Tag Archives: Bible Interpretation

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.

The Bible? Yep, There’s An App For That. But…

We have reached a point in history where the Bible is available to practically everyone.  We can even carry it around on our smart phones if we want to.  We have access to all sorts of information about the Bible with a few clicks of a mouse or the slide of a finger.  Things have changed drastically since the days when there were only a few Bibles copied by hand.  And yet, some things have not changed at all.  The meaning of Scripture has not changed.  The truth contained in Scripture has not changed.  The ability to properly discern the meaning of the text still resides with the Holy Spirit, not human technology.  Our technology cannot match God.

Consider the account of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:31.  The Apostle Phillip saw him reading from the prophet Esaias.  So, Phillip, guided by the Spirit, approached the man and asked him if he understood what he was reading.  The man replied, “How can I unless some man guides me?”  So, Phillip explained (preached) to the man how the Scriptures pointed to Jesus Christ.  The eunuch then asked to be baptized.  He became a Christian, not because he read and understood the copy of the Scriptures he possessed, but because a Spirit-led, authoritative interpreter of that Scripture preached to him.  That Ethiopian eunuch might as well have been sitting there Googling the Scripture on his iPhone.  He still would have needed the apostolic authority guided by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible contains, among other things, Paul’s letters to various churches regarding many different topics such as salvation, end times, proper behavior of Christians, the Lord’s Supper, etc.  Peter (the first pope and head of the apostles) also wrote some letters.  In 2Peter 3:16, Peter mentions the letters of Paul.  Peter writes that Paul’s letters contain information that is “hard to understand.”  Not only are the letters hard to understand, but there are a lot of people twisting the truth of those letters “to their own destruction.”  In other words, interpreting the Bible is difficult and dangerous.  Peter then warns the Christians not to be led astray by people that are improperly interpreting Paul’s letters.

Having a laptop with fancy Bible software or a smart phone has not made it safer to interpret Scripture.  In fact, it has probably increased the danger.  We now live in a world of relativism, the antithesis of truth.  People generally no longer believe in absolute truth.  “You have your truth and I have my truth.”  “You have your Bible interpretation and I have my Bible interpretation.”  “You follow your Jesus and I’ll follow my Jesus.”  This is partly the result of many Bibles with little or no guidance from apostolic authority.  Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Pontius Pilot says, “What is truth?” and then washes his hands of it and crucifies Truth.  Such is our world of mass information and relativistic mindset.

Can’t people become Christian in any church?  Isn’t it even possible for people to pick up a Bible, read it, learn about Jesus and become Christian?  Of course.  But becoming Christian is only the beginning.  Disciples must learn how to remain Christians, grow as Christians and conduct themselves as Christians.  Just as we do not leave newborn babies to fend for themselves, The Master did not set us adrift on the winds of conflicting doctrines.  Jesus did not leave us alone with only our Bibles.  He left us a Church for guidance.  When we ignore or abandon the apostolic guidance of that Church, we place ourselves in peril.  When we act as if we know better than the Church that Jesus established and gave His own authority to, we place ourselves in peril.  When we have devotion to the Bible but not to Christ’s Church, we place ourselves in peril.  It is not the Bible that divides Christians; it is the issue of authority.

The question of authority extends even beyond the interpretation of Scripture.  The Bible does not explicitly address certain issues facing modern Christians.  While technology has given us smart phones, it has also enhanced our ability to “play God,” particularly in the beginning and ending stages of life.  Science promises great power and ingenuity, but it does not promise morality or spiritual truth.  If Christians are divided over moral issues that are addressed in the Bible, how much more will they be divided on issues where the Bible is silent?  There has to be an authority to interpret Scripture and to address contemporary moral issues.

Keep your Bible on your phone, your Kindle, your laptop, your desktop or in a drawer by your bed if you wish.  It matters not.  What matters is the authority by which we discern the Bible.  There are now literally thousands of conflicting interpretations and various lifestyles all claiming to be led by the Holy Spirit and all using the name “Christian.”  It’s confusing.  God is not the author of confusion (1Cor 14:33).  We still need the apostolic, Spirit-led authority that unlocked the Scriptures for the Ethiopian eunuch.  We don’t need more technology or Bibles, and we don’t need just any church or just any preacher; we need the Church preaching apostolic truth.

Why Don’t Catholics Carry Bibles To Church?

If you watched the History Channel’s The Bible series, you might not have noticed that there was something missing in the last episode.  The Apostles were spreading the Gospel far and wide even as they encountered much persecution and opposition.  The number of Christians was growing substantially.  Paul of Tarsus was shown disrupting Christians as they participated in The Lord’s Supper (Mass), and inciting the crowds to murder Saint Steven.  After his conversion, Paul was shown visiting various parts of the world and preaching to them.  What was not shown were Christians carrying Bibles around.  That’s because the Bible did not yet exist (only Old Testament scrolls existed).  Nevertheless, the Gospel was being preached and people were being converted.

It is ironic that, when people start new churches and make attempts to recreate the environment of the first Christians, they bring their Bibles with them.  The first Christians had no Bibles and most could not even read.  “Faith came by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God” (Romans 10:17).  The Word of God was preached by the Apostles and the men they appointed.  One did not need a Bible.  All that was needed were ears to hear.

Eventually, some things were written down and letters were sent to various Christians.  Over time the Church gathered up quite a bit of written material.  But even then, people did not generally know how to read.  And the written materials were not handed out for everyone to bring to the service with them.  People still had to be read to and come to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The Church carried on in this manner for about 400 years until it was decided that the inspired writings needed to be compiled into one collection of books.  The Bible is a collection of writings, a library (from Koine Greek τὰ βιβλία, tà biblía, “the books”).  The Catholic Church had to decide which writings were inspired by God, and which ones were not.  They did this through the authority given by Christ 400 years earlier and under the direction of the Holy Spirit.  Hence, we were given the Bible.

However, Christians still were not carrying Bibles to services with them.  They still could not read.  There were only a limited number of copies of the Bible.  The Bible was copied by hand over centuries.  Were it not for Catholic monks bending over tables in monasteries and protecting the copies we might not have Bibles today.  A congregation was blessed to have even one copy of the Bible.  It was so valuable it had to be protected from theft and damage.  Still, the people came to faith by hearing, not by reading.

The invention of the printing press made it possible for more folks to have Bibles.  Even then, it took years before Bibles were household possessions.  It was a mixed blessing.  More people had Bibles, but there was more confusion about what was in the Bible.  Suddenly, everyone that could read became a Bible interpreter.  Rather than being good for the Church, this phenomenon fragmented the Church.  People began to think they knew better than the Church that had written, compiled and preserved the writings for hundreds of years.  Today we have a Bible in every hand, but we also have 30,000+ ways of interpreting the Bible.  The Church is weakened in her mission to the world by such division.  People took the Bible away from the Church and started thousands of other “churches.”  This is not the Christian unity that Jesus and His Apostles had in mind.  People hijacked the Bible from the Church and coopted the name “Christian.”

Today Catholics are still listening to the Word of God being read to them (although they can certainly read along from their Bibles or the Catholic Missal if they want to).  If a Catholic goes to daily Mass, he/she will hear nearly the entire Bible over a three year period.  Literate Catholics are also encouraged, even exhorted, to read and learn the Bible outside of the Mass.  We are offered Bible studies and have access to all sorts of educational materials about the Bible.  We can even interpret the Bible as we read it, as long as we don’t come up with ideas that contradict the apostolic teaching of the Church.

The Catholic Mass is divided into sections.  One section is the Liturgy of The Word.  This is where we hold up the Bible (literally hold it up to honor and reverence it), read from it, and preach about it.  However, The Liturgy of the Eucharist is the high point of the Mass.  This is where we do what Jesus told us to do in remembrance of Him.  Even throughout the entire Mass there are words from Scripture integrated into the service.  For most Bible-Christian churches, the high point of the service is typically singing, the reading of the Bible and preaching.  Catholics also do these things, but we have preserved Christ’s emphasis on the Eucharist, His life-giving flesh and blood.

Most Bible churches have communion, but it tends to be a lesser emphasis and is only symbolic in nature.  Some churches only have communion once a quarter.  Mostly they focus on the Bible and preaching.  The Apostles would not recognize such services.  They would be looking for the Eucharist, not the Bible.  Churches that emphasize the “Bible alone” are a relatively new phenomenon, but most people are not aware of the history.  They just assume that Christianity has always been based on the Bible.  But, the reverse is true.  It is more accurate to say that the Bible is based on the Church.  The Church did not always have the Bible.  The Church came first.

So, Catholics don’t usually carry Bibles to church with them, even though the Bible is actually a Catholic book.  It’s not that we don’t believe or teach from the Bible.  For 2000 years our Faith has come by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God whether written down or not.  Catholicism is original, authentic Christianity in its fullness.  We love the Bible.  We teach and preach from the Bible.  We read and listen to the Bible.  It is a Catholic book.  It is part of us.  We carry it in our hearts wherever we go.

The Red Flags Of Religion And Tradition

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.

The Bible Is Not A Pastor

The election of Pope Francis has triggered some discussion with my non-Catholic friends.  Such conversations often reveal misconceptions about Christianity, Catholicism and the Papacy in particular.  I’ll try to make a few things more clear in “layman’s terms.”

There is a slogan that is used by many non-Catholic Christians, especially those from Fundamentalist backgrounds.  The slogan is, “No hope in the Pope!”  The meaning being that Christians should place their eternal hope in Jesus Christ, not in an imperfect man.  As a devout Roman Catholic, I agree with their premise.

The misconception is that Catholics follow the Pope instead of Christ, or that the Pope trumps the Word of God in some way.  Many non-Catholics believe that the Pope can make up whatever rules he wants, even if they contradict biblical principles.  They often think that “infallible” means “impeccable.”  Infallible is not the same as impeccable.  In other words, Catholics do not believe that the Pope is totally free from error or that he is free from mistakes.  Even Peter, the first Pope, made mistakes.  He also made some infallible statements and decisions when God gave them to him.  For example, when Jesus asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” it was Peter who gave the infallible answer, “You are the Christ.”

Most of my non-Catholic, Christian friends go to church somewhere.  Those churches have pastors.  The people in those churches generally trust God to speak to them through the preaching/teaching of their pastors.  If they have questions about the Bible and its meaning, they typically ask their pastors for an interpretation.  Or, they read the Bible and make their own interpretations, or they ask a friend for an opinion.  If the preaching or teaching of the pastor is deemed incorrect, there are other pastors in other churches to choose from.  The trick is to determine whether or not the preaching and teaching of the pastor is properly aligned with the “final authority” of the Bible.  There are many pastors teaching many opposing things about the Bible while all claiming to be “led by the Holy Spirit.”  So, how can they know who is right?  Checking the Bible does not solve differences of opinion about the Bible.

The Bible is not a pastor.  The Bible cannot lead the people in the way that a shepherd leads a flock.  Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”  Jesus gave Peter (and his fellow apostles) a specific office of authority that included “binding and loosing” of things here on earth and in Heaven.  He also gave Peter the “keys to the Kingdom of Heaven.”  By giving Peter this unique office, Jesus mirrored the Old Testament tradition of a king appointing his prime minister.  Peter’s office also needed to be filled upon his death, just as the empty office of Judas had been filled.  This is why we have a 2000 year succession of Popes and apostolic authority in the Church.

The Catholic bishops are the successors of the apostles.  There are more than twelve of them now because the Church is so large and global.  Yet, there still is only one head of the apostles.  There needs to be a “go to guy,” a pastor that all the Church is accountable to.  The Bible alone cannot fill this role.  There are too many varying opinions about how to discern and interpret the Bible.  Incidentally, no one even knew what books and letters to officially include in the Bible before the Catholic Church made that decision nearly 400 years after Christ.  The Bible is actually part of the Sacred Tradition handed down to us from the leadership of the Catholic Church.  Part of the Pope’s role (along with his fellow bishops) is to protect this Sacred Tradition (aka “The Deposit of Faith”) which includes the Bible.

Jesus, of course, is The Good Shepherd.  He is the Head of the Church.  Catholics worship Jesus and strive to follow Jesus.  Part of following Jesus includes following the earthly pastor appointed by The Holy Spirit.  Jesus promised that The Holy Spirit would guide His Church.  The Pope is simply an instrument of The Holy Spirit.  I have a pastor in my local Church, but he also is answerable to the highest, earthly pastor.  In this way, we heed the words of the apostle Paul “that there be no divisions among you.”  (1Cor 1:10)  When disagreements arise, as is often the case with human beings, the Church authority is there for direction and discipline (Matt 18:17).  Without that 2000 year old Church authority, Christians have no rudder to steer them on the drifting waves of conflicting opinions and divided denominations.

Infallibility means that God protects the office of the Pope from teaching error in faith and morals.  It does not mean that everything the Pope says is infallible.  Nor does it mean that the Pope is sinless or free from mistakes.  Infallibility is given to the Christ-established office of the Pope.  The man himself, like Peter, is just a man.  The Pope cannot contradict Sacred Tradition, including Scripture.  The Pope cannot add to or subtract from Scripture.  Catholics believe that God is powerful enough to protect the office of the Pope, just as God is powerful enough to protect the inerrant, inspired Bible that the Catholic Church compiled.  He gives us His Word and a pastor to guide us all.  Jesus is The King, and the Pope is His earthly Prime Minister.  What an awesome God we serve!

“I Have A Personal Relationship With Christ. Before That I Was Catholic.” Umm, We Need To Talk

While browsing through the comments on a non-Catholic, Christian friend’s blog, I noticed the following comment:

“My husband and I accepted Jesus Christ as our personal Savior 6 years ago. Before that we were catholic. I am grateful that I have an infallible source, God’s Word.”

Her comment made me cringe for several reasons.  First, it sounded like something I would have said several years ago as an uninformed, fallen away Catholic.  Secondly, it demonstrates how misunderstood Catholicism is, even by its own members.  Thirdly, it shows how unprepared Catholics are to defend their own Faith and share it with others.  It also shows a common misunderstanding of authority.  Lastly, it suggests that Catholics do not have personal relationships with Jesus Christ and are therefore not Christians.

I know where this person is coming from, because I used to have some of the same misconceptions.  So, my goal is not to criticize or belittle this person in any way.  Finding a relationship with Christ is awesome, and I’m happy for her and her husband.  At the same time, I’m sad for her because she did not need to leave Catholicism to have a personal relationship with Christ.  In fact, there is no better way to draw close to Christ than through authentic Catholicism.  I stress authentic Catholicism because there are lots of caricatures and misconceptions about Catholicism floating around.

For the past fifty years or so, the Catholic Church has not done a great job of catechizing the faithful.  Hence, most Catholics are ill prepared to “give an answer for the hope” that lies within them (1Peter 3:15).  But, the failure to catechize does not make Catholicism untrue.  It just means that Catholics are not prepared to explain why it is true to those who have questions or who seek to lure them away from the Church.  They are “easy prey.”  Hopefully, this is improving with the explosion of Catholic apologetics and the New Evangelization being promoted.  The new Pope also will be an essential element in addressing many issues, as will the new crop of younger priests.

The woman in the comment has bought into the (relatively speaking) new Protestant idea of Sola Scriptura.  In other words, only the Bible is her infallible authority.  She apparently has rejected the biblical principle of Church authority that was established by Christ, taught by the apostles, written into Scripture and handed down as part of the deposit of faith.  She is glad to “have an infallible source, God’s Word.”  She had that same Bible in the Catholic Church, but she now has no infallible interpreter of that Bible.  She has knocked a leg off of what was a solid, three legged stool.  She has entered the world of thousands of conflicting interpretations of The Word.  She has no way of knowing who is right about the Bible.  She has discarded the system established by Christ.  She has replaced the Catholic Pope, Peter’s successor, with some other pope, even if that pope is herself, her husband or her minister.  She is likely making the all-too-common mistake of equating Papal infallibility with impeccability.  Even Peter was not impeccable.

Finally, Catholicism provides more than ample opportunity for people to have a personal relationship with Christ.  Catholics that don’t know this are simply not listening, not hearing or not understanding.  Everything about authentic Catholicism points back to Christ.  Frankly, I don’t know how Christ can get more personal than to give us His very flesh and blood and allow us to join with Him physically, even on a daily basis if we so choose.  Catholics pray the “sinner’s prayer” when they go to confession.  It’s called the Act of Contrition.  But only Catholics that actually practice their Faith as they are called to do would recognize this fact.  We hear Old Testament and New Testament Scriptures at every Mass, throughout the entire Mass.  We are given a chance to confirm our Faith in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  We openly renew our baptisms and our profession of faith.  From before conception to deathbed and beyond, Jesus is personally active in the life of a Catholic, and the Catholic has every opportunity to choose Christ.  Jesus is there the entire time, waiting for us to reciprocate and love Him back.

No one needs to leave Catholicism to have a personal relationship with Christ and be a Christian.  Catholics that leave Catholicism simply do not understand what they are leaving behind, or they would not go.  They are leaving behind the very vehicle by which Christ makes Himself personally available to us.  They are leaving behind the fullness of the Faith.  There really are no “former Catholics.”  There are simply fallen away Catholics that have lost sight of what was given to them and confirmed in them.  They have lost sight of home.

Not only are Catholics Christians, they are the original Christians.  No other church has a succession of authority that can be historically traced directly to the apostles and Christ.  Many Protestant denominations only began within the past century or even decades.  Catholicism is not simply one of many Christian denominations.  Calling Catholicism a denomination is a bit like calling the trunk of a tree a branch.  Even the Bible was assembled and validated by Catholic Church authority.  This is not a statement of pride, arrogance or one-upmanship.  It is simply a fact that Catholics themselves often fail to consider with sober reverence and gratitude.  No one is deserving of what Christ has given.  All of it is by grace.  But to whom much is given, much will be required.  When Catholics learn their Faith, and stop taking for granted what God has given them, fewer will find reasons to leave and more and more Christians will make the journey home.

Dad, Did We Always Have Cell Phones?

I was reflecting recently on all the technology that my children will grow up with and take for granted.  To them, a cell phone is just a part of the world that has always been.  When they are older, they may be introduced to some of the historical origins of such items, assuming they pay attention.  I thought about the technology I had as a kid and how my parents did without it.  I knew such things as records, radios and telephones did not always exist, but I really didn’t care much about where they came from.  I knew the story of Alexander Graham Bell, but that was about it.  When the older generation reminisced about how things used to be, it was fun to listen to, but it was an alien world to me.

The way kids take technology for granted is similar to how Christians take the Bible for granted.  The average Christian in the pew of any church can probably tell you that the Bible is important, or even that it is the inerrant, authoritative, infallible Word of God, because that is what they have been told.  The average Christian has little or no sense of where the Bible came from, nor do they care.  The Bible is, well, just the Bible.  God could have plopped it down from the sky one day for all they know.

What the average Christian does not consider is that, after the resurrection of Jesus, it was nearly 400 years before the Bible was assembled and given an official stamp of approval.  There were a lot of documents that Christians had access to, but it took 400 years for someone to decide which documents should be considered the inspired Word of God.  The Christians that follow the Bible today, regardless of denomination, apparently believe that whoever decided to put the writings of the New Testament together got it right.  That means that whoever assembled the New Testament must have been led by God to choose the writings that they chose.  That someone was the Catholic Church.  This was one of the reasons I returned to Catholicism.

It made no sense to me to follow the Bible while rejecting the Church that gave us the Bible.  I found it particularly ironic that I had once been a part of denominations that considered themselves to be strict, Bible-believing Christians but also regarded the Catholic Church to be “The Whore of Babylon.”  Really?  God used “The Whore of Babylon” and the “anti-Christ Pope” to assemble the New Testament?  When I realized how ignorant of history I had been I was astounded.  Yet, I was the prototypical Christian of today.  Ask any Christian where the New Testament came from and few will be able to say that the Catholic Church assembled it and made it official.

It made no sense to me that God would establish the Catholic Church, guide that Church with the Holy Spirit to compile the New Testament, and then use that same Bible and Holy Spirit to constantly split his Church into literally thousands of competing and bickering little churches.  It also made no sense that those little churches so strongly believe the Bible while rejecting and/or ignoring the Church authority that gave it to them.  How is it that The Catholic Church got the Bible right but is all wrong about how it interprets that Bible?  Jesus promised to lead his Church into “all truth” not “partial truth.”  Jesus never promised to only lead the Church until the Bible was assembled and then put the Bible “up for grabs.”  Either the Holy Spirit guides the Catholic Church or he does not.  If you believe that the Bible is the infallible, inspired Word of God, then you also believe that the Catholic Church is infallibly guided by the Holy Spirit in matters of faith and morals.  You’ve just been taking it for granted, like your telephone and your television.

The Bible-Believing Church I Attend

If you ask most Christians how they know what to believe the usual response is, “The Bible, of course.  It’s the Word of God.”  Chances are, though, the Christian that gives that answer learned it from someone else.  At some point, someone taught that person that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God.  In other words, it is a tradition handed on from one person to the next.  Few people spontaneously pick up a Bible and teach themselves that it is the Word of God.  Generally, other people tell them so.

So, the “handing on” of the Bible is a Christian tradition.  Christian writings have been passed on from the very beginning.  As soon as the Apostles wrote letters and Gospels they were passed on to other believers.  Yet, if we look at all the Christian writings, we notice that not all of them made it into the New Testament.  There are many other letters and even some gospel accounts that are not considered divinely inspired.  Therefore, they were not included in the Bible to be handed on to others.

Who decided which writings were divinely inspired?  Who decided what Christian writings belonged in the New Testament?  The Catholic Church made those decisions almost 400 years into Christianity.  The men that were the successors of the Apostles decided which writings belonged in the Bible and which ones did not.  But why should anyone trust them to do it?  Jesus promised to send the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth.  If a Christian is going to trust Jesus, then a Christian must believe that the Holy Spirit guided those men in the Catholic Church in deciding which writings belonged in the Bible.  Not because the men were perfect, but because the Holy Spirit is perfect.

If I believe the Bible, I have no other choice than to believe that the Church that assembled the Bible was Spirit-led.  So, I believe the Bible is the inerrant Word of God because I can trust the Holy Spirit to guide the Church into all truth.  Now, if the Catholic Church got the New Testament writings put in the proper place, who am I to suggest that they are in error regarding other aspects of Christian truth?  I cannot logically say, “Oh, well, yeah, the Catholics got the New Testament writings correct, but they are wrong about this or that aspect of faith and morals.”  Either the Holy Spirit leads into all truth or he does not.  Jesus did not say, “I will send the Holy Spirit who will lead you only to assemble the Bible and then new churches will be started.”  Nor did Jesus say, “All of Christian truth will eventually be put into written form in the Bible.”  There is nothing anywhere to suggest that all Christian truth must be written down.  But, there is plenty to suggest that the Church is the “pillar and foundation of truth.” (1Tim 3:15 and Matt 18:17, for example)  The Bible points to the Church as the final authority, not to itself.  The Bible is “profitable” or “useful” (2Tim 3:16) but never claims to be entirely “sufficient” in leading the Church.  There must also be an interpreting authority.

Because the Catholic Church can trace an apostolic succession all the way back to Christ and his Apostles, I can therefore trust that the Bible is indeed the Word of God.  I know the Bible is right because the Catholic Church tells me so.  Nowhere does the Bible say, “The Table of Contents is accurate.  All these books belong here.”  The Church tells me that The Table of Contents is accurate because the Church assembled The Table of Contents.  It is the Sacred Tradition of the Catholic Church that is being handed on with each Bible.  Every time we say that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God, we are validating the Christ-given authority of the Catholic Church.

So, that is why I attend the Catholic Church.  It is the original, Bible-believing Church.  Since they got that truth right, they must have other aspects of faith and morals right, too.  Otherwise, we’re all reading from Bibles that were put together by a Church that is only Spirit-led part of the time, a Church that is led into some truth but not all truth.  Or, the gates of Hell prevailed against the Church after it assembled the Bible and thousands of new denominations with different “truths” had to be started.  That’s not what Jesus promised.  I want the whole package promised by Jesus.  That’s why I’m a Bible-believing Catholic.  The Bible is, after all, a Catholic book.

Captain Jack Sparrow’s Compass

When training to be a pilot, I was taught that there is more than one navigational “north.”  Magnetic north is oriented to the magnetic field of the earth.  True north is oriented to the pole on which the earth rotates.  Magnetic north and true north do not line up with each other.  The closer one navigates to the North Pole, the more “off” the magnetic compass will be.  In other words, if you want to get to the North Pole, don’t follow your compass unless you have taken into account the difference between magnetic north and true north.  One must also consider other forces that can influence the accuracy of a magnetic compass such as metallic structures of the aircraft and other electronic equipment.

The ability to distinguish right from wrong is often referred to as a moral compass.  A person with an accurate moral compass is better able to navigate through a world of complex moral decisions.  A moral compass might be likened to one’s conscience.  To follow one’s conscience, then, is to follow one’s moral compass.  Like a magnetic compass, a moral compass can lead in the wrong direction if not properly calibrated.  As there is only one true north based on an unmovable, fixed axis, there is only one true, fixed morality.  The accuracy of a moral compass can be influenced by many factors.  To “follow your conscience” may or may not lead to a truly moral decision.

Has your moral compass been calibrated?  To what fix was it calibrated?  Who calibrated it?  What is it really pointing to?  The moral compass of human nature tends to be like the compass of Captain Jack Sparrow.  It points to what is most desired.  Morality becomes rationalized and subject to desires rather than to truth.  Society is relativistic.  In a world where “all things are relative” a moral compass becomes obsolete since there is no moral “North Pole.”  There is no standard, unmovable, absolute truth in a relativistic society.  There is no point on the map, no North Star, no fixed morality upon which to get one’s bearings.  Anything goes.  Go wherever you want to go, do whatever you want to do, and please, don’t judge the behaviors of anyone else.  They are all just following their own compasses, after all.  Who are you to judge?  Don’t be a hater!

The only quasi-standard that seems to remain is the mantra, “As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.”  This view presumes to know the future consequences of every action.  Furthermore, there are some moral actions that do hurt people.  Whether or not “someone gets hurt” is a flimsy point on which to fix an entire system of morality.  It is really just another gimmick in the rationalization bag of tricks.  “Well, I guess it is fine for me to do this as long as no one gets hurt.”  This is the response many parents receive from a disobedient adolescent caught throwing a wild, destructive party.  “What’s the big deal?  No one got hurt!”

A properly calibrated moral compass can also be called a rightly formed conscience.  There are many influences competing for the formation of conscience such as Hollywood, the music industry, politics, religion, feminism, communism, socialism, hedonism, capitalism, conservatism, liberalism, conservationism, etc.  Where is the moral “North Pole?”

Many will respond, “The Bible is the standard of morality!”  Yet, people interpret the Bible in many different ways, usually to support their own desires, beliefs and agendas (hence, the problem of “Sola Scriptura” or “The Bible Alone” as a standard of authority).  Whose interpretation of the Bible is the standard?  Furthermore, how many people actually check their behavior against the standard of the Bible?  When faced with a moral issue, how many people even know where to look in a Bible for the answer?  Ultimately, people tend to lean on what their particular church or pastor teaches about the Bible rather than the Bible itself.  In other words, they are not using the Bible as the standard for morality, but a particular interpretation of the Bible as the moral standard.

Some say, “Just follow Jesus!  Do what Jesus would do!”  Again, as with Scripture interpretation, there are differing opinions on who Jesus is and what Jesus would do.

Some may say, “Love!  Love is the standard for morality!  All you need is love!”  But, what kind of love are they talking about?  Is morality based on brotherly love (philia), erotic love (eros) or godly, selfless love (agape)?  Seldom are those who cry, “Love!” willing to pay the sacrificial price required for a true expression of godly love when it comes to making moral decisions.  Often, doing that which is moral requires great personal sacrifice.  If one’s moral compass is calibrated so as to navigate around and avoid great, personal sacrifice, then it is not calibrated according to love.

There are teachings of Catholicism that I find difficult to accept.  Yet, my difficulty in accepting them does not make them untrue.  In fact, when placed against the wisdom of 2000 years of global experience, my own life experience pales by comparison.  Even the short, collective experience of the great nation I live in pales by comparison.  The Catholic Church and her teachings have outlived every empire.  As the world ebbs and flows and shifts on shaky sand, the Church remains rock solid in her official teachings on morality.

When choosing a fix by which to calibrate a moral compass, the Catholic Church has the right stuff.  The Church has the biblical interpretation and traditions handed down from the apostles.  Throughout history, the Church’s teachings on morality have reflected and demonstrated sacrificial, agape love (even if some of her members have not).  Jesus is in the Church spiritually and physically.  By following the Church I am following Jesus.  God is love.  Jesus is God.  The Church is the Body of Christ, authorized by Christ himself.  Who am I to set my moral compass to any other point of reference?  Who am I to relocate the North Pole?

Hey, Let’s Go To Church. Ok, Where Is It?

I’ve been pondering the word “church” today and considering the various ways it is used.  Here are a few examples:  a church building; a denomination; a personal adjective, as in “church lady;” the entire body of Christian believers; an assembly of believers; an event, as in the expression, “Let’s have church.”  The word “church” is used a bit like the word “love.”  So many meanings derived from one single word.  When Jesus said, “I will build my church” what did he mean?

People generally think Jesus meant that he would create a body of Christian believers.  That is true.  The Church is a body of believers.  This is where many folks stop, however.  Ask them to point to the Church that Jesus built and things begin to get murky.  They may respond that the Church built by Jesus can’t be pointed to because it is invisible.  Since only God can see the heart, only God knows who is saved and who is lost.  Therefore, it would be presumptuous to point to any person or any group and say, “There is the Church.”  Or, they may respond that all of the Christian denominations are the Church.  They simply disagree on non-essential issues.  They all believe in Jesus, so, they are all the Church that Christ founded.

I used to hold to an opinion that combined the two views.  I decided that no one knows who is lost or saved, and every church was a mixture of saved and lost people (the wheat and the tares).  There is some truth to that, but if someone were to ask me to point to the Church that Jesus Christ built I would essentially have to say, “Take your pick.”  Eventually, I ran into some problems with my perspective.

First of all, if the Church is completely invisible, how can anyone find it?  How can an invisible Church be a light for the world?  The “invisible Church” idea sounds more like a Church “hidden under a bushel.”  It is true that only God knows the heart, but it is also true that Jesus started a visible organization and placed men in specific offices within that organization.  The apostles were left in charge of the organization, and they passed their offices on to their successors (i.e. the bishops).  What Jesus started was an organized religion.

Furthermore, Jesus said he would always be with the Church and that the gates of Hell would not prevail against it.  The Church would remain an organized religion with Jesus at the head and the successors of the apostles in charge until the end of time.  Modern day Christendom with its thousands of denominations and conflicting doctrines does not fit the model of what Jesus said he would build.  Jesus prayed for his believers, “That they all would be one as you and I, Father, are one.” (John 17:21)  Can Jesus and the Father have conflicting doctrines?  No.  The Church was to be a visible, organized religion with a hierarchy of leadership and unity of doctrine.

Another problem I ran into was the take-it-to-the-Church concept.  Believers are told that if there is a conflict that can’t be worked out in private, “…take it to the Church.”  If the offending party won’t listen even to the Church, then they are to be treated as a heathen (Matt 18:17).  This simply cannot operate in the modern, multi-denomination world we have today.  One can find YouTube videos galore of different denominations debating various essential topics of Christian doctrine.  For instance, when a Church of Christ believer says that baptism is necessary for salvation, and a non-denominational believer disagrees, how can they resolve their dispute?  Which “church” do they take it to?  All they can do is debate each other endlessly.  They have no final authority to call the shots.  They are both appealing to the Bible as the final authority, yet the Bible is telling them to take their dispute to the Church, something they cannot do.  In other words, the Bible points to the Church as the final authority and the “pillar of truth.” (1Tim 3:15)  But, which church?

Jesus built a Church that is a visible body of believers, has offices with a hierarchy of apostolic successors and functions as the final authority in disputes between believers.  There’s really only one Church that fits that model consistently since the time of Christ.  That’s one of the main reasons I went back to Catholicism.  Submission to the Church built by Christ is submission to Christ.  The two are inseparable.  The final authority for faith and morals is no longer my personal opinion or even my pastor’s opinion.  The authority rests squarely where Christ placed it 2000 years ago, even before there was a Bible.  Like it or not, the authority rests within the Catholic Church.  This is not arrogance.  It doesn’t mean all the people in the Church are perfect.  Far from it.  If not for the Holy Spirit, the Church would have imploded centuries ago.  It’s still here because it’s Christ’s Church.  He started it and he holds it together even when we try to tear it apart.