Tag Archives: roman catholicism

PODCAST: Bridging the Gap w/ special guest David Lapp

bridgingthegappromoimage

I was pleased to have David Lapp as my guest to discuss the growing divide between groups of people along political and religious lines. David, through his work with Better Angels (http://better-angels.org), has been working to heal, in particular, the political divides which were so apparent in the recent U.S. presidential election by focusing on what unites us as Americans. He’s also a convert to Roman Catholicism from Protestantism and we spent a great deal of time discussing how Catholics and Protestants can find unity even as we divide over issues of authority and doctrine.

Some of his writing can be found at the Institute for Family Studies’ website–https://ifstudies.org.

Podcast link:
http://www.cantus-firmus.com/Audio/20170506-BridgingtheGapwithDavidLapp.mp3

Music:
“The Itis” by Polyrhythmics. Licensed under CC BY 3.0
http://www.needledrop.co/wp/artists/polyrhythmics/

John 6 and The Eucharist

This is a follow-up to my last post where I discussed the meaning of the Lord’s Supper (or the eucharist, as Roman Catholics tend to call it). Roman Catholics, as you might recall, believe in transubstantiation, which entails that the bread and wine of communion becomes the body and blood of Christ by the words of the priest. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting the Council of Trent, puts it this way:
“The Council of Trent summarizes the Catholic faith by declaring: ‘Because Christ our Redeemer said that it was truly his body that he was offering under the species of bread, it has always been the conviction of the Church of God, and this holy Council now declares again, that by the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation'” (CCC, 1376).

A central Roman Catholic proof-text for this teaching is John 6, particularly verse 53 where Jesus says,

“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 yourselves” (NASB).

However, interpreting this verse as teaching the transubstantiation of the eucharist is to completely ignore the context. Here’s why.

In the beginning of the chapter, Jesus feeds a crowd of five thousand with five loaves and two fish (miraculously, I mean. He didn’t cut the two fish into five thousand pieces). He then withdraws from the crowd, and they of course come after him. This is what He says to them:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you, for on Him the Father, God, has set His seal” (John 6:26-27, NASB).

From the beginning, Jesus chastises the crowd for being focused on bread, which He describes as food which perishes. Instead, they should look for the food which endures to eternal life that He gives. There’s a contrast here. His point isn’t that they should seek after a different literal bread– one that has been blessed by a priest– but that literal bread is not what’s important here. The food they should look for is metaphorical (something that sustains), not literal.

“For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world” (John 6:33, NASB).

Jesus here gives another hint about what kind of bread He is focused upon. It’s one that comes down from heaven. Two verses later, He speaks plainly:

“I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me will not hunger, and he who believes in Me will never thirst” (John 6:35, NASB).

Jesus is the “bread” that doesn’t perish, that gives life to the world, and that, unless it is eaten, the person rejecting it can’t have life in themselves. How does one “eat” this bread? Jesus says explicitly that one fulfills this requirement by coming to Him. How does one drink His blood so that they will not thirst (again, this is not a literal thirsting, but a spiritual thirsting that Jesus quenches)? By believing. So, one does not have life in themselves by eating bread and drinking wine (even if it has been turned into His flesh and blood), but by coming to Him and believing. In case the reader misses this, Jesus repeats it again later.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).

At this point, Jesus uses the strong metaphorical language that Catholics have seized on:

“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 yourselves” (John 6:53, NASB).

At this point, some of His followers interpret His words literally and are weirded out. As a result, many leave (see verses 60 and 66). However, they have no reason to take a literal interpretation of His words. Even before the text tells us that some of His followers vamoose, Jesus again explains what He isn’t talking about literal flesh and blood, but is using spiritualized metaphors:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life” (John 6:63, NASB).

While the Catholic Church has not shied away from Jesus as this crowd did, they have essentially taken their same mistaken interpretation. But Jesus’ rebuke stands for both groups– the flesh profits nothing; it is the Spirit who gives life. Spiritual things (turning to Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit), not physical things (eating consecrated bread and wine), are what give us eternal life. By taking this passage completely out of its context, the Roman Catholic Church has reinforced their dangerous view of salvation and taken the focus off of Christ’s once-for-all sacrifice to emphasize a bit-by-bit atonement that one must work day after day to achieve.

The Lord’s Supper, Passover, and Redemption

The topic of the Lord’s supper has been a controversial one. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and even some protestants have understood celebrations of the Lord’s Supper to be, in some sense, a sacrament wherein the bread and wine becomes the body and blood of Christ. Other protestants have argued that there is no basis for this reading in the New Testament. While the difference between these two views is significant, the more heated, and important, debate is focused on the view that the elements become the body and blood of Christ in order to be a sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins of those who take part. In contrast, protestants (including many who do in fact believe that in some sense the wine and bread becomes Christ’s blood and body in the supper) believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross is a once-for-all sacrifice that completely saves His people, forgiving them of their sins, when they turn to Him. To begin, we should look at what the Lord’s Supper was in its original historical context.

The Lord’s Supper as a Passover

To understand what the Lord’s Supper is, it helps to go back to its origin. So often, we as Christians divorce our beliefs from their Jewish context, assuming that Jesus brought something completely new and distinct from His Jewish background. While He did most certainly innovate, we shouldn’t over-emphasize this truth. There is far more continuity than discontinuity with what God had revealed to Israel before.

John Zizioulas, the Eastern Orthodox metropolitan of Pergamon, focuses on the discontinuity to emphasize the Lord’s Supper as something completely new. He sets the groundwork for this by contrasting the Jewish and the Greek views of truth:
“It is usually felt that the principal characteristic of Hebrew thinking as opposed to that of the Greeks resides in the Jews’ interest in history. The ‘signs’ which the Jews seek, says St Paul, are precisely the manifestations of God’s presence and his activity in history… The Greek mind, for its part, seeks truth in a way which transcends history” (Zizioulas, Being As Communion, p. 68, 1985, St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, New York).

Zizioulas then argues that Christ as truth corresponds to and even transcends both views. He does so through the eucharist. For Zizioulas, the eucharist exemplifies Christ as historical as well as ontological truth. The eucharist points to God’s saving work in history, while connecting believers through all ages and places to this salvation event.

However, the concept of a historical salvation event that transcends time was not new with the incarnation, but simply poured out in its fullness. When a Jew kept the Passover, he was told that the Passover seder in some sense brought the participant back to the first Passover, so that God’s saving action in history could be demonstrated to have been for all of Israel.

This concept is still found in contemporary Haggadahs (guidebooks to keeping the Passover seder):
“In every generation it is one’s duty to regard himself as though he personally had gone out from Egypt… It was not only our fathers whom the Holy One redeemed from slavery; we, too, were redeemed with them” (p. 45, The Family Haggadah, Rabbi Nosson Scherman trans., Mesorah Publications ltd., 2006).

“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt, but HASHEM our God took us from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (p. 27).

This is what communion is for the church– a celebration in the present that links all Christians throughout time, connecting us back to the sacrifice of Christ in history which reflects God’s purpose in salvation from all eternity.

This similarity is not simply coincidental, because the Lord’s Supper was in fact a Passover meal which took the Passover symbols and imbued them with additional meaning which had not been understood before. Jesus was our Passover lamb, and His sacrifice in history connects all of those whom He died for, constituting the church. Our celebration of the Lord’s Supper reminds us of this truth, just as Passover reminded the Jews of the same (though not fully explicated) truth– that God saves His people through the sacrifice of the unblemished lamb.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church would acknowledge much of what is stated above, but includes additional information which more fully reflects the Roman Catholic view of the Lord’s Supper. To begin with, it deals with the Catholic Church’s teaching that the bread and wine become Christ’s body and blood through the work of a priest:
“As often as the sacrifice of the Cross by which ‘Christ our Pasch has been sacrificed’ is celebrated on the altar, the work of our redemption is carried out” (CCC, 1364).

It then goes on to explain how this aforementioned redemption is carried out through our observance of the Lord’s Supper:
“[Christ left his church the visible sacrifice of the eucharist] by which the bloody sacrifice which he was to accomplish once for all on the cross would be re-presented, its memory perpetuated until the end of the world, and its salutary power be applied to the forgiveness of the sins we daily commit” (CCC, 1366).

In other words, the eucharist is offered continuously, until the end of the world, for the purpose of providing forgiveness for the sins we commit that Christ’s bloody sacrifice did not cover, and indeed cannot cover, unless we continue to take communion. Forgiveness is not accomplished by faith in Christ, but faith plus receiving communion– and even that must be done regularly to be efficacious and cover the sins we continue to commit. This bit-by-bit salvation may not even be accomplished at death, as 1371 of the CCC clearly teaches (“The Eucharistic sacrifice is also offered for the faithful departed who ‘have died in Christ but are not yet wholly purified,’ so that they may be able to enter into the light and peace of Christ”).

But if the eucharist takes its cue from the Passover, and the Passover celebration does not require that the unleavened bread change substance to become the bread from the first Passover in order for Jews to be associated with God’s saving work in Egypt, why should the communion elements become the literal body and blood of Christ? Of course, many protestants have argued that Christ is in some way contained in the wine and bread of communion, or is in some way more strongly present in the sacrament (in a similar way that Jesus claims His presence is more strongly there when two or more Christians are gathered). However, Roman Catholics have insisted upon the transubstantiation of the elements into the body and blood of Christ as a means of handing out bits of grace at a time, which strongly undermines the finished, once-for-all, work of Christ on the cross.

Offered Once to Bear the Sins for Many

While the Catholic Catechism pays lip service to the concept in Hebrews that Christ died “once for all,” it shoe horns in the concept of the eucharist as “re-presenting” the sacrifice of Christ so that new sins can be forgiven every time one goes to mass. The result is that one does not have total peace with God, and if someone dies with un-atoned-for sin on their account, they will have to have it expiated in purgatory. The distinction that the Catholic Church attempts to make is that while Christ’s sacrifice was made once for all (He is not continually crucified), it must be applied over and over again, never completely forgiving the one who draws near until Christ comes in judgment and purges sin from His people. While this is a clever way of trying to get around the concepts that the author of Hebrews uses to describe the atonement, one has to wonder why he would have used such strong language about “once for all” and the like if in the back of his mind he knew that sins had to be regularly atoned through taking the Lord’s Supper in mass or else paid for in purgatory.

Note the contrast that the author of Hebrews makes between Christ’s once-for-all atonement, and what the temple priests did every day–

Hebrews 7:27 NET
“He has no need to do every day what those priests do, to offer sacrifices first for their own sins and then for the sins of the people, since he did this in offering himself once for all.”

Jesus does not need to offer a sacrifice every day, but the sacrifice was completed once for all. This verse focuses explicitly on Jesus not having to offer a sacrifice again and again because once was enough, but this is later followed to its logical end- that the one sacrifice need only be applied to the sinner once for all – as the author’s argument builds.

Hebrews 9:24-28 NET
“For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with hands – the representation of the true sanctuary – but into heaven itself, and he appears now in God’s presence for us. And he did not enter to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the sanctuary year after year with blood that is not his own, for then he would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the consummation of the ages to put away sin by his sacrifice. And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment, so also, after Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many, to those who eagerly await him he will appear a second time, not to bear sin but to bring salvation.”

There are two important contrasts in the previous passage. The first is between the sacrifices of the temple which never made full atonement and the sacrifice of Christ which “put away” sin once for all. The second contrast is between Christ’s two comings. In the first he bore the sins of many, and as a result of this first coming, those who wait for His appearance do not wait for Him to bear sins again but to bring His kingdom and to completely destroy death.

Hebrews 10:1-3, 10, 17-18 NET
“For the law possesses a shadow of the good things to come but not the reality itself, and is therefore completely unable, by the same sacrifices offered continually, year after year, to perfect those who come to worship. For otherwise would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers would have been purified once for all and so have no further consciousness of sin? But in those sacrifices there is a reminder of sins year after year.  By his will we have been made holy through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. Then he says, ‘Their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no longer.’ Now where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”

This is what the author of Hebrews has been building up to, and this is his strongest statement against what later proto-catholic theology would devise. The sacrifices of the priest did not “perfect” those who drew near to worship. If they did, they would not need to be offered again and again. Instead, the temple had a continual sacrifice to remind the people that their sin had not been fully dealt with. They must continue to come to the temple in order to receive new grace and forgiveness for new sins committed. This is where the rubber hits the road. The Catholic can claim that Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all, but their view of the Lord’s Supper entails exactly what the author of Hebrews is saying Jesus came to destroy. Jesus is sacrificed once-for-all, and the result of this is that our sins are atoned once-for-all. If there is forgiveness, these is no need to present a new offering.

Summary

The Lord’s Supper is important because of what it teaches us about Christ’s atonement for us. It reminds us that God had from the foundation of the world set out to redeem His people from sin and death. To claim that keeping the Lord’s Supper doesn’t offer additional forgiveness of sins is not to undermine the importance of the Lord’s Supper, but to magnify the God who saved us completely. Jesus told us to keep the supper “in remembrance” of him, because, as the author of Hebrews states, since Christ there is no longer “a reminder of sins.” As the author of Hebrews also states in this section, “for by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV). We are perfected in Christ, even before we are sanctified. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that we, being one body existing at different times and places, have been completely redeemed by our God.

Why Do Catholic Bibles Have More Books? (A Response to the Roman Catholic View of the Canon)

In a previous post, I discussed the claim of many Roman Catholics that we cannot have the canon of scripture (a definitive list of what’s in the Bible) without the magisterium of the Roman Catholic Church. I pointed out that there was no magisterial definition from Rome until the 16th century at the Council of Trent, and that few Roman Catholics would claim that the church had no Bible until that time. I then off-handedly claimed that in any case, the canon of Old Testament books that was defined at the Council of Trent did not match the canon that Jews of today and of the time of Jesus used (the Roman Catholic canon includes additional books in the Old Testament such as Baruch and Wisdom).

Because my point that the Jews held to a different canon than Roman Catholics (the Jewish canon matches the protestant Old Testament canon) was not central to my argument, I did not provide citations or arguments to justify it. A reader brought this up to me, so I thought I should provide some evidence for my claims.
The Hebrew Bible at the Time of Jesus

The earliest evidence supports that the Jews held to a canon of either 22 or 24 books, with some books consolidated together into one book (such as the 12 minor prophets, etc). Jews of today recognize a 24 book canon. These two numbers most probably do not represent different canons, but a different way of numbering the same books (putting Ruth with Judges and Lamentations with Jeremiah would reduce the number from 24 to 22). In an case, this canon excluded the deuterocanonical books (a term often used for the additional books in the Catholic Old Testament, meaning “second canon”) and seems to match the current Jewish (and protestant) canon of the Hebrew scriptures.

The earliest reference we have at present to a Jewish canon is probably from Josephus, who mentions a canon of 22 books at around 97 A.D.:
“For we have not an innumerable multitude of books among us, disagreeing from and contradicting one another [as the Greeks have], but only twenty-two books, which contain all the records of all the past times; which are justly believed to be divine… It is true, our history hath been written since Artaxerxes very particularly, but hath not been esteemed of the like authority with the former by our forefathers, because there hath not been an exact succession of prophets since that time” (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion, 8).

The Glossa Ordinaria (1498 A.D.), the standard Bible commentary of Western Europe, refers to both numbers (22 and 24) as being used by the Jews and provides an explanation from Josephus for why they are different:
“There are, then, twenty-two canonical books of the old testament, corresponding to the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, as Eusebius reports, in book six of Ecclesiastical History, that Origen writes on the first Psalm; and Jerome says the same thing more fully and distinctly in his Helmeted Prologue to the books of Kings: ‘All the books are divided into three parts by the Jews: into the law, which contains the five books of Moses; into the eight prophets; and into the nine hagiographa. This will be more clearly seen shortly. Some, however, separate the book of Ruth from the book of Judges, and the Lamentations of Jeremiah from Jeremiah, and count them among the hagiographa in order to make twenty-four books, corresponding to the twenty-four elders whom the Apocalypse presents as adoring the lamb.’ These are the books that are in the canon, as blessed Jerome writes at greater length in the Helmeted Prologue to the books of Kings.”

The New Testament evidence strongly implies that its authors (as well as Jesus) used the shorter, Jewish canon. It does this by how it references the canonical and deuterocanonical material (although there are far less references to the latter, and many that are claimed are questionable). In regard to the deuterocanon, Matthew 11:28-30 seems to use language parallel to Sirach 51:26-27. Hebrews 11:35 seems to reference events written about in 2 Maccabees 7. However, these and other passages which might be argued to be referencing the apocrypha never use the terms that other New Testament passages use when referring to scripture.

Deuterocanonical stories are referred to in the New Testament off-hand and with little fanfare, similar to how Paul quotes pagan poets to illustrate his point but never implies that they are inspired (Acts 17:28).

The regular canonical books are referred to quite differently. Note how the New Testament references the universally accepted books and compare that to its references of the deuterocanon:
“David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared…” (Mark 12:36 ESV)
“which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand…” (Acts 1:16 ESV)
“The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet…” (Acts 28:25 ESV)
“As indeed he [God] says in Hosea…” (Romans 9:25 ESV)
“All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Matthew 1:22)

The Church’s View of the Canon of the Old Testament

The earliest Christian list of Old Testament books, the Bryennios List (dating to around 100 A.D.), excludes the deuterocanonical books. Before long though, many in the church did accept them as scripture. This can best be explained by the Church’s use of the Greek Septuagint and Latin Vulgate, both of which included them. However, the Septuagint also contained other books, and the Vulgate included notes claiming that the deuterocanonical books were not scripture.

However, it is not the case that all of the fathers accepted the deuterocanon. While that number grew leading up to Trent, it was not the church’s universal view. Numerous theologians and fathers whom the Roman Catholic Church claims as their own rejected the books that Rome now declares to be scripture. For instance, Athanasius, in his 39th Festal Letter, calls those who teach that apocryphal books are scripture are in error and should be condemned. He then defines the canon as excluding the deuterocanonical books, with the exception of Baruch, perhaps because it was sometimes considered as being part of Jeremiah in the Greek Septuagint, which was the translation Athanasius most likely used.

Similarly, Jerome, who translated the Bible into Latin from Greek and Hebrew (making him one of the few post-apostolic fathers to know Hebrew), notes in his translation that the deuterocanonical books are not scripture. This knowledge he seemingly learned from the Jews who taught him Hebrew. His translation– which became known as the Vulgate– became Rome’s official Latin Bible at the Council of Trent– although it rejected its authors view of the canon and declared anathema on any who held the same view.
Even Gregory the Great, in a book published while he was pope (Morals on the Book of Job, in Vol. 11, parts III and IV, Book XIX.34), rejected the deuterocanonical books, meaning that Trent anathematized a view that was taught by a pope. Gregory was apparently unaware of the apostolic tradition that the Roman Catholic Church would claim was always believed by the church and is to be defended by the successor of Peter. Origen and Cardinal Cajetan (who interrogated Luther for his anti-romanist beliefs) also rejected the deuterocanonical books, among numerous others.

Why then, did so many church fathers and theologians accept the deuterocanonical books as scripture? One major reason is that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) often included these books. Christians who were more familiar with Greek than Hebrew would have called the Septuagint their Bible. As Christians became less connected with the Jewish roots of their faith, and indeed as animosity increased between Jews and the mostly gentile Christians, Christians would not be aware of the Jewish view of the canon. Exceptions included fathers such as Jerome and Melito of Sardis, who interacted directly with Jews and also denied the deuterocanonical books were scripture (it is of note that Melito and Athanasius didn’t consider Esther to be part of the canon, and little by way of explanation is offered for this omission. Perhaps the lack of mention of God in Esther caused misgivings in regard to its canonicity). Once the Greek Septuagint gave way to the Latin Vulgate in the West, Christians would still have been reading the deuterocanonicals in their Bible, although its translator’s rejection of these books helped spur debate in the Roman Catholic Church over the canon right up to the Council of Trent.

Although the Septuagint perhaps influenced the acceptance of the deuterocanonicals, it is not a good argument for Catholics to claim that the Septuagint contained the genuine Old Testament canon, since manuscripts of the Septuagint also included books that even Catholics deny are scripture, such as 3 and 4 Maccabees (the Eastern Orthodox Church, however, because of their continued use of the Septuagint, do include these books in their Bibles). Further, the provincial councils of Hippo (393 A.D.) and Carthage (397 A.D.), which were heavily influenced by the non-Hebrew speaking Augustine, seemed to claim the Old Testament canon that Trent did (the names of the books are the same), but quite probably promulgated a different one. This is because these councils used the Septuagint, which contains a different 1 and 2 Esdras than the Vulgate (which is the Bible that the Council of Trent used). The New Catholic Encyclopedia claims that Trent “definitively removed it [the material found in the Septuagint version of 1 Esdras] from the canon” (New Catholic Encyclopedia, II:396-97). In other words, Trent created a canon that neither the early church, the Eastern Orthodox (using the Septuagint), nor the Jews accepted.

While much of the ancient period is shrouded in mystery, particularly in regard to these issues, enough evidence can be gathered to demonstrate how weak the Roman Catholic position on the canon is. If one does not simply assume the authority of the Roman Catholic magisterium, the weight of the evidence will lead this one to reject Rome’s claims in regard to the canon.

Is Scripture Alone Enough?

Scripture Alone

The Protestant Reformation had, as its ultimate authority, scripture alone. Their claim was not that no other authority can provide true or useful information, but that the sole infallible rule of faith must be the word of God. This viewpoint flows from Scripture itself. Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3 that:
“evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:13-17 ESV).

To summarize, Paul warns Timothy about those who will claim to be Christians (even Christian teachers) but will in fact be deceived and deceive others. They will claim that their doctrine is true and perhaps claim some kind of authority or tradition to back it up.

At this point, Paul could have told Timothy (the recipient of his letter) to hold fast to the doctrine of the magisterium, to Peter, or to Peter’s successors. He does not. Instead, he calls him to hold fast to the scriptures, which contain all information that one might need to receive salvation from God (implying that anyone who claims that there are doctrines that must be believed to be saved which have no place in the word of God must be rejected as false or even, to use Paul’s word, “evil”). Scripture is sufficient to serve its purpose because scripture is “God-breathed.” Neither Paul nor any other writer claim that any other source is God-breathed but scripture alone.

Tradition and the opinions of men can be helpful and good. However, scripture warns us that it can also be destructive and against God, even when delivered by those who are in religious authority over God’s people. Jesus chastises the teachers of the Jews for this very thing when he tells them, “you leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:8). Similarly, Peter rejects the authority of the religious leaders of Israel when he tells them, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29 ESV). Paul goes even further when he declares that, “even if we [apostles of Jesus Christ] or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). Paul admits that even those in the highest religious authority can be wrong, and that if they are their teaching must be vehemently rejected.

It is Paul’s claim that all tradition, all teaching, all authority must be tested by that which is God-breathed– which is the scripture of God. Any system which does not allow its teaching to be tested, altered, or even completely abandoned in light of scripture is a system of deception which is headed by impostors. If anyone wishes to argue that any other source may be just as authoritative as scripture must demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that this source is God-breathed. The Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society all fail to live up to this standard, so they must be rejected.

The Magisterium’s Role in Defining Scripture

A Roman Catholic, however, might argue that without the magisterium, there can be no scripture, thus the magisterium must be as authoritative as scripture. This claim is based on the faulty premise that the Roman Catholic Church gave the world the Bible and defined infallibly what it is. There is at least one major problem with this claim however– the Roman Catholic Church did not define the canon of scripture (which books are in the Bible) until the 16th century at the Council of Trent– and they included Old Testament books that neither the Jews nor many Roman Catholics had accepted as scripture beforehand. Are we to believe that there was no scripture until this definition? Or did the church have the Bible before the Council of Trent? If it did, then the claim that one needs the magisterium to infallibly define the canon of scripture is bogus and a smokescreen.

In fact, since it is God who inspired scripture, scripture exists without men making any declaration on the matter. Since it is God who uses His scripture to bring his elect into relationship with Him and sustain their faith, it also seems likely that He would make it evident what books He inspired, which is in fact what happened.Through a process of a few hundred years– and without any declaration from a catholic council– the church did in fact come to a clear consensus in regard to what New Testament books were inspired. Their litmus test for deciding these books demanded that the books be ancient, apostolic in nature (written by an apostle or a companion of an apostle), and that they be universally used throughout the church. This criteria for recognizing what God had inspired makes sense since the gospel and teachings of Jesus were given to the apostles, and the same Holy Spirit who inspired the Bible could bring His church to see what it was.

As for the Old Testament, according to Romans 3:2 those books were entrusted to the Jews. The Jews accept (and accepted in Jesus’ day) a canon that does not include the so-called deutero-canonical books in the Roman Catholic Old Testament, which suggests that in what can loosely be called Christianity, it is the protestant variety which holds to the correct Old Testament canon, and that the Roman Catholic Church’s claim to have an infallible definition of the canon does not hold up.

The Final Authority for the Early Church

The concept of papal and magisterial authority developed over time, and it is not difficult to find seeds of this concept in the relatively early church. Tradition also was given some weight, though occasionally wrongly (see for example Irenaeus’ bogus claim that Jesus lived to be in his 50s– a tradition he claimed to have received from those who knew John [Against Heresies, 2:22:5]). However, one still sees a strong witness for the doctrine that scripture alone must be the final authority for the Christian.

Often, when tradition is brought up by the church fathers, the context tells us exactly what they meant by that word– the tradition which is contained in scripture. For instance, Athanasius in his letter to Adelphius defines apostolic tradition as such:
“While the Apostolic tradition teaches in the words of blessed Peter, ‘Forasmuch then as Christ suffered for us in the Flesh,’ and in what Paul writes, ‘Looking for the blessed hope and appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ…” (Letter 60, To Adelphius, 6).

Irenaeus also speaks of what was handed down as being contained in the Scriptures:
“We have learned from none others [the apostles] the plan of our salvation, than from those through whom the Gospel has come down to us, which they did at one time proclaim in public, and, at a later period, by the will of God, handed down to us in the Scriptures, to be the ground and pillar of our faith…” (Against Heresies, III:1:1).

Early church fathers stated in varying ways that doctrine must be taken from scripture, and that all doctrine must be held to the light of scripture and either accepted or rejected on the basis of that light.

Hippolytus wrote that:
“There is, brethren, one God, the knowledge of whom we gain from the Holy Scriptures, and from no other source…. Whatever things, then, the Holy Scriptures declare, at these let us look; and whatsoever things they teach, these let us learn” (Against the Heresy of One Noetus, 9).

Note that Hippolytus claims that it is from scripture alone and no other source that knowledge of who God is can be gained.

Similarly, Athanasius sounds downright Lutheran in his claims that, “vainly then do they run about with the pretext that they have demanded Councils for the faith’s sake; for divine Scripture is sufficient above all things,” (History of Councils, 6) and, “the sacred and inspired Scriptures are sufficient to declare the truth” (Against the Heathen, 1:1).

We would be wise to follow the counsel of Basil of Caesarea when he stated that, “hearers who are instructed in the Scriptures should examine what is said by the teachers, receiving what is in conformity with the Scriptures and rejecting what is opposed to them; and that those who persist in teaching such doctrines should be strictly avoided” (The Morals, Rule 72).

In response to this emphasis of scripture as final authority from the early church, many Roman Catholics might argue that all Catholic dogmas come from the apostles and must be witnessed to at least partially in scripture. However, claiming that something must be in scripture is quite different from claiming that it is. Someone who claims that, for instance, the Roman Catholic dogmas of Mary’s immaculate conception and assumption are attested to in scripture, let alone early church tradition, is no longer reasoning objectively and is simply accepting the authority of the magisterium and its bogus claims that its doctrine is apostolic. For the Roman Catholic, there is not in practice the three-fold authority of scripture, tradition, and magisterium which they claim. The debate between protestants and Roman Catholics is one between scripture alone and magisterium alone– in Roman Catholicism the magisterium has the final authority to define what scripture and tradition are/mean, and no one may challenge what Rome declares, regardless of what scripture plainly teaches.

For instance, could the Roman Catholic say with Augustine, without pause, that we ought not, “[dare to] agree with catholic bishops if by chance they err in anything, with the result that their opinion is against the canonical Scriptures of God” (On the Unity of the Church, 10)?

For the Christian trying to determine what source is authoritative for his doctrine and practice, tradition and church authority must always be subservient to scripture.

The Roman Catholic Teaching on Indulgences

What an Indulgence Is

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “‘An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints.’ ‘An indulgence is partial or plenary according as it removes either part or all of the temporal punishment due to sin.’ The faithful can gain indulgences for themselves or apply them to the dead.” (CCC, 1471)

To back up a little, the Catholic Church teaches that when one is justified (usually occurring through the means of either baptism or penance), the eternal punishment of sin is wiped away– hell is not in your future. However, there are still temporal punishments for sins that must be metted out either in this life or in purgatory– ultimately with heaven as the final goal.

However, the Church can grant indulgences for the removal of these temporal punishments for the truly repentant. An indulgence requires certain acts (a more recent indulgence granted required as one of its conditions that the one seeking an indulgence follow the Pope on Twitter–http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2013/07/what-the-pope-really-meant-in-his-twitter-indulgences-announcement/277909/ ) from the one seeking it, and can be either full (plenary) or partial.* It cannot be stated forcefully enough that the Roman Catholic Church of today forcefully rejects the selling of indulgences and other such corruptions that sparked Luther to write his 95 Theses.

Contemporary Understandings

The Catholic Church of today has backed off from speaking of indulgences in terms of “time off of purgatory,” which was the most common way they were thought of in centuries past. Many contemporary Catholic theologians have argued that perhaps in the afterlife time does not have the same qualities that it has here, so that this type of language might be misleading and should be avoided.

In an Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI entitled Indulgentiarum Doctrina, it is ordered that, “a partial indulgence will henceforth be designated only with the words ‘partial indulgence’ without any determination of days or years” (ID, Norm no. 4). Pope Paul did not here say that indulgences do not in fact have a tensed (time-based) quality, only that they should not be spoken of as such. In fact, elsewhere in the same document he seems to refer to purgatory as tensed:
“For this reason there certainly exists between the faithful who have already reached their heavenly home, those who are expiating their sins in purgatory and those who are still pilgrims on earth a perennial link of charity and an abundant exchange of all the goods by which, with the expiation of all the sins of the entire Mystical Body, divine justice is placated” (ID, Chapter 2).

Another contemporary shift in how Catholics think of temporal punishments has to do with the claim that we should not think of indulgences as God intentionally punishing the subject, but as the necessary consequence of immoral actions:
“To understand this doctrine and practice of the Church, it is necessary to understand that sin has a double consequence. Grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life, the privation of which is called the “eternal punishment” of sin. On the other hand every sin, even venial, entails an unhealthy attachment to creatures, which must be purified either here on earth, or after death in the state called Purgatory. This purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin. These two punishments must not be conceived of as a kind of vengeance inflicted by God from without, but as following from the very nature of sin. A conversion which proceeds from a fervent charity can attain the complete purification of the sinner in such a way that no punishment would remain.” (CCC, 1472)

Inconsistencies

If the Catechism means to say that temporal punishments (either in this life or in purgatory) should not be viewed as vengeance coming from God (which is certainly what the word “punishment” suggests), but merely the negative consequences of sin, they say something that protestants could almost agree with. Certainly our sins carry negative consequences, even if God does forgive them. However, this understanding of temporal punishment as mere consequences is inconsistent with what the Catholic Church teaches elsewhere. Doesn’t the very existence of indulgences– a remission of punishment due to sin– contradict the claim that temporal punishments are merely natural consequences that must come to pass as a result of sin? If punishment can be remitted through indulgences, whose desire to punish is being satiated? Furthermore, even this passage teaches that one can be so purified by his charitable works that he can expiate the punishment that was due him. This is inconsistent with the idea of necessary consequences arising from sin, and instead strongly suggests that we must satisfy God’s wrath either by outweighing our bad behavior with good or by suffering what is due to us (at least partially– hell is also due to us, after all).

There are other problems with this declaration. First of all, it seems to claim that only some kinds of sins separate us from God and others require some lesser punishment (only “grave sin deprives us of communion with God and therefore makes us incapable of eternal life”). The protestant position (and I would argue the biblical position) is that ALL sin separates us from God. That’s why Jesus paid the penalty for all of our sins, and why we can claim to no longer be at enmity with God. To claim that there is still a chasm between us and God because of sins that have yet to be punished or atoned for is to de facto claim that we are still at enmity with God. You cannot claim to have forgiven a man whom you still demand payment from or punishment of.

This section of the Catechism also seems to use obfuscating langauge. Instead of speaking of purgatory AS the temporal punishment of sin, it claims that this “purification frees one from what is called the ‘temporal punishment’ of sin.'” The Roman Catholic Council of Trent used very different language indeed:
“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world of in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon 30)

The Role of the Magisterium in Expiating Sins

Indulgentiarum Doctrina speaks of the mediating role of the church and of indulgences as, “helping the faithful to expiate the punishment due sin.” In contrast, 1 John 4:10 tells us that, “in this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (RSV Catholic Edition).

Paul says it another way:
“Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as an expiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies him who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:23-26, RSVCE).

The teaching of indulgences not only undermines the ministry of Christ because it teaches that there are sins Christ doesn’t atone for and that we must work off ourselves or else be punished for (albeit by the grace of Christ), but it also undermines the efficacy of His sacrifice by claiming that over-abundant good works of saints can be used to atone for the temporal punishments of others:
“The ‘treasury of the Church’ is the infinite value, which can never be exhausted, which Christ’s merits have before God… This treasury includes as well the prayers and good works of the Blessed Virgin Mary. They are truly immense, unfathomable, and even pristine in their value before God. In the treasury, too, are the prayers and good works of all the saints, all those who have followed in the footsteps of Christ the Lord and by his grace have made their lives holy and carried out the mission the Father entrusted to them. In this way they attained their own salvation and at the same time cooperated in saving their brothers in the unity of the Mystical Body.” (CCC, 1476-7)

Put more succinctly, “in an indulgence in fact, the Church, making use of its power as minister of the Redemption of Christ, not only prays but by an authoritative intervention dispenses to the faithful suitably disposed the treasury of satisfaction which Christ and the saints won for the remission of temporal punishment” (ID, Chapter 4). While the claim is indeed that these good works are done in Christ by His grace, they are still the works of others and not the finished work of Christ on the cross.

The Apostolic Constitution Indulgentiarum Doctrina says of the supposed great benefits of indulgences, “the Church also in our days then invites all its sons to ponder and meditate well on how the use of indulgences benefits their lives and indeed all Christian society” (Chapter 4). I struggle to see how rationing the grace afforded us by Christ’s sacrifice is of more benefit to Christian society than the free, full, and efficacious gift of His grace. Indulgentiarum Doctrina also claims that indulgences provide “not only full and abundant forgiveness, but the most complete forgiveness for [our] sins possible” (Chapter 4). For the most complete forgiveness of my sins possible, I’ll stick with the finished atoning work of Christ.

*Indulgentiarum Doctrina also makes clear that indulgences can be won for the dead:
“And if the faithful offer indulgences in suffrage for the dead, they cultivate charity in an excellent way and while raising their minds to heaven, they bring a wiser order into the things of this world” (Chapter 4).
“Partial as well as plenary indulgences can always be applied to the dead by way of suffrage” (Norm no. 3).

Contrasting Roman Catholic and Protestant Views of Justification

While there is important agreement on the issue of justification (how one is saved) between Catholics and Protestants– such as the shared value that it depends upon grace and is on the basis of what Christ has done– there are major disagreements that are of incredible importance to the definition of the gospel itself. To begin, I will elaborate a basic Protestant view with supporting Scriptures, and then I will contrast this view with the Roman Catholic understanding. Any feedback is appreciated! All Bible quotations are from the ESV.

The Protestant View

1. Justification is a gift of God that does not depend upon works. Grace is the ground of our justification, and faith is the means by which we are saved.

“But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith… For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.”
(Romans 3:21-25, 28)

“We know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.”
(Galatians 2:16)

“For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ The law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.'”
(Galatians 3:10-12)

“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.”
(Galatians 3:21-22)

2. Justification means being declared righteous by God and having a right relationship with Him. Good works do not increase our justification. Being in a right relationship with God also entails that we have been delivered from the penalty for our sins.

“[Abraham’s] faith was ‘counted to him as righteousness.’ But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.”
(Romans 4:22-24)

“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
(Romans 5:1)

“Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works: ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.'”
(Romans 4:4-8)

“Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”
(Galatians 3:2-3)

“Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.”
(Romans 8:33)

3. If someone believes that they contribute to their justification by doing works, they are doing damage to the gospel.

“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.”
(Galatians 2:21)

“Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
(Galatians 5:2-4)

4. Good works flow from being regenerated by the Spirit and are an evidence of genuine faith.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
(Galatians 5:22-24)

“What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? …faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
(James 2:14, 17-18)

“God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
Romans 3:30-31

The Roman Catholic View

1. Justification is by the grace of God.

“…In that new birth that is bestowed upon them, through the merit of His passion, the grace by which they are made just.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter III)

“…we confess that we need the grace of God.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter IV)

“If anyone says that man can be justified before God by his own works… without divine grace through Jesus Christ, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon I)

2. By having faith in God AND the sacrament of baptism, one is justified.

“The meritorious cause [of justification] is… Jesus Christ… the instrumental cause is the sacrament of baptism, which is the sacrament of faith, without which no man was ever justified finally.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter VII)

“If anyone says that the sacraments of the New Law are not necessary for salvation… [but that] men obtain from God through faith alone the grace of justification… let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon 4)

3. If one loses one’s justification by committing a “mortal sin,” another sacrament– penance– is required to regain justification.

“The grace of justification once received is lost not only by infidelity, whereby also faith itself is lost, but also by every other mortal sin, though in this case faith is not lost.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XV)

“Those who through sin have forfeited the received grace of justification, can again be justified when, moved by God, they exert themselves to obtain through the sacrament of penance the recovery, by the merits of Christ, of the grace lost.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XIV)

4. Temporal punishments awaiting sin may remain after justification if venial sins are committed.

“If anyone says that… it is a fiction that there remains often a temporal punishment to be discharged after the eternal punishment has by virtue of the keys been removed, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Fourteenth Session, Canons concerning penance, Canon 15)

“[The sacrament of penance includes] satisfaction by fasts, alms, prayers and other devout exercises of the spiritual life, not indeed for the eternal punishment, which is, together with guilt, remitted either by the sacrament or by the desire for the sacrament, but for the temporal punishment which, as the sacred writings teach, is not always wholly remitted.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XIV)

5. These temporal punishments can be lessened or removed by indulgences (including attending Mass) or through purgatory.

“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world of in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Sixth Session, Chapter XVI, Canon 30)

“We are able through Jesus Christ to make satisfaction to God the Father not only by punishments voluntarily undertaken by ourselves to atone for sins, or by those imposed by the judgment of the priest according to the measure of our offense, but also, and this is the greatest proof of love, by the temporal afflictions imposed by God and borne patiently by us.”
(Council of Trent, Fourteenth Session, Penance, Chapter IX)

“[The sacrifice of mass] is rightly offered not only for the sins, punishments, satisfactions and other necessities of the faithful who are living, but also for those departed in Christ but not yet fully purified.”
(Council of Trent, Twenty-second Session, Chapter II)

“If anyone says that the sacrifice of the mass is… not a propitiatory one [and] ought not to be offered for the living and the dead, for sins, punishments, satisfactions, and other necessities, let him be anathema.”
(Council of Trent, Twenty-Second Session, Chapter IX, Canon 3)

“Souls [detained in purgatory] are aided by the suffrages of the faithful and chiefly by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.”
(Council of Trent, Twenty-Fifth Session)

A Summary of the Issue

One major difficulty with comparing Protestant and Roman Catholic views on justification is that we don’t always define words in the same way. Roman Catholics do define justification as being received by faith. Works (other than the sacrament of baptism) are not necessary for INITIAL justification. However, because Catholics believe we may retain temporal punishments for sins after justification, they end up with practically the same problem that all legalists do– they are not at peace with God and must do works (albeit by grace) to actually be at peace. Even if this were not the case, the requirement of the sacrament of baptism in essence takes the place of circumcision in the circumcision controversy that Paul dealt with in Galatians.

“So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”
(Galatians 3:24-26)

Some Catholics will say that in Galatians, Paul is simply telling the Galatians not to follow ceremonial aspects of the Old Covenant law, like circumcision. But Paul is clear that what he is contrasting is salvation by works (in this case, of the Old Covenant law) and salvation by faith. Not salvation by faith and baptism, or faith and the sacraments, or faith and good works, but salvation that comes only by faith. Of course, if this faith is a genuine faith, it will issue out in good works. As James says, if a man has a faith with no works, can that faith (a dead faith that is faith in name only) save him? Absolutely not.

It is important that we don’t misrepresent Roman Catholics as teaching a bootstrapping salvation that they do by themselves (even the Judaizers Paul chastised in Galatians would be aghast at this view of salvation). It is also important that Protestants be charitable when it comes to the state of salvation and sincerity of Roman Catholics. However, it does us no good to gloss over differences in the interest of an ecumenism that is based on false unity. Let there be unity where it is genuine and disunity where we must be honest that unity does not exist.