There were two, main concerns expressed to me by Bible Christians when they heard that I was Catholic. First, they were afraid that I lacked a personal relationship with Jesus. Second, my “religion” and its “traditions” were what prevented me from having that personal relationship with Jesus. In other words, religion and tradition are bad, relationship is good. Whenever you hear someone make this point, red flags should begin to frantically wave.
If someone tells you that Jesus is anti-religion or anti-tradition, don’t believe a word of it. Jesus was anti-hypocrisy. He told His fellow Jews, “Do what the scribes and Pharisees tell you to do, because they sit on the seat of Moses. Just don’t act the way they act” (Matt 23:1-3). In other words, “Your religion and tradition is good, but your religious leaders are behaving badly.”
Jesus confronted the scribes and Pharisees and called them hypocrites. Jesus also pointed out that they had piled on man-made traditions that were ruining the good, God-given religion and Sacred Tradition. Jesus never said, “Get rid of the religion.” He essentially said, “Stop ruining the religion that God gave you.”
Jesus took the religion that God had given the people and made it better. He fulfilled the religion and brought it forward; He did not abolish or destroy religion. Jesus continued the religion given by God. Jesus established His Church, placed certain men in charge of the Church, gave those men His own authority and commissioned them to spread the religion. The religion is called Christianity.
Like Judaism, Christianity contains Sacred Tradition (Tradition with a capital “T”). Catholics know this as “The Deposit of Faith.” This is handed down by apostolic authority, the authority given by Christ. For example, the Apostle’s Creed, the seven Sacraments and even the Bible are part of Sacred Tradition. When people condemn “tradition” they are unwittingly condemning the Bible. The Bible was given to us through the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church. Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word of mouth or by letter” (2 Thess 2:15). Here we can see that both oral and written traditions are important and are given by apostolic authority. Catholicism contains both the written and the oral Sacred Tradition.
Catholicism also has traditions (tradition with a lower case “t”) that are disciplinary, pastoral or cultural in nature. These are not the same thing as Sacred Tradition. However, that does not mean that these traditions impede a personal relationship with Jesus. These are outgrowths of a personal relationship with Jesus. Imagine, for example, a mother and a daughter making cookies together every year for Christmas. That is a family tradition that grew out of a relationship that already existed. Making cookies does not “replace” the relationship between the mother and the daughter. So it is with many Catholic, lower case “t” traditions. Catholicism does not interfere with a personal relationship with Jesus. Catholicism is all about a personal relationship with Jesus.
There are occasions when people abuse Catholicism and/or fail to make the connection between the religion and the relationship. This has always been the case. That is why Jesus warned us about it. Jesus knew that the abuses in Judaism could also happen in His Church. Nevertheless, He established His Church and promised that it would endure by His power, not by man’s power. It has endured. 2000 years later, the Catholic Church is still going, still spreading the Gospel, and is the largest charitable organization in the world. After all, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27). In other words, religion should promote charity (love) and holiness. Such is the goal of authentic Catholicism, the religion of Jesus Christ. Those who believe otherwise simply misunderstand authentic Catholicism.
So, Catholics, when someone wants to tell you that your religion is preventing you from having a personal relationship with Jesus, red flags should begin to fly about. Tell them that quite the opposite is true. Your religion is a personal relationship with Jesus. It was given to us personally by Jesus. The more you learn The Faith the more you will know this to be true.