Tuesday, March 24, 2009

So What's the Difference - The Roman Catholic Church

For a review on this series, please see Part 1 below.

In order to compare the Roman Catholic church and Biblical Christianity, we need to explore the Catholic Church's belief that they are the true church- that is with the sole and exclusive authority and ability to interpret the Scriptures for believers, and how they view doctrines such as salvation- how a person finds justification from his/her sins.
One of the biggest divisions between the Roman Catholic Church and Biblical Christianity is based on Sola scriptura (scripture alone) and sola fide (faith alone). Back in the early days of the reformation, the reformers rejected many of the Roman Catholic traditions because they believed the church should only base it's doctrine on what the Bible teaches. At the council of Trent (1545-63) the Church rejected this, and kept the right to interpret the Scriptures according to what they believed the Bible taught.
During the Vatican Council II (1962-65) the rulings made at Trent were upheld. Among documents from the Vatican Council II was something called Dei Verbum, which showed the Roman Catholic Church believes the apostles passed on their authority to succeeding bishops in the churches during the first century and all the centuries since. The church added certain teachings over the centuries based on what is called Sacred Tradition. Because bishops were supposedly successive apostles, the traditions they began and passed on were given the same authority as the Scriptures. Instead of Sola Scriptura, the Roman Catholic Church assumed and claimed the the teachings of scripture plus tradition, as both are believed to be equal sources of spiritual authority.

Bible believing Christian belief in Scripture alone as our authority is directly opposite to the Roman Catholic teaching of scripture plus tradition. To Bible believing Christians, we believe the Bible alone is our spiritual authority, that it is through the Holy Spirit that we understand what is written. All the things we need to know, believe and practice are clearly written in the Bible, which as we looked at earlier, are God inspired writings. The Bible does not however, include teachings on religion. This doesn't mean that the Bible is incomplete as the Roman Catholic Church believes- just because it doesn't mention other things Jesus did.

Bible believing Christians believe the Scriptures are complete as they need to be to teach the truth of Jesus, how to be redeemed and saved from sin. The Bible plainly says that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
Scripture alone doesn't mean that anyone can read the Bible and believe whatever they want about it (as so many liberal churches do these days). It is the church which must teach the truth of the Bible, (very important here- which so many mega churches and feel good theologians do not do) as long as they stay true to the Bible in whatever they teach. A Christian can trust any church as long as they stay true to the Bible- the whole word.

The Roman Catholic Church continues to believe that the Bible is a "church based book" because the church wrote (the apostles letters) or determined what made up the New Testament. Bible believing Christians believe that the church discovered the New Testament through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, and that He determined which writings were divinely inspired. The Church has never been without scriptures! In the beginning days of the church, it had the Old Testament- which points to the New, which is why so many of the New Testament authors pointed to the Old! (2 Peter 1:20,21)

The Dei Verbum document from Vatican Council II says "All that has been said about the manner of interpreting scripture is ultimately subject to the judgement of the Church which exercises the divinely conferred commission and ministry of watching over and interpreting the Word of God." This shows that the Church encourages the people to read the Bible, but interpreting it is the sole authority of the church. They are insistent that it is the only accurate and authoritative source of interpretation of scripture is through the Catholic Church because of what Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 16:13-20. Jesus asks the disciples who they believe He is. Peter replies that He is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. Jesus tells Peter that only the Father in heaven could have revealed this truth, then made the famous speech about building the Church on "this rock". According to Catechism of the Catholic Church, Jesus named Peter "the rock" and gave him the keys and made him the shepherd of the flock. From this, comes the belief that "This pastoral office of Peter and the other apostles belongs to the Church's very foundation and is continued by the bishops under the primacy of the Pope" who "as vicar of Christ and as pastor of the entire Church has full, supreme and universal power over the whole Church, a power which he can always exercise unhindered."

Biblical Christians believe that the Holy Spirit guides each person in learning what God has to tell them about the Scriptures, and that believers are to search the scriptures for themselves as stated in John 16:13 and Acts 17:11.
As for Peter being the rock upon which Jesus built the church, Bible believing Christians do not agree with this at all. Jesus did not say "Upon you Peter I will build my church". He said upon this rock. In Greek text, Peter is referred to as Petros, which means small stone. "This rock" is referred to as petra, meaning very large rock.

At the Vatican Council I (finished in 1870) in addition to the doctrine that the Pope is infallible, Catholic bishops proclaimed that their interpretation of Matthew 16 showed "clear doctrine of Holy Scripture as it has been ever understood by the Roman Catholic Church." However Bible believing Christians believe that Jesus was talking about Himself as the Church's foundation. (1 Corinthians 3:11, Eph. 2:20, 1 Peter 2:4-8) Even Peter never assumed the authority of anything other than an elder in the Church and talked about his fellow elders as being the shepherds of God's flock. There is no proof in the Bible which claims what Rome believes about Peter. This is where tradition comes in to the Catholic belief, that traditionally it has been believed about Peter, so it is as authoritative as Scripture.

Since the Church has claimed to be the only infallible authority on Scripture, they have over the years interpreted many scriptures to support their different traditions. It's not that they have no scriptural basis for their teachings- they do in so many areas, however they find scriptural base either by directly interpreting certain passages to mean what they believe it means or by finding their doctrines to be taught in Scripture. Dogmas such as the "immaculate conception", the bodily assumption of Mary and Papal infallibility are implied in scripture only, and when viewed according to the teachings of the Pope, they make perfectly good sense to Catholics.

Another doctrine believed by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is that of apostolic succession. This grew out of the move by the Church to an episcopal type of government in the first and second centuries. Bishops became the most important officials in the Church and by the late second century, they were considered the supposed successors to the apostles, complete with powers, wisdom and authority.

Bible believing Christians don't believe this. It is our belief that the very foundation of the church was built upon the apostles and prophets- with Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. The apostles were unique and had powers through the Holy Spirit, but those Powers didn't and do not get passed down throughout the ages from the apostles. They never had their own power- only what they were given through the Holy Spirit. We believe the apostolic age ended with the death of John- the last of Jesus' apostles, and that others appointed yes, by the apostles rose up and took their places within the local congregations, but they could not give these new leaders power to be apostles, because only God can do that.

In the next post, we'll look at the Roman Catholic traditions of being saved by works plus faith, purgatory, Marion worship, sainthood and other major differences between Roman Catholics and Bible believing Christians.

All information contained in this post was based on Fritz Rindenour's So What's The Difference- Chapter 2

Saturday, March 21, 2009

So What's the Difference?

It's been a long time since I have posted anything new here. I've missed it, but stuff has a way of piling up! I'm not sure still how often I will be able to post anything new, but will try at least to be a little more regular!

I left the last post quite a while ago, but at the end, I said we would go on to exploring the differences between Christianity and other religions. Most religions are pretty straight foreword in the different beliefs and philosophies, but it is still important, I believe, to understanding the major world religions and worldviews. As non Christians, it helps to understand what it is that people of religion base their world views or thinking and beliefs on. It is a help to people who may be searching for something more than life happening without a faith or belief, but who aren't sure of what it means to follow a particular religious belief. There are so many different beliefs in the world- some have a larger following than others, some are more definite about life changes than others, some have more rules, others have strange beliefs and are more "radical" than others, so understanding differences can help a person come to a more broad understanding of what they may want to follow. For Christians, it can help develop a deeper faith in the Bible, and can also help by allowing more open conversations with people of different beliefs. I know people of other faiths are a little more open to discussion if a person has taken the time to study their beliefs and religious background. For me, religious studies and apologetics has strengthened my beliefs and shown me so many ways in which Christianity is true.

It has taught me that even among other Christian denominations, there can be huge differences in the way the Bible is interpreted, if it even is studied as the Book of God at all. It has shown me that there are many groups and religious people in the world who call themselves Christian, but by what their religion teaches, the books they teach from and their view on Scriptures, shows very little of the True meaning of being a Christ follower- a disciple of Christ, which is what the Christian "religion" is all about.

This is where I would like to start my next series- on those denominations and other groups which are or claim to be Christian.

It is NOT my intention here at all to put down, or denigrate anyone else's beliefs. It is only my purpose to share what I have learned in my years studying- the differences, and how some ideas or rules placed in those other denominations and sects are contrary to the Bible.

I will be basing much of the series on a select few books of many which I have studied from the past decade, and whenever I use a particular book- I will include the author, book and chapter.
These books have valuable resources for anyone wanting to study world religions, and many of the authors are highly respected individuals. That said, if any mis information is posted here, please let me know, and I will do my best to rectify or look into it. I want all the information to be honest and up to date, so as to not misinform anyone, but I will investigate any complaints for validity. I repeat, that I will never intentionally write anything which is misinformation or meant as a put down of anyone or their beliefs. This is only to show the differences in a Biblically based Christian life and other beliefs.

The first part of the series will focus on the differences between The Roman Catholic Church and Protestant Christianity. Most of the information for this part comes from the book So What's the Difference by Ftitz Ridenour. Again, if there is something I write here which is wrong or misleading, please (politely) post a comment and tell me~ Thank you.

I guess the best place to start first of all, is a recap of what Biblical Christianity is. This will be the basis of Christianity for all the other comparisons as well.

There are many Christians in the world- many of them my family and friends who are not Bible readers, and are quite illiterate when it comes to knowing much about the Bible. Oh, they know the main "stories" but as for the meanings and life lessons which the stories are there for - they have no clue. To be a Biblical Christian, this means that Christians look upon the Scriptures of the Bible with reverence, respect and with the knowledge that the Bible is the literal Word of God, that it is God Breathed, and the men who wrote the books were inspired by the Holy Spirit of God. It means the Christian is diligently, seriously and carefully searching for the meaning of the Bible on IT'S terms- not our own to be changed whenever something written it is seeming to be out of date, not with our own time and understanding. We read the Word as we know it is God's Own Word. All throughout Christianity, there has been the need to separating the true Christian belief from other philosophies and heresies which kept on and are still creeping into the Christian body.

In the book So What's the Difference, Ridenour tells about the meaning of heresy from Webster's Dictionary. It is "an opinion held in opposition to the commonly received doctrine and tending to promote division or dissension." The common truths in the New Testament which shows the books are inspired by God, and His final Word on what Christianity really is has been subject to heresies and differences since the second century. The most commonly referred is Gnosticism. This is what many liberal Christians today believe in. There are many different denominations in Christianity- from Episcopal/Anglican, which is what I grew up in, to Pentecostal, Baptist, Methodist and many others. The core belief however among all denominations are the basic doctrine that "Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures... He was buried... He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." 1 Corinthians 15:3,4

There is much more to Christianity than that, but this is the main doctrine, in which to compare other beliefs by. Ridenour describes this as a plumb line- which is what the Bible referes to when Amos showed the Israelites how God measures their actions according to His standards, His Word. (Amos 7:8)

So basically, Biblical Christianity is belief in the True Word of the Bible which is God Breathed- His literal Word, the reliable Word, Jesus was born of a virgin, died for the sins of the world, on the cross, He rose again on the third day, and that He is the Son of God, God come in the flesh.

Please read my earlier posts on how Christians believe in the accuracy, and truth of the Bible.

So, holding a Biblical worldview based on the absolute truth of the Bible makes me sound pretty sure of myself doesn't it? Sounds like I believe I have all the truth. Well, I don't. Only God holds all the truth because He is the only One who KNOWS all the truth perfectly. I am a Bible believing Christian, and I believe in the absolute truth of the Bible, but sometimes I am a pretty lousy Christian. I have made and will continue to make mistakes- so I am glad I have the Bible to show how accurate and reliable it is, and not only my word! It is the Word of God that I pass on to others. To teach and show Jesus. I am grateful for the knowledge through learning about other beliefs that Christianity is True- because of the Bible. My Biblical Christianity does not stand on my own word, my own actions or man made rules. It stands on faith and knowledge on the evidence proven that the Bible, is the Word of God.

Why then, if there is the Bible as our basis, are there so many differences between even just in Christendom? One reason is because the Words in the Bible have been challenged and denied by many different groups. Christ's apostles founded the Christian church within the first century, and it spread quickly despite persecution and death. The more suffering by Christians, the more the church grew. That is true even in our time as well. In places such as China and parts of Africa in which the church is hard persecuted against- Biblical Christianity is flourishing!

In the second century, the church founded by the apostles developed into the Catholic (or universal) church, and in the fourth century, persecution ended in the Roman empire because of Constantine, who became Emperor. He believed Christ helped him win the Empire and soon after, Christianity was the dominant religion throughout the empire. Because of the huge area comprised as the Roman Empire, the languages and different cultures different opinions and theological conflicts were one source of some of the splitting into different sects of the Christian faith. The main contention however was the insistence that the Church in Rome had the supreme power and authority over all Christendom. The biggest split came in 1054 when the Orthodox Church in the east split with the Roman Catholic Church in the West.

After that, the Roman Catholic Church became more powerful and added more doctrines which were not based on the Bible. The Church at that time became more corrupt as well, which finally led to the Reformation which was started by Martin Luther, a Catholic Monk. Luther intended to reform the Church by making the Bible the sole authority. The pope and other leaders rejected this and Luther was forced out.

The Reformation spread over Europe and those who "protested" against the Roman Church were come to be known as Protestants. Here within a thousand year span, Christ's church split into three major denomination. These in time split into smaller denominations.

So, how did the Gospel change into so many different views, which all call themselves Christian? Not only that, but they don't even agree on critical issues much of the time?

We need to start with the difference between the Bible believing Christian and the Roman Catholic Church- which compare the principals I already laid out on the Biblical Christian, and the Roman Catholic view being:

We'll see that next time ;-)

PS- You may be wondering what's up with the picture I posted? A wolf in sheep's clothing! We are to watch out for false teaching!