One of the common questions that begin a challenge to Catholic teaching by non-Catholic Christians is: “Where in the Bible…?” The question is usually asked in good faith with a genuine interest in wanting to know how Catholics justify their beliefs.
But, this phrase makes two presumptions made by the one inquiring that I want to expose as being unsound. First, it presumes that the ground of all beliefs and practices have to be explicitly expressed in the Bible. Second, that the non-Catholic who asks is following this principle within their life and within the Church community they attend. Both presumptions are wrong on grounds that they are both demonstrably false.
To show this, I am going to present the ‘Top 7’ examples of either unbiblical or non-biblical beliefs and practices that non-Catholic Christians engage in all the time and in a wide variety of ways.
By this list I want to show that Catholics are not the ones that need to have a defensive attitude on the question of what justifies our beliefs. Catholics should be happy to share what grounds our beliefs. At the same time, non-Catholics might realize that the things they accept as ‘Gospel Truth’ are actually their own traditions that they have received not from the Bible, but from the interpretive choices of their denomination.
*A note on terminology:
NON-BIBLICAL beliefs and practices are those which cannot be found explicitly in the Bible. Protestants operate from a general belief that all their beliefs are CLEARLY or EXPLICITLY found in the Bible. Catholics hold that beliefs and doctrines can be found explicitly and implicitly in the Bible and in the Tradition that has been consistently handed on from the beginning. Remember, what I am arguing is that Protestants are actually approaching things in a similar way to Catholics and not the way they claim they approach their beliefs. But, they are not drawing from the Tradition of the Church, but instead have created traditions of belief that did not arise from early Christian history.
UNBIBLICAL beliefs, in contrast, means that these beliefs, doctrines or practices are contrary to the Bible. They are not only not found in the Bible but actually contradict the Biblical witness. Some Protestant beliefs are fluid; meaning that they began as a NON-BIBLICAL tradition and evolved into an UNBIBLICAL doctrine.
So, here we go!
7. There are 66 books that make up the Canon of Scripture and these books are what constitute our only authority for Christian beliefs and practice.
This could be placed as the number 1 belief if this list were descending in order of greater importance. But, I put it first because it is one of the biggest presumptions made by all evangelical Protestant Christians. Objective history that anyone can look up will find a reality concerning our Scriptures that most non-Catholics have not thought about or looked into. This is also technically a two-part point. ( I am sort of cheating as the list could really be 8 points long. But, these points do link together, as you will see…
Part 1: The Canon
The fact is that of the copies of Scripture manuscripts that we have discovered dating back closest to the times of the apostles, they come to us as incomplete portions of scrolls. And these artifacts do not come bound as a book like we are familiar with today. There are parts of some books and parts of others rolled up into these scrolls. There are no ‘table of contents’ included either.
Many evangelicals celebrated the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls as validation for the reliability of their Scriptures. While Catholics also celebrate these discoveries, we did not need them for validating the Scripture’s veracity. And what is more interesting is that within these collections of scrolls, we find books both that Catholics accept but Protestants reject and books that both Catholics and Protestants do not include in either of their canons. (see here for the record of Dead Sea Scroll findings: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=2849)
So, does this discovery validate a canon? No. But, it does counter many modern or anti Christian claims that the Scriptures were just writings that were fabricated much later to justify Christian beliefs. Catholics hold that our Scripture were handed on to us from the Apostles and while we don’t have their original copies (because writing materials at that time were not as durable) we have received their writings through copying and the protection of the Holy Spirit, keeping them from error concerning our faith and salvation history.
So, what determines the canon? Catholics point to lists of the recognized books found in regional councils in the first three centuries of the Church. Each of these councils rejected none of the books Catholics continue to print in their translations of the Bible. The norm in the Church is that we typically find official, universal pronouncements only when a teaching is being contested or questioned by a considerable portion of the Christian people. And such we find happening at the time of the Reformation. When Luther went rogue and decided to create his own translation of the Bible in the German language he placed 7 books of the Old Testament in an ‘appendix’ section, suggesting that while these books may have some benefit in being read, that they may not be God’s Holy Word. (for further reading: http://biblestudyforcatholics.com/get-catholic-canon-scripture/)
Think about that though. This is one man’s opinion and it fell out of step with the previous 15 centuries of accepted belief about what books made up the Bible. Why is the opinion of one man trumping the accepted teaching of the Church that had been copying and passing on the Scriptures all those previous centuries?
What do we have here? A TRADITION. The word tradition means “to hand on”. Luther handed on a new tradition that had no historical precedent. He claimed to know better than all the people who had received, examined and passed on these writing before him. When all is said and done, non Catholics hold to a non-biblical and ahistorical list of books for their Scriptures. Two additional little facts before moving on. Luther didn’t just place those 7 books of the Old Testament in his appendix. He also placed the letters of John, Hebrews, James and the book of Revelation in his first edition of the German in the appendix. Later followers thought Luther had gone too far and they asked they be placed back in the normal order of books. Second, the first edition of the King James Version included the 7 Old Testament books found in all other Bibles at that time. Only, following Luther’s tradition, they put it at the end of the Bible in a section they labeled ‘Apocrypha’, meaning ‘hidden’. In the U.S., when they recently issued a printing of the original edition of the KJV, celebrating the four hundredth anniversary, it interestingly left out those 7 books found in the original printing. No longer have Protestants chosen to ‘hide’ those books at the back of the Bible, but have gone so far to remove them altogether.
This is quite a serious decision considering that removing parts of Scripture is also UNBIBLICAL!
The Apostle John issues this warning concerning his book of Revelation:
Revelation 22:19 “if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away that person’s share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.”
That is a warning about taking away portions of just one book of Scripture and look at the severity of the warning! Imagine what the consequence is for those who not only remove a part of a book, but 7 entire books of Scripture?!?!?
For a fuller treatment on the history of the Canon, here is a good book that provides good historical references from the Church and the reformers: Why Are Catholic Bibles Bigger? (on Amazon it’s only offered for Kindle. It can be found other places such as here: http://shop.catholic.com/why-catholic-bibles-are-bigger-1.html)
So ‘where in the Bible’ do you get a declaration of what we are to include in the Bible? It’s not there. It’s in the Tradition. The Bible itself is Tradition, ‘handed on’ and handed down in and through the Catholic Church that Jesus established. This brings us to part 2…
Part 2: The Bible As Sole Authority
This is a belief that is even more strongly defended and clung to by non-Catholics than the canon of Scripture. For, if the Bible is not the foundational and sole authority, then they all have another authority to answer to and if that’s the case, it undermines all their other arguments from Scripture. The reason? Because if it can be shown that there is another authority outside of them that is responsible for interpreting and teaching the Scripture, then their interpretations of Scripture that do not agree with that authority are deprived of their authority and thus nullified.
Catholics believe that the bishops and priests of the Church have been ordained by bishops who came before them who were ordained by bishops before them all the way back to the Apostles who laid their hands on the first men who would succeed them in leading the Church. This group of Bishops throughout the world has become known as the Magisterium, Latin for ‘teaching office.’ Whenever a teaching came under dispute by some individuals in the Church or those outside the Church who were challenging Christian beliefs, Bishops in every century have gathered together in councils with the Pope to resolve the dispute on a doctrinal question. But, the non-Catholic Christian then asks, ‘Where in the Bible do you find this form of authority?’
Here: Acts 15:1-31
1Some who had come down from Judea were instructing the brothers,“Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic practice, you cannot be saved.” 2 Because there arose no little dissension and debate by Paul and Barnabas with them, it was decided that Paul, Barnabas, and some of the others should go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and presbyters about this question. 3 They were sent on their journey by the church, and passed through Phoenicia and Samaria telling of the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, as well as by the apostles and the presbyters, and they reported what God had done with them. 5 But some from the party of the Pharisees who had become believers stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and direct them to observe the Mosaic law.”
6 The apostles and the presbyters met together to see about this matter.7 After much debate had taken place, Peter got up and said to them, “My brothers, you are well aware that from early days God made his choice among you that through my mouth the Gentiles would hear the word of the gospel and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness by granting them the holy Spirit just as he did us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for by faith he purified their hearts. 10 Why, then, are you now putting God to the test by placing on the shoulders of the disciples a yoke that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they.” 12 The whole assembly fell silent, and they listened while Paul and Barnabas described the signs and wonders God had worked among the Gentiles through them.
13 After they had fallen silent, James responded, “My brothers, listen to me. 14 Symeon has described how God first concerned himself with acquiring from among the Gentiles a people for his name. 15 The words of the prophets agree with this, as is written:
16 ‘After this I shall return
and rebuild the fallen hut of David;
from its ruins I shall rebuild it
and raise it up again,
17 so that the rest of humanity may seek out the Lord,
even all the Gentiles on whom my name is invoked.
Thus says the Lord who accomplishes these things,
18 known from of old.’
19 It is my judgment, therefore, that we ought to stop troubling the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but tell them by letter to avoid pollution from idols, unlawful marriage, the meat of strangled animals, and blood.21 For Moses, for generations now, has had those who proclaim him in every town, as he has been read in the synagogues every sabbath.”
22 Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. The ones chosen were Judas, who was called Barsabbas, and Silas, leaders among the brothers. 23 This is the letter delivered by them:
“The apostles and the presbyters, your brothers, to the brothers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia of Gentile origin: greetings.24 Since we have heard that some of our number [who went out] without any mandate from us have upset you with their teachings and disturbed your peace of mind, 25 we have with one accord decided to choose representatives and to send them to you along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have dedicated their lives to the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 So we are sending Judas and Silas who will also convey this same message by word of mouth: 28 ‘It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, 29 namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.’”
30 And so they were sent on their journey. Upon their arrival in Antioch they called the assembly together and delivered the letter. 31 When the people read it, they were delighted with the exhortation.
There is something key to notice in this passage. It is that when this dispute arose in some churches in the region, the gathering of apostles and elders (priests) in Jerusalem did not send word to these Churches saying: We are sending you copies of the Scriptures and you as a ‘bible-believing’ community filled with the Holy Spirit can choose best for yourselves how to interpret the Scriptures to come to a decision.’ Instead, these apostles and priests gathered and made a decision which had binding authority on all the churches.
We know this because the decision was written down in letter form and then ordered to be sent to all the Churches. This is explicitly stated in the following chapter:
Acts 16:4 “As they traveled from city to city, they handed on to the people for observance the decisions reached by the apostles and presbyters in Jerusalem.”
The verse that encapsulates this whole point is found in Acts 15:22: “Then the apostles and presbyters, in agreement with the whole church, decided to choose representatives and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.” This is the Catholic model! The apostles and priests come to an agreement on a doctrinal dispute and it specifically states that the decision was representing the WHOLE church. The name of the Church is Catholic and this word literally means: “according to the whole”. The According to the Whole Church doesn’t have a great ring to it, so it chose both a Greek and Latin-based word instead in the early 2nd Century.
Here is more robust definition of the word ‘Catholic’ compiled from the Oxford English dictionary, the Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, and the Online Etymology Dictionary:
“The word catholic derived via late Latin catholicus, from the Greek adjective καθολικός (katholikos), meaning “universal” comes from the Greek phrase καθόλου (katholou), meaning “on the whole”, “according to the whole” or “in general”, and is a combination of the Greek words κατά meaning “about” and ὅλος meaning “whole”. The term Catholic (usually written with uppercase C in English) was first used to describe the Christian Church in the early 2nd century to emphasize its universal scope. In the context of Christian ecclesiology, it has a rich history and several usages.”
What we don’t find in Scripture is groups of Christians being asked to come up with their own interpretations and creating their own doctrinal statements of faith, which we see all non-Catholic Churches doing. We see instead a natural flow of authority that God placed in the Apostles and was passed on through ordination.
The belief that the Bible is the only authority for an individual Christian and its authority usurps the authority of the Church that solidified its canon is UNBIBLICAL. The Apostle Paul refers to the Church, not the Bible, as the “PILLAR and FOUNDATION” of Truth when writing his first letter to Timothy, he says:
1 Timothy 3:15 “But if I should be delayed, you should know how to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of truth.”
Bishop Robert Barron gave a great explanation about the issue of Protestantism and authority on his YouTube channel. Here it is:
6. Let’s start a NEW church! Then, again, let’s not because it’s unbiblical!
You can drive around nearly any town in North America and you’ll see a variety of buildings with signs out front that include the word ‘Church’ in its name. Just this week I was visiting a friend in Springfield, IL and I saw one with the name “First Christian Church/Disciples of Christ”.
I marveled. This was THE first Christian Church? Ever? Or, was it the first Christian Church that was started by disciples of Christ? And was it more first than the First Presbyterian Church I saw just around the corner where Abraham Lincoln’s family went to that was now sporting a gay pride flag out front? What a legacy! What a history!
You can understand why it might leave the common person confused. Often Catholics get asked “Where in the Bible do you find the Church being called Catholic?” A snarky response could be “The same place it says to call your Church: ‘Mt. Prospect Assembly of God’ or Mundelein’s ‘Church of the Nazarene.’
The big difference is that Catholics admit drawing from Tradition, and one that is long and well documented. But, non-Catholics seem to get Tradition Amnesia. I’m gonna coin that phrase! Look, a new tradition!!! Watch, someone will open up a ‘Church of Tradition Amnesia’ next week!
In all seriousness, where in the Bible do we find people starting Churches that are not started by an apostle or someone they have sent? Furthermore, where do you find it accepted that these Churches would hold to beliefs and teachings that were different than those of all the other Churches? Let’s see if we can find any of those practices in the Bible…
As we saw under the previous point, The Acts of Apostles outlines how teaching is passed on among the Churches that they established.(Again, see Acts 16:4) A dispute arises in Churches throughout the region about a certain teaching and it gets resolved in a council of the apostles in Jerusalem. The decision is then passed on for all Churches to adhere to. This Biblical practice is not practiced among Protestant churches. Most Protestant churches have built into their doctrinal statements that they believe in the independence of the local Church to come to final decisions on matters of doctrine. The problem is that this belief and practice is UNBIBLICAL!
So, what didn’t happen when there was a dispute? A group of Christians leaving the community and starting a new Church that aligned more fully with their own personal biblical interpretations. Yet, that’s what has been happening again and again and again ad nausea ever since Luther had his first wild ideas nearly 500 years ago. When a dispute on teaching arises, the biblical model of forming a council and then following the teaching of the elders is rejected. Instead what we have is interpretive chaos. And splintering. And dissensions. And divisions.
And wouldn’t you know it, but these acts of division and dissension is also problematic to what the Bible says. So while starting a new church is non-biblical, leading people away from the ONE Church or fostering factions within the Church is UNBIBLICAL. Here are a few stern warnings from the Apostle Paul that should keep some up at night:
“I appeal to you, brethren, to take note of those who create dissensions and difficulties, in opposition to the doctrine which you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by fair and flattering words they deceive the hearts of the simple-minded.”
1 Corinthians 1:10
“I appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissensions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”
1 Timothy 6:3-5
“If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”
“The saying is sure. I desire you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to apply themselves to good deeds; these are excellent and profitable to men. But avoid stupid controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels over the law, for they are unprofitable and futile. As for a man who is factious, after admonishing him once or twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is perverted and sinful; he is self-condemned.”
We now have in evangelicalism one group claiming to be more faithfully following the Bible while they both ignore the fact that their first rejection of the elders of the Church way back during Luther’s time, now perpetuated and replayed, was where faithfulness to the witness of the Bible went out the window.
In the meantime, the Catholic Church continues to carry out this model. A dispute arises and councils or synods are convened with a public declaration given that restates what the Church has received and has always held.
5. Have you met our new pastor we voted in at the last Church members meeting…..Wait how did you get your pastor?
I was a part of a Bible Church growing up and one of the things they did was pick their pastors by elder board recommendation and Church member vote. Now, there are variations to this practice in different denominations. In some, only the elders vote. Others such as the more ‘traditional’ Lutherans, Episcopalians and Anglicans, they try to follow the Catholic pattern of bishops and priests/pastors with a group of Bishops ordaining pastors and sending them to their congregations. This boils down to tradition buffet or tradition whack-a-mole; picking some traditions and rejecting others based on a groups’ preferences. And these decisions were usually made by a small handful of people who rejected the Bishops of the Catholic Church. Those handful of people wielded a level of authority equal to the Pope.
For example, Henry VIII didn’t like the Church’s teaching on the biblical teaching of the indissolubility of marriage. What did he do? He essentially said to the Pope and Bishops: “I’ll take it from here.” Or “I’ll do it my way!” So he kills Catholic bishops, closes Churches and then established himself as the leader of the newly established Church of England throughout his kingdom! How convenient!
In the last section we already saw what the apostle Paul thought of people who bring divisions. So, what I want to concentrate on now is those who votes for their pastors. Where in the Bible do we have people voting for their priests, elders or pastors?
If you guessed that it’s a non-biblical tradition that only began after the Reformation you have a lot more sense than either Luther, Calvin, or Zwingli had. Or any other person who thinks they know better than 20 centuries of Church teaching for that matter. If you’re not Catholic and guessed this then you should stop in to your local Catholic Church and tell the priest you’d like to become Catholic!!!
The biblical model for ordaining a Bishop, Priest or Deacon is actually quite a simple one:
1. An Apostle lays hands on a man. A man becomes Bishop to carry on teaching of the Apostles.
2. Bishops lay hands on other men. These men become priests or deacons to assist them in ministry.
3. Finally, Bishops together call some Priests to the order of Bishops to succeed them and continue to oversee the Church upon their death.
It’s all modeled in the Bible. In the book of the Acts of Apostles it says the apostles appointed the first seven deacons in the Church. It also goes on to say this regarding the ordination of presbyters (the Greek word for Priest):
Acts 14:23 “They appointed presbyters for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.”
And then the Apostle Paul mentions that he ordained Timothy and Titus as well as other to serve as bishops of Churches and that Paul sent them to those places to carry out the Church’s mission of preaching the gospel, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and shepherding the people in the teaching of the Apostles. Paul gives a warning to Timothy about handing on the apostolic priesthood which we have recorded in Paul’s first letter to him:
1 Timothy 5:22 “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure.”
What we don’t have is a person coming to an area who were not sent and ordained by the Apostles and establishing their own Church. And we also don’t have any example in Scripture of a local Christian assembly picking a priest apart from the current priest or Bishop who was sent to them by an Apostle.
What we do have in Scripture are warnings about people coming among the Church and claiming they were sent by the Apostles. These men are condemned for trying to deceive and draw people out of the Church. (Hint: that’s what Luther, Calvin, Henry VIII, etc. really did). And on the other hand you also have injunctions that the elders the Apostles have sent among them are to be respected and obeyed:
“Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of the LORD which he obtained with the blood of his own.
I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13
“But we beseech you, brethren, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves.”
2 Peter 2:1-22 (an epic, lengthy warning by Peter shows what a danger false teachers were who broke away from the Apostles or were never from among them)
“But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words; from of old their condemnation has not been idle, and their destruction has not been asleep.
For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of nether gloom to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven other persons, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction and made them an example to those who were to be ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the licentiousness of the wicked (for by what that righteous man saw and heard as he lived among them, he was vexed in his righteous soul day after day with their lawless deeds), then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trial, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and wilful, they are not afraid to revile the glorious ones, whereas angels, though greater in might and power, do not pronounce a reviling judgment upon them before the Lord.
But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed, reviling in matters of which they are ignorant, will be destroyed in the same destruction with them, suffering wrong for their wrongdoing. They count it pleasure to revel in the daytime. They are blots and blemishes, reveling in their dissipation, carousing with you. They have eyes full of adultery, insatiable for sin. They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way they have gone astray; they have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a dumb ass spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.
These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm; for them the nether gloom of darkness has been reserved. For, uttering loud boasts of folly, they entice with licentious passions of the flesh men who have barely escaped from those who live in error. They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for whatever overcomes a man, to that he is enslaved.
For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overpowered, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them.
It has happened to them according to the true proverb, The dog turns back to his own vomit, and the sow is washed only to wallow in the mire.”
1 John 2:18-20
“Children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come; therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us; but they went out, that it might be plain that they all are not of us. But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all know.”
Warnings, examples, and patterns. All right there in Scripture. Which model is Biblical? Which model sounds more like an episode of the Twilight Zone? Catholics who ordain Bishops, priests and deacons or Christians who vote on or appoint pastors apart from any oversight of the rest of the whole Church?
4. Communion is just a symbol to help us remember Jesus’ death on the Cross. Anyone who is a believer is welcome to the Lord’s Supper! No one is excluded.
Where in the Bible do non Catholics find this teaching? Honestly, you’d have a better chance being color blind and searching for Waldo in one of his books!
Most non Catholics would say it’s on the teaching of justification by faith alone that was really the point of departure between Luther and the Catholic Church. The fact that there has been a joint declaration on that doctrine between Lutherans and Catholics, admitting that it was a misunderstanding on how terms were used, should reveal something deeper about the division.
Even with that doctrine resolved we are still separated. A host of reasons could be given. I offer one. And it’s the reason not just for Lutherans but for all other non Catholic Christians: The Eucharist.
The first splits between Protestants arose from this teaching on the Eucharist. Luther knew how saturated early Church history was with references to the presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. All the earliest bishops appointed by the Apostles testify to the reality that Jesus is present when a priest prays Jesus’ words of institution. That’s why he so violently opposed those such as fellow protestant Ulrich Zwingli, who suggested that the supper was just a meal to remember. Luther knew what that abandons. How it would no longer be supernatural or sacred, but just normal and profane, like everything else in the world.
Yet, this is where most Protestants align with regard to the teaching on Communion. I often wonder why they even use the word communion. The word means to be joined together with. Do they believe they are being joined together with an idea or memory of Jesus? Catholics say we join with all of Jesus. His whole person. He wants to get inside us and this is how he makes it possible. Yet, for Protestants this becomes impossible for God. A bridge too far so to speak. I’ve heard so many things except Scripture to justify their belief. I’ve been asked: how could Jesus be in heaven and in all the Churches around world at the same time? Um, Jesus is God and He can be anywhere and is not limited by space and time. It’s the same if Catholics were to ask protestants: how can we believe Jesus can be in the hearts of every single Christian in the world? It’s the same problem.
Or why when examining the body and blood of Jesus it still appears as bread and wine to sense observations? I’m going to reply to this in the classic biblical Jewish way, with another question: “If you were to have brought the baby boy Jesus into a doctor would there have been any proof to the senses that He was God?” Was there a glowing halo around his head or a special twinkle in His eye? It was actually in spite of our senses that we have faith that He is who He said He was throughout Scripture.
And in those same Scriptures Jesus not only says He is “before Abraham” and He and the Father are “One”. He also picks up a piece of bread and says “This is my body”. He says it in the same matter of fact way that He says “I and the Father are one.” And no one in the early Church interpreted this as figurative, but literal. It’s literal and Spiritual but not figurative. This is an important distinction. Many Protestants toss around the word Spiritual. Some pit the words literal and Spiritual against each other. They will say they believe in a Spiritual, but not literal presence. What they mean is that Jesus’ body is in heaven and the bread represents Him and helps us remember his sacrifice. Here’s the problem. It’s not Biblical. Jesus uses the word “Is“. There were words in his language for “represents” and words for “spiritual.” Jesus uses neither. So the Church believes Jesus when he says something. It realizes there is a tension that fills our understanding and is a belief saturated with paradox. But the Church also realizes that this is not unfamiliar territory for Jesus. How can he be both fully God and fully man? How can God be unchangeable and also experience suffering and weep when he loses a friend?
So it is really Jesus’ body, blood, soul and divinity that we receive (literal) and it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that Jesus becomes present under the form of bread and wine.(Spiritual) After Jesus rose he had a literal body (it could eat and could be seen) but it was also Spiritual (it could go through walls, vanish, appear, and choose to be unrecognizable to people who knew him for three years). The risen Jesus reveals the reality of the Eucharist.
Another word that gets thrown around is: SYMBOL. But this really is an abuse of the meaning of the word. Symbol comes from the Greek Sym-balein, which means “to throw together” Protestants use the word thinking they are meaning figurative or metaphorical. This would be having one reality represent or stand in place of another. But that’s not what the word Symbol means!!! Symbol is the bringing together of two realities, even ones that would seem to be quite paradoxical or impossible.
Jesus is symbol. He brings together the reality of God and man. The Mass is symbol. It brings together the earth and heaven to worship. All the sacraments are symbol. Bringing together a human action and the work of the Spirit to transform it. The Eucharist is symbol, bringing together the body and blood of Jesus with the accidents (appearance, feeling, touch, taste) of bread and wine.
Jesus tried to explain that He intends to give them His flesh to eat in John 6:
“I am the bread of life.
Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.
This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that a man may eat of it and not die.
I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.
For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.
As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me.
This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”
This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Caperna-um. Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples murmured at it, said to them, “Do you take offense at this?”
The Jewish disciples had the same problem that most Protestants have today. They can’t accept that Jesus could possibly mean what he had just said to them. They ask him to clarify and instead of explaining to them that he wasn’t speaking literally, he expressed the same thing two more times, using an even more literal expression while including the “Amen, Amen” expression that conveys solenity and gravity to what will next be said. (today, we use phrases such as, “As the Lord lives” or “I solemnly swear” or “Most importantly”)
The Apostle Paul received these words of Jesus seriously for he warns the Church at Corinth about eating Holy Communion without discerning the body and blood of our Lord:
1 Corinthians 11:27-30
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.”
I never hear Protestants speak so strongly and sound this biblical when they have a communion service. For all the parts of the Bible they want to take as literal they reject a literal reading of these passages even though the Church has always read them literally. If you go back and read the above passages a few more times, which Church looks like they are taking these passages more seriously? Catholics or non-Catholics?
3. Who needs religion? All you need is a relationship with Jesus!
One of the most common beliefs held by not only protestants but by the wider culture is that a relationship with God and practicing religion are two diametrically opposed things. This came to the forefront a few years ago with Jefferson Bethke. He created a YouTube video titled “Why I hate religion, but love Jesus.” It received over 30 million views. Jeff went on to write a book elaborating on his argument.
But, there’s just one problem. This belief is nowhere in the Bible. In fact, Jesus says that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the pharisees, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). And while there are warnings against those whose life does not match with their religion (this is called being a hypocrite, not religious), the apostles speak very highly of religion:
1 Timothy 6:6 “Indeed, religion with contentment is great gain.”
James 1:27 “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to care for orphans and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”
So, what was Jefferson trying to say? Essentially, what matters is how we live our life as a witness for Christ. It’s less important what objective beliefs you hold. Yet, Catholics would argue that your actions arise from right worship of God and right belief. The trends in non-Catholic Christianity are actually quite alarming. Most evangelical Christians are no longer attending the Church they grew up in and are now floating around between ‘non-denominational’ churches. And the fastest growing group in the united states is a group that considers themselves “unaffiliated” with any community of Christianity. Of those attending ‘non-denominational’ churches, the common thread between them is that when you try and discover the specifics of their beliefs, they reveal a squishy set of beliefs that are vague and malleable. And if you go to their websites you would be hard pressed to find a detailed explanation of their doctrinal ‘non-negotiables’.
One local example of this is Mars Hill Church, a non-denominational Christian community located in West Michigan. It looks to be a welcoming Christian community, but their beliefs are presented as “our narrative theology” with a story told in seven paragraphs. You can see it here: http://marshill.org/about-us/about/narrative-theology/. While containing many Scripture references and a lot Truth, it raises a question” Where in the Bible do we find Churches creating their own statements of belief or “our narrative theology”????
For Catholics, the theology of the Church is formulated as a summary into a creed that has been passed on from the first centuries of Christianity. It’s not something new that we had to come up with. It is also the faith of the whole Church and cannot be tampered with by any local parish community. At every Sunday Mass Catholics all over the world bear witness to the unity of our faith by confessing with our mouth the Nicene-Constantinople Creed. In contrast to Mars Hill’s site, take a look at the website of the U.S. Catholic Bishops that provides the content of the Creed, access online to the Bible, and the Catholic Catechism: http://www.usccb.org/beliefs-and-teachings/what-we-believe/index.cfm
And here is a cool video that slowly walks through the Creed that the whole Church confesses in all places and at all times:
Perhaps one of the best responses to Jefferson’s very popular video is another video made in response by a Catholic priest of Chicago. He uses the same approach stylistically that Jefferson uses and its very effective in explaining the “both/and” principle of Catholic beliefs:
2. I confess my sins to Jesus. There is no need to confess my sins to a priest because only God forgives sins.
When Luther began interpreting the Bible in his own way and decided to move some books to the appendix what soon followed was a gradual rejection of the seven sacraments. There was no longer any difference between the ordained priesthood and the priestly identity of all believers. (with this, out went Holy Orders). If there was no ministerial priesthood, then the worship at Mass was no longer worship that included the sacrifice, but just a gathering of like-minded believers that learn about and praise Jesus (and then out went the sacrament of sacraments, The Holy Eucharist). Since the unique and permanent quality of the sacrament of Holy Orders was rejected, in turn there was a rejection of marriage as a permanent life-long commitment that was indissoluble (next, out went the sacrament of Holy Matrimony). More and more, the supernatural quality of these actions were reduced to a merely human and natural action.
Later, many would even begin to reject baptism as a supernatural and permanent transformation by God’s grace. It became ‘just a symbol’ (there’s the misuse of that word again). Finally, with all the ways in which God no longer brings his supernatural and superabundant grace in our lives, the rejection of the sacrament of confession was quick to follow. Since Eucharist was no longer a receiving of the Holy body and blood of Jesus, Paul’s warnings I have cited above about unworthy reception of it were emptied of their meaning. And since the Eucharist was no longer something sacred and holy, there was no longer need to be sure we were prepared in mind, body, and soul to receive it worthily.
It was only later that protestants fully stopped confessing their sins to people and began claiming that the Bible says we only need confess our sins to Jesus. But, when you actually ask the famous question, “where in the bible does it say that?” you soon discover the Bible says no such thing. Actually, Jesus says the exact opposite.
John 20:21-22 “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them,“Receive the holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.”
What is astounding is that Jesus places the mission of the Apostles on the same plane as Jesus being sent by the Father. Jesus came with the authority to teach, preach, speak prophecy, offer His Body and Blood at the Last Supper, and forgive sins. Sadly, protestants miss the fact that their rejection of man being able to forgive sins is the same objection that the scribes had concerning Jesus. It’s the same offense.
Mark 2:6-12 “Now some of the scribes were sitting there asking themselves,“Why does this man speak that way? He is blaspheming. Who but God alone can forgive sins?” Jesus immediately knew in his mind what they were thinking to themselves, so he said, “Why are you thinking such things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Rise, pick up your mat and walk’? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority to forgive sins on earth”—he said to the paralytic, “I say to you, rise, pick up your mat, and go home.” He rose, picked up his mat at once, and went away in the sight of everyone. They were all astounded and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this.”
What is also important to note concerning the details of these passages is that when Jesus gave his Apostles the authority, it is the 11 he speaks with and not the crowds of disciples. He gave a unique authority to the priests of the new covenant. The authority to forgive sins does not arise from a priest’s will or capacity, but only through the power and authority of Jesus, the High Priest. Jesus works through his priests to forgive sins and priests cooperate with this ministry of reconciliation and forgiveness.
Often, I have heard protestants quote two separate verses to try and “prove” from the Bible that we don’t need to confess our sins to a priest. The first verse is 1 John 1:9: (remember, this was one of the NT books that Luther put in his German Bible appendix)
“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
And the second verses come from James 5:13-18: (another book Luther placed in his appendix)
“Is anyone among you suffering? He should pray. Is anyone in good spirits? He should sing praise. Is anyone among you sick? He should summon the presbyters of the church, and they should pray over him and anoint him with oil in the name of the Lord,and the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.
Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The fervent prayer of a righteous person is very powerful. Elijah was a human being like us; yet he prayed earnestly that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain upon the land. Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the earth produced its fruit.”
Now, protestants try to use these verses to argue that they can confess their sins just to Jesus and leave out a ordained minister. But there are two things to note, one from each of these passages. The 1 John 1:9 passage says we are to confess our sins. But it does not say how we are to confess our sins and to whom we are to confess our sins. It says that God is the one (who is faithful and just) will forgive us our sins. But, Catholics do not reject this fact that it is God who forgives our sins. Catholics read 1 John 1:9 WITH John 20 and bring these two realities together. The first reality is that Jesus grants authority to his Apostles to forgive sins. The second reality is that God is the one who forgives our sins based on the merits of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection. Confession to an ordained priest is a harmonizing of these two realities that we find in Scripture.
This brings us to our second point from James 5:13-18. It is in this passage that we actually witness the harmonizing of these two realities. The priests (presbyters) are called to anoint sick persons and pray for them. And directly following James instructs us to confess our sins to “one another.” This ‘one another’ is referring to the presbyters in just the preceding verses. Neither of these passages call upon Christians to confess our sins personally to God apart from a valid presbyter.
Here are a three ‘sketchpad’ videos that provide a more detailed explanation of the teaching of confession based on the Bible. You can pick one or all to watch:
1. “Are you born again? Have you accepted Jesus into your heart? Are you saved?”
It’s the most oft-repeated form of inquiry by most non-Catholic Christians. It’s well-intentioned and arises from a genuine interest that a person may begin a relationship with God. I will admit that many Catholics are just plain bad at sharing with words about their relationship with Christ. There are also many who do not even invite people to have a relationship with God. Many Catholics have not been equipped in their parish to share their faith and lack the confidence to do so. How I describe it is that Catholics have forgotten how to share the story of Christ’s salvation and how that story has impacted their life.
There’s some good news though. Catholic ministries such as FOCUS and the initiative “Forming Intentional Disciples” are beginning to turn the tide for the younger generation. Also, the story of our Catholic faith and rich history is being renewed and retold using new methods such as Bishop Robert Barron’s Catholicism Series. There were ten episodes and Episode 6 has been put on YouTube for free:
The questions non-Catholics ask seem to get to the very heart of what the Gospel is all about, which is our salvation that Jesus gained for us through His death and resurrection. I find it interesting though that you find none of these questions on the mouths of Jesus or the Apostles.
While we don’t find Jesus or the Apostles asking these questions, they are asked questions that contain these phrases. A few people in the gospels come up to Jesus and specifically ask, “What must I do to be saved?”, “What should I do to gain eternal life?”, and “How is one born again?”
Now, when protestants are asked these questions, here is where we find of mixture of both non-biblical and biblical responses. These are some common responses to these questions:
- Say the sinners prayer. (see step 4 of Billy Graham’s evangelistic website: http://peacewithgod.net/, or at http://whojesusis.com/)
- Accept Jesus into your heart and tell him you are sorry for your sins. Then read your bible and find a Church that teaches the Bible (see: http://www.allaboutgod.com/salvation-prayer.htm)
- “The answer is: Hear; Believe; Repent; Confess; and, Be Baptized.At that point, the Bible says, you will be added to the Lord’s church.But then, you must live faithfully for the rest of your life, and you’ll find a home eternally, in heaven.” (http://beingsaved.org) Note: This website has a section that tries to explain why there are so many different denominations and if there is one true Church. It instructs persons to leave their denominations and join the Lord’s Church.(which he doesn’t clearly define) He provides a timeline that calls the true Church the “First Century Church”. But, ironically, you can’t find a Church by that name anywhere in the Bible, yet he claims he is basing his presentation just on the Bible. It assumes the Catholic Church is just another one of many denominations and then misrepresents the teachings of the Church and gives false dates of different historic events. I mention this because you in a sense would leave that website not ever being able to find a Church based on the criteria the gentleman lays out on the website and the fabricated history he presents.
While some of these sites provide some good overviews of Scripture concerning salvation, the missing element in all of them is the role the Church has in our journey of salvation. In every presentation it presents salvation as an individual decision that you make and then after that you are to find fellowship with other Christians, which is how they would define the Church.
But, is this what we find in Scripture? Let’s look at the Scriptures regarding the questions asked of either Jesus or the Apostles:
Matthew 19:16-17 “Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Matthew 19:29 “And everyone who has given up houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands for the sake of my name will receive a hundred times more, and will inherit eternal life”
Mark 10:17-21 “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; you shall not defraud; honor your father and your mother.’” He replied and said to him, “Teacher, all of these I have observed from my youth.” Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, “You are lacking in one thing. Go, sell what you have, and give to [the] poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (See also Luke 18:18&ff)
Luke 10:25-28 There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He said in reply, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.”
John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever disobeys the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God remains upon him.
John 6:47 Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life.
John 6:54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day.
Matthew 24:13 But the one who perseveres to the end will be saved. (see also Matthew 10:22; Mark 13:13)
Mark 16:16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.
John 3:3-5 “Jesus answered and said to him, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born from above.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a person once grown old be born again? Surely he cannot reenter his mother’s womb and be born again, can he?” Jesus answered, “Amen, amen, I say to you, no one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit.
Acts 2:38 “Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the holy Spirit.”
Acts 8:12 “but once they began to believe Philip as he preached the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, men and women alike were baptized.”
Acts 8:35-38 “Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him. As they traveled along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is water. What is to prevent my being baptized?” Then he ordered the chariot to stop, and Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and he baptized him.”
Acts 16:16 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you and your household will be saved.”
Romans 10:9 “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
I provide a large sampling of verses because I want it to be seen that there are a few different ways the Jesus and the Apostles speak of eternal life and being saved. The verses above express salvation in this way:
Following Jesus, leaving an old way of life behind, giving up houses and family, keeping the commandments, being baptized with water and Spirit, repenting, enduring to the end, eating the flesh of the son of man, believing, confessing with our mouths and believing in our heart.
What we don’t find is people saying a sinner’s prayer and subjectively choosing a church that agrees with them on the Bible.
The Gospel is God coming to us and saving us. It is Jesus rescuing us and inviting us to be a part of his Body, The Church. The Catholic Church maintains all of the things within it for a person to fully experience salvation:
- It invites someone to know Christ. (through the public proclamation of Scripture, through homilies, through catechesis, and through RCIA for adult converts)
- It baptizes children which is in reference to households being saved found in the book of Acts which provides a pledge of salvation.
- All Catholics confess with their mouth at Mass in recitation of the Creed (the word creed literally means ‘I believe’).
- The Church, in the Eucharist, provides the Christian with Jesus’ flesh to eat and His blood to drink.
- It calls and warns us to endure to the end by calling Catholics to continue to grow in faith, receive the Sacraments of salvation where the Grace of God continues to be made manifest. There is not a once saved, always saved teaching. We are called to follow Christ and continue in Him through life in the Church and bringing the gospel to all people.
So, while non-Catholics may invite someone to have a relationship with Jesus, they are leaving a whole lot of Scripture and Tradition out of their invitation and in turn are leaving out the Church which Jesus entrusted to bring His Gospel to the whole world.
A great example of the approach Catholics take in reaching people with the Good News about Jesus can be found here: Christ Life: Catholic Ministry for Evangelization!
Conclusion: Admitting you have a ‘tradition’ problem…
We began with the frequently used question by non-Catholics in asking us “where in the Bible” our beliefs are. In this post I have tried to show that not only are a whole lot of Catholic beliefs based on the Biblical revelation but have outlined seven beliefs of non-Catholics that after more careful study, are found to be unbiblical.
But, there’s a deeper problem. And just like problems of addiction, the first step that any non-Catholic Christian needs to take before he can take the claims of the Catholic Church seriously is to admit that he has a ‘tradition’ problem. What do I mean by this?
I mean that both Catholics and non-Catholics have traditions. Non-Catholics try to claim that all their beliefs come from the Bible. What I am pointing out is that many of their foundational beliefs are not biblical. Their beliefs are traditions that they have received from their local church communities. What Catholics argue is that the Traditions we have received through the Catholic Church are in harmony with the Bible. We also argue that these Traditions are not local traditions made up by men through the centuries, but it is THE Tradition that was received and handed on from the Apostles. And this practice of handing on the Tradition and not just handing on the Bible is also…….BIBLICAL!!!
1 Corinthians 11:2 “I praise you because you remember me in everything and hold fast to the traditions, just as I handed them on to you.”
2 Thessalonians 2:15 “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours.”
Realizing that traditions are a natural part of our lives is the first big step for a protestant to make. Former protestant, Thomas Howard, wrote a book titled: “On Being Catholic” and he spends some significant time on this topic. You can find info about that book by clicking the book title.
As you finish reading this post, I will provide a link for a short video I made about this question concerning Tradition. It goes a little deeper into what the Church teaches.
Also, if you would like a ONE-PAGE resource that provides references and links to further explore the Catholic faith, check this out: Explore the Catholic Faith!
Please leave any comments or questions below!