Aramaic argument is one I have not heard before. The issue I would take is that there are no Aramaic manuscripts of the gospels, thus it, while not impossible, would be difficult to say that it was originally written in Aramaic. Furthermore, why would there exist the wordplay in Greek if Peter and the foundation meant the same? Why not say, “Upon this Petrus I will build my church”?

How God Speaks to Us

Sacred Tradition
It is important to view the claim of Sacred Tradition being equal with the Bible in light of what the Bible says about itself:

“And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” –II Timothy 3:15-17

“Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar.” –Proverbs 30:5-6

It is true that there is nothing inherently wrong with tradition. When tradition contradicts God’s Word, however, that is when it is wrong:

“You are making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such things do ye.” –Mark 7:13

Nowhere do we find that these traditions are inspired. The Bible is (see above passage). Therefore, when the inspired Bible conflicts with the traditions that the Catholic Church teach, who should we believe?

Much of my argument here would be repetition of the one above. The author makes the claim that the early church did not use scripture alone. Of course they didn’t; the Bible wasn’t yet complete. The apostles’ doctrine became solidified in the cannon of scripture. Hence, at the completion of God’s written Word there was no longer a need for oral tradition.

The claim that splintering of denominations means that sola scriptura is false is a major non sequitur. At best, the logical conclusion that should follow from his premises is that the Bible must be properly interpreted, not that it cannot be the only authority. The author complains of many sects of Christianity yet tries to raise Catholicism – a sect of Christianity – above the rest. There is no support given as to why the Catholic Church in particular has the correct interpretation and no other church does. Again, none of this refutes the claim that scripture is the only authority.

The Magisterium
Here is the problem that Peter wanted to avoid when he wrote that “no scripture is of private interpretation” (I Peter 1:20). The Bible tells us that the Holy Spirit is needed to guide us to the truth. But claiming that the Catholic Church is the only one capable of this simply does not follow. God did not say that only one group of people have access to the Holy Spirit to interpret scripture. On the contrary, this would make it of “private interpretation”. All who have been redeemed have the Holy Spirit, and all that have the Holy Spirit can be illuminated to the correct interpretation of scripture. Those who follow the Holy Spirit are not following private interpretation, but rather the true interpretation that the Holy Spirit shows us. The Catholic Church’s claim that it alone has the correct interpretation makes the interpretation private.

How God Distributes His Gifts

Being born of water is a reference to natural birth, not baptism. There is no context of baptism whatsoever; in fact, Jesus soon after says, “That whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” Belief, not baptism, makes one “born again”. This is the obvious progression since, in the previous verse, Nicodemus asks, “How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?” Jesus then tells him that a man must be born of water AND of the Spirit. Born physically, then reborn through the Spirit.

Likewise, I Peter 3:21 is edited to ignore the crucial detail in parentheses: “(not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,)”. What Peter speaks of is not the outward sign of baptism, but the baptism by the Spirit.

As a few examples, the true order of baptism can be seen in Acts 8. As Phillip speaks to the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch asks Phillip what hinders him from being baptized. Phillip says, “If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.” The same is seen with the prison guard in Acts 16. The thief on the cross was never baptized, yet Jesus said he would be in paradise. It is not baptism that washed away sin, but faith in Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection.

To be fair, I do believe baptism is a vital step in one’s Christian faith, and it is a command of God. It, however, does not mean anything as far as salvation goes.

The Bible never says that anyone other than God has the ability to forgive sin. Why has this duty been handed to priests? What is the biblical precedent for a man forgiving sin rather than God?

We covered the Eucharist somewhat in a prior conversation. To answer directly what the author writes, Jesus says that His very words in John 6 “are spirit”. He did not mean that people had to literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. Otherwise, He would literally be a door since He said He is in John 10:9. He also said that if our right eye offends us, we should pluck it out. If Jesus was always literal when He spoke, I would either be maimed or living in rebellion to this commandment.
I don’t think it logically follows to say that communion is taking part in the “once-for-all” sacrifice of Christ if it is repeatedly happening. Weekly or daily is not “once-for-all”.

Since we are sealed by the Holy Spirit, He would, in a sense, be a confirmation. I am not opposed to a confirmation; however, I obviously do not agree with the Catechism on how the Holy Spirit is received and thus would have hesitations about the way in which it is done. My understanding of this doctrine is not extensive, so I am not familiar with every detail of it.

I have few if any disagreements with the Catholic Church on the issue of marriage.

Holy Orders
Catholic priests have fairly different roles than most Protestant ministers, including Baptists of which I am a member. What similarity they do share is the belief that God calls them into service.

Anointing of the Sick
It seems to be a stretch that anointing cleanses the soul. I, however, see no problem with the practice.

Talking with God and His Saints

While I do not believe in purgatory, I do believe that the saints (all Christians) in Heaven speak to God as they do here on Earth. They may even pray for us on Earth. However, it does not follow that we ought to pray to them. Nowhere in the Bible do I see this. On the contrary, it is a diminishment of Christ’s role as mediator. If He is the only mediator, prayer should be directed to Him, not to others in Heaven.

“Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.” –Hebrews 4:14-16

There is a difference between me asking someone on Earth to pray for me and someone who is dead to pray for me. There is only one instance of a human on Earth speaking to a human that is dead, and this was done through a witch (Saul talking to Samuel).

If we believe the Bible that “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), then, as Mary is a human and not a god, this must include her as well. Mary being “highly favored” (Luke 1:28) and her statement that “my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour” (Luke 1:47) is not really evidence to her having a sinless state, as the author says it is. On the contrary, a need for a personal Savior (“my Saviour”) implies that she was not sinless, and she knew it. Therefore the same stipulations apply to her as to anyone else that is physically dead.

What is the Purpose of Life?

I agree with everything (excluding purgatory, of course) about this statement. I just disagree with the vital doctrine of what makes us a part of the body of Christ.

What You must do to be Saved

The idea that we are not saved through faith alone seems to run directly contrary to Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Advocating that our works are rewarded with eternal life IS claiming they are needed for salvation, regardless of what the stated claim is.

So good works are needed for eternal life. What exactly is the criteria? Is there a certain number of times we have to help the poor? Is there a quota of good works we have to reach per day, or week, or year? Is there a percentage of following God's will we have to hit? Does just missing it once disqualify me? Simply saying works must be involved is very vague. I have never, as of yet, heard a specific, measurable way to know if you are hitting the mark.

Of course, that mark is God’s holiness. Which means that we all “fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “The wages of sin is death…” Romans 6:23 tells us. This sounds scary because it is. This is why salvation must be through faith alone. All of us fall short of the mark.

The author is right that our works tell us whether we know God. That is the theme of I John. But that’s just it: works show us if we know God. They don’t buy merit with Him.

The author really is grasping when he says that Paul would not have spoken so much on sin if sin could not exclude us from Heaven. This is a totally baseless claim. Consecrated living following God is important to Him because Christians are His children. He expects us to act like it. He can rightly place expectations on us while holding to His promise that Christians will “never perish” (John 10:28).

Jesus often used messages about sin to point people to the fact that they can’t keep the law. By pointing out the impossible standard He paves the way for His own fulfillment of the law to be enough for anyone, in any sinful state, to have a relationship with Him. Don’t lose sight of the fact that salvation is through faith BECAUSE we cannot meet God’s standard.

Are You Guaranteed Heaven?

The Bible assumes something about Christians. They are changed. When they meet God, they are radically changed. Thus, they are set apart to do good works. They are made more and more like Jesus. Good works follow faith.

James, in what can be a confusing second chapter, was speaking to a group of people who professed that they were Christians but whose lives were not backing that up. Hence, he tells them that they have to justify themselves through their works. (This definition of justify is to show themselves to be justified. Just like how God is “justified” in the Bible. Not because He isn’t already just; He is showing Himself to be just. If this is still confusing, check out my article on the chapter contrasted with Ephesians 2.) So it is expected that Christians’ lives will reflect the fact that they are Christians. If their works do not back up the faith they claim to have, then they probably don’t have the faith at all.

To say we are not guaranteed Heaven after salvation is to ignore God’s promise that true, born-again Christians will “never perish”.

I John 5 also tells us that we can know that we have eternal life. Know. Not hope. Not so long as we die with no unconfessed mortal sin. Know. To base our salvation off of a vague need for works or not dying with unconfessed mortal sin is rather, well, uncertain. It doesn’t line up.

The Wave of the Future

Never Popular, Always Attractive
It is another non sequitur to say that because the Catholic Church faces opposition it must be the true church. Islam and atheism face a lot of opposition as well; that doesn’t make them correct.

Incomplete Christianity is not Enough
Again, there is a claim to the Catholic Church being the one true church but not really any evidence. It is important to see past rhetoric and examine where the evidence actually lies.

Your Tasks as a Catholic

Being informed is not a bad thing, because if you are willing to make an honest examination, it will lead to the truth.

Unfortunately, I no longer keep in contact with this friend. If she happens to be reading, though, I want her to know that I care about her and am praying that she, personally, is led into truth.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"Abortion is okay because the babies go to Heaven."

Working in the pro-life movement, I’ve about heard it all in regards to support of abortion. Some of the worst comments come not from hardened abortion advocates, but indifferent Christians.

For example, people attempt to justify abortion by stating that “it just allows those babies to go to Heaven” and not have a chance to defile themselves and go to Hell.

It is true, indeed, that those babies murdered by another’s choice go to Heaven. This is another conversation within itself. I believe that there is a certain accountability that is reached- the point when a person can understand the gospel enough to put their faith in it. For some, it could be three or four, to others a little older. Some never reach it if they have a mental handicap. Those who die before this point are safe in the arms of Jesus. (Read David’s response to the death of his newborn child in II Samuel 12:23.)

Now people who aren’t Christians really confuse me on this one. They assure us of something they themselves do not believe in, do not understand, or at least don’t take seriously.

But Christians are even more out of line with this reasoning. To make this statement and mean it, one must ignore several crucial biblical principles:

1.      God’s clear commandment against murder

People put a lot of weight on the Ten Commandments, these severely misled Christians included. In case we need a review, the sixth commandments states, “Thou shalt not kill.” Now before anyone gets up in arms about the death penalty, the Hebrew word means “murder” (and capital punishment is also a biblical principle). God also states that He hates “hands that shed innocent blood” – and there is no blood more innocent that a preborn child’s. If it is obvious that God considers murder a very serious sin, why do we justify it, especially by involving God in it? Murder is so serious because it strikes at the very image of God – the image that He created us in. It is not negotiable based on circumstances.

2.      The severe punishment of those that kill innocent children

Do you know why God ordered His people to eradicate the Canaanites? One of the main sins they were committing was the sacrifice of their babies to pagan gods. Back then, children were sacrificed to the idols “Baal” and “Molech”. Today they are sacrificed to the idols of “choice”, “women’s rights”, and “making every child a wanted child”. God killed thousands for this sin. And Hebrews tells us His nature does not change. Later on, the same sin condemned the people surrounding Israel. And when Israel slipped into themselves, God was not partial in delivering their punishment. The same judgment of a righteous God will come on those who sacrifice children, and those who “take pleasure in them that” do it (Rom. 1:32).

3.      God’s love for children

Over and over we see God’s people weep for lost children. The massacre of young boys by Harod was a day of “Rachel weeping for her children”. David, as I said before, wept for his lost child.

Jesus Himself spoke of this. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matt. 19:14). “And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.” (Mark 9:42).

What makes the preborn inclusive of this? There are a number of verses that point to them being as much people as we are. Job speaks of stillborn fetuses as “babies that never saw light”. Women are called mothers of their preborn children in multiple places, as are children called children “in the womb”. There is differentiation between a “man-child conceived” and a “man-child born”. The word “begat” (which many recent “translations” make the fatal mistake of changing to “gave birth”) refers to conception and birth. John the Baptist lept in Elizabeth’s womb.

Or, just check basic science.

4.      Free will and personal accountability

When God created Adam and Eve, He didn’t make them to blindly follow His will. He gave them a choice whether to love Him – as love should be. I cannot be accountable for your actions, and you cannot be accountable for mine. In God’s sight, we all answer for ourselves.

People who believe babies going to Heaven justifies abortion are ignoring this fact. We wouldn’t take the life of a three year-old to ensure they go to Heaven. It is immoral, yea, it is evil, and completely against God’s command. Why is it different for the preborn? God has given us a choice of whether to love Him or not. We cannot blind ourselves to that fact. If someone chooses to reject Christ, that is on them. It’s not for us to take action to prevent that decision from occurring. Evangelism through murder: sure has a nice ring to it.

Let’s not deceive ourselves by taking the dismemberment of children as a positive thing. We can rest in the fact that they are resting, but if you honestly believe that the best option is to choose indecision for the preborn, I question your heart. I question you conscience. I question whether you are a child of God.

Or at least the God I know.