Category Archives: Church Authority

The Religion Of Personal Preference

I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard someone say, “I’m looking for a good church,” or, “We’re church shopping.”  I’ve said these things myself in the past.  There is much “between the lines” of such statements.  Overall, I believe those words often reveal a “religion of personal preference.”  That is, we seek God under the condition that God will make us comfortable and happy.

People “shop” for churches that appeal to them.  I can’t recall ever hearing someone say, “I chose this church because it made me feel so uncomfortable.”  The ironic thing is that, although God calls us to peace and joy, he doesn’t call us to “comfort,” at least not in the sense that most people perceive comfort.  The Holy Spirit is “the Comforter,” but that doesn’t mean he provides padded pews and nice feelings all around.  It means we can have spiritual peace and guidance even in the midst of our greatest trials.  Many trials are a direct result of following God.  In fact, Jesus told his followers to expect suffering.

The thing we tend to forget is that  Jesus calls us.  We’re not supposed to “shop around” until we find our preferred selection on a spiritual menu.  How arrogant and self-centered we can be!  Think about famous people in the Bible that were called by God.  Abraham, Moses, Jonah, all the prophets, the Virgin Mary and Joseph, the Apostles, are just a few examples.  None of them were “comfortable” being called.  They were afraid, reluctant, confused, angered, blinded, knocked to the ground, swallowed by fish, etc.  None of them said, “Wow, this just feels right.  What a warm welcome!”  On the contrary, the calling was not what they were “shopping for.”  It did not suit their preferences.

Why, then, do we insist on shopping for a church that suits our preferences?  We’re not supposed to search for a church that we “like” or create a church that we “like.”   We’re supposed to answer the call of the Church established by Jesus, like it or not.  The Church is Christ on Earth.  It is through his Church that Jesus calls us.  It is “right” even if it doesn’t always “feel right” because it is truth.  Truth does not change with our whims and our feelings.  Truth unifies.  Feelings tend to divide and confuse.  Jesus calls us to unity through truth.  The Church is not a product to be marketed.  It is the truth to be lived and shared.

Pope Francis has captured the attention of the world, not by creative marketing, but by being a disciple of Christ.  He is, as he says, “A child of the Church.”  This is what we are all called to be.  This is what Catholics are supposed to be like.  He is leading by example.  He is the pastor of the entire Christian Church.  He is our shepherd.  He takes his orders from The Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit.  Like it or not, there is no other “church” to shop for.

Let’s stop shopping for churches.  Let’s quit trying to turn the Church into a “product” that competes for the attention of fickle consumers.  Let’s dump the “religion” of personal preferences.  Instead, let’s answer the call of the Church.  Let’s allow Jesus to step into our boats and rock them.  That’s what disciples do.  Disciples follow their leader, not their own preferences.  Let’s show the world Jesus Christ.  He is what they long for.

Wait…Jesus Said To OBEY The Scribes And Pharisees? What..?

In Mathew 23:1-3 Jesus says (paraphrase), “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: therefore, do all that they tell you to do; but don’t behave the way they do, for they don’t follow their own teachings.”  There are several points here to reflect on.

1)      Jesus was not anti-religion, he was anti-hypocrisy.  Jesus followed his Jewish religion perfectly (unlike the hypocrites).  Jesus never said he came to abolish religion.  Jesus came to fulfill the Jewish religion, not to get rid of it.  When people say, “Religion is bad but Jesus is good,” they are mistaken.  Jesus is good and so is his religion.

2)      Jesus recognized and validated the office held by the scribes and the Pharisees.  God established the seat of Moses.  It was an office of authority.  An earthly person (Moses) held an office of God-given authority.  Furthermore, that office had successors.  The scribes and the Pharisees had God-given authority because they were the successors of Moses, not because they were good men.  What we see here is the biblical principle that it is God, not men that establishes and preserves the earthly office of authority.  Men behaving badly can still validly occupy an office of God-given authority and use that authority to establish and teach doctrines and traditions (binding and loosing).  Jesus teaches obedience to men who sit on a seat authorized directly by God.

3)      The teachings of the scribes and Pharisees were not made invalid by their hypocrisy.  Notice that Jesus did not say, “Rebel against and disobey the scribes and Pharisees because they are hypocrites who won’t even follow their own teachings.”  Quite the opposite was true.  Jesus taught obedience to their God-given authority.

4)      The scribes and Pharisees “made the word of God of no effect” through their tradition (Mark 7:13).  Having the tradition wasn’t the problem.  Their attitude was the problem.  They “rejected the commandment of God” (verse 9).  Tradition is good if one is not rejecting the commandment of God.  After all, Jesus and his family followed Jewish tradition.  They were religious!  One can take most any religious tradition and either glorify God or reject God through that tradition.  It’s about one’s attitude.

5)      As stated above, Jesus validated the seat of Moses as an earthly authority from God.  In fact, he liked the idea so much that he fulfilled and perfected it for the New Covenant by creating the chair of Peter.  Again, God protects this office and provides successors for it.  Even a scoundrel of a pope cannot negate the authority of this office.  God protects the official teachings of the Church from error through the Holy Spirit, not through the impeccable behavior of men.  That is what the infallibility of the papacy means.  The same Holy Spirit that keeps error out of the Bible also protects the papacy.  God the Father directly authorized the seat of Moses.  God the Son directly authorized the Chair of Peter.

6)      Protestantism has the Bible, but it has no seat of earthly authority like the seat of Moses or the Chair of Peter.  This is, ironically, unbiblical.  The rejection of God-given Church authority has resulted in division and a multitude of opposing doctrines.  It is popular today to claim Jesus while rejecting religious authority.  Jesus taught the opposite.  To obey the God-given seat of authority is to obey God.  Obey Jesus by obeying his Church.

7)      Catholicism does not create traditions of men that “make the word of God of no effect.”  Read the Catholic Catechism honestly and you will discover that Church teachings flow from and compliment the Scriptures.  The Bible and Sacred Tradition are both apostolic.  They go together.

8)      Catholicism does not “heap heavy burdens upon men that even the religious leaders can’t bear.”  Read the Catholic Catechism and you will discover that Church teachings are about holiness and a relationship with Jesus, not legalistic rules and regulations.  There is nothing about being Catholic that “can’t be done” by the clergy or by the laity.  There may be things people don’t want to do, but that’s all about attitude and obedience.  If you live a Catholic life with the proper attitude you will grow ever closer to Christ.  Catholicism is all about receiving the grace of Jesus and sharing him with the world and with each other.

New Reality Show Idea! “Fact Or Faked: Bible Files”

There are a lot of “reality” shows on TV about people investigating strange or paranormal occurrences.  There are shows about ghosts, monsters, Bigfoot, aliens, UFOs, etc.  One in particular is called “Fact or Faked: Paranormal Files.”  The investigators attempt to recreate and debunk alleged paranormal events.  Sometimes they uncover a hoax and other times they label the event “unexplained.”  The viewer can form his or her own opinion based on the “expert” analysis of the investigators.

Sometimes it seems like people take a similar approach with the Bible.  For example, Jesus said a lot of strange and disturbing things like, “If your hand offends you, cut it off,” and “If your eye offends you, pluck it out.”  He called himself a door and a vine.  He said we must be born again of water and of spirit.  He said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days.  He talked about Hell and eternal damnation.  He told his followers that they needed to eat his flesh and drink his blood to have eternal life.  He held up bread and called it his body.  He held up wine and called it his blood.  He said lots of wild stuff, some of which caused his followers to walk away from him.  He also raised the dead, healed the sick, walked on water and controlled nature.  And, of course, he was killed and came back to life.

So, fact or faked?  Which of Jesus’ statements and actions are real and which are hyperbole?  Are any of them real?  Are all of them metaphor?  For example, did Jesus “fake out” his followers and then let them walk away from eternal life in John 6?  What would a panel of “experts” say?  What would your Bible study group conclude and why?  Would your opinion match the others in your study group?  What would your Sunday school teacher conclude?  How does he or she know the answer?  Would your preacher agree with the preacher down the street?

People get together and draw their own conclusions about Scripture.  “Oh, Jesus didn’t really mean that, he was just ‘faking us out’ to test our faith or to prove a point.”  That may be true some of the time.  Parables are designed to have an impact and make a point.  However, some people have actually maimed themselves because Jesus said to cut off their offending body parts.  Were they wrong in doing so, or were they being extremely holy?  When is Jesus being serious and when is he just being metaphorical to make a point?  He wasn’t always metaphorical, was he?  Is it just bread or is it really him?  Fact or faked?

All the confusion demonstrates the need for the Spirit-led, teaching authority of the Church.  When Christ’s Church authority is rejected, we are left with the opinions and conclusions of whoever wants to be an “expert.”  Without the authority that Christ gave to the offices of the pope and the magisterium we are left to our own devices.  Conflicting opinions rule the day.  Not a good situation when eternal life is on the line.  We might as well rely on a television reality show called, “Fact or Faked: Bible Files” to guide us in matters of faith and morals.

A Personal Encounter With Sola Scriptura (Bible Alone)

Not long after my return to Catholicism, a Protestant friend approached me with a question.  He and the other members of his church board were in the process of interviewing pastoral candidates, and there was an issue regarding the divorce and remarriage of one of the candidates.  My friend, knowing I had some theological training, asked me if I could provide any insight into what Scripture teaches about such matters.  There was apparently some confusion among the board members about how to decide the matter according to the Bible.

My friend’s dilemma is a perfect example of why the Bible alone is not sufficient in determining matters of faith and morals.  Eventually, a person has to call the shot.  Ultimately, it is not the Bible we go by, but someone’s interpretation of the Bible.  I don’t know exactly what my friend’s church decided to do.  I gently informed him that the Catholic Church had long ago decided such matters.  Any interpretation I would provide needed to be in agreement with Catholic authority.  In other words, who am I to interpret the Bible for him and his church?  I am not a pope or a bishop with apostolic authority.

Another issue arises when people who oppose the Catholic Church insist that their interpretation of the Bible proves how wrong or bad Catholicism is.  What they have done is listened to preachers and read books that taught them those interpretations.  In some cases, they have listened to former Catholic priests and nuns that say how bad Catholicism is.  Who are those preachers, authors, former nuns and priests?  They are not popes or bishops with apostolic authority.  Why should their interpretation of Scripture be taken seriously?  Even anti-Catholics have their own “popes” and “magisterium” although they won’t admit it.

When the Apostle Philip encountered the Ethiopian sitting in his chariot reading Scripture, Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  “How can I,” answered the Ethiopian, “unless some man teach me?”  Philip then used his apostolic authority to interpret the Scriptures and teach the man about Jesus.  The Ethiopian was subsequently baptized as a Christian. (Acts 8:27-40)  How can we understand the Bible unless we are taught what it means?  How can we receive consistently correct interpretation unless the teacher is teaching according to the apostolic authority given by Christ through the Holy Spirit “who will lead us into all truth?” (Jn 16:13)

Anyone can open a Bible, find some truth and draw conclusions from it.  That’s the danger.  Peter wrote that no prophecy of the Scripture is of individual interpretation and that some things in Scripture are hard to understand.  People can twist Scripture to their own destruction. (2Peter 1:20, 3:16)  That’s why Jesus gave us the Church to call the shots.  Once one abandons the Catholic interpretation, anything goes (and does go).

The real question for the Christian isn’t, “Do you follow the Bible?”  The real question is, “Whose interpretation of the Bible do you follow and why?”  Where did your teacher(s) get the authority to tell you what the Bible means?  Surely, a God that can preserve the Scriptures can also preserve a living, teaching authority for the Scriptures.  That’s what the Catholic Church is.  That’s where the authority has resided for 2000 years.

It Is Written, It Is Written, It Is Written

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.” (Matt 4:1)  In the wilderness the devil used Scripture to tempt Jesus several times.  Jesus refuted the devil each time, also by using Scripture.  The authoritative nature of Scripture is evident in this account.  But there is more going on here than the mere “verse slinging” which we often see in theological or doctrinal debates.  Those debates end with people still divided, although some may switch sides.  There is seldom any resolution or consensus.  In Matthew’s account there is a clear winner.  The authority of Jesus wins the day.  While the devil mishandles the Scriptures, Jesus preserves the authoritative nature of the Scriptures.

The devil clearly knows Scripture.  He also knows that Scripture has authority as God’s Word.  He knows it is “God-breathed.”  Yet, the devil does not use Scripture according to its proper use or interpretation.  Jesus uses Scripture with reverence and sensitivity according to its true meaning and purpose.

Since the devil tried to use Scripture against God himself, what is to prevent him from using Scripture against God’s people?  God is not the author of confusion, but the devil is.  The devil is the father of lies.  Naturally, the devil desires to turn Christians against one another by using Scripture.  What is to prevent him from doing so?  The answer is, “Jesus Christ.”

Jesus Christ is God.  He wrote the Scriptures.  Jesus knows what the Scriptures mean.  He knows how to properly interpret the Scriptures.  Jesus also knows how the devil operates.  He knew that when he left Earth the devil would attack his followers.  He knew that people would become confused and divided about Scripture and doctrine.  So, Jesus established his Church, appointed leaders and gave those leaders his very own authority.  Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom.  Jesus told Peter he would build his Church upon him.  Jesus told his apostles, “He who hears you hears me,” and “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  Now the Church “stands in” for Jesus.  Jesus told his followers to take their disputes to the Church (Matt 18:17), not to the Scriptures.

The Apostles were called, appointed and sent by Christ.  They did not grab authority and send themselves.  Subsequently, those that succeed the Apostles are called, appointed and sent.  They do not grab authority and send themselves.  It is not their own goodness, education, intelligence, experience, charisma, holiness, personal drive, etc. that gives them authority.  They have the authority of Christ because it is given to them by apostolic succession.  One cannot “take” apostolic authority.  It must be given by the proper authority.  Knowing Scripture well and being a sincere Christian does not make one a successor of the Apostles.

Anyone can pick up a Bible and glean some truth from it.  They can also become confused by it and misinterpret it.  They can even use Scripture to oppose the very Church that Jesus established (as many do).  Therefore, having the Bible alone is not enough.  It was not enough in Matthew 4.  Jesus needed more than Scripture to refute the devil.  He also needed the authority given to him by the Father.  It was that same authority that Jesus gave to the hierarchy of the Church.

While the written Word of God is an authority for the Christian, it is not the only authority for the Christian.  It is not a question of the Bible or the Church.  The fullness of the Christian faith requires both.  Catholicism is the great both/and modeled by Jesus.  Christians need the God-given authority of the Church and the Scriptures.  The two do not stand apart from each other.  They are both necessary in confronting the confusion, the divisiveness and the attacks of the devil.  It is not enough to be able to say, “It is written.”

There Are No Bible-Alone Churches

Some Christians criticize Catholic doctrine for being a combination of Scripture and tradition.  The thinking is that the Bible alone should be where doctrine comes from.  Tradition is thought to be “bad” since Jesus criticized the traditions of the Pharisees.  However, the fact that the Pharisees had bad traditions does not automatically mean that all tradition is bad.  The Apostles taught traditions.

There really is no such thing as a “Bible alone” church.  Every church has doctrines that are a result of someone interpreting the Bible.  It’s not as if the Bible stands behind the pulpit and preaches all alone.  What is taught is either the interpretation of the individual preacher or the interpretation that someone else has taught the preacher.  Such teachings become the traditions of that particular church.

If one bypasses the preacher and goes straight to the Bible, the doctrines that one formulates are either individual interpretations or some variations of doctrines already learned from others.  So, even then, it is not the Bible alone but the-Bible-plus-someone.

The key, then, is not to find a good “Bible alone” church, for no such church exists.  Every church has traditions handed down by people.  The key is finding the Church with the proper interpretation of Scripture as well as proper Sacred Tradition.  The Apostles had Traditions that they passed on to Christian believers.  We are told in 2Thessalonians 2:15 to “…hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.”  Therefore, one must find the Church that has preserved the fullness of both the oral and the written Traditions of the Apostles.  In other words, one must find the Church that has the Bible plus the proper interpretation of the Bible and the proper, apostolic, oral teaching of doctrine.

It was the apostolic authority and Tradition of the Catholic Church that gave us the Bible.  In other words, the Bible, and its formation, is actually part of the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church.  So, if you say that Catholic Tradition is bad, you are condemning the Bible.  Other churches were formed by men taking the Bible and the apostolic authority for themselves and creating new traditions.  What we now have is a plethora of Bible-plus-new-tradition combos rather than one, Bible-plus-apostolic-tradition Church.

So, again, there is no such thing as a “Bible only” church.  It really comes down to which tradition you want to rely on.  Do you want the apostolic tradition that gave you the Bible to begin with, or a tradition started centuries later by someone other than Jesus Christ and his Apostles?  If you choose the later, you must determine from where the authority of that tradition comes if not from Jesus Christ and his Apostles.  If you say, “My authority comes from the Bible,” then you are appealing to Catholic Church authority and Tradition, and you might as well be a Catholic.