Tag Archive for Catholic

Breaking Catholic: Part 8–Good Works

So, how good IS “good enough?”

 

Well, the answer is “never,” since. . .

All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.  They are made right with God by his grace. This is a free gift. They are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23-24 ERV)

 

NONE of us can earn sainthood.  The only way we could achieve righteousness, or having a good standing before God, would be by obeying every letter of the law.

 

Here’s the problem with that concept:

 

 Suppose you keep the whole law but trip over just one part of it. Then you are guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10 NiRV)

 

Think about it.  Would you drink out of a glass that was chipped on the edge?  No, you’d cut your lip.  It’s just a tiny little chip, but it renders the glass unworthy to be used, so you throw it away.

 

So it is with your soul.  One tiny little chip in your lawkeeping, and all of your good works are like filthy rags.  Break the law one time, and you are officially “not good enough.”

 

For this reason, the Catholic church invented the sacrament (another word for gift or sign) of penance.  When I was growing up, we called it “confession.”  Today, it is known by the more accurate and helpful term of “reconciliation.”

 

The way it works is that you confess your sins to a priest, who then grants you absolution, a breaking down of the barriers of sin, which is supposed to make it possible for you to receive Christ’s forgiveness.

 

As with everything else, the Catholic Church has rules about this sacrament.  Here are a few from the Code of Canon Law, Book IV, Part I, Title IV, Chapter III:

 

Can. 987 In order that the faithful may receive the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, they must be so disposed that, repudiating the sins they have committed and having the purpose of amending their lives, they turn back to God.

Can. 988 §1 The faithful are bound to confess, in kind and in number, all grave sins committed after baptism, of which after careful examination of conscience they are aware, which have not yet been directly pardoned by the keys of the Church, and which have not been confessed in an individual confession.

 

“Directly pardoned by the keys of the Church” signifies the Catholic church’s official stance that forgiveness can only be achieved if they say so.  They base this authority on Matthew 16:19, where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon which He will build His church (i.e. the first Pope) and says to him:

 

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NRSV)

Only here’s the problem.  Jesus repeats those words just two chapters later, addressing them to ALL his disciples:

 

Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven.  For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:18-20 CJB)

In other words, the authority of “binding and loosing” is from Jesus for all believers, not from the Magisterium and for the Magisterium.

 

So if the Catholic leadership has assumed God’s role of deciding who is forgiven and when, then what part is left for God to play?  Here is St. Augustine’s take on the situation:

 

A man who confesses his sins acts already with God.  God accuses you of your sins; if you accuse yourself, then you join yourself with God. . .When you begin to detest that which you have done, it is then that your good works commence, because you accuse these bad deeds. . . You do the truth and you come to the light.  (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 12.13)

 

Back up the truck, Augie.  God ACCUSES?  Isn’t that somebody else’s job?

 

The huge dragon was thrown out—that ancient serpent, named the Devil, or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth, and all his angels with him.  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven.  They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die. (Revelation 12:9-11 GNT)

Indeed, the name “Satan” literally means “accuser” in Hebrew.  On the other hand:

 

 If, however, any believer does sin, we have a high-powered defense lawyer—Jesus the Anointed, the righteous—arguing on our behalf before the Father. (1 John 2:1b VOICE)

So if we’re going to use courtroom analogies, then God the Father is the Judge, God the Son is our lawyer, and God the Holy Spirit is the witness for the defense.  BY NO MEANS is God the prosecutor.

 

Confession is where we enter a plea of guilty, but remember what Father Carlos said, “God has already forgiven you.”  In other words, the Judge had already found you Not Guilty before you ever entered the courtroom.

 

There is only one reason that you would receive mercy instead of justice for your sin.

 

It is because Jesus had already adopted the guilty plea on your behalf, and along with it, the death sentence.

 

And because you made the conscious decision to hire Him as your defense attorney.  After all:

 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s sentence.  I am now controlled by the law of the Holy Spirit. That law gives me life because of what Christ Jesus has done. It has set me free from the law of sin that brings death. (Romans 8: 1-2 NiRV)

You don’t come to the light by “doing” the truth.  You don’t reach the Father by your good works.  You can’t earn a spot on the team.  The work has already been done— by Jesus on the cross.

 

If you don’t believe that, then you’re basically saying that Jesus and all that He has done isn’t good enough.

 

So why does the Catholic church not teach this?

 

Because if Catholics knew that they didn’t actually have to be “good enough” to make the cut, that their guilt over their sins is unwarranted because Christ has already paid the penalty for their sinful nature, and that their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven begins RIGHT NOW if they believe that Jesus is who He said He was and did what the Bible says He did. . .

 

Well,  then the Church would lose control over their lives.

 

After all, if a person is bowing down directly to the King of Kings, then he or she has no use for an earthly kingdom.

 

And that is exactly what the Catholic Church is.  The Pope is the King, the Vatican is his court, and the archbishops, bishops and priests are the royalty.

 

(To find out what I mean by “royalty,” come back for the conclusion: Part 9–Spirit and Truth)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 7–Saints

 

 saint n.

1. (Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) a person who after death is formally recognized by a Christian Church, esp the Roman Catholic Church, as having attained, through holy deeds or behaviour, a specially exalted place in heaven and the right to veneration

2. a person of exceptional holiness or goodness

3. (Christian Religious Writings / Bible) (plural) Bible the collective body of those who are righteous in God’s sight

vb.

(Christianity / Ecclesiastical Terms) (tr) to canonize; recognize formally as a saint

[from Old French, from Latin sanctus holy, from sanc?re to hallow][1]

 

The Bible refers to any believer in Jesus Christ as a “saint.”

 

But to be a “Saint,” you have to have the stamp of approval of a specific group of 123 religious leaders of the Catholic church, now known as the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, through the process called canonization,[2] which generally goes like this.

 

First, a Postulator investigates the candidate’s life at their local diocese, the district under the care of a bishop, at least five years after the candidate’s death (lately, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II have gotten the fast track, however).  At this stage, candidates are referred to as “Servants of God.”

 

The formal argument for sainthood, called the prositio, contains the Servant of God’s life story (informatio) and documents and testimonies (summarium).  After the prositio is approved, the Pope bestows the title of “Venerable.”

 

A Martyr can go directly from here to Blessed, a process known as beatification.  For others, a miracle is required, either performed by the candidate during his or her lifetime, or through posthumous intercession.

 

In the past, this “apostolic phase” involved the Postulator pleading the case again, while a Promoter General of the Faith, also known as the Devil’s Advocate (hence the term), would provide the argument against canonization.  The role of the Devil’s Advocate was done away with in 1983 when Pope Paul VI streamlined the canonization process.[3]

 

For canonization, a second miracle is required.  The most common miracles cited are medical in nature.  Other alleged supernatural events, such as visitations from the Virgin Mary, stigmata, levitation, bilocation, etc. are frowned upon by the papacy, as they are considered easy to fake.[4]

 

The canonization process is lengthy, expensive and convoluted.  In some cases, it can even take centuries.  In his book Making Saints: How the Catholic Church Determines Who Becomes a Saint, Who Doesn’t, and Why, Kenneth L. Woodward estimates that Mother Katharine Drexel’s 36-year cause for canonization cost over $1 million.

 

All this to say that a great deal of time, effort and money go into the expedition of declaring someone to be officially in heaven and “entitled to public veneration and capable of interceding for people on earth.”

 

“So what’s the problem?” you may ask.

 

The problem is that none of this is necessary.  As it is written:

 

Only, as before the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; when we do not know what prayer to offer, to pray as we ought, the Spirit himself intercedes for us, with groans beyond all utterance:  and God, who can read our hearts, knows well what the Spirit’s intent is; for indeed it is according to the mind of God that he makes intercession for the saints. (Romans 8:26-27 Knox)

And also:

 

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.  Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:33-34 ESV)

In other words, your prayers to God the Father are carried by God the Holy Spirit directly to Jesus (God the Son), who intercedes DIRECTLY WITH HIS FATHER!  No gatekeeper, no secretary, no calling ahead for an appointment.  Straight into the Throne Room with no red tape!

 

So naturally, this raises the question: If all believers in Christ have a direct hotline to the living God, then why do Catholics insist on praying to dead people?  God wouldn’t even hear a prayer that was offered to someone else, would he?

 

Actually, the evidence would seem to indicate otherwise.  Here is one example to which I can personally testify.

 

A devout Catholic couple in the area where I live had been married, and childless, for seven years.  The wife was told that she was barren.  Rather than accept that fate, she and her husband prayed fervently to St. Gerard, the patron saint of unborn children, to intercede.  Fourteen kids later, one might say that their prayers were very effective indeed.

 

This would seem to imply that a prayer offered in sincere faith, the best way one knows how to pray, is honored by God.  Therefore, who am I to tell a Catholic praying to a saint that they’re “doing it wrong”?

 

No, my problem isn’t with the praying.  My problem is the superciliousness of the church leaders in their authoritative exaltation of people to sainthood in the first place.

 

Now I suppose you could argue that it’s better to be judgmental in a positive sense, by officially declaring them to be in heaven, than the alternative—condemning them to hell.  However, in either case, you can’t avoid the reality that judgment of ANY soul’s eternal destiny and reward, or lack thereof, belongs to God alone.

 

What arrogance to think that a group of human beings is qualified to judge what rank people have in heaven and what rights and special abilities they have when no one, besides Jesus Himself, ever came down from heaven!

 

But I suppose it makes sense that a group that has declared itself “infallible[5]” would consider itself worthy to judge such matters.  It appears the Pope, the Bishops, the General Council and all the Magisterium didn’t get the memo that nobody’s perfect.

 

But back to the saints.  I find it spellbindingly ironic that the “infallible” church does not actually consider those it canonizes to be infallible.

 

Just “good enough,” I guess.

 

(So how good is “good enough?”  Stick around for Part 8–Good Works)

 

[1] Collins English Dictionary – Complete and Unabridged © HarperCollins Publishers 1991, 1994, 1998, 2000, 2003

[2] http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/csaints/documents/rc_con_csaints_pro_20051996_en.html

[3] http://werewolf.co.nz/2010/10/saving-a-nation-of-sinners/

[4] http://www.slate.com/articles/life/faithbased/2010/06/the_vatican_loves_a_good_story.single.html

[5] Vatican II explained the doctrine of infallibility as follows: “Although the individual bishops do not enjoy the prerogative of infallibility, they can nevertheless proclaim Christ’s doctrine infallibly. This is so, even when they are dispersed around the world, provided that while maintaining the bond of unity among themselves and with Peter’s successor, and while teaching authentically on a matter of faith or morals, they concur in a single viewpoint as the one which must be held conclusively. This authority is even more clearly verified when, gathered together in an ecumenical council, they are teachers and judges of faith and morals for the universal Church. Their definitions must then be adhered to with the submission of faith” (Lumen Gentium 25).

Breaking Catholic: Part 5–Confession

 

 

Once, at about age 30 (after I had rejoined the Catholic church), I went to confession.  The visiting priest hearing confession that day was Father Carlos from Colombia.  (His joke was that he would say in a thick Latino accent, “I am from Columbia . . . Missouri.”)

 

This was a face-to-face confession.  I grew up with the old school, priest-behind-a-semi-translucent-sliding wall-so-they-can’t-see-you kind of a deal (as if they didn’t know you by your voice).

 

But I went face-to-face this time, because I actually had something that I needed to confess—adulterous thoughts.  They were just thoughts—no actions—but by this time I had read the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus warned, “You have heard it said ‘Do not commit adultery,’ but I say to you, whoever has looked at another woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

 

At this point in my life, though I would not have called myself “born again,” my heart had been softened enough for me to feel true remorse and conviction for this sin.  So I felt like I needed to truly confess it, not just go through the motions of “Bless me Father, for I have sinned,” Hail Mary conversion chart, yadda, yadda, yadda.

 

So for the first time ever, I’m pouring out my heart to a priest because I feel like I need to.  I feel like I actually have a slate that needs cleaning.  So I finish, and I wait for the absolution and penance, but then Father Carlos hits me with something I hadn’t expected.

 

“God has already forgiven you.”

 

What?  How is that possible?  I don’t remember exactly what Father Carlos said after that, but the gist of it was that God was actually loving and merciful, not condemning and judgmental.  He painted a word picture of a God that WANTS to forgive me, not punish me.  Totally New Concept!

 

But isn’t that how the one true God is?  We even sang a hymn in church called “Loving and Forgiving,” taken from Psalm 103, so all the evidence was there.  Yet it never clicked for me until this day.

 

This experience was the first time I ever felt the weight of sin being lifted from my shoulders.  By the time this confession ended, I was actually laughing with Father Carlos because of the freedom I felt.  (One problem there—if you laugh in a Catholic Church, even a small one, it echoes a LOT!  Many dirty looks ensuing from the LONG line still waiting.)

 

(So why was this so unusual?  For a couple of theories, come back for Part 6–Repetition and Tradition)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 4–First Hand

 

 

I received a Bible, probably at about age 9 or so, in Catholic Sunday School, or CCD as we called it.  (This has now been changed to PSR, most likely because “Parish School of Religion” is much easier for a grade-schooler to say than “Confraternity of Christian Doctrine.”)  By then, it was already too late for me.  But it wouldn’t have mattered anyway.  The Bible was something we carried to CCD, not something we actually used.

 

Without studying the Bible first hand, you don’t really know anything about the real Jesus, his inner circle of disciples, and how they gave birth to what is now known as Christianity.  It wasn’t until I actually started to read the Bible that I realized that most of what I thought I knew about had been shaped not by the Church, but by popular culture.  What faith I had was based not on the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but on that of Cecil B. Demille and Andrew Lloyd Webber.

 

As our pastors at Cherry Hills say, “You can’t be deeply influenced by something you don’t know.”  The significance is that you can’t live out Jesus’ teachings without having read them yourself.  And even reading about the teachings isn’t enough, because that’s just head knowledge.

 

But the Catholic Church doesn’t even allow for the head knowledge!  If you can’t even go that far, then you are NEVER going to get to the place where head knowledge becomes heart-changing, life altering Truth.

 

And here is where Catholicism begins to break down completely.  Catholics, historically, have not been encouraged to read the Bible.  According to Monsignor Daniel Kutys:

Until the twentieth Century, it was only Protestants who actively embraced Scripture study.  That changed after 1943 when Pope Pius XII issued the encyclical Divino Afflante Spiritu.  This not only allowed Catholics to study Scripture, it encouraged them to do so.[i] 

 

Although the pope issued this encyclical 70 years ago, there has not been much trickle-down to the laity (i.e. the folks in the pews).  According to a 2012 survey commissioned by the Bible Society, in partnership with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, 57% of churchgoing Catholics don’t read the Bible week-by-week outside of a Church setting.[ii]

 

Since the Second Vatican Council in the 1960’s (known as Vatican II), the Catholic church has been on a mechanical three-year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, in which they tell their followers that at the end of the three-year cycle, they will have covered all of scripture.  Therefore, a faithful Catholic who attends mass every Sunday is under the impression that after three years, they have had the entire Bible read to them.

 

This is dangerously false.  According to the Catholic Lectionary Website, only 27.5 % of the verses in the Bible are covered by the Lectionary.  And that’s if you go to mass EVERY DAY!  If you’re only meeting your minimum obligation of every Sunday and Feast day, that figure drops to 12.7%.

 

Understand, this is only since Vatican II, when the Magisterium began openly encouraging Bible study.  Before that, when the mass was in Latin and only had two readings instead of three, the figures are even more shocking.  Only 4.7% of the Bible was covered.  Forty-five of the 73 books in the Catholic Bible were ignored completely, including all of the Historical and Wisdom books of the Old Testament and the book of Revelation.  [iii]

 

But even if the Bible were being covered completely in the 3-year span, it wouldn’t matter to the congregation, because how is the Bible going to sink in if you’re having it read TO you?

 

Actually, that is possible in certain situations.  For example, back in the Middle Ages, when most people were illiterate, the only way they could obtain knowledge from the Bible or any other book was to have someone read it to them.  Indeed the worldwide literacy rate today is not much above 40%, with the exceptions of course being in developed nations such as our own.

 

If you were one of those people who could not read, then you would be ready to receive whatever was read to you, because you would know it was the only way you were going to learn.  Your receptiveness would be even more acute if you were prepared specifically to hear what was in the Bible.

 

But this is overwhelmingly not the case in 21st-century America.  I don’t know ANY Catholic who goes to church to hear what is in the Bible (there may be some, but I haven’t met them).  They go because it’s what you do on Sunday (or Saturday night).  It is all part of the tradition (more on this in Part 6).

 

Bible study simply isn’t part of the Catholic culture.  It never has been.

 

The Word of God is proclaimed during the mass, but the people in the pews don’t have their own Bibles to follow along.  At best, there might be a worship aid in the pew.

 

Without the opportunity or active encouragement to be in the Word first hand, Catholics disconnect from the readings.  They are just waiting to hear “This is the word of the Lord,” so they can wake up and robotically respond “Thanks be to God.”

 

How rare is the priest who actually TEACHES practical application of the Bible readings in their homily (a commentary that is the ancient predecessor of the modern-day “sermon”).

 

(I did meet one priest that got it though.  For a more uplifting story, come back for Part 5—Confession)



[i] http://www.usccb.org/bible/understanding-the-bible/study-materials/articles/changes-in-catholic-attitudes-toward-bible-readings.cfm

[ii] http://www.catholic-ew.org.uk/Home/News-Releases/2012/Catholic-Bible-Engagement

[iii] http://catholic-resources.org/Lectionary/Statistics.htm


Breaking Catholic: Part 3–Holy Spirit

 

 

You may have heard it said of the Bible “The Word is alive,” or some variation thereof.  Scripture says of itself:

 

For the Word that God speaks is alive and full of power—making it active, operative, energizing and effective; it is sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating to the dividing line of the breath of life (soul) and [the immortal] spirit, and of joints and marrow [that is, of the deepest parts of our nature] exposing and sifting and analyzing and judging the very thoughts and purposes of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12 Amplified)
 

However, this is only possible through the illumination of the Holy Spirit, the third person of God.  Scripture is nonsense and babbling to those who attempt to read it without the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

 

Now if you are a non-Christian reading this, let me bring you up to speed on the concept of the Trinity.  God exists as one God in three persons: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.  They are One God, not Three, which is a very difficult mystery to wrap your brain around.  Here are a few illustrations that have helped me.

 

An apple has three parts: the peel, the flesh and the core.  The three parts have different purposes, but they are all still one apple, not three apples. (This illustration is from a book called 3 in 1 (A Picture of God) by Joanne and Benjamin Marxhausen. I found it for my daughter at a rummage sale—at a Catholic household, oddly enough.)

 

Another illustration about the Trinity is H2O.  If you drop an ice cube onto a very hot skillet, it will quickly melt and then evaporate. But for a few seconds, you will have water in all three states: ice, water and steam.  All three are water, and all three exist in the same place at the same time, but each one has unique characteristics and purposes.

 

Finally, the unique purposes of the Trinity have been explained to me by the following illustration.  A father and son are reading quietly in their living room (it could happen!).  They are so into their books, and they have been reading for so long, that it’s starting to get dark.  Dad is comfortable, and he is also Dad, so he says to his son, “Go turn on the lamp.”  The son gets up and turns on the lamp, and they continue reading by the light it gives.

 

The father gives the command, the son carries it out and the power gives light.  In the same way, God the Father gave a command (Let there be light), the Son carried it out (And there was light) and the Holy Spirit brought light to the world.

 

This is how God has worked, and still works, in our world today.  The Father’s greatest work since the creation was to redeem the world and humanity with it.  He gave the order for atoning work to be done to bring us back to Him.  This order was carried out by the Son, who came to the world in the person of Jesus Christ.  And on the night He was betrayed, Jesus explained how the work would be completed in us:

 

And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Comforter (Counselor, Helper, Intercessor, Advocate, Strengthener and Standby) that He may remain with you forever, the Spirit of Truth, Whom the world cannot receive (welcome, take to its heart), because it does not see Him, nor know and recognize Him.  But you know and recognize Him, for He lives with you [constantly] and will be in you. (John 14: 16-17 Amplified) 

 

After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, He made good on His promise:

 

And when the day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all assembled together in one place, when suddenly there came a sound from heaven like the rushing of a violent tempest blast, and it filled the whole house in which they were sitting.  And there appeared to them tongues resembling fire, which were separated and distributed and that settled on each one of them.  And they were all filled—diffused throughout their souls—with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other (different, foreign) languages, as the Spirit kept giving them clear and loud expression (in each tongue in appropriate words).  Acts 2:1-4 Amplified)

 

Now what does all this have to do with Catholicism?

 

Well, the Catholic church obviously does acknowledge the existence of the Holy Spirit.  Indeed, they acknowledge Him every time they make the Sign of the Cross, in which they silently (or aloud) say in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  (Any Catholics reading this, you just said “Amen” didn’t you?  Admit it!)

 

But as for me, growing up, I didn’t really know anything about the Holy Spirit.  He was whose name I said when I touched my shoulders whilst crossing myself.  That was it.

 

(So how does one solve this problem?  Come back for Part 4–First Hand)

 

Breaking Catholic–Part 2:The Word

 

 

Catholics do, of course, know about Jesus.  They know who He is, how He died, and that He rose again, which are key elements in the Gospel.  But do they know Him?

 

I can only speak for myself here, so I will do that.  I did not know Jesus when I was a Catholic, either as a child, or later as an adult.

 

God the Father is revealed through the Son, the Son is revealed through the Word, and the Word is revealed through the Holy Spirit.

 

The Catholic church does indeed reveal the Father through the Son.  Jesus as the Son of God is taught.  There is no doubt in my mind that any Catholic with a brainwave knows who Jesus is.  Therefore, they know of the Father.

 

But do they know the Father?  The Father is revealed through the Son, who is revealed through the Word.  The only way you can know what is in the Word is to be in the Word yourself.

 

God’s work from His creation to our redemption is recorded in the Bible, which was written by men under the inspiration (literally, “God-breath”) and guidance of the Holy Spirit.  As Paul said:

All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV)

 

So the Bible is God’s book about God’s plan to redeem God’s creation written under God’s inspiration by God’s people of old for God’s people throughout the ages, even unto this present age.  Understanding this, is it any wonder that the Bible cannot be understood without God’s guidance?

 

In my adult Catholic life, I decided that I was going to read the Bible cover to cover, as though it were a novel.  I had received a very nice bound Bible from my aunt at my confirmation nearly 15 years before, which had never been out of the box.

 

So one day I decided that I was going to read it front to back to see what was in it.  It was a King James Version (I’ll pause here to wait for the Baptists to stop laughing at the concept of a Catholic trying to get through Leviticus in the KJV—if you’ve tried that, you know where I’m coming from).

 

No matter what the translation, it’s a good bet that if you’ve ever tried to read the Bible like that, you probably made it about 1/3 of the way through.  If you did manage to get through the Pentatuech (the first five books), then you probably got bogged down somewhere in Chronicles and gave up.

 

Obviously, the Bible wasn’t meant to be read this way.  Even in a modern-day, prose-like paraphrase such as Eugene Peterson’s The Message, you’re still going to struggle with the “thick parts” near the beginning.  Unless you’re an architect, you’re probably not going to find much life application in the pages describing all the dimensions and details of the tabernacle or the temple.

 

(For an easier method, come back for Part 3: Holy Spirit)

 

Breaking Catholic–Part 1: History Lesson

 

 

Just before Christmas, Benedictine University did a survey of former Catholics and lapsed Catholics to find out why they had stopped attending Mass and to ask what they could do to bring them back.  I was already planning this series when I found out about the survey, but it made me think a lot more deeply about what I was writing.  That, plus the ridiculously hectic holiday season, accounts for the delay since my last post.  Dear readers, you have my apologies.

My motivation for telling this part of my story, and in this level of detail, is that I see history repeating itself in the Church.  If you are Catholic, please be advised that what you are about to read in this series may offend you deeply.  But please understand, as with everything that appears here at Truth Mission, the intent is not to offend but to illuminate.  

There are as many perspectives on religion as there are people.  This is mine; yours may be completely different.  I welcome comments from all, but please try to be respectful, as I have tried to be.

 

In the Old Testament, the Jews were set apart as the holy people of God.  Even as Jesus prepared the Kingdom of God to be opened to the Gentiles (i.e. anyone not a Jew), he still said to the Samaritan woman at the well, “You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews.”  (John 4:22 NASB)

 

Now when Jesus said “from the Jews,” he was referring to Himself, being from among the Jews.  How ironic, then, was it for Him to be arrested and brought to trial by the Pharisees–the leaders of the Jews!  You would think that the people charged with the keeping of the faith would recognize the Messiah when they saw Him!

 

But they didn’t, of course, because the “faith” that the Pharisees were keeping was not the one given to them by God.  It was their own religion with their own rules and regulations that they created for their own benefit.  Because Jesus didn’t fit their man-made model of what the Messiah should be, the Pharisees had Him executed, even though He was the real deal.

 

2,000 years later, the same thing is happening to Christianity.

 

Many centuries ago, the Catholic Church was charged with keeping the faith as handed to them by the apostles.  Indeed, the Pope is considered as a direct successor to the Apostle Peter, who was charged by Jesus Himself to lead the emerging Church.  As such, what makes a Catholic a Catholic is being identified with this direct line of succession.

 

The word Catholic means universal, or literally from the Greek, “according to the whole.”  This term was first used around 400 AD to distinguish people who believed the whole doctrine about Jesus being fully divine and fully human from those who did not (these were called “heretics”).

 

But somewhere along the way, the doctrine became more important than the faith.

 

Following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, the Magisterium, or teaching authority, of the Catholic Church gradually created a new religion out of Christianity.  As a result, just as the Pharisees did not recognize Jesus for who He was while He was alive on earth, so the Catholic leadership does not recognize who He is today.

 

(Why not? For one answer, come back for Part 2:The Word)

 

Division: Part 3–Seeing is Believing

 

 “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another. . .”  (Hebrews 10:24-25a NIV)

 

The Yellow Pages of my metropolitan area list 345 churches.  They are split into 60 different denominations.  Some of these denominations have sub-denominations.

 

This makes for some interesting reading.  We have four different kinds of Lutherans and seven different flavors of Baptist.  We have an “Independent” Catholic Church (the word “Catholic” comes from the Greek cath holos, meaning “according to the whole” or “unified”).  There are six Churches of Christ, five Churches of God, and seven Churches of God IN Christ.  We have six interdenominational churches, 23 non-denominational churches and one church of “various denominations.”  And we have 49 churches that just call themselves “Christian.”

 

 So which one is the right one?

 

 If I were to poll people from all 345 churches, I would bet that the majority would say, “OURS is the right one.”  Many wouldn’t, but I imagine a lot would. 

 

 

Of course, many of these 345 churches work together and support each other.  But some don’t.  When churches are in opposition to each other, it is usually because of a doctrinal difference.  It may be something as petty as the style of worship music, or it may be something much more significant, such as the authority of scripture.

 

The causes, however, as not as important as the fact that division exists within the church.  This is significant because this division is noticeable by those OUTSIDE the church.

 

If our job is to make disciples of all nations, how good of a job do you suppose we’re doing if we’re going to war with each other?  Why would anyone want to be part of a movement that is divided against itself?

 

Believe it or not, many folks outside the church are seeking the Truth the same as we are.  Some even accept Jesus on a logical level, but don’t want to be part of a home church because of all the drama and division. 

 

Even the simple fact that there are 345 churches to choose from in my area is overwhelming in its own right.  It would take 6 ½ years to visit them all.  Can you imagine going to the store for one item and having 345 different brands of it from which to choose.  I’d stay home too.

 

Now of course, as Christians, we know that the Holy Spirit will lead us to where we are supposed to be.  However, non-Christians DON’T know that. 

 

We have to remember that agnostics are creatures of logic and reason.  They have to see to believe.  Because they have not received the Holy Spirit, they can not follow His leading.  The only thing they have to go on is what they see.

 

And that’s us.  And our division.  Logic dictates that Truth and division can not co-exist.  Truth can not be divided on itself just as Christ can not be divided.  So if a person comes seeking Truth from a logical standpoint, they are also seeking unity.  Where they do not find unity, they assume they have not found Truth.

 

So they leave.  They do not become disciples.

 

And we have failed in our primary mission.

 

(Next, Part 4–The god We Want)

 

Division: Part 2–Denominations

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  (1 Corinthians 1: 10, 12-13  NIV)

 

            When Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus in about 54AD, he could already see in the church at Corinth the beginnings of what is possibly the most damaging division in the universal Church today: denominations.

 

            You see, the problem with churches is that they’re made up of people.  The problem with people is that, unlike Jesus, we are ruled by pride, which is the mother of all sin.  We want to be right more than we want to be righteous, that is, having a right standing from God’s perspective rather than our own. 

 

               In the church at Corinth, the biggest sources of division were the high-status Gentile converts.  They wanted the benefits of following Jesus Christ without having to give up the benefits of their status in society, and the social lives that went along with that.

 

            Another problem the Corinthians were having is a problem many churches today still deal with—growth.             

 

            Now generally speaking, growth is a good problem for a church to have.  It sure beats a declining membership!

 

            However, the problem is that sometimes when churches grow, they eventually split.  Frequently this is due to space constraints; however, it can also be intentional.  A larger church may plant some members and leaders in another location to grow another branch of that church.  (Obviously this is not a contentious type of division, but it is a division nonetheless.)

 

            Where this can become a problem is that each individual church has its own leadership, which comes along with its own leadership style.  This can raise the twin specters of comparison and preference.

 

            This is what Paul is addressing in the passage above.  Some of the Corinthians preferred Paul for his straightforward doctrinal approach, others preferred the flashiness of Apollos’ preaching style, and others preferred Cephas (that is, Peter), just by reputation.  Then there were those who distanced themselves from the other groups by simply calling themselves “Christian,” but out of a spirit of exclusivity, not of inclusivity. 

 

            The point is that it is very difficult to maintain unity in mind and thought when people are not in close proximity.  How much harder then must it be to attempt to “follow the teachings of Jesus” while not connected to a home church at all, as many are attempting to do these days. 

 

(To be continued in Part 3–Seeing is Believing)