It’s a weekend, and we’re not doing "Through the Bible in a Year" on the weekend. This post today is probably going to make some people irate, but every word of what follows is true.
Once again, this based on a question that was emailed to me. I’m telling you, these things come up over and over again. I’m not fixated on Roman Catholicism; this issue is brought up to me repeatedly.
I’ve sort of covered this, just recently, but this is perhaps more succinct. I’m also learning that saying things over and over is sometimes necessary.
I am a lay person from a Protestant background. I have a Roman Catholic person asking me…"Who is right? Who is wrong? If you don’t have someone in charge then you have some 40,000 different churches and each one is open to their own interpretation of the Bible." I need some input on how to respond.
The problem with having someone in charge to tell you what the Bible says is, what if they’re wrong. Yes, there are 40,000 denominations arguing about what the Bible says. Is that a reason to turn to the Roman Catholic Church and let them interpret the Bible for us?
Let me tell you what happens when everyone agrees that the Roman Catholic Church ought to interpret the Bible for us. The first thing the RCC does is take the Bible away from everyone. The next thing they do is burn people to death if they try to give the Bible back to people. They teach people to worship saints, which is not any different than the idols they previously worshipped. All idols of all cultures are basically men or women who were heroes, then exalted to God status after they died. (That’s pretty general, but at its most basic level, that’s true.) The Roman Catholic Church simply used saints for their hero worship.
Holiness becomes lost when the RCC is interpreting the Bible for everyone. Holiness becomes limited to doing the 7 sacraments and attending mass. Superstitions abound, and the RCC faith is easily combined with pagan religions like voodoo.
Why do I say all these things? I say all these things because that is what happened in Europe from around A.D. 600 until the Renaissance and Reformation. Some 600 to 900 years everyone in Europe did what the RCC said, and what I described above is the result.
What about today? In countries where Roman Catholicism has been overthrown, like Europe and the United States, the RCC looks a lot like Protestantism with more rituals, though their members still almost all limit holiness to the 7 sacraments and mass. However, in countries where everyone is Roman Catholic, the picture is much worse. The worship of Mary and other saints continues in Italy and South America to a degree that horrifying, and South American and Central American Catholics regularly have a religion that is an even mixture of Catholic superstition and voodoo or shamanism.
Yes, there’s a problem, but turning over authority to the RCC has proven for 1400 years to be a much worse problem.
The real solution is to acknowledge the fact that in many nations, Christianity in all its versions is the national religion or is the only acceptable religion. In those nations, most Christians are not real Christians. They are simply following the religion of their nation or the religion of their parents, grandparents, or great grandparents.
Ever since the emperor Constantine, the Christian churches have been institutions that made room for these unconverted Christians. Those unconverted Christians are always going to be used by the devil to create doctrinal controversies and to make sure whatever doctrine is accepted makes allowance for their unholy lives.
Here’s the solution. Wherever real disciples—people who want to obey Jesus Christ—get together and serve Jesus wholeheartedly, they will find that the promise of God is true. They will find that the Holy Spirit—the Anointing of God—really will lead them into everything they need to know, and that leading will be true and not a lie. If they will rely on him, knowing that they must be together in order to grow and live (1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4), then speak the truth in love to one another, the Lord God will guide them through every controversy, teach them what matters, and move them to experience the miraculous power of a holy, united life.
That solution works. It’s not easy, and it’s very messy. Even the apostle Paul had problems with controversy and sin in his churches (e.g., 2 Cor. 12:20-21; Gal. 1:6). Nonetheless, the Scriptures promise that the result of clinging together with the saints–not with pretend saints, who must be ejected (1 Cor. 5)–will produce guidance from God that is trustworthy (1 Jn. 2:27; Eph. 4:13).
In the meantime, counterfeit Christianity will go on and on, and there will always be someone coming along to say, "There are 40,000 different churches nad each one is open to their own interpretation of the Bible, so listen to me."
Don’t. God has given an answer in the Scriptures, and it involves those who want to follow Jesus Christ coming together as one. Then God himself shall be their teacher.
A Response to the Inevitable Questions
Was every middle age Roman Catholic evil? No, of course not, but my general description of the Europe in the Middle Ages is accurate. There were revivals, many of them persecuted by order of the pope, but not all. The Waldensians, whose obedience to the Sermon on the Mount was an offense to corrupt clergy, were driven out of their homes and forced to hide out in the Swiss Alps. The followers of St. Francis of Assissi found acceptance in the Catholic Church.
Does every South American Roman Catholic hold to a mixture of shamanism and Catholicism? No, of course not. However, what I describe abounds. It may not be the rule, but it is certainly not the exception.
Is idolatry, the worship of saints, really practiced in the RCC? Oh, yes. The honor given to Mary and the things said about her in Roman Catholicism are outrageous compared to both Biblical and historical precedent, if we limit ourselves to the pre-Nicene era only.
I was raised Roman Catholic. I personally, along with every student in our Catholic school, bowed down and kissed the feet of a statue of Mary. They can defend that all they want, it is hero worship and idolatry.
And it is not only Mary’s statue that receives such adulation. Statues of St. Christopher and others see good Catholics bowing down in prayer before them, prayer that is directed at the saint and not at God.
This practice began before there was a "Roman" Catholic Church. The emperor Julian ("the Apostate") said that hero worship among the Christian churches in the A.D. 360’s was worse than among the pagans. Surrounding history bears that out.
Am I willing to defend my claim that God will teach and protect every collection of committed Christians that give themselves to him? Yes, I am. No, they won’t necessarily all have exactly the same Bible interpretation on every doctrine, but we are way too focused on such things anyway. The foundation of God, Paul says, is that those who name the name of Christ depart from iniquity (2 Tim. 2:19), and the doctrine that matters is that which "conforms to godliness" (2 Tim. 6:3ff). Straying from that which equips the saints for good works (2 Tim. 3:16-17) produces "fruitless discussion" (1 Tim. 1:5-6).
Over and over, I have seen those who give themselves to each other, to love, to unity, and to obeying Christ come to these same conclusions, being taught of God in deeper doctrines, doctrines which produce further holiness and closeness to God, not further dissension.