Crossfunction: 2011

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Would Jesus defend the Catholic Church?

Another challenging email!


I have written to many writers about some of these questions. Some of them blow them off as if age helps to mitigate the substantialness of them. So I 'll ask you, as you genuinely seem interested and convinced.

At some point don't we have to ask ourselves hard questions such as "Could it be possible that our Church is not Good?" When so much of it's history has been clouded with scandal, and has been responsible for so much hurt and pain, don't we at some point have to ask ourselves if Jesus himself would defend it? I find it hard to believe that any thinking Catholic could honestly say that Jesus would defend the Catholic Church and all her sins. Jesus after all was a Jew, and criticized His own religion for her wrongs. Why would the label "Catholic" make him think any differently? It wouldn't.

Wouldn't Jesus just want us to move forward, leaving our imperfect ideas of what a Church should be behind and working together to create a new reality which He intended? You and so many others like you get so stuck on defending "Catholicism" that you forget what Jesus was all about. Put your "catholicism" aside and talk to Jesus. He is a great and wonderful spirit who came here to show us that right is more important than allegiance. Follow His lead.

Let me ask you one important question. If Jesus came to you and said "The Catholic Church is wrong. Do not follow it's teachings. Simply follow Me and My Word." and then the Catholic Church told you "Do not believe Jesus, He is wrong. God has established us as the vehicle of truth. Do as we say." Who would you believe? Would you act against the dictates of your Catholic Church to follow Jesus? What would you do? Well now you need to change the question. What WILL you do.
My reply...
Dear L,
Thanks a lot for writing. Your question is very similar to one I received just yesterday, so I refer You to my answer to 'C' in the previous blog entry. But I'd like to also add a few thoughts here...

You seem to focus on the sins in the history of the Catholic Church. What about the sins in the history of the numerous Protestant churches? I don't know of any Christian churches that have members without sin. Does Jesus condemn every church that has sinful members? Doesn't the Bible teach that the Church will be a home for redeemed sinners struggling to live by faith, sometimes falling into sin, and then repenting and beginning again? God is a Father seeking to heal sinners, and He works through sinners to do so.

You asked what would I do if Jesus came to me and said that "the Catholic Church is wrong". Well, honestly, He hasn't said that to me, and You can't expect that I will accept Your letter as the voice of God. You didn't even do me the courtesy of introducing Your name or the name of Your church. If You are serious about the truth, and about this discussion, I would like to know Your name and Your church, and then I would be very interested in discussing our beliefs in the light of Scripture.

I'd rather we be friends in Christ, not adversaries!

God bless You,

John Robin.

The Catholic Church's "big lie"

I just received a challenging email:

Dear John.
Allow me to express my thoughts about the Catholic Church's claim to be the one founded by Jesus Christ.  I would say, it is a big lie.  If it is the one founded by Jesus Christ, then why so many of them (priests, bishops, cardinals) from the middle ages to now did not live their lives according to Jesus Christ's teachings or of the lives of the Apostles. I don't have to mention the details because its very obvious. Just look around. I don't need to cite scriptures to to prove what l am saying because its very obvious. Thank you. God bless.
Here's my reply...
Hi, C,
Thank You for writing to me with Your question. It’s a very good question and I’ll try to provide some answer.

It seems to me that essentially You are asking why there are sinners in the Church. You are implying that if Jesus founded a church, its members would be holy; they would live according to Jesus Christ’s teachings; they would not sin. And if we find a church whose history has many examples among its members and leaders who sinned badly, certainly that is evidence that this church was not founded by Jesus. Right?

Well, no, actually. Look at the first apostles. James, John –and their mother- wanted special places of honor above the others in Jesus’ kingdom (Matthew 20:21). Peter denied Jesus three times. Judas stole money from Jesus and the others, and later betrayed Jesus. At Jesus’ arrest all the apostles (except John) ran away. Peter acted hypocritically toward the Jews and gentiles and received the rebuke of Paul. You can be sure there were many other sad failings among the apostles and other disciples that were not recorded in the Gospels. And the other New Testament writings are full of evidence that the early Christians were sinners who struggled with divisions, factions, controversies, and scandals. Not just among the apostles and priests, but among the lay members as well. Are these facts proof that Jesus did not found a Church, or that His Church was ruined by sin? Did Jesus' plan to build a Church ultimately fail?

No. To think so is to misunderstand the Church Jesus founded. The Church has the Son of God as its head and cornerstone, but very human apostles as its foundation. Its walls are built of living stones which are very much redeemed sinners still struggling to imitate Christ despite many failings. It has the Holy Spirit to guide its members on their path through life, but has human members who have not lost their ability to sin. Christ is the vine, and we are the branches, but we branches have the ability to choose to do God’s will, or to turn away and prefer our own will.

You mention the sinfulness of bishops and cardinals. But what about Your own sinfulness, and mine? Has Your life been blameless? Mine has not.

C, if You believe that “true” Christians don’t sin, then You don’t know Your Bible any better than You know human nature. If You believe there is a church –perhaps Your own- that has as its leaders and members people who never sin, then I will use Your own words: “it is a big lie”. The possibility of sin will not be completely erased from the lives of the saved until all the saved have been gathered into Heaven.

Until then we remain at war. The Holy Spirit equips us to do battle against temptations to turn away from the will of God. With God’s help it is very possible to resist sin, and to grow stronger so that we can live more and more holy lives. But in this life we always have the possibility of rejecting God, and Christians sometimes fall into sin. When we see a fellow believer stumble and fall into sin, it is a terrible thing… just as when it happens in our own lives. But it does not mean that we are not believers, or that we are not members of Jesus’ Church.

C, the Church is like a hospital, a hospital for sinners. The hospital does not kick out patients (or the doctors) because they are sick, or because they fall ill more than once. The fact that they are sick does not prove that the hospital is not a hospital.

So, C my friend, I say to You that You are using the wrong measuring stick to identify the Church. You won’t find the Church Jesus founded by searching for a church with no sinners. You will find it by asking God to help You find it, and then by studying what the Bible teaches about the Church. There are several simple things the Bible clearly teaches about the Church:
1) It is One. Jesus found a Church, and He didn’t found two, three, or ten thousand of them. He founded one.
2) It is holy. It contains everything that we need to grow in holiness: holy teachings; the holy sacraments; holy fellowship; the example of countless thousands of saints –a “great cloud of witnesses”- whose lives reflect the light of Christ and inspire us to imitate Him. It not only helps people become holy, it in fact does produce many people who achieve great holiness.
3) It is “catholic”, meaning universal. It is a church for the whole world, for all peoples and times. It is a reflection and foretaste of Heaven, where all Christ’s followers are united in one faith, one Lord, one baptism.
4) It is apostolic. It was founded upon apostles personally selected by Jesus, and who had the authority to pick other men to share that role with them and after them. For the past twenty centuries that apostolic authority has continued among those who have received it from the apostles and their successors. Nothing in the Bible indicates that this apostolic foundation was ever to be abandoned.

The Catholic Church has the four key characteristics. Does Yours?

Finally, I think it's dangerous to pass judgement on the hearts of other persons, especially Christians who lived many centuries ago. People we might be tempted to think were really big sinners might have lived lives more pleasing to God than our own. Humility and a healthy respect for God's justice should make us guard against passing negative judgement on others.

C, I would love to hear Your thoughts about these important things!

Thank You again for writing to me.

God bless You,

John Robin.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Is "sola scriptura" scriptural?

A friend wrote me last week in favor of the doctrine of sola scriptura, held by many (if not most) Protestants.  Sola scriptura is the belief that the Bible contains everything we need to know, for the purpose of salvation and holiness.  My friend wrote:

I recently came across a verse that makes the case for Sola scriptura pretty plain.  "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." 2 Timothy 3:16-17

I really don't see how this could be taken any way other than the scriptures provide all you need.

-Ian K., letter of January 18, 2011 (reprinted with permission)

Ian, I appreciate and share Your love for Scripture as the written Word of God.  It's a measureless treasure of God's revelation to us, and it deserves not only our love, but our respect and study.  It's terribly important that we "rightly divide" the word of truth.

2 Timothy 3:16-17 is perhaps the most commonly cited passage in defense of sola scriptura.  However, a careful reading of the passage reveals that it does not in fact support the belief.  Let's take a look:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
-2 Timothy 3:16-17 RSV
Is "profitable" sufficient?

In this passage the Greek word translated as "profitable" is "ƍphelimos".  Strong's Concordance translates this as "profitable".  Notice that Strong's does not translate this as "sufficient".  There are other Greek words in the New Testament which are translated "sufficient", but not this one.  Some other translations of this passage use the words, "valuable" or "useful", but not "sufficient".

There's an important difference between profitable and sufficient.  Something that is sufficient means nothing more is needed.  Something that is profitable or useful is helpful, potentially even necessary, but You may need other things in addition to achieve Your goal.  If You're going to hike across a desert, a good supply of water is going to be very valuable -perhaps necessary- to You.  A map and a GPS unit could be very useful as well.  But as useful as water, a map, and GPS unit may be, they may not be sufficient.  You may need to bring food as well. You may need sunglasses, a hat, and proper clothing.

My point is that this passage from 2 Timothy stresses that Scripture has great value to us.  It can teach us, correct us, and train us for good works.  But Timothy certainly does not say we need nothing else.  In fact, it positively teaches that there are other things that we do need.

"...complete, equipped for every good work"
You may point that Timothy does say that Scripture makes us "complete, equipped for every good work".  But Timothy does not actually say that.  He does not say that Scripture itself will make us complete.  Briefly, the passage simply says that Scripture is inspired and very useful toward the goal of helping us become trained and fully equipped for every good work.  But salvation is more than our good works.

This passage doesn't mention faith.  Is faith not needed?  It doesn't mention love.  Is love not required?  It doesn't mention repenting of our sins, or picking up our cross, or confessing Jesus Christ as our savior.  Are these not required?  2 Timothy doesn't address every thing of importance to believers, but this doesn't mean that these things aren't needed.

Further, Scripture clearly teaches things that blow sola scriptura out of the water entirely.  This is because Scripture clearly teaches things rejected by protestant theology. For example, Jesus has given His apostles and their successors certain specific powers: the power to interpret Scripture in a binding manner; the existence and necessity of apostolic tradition; the power to absolve from sin; the power to appoint other men to the apostolic ministry; the power to celebrate the Eucharist and other sacraments... and more. 

In particular, sola scriptura is completely at odds with Scripture because Scripture affirms that the apostles have handed down a body of teaching that is not explicitly and completely contained within Scripture, but which is necessary for us to properly understand and interpret Scripture.  There are a number of passages that clearly prove this, but I'll wrap up this letter with just these two from Paul:
"I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I have delivered them to you." -1 Corinthians 11:2 RSV

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.  -2 Thessalonians 2:15 RSV

Ian, there's more scriptural evidence that shows sola scriptura to be a false teaching, but perhaps You can already see that the teaching is non-scriptural.

What do You think?