Category Archives: Church Authority

The Bible And The Promises Of Christ

Most of my Christian friends would agree with me when I say that the Bible is God’s Word.  They would also agree when I say that Jesus is Lord and Savior, and that his promises are true.  I would like to consider the connection between some of the promises of Jesus and the origin of the Bible.

There is a misconception among many Christians that the Church springs forth from the Bible.  However, if we use the Bible as a guide for starting a new church, we are doing things backwards.  The historical reality is that the Bible came from the Church, not vice versa.  The Church was started by Christ and thrived for 400 years before the Bible was even assembled.

Consider the promise of Christ, “I will build my Church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”  Jesus promised us one Church that would never fail.  It makes no sense, then, to conclude that the Church started by Jesus somehow “failed” and needed to be “rebooted” or started over at some point.  Jesus also promised to be with his Church “until the end of the age.”  In other words, Jesus doesn’t “leave” his Church, cast it aside and start a “new church.”  The Holy Spirit sticks with the original Church until the very end of the world.

Most Christians would agree that the Holy Spirit inspired the writers of Scripture.  There were a lot of writings from the time of the early Church, but not all of them were inspired.  Not all of them belonged in the Bible.  Not all of them made it into the New Testament.  Who decided which writings made the cut?  Whoever it was, they must have been guided by the Holy Spirit, right?  It was the Catholic Church that decided which writings were inspired and which writings did not belong in the New Testament.  This is not a matter of opinion, it is simply history.  The Bible was assembled by the Catholic Church nearly 400 years after Christ.

Would Jesus start his Church, have members of his Church write inspired Scripture, guide his Church in assembling the Bible, and then “leave” his Church to start a “new” Church?  No, because Jesus does not break his promises.  The Catholic Church today is the same Church started by Jesus 2000 years ago.

Catholics are Christians.  The word “catholic” simply means “universal.”  The Catholic Church is the universal Christian Church.  In other words, it’s for everyone everywhere, including you and me.  It is wrong to assume that a Catholic is something different than a Christian, or that Catholics are not “saved” according to the Bible.  The Catholic Church wrote the New Testament Scriptures and assembled the Scriptures.  The Church has studied, preached and taught the Scriptures for 2000 years.  Make no mistake, the Catholic Church knows all about salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ!  Read the Catholic Catechism!

Incidentally, those who claim that the Catholic Church is “The whore of Babylon” from the book of Revelation, or that the pope is the antichrist, are using the same New Testament produced and authorized by the Catholic Church!  And for those who claim that the Emperor Constantine “started” the Catholic Church, notice that the New Testament was assembled and approved by the Church (A.D. 382 at the synod of Rome) after Constantine converted to and legalized Christianity in the early 300s.  Those who say, “Constantine started the Catholic Church!” are using the same New Testament produced and approved by what they consider to be a “false religion!”

I submit that most Christians are simply not aware of the historical and spiritual origin of their Bibles.  It took me nearly 40 years to learn it and I was raised Catholic!  The fact is, if you accept the God-given authority of the Bible, you are also accepting the God-given authority of the Catholic Church, whether you realize it or not.  Jesus did not give authority to his Church only to strip it away at some later date.  The Catholic Church is the original Christian Church.  It is only the protection of the Holy Spirit that has prevented the Catholic Church from self-destructing for 2000 years.  No mere human institution holds up under such pressures.  All other churches have been started by someone other than Jesus Christ.

If we love Jesus and the Bible, it only makes sense to love the Church from which the Bible flows.  It is inconsistent to accept Christ, accept the Bible but knowingly reject the Catholic Church.  All three of them go together.  They are intimately linked and cannot be separated from each other.  Jesus is God’s Living Word made flesh among us.  The Bible is God’s written Word.  The Catholic Church is God’s authoritative Body of Christ that preaches and teaches God’s Word.

It is important to prayerfully consider the following questions:  If the Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church to be right about the New Testament, what else is the Catholic Church right about?  What is your authority?

Christian Unity: When Will We Learn?

My fellow Christians, why are we divided?  Do we not all believe that Jesus is the Messiah?  Do we not all have access to the same Bibles?  Do we not all know the Apostles’ Creed?  Do we not all read the words of Jesus and the Apostles?  Why are these things not enough to keep us united in spiritual battle?  What do we lack?  Why are we not “perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” as Paul admonished us to be?

We lack that which transforms a great horde into a well-oiled, disciplined, effective army:  allegiance to a central chain of command.  We also lack the holiness that comes from being disciplined and united.  How can we preach holiness while maintaining division?  The two are not compatible.  A divided army simply does not fight well.  Holiness is what we use to wage spiritual warfare.  Division is not holy.  Our lips profess allegiance to Christ, but our actions show division, contention and strife.

When will we learn that Jesus established a visible Church hierarchy, a chain of command for all Christians to follow and be accountable to?  We cannot be united while preaching and teaching different doctrines.  We cannot be united while following leaders that oppose each other.  When will we learn that unity requires humility and the swallowing of pride?  Soldiers must learn to follow orders that they may not agree with or fully understand.  When will we learn that we cannot worship wherever and however we want?  Worship cannot be invented by us.  Christian worship has been instituted by Jesus Christ in the Eucharist.  We cannot effectively function as different parts of the same Body if we are not fully united to that Body.  When will we learn that being Christian is not about choosing one’s preferences from a smorgasbord of doctrinal options, but about being obedient to the Faith?  One Lord, one Faith, one baptism.

When will we learn that genuine Christian unity will elude us until we reverse the perpetual, explosive trend of protest and division and return to the central command of Peter’s chair?

Rom 16:17, 1Cor 1:10, 1Cor 3:3, 1Cor 11:18, Matt 16:18

So, What’s Your Opinion?

Jesus called his Disciples to follow Him and they dropped everything and followed Him.  Then He spent three years teaching them.  I don’t recall Jesus ever asking His Disciples for their opinions.

I don’t see any indication that Jesus’ time with the Disciples was like many modern day Bible studies where people sit around sharing their own impressions of what this verse or that verse means to them.  I can’t imagine Jesus asking the Disciples for opinions on how to interpret Scripture.  If He did ask them, I certainly can’t imagine that Jesus would be satisfied with two or more opposing interpretations.  It is hard to imagine Jesus responding, “Well, that’s fine if you guys can’t agree on what it means, as long as it’s not essential to your salvation.”  It seems that Jesus taught them and they listened.  They may not have understood everything completely, but they had to accept what Jesus taught them.  Nothing was subject to personal opinion.  Even when Peter had the correct answer to a question (“You are the Christ”), Jesus didn’t say, “I like your opinion about me, Peter!”  Jesus didn’t give Peter any credit.  Jesus made it clear that God provided that correct answer, not Peter.

We need to have Jesus teach us while we listen.  That’s why Jesus gave us the Church.  He didn’t give us lots of different churches with opposing views and opinions.  Jesus gave us the Church with a successive hierarchy led by the Holy Spirit.  Jesus spent three years teaching His Disciples what He wanted them to know.  After Jesus ascended to Heaven, He sent the Holy Spirit to make sure that they (the leaders of Church) would be able to “connect the dots” and continue the process of teaching until the end of the age.  To listen to the Church is to listen to Jesus.  God still provides the correct answers.

There is nothing in the Bible that says, “And Jesus told them to go and write a book to guide people’s opinions after the Apostles die off.”  The Bible itself does not claim to be our ultimate guide and authority.  Obviously, having access to the Bible has not resulted in Christian unity or concensus.  There are too many opposing opinions in play.  I can’t recall Jesus ever being interested in everyone having a right to their own opinions.  He seemed very interested in obedience, though.

There’s an old hymn I recall from my Protestant days.  “Trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”  The key is deciding who, and/or what, to obey.  There are so many opinions.  There are so many churches teaching so many different things about Jesus and Scripture.  Jesus knew this would happen.  It’s human nature to muddy the water.  That’s why Jesus gave us His Church with a Spirit-led, successive hierarchy.  To obey His Church is to obey Jesus.  If we wait until we understand every teaching clearly, we will never step forward in faith.  Like the Disciples, we must accept things we do not fully understand.

Sound scary?  I have yet to know of someone whose life or soul was brought to ruin by faithfully following what is taught in the Catholic Catechism.  Challenged, perhaps, but not ruined.  It’s all about Jesus, after all.  And that’s more than simply my opinion.

Becoming One Flesh: Eucharist And Marriage

Dr. Scott Hahn recently posted an excellent Facebook response to a question about the Eucharist being closed to non-Catholics.  His answer reflected on his own spiritual journey from Evangelical Christian to Presbyterian minister to Catholic.  Each step in his journey brought him closer to understanding the sacramental aspect of both marriage and the Eucharist.  Each relationship is a “one flesh” union requiring fidelity and integrity.

As I reflected on Dr. Hahn’s answer, it occurred to me that perhaps a lack of understanding about the Eucharist and marriage contributes to the wide acceptance of contraception.  For example, if marriage is not viewed as a sacrament, it becomes only a symbol and loses integrity.  It can be manipulated according to the will of anyone desiring to make use of its symbolism.  If Holy Communion is only a symbol, it loses any need for fidelity.  Anyone can “join in.”  There is no need for full union between participants.  The Eucharist becomes merely a symbol of common feelings rather than a reality of a “one flesh” union.  Since everyone “feels good” about Jesus, they should all be allowed to partake of the Eucharist, right?

Ironically, few married people would be comfortable becoming one flesh with someone they were not fully united to in marriage.  That’s called infidelity and it is rightfully frowned upon by most married people.  We don’t let everyone “join in.”  So, why should we be ok letting people “join in” the one flesh union of the Eucharist if those people are not fully united with Christ’s Church?

And why should we let people partake of the Eucharist if they don’t even believe that what they are participating in is an actual, “one flesh” union?  That’s like being in a contraception marriage.  There are lots of “good feelings” that feel like bonding, but there is not a one flesh union taking place in the marriage.  It is a lack of integrity.  The marriage is only symbolic of the feelings they have about each other.  They do not take the marriage to its full realization of a one flesh, life giving union.

One of the best ways for the devil to mess up our relationship with Christ is to promote the following errors:

–          The Holy Communion is only symbolic.  The bread and wine are not transubstantiated into the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ.  We don’t need to become one flesh with Christ at Communion.  All we need is our good feelings about Jesus and the Bible.

–          Contraception is fine and even preferable.  Sex and marriage are mostly about bonding and “good feelings,” not primarily about becoming one flesh and creating new life.

–          Anyone that believes in Jesus should be allowed to participate in Holy Communion.  No fidelity to the Church or her Christ-given authority is necessary.

The two Sacraments of Eucharist and Marriage are intimately connected in such a way that an attack on one serves as an attack on the other.  A deeper understanding of one leads to a deeper understanding of the other.  “Becoming one flesh” is a critical theme that connects the two Sacraments in a unique way.

Catholics are not mean, snobbish “elitists” that refuse to let other Christians “join in.”  We simply hold to the understanding of Jesus and the Church Fathers who saw the need for covenantal integrity and marital fidelity within marriage and within the Church.

Whose Conscience Are We Following?

It seems to me that one very misunderstood idea within Christianity is the idea of conscience formation.  While people are generally willing to do what they feel is right, they are less apt to consider how they came to know right from wrong in the first place.  People usually don’t think about what formed their conscience.  None of us totally “think on our own.”  We all borrow and exchange ideas, opinions, beliefs, values, principles, etc.  We learn things from parents, schools, churches, media, politics, friends, etc.  These sources all influence or “form” the conscience.

When presented with questions of morality and justice, which sources do we turn to?  What if parents taught that something is immoral, but school taught that it is moral and normal?  What if it is politically correct to normalize and embrace a certain lifestyle or behavior but Church teaching says it is wrong?  Who or what gets to have the preeminent spot in the conscience?  Out of all the competing forces inside the human heart, which one has the final say?

I have heard it said that if I follow the teachings of the Catholic Church I am not thinking for myself.  I am blindly going along with oppressive, religious teachings that marginalize or hurt certain peoples and populations.  Those who would make such an accusation apparently feel that I would be better off following their teachings instead of the Catholic Church.  In other words, they want to do my thinking for me.  They want to be the force that forms my conscience and teaches me right from wrong.  Why should I submit my will to theirs?

There is also a popular notion that one should be able to pick and choose which Church teachings to follow and which ones to reject based on one’s conscience.  However, the purpose of the Church is not to form the conscience and then produce a smorgasbord of rules for us to choose from in order to give us practice using our conscience.  It’s not like the military where soldiers are trained and then put through simulated battles to practice their skills.  The conscience is trained within the Church in order to fight battles that oppose the Church (i.e. Christ).  Put simply, the Church teaches us how to be good so we can fight evil.

It doesn’t help much in the fight against evil to have a conscience formed by the world rather than by the Church.  If the conscience is formed by the worldly, secular, politically correct culture, then following it will simply perpetuate the worldly, secular, politically correct culture.  A conscience that has been formed in opposition to the Church has been deformed.  It struggles to operate as a force against evil because it does not function properly.  It is more likely to assist evil ends than good ends, even if it does so blindly.

When we encounter a teaching of the Church that is difficult, we have choices.  One choice is to assert our conscience over and above that teaching, thereby potentially letting in the other conscience-forming forces that oppose good.  The other choice is to obediently allow our conscience to be formed by the Church.  Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would teach the Church all things.  Following Church teachings is placing faith in the promise of Christ.  Faith requires a reasonable, obedient act of the will, not just feelings or hunches.  A properly formed conscience is not a “gut feeling.”  It is an obedient act of faith.

It also does not help the battle against evil to have multitudes of Christians believing and teaching different things.  While Christians vie against each other with, “The Bible says this,” or “The Bible says that,” evil exploits their distractions.  When all Christians are willing to follow the Church instead of their individual, misinformed consciences and private biblical interpretations, evil will cower.

Are We Really Trusting Jesus?

Have you ever asked a friend to recommend a reliable contractor?  The recommendation will hold a lot of weight if you really trust your friend and have a good relationship.  Your decision to use that contractor rests on your trust in your friend, not in any advertising from the contractor.  The trust you place in the contractor is a function of your relationship with your friend.

What about trusting Jesus?  If he is a friend of yours, it would make sense to trust Him.  This is actually the best reason to be Catholic.  Why say that we trust Jesus if we do not trust the Church that Jesus established?  Jesus gave certain men authority to speak for Him (“He who hears you hears me.”)  Those men transferred their authority to their successors.  For 2000 years the succession has continued within the Catholic Church.  There are a lot of non-Catholic churches, but they were all established at other times by people other than Jesus.  If we intentionally choose one of those churches over the Catholic Church, can we really claim to be trusting Jesus?

Many Christians say they are trusting Jesus and His Word, that is, The Bible.  But, how can they trust that the books within the Bible (especially the New Testament) are the correct books, unless they trust that the men who assembled the Bible were guided by the Holy Spirit?  Those men were Catholic.  The Holy Spirit guided the Catholic Church in assembling The Bible.  If we say that the Catholic Church can no longer be trusted to proclaim truth, how can we know when it became untrustworthy?  How can we know that they got the New Testament right?  How can we trust The Bible if we do not trust the authority given to the Catholic Church?

In essence, what many Christians are unwittingly saying is, “Jesus, I believe You were wrong when You said that even the gates of Hell would not prevail against Your Church.  Something did prevail against it and it failed.  Jesus, Your Church fell into paganism and apostasy, and it lost the authority You gave to it.  Yet, I believe the Bible given to us by that failed Church must be trusted.  Therefore, using the Bible, we started lots of new, conflicting churches to replace Yours.”  Is this really placing our trust in Jesus?

Granted, there are many Christians that were raised in non-Catholic churches, and they simply do not know any better.  They know Jesus as best they can through Scripture and the traditions of their churches, even though they are deprived of many graces of the Church.  In fact, many non-Catholic Christians are living much holier lives than many Catholics.  Woe to these Catholics that disregard the gifts they are freely given.  My greater concern is for Catholics that take for granted Christ’s Church or leave it completely.  “To whom much is given much will be required.”

Catholics must trust the teachings of Catholicism because they must first of all trust Jesus.  We have not substituted a relationship with Jesus with religion.  The religion we practice is due to the trusting relationship we have with Jesus.  The Catholic Faith was given by Christ and handed down for 2000 years.  Catholics believe that Jesus is able to preserve not only the Scriptures, but also the integrity of Church teachings (despite sinful people within the Church).  After all, the Catholic Church taught us what books to include within the contents of the Bible, God’s Word.

Catholics that genuinely practice their faith do so because they trust Jesus and take him at his word.  That is what Catholicism is all about.  Every authentic Catholic teaching points to and flows from a relationship with Christ.

 

Is Catholicism A Cult?

“The word cult has three definitions. First of all, it can simply be a group that loves something. When people refer to an “Elvis cult” or “The O.C. cult,” they mean really devoted fans.

The second definition is that of a religion whose beliefs differ from the majority around them. In the Roman Empire, Christians were sometimes considered a cult because they worshiped Jesus rather than the Roman gods.

The third, and most commonly used definition, refers to a religious group that is:

1) Exclusive. They may say, “We’re the only ones with the truth; everyone else is wrong; and if you leave our group your salvation is in danger.”

2) Secretive. Certain teachings are not available to outsiders or they’re presented only to certain members, sometimes after taking vows of confidentiality.

3) Authoritarian. A human leader expects total loyalty and unquestioned obedience.”

— From Christianity Today website

 

So, are Catholics members of a cult?

According to definition number one we are.  We are “really devoted fans” of Jesus Christ and the Church He founded.

According to the second definition, we might be, depending on the time and the place.  The Catholic Church is the Church Jesus established.  Hence, the early Christians considered by the Roman Empire to be a cult were Catholics.  America was discovered by a Catholic, but the U.S. was colonized predominantly by Protestants.  In the 1800s, when large groups of Catholics came to the U.S., they were not welcomed.  They were not wanted.  They were considered “papists,” or “Romanists,” something other than Christian, even though “Christianity” and “Catholicism” had been synonymous for 1500 years before Protestantism even appeared.  To the early American Protestants (and some modern day Protestants), Catholics were considered cult members.  Ironically, Protestants could also be considered cult members according to their respective founders such as the cult of Martin Luther, John Wesley, John Calvin, King Henry VIII, etc.

The third definition does not describe Catholicism.  We are “exclusive” in the sense that we believe Jesus meant it when He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except by me.”  We also believe Jesus established one Church, gave His authority to that Church, and, as King, made Peter His first Prime Minister.  Catholics believe that all Christians are part of the Church, although many, either willingly, or, through no fault of their own, have been cut off from many of the graces available through the Church.  They have been deprived of these graces due to the Protestant movement and/or heretical teachings.  Those who obstinately resist those graces do indeed place their salvation in jeopardy.  But this is as much as saying that those who obstinately reject Christ place their salvation in jeopardy.  The Church and Jesus Christ go together.  They cannot be compartmentalized.  This is why, when Jesus confronted Saul (Paul) of Tarsus on the road to Damascus He asked him, “Why do you persecute me,” not “Why do you persecute my Church?”

The beliefs of Catholicism are not secretive or confidential.  Anyone can read the Catholic Catechism either in book form or on the internet.  There are no “confidentiality” requirements to becoming Catholic.  In fact, we are supposed to tell people about the Faith so they know where to find the Church that Jesus established.

The Catholic Church is not “authoritarian” it is “authoritative.”  The authority she possesses was not claimed by her or taken by her but given directly to her by Christ.  Jesus said, “All authority in Heaven and on earth has been given to me.”  He told his apostles, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.”  He also gave Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven (like an Old Testament king appointing his Prime Minister).

The Catholic Church expects obedience because Jesus Christ expects obedience.  Christ is the Head and the Church is His body.  Where the head goes the body goes as one unit, not as many parts in various directions.  The obedience is not “unquestioned obedience.”  Catholics must have doubts and questions in order to learn.  “Seek and you shall find” includes asking questions and growing in understanding of the Faith.  The obedience of the Catholic is what Paul described as “the obedience of the Faith.”  It is obedience out of love.  Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  Catholics are not dumb animals without brains.  As Pope John Paul II said, “Faith and reason are the two wings on which the soul takes flight.”  Catholics are supposed to think with their brains and love with their hearts, not just have a “blind obedience.”

People who accuse Catholics of being in a “cult” usually use the term in a pejorative way to attack the Church with misconceptions.  These people do not want Christ’s Church to have authority.  They want to cling to their own authority.  They suppose that, since Catholics have a pope, we must be following a man instead of Christ.  In reality, we are all following Christ in a grand, 2000 year old parade.  The pope is simply the man Christ placed first in line behind Him.  Consider Paul’s words in Philippians 3:17 to “be followers of me.”  As an apostle, Paul was a leader the Christians were supposed to follow.  By doing so, they were following Christ.  Catholics do the same thing when we follow the bishops, the successors of the apostles.  The pope is simply the head bishop.

If Catholics are members of a cult, it is simply the cult of Jesus Christ.  There is nothing wrong with being a follower of Jesus.  I’m not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’m a really devoted fan of His!