This is the final post in my Leadership Summit Review. After this it will be back to the 3rd installment of Salvation in the Gospel of Matthew. I’m excited to get back into the Bible!
Tim Schroeder made one more suggestion during his session with Reg Bibby that I want to address. Admittedly, he suggested it very passively; but nevertheless, it was a part of the message presented to Canadian Evangelical Churches, and so I will address it.
Evangelicals should seek to build partnerships with the Catholic Church
A quick disclaimer before I begin.
*** The statements I make here come from the result of personal study on Catholic doctrine. I don’t believe very many Catholics really understand the doctrines that the Catholic Church is built upon, so I want to be clear that I am talking about the Catholic system of doctrine, not individuals who are Catholics, as there are no doubt some who would reject the teachings I attribute to the Catholic Church; though I do attribute them correctly. I plan on contacting an experienced catachist in the Catholic church in the near future to hear his response to some of these issues and ensure I have a proper understanding of the Catholic position.***
There was plenty of verbal tiptoeing into this topic during the session, and I would say it was warranted; Catholic/Protestant discussions are full of historical and doctrinal landmines. Tim was obviously aware that even mildly suggesting Protestants consider partnering with Catholics in ministry would “ruffle a few feathers” as he put it. Hence the hedging and cautious introduction to the topic.
While my feathers weren’t ruffled, so to speak, I definitely perked up when I realized what he was suggesting, because it is something I could never condone. In fact, I am obligated by my love of the truth to vehemently oppose it, and I will tell you why.
The Catholic system holds to certain doctrines/traditions that I am compelled to reject outright. They are…
1) Catholic church tradition is EQUAL in authority to scripture.
This is the most significant point at which Catholicism departs from biblical Christianity, and it is the root from which probably all of their errors flow. As they have made church tradition of equal authority with scripture, they are able to speak where the bible does not speak, perpetuating many false doctrines by the “authority” of the church.
Because of this, they fail to properly interpret the Bible. The correct way to handle scripture is to interpret it by the highest possible standard: itself. Allowing scripture to interpret scripture yields the greatest doctrinal purity and the most accurate understanding of the text. Departing from the sole authority of the scriptures is a sure step away from truth into error and heresy. The following points are the major points that form the great divide between Catholics and Evangelicals; and all of them are the result of making Church tradition equal with the inspired Word of God.
2) Church councils are infallible and irrevocable – Since church tradition is of equal authority as scripture, it follows thus that decisions and decrees of church councils must be of equal truthfulness to God’s word as well. Hence the belief that the decrees of the church councils are indeed on par with the very Word of God.
The results are startling to read for the first time. Listen to the following points from the Council of Trent in 1563, keeping in mind that to be “anathema” is to be “damned” in the strongest possible sense.
Canon 9. If anyone says that the sinner is justified by faith alone (supra, chapters 7-8), meaning that nothing else is required to cooperate in order to obtain the grace of justification, and that it is not in any way necessary that he be prepared and disposed by the action of his own will, let him be anathema.
Canon 11. If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost (Rom. 5:5), and remains in them, or also that the grace by which we are justified is only the good will of God, let him be anathema.
Canon 12. If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy (supra, chapter 9), which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.
Canon 24. If anyone says that the justice received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works (ibid., chapter 10), but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema.
Canon 30. If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.
Canon 32. If anyone says that the good works of the one justified are in such manner the gifts of God that they are not also the good merits of him justified; or that the one justified by the good works that he performs by the grace of God and the merit of Jesus Christ, whose living member he is, does not truly merit an increase of grace, eternal life, and in case he dies in grace the attainment of eternal life itself and also an increase of glory, let him be anathema.
The fact is that catholic church tradition damns anyone who holds to some of the dearest truths in scripture. Catholic church tradition damns me. It probably damns you too if you are reading this.
I want to say here that I doubt I would find one person in the Grande Prairie Catholic Church would would pronounce damnation on me for any one of these beliefs. However, that doesn’t get the Catholic Church system off the hook, it just makes them bad Catholics.
What is interesting is that an established Catholic recently told me that the church councils were indeed infallible. I asked him “well what about Trent? You say that Catholics and Protestants are brothers that need to be united, yet your tradition pronounces anathema on the core of our beliefs, justification by faith alone.”
He told me that actually, the council of Trent had been rescinded.
So is church tradition infallible or not? Is it on equal authority with scripture or not? Has God started saving people differently since the reformation that now it is okay to believe these things? Does god damn people differently now?
There are only two outcomes possible. Either Church Councils are NOT infallible and ARE open to error, OR anyone who believes that Salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone is damned to hell.
I’ll happily bet my eternity that the problem is on their end.
3) The mass re-presents the sacrifice of Jesus on Calvary and confers forgiveness and remission of sins through participation – This issue is serious. If there is one question I want to know, it is how can my sins be forgiven. How can I be made right with God? How can I be justified in his eyes, so he can accpet me instead of reject me?
I have both read it in Catholic literature and heard it from multiple professing Catholics that forgiveness of sins actually happens at the Mass. Since the actual body and the actual blood of Christ are presented at the mass, and the actual sacrifice of Jesus Christ is re-presented, then the resulting forgiveness of sins is applied to me as I participate in the mass.
I asked one Catholic if my sins were still with me since I have never been to a mass. Apparently there are two types of sins; some of which can be forgiven through simple confession to God and true sorrow for sin, others require the services of a priest. But just to be sure, the person I asked promised to refer me to someone who could help me understand these things better.
The bible makes a sharp distinction: either your sins are forgiven, or they are not. Either you are saved, or you are not. There is no in between. Yet Catholic church doctrine/tradition on sin and confession and forgiveness really muddies the waters. This is not a good topic to be fuzzy about! I know God hates sin and will punish sinners. I want to be certain that I am in good standing with God. Thankfully, Jesus is abundantly clear: “unless you believe I AM, you will die in your sins” is the negative side, the positive side would be “whosoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life.”
We’re talking about the Gospel here. I’m convinced the good news is far better than the Catholic church ultimately makes it to be.
4) The Catholic Priesthood is legitimate. – The book of Hebrews is clear that in the New Testament church age, all believers now function as priests. Yet the Catholic Church has built up a priesthood that ultimately acts as a “middle man” so to speak between God and the people. The system discourages people from coming to God directly, instead directing them to the priest. Yet scripture tells us that all believers become a royal priesthood, brothers and sister
I’ll list two more without going into detail.
5) The Pope as God’s delegate on earth and the doctrine of Papal Infallibility – the pope is prevented by the Holy Spirit from even the possibility of error, because he is God’s representative on earth.
6) Purgatory – relieves people of their guilt over sin, ultimately they will be alright. Allows people to be unsure exactly about their sins, can lead to people working their way toward a less time in purgatory.(as a side note, I have seen in a Catholic Church a place where you can pay money to have a candle lit. The candle represents praying saints who by their prayers can get people out of purgatory faster)
7) The veneration of relics and saints – The council of Trent also had some anathemas for anyone who denied that relics conferred the blessing of God, along with those who denied the practice of praying to the saints.
8) Mariology and other strange doctrines allowed to circulate openly – The assumption of Mary (see below), the immaculate conception of Mary, Mary was sinless, etc.
***Update*** My inlaws just returned from a cruise around Europe, where they visited some Catholic Churches, and I guess they were in two different Churches that both claimed to be the place where Mary ascended to heaven.
9) The apocrypha considered Holy Scripture – This is a problem because neither Jesus nor the apostles quoted an apocryphal source once. All of the apocryphal books were penned during the intertestamental period when prophecy had ceased; all were written after Malachi, the last prophet, and before Christ. Therefore they cannot be inspired. Many of the points listed above are based upon teachings found in apocryphal literature rather than in the inspired Word of God.
There are more, but I will stop here. These are the big ones.
All of this to say that there are some serious differences between evangelicals and catholics on practically all of the important theological areas.
Not to say there are not similarities. Yes we both believe in Jesus. Yes we both believe in original sin, the fall, biblical history, and the universal need for salvation. Those similarities, however, do not make us compatible. The standard for faith must be the whole of Scripture and nothing more. The differences can seem subtle on the surface; in reality they are very great, and very dangerous!
When Tim Schroeder uses Reg Bibby’s data to suggest evangelicals consider partnerships with Catholic Churches, it is coming from the idea that together we can have a greater religious influence in Canada. God has not called us to have a religious influence. Instead he commands us regarding truth. God calls his church to love, embrace, proclaim, guard, and defend his truth in the midst of a world of lies and counterfeits. A church that does not guard the truth will become tainted by error and ultimately fruitless. There is to be unity among believers, but it is a unity in truth first and fellowship second.
The true church can have no partnership with the Catholic Church. Instead, we must approach them as ministers of God’s truth, calling them to the purity of God’s word and the simplicity of faith in Christ.
What it ultimately comes down to is that the Catholic church is not a partner in the gospel, but a mission field for the gospel.