Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Nothing in My Hand I Bring - How does God reveal Himself - Pt 2

This is the second part of Carmelina's discussion of the differences between how Roman Catholics and Protestant address the question of how God reveals himself to us. You can find the first part here.

On Monday, I introduced the issue of the differences between how Roman Catholics and Protestants answer the question, ‘How does God tell us what He thinks?’. I’m not going to spend a lot of time explaining the differences because Ray Galea does it so well in chapter 4 of this month’s book. But what it boils down to is that Roman Catholicism teaches that God’s word AND Roman Catholic Church traditions are BOTH God’s special revelation. And just as significantly, that the Roman Catholic Church is INFALLIBLE (ie they can’t get it wrong) and it’s the ONLY interpreter of the Bible and Church tradition.

This position has a logical outcome. If the RC Church is the only infallible interpreter of the Bible, then if my interpretation is different from what the RC Church teaches (about the Bible and in their church tradition), then I must be wrong and if I want to be an obedient and faithful Roman Catholic, I should submit to what I am being taught by those who know better than me. Indeed, not only does the RC Church know better than me, but it holds the view that the RCC is the literal body of Christ or so it can never be wrong.

I would say very few, if any of my Roman Catholic family or friends know or believe this about the Roman Catholic Church. In fact most of them would openly disagree with certain teachings (eg. priests not being able to marry and contraception – as proven by the negative birth rate in Italy).

Protestantism, on the other hand, teaches that THE BIBLE is the SOLE authority on matters of faith and morals. The Reformers, people like Martin Luther and John Calvin believed in a slogan coined at that time – Sola Scriptura or Bible alone. They insisted that the Bible stood above any other teaching, including church traditions and the teachings of other people. Not only that, but in distinction to RC teaching, the Bible is sufficient and clear. The Bible contains all we need for salvation and instruction on how to live a godly life and is able to teach me all I need to know about faith and morality (see 2 Timothy 3:15-17)

So why is this difference such a big deal? Because what I read in the Bible is the opposite of what the RC Church teaches about how a person can be saved from hell. I can’t state this clearly enough. I am not saying that every other church gets what it teaches absolutely right. Only Jesus gets everything right. But when I read the Bible I see teachings which aren’t just different from what the RC Church teaches - like the difference between strawberry jam and blueberry jam, just a matter of personal opinion. What I read in the Bible must mean either the RC Church is right and the Bible (and hence Protestants) are wrong or vice versa. Either we’re saved by Jesus’ death plus our good works/participation in the sacraments (as per RC teaching) or we’re saved by Jesus’ death alone (as per Ephesians 2:8-9). I hope to chat more about this very issue in the next 2 posts.

I’d like to add, that the Roman Catholic Church itself agrees with me that only one view can be right. The Council of Trent occurred in response to the views put forward by the Reformers. The Council’s ruling (6th session, 1547: ninth canon on justification) still stands - anyone who believes that they can be saved through faith in Jesus’ death alone, without good works is anathema, that is, condemned to hell.

What does all this mean for the every day person? The more I read the Bible, the more I am convinced that the Bible is saying the opposite of what the RC Church teaches. And that means, the RC Church is teaching people not only a different way to salvation, but a wrong way to salvation and this means it’s no gospel at all. The irony is that when the apostle Paul addressed this very issue in the book of Galatians, he said anyone who teaches a gospel which is no gospel at all (ie. one that says you also need works to be saved) should be anathema.

Why do I keep mentioning anathema, hell? Because that’s exactly what’s at stake. Salvation itself is at stake. I can’t be part of any church that holds itself over the Bible and teaches a way of salvation which denies the one true way of salvation I see clearly written in the Bible.

Once again, can I stress, I don’t hate Roman Catholic people. I don’t consider myself better than them. A few of my closest Roman Catholic friends put me to shame in their discipline in reading of the Bible, in their daily prayers, in their open talk of Jesus and in their regular attendance at church. But if they’re trusting in a church and teachings which lead lead them to miss out on being saved (despite their good works), then it’s a terrible tragedy. A tragedy that because of my love for them, I need to call them away from.


PS. Once again, I add a note to any Roman Catholic reader. Please, can I encourage you, read the Bible or keep reading the Bible. Engage with it. Don’t just read it, but ask yourself ‘is what I’m reading the same as what I’m hearing at church?’ Take your Bible with you to church, follow along when the readings happen and compare what the priest is saying to what read with your own eyes and understand with your mind in the Bible. God wrote the Bible for you. I know that at the church I attend (and many others like it), every week, the Bible teachers encourage people to open their Bibles to follow along. And they even encourage people to ask questions, to chat to them about what was said and to raise any differences we see between what they taught us and what we read in the Bible. After all, the truth is at stake.

Discussion questions for you or to work through with some friends:

1. Why is the place of the Bible on issues of faith and morality important?

2. What does the Bible itself have to say about God’s revelation and the place of Scriptures in the life of a Christian?
(2 Timothy 3:15-17)

3. In light of what you’ve read in this week’s EQUIP book club posts, how can you start to talk to Roman Catholics about Jesus and the Bible? What part could the Bible play in this?


Anonymous said...

Hi Carmelina,

Ready for a rave? This has become long – I hope not tediously so.

Thanks for all your thoughts so far. And for sharing your story with us. Isn’t it amazing that God reveals himself to sinners? My story in some regards is similar to both yours and Ray’s; without the obvious ethnic background you both had. I grew up in a very Aussie working class family in a country town but Catholicism seems to create an ethnicity all its own – it’s very familial.

To me, this is one of the reasons that Catholicism is difficult to assess objectively. There is a strong familial pull which can bind you to it even when you are trying to think freely. I might equate it with how it must be for a Jehovah’s Witness or other cult member. I certainly experienced it in the year or so before I *left* the Catholic church. Without being over-dramatic, we are in a spiritual battle when fighting for the truth. I won’t go into it all here but I use the word *left* the church seriously, as there was a particular night, the culmination of much thought, prayer and counsel, when I prayed with a friend and ‘broke away’ from what I’d been born into. Very soon after this, when I became engaged to my husband (we were both Christians), I had a similar experience to you Carmelina, when my father pointed his finger at me and pronounced, “you were born a Catholic and you’ll always be a Catholic.” I’ve always felt that had this happened the few weeks prior, it may have shaken my confidence in the freedom I’d been given simply because he was my father.

I’m really not answering any of the discussion questions you’ve put to us. I’m sorry about that. I will have a go though.

1.Why is the place of the Bible on issues of faith and morality important?

If we can’t trust the bible as inerrant then we can never get past man’s wisdom on issues of faith and morality. Mankind knows right from wrong - Genesis 3:5; at least in his own eyes. If the bible is untrustworthy for any reason, or if parts of the bible are no longer considered as God’s true word, then it is up to us, feeble though we are, to discern which bits we accept or reject.

We have to remember when talking about this issue that all Protestants don’t see eye to eye on the issue of authority of the bible any more. And isn’t the fruit of it showing more each day? You are right Carmelina to say that only Jesus gets it all right. That’s why the 2 Timothy verses you’ve cited below is very important, the scriptures themselves are able to reveal the scriptures themselves. (with the help of the Holy Spirit and Godly teachers)

2. What does the Bible itself have to say about God’s revelation and the place of Scriptures in the life of a Christian? (2 Timothy 3:15-17)

3. In light of what you’ve read in this week’s EQUIP book club posts, how can you start to talk to Roman Catholics about Jesus and the Bible? What part could the Bible play in this?

I think Carmelina that you’ve already highlighted *the* number one point about speaking bible truth to Catholics. You said it so well in your post script. Encourage them to read the bible for themselves. We can’t underestimate Jesus’ encouragement that “everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matt 7:8)

It took a couple of years for my confidence in the authority of the bible to grow to the point where I could openly question issues of doctrine. I was confused but God showed me the answers from the bible itself. I found that I was put off by the (over-zealous) young protestant friends I had and I wasn’t satisfied any longer with the answers from the Catholic church. God kindly showed me the answers to my questions and gave me trusted people I could turn to who helped clarify things for me.

Saying all that, I have practicing Catholic family members who read the bible, pray and talk about God with us but it makes it difficult; they don’t seem to want to ask the other hard questions at all. And they don’t want us to ask the hard questions of them either. Since reading the book and going over the old topics, I have been encouraged to pray anew to know how to bring it up with them again.

sue tweed said...

Hi Carmelina ! A question (based on my family's observations of WYD) - What do you think the pope is thinking when he stands up to be revered and adored by so many ? Is it just a job for him; does he see himself as able to bring people to God ; does he see himself as a fraud ; does he think he is 'more worthy' than the crowds or is he truly humble?? With no catholic background we just don't get the whole pope thing!!Thanks,Sue Tweed

Anonymous said...

Dear Janelle,
I always love a rave! I know what you mean about the familial pull (great term). When I'm with all my Roman Catholic family, there is a strong desire to connect with them and to do things to fit in so that I don't stand out as the weirdo religious freak. Even though I have so much in common with them (Italian, we grew up together, we have shared history, we all have children, we see each other at family celebrations, I even speak Italian to my kids so hey, how much more Italian can you get!), my moving away from our shared 'religion' just makes me stand out like a sore thumb at any family gatherings. And sometimes, I just want to be accepted and be part of the in group like they all are. But ... then Jesus' words about loving family more than him and about being ashamed of him come into my mind and the precious promises I have in Jesus spur me on to stick to what is true rather than what feels good.

On the speaking to family front, I have the same problem with my friends who are devout Catholics. They don't want me to ask them anything that seems like I am challenging them. Do you think we should give them a copy of Ray's book? I am trying to pluck up the courage to do just that. Any other readers have ideas of how we can help Roman Catholic friends who do read their Bibles?

Thanks for sharing your story Janelle. Good on you for sticking it out with your family. I am encouraged to hear of your perseverance.
Love Carmelina

EQUIP Book Club said...

Dear Sue,

I have no idea what the Pope is thinking. I would hate to try and guess what's running through his mind. I guess all I can say is what Roman Catholicism teaches about the role of the Pope.

The word "Pope" is from the Latin word "papa" meaning "father". The idea that the Pope is the head of the whole church and speaks with the voice of the apostle Peter was first asserted (in a clear way) in the 5th century.

In Roman Catholic doctrine, the most important Bible passage used to justify the role of the Pope is Matthew 16:18-19. RCs claims that this passage demonstrates that Jesus established Peter as the head of the church on earth and that all heads who follow Peter have succession.

The First Vatican Council held in 1870 defines very clearly the role of the Pope in a series of dogmatic statements called canons. They include statements that:
• Jesus appointed Peter as chief of the whole church;
• that Peter has perpetual successors over the whole church and every Pope is the successor of Peter;
• when the Pope speaks "ex cathedra" (ie from the chair of Peter), he teaches through the divine assistance promised to him in Peter and he speaks infallibly (ie with out error) and with Jesus' blessing and authority and so his teachings cannot be altered.
The First Vatican Council declared that if anyone denies these statements, they should be "anathema" ie condemned to hell.

Vatican II declared that:
• people must submit to the Pope even when he's not speaking "ex cathedra" - in other words, he must be revered as chief of the church and his judgments must all be adhered to;
• the Pope's judgments and teachings are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit and they don't need the consent or approval of the church or anyone else and it's not possible to appeal to any other judgment (I presume that means the Bible too!);
• when the Pope is pronouncing a 'judgment' or teaching, he doesn't do so as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal church.

As I said in this week's post, the Roman Catholic Church sees itself as the body of Christ. And the Pope, is at the centre of this and he is given the title "the vicar of Christ" which means he takes Christ's place on earth. The word "vicar" means he is Jesus' stand in on earth. (interestingly, in the early church, the term "vicar of Christ" was reserved for the Holy Spirit).

What does this tell you about what the Pope is thinking?

Assuming he truly believes this (I imagine he does truly believe this and he doesn't think he's a fraud), then when he is revered, he is accepting what he believes Jesus gave him. That is, that Jesus has appointed him head of the universal church, with the Holy Spirit's power to reveal God's will and to be the only one able to interpret the Bible. I guess that it's on this basis that he accepts reverence by people. It's amazing isn't it?

I would like to give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he doesn't think he is more worthy than the crowd but rather that God has given him a very special role to help and guide his people towards greater faith and obedience.

But there are huge problems with what he believes. Let me state them briefly:
1. Jesus did not appoint Peter head of the church with a pattern of succession;
2. Christ is the only head of the church (Ephesians 5:23)
3. Peter himself made mistakes and Paul rebuked him for it (Galatians 2:11), let alone the Pope always getting it right;
4.there is only 1 priest, one mediator between people and God and that's Jesus (1 Timothy 2 and Hebrews);
5. God has made us all to be priests in his service (1 Peter 2:9);
6. Peter himself didn't allow a man to fall at his feet because he claimed he was only a man (Acts 10:25-26).

In my judgment, the Roman Catholic view of the Pope is inconsistent with the Bible. So how should we respond? We shouldn't revere the Pope as anything other than a man. We should reject any teachings which he pronounces or holds to which are contrary to the Bible. Any blessings which God can give us are available to us straight from Jesus himself without the need of the Pope, so we don't need to seek the Pope's blessing for anything. We should never treat his teachings as infallible. And we do not need to give him special treatment as Christ's stand in on earth.

Having said all of this, like with all other people, we should pray for him and we should treat him with the courtesy and love due to all people.

Phew! That will teach you to ask a hard question again! Seriously, thanks for asking, it was a good chance to bone up again on some church history and a great reminder to me of how great it is that we can go straight to God through the wonderful Lord Jesus.

sue tweed said...

Thanks Carmelina for your long and excellent answer. Sorry for making you work so hard !! It was helpful to hear what RCs think of the pope's role (but I am still baffled as to why they don't just read the Bible for their answers!)

Anonymous said...

Dear Sue,

a very good question. Do you mean why don't the Pope and the leadership read the Bible or why don't Roman Catholics read the Bible for their answers?


Anonymous said...

Wow Carmelina, your answer to Sue's question is a beauty! Thanks for all that effort; I found it good.

I have been thinking more and more about your question, "should we give a copy of Ray's book to our Catholic family?" I was going to be cheeky and say "I will if you will" :P

I've especially been thinking about it since my mum rang the other morning raving about what a beautiful thing the wyd w/e was in Sydney (we don't have tele so I only saw some photos online) and I had nothing useful to say, because externally, it does look like a great thing for the city and young people. I wanted to say; "but it's no more meaningful (eternally) than a greenpeace convention"

So in answer to your question, I really seriously want to pray about it, yes. I'm wondering who; mum or dad? or my brother?

Carmelina said...

Dear Janelle,

I've been away on holidays so that's why I haven't replied sooner.

I am always up for a challenge! I have been thinking about who I should give the book to and thoughts like this have run through my mind: "What will my friends think of me? Will it make them angry with me? How I will explain my reasons for giving them the book? Will it wreck my friendship?" So, I've thought that given what's at stake, I'm going to bite the bullet and give it to my friend who is a devout Roman Catholic (as is her husband and mother) and my friend from mother's group. I think I'll send it in the post with a note which says "I've been thinking a lot about your during WYD and I thought I would send you this book. I found it very helpful in explaining the differences between Roman Catholicism and what I now believe. It would be great if you could read it and we could chat about it. I look forward to seeing you soon. I'll call you to get together. Love Carmelina"

Is anyone else going to join Janelle and I in the challenge to give the book to Roman Catholic friends?

Love Carmelina