Tag Archives: Church Authority

But, That Teaching Doesn’t Make Me Happy.

There is a common misconception that, if a teaching of the Church makes one uncomfortable, or somehow interferes with what one desires to do, it must be wrong. This is when many people turn on the Church and declare their right to “think for themselves.” How dare the Church “tell me what to do!” This is particularly true regarding sexual morality since the “sexual revolution.”

Partly, this behavior stems from a Western, individualistic mentality, but it also comes from the mistaken notion that being Christian is supposed to magically make one’s life “feel good.” Christianity certainly does bring joy. However, joy must not be confused with “happiness” or “always feeling good.” Joy is an abiding confidence that things will ultimately work out in this life or the next. “Happiness” depends on “happenings” and transient “feelings.” Happiness is a mood. Joy is a state of being.

Of course, there is much happiness to be found in living a genuine Christian life. But happiness is never guaranteed by Jesus. In fact, Jesus told his disciples that they would face persecution, even to the point of death. That does not sound very comfortable.

Jesus also said that unless we take up our cross and follow him, we cannot be his disciples. A cross is not a happy, comfortable thing. Just take a good, long look at a crucifix. That’s one reason we Catholics have crucifixes in our churches and in our homes. It reminds us of what Christ did for us, but it also reminds us of what Christ expects of us.

Can you be a Catholic Christian and also be happy? Of course! But, you also must be willing to accept your crosses. Doing so might not make you “feel happy.” The ultimate goal of Christianity is not to acquire happiness in this life. The goal of Christianity is getting to Heaven and bringing as many souls as possible along with you.

The teachings of the Church are there to serve the ultimate goal of Christianity. They are not designed just to make us feel good all the time. So, the next time you find yourself struggling with how difficult or “unfair” a certain Church teaching is, take a good, long look at a crucifix. Then, ask Jesus for the strength to pick up your cross and follow him. As wonderful as this life can often be, it can’t compare to where Jesus will ultimately take you. To follow his Church is to follow Jesus.

“What Would Jesus Do?” Try Asking, “What Did Jesus Do?”

“What would Jesus do?”

The answer to that question often depends on who you ask.  It’s a question that fits nicely into the relativistic mind of our age.  It allows each of us to thoughtfully rub our chins, look up at the sky and say, “Well, I believe Jesus would…”  So, the question is really just Jiminy Cricket’s “follow your conscience” line wearing a Christian mask.  It is relativism presented as religion.  Whatever answer you come up with is as good as anyone else’s answer as long as we are all “sincere.”

Often, the honest answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” is “I really don’t know.”  His disciples lived with him for three years and Jesus constantly kept them surprised and guessing.  Why are we so convinced that we have Jesus pegged?  For example, it astounds me when celebrities claim to know what Jesus would or would not approve of, as if being a famous celebrity makes one an authority on the mind of Christ.

When we ask, “What would Jesus do?” we can only think and act hypothetically.  We can only speculate and take our best guess.  Maybe we’re helping, maybe we’re doing harm.  What if we decide to do the exact opposite of what Jesus would actually do?  Our world faces daily situations for which there are no explicit instructions in the Bible.  Dealing in general, biblical principles does not always provide enough specifics.  Asking what Jesus would do often doesn’t help much.

Perhaps a more helpful question is, “What did Jesus do?”  There are documented answers to that question.  In terms of what our world faces today, an important answer is, “Jesus established an authoritative, teaching Church to guide us and to spiritually feed us.”  In the midst of all the confusion over what Jesus would do, we have a Church to inform us of what we as followers of Jesus in this present day are to do and what we are not to do.

I sometimes hear people defend immorality by stating that the Bible is silent or ambiguous about certain modern day issues.  Of course it is!  Jesus never told his disciples to write a book to instruct us on every possible, future, moral issue.  Jesus established a Church (only one Church) with the authority to provide us with those instructions on faith and morals.  Jesus did not establish multiple church denominations to speculate and argue about what He might or might not do.  Men established those churches (some very recently).

God is not the author of confusion.  Jesus did not leave us with a Bible, the Holy Spirit and hypothetical questions about what He would do.  He left us with His Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to lead us into all truth.  Does this mean we always have every answer to every question?  No.  Does it mean we put it to a vote when we are confused about what Jesus would do?  No (Christianity is not a democracy).  It means that by following His Church we are following Jesus.  We are to strive for obedience to the faith, not speculation.

It comes down to trust (i.e. faith).  Either we trust with all our heart that Jesus knew what He was doing when He established the Church (trust what He did), or we try to constantly change the Church to conform to our speculations about what Jesus would do (lean on our own understanding and feelings).

Truth Or Consequences

In this age of relativistic thinking it can be difficult to come to any conclusions.  Truth, if it exists at all, is regarded as being “out there” in some inaccessible, grayish, void beyond our reach.  So, when the Church declares truth, many people are understandably cynical or skeptical.  To them, it is not actually truth being declared by the Church, but the Church’s particular version of truth.  It’s not “really” truth, but just another opinion among many.  “Just because the Church says so doesn’t make it true.”  Anyone claiming to know truth must be arrogant, delusional, brainwashed or otherwise misled.

If I noticed that a bridge had been washed away by a flash flood, I would want to warn approaching motorists of the danger.  Circumstances would have revealed a truth to me that had not yet been revealed to the approaching motorists.  The bridge is out, not “because I say so,” but “I say so” because the bridge is truly out.  If I decide to hide the truth or declare the truth, it still remains true.  The bridge will still be out.  Drivers may decide to ignore my frantic arm-waving and go over the edge, or they may stop and heed the truth.  Whatever decisions I or the drivers make, the truth remains true.

The truth taught by the Church is not true “because the Church says so.”  The Church teaches what is true because the truth has been revealed to the Church, and the Church’s job is to “wave her arms.”  This doesn’t mean that the Church has a monopoly on all truth, or that the Church is “better” than the rest of humanity.  All truth belongs to God, whether one finds it through the Church or not.  It simply means that the purpose of the Church is to reveal the truth that God reveals to the Church.

Again, one can be cynical and skeptical and believe that the Church is like the Wizard of Oz behind a big curtain putting on a show to control people.  But that doesn’t line up with the historical origins of the Church and her institution by Jesus Christ.  The Church didn’t suddenly fall from the sky in a balloon and invent ways to grab and retain power over the populace.  The Church was established by Jesus, given His authority and sent on a specific mission by Him.

God could have decided to teach everyone truth in an instant, all at the same time.  He could have simply zapped us all into full knowledge of everything that He wanted us to know (a bit like the angels).  God could have decided to reveal truth any number of ways.  As it turned out, God decided to reveal truth to us through Jesus and His Church.  (Keep in mind that “the Church” also includes the Bible which flowed from the Church and is part of the Church’s Deposit of Faith).

Now I’ll share some of my own skepticism.  No matter how God chooses to reveal truth, there will be plenty of folks ready to reject it.  No amount of miracles or displays of power will convince everyone.  Lucifer, the angel, rejected God and took one third of the angels with him.  Judas watched Jesus perform all kinds of miraculous signs and wonders, and the most religious people had Jesus killed.  Being present with God Himself isn’t enough to persuade everyone to accept truth.  The Church can’t convince everyone of the truth, either.  And yet, what the Church teaches is true.

Where Did The Authority Go?

There are two ideas that I encounter over and over again in my conversations with non-Catholic Christians.  The first idea is that, for whatever reason, the Catholic Church does not possess apostolic authority.  The second is that Christians should only believe what can be explicitly found in scripture, because the Bible is the final authority.  I would like to reflect on these two ideas that I myself once held.

If apostolic authority died with the last Apostle, then no one has apostolic authority.  No Catholic, no Protestant, no Evangelical or Fundamentalist has apostolic authority.  Hence, no one since the Apostles has had the authority to tell anyone what to believe or what not to believe about the Bible, including its contents.

The early Christians had to believe what the Apostles told them.  But, the Apostles died.  So, what happened to their authority?  How could they continue to “tell” Christians what to believe?  How would the Holy Spirit guide and unify the Church without the Apostles?  Here are a few options:  1) Apostolic authority was transferred to the successors of the Apostles.  2) Apostolic authority was transferred to the Bible.  3) A combination of the two.

If authority was transferred only to the Apostles’ successors, then there would be little point in writing things down (like the Gospels, for example).  So there must be at least some apostolic authority contained within the writings of the Apostles.  After all, if the Apostle has authority, his writings will, too.

If authority was transferred only to the writings of the Apostles, then it would make sense to include that information in the writings.  For example, the apostles should have written down something that says, “When we are all dead, our authority will reside only in these written documents” or, “Only believe what is explicitly written in this future collection of writings and nothing else,” or “The Bible is now your final authority.”  The problem is that the Bible makes no claim that it is the final authority for the Christian upon the death of the last apostle or at any other point in time.  Although the Bible claims to be “profitable” it does not claim to have “the final say” or to be entirely “sufficient.”  Plus, the Church went 400 years without an officially assembled Bible.

Non-Catholic Christians (with few exceptions) have largely rejected the idea that the authority of the Apostles was transferred to successors.  Therefore, unlike the early Christians, there are no men that these Christians are ultimately accountable to.  They are essentially free to discern the Bible on their own and believe what they wish.  If they disagree with one church, they can find a different one.  While many of them claim submission to their respective church leadership, there is really no reason for them to do so in matters of faith and morals.  Why submit to leadership when each Christian can decide what to believe?  “Leadership” therefore becomes limited to the logistical and administrative needs of each church.  In this scenario, apostolic authority on faith and morals (limited now to only the Bible) takes a back seat to the beliefs of individual Christians.  Christians now tend to submit to leadership that aligns with what they believe.  This is the opposite of the early Church where individual Christians were expected to line up with the unified teaching of the Apostles.

Catholics, believing that the Apostles transferred their Christ-given authority to successors, are expected to behave as the early Christians did.  They are expected to fall in line with God’s written Word as well as the teachings delivered by men with apostolic authority.  In this scenario, apostolic authority is still in the driver’s seat.  Individual Christians are expected to remain in the back seat and submit to the teachings of Church leadership, just like when the apostles were alive.  In other words, the apostles “live on” in their successors who are able to clarify their writings and apply them to the present day life of the Church.  This has continued for 2000 years.

The authentic Catholic Christian, like the early Christian does not search for a church that aligns with his or her individual conclusions about the Bible.  Rather, like the early Christians, the authentic Catholic is obedient to Christ through obedience to Christ’s Church (which includes the Bible).  The Bible is not the “container” which holds all things Christian.  The Church is the “container” which holds all things Christian, and the Bible is inside that container (aka the Deposit of Faith).  The Bible points the Christian back to the Church as the “pillar and ground of the truth.” (1Tim 3:15)  The Bible never places itself over and above the Church’s authority, or demands that the Christian reject the Church and submit only to the authority of Bible.  The Bible and the Church together are a coordinated, apostolic authority.  It is not either/or, it is both/and.

The Catholic Church must possess apostolic authority in order to have assembled and affirmed the contents of the Bible 400 years after the Apostles died.  The Catholic Church declared which writings were inspired and which were not.  It makes no sense to reject the apostolic authority of the Catholic Church and then claim that the Bible contains apostolic authority for the Christian.  It is inconsistent to say, “I only believe what is in the Bible, but I don’t believe that the Church that assembled that Bible has apostolic authority.”  That is akin to saying, “I believe the Gospel of John, but I don’t believe John had apostolic authority.”

Assembling the Bible was as important as writing the Bible.  Without the Church’s apostolic authority, we could all pick and choose whether or not we think the book of James or the Gospel of Thomas belongs in the New Testament.  Why not rely only on the words spoken by Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel?  Why not accept Peter’s writings but reject Paul’s?  When you dump the Catholic Church’s apostolic authority, everything else is up for grabs, including the Table of Contents of your Bible.

Apostolic authority was promised by Christ to the Church.  It is not transient, it is permanent.  It is not something that can be “lost” and then “picked up” by another church, for Jesus established only one Church and promised to remain with that Church.  Bad people in the Church cannot cause apostolic authority to “go away.”  It is the authority of Christ, given by Christ.  Jesus never said that the authority given to the Apostles would someday go away or be confined to a book.  The Apostles never taught that, either.  They appointed new men to fill vacant offices (Acts 1:20-26).

If the Catholic Church does not have apostolic authority, then no one has apostolic authority.  That authority died with the Apostles, and the Bible doesn’t have it, either.  It’s just a collection of old writings that may or may not have been inspired by God, put together by a false religion that calls itself Christian.  If that’s the case, it really doesn’t make sense to believe what is in the Bible.  On the other hand, if the Catholic Church does have apostolic authority, then it is reasonable to believe the things that are explicitly stated in the Bible as well as all of the other official teachings of the Catholic Church.  It’s all apostolic teaching.

Ultimately, for the Catholic, it comes down to trusting Christ to hold it all together in spite of our imperfections.  “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” (2Cor 4:7)  Jesus, I trust in thee.

Jesus: Liar, Lunatic Or Lord.

The prevailing philosophy of our times seems to be that no one can really know truth.  Truth is relative.  Therefore, if one claims to know truth, one is often regarded as arrogant or narrow minded.  Yet, there are some truths that are knowable, and everyone agrees with them.  For example, it is not arrogant or narrow minded to know that the opposite of “false” is “true.”

I cannot personally claim to know everything that is true.  I don’t know all truth.  Some things must remain a mystery, at least for now.  I do, however, know a man who claimed to know all truth.  He actually claimed to be truth.  His name is Jesus Christ.  He is an historical figure who really lived and said lots of wild things.  For example, he claimed to be God.

Jesus Christ also gathered lots of followers who believed what he taught, saw what he did, and sacrificed their lives to teach others about him.  I can’t think of anyone more famous than Jesus Christ.

Some people regard Jesus as just a good teacher.  They don’t believe he was really God or that he performed miracles.  They just think he had some good things to say about love and morality.  To them, he is simply one person on a long list of influential, religious teachers.  Few people believe that Jesus was a “bad” person, although some believe he deceived people with phony “miracles.”

We come to a crossroads here.  Jesus claimed to be God, the Creator of the universe.  Why would a man make such a claim?  Was he insane or delusional?  Was he a liar and a charlatan?  Was he telling the truth?  If he really isn’t God, then he lied.  Or, if he truly believed he was God but wasn’t, he was delusional.  Those are the three choices.  As many before me have noted, he was a liar, he was insane or he was God.

If he was a liar or a delusional person then there is no reason to call him a good, moral teacher.  When someone addressed Jesus with the title, “Good Master,” Jesus responded, “Why do you call me good?  Only God is good.” (Matt 19:16-17)  In other words, “Don’t patronize me.  Either you believe I’m God or you don’t.”  If you don’t believe he is God, why bother calling him a “good teacher?”  He wasn’t.  He was a liar or a lunatic.  Yet, millions of people want to tip their hats to the teachings of Jesus while simultaneously dismissing his divinity.  Jesus is either true or false.  It doesn’t work to have it both ways.

Consider also that Jesus started a Church.  2000 years later, that Church is still here, although empires have risen and fallen around it.  Why?  Why is Jesus’ Church still here?  How has it managed to avoid destruction?  The Church has suffered many attacks from within.  Any other organization would have imploded long ago.  The Church has suffered attacks from outside.  People have tried to snuff out the Church from the beginning until today.  Why have they failed?  Why do governments and empires crumble while the Church lives on?  Is this all due to just another “good,” lying, deceiving, delusional, religious teacher?  Or is it due to God’s power?

If I believe that even some of the teachings of Jesus are “good” for me to follow, then I must dismiss that he was a liar or a lunatic, for liars and lunatics can’t be trusted.  The remaining option is that his teachings are good because he told the truth.  If he told the truth, then he is God and his Church is preserved by God.  That means that the divine Jesus and the Church he preserves know better than I do about faith and morals.

When I encounter official teachings of the Church that are difficult to accept, it is not because Jesus and his Church are false.  It is because there is something within me, for whatever reason, that resists the truth.  Maybe it’s emotional, maybe it’s intellectual, but if I can’t accept the truth, the defect is somewhere in me.  There is something in my heart, in my mind, or both that is obscuring my view of the truth that Jesus proclaims.  It may be through no fault of my own, yet it is there, blocking my view.

Jesus did not say, “I know a way and I know the truth.”  Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  These are the words of a liar, a lunatic, or the Lord God Almighty.

The Thoroughly Furnished Christian (2Tim 3:16-17)

“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.”

Does this verse indicate that the Bible is all I need in order to be a good Christian?  Does having only my Bible make me “thoroughly furnished” and “perfect” in my doctrine?  “The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword…” (Hebrews 4:12).  But is a sword the only equipment a soldier requires to be “thoroughly furnished?”  Is Paul telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible?”

Soldiers require lots of things in order to be effective.  Imagine the U.S.A. sending troops overseas with nothing but their rifles.  The soldiers would have no training, no clothes, no helmets, no armor, no food, and no water.  They might not even have proper officers.  Sound silly?  Well, it takes more than a sword to be fully equipped.  However, soldiers with all the gear and provisions, but no rifles are also not fully equipped.  Paul is not telling Timothy, “All you need is your Bible to be fully equipped.”  He is telling Timothy, “In order to be “perfect” and “fully equipped,” you need to add the Bible to the rest of your essential gear.”  The sword is profitable but not sufficient by itself.

Ephesians 6:13-17 sheds some light on this principle:

“Take unto you the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to withstand the evil day, and having done all, to stand.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked.  And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:”

The word of God, the sword of the Spirit, is not the only necessary item on the list.  It is part of an ensemble.  The Christian needs more than just a Bible.  The Christian also needs “truth,” and “righteousness,” and “the gospel of peace,” and “faith,” and “salvation.”  The Bible is not the “whole armor of God.”  The Bible is one piece of essential equipment. 

For example, if one has a Bible, but misinterprets it, then one’s loins are not girt with truth.  Instead, one is wearing heresies and falsehoods.  Heresies and falsehoods do not promote faith, righteousness, peace or salvation.  They also help the wicked rather than quench the fiery darts of the wicked.  How then, does one obtain truth from the scriptures?

The Apostle, Philip, saw a man sitting in his chariot reading scripture.  Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?  The man said, “How can I except some man should guide me?” (Acts 8:31)  He had the same scriptures as Timothy, but he was obviously not “thoroughly furnished” with “the whole armor of God.”  He did not yet have truth, or faith, or righteousness, or peace, or salvation.  He needed a man with apostolic tradition and authority to teach him.

Paul says in 2Thess 2:15, “Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.”  Having the “sword” is not enough.  A soldier must be properly trained to wield it.  Otherwise, there is a good chance you will cut yourself or others.  The Apostle Peter tells us that there are things in scripture that are hard to understand, and that untrained people use the scriptures to their own destruction (2Peter 3:16).  We need the scriptures.  However, to be thoroughly furnished, we also need proper training lest we fall upon our swords and slay ourselves.

Catholicism has it all.  If you want to be “thoroughly furnished,” we have the scriptures and the truth, and the righteousness, and the gospel of peace, and the faith, and the salvation.  We also have the authority to provide proper training free from heresies and falsehoods.  It is the same authority used by Paul, Peter and Philip.  It is the apostolic authority given by Christ himself.  No other church has it all.  Be “thoroughly furnished.”  Be Catholic.

Once Christ’s Church, Always Christ’s Church (OCCACC)

During my years spent in “once-saved-always-saved” churches, there was something lurking below the surface of the doctrine that I could not quite put my finger on.  This morning it hit me.  Although it is not intentional, there is a double standard.  I certainly don’t mean to accuse anyone of malice or ill intent.  It is simply a double standard that folks overlook.  Most people that hold to “once-saved-always-saved” (OSAS) genuinely believe the doctrine and are well-intentioned in spreading it. They want to go to Heaven and take as many people with them as they can.  That’s not a bad thing.  They mean well.  They sincerely love Jesus.

When King David committed adultery and murder, he was not “dethroned.”  He remained King, not because of his good behavior, but because he was God’s anointed.  When Moses was disobedient, he was punished but not “removed from office.”  He remained the leader of Israel until he died because he was chosen by God to be the leader.  When the Pharisees became hypocrites and made the Word of God of no effect Jesus did not say, “You have been bad, so you no longer have any authority.”  Instead, Jesus told the people, “Do what the Pharisees tell you because they sit on the seat of Moses.  Just don’t be hypocrites like they are.”  Peter said the “wrong thing” prompting Jesus to refer to him as “Satan.”  Then Peter denied Jesus three times during his trial.  Despite this bad behavior Peter was still chosen by God to infallibly write letters that would become part of the inerrant, God-breathed, Holy Bible.

Regarding their own salvation, OSAS folks will say, “It doesn’t matter what I do, I can’t lose my salvation because nothing can separate me from the love of God.  I am sealed unto the day of redemption.  I am justified (meaning, it is “just as if” I had never sinned).  Once God decides to save me it’s a done deal.  I may lose rewards in Heaven for bad behavior, but I’ll never lose my salvation.  God has the power to preserve my soul!”

However, that same, steadfast, preservative power of God is never seen as applied to the Catholic Church.  To the OSAS folks (and Protestantism in general), the Catholic Church cannot be the one true Church established by Jesus Christ due to “bad behavior.”  Whether it is the Crusades, the Inquisition, the selling of indulgences, the Galileo ordeal or the more recent priest abuse scandals, people insist that such behavior disqualifies Catholicism from being Christ’s Church.  In other words, God can keep King David and even individual Christians intact, but not his own Church.  The Church had to be scrapped and “started over” because it just wasn’t working out.  So, the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant Church, and the New Covenant Church was replaced by the “New” New Covenant Church in the 1500s.  God’s grace and the Holy Spirit just couldn’t handle the behavior of Catholics.

Nevertheless, OSAS Christians (and Protestantism in general) accept the Catholic Church’s formation of the New Testament canon.  The New Testament, as compiled and authorized by the Catholic Church, is accepted as the God-breathed, inspired, inerrant Word of God.  But, because of the bad behavior of some Catholics, the Catholic Church was “dethroned” as God’s anointed and replaced by lots of different “churches” with various doctrines and practices.  The office of the papacy, which once oversaw and authorized the compilation of Holy Scripture, no longer has authority.  This is the double standard.  It seems that the Holy Spirit and God’s grace are able to work with everybody’s bad behavior except for the Catholic Church.

The Holy Spirit-led Catholic Church allegedly gave us the New Testament and then suddenly turned into “The Whore of Babylon” at worst, or an “outdated, out of touch denomination” at best.  Personally, I believe God is more powerful and more gracious than that.  He is powerful enough to establish a Church with offices of leadership, and then preserve that Church until the end of time, just as he preserves the Scriptures compiled by that Church.

We need not apply the words of Christ, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” only to individual Christians.  Those words also apply to the Church Jesus established, the Catholic Church.  Jesus has not left the Church, but many of us have.  Some of us have met Christ’s Church, but we have not met Christ.  Some of us have met Christ, but we have not genuinely met his Church.  Many people have only been introduced to a caricature of the Church propagated by anti-Catholic teachings, poor catechesis or simple misunderstandings.

Christ and his Church go together.  We are incomplete with one but not the other.  Where there are human beings there will always be sin.  Nevertheless, “Once-Christ’s-Church-always-Christ’s-Church” holds true because of Jesus, not because of us.