Purity of Doctrine

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Gentle Reader,

As I touched on in Friday’s post, I have been confronted with the need to, once again, examine some of the things I believe and to reconsider some of my stances on those beliefs. This is always an uncomfortable place to be, but it’s not a bad thing. After all, the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy:

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

The wording isn’t past tense; he does not say, “you did your best and presented yourself.” The sentence carries with it the sense of a present, ongoing action. This verse couples well with the sentiment expressed in Deuteronomy 11:16:

Beware that your hearts are not deceived, and that you do not turn away and serve other gods and worship them.  (NASB)

Again, it is not, “you were aware and so you were not deceived.” We must be aware now and continue to be aware.

Here, my friend, is where I am. Listening to a single webcast at work last week brought to my attention a place of blindness. A place where I was not aware.

For the past few months I’ve been listening to Dr. James White’s webcast, the Dividing Line. Dr. White is a stanch Calvinist, and so there are definitely things I disagree with him on. (To balance out the listening time, I went on the hunt for a non-Calvinist who was as good a presenter as Dr. White. I came across Dr. Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew. I haven’t listened to as much of his stuff yet, but what I have, I’ve enjoyed). Despite these disagreements, I really enjoy Dr. White’s teaching, which is primarily focused in the realm of apologetics and, currently, dialoguing with Muslims. He is knowledgeable about the subjects he addresses, does not engage in bashing those on the “other side” of whatever it is he’s talking about and has a sarcastic sense of humor, which I always appreciate.

I haven’t gone through the Dividing Line episodes in chronological order, so the topics have been wide-ranging, to say the least. Last Thursday I found this floating around the YouTubeness. If you have the opportunity right now, take an hour and listen. For those of you who don’t have the time, the webcast was aired the day that Pope Francis was elected. Dr. White delves into his own view of that event while remarking on his surprise that many Christians (honestly, myself included) failed to understand the issues.

Let me make something very clear: I am not about to get into Catholic-bashing. I absolutely, one-hundred percent believe that there are true, sincere Christians within the Catholic Church. If someone were to ask me, “Are Catholics Christian?,” I would have to respond with, “Let’s go talk to some and see what they say.” And with that we have the other thing I need to make clear: While I truly believe that there are real Christians within the Catholic Church, I do not believe that the Catholic Church teaches the true Gospel.

And I just lost some readers.

I considered not writing this, but I can’t be so cowardly. The seed for this post was planted when Dr. White went through some of the Pope’s titles in the webcast. I was brought up short when he illuminated the implications of calling him “Holy Father,” two words used in Scripture to describe God Himself. (Before you object, yes, Christ calls His people to holiness. Yet we would be real idiots to think that our daily striving for set-apartness and cleanness comes anywhere near the perfect purity of the Lord). Are Catholics actually calling the Pope God? I don’t think so. I don’t think they mean it that way. Nevertheless, it makes me squirm.

I’ve never met Pope Francis. I have no idea who he truly is. Like much of the rest of the world, I was interested when he came to power. I tracked the proceedings that day and I prayed for him. There have been moments when I’ve said, “I like that he said ___________” or “I like that he did _____________.” I’m not trying to pass some sort of judgment on the man. Yet he stands in a position with accompanying titles that take my breath away.

It’s not just the “Holy Father” thing, either. How about “Vicarious Iesu Christi,” or Vicar of Christ? The term vicarious means “acting or done for another.” Tertullian, writing in the third century, applied to the term to the Holy Spirit, in Prescriptions Against Heretics, Chapter 28. And rightly so, for Jesus said that the Father would send the Spirit “in My name” (John 14:26).

But this was not the big problem for me.

“Alter Christus.”

That’s the big problem for me.

I have been to Mass before. There were things about it that I liked: the sense of sacred space, the beauty of the architecture. But I had no idea just what it was the people in attendance believed about the priest. In paragraph 1548 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church we read, “Now the minister comes by reason of the sacerdotal consecration which he has received, is truly made like to the High Priest and possesses the authority to act in the power and place of Christ himself.” The priest is an alter Christus, meaning “another Christ.” I can feel the heat rushing to my cheeks as I think about that. Another Christ.

No.

In paragraph 1549: “The bishop is typos tou Patros: he is like the living image of God the Father.”

The living image of God the Father?

We give thanks to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, praying always for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of your love for all the saints; because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit, as it is also among you since the day you heard and knew the grace of God in truth; as you also learned from Epaphras, our dear fellow servant, who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf, who also declared to us your love in the Spirit.

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, for all patience and longsuffering with joy; giving thanks to the Father who has qualified us to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in the light. He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyedus into the kingdom of the Son of His love, in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwelland by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross. – Colossians 1:3-20 (NKJV, emphasis mine)

Pretty sure all of that refers to Jesus, not a bishop.

In brief, consider:

* Transubstantiation, the dogma that declares the bread and wine to become the literal body and blood of Christ, which one must ingest in order to be saved. Thus Communion becomes a “re-sacrifice” of Jesus Christ for our sins, or as a “re-offering” of His sacrifice. This defies several passages of Scripture, most notably Hebrews 7:27, which states:

Unlike the other high priests, He does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins for all when He offered Himself. (NKJV)

And Hebrews 10:10:

…we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (NKJV, emphasis mine)

– John 6, particularly verses 53-57, is interpreted in an extremely literal way in order to arrive at the conclusion that the bread and wine must become the body and blood, because Jesus appears to be saying that we must literally eat His flesh and drink His blood. Yet verse 63 has Jesus declaring:

“The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life.” (NKJV)

Jesus uses physical concepts to teach spiritual truth.

* The Marian dogmas, particularly the teaching that Mary is a mediator between God and mankind. Catholicism also asserts that she intercedes for people. Both deny the truth of 1 Timothy 2:5 & Hebrews 7:25:

For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…He always lives to intercede for them. (NKJV)

– Mary is often referred to as “the advocate,” a title given to the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

– Mary is seen as the “co-redemptrix,” meaning that she “uniquely shared in the work of Jesus to redeem the human family, both by giving Jesus His body, the very instrument of redemption, and by suffering with Him at Calvary in a way unparalleled by another other creature.” Reading that sentence actually makes me angry. Nobody – NOBODY – but Christ engaged in the work of redemption.

* Oral and written tradition. Catholicism heartily rejects sola Scriptura, or Scripture alone, and instead insists upon the existence of an oral tradition that is just as authoritative as Scripture. This means that the source of authority can (and does) come from somewhere other than the substantiated Word of God that anyone can access. This may not directly cross into Gnostic territory, but it certainly flirts with the line.

What truly baffles me is just how little Catholicism considers Judaism, the very roots from which the Christian faith grew. All of the Apostles were Jewish. Every single one of the concepts discussed here would have been absolutely blasphemous to them. There is no way they taught any of that.

There are many other points of deep concern, but this post is already nearing the 1900 word mark.

I am not a trained apologist. I don’t know the original languages. I don’t know the ins and outs of all the sophisticated, philosophical arguments. But I can read the teaching of the Catholic Church and assess it next to the teaching of the Bible. Doing so leads me to this conclusion:

There are true Christians in the Catholic Church, but they became Christians by reading Scripture and through the grace and mercy of God, not through anything the church teaches. Rome preaches a false gospel. 

I just lost some more readers.

Due to this conclusion, I will be going back over the Sola What? series I wrote two years ago and doing extensive editing. My thoughts on the subject have definitely changed. However, the direction of this blog is not taking a big turn or leap. I don’t intend to focus exclusively on Catholicism. I’m not out to “stick it to” anyone. I simply want everyone and anyone who comes across my writing to be presented with the true message of the Gospel: Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

My journey to faith. (15)

Sola What?: A Few Hundred Years of History

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This post was edited July 14, 2014. Edits appear in red italics.

Gentle Reader,

What divides Catholic and Protestant? (Note: the Orthodox are also separate from Catholics and Protestants. I, however, freely admit my overall ignorance of Orthodox belief and practice. Our focus will be on the issues of the Reformation). In our ecumenical age, this may seem an unimportant question. Surely it is only a few minor points of doctrine that keep the camps separate. Surely it is possible to bring healing to the people of God.

I do believe that a greater degree of harmony is a realistic goal for the Church. (1) Many issues don’t need to be issues at all. However, when assessing the differences between the predominate streams of Christianity, it is important to understand that there are real and true divergences in theology. Anyone who is serious about faith needs to take the time to sort this out. It is important to know what one believes and why. It is also important to know what one does not believe and why.

Before we go any further, I want to be clear that we will not be engaging in Catholic-bashing. If you want to do that, go elsewhere. The Sola What? series is predominately about examining the Five Solas of the Protestant movement as a whole, along with a look at a few denominationally-specific stances. What do Protestants claim to believe? Do these claimed beliefs make sense in light of Scripture, reason, experience and tradition? This is where we are going.

How to lay the groundwork for this discussion? First, some definitions:

Reformation: the action or process of reforming (making changes in) an institution or practice.

Counter-Reformation: attempts by the Catholic church and secular Catholic authorities to stem the flow of Protestantism and reform some of the worst excesses of medieval Catholicism. (2)

Sola: by oneself, alone.

And yet, definitions do not go far enough:

Reformation and Counter-Reformation are not terms which we can easily dispense with and yet they are deceptive. . .’Reform’ was a familiar word long before 1500, even a cliche. . .It is meaningless, or at least unhistorical, to discuss where this or that tendency or event was properly part of the Reformation… (3)

The Reformation was not termed as such until the late 17th century, long after most of the momentous events had taken place. This is not as simple as “the Catholic Church was bad and Martin Luther showed people the truth.” Rather, the movement was

a complex extended historical process, going well beyond the endeavours of man or one tendency, and involving social, political and wider religious issues. (4)

Consider that the Reformation occurred just as nationalism was on the rise. No longer did people see themselves as part of a larger body, that of European Christendom. Instead, being “German” or “English” or “French” became important. With the exploding publishing industry, thanks to Gutenberg and his movable type, literacy was on the rise. Europe’s population, decimated approximately 150 years earlier by plague, had begun to stabilize. We cannot isolate Luther, the 95 Theses, indulgences or any other part of the movement from these factors.

Would the Reformation as we know it have occurred without these historical conditions? Maybe, maybe not. I simply find it important to look at what was happening around the Reformers. Furthermore, it is important to realize that, because the word “reform” had become cliche, that the Reformers proper were part of a lengthier tradition. When we assume that Luther, Zwingli, Arminius and the rest of the bunch were first in a thousand years to discover grace, faith and the authority of Scripture, we forget about those who had gone before. We also expose a fatal assumption, namely that nobody was saved between the Edict of Milan in 313, when the Roman emperor Constantine began the shift that would lead toward Christianity become the official religion of the Empire in 380 under Theodosius I, and 1517, when Luther wrote and nailed the famous Theses. This train of thought is one that we need to do our best to avoid.

That being said, there were real problems in the medieval Catholic Church. A quick look at the lives of a few Popes, the state of rural parishes and the differences between official and folk religion makes this more than apparent. The famous polarizing issue of the Reformation, indulgences, serves as an example:

“As a penny in the coffer rings, the soul from Purgatory springs,” or so the Dominican friar Tetzel and other purveyors of papal pardons are supposed to have taught their hearers and customers. (5)

Pope Leo X (of the infamous Medici family) was in the midst of reconstructing St. Peter’s Basilica and needed money. He chose to grant indulgences, the full or partial remission of temporal [relating to the world] punishment of sins, (6) to those who chose to donate to the project. Basically, anyone could pay to get loved ones out of Purgatory and into Heaven. Thus indulgences open up a whole host of questions: Is Purgatory real? It is not mentioned in Scripture, but is alluded to in 2 Maccabees 12:46, a deuterocanonical book not contained in the Hebrew Bible, which forces us to consider how the Catholic Church arrived at their canon of Scripture. If it’s not in the Bible, can the Catholic Church teach that it’s real? This opens up huge questions about tradition versus Scripture. Who atones for sin? Is it Christ? Is it Christ but also the individual after going through Purgatory? Is it Christ, the individual going through Purgatory and then another person who pays for the sentence of Purgatory to be reduced? On and on it goes; this was the proverbial “can of worms.” 

Please note here that Luther was not alone in his disgust over this practice. Many voices who remained within the Catholic Church during the Reformation spoke in favor of addressing these problems. The Reformation is not a tidy, “us versus them” moment in history. But then, few are.

The troubles lay not only with the Catholic Church, however. That the English Reformation came about largely as a matter of the king’s needing a son is well-known. Anne Boleyn, so often revered as one of the key players in the English Reformation, was one of two parties responsible for breaking up a marriage, which is a sin. (The other being Henry VIII, the king of the famous “tender conscience”). That fact remains largely untouched when discussions of the Reformation arise. There are other incidents that rub the gleam off. Michael Servetus, a Spanish theologian and physician, was burned at the stake by the Geneva Council for his non-Trinitarian and anti-infant baptism views. Certainly Servetus should be defined as a heretic for his Oneness teachings, but I wonder how many today, who pride themselves on being Protestant, realize that their views on baptism come not from the Reformers at all. At any rate, burning him at the stake seems excessive, does it not? Martin Luther grew decidedly anti-Semitic, lamenting the failure of European national powers to drive the Jews out of their borders. Riots and war broke out in the city of Munster as radical, millenialist Anabaptists (sometimes “re-baptizers,” or those who believed only adults could be rightly baptized) tried to establish a theocracy.

Again, the Reformation was not neat and tidy. What could have been a deeply cleansing moment for the Church became its bloodiest civil war, a war that rages to this day. And it is true: one of the legacies of the Reformation, one that the Reformers themselves would not have approved, is the continual shattering of churches. Denominations, non-denominations, groups without name and home churches, all of whom may well vary only slightly – and fight to the death on those variances. This is not what the Reformation was about. No Reformer worth his salt would ever advocate the splitting of congregations over things like Bible translation or carpet color.

We have, of course, barely skimmed the surface of a deep and complex period of history that is still being played out. More than a few thick books have been written on the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, TULIP, the Arminian Remonstrance, the Anabaptists and a host of other peoples and topics. It is beyond the scope of this post to hold up every personality or thought for careful scrutiny. The bottom line is that the Reformers were not all saints and the Counter-Reformers were not all sinners. There were problems and there were not problems that got turned into problems.

In my desire to engage in the history cautiously, and to avoid projecting modern ways of thinking onto Renaissance men and women, I do not want to minimize the issues at play. They are very real and there were (and are) souls at stake. Over centuries and very gradually, the Catholic Church sullied the waters of pure doctrine with additions that directly contradict the teaching found in the Bible. Rome does teach another gospel, a gospel that never came from the mouth of Christ or the Apostles. In that, I stand firmly on the side of Protestantism.

As I work on the remainder of this series, I want to treat you, dear reader, with respect. If you are Catholic, you need not be afraid to come here. I will not be calling you names. I simply want everyone and anyone who comes across my writing to be presented with the true message of the Gospel: Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2). The only way to know and understand that Gospel is to approach Scripture to with an open heart and an open mind, with a willingness to allow the Word of God to strip away any false beliefs.

With that, I wish you,

My journey to faith. (15)

For all posts in the Sola What? series, go here.

References:

1 “Church” will be used throughout this series to describe the universal body of believers. When necessary, I will use “Catholic,” “Lutheran,” “Anglican,” etc. to describe distinct groups.

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/the-english-civil-war-glossary.

3 Patrick Collinson. “The Late Medieval Church and Its Reformation.” The Oxford Illustrated History of Christianity, ed. by John McManners. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), 235-36.

4 Ibid., 236.

5 Ibid., 244.

6 P. Toon. “Indulgences.” Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, ed. by Wwalter A. Elwell. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2001), 605.