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

1 comment:

Amanda said...


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God bless-