An Invitation to Examine Roman Catholic (RC) Faith in the Light of Scripture
First in a series adapted by Philip L. Powell from the book of the above title (© 2005 Dr Joseph Mizzi) with the author's written permission.
By Dr Joseph Mizzi (Malta)References
Unless otherwise indicated, Bible quotations are taken from the New King James Version (Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.) Used by permission. All rights reserved.
References to the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church (RCC) are marked “CCC” and followed by the paragraph number.
Fifteen years ago I stood at the crossroads of my life. For two years I had been studying the Bible, especially the Gospel according to John, and the epistles of Paul to the Romans and Galatians. By God's grace I realized my guilt and I was terrified of the danger of eternal punishment in hell. I knew how helpless I was and I lost all confidence in myself. The glory and majesty of Christ, in His sufferings and resurrection, dawned upon my soul; and by the enabling of the Holy Spirit I entrusted my soul's well-being and salvation completely to Him.At that time I compared RC doctrine with the message of Scripture and discovered a gaping chasm between the two positions. I could no longer be identified as a member in a church that has twisted the gospel. I neither had any desire to disappoint my parents nor was I seeking my friends' criticism and rejection. My choice was as clear as daylight: it was either the Word of God or human teaching; either be faithful to Christ, my Lord and Redeemer, or else be a man pleaser.
Preface to the Book
God commands us in Scripture to “test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).The roots of the RC religion reach back to the early Christian church, as witnessed by a precious heritage of holy and orthodox doctrines embraced and defended by the modern RCC. Sadly, like Israel of old, the churches of Christ are not immune to contamination by the leaven of false doctrine and heresy. The church of Rome is no exception. Throughout the centuries, human traditions were introduced, often insidiously, resulting in a significant distortion of the original apostolic faith.The purpose of my book is certainly not to tear down everything Roman Catholic, but to provide an opportunity to test important RC doctrines in the light of Scripture.
I hope that you will arrive at a better understanding of the all-important Gospel message, the power of God for salvation to all who believe in Christ.Test everything. Hold on to the good.
1. What Will It Profit a Man?
The Lord Jesus challenges our world and life view: “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36.)Our age is increasingly materialistic. People are crazily driven to seek comforts and pleasures to such an extent that they are entirely oblivious of eternal verities. Life seems to have become a short trip from the maternity ward to the cemetery. That's all. Apparently a huge vacuum lies beyond the grave. Admittedly, most western nations have made great economic and social progress, but can the world's affluence even begin to be compared to our soul's salvation? What will we be able to carry over to the next life?
I was raised in an RC family. My parents always taught me to believe that God exists, and that there is an eternal destiny for all: either in heaven or in hell. From childhood I was trained to think about my relationship with the Creator and about eternal life. I am so thankful to God for my parents: they have certainly given me a good start. I am now writing this to my RC friends, who have similarly taken notice of Christ's solemn warning. We will all be losers if we manage to accumulate what this world has to offer only to be consigned to an eternal punishment in hell.As an RC I was sure of walking along the right path. I was aware of other roads that lead to perdition. Jesus Himself had warned us:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7:13-14.)
But I had hardly anything to worry about. As a member of the RCC, the true church of Christ, I knew what a great heritage I enjoyed within her bosom. I only had to pay attention, lest I would be led astray by other religions and fall away onto the wide road that leads to destruction.Quite unexpectedly my brother accosted me one day and remarked, “Did you know that we go to heaven by faith in Christ, apart from the merits of our good works?”
“Nonsense,” I readily retorted, “we acquire salvation both by faith as well as by our good works.” Animatedly, I continued to defend the RC religion. He read out some portions of Scripture; I remained unconvinced.
I soon learned what had happened. My brother had been confronted by some Irish tourists, evangelical Christians, to be exact. They met with him several times, and apparently had won him over to their religion. Naturally enough, I felt sorry for him. I was worried how he had deviated from the teaching of Mother Church, and since I had implicit trust in the doctrine of my church, I resolved to study the Holy Bible for myself with the purpose of showing him his error. For several months I continued to pester him, making every attempt to turn him back to the fold.
Many years have now elapsed since that wintry evening. Today I too, like my brother, am an evangelical Christian. My convictions have changed radically. I confess today that I am saved simply through my faith in Christ alone; my good works have nothing to do in order to merit eternal life.But I assure you that I have not changed in everything. My love for all Roman Catholics has not diminished in the least. Rather it has been strengthened.
Truth and Salvation
I sincerely desire to share the good news about Jesus Christ with Roman Catholics; all the more since I know what zeal they can display towards God. Nevertheless religious zeal is no guarantee of truth or salvation. The apostle Paul sorrowfully mentions his own countrymen, the Jews.
He says: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Romans 10:2.)
The Jews assumed that they were treading the path of life. After all they enjoyed a rich tradition going back to the times of the patriarchs, to Moses and the prophets. They were distinctively religious; they fasted, prayed regularly, gave alms and worshipped God. Perhaps you too are prone to reason: “I am a member in a church backed up by a tradition dating back to Christ and His apostles; I attend Mass and confess to the priest; I make every attempt to obey the commandments and I am not forgetful of the poor and needy. How can I be in error?”
In spite of their religion and tradition those devout Jews were lost. They did not know God. Unknowingly they were on their way to hell, yet tragically, they were sure of being in the right. The apostle Paul testifies:
“Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved” (Romans 10:1).
In spite of their self-confidence, in reality they were still lost and in need of salvation. Why? Because their devotion did not agree with the truth of God's Word. They thought that they had the privilege of drinking from the pure water of life whereas, in fact, they were drinking poisoned water. Do you dare, then, to wait until the Day of Judgement to discover where you really stand? It will be too late then. Do not confuse religious zeal with the truth. They should exist together, but often they do not.Your own eternal destiny is at stake. Are you acquainted with the truth, God's message of salvation to humanity? Quite appropriately we shall tackle this question first of all.
2. God's Word is Truth
Left to our own resources we can never come to know God in truth. Scripture unequivocally states, “the world through wisdom did not know God” (1 Corinthians 1:21). Man has invented many gods and countless religions, but by himself he is unable to find the true and living God.How then can we ever come to know the Creator, the Lord of heaven and earth?
The biblical answer is both simple and sublime: God makes Himself known to us. God has spoken. Throughout history God communicated His message to man through His appointed messengers, the prophets and the apostles. They were “holy men of God [who] spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21.) The mighty miracles they performed by God's power witness to the fact that they were the voice of God on earth.
God's self-revelation reached its pinnacle in the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ. God "has in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:2).
Jesus is the Word of God, the perfect image of the invisible God, the truth, God with us! God's revelation is now complete, and the Christian church is duty- bound “to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.” We should not be looking for some new message, but we should learn and believe what God already said.
We happen to be on the scene centuries after the prophets, Jesus and His apostles. How can we know God's revelation entrusted to them? How can we know what they taught? In His wisdom, God saw to it that His Word would be recorded in written form, and this process culminated in what we know today as the Holy Bible. Moses and Paul have died, but their doctrine is still extant in their writings. Though Jesus ascended into heaven, we can still know what He said and did in the pages of the four Gospels.
The Bible has a dual authorship. It was written by various men (Ezekiel, Luke, Matthew and others) and at the same time it is the Word of God. The Holy Spirit guided the human authors to write exactly what He wanted them to write, no more and no less. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” (2 Timothy 3:16). When we open the Holy Bible we should always keep in mind that we are reading God's book. There is no need to doubt the words of Scripture for God can neither lie nor err. In praying to the Father, Jesus said: “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
The concept of “tradition” per se is perfectly acceptable. Tradition simply means teachings and practices transmitted by example, verbal and written means. That is the way we share our faith (through sermons, books, articles, personal witness and other means) with one another, and with the next generation of Christians. Now of course, traditions may be true or false; traditions may have their origin in God or in the human mind. The Bible uses the word “tradition” to describe both false and true teachings.
In Scripture we do not expect to find everything the prophets, the apostles and the Lord Jesus ever said. However what is recorded is sufficient to teach us the way of salvation, and that's the point. “And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” (John 20:30,31).
The Bible does not give exhaustive information, but what is sufficient to know God in truth.It is dangerous to seek spiritual information outside the Scriptures, assuming that there are other crucial doctrines absent in the written Word. Sad to say, the Jews committed this grave error. They were not content to rely solely upon the books of Scripture; alongside these, they held “tradition” in high esteem. The teachings of their forefathers acquired an authority similar to that of Scripture, and the result was tragic. Listen to Jesus' own evaluation of tradition:Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 'This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men…making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down - Mark 7:6-13
God will not approve of our religion if it is not grounded upon His revelation as recorded in Scripture. Neither will He be pleased with that kind of worship based on Scripture mangled by tradition.The RCC receives Scripture as the Word of God, but alongside Scripture she places tradition, which supposedly brings to us the teachings of Christ and His apostles in a living way. Vatican Council II states:
Thus it comes about that the Church does not draw her certainty about all revealed truths from the Holy Scriptures alone. Hence, both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honoured with equal feelings of devotion and reverence.
According to the church of Rome, Scripture is not enough. The church places tradition on a par with the Bible. History repeats itself. The Jewish nation, as custodian of the Scripture, added its own sacred tradition; the RCC similarly elevates tradition and esteems it just as reliable as Scripture. Doesn't such a position make you uneasy? Remember God's judgement: “In vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Mark 7:7 cf verse 9).
Of course the RCC maintains that her tradition is the Word of God and not “commandments of men.” Nevertheless, if it can be proved that RC tradition is nothing else but “the commandments of men,” then we must conclude that RC worship is “in vain” before God, as the Scripture warns us.In future series we will mention several conflicts between Scripture and the teaching of the RCC. To give just one instance at this stage, we may refer to the use of statues in worship. The second Commandment (not generally taught to Roman Catholics) reads as follows:
You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments - Exodus 20:4-6
At face value this commandment is quite straightforward. Nevertheless the RCC permits and even encourages her laity to bow down and pray before statues of Christ, Mary and other saints. A number of arguments are put forward to justify this practice, but whatever reasons might be given, at the end of the day the fact remains that God prohibits such religious use of graven images. The authority of His Law is final, and if we feel free to lay it aside, then we fall into the same condemnation as the Jews of Jesus' day:
“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).
Teachers are Subject to Scripture
The Lord gave leaders and teachers to the church in order to have His Word proclaimed and explained. We are meant to follow them as they follow Christ, but it must be kept in mind that not everyone who claims to be a “minister of Christ” is necessarily genuine. The Lord Jesus warned us:
“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
So you will have no excuse on the Day of Judgement if you have followed false teachers. Be on the alert: “If the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch” (Matthew 15:14).But what kind of test should you apply to know whether a certain teacher is a minister of Christ or not? The prophet is known by his teaching, in the same way as a tree is known by its fruits. If anyone claims to teach God's Word, yet in actual fact he contradicts Scripture, he is thereby proved to be a liar and deceiver. Be sure that you are building your house upon the solid rock of God's infallible Word.
Paul and Silas preached the Gospel to the people in Berea, who welcomed the message with enthusiasm, but they did not stop there. They made it a point to search the Scriptures for themselves, privately, to check the doctrine they had heard from Paul and his companion. “They received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11). Luke, the writer of Acts, calls them “fair-minded.” May you be granted such a disposition of mind so that you too will be willing to test the teaching which you learned since childhood in the light of the Bible.
Can I Understand Scripture?
God communicated with men in human language. The Bible is not some mysterious book. Its separate books were not addressed to recognized theologians, the clergy and wise men, but to the covenant people of God. For instance, the letters penned by Paul, Peter, James and John were sent to all Christians indiscriminately. “I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read to all the holy brethren,” (1 Thessalonians 5:27) ordered the apostle Paul at the conclusion of his first letter to the Thessalonians. It would have been to no purpose should the letter be read out publicly if it was too difficult to understand. God spoke in such a fashion that His message would prove beneficial and helpful to us. “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130).
You can understand the Bible if you read it diligently. Of course you will never appreciate Scripture if you leave it a closed book. Neither will you profit from it if you read it with an attitude of pride, as if you are sitting in judgement over it. Again, never try to approach Scripture assuming that you are wiser than its Author, or with the intention of twisting its plain meaning in order to justify your present beliefs. You will understand the Bible only if you read and meditate upon it with due humility, with faith, with the intention of obeying it and thus magnifying the Lord Jesus Christ in your life. Trust only in the Holy Spirit, who gave the Scripture and is therefore able to make its meaning known to you. Only the Lord can grant you wisdom to grasp His message.
“He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
Scripture is Enough
Have you ever desired to have lived in the time of Christ? What an experience it would have been to hear the words of eternal life as they issued from His lips! “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (See Luke 10:25). What do you think He would have answered? There's no need to guess. On one occasion a certain lawyer posed this same question to the Lord Jesus. He answered: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (verse 26).
The Lord referred him to Scripture, and that answer applies to us all. In Scripture we find the correct and full answer with regard to our eternal salvation. You may be confident that it will not disappoint you. There's no need for human philosophy or tradition. The contents of Scripture are sufficient for all our spiritual needs.
The Holy Scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Where can you find truth? Where can you be taught the way of salvation? Don't ever forget the answer: the Holy Scriptures!