Letter to a Catholic Friend
This essay is derived from excerpts from two letters to a dear Catholic friend.
I would like to begin this letter by considering the Catholic dogma of the perpetual virginity of Mary, the mother of Jesus. To start with, I will substantiate that this is an official doctrine of the Roman Catholic church. From the Baltimore Catechism, highly regarded as orthodox teaching by orthodox Catholics: The Confiteor (page 23 of No. 3) I confess to Almighty God...that I have sinned exceedingly in thought, word and deed, through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore, I beseech blessed Mary, ever virgin..." [emphasis added]. "Had Our Lord any brothers or sisters? Our Lord had no brothers or sisters. When the Gospels speak of His brethren they mean only His near relations. his Blessed Mother Mary was always a Virgin as well before and at His birth as after it (page 72, Question 360)." Now clearly, if these statements contradict the Bible, we have to choose which to believe.
You commented, "I don't know where you get the interpretation from scripture that Jesus had at least six siblings. I believe that, too, is an error of interpretation." I will print the relevant verses from both the Douay Bible and the Vulgate, with interlinear translation, as before. (The translations are my own. But if you like, ask any Latin scholar about my translations.) I won't talk about any verses that refer to Jesus' brothers in the generic sense, but only three verses in which His brothers are named.
"And it came to pass: when Jesus had finished these parables, he passed from thence. And coming into his own country, he taught them in their synagogues, so that they wondered and said: How came this man by this wisdom and miracles? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary, and his brethren James, and Joseph, and Simon, and Jude: And his sisters, are they not all with us? Whence therefore hath he all these things?" Matthew 13:53-56.
I quoted four verses here so that you see Who is being discussed and who is doing the discussing. I quote only the two relevant verses from the Vulgate (Note that in Latin, there is no article "the"):
Note that Jesus is being discussed. Note that the discussion is among some people who happened to be in the synagogues. They obviously knew little about Jesus, particularly about His teachings! They only knew where He came from, a family with a mother named Mary, a father who was a carpenter, and four brothers, who are named, and at least two sisters, since the word "sister" is in the plural. Thus, Jesus had at least two sisters, and that together with His four named brothers makes the total number of siblings to be six or greater. No room for interpretation (including faulty interpretation) there that I can see!
Let us consider some other possible interpretations. As I mentioned, these words were said by unconverted Jews, that is to say, Jews who were not followers of Jesus. As such, they would have no knowledge of His teachings, and would not be talking about His siblings in a spiritual sense. They knew Him only by his family and his occupation. The verse is very careful to name the brothers of Jesus. There were four of them. One of them, James, is the Apostle James, as shown in Galatians. There were at least two sisters. Please note that His mother, Mary, is named in the very same context. Mary was not a near relation, as the Catholic Church agrees; she was actually His mother. From the point of view of a lawyer, no court in the land would take the word "mother" literally in its plain meaning, and ascribe another meaning to the plain word "brothers". Another interpretation I have heard is that the Bible really meant "cousins" when it said "brothers" and "sisters." This interpretation also falls flat when you realize that there is a perfectly good word for "cousin" which is used in reference to Mary's cousin Elisabeth: "And behold, thy cousin Elisabeth..." Luke 1:36. In the Vulgate, the Latin word used is "cognata" and in the Greek, "suggenhV". As you can see, there is no need to misapply the words for "brother" and "sister" to designate Jesus' cousins! If the Bible cannot be relied upon to be accurate in what it says on factual matters, it cannot be relied upon at all!
Let us take another verse.
"And when the sabbath was come, he began to teach in the synagogue: and many hearing him were in admiration at his doctrine, saying: How came this man by all these things? and what wisdom is this that is given to him, and such mighty works as are wrought by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joseph, and Jude, and Simon? are not also his sisters here with us? And they were scandalized in regard of him." Mark 6:2-3.
Again, only the relevant verse from the Vulgate:
Obviously, another account of the same incident, by another evangelist.
Then we have this one:
"But other of the apostles I saw none, saving James the brother of the Lord." Galatians 1:19.
Here Paul names the Apostle James as the brother of the Lord Jesus. So that was the James whose name is included with the other three in the earlier verses.
I fail to see how these passages can be misinterpreted. If you like, read them in context. It will change nothing. The fact is, the Bible tells us that Jesus had four brothers, names them, and had sisters (at least two, because "sisters" and "sorores" are plural.)
From here I would like to consider scholarly extrabiblical evidence. Please note that this next quote comes from a Catholic source.
"brothers of Jesus, siblings of Jesus, mentioned in the Gospels and in Paul's Letters. Mark records that the villagers of Nazareth remarked: 'Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?' (6:3). Matthew's version is identical (13:55). All the Synoptics record 'his mother and brothers' standing outside his house (Mark 3:31; Matt 12:46; Luke 8:19). John tells of his brothers who do not believe in him (7:3-5; but cf. 2:12). Paul speaks about the support afforded 'the brothers of the Lord' (1 Cor 9:5); he mentions seeing once 'James the Lord's brother (Gal 1:19). Scholarship has tended to interpret these references in three ways: 'brother' means stepbrother, i.e., children of Joseph by a previous marriage; 'brother' means cousin; and 'brother' means true brother, subsequent children of Joseph and Mary. The evidence for 'stepbrother' is merely legendary (Infancy gospel of James 9:2, 17:1). The linguistic evidence for 'brother' meaning 'cousin' is very thin. We have but one example where a cousin might be called a 'brother' (1 Chr 23:22). Moreover, Hegesippus calls a certain Symeon, the second bishop of Jerusalem, 'another cousin of the Lord' (Eusebius Ecclesiastical History 4.22.4), distinguishing him from 'James the Just,' brother of the Lord. No linguistic evidence warrants our interpreting Gospel passages about Jesus' brothers and sisters as his cousins. 'Cousins' of Jesus, when noted, were called just that, 'cousins,' not 'brothers.' Therefore NT authors apparently understood Jesus' 'brothers' as blood brothers, not as 'cousins' or 'stepbrothers.'"
Jerome Neyrey, SJ, PhD, Professor of New Testament, University of Notre Dame, Notre Dame, Indiana, in Encyclopedia of Catholicism, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1995, pp 198-99.
That assessment is shared by most authorities:
In the Greek, these passages use the words "adelphos, adelphe" ("adelfoV, adelfe") to denote Jesus' brothers and sisters respectively, and those two words literally mean "of the same womb." Thus, we are talking about Mary's other children. This is supported by Young's Analytical Concordance, and various Greek Lexicons, including those by Liddel & Scott, Abbot-Smith, Wigram, and Thayer. The only authority that suggests the meaning "cousin" is Spiros Zodhiates in his dictionary of New Testament words.
Jerome translated the Bible into Latin, and revised an old translation in the process. His work is known as the Vulgate, and is the official "original language" Bible of the Roman Catholic church. According to the Encyclopedia of Catholicism, Jerome supported the "perpetual virginity" of Mary. Yet, in his translation, he does the honest thing, and translates the two Greek words as "frater" and "soror." A classical Latin dictionary does note the fact that occasionally those words mean "cousin," but overwhelmingly, they mean "brother" and "sister."
It is obvious that there is a small amount of controversy on this point, but the practice of basing a major doctrine of a church on a slight dispute concerning something otherwise quite cut-and-dried is a very dangerous practice, and has resulted in the Roman Catholic church painting itself into a corner. If it admits that scholarship overwhelmingly supports the idea that Mary had at least six other children, it has to admit that it does not have the infallible stamp of God it likes to claim, but on the other hand, if it denies it, then it is being intellectually dishonest. This is not a particularly good place to be.
There is one more consideration that needs to be discussed. That is the concept that sexual activity retards one's spiritual progress. This is a pagan idea, and comes in part from the idea that sex is dirty, rather than being a gift of God for the married couple, and the marriage bed holy. From this same basic concept comes a great amount of pagan baggage that finds itself in many cults. Also this same concept underlies other Roman Catholic baggage such as the celibate priesthood. I have come to the conclusion that the major reason for the Roman doctrine of "perpetual virginity" is as a basis for the "immaculate conception," whereby the claim is made that Mary was conceived without original sin. Evidently it is necessary to the Roman concept of Mary as Mediatrix and possibly Co-Redemptrix, because if sex defiles a person, then she must have remained a virgin so that she would still be undefiled by sin.
Regardless of who is really behind all of this, it certainly serves the cause of satan to distract people from Christ, and Mary makes a very good distraction. I am glad that Mary is undoubtedly unaware of the cult that formed about her here on earth, because there is no way she could be happy in heaven if she knew. Instead, she would be deeply grieved. There is no way I can fathom how this could be any kind of honor to her memory. It is a shame that sincere Catholics do not see how deeply this violates the very essence of Mary's outlook on life, and in fact is a rather backhanded way of dishonoring her. I respectfully suggest in love to sincere Catholics who value the truth, that they give this thought serious consideration.
The Catholic Church teaches that Mary never had sexual relations with Joseph; hence, her perpetual virginity. If Jesus had siblings, then by definition, Mary had sexual relations with Joseph, and she was not a perpetual virgin. As I have demonstrated, the Bible shows otherwise, and this tradition or dogma contradicts the Bible. One of these two claims has to be false. You cannot have both, and you cannot rationalize them away by arguing that one of them does not mean what it says, but something else. If the Bible is false, then the Catholic Church is false because it claims to believe the Bible. If tradition is false, then the Catholic Church is teaching falsehood.
Since this dogma, as others, was the result of a pronouncement of a Catholic pope, we have an example of a false prophecy. What does the Bible have to say about prophecies and prophets? Read Deuteronomy 18:20-22: "But the prophet, which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die. And if thou say in thine heart, How shall we know the word which the Lord hath not spoken? When a prophet speaketh in the name of the Lord, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him." The true prophet of God never prophecies falsely. His prophecies are always true. Therefore, all we need to prove that the Pope is a false prophet is that he be wrong once. Since he was wrong once, we are not to fear him. And if we are not to fear him, we are likewise not to treat him as our spiritual leader. If a person attempts to lead us in the ways of the Bible but does not make prophecies, this verse, of course, does not apply.
Note that I am not saying the Catholic Church is always wrong. Obviously it is not. It is right about abortion (though the linking of abortion to contraception in Humanae Vitae is part of the problem, not part of the solution, but I'll discuss that another time if you like). It is right about the Trinity. And so forth. I am merely saying that the Catholic Church is wrong about Mary's perpetual virginity. The Bible says otherwise. It comes down to a very simple question: when the Bible and Tradition contradict each other, which will you choose? I choose the Bible. Or, it being my understanding that Perpetual Virginity is a doctrine per se, to put it perhaps more accurately, when the Bible and the Pope speaking Ex Cathedra contradict each other, which will you choose? Again, I choose the Bible.
As for your correction of "All private interpretations of the Gospel are not correct." I take due note of it with thanks.
I was studying the Mormon church the past few days. I am struck by the sincerity with which many Mormons pursue their faith. But it is still full of false doctrines. The method that Mormon missionaries recommend for testing the truth of the Book of Mormon is to pray for a burning in the bosom as an indication that the material is true. I jokingly called that "heavenly heartburn." Heavenly heartburn is not an evidence of the truthfulness of anything. I find it amazing that people will regard these things as evidence, and ignore the real evidence they do receive.
You state that "Perhaps many of them [flood victims] repented before dying. In that case they would eventually gain heaven, because God forgives each sinner if they repent and ask forgiveness." I do not entirely agree with that. I agree God forgives repentant sinners, but they must also believe in Him. If they turned to the God of the Old Testament as He had been so far revealed, then they were forgiven. It might be safe to assume that repentance in that case would include turning to the true God, because He was perhaps much more generally known in those days than He is today. For one thing, people lived for hundreds of years, so they might easily remember from an earlier time. However, on the other side of the coin, the Bible indicates that only Noah and his family were still righteous, and it is entirely possible the rest were reprobate, and not likely to repent, even at the last minute. I do not see that God will allow people into heaven who have no knowledge of Christ whatsoever, although I grant the possibility that God has revealed Himself to a few who would otherwise not hear. (Another possibility is that He in His sovereignty has not placed anyone in a pagan family to die there who would accept Him if given the opportunity.) In that context, I will tell you a story.
Not too many years back, a certain Bible smuggler went to Russia with some Bibles. One day God directed him to enter a certain church. When he went in, the church was empty. No, actually, there was one person there. He went up to her, and she told him that that morning she had received the strong impression to come there. They began to talk, and she told him that all she knew about was the name Jesus. She said she had no idea who this Jesus was, but she loved him. The man was able to tell her that he had brought a book about Jesus, and gave her a copy of the Bible! Needless to say, she was overwhelmed.
I think that God sometimes makes provisions like that. I also think that sometimes a pagan people will have part of the truth. There is a book called Eternity in Their Hearts, which discusses this. Missionaries who pay close attention to what the local people believe will often find part of the Gospel. Sometimes, the natives believe there is a lost book. Missionaries can then show that the Bible is that book, and the people will be receptive. And so on. But I do not think that a person who does not have access to any knowledge of Jesus will be saved. I realize this may seem harsh, and I could be wrong, but I find no evidence that they are saved. The only thing it tells me is that it is vitally important that I do everything I can to get the Gospel to the pagan. To that end, I intend to devote part of my life to translating the Bible into a language that has never had it; hence, my intense interest in languages.
When I said "you yourself once told me exactly that", I was referring to you. You once told me that Jesus never refused a request made by His mother. There is an occasion recorded in the Bible where people told Jesus that His mother and brothers were outside wishing to speak with Him. However, Jesus refused to see them.
At the risk of opening another can of worms, I'd like to get into this bit about the Immaculate Conception of Mary. I want to make just a preliminary examination of that, based on logic. I read that the Assumption is the doctrine that after Mary died, she was immediately resurrected and taken to heaven. That is point number one. Death is the wages of sin. Because we are all born with a sin nature, our bodies are subject to deterioration and physical death. If Mary had been conceived immaculately, then she would never have died, but like Enoch and Elijah, she would have been taken into heaven still alive. Point two: of the two, Mary and Jesus, which one is more likely to have been the first human after the Fall to have been conceived without sin? Mary, an ordinary human being, or Jesus, Who was also God? What would be the purpose of Mary being conceived without sin? Jesus didn't need for her to have been. Mary, in order to have been, would be more likely to have had her mother conceived without sin. Mary had a human father, while Jesus had God as His biological father. Then, see the following passages (if you want me to quote the Vulgate next time, just ask, but I'll just give the Douay):
"All have turned out of the way; they are become unprofitable together; there is none that doth good, there is not so much as one." Romans 3:12.
Jesus had something to say about calling people good: "And behold one came and said to him: Good master, what good shall I do that I may have life everlasting? Who said to him: Why askest thou me concerning good? One is good, God." Matthew 19:16-17. Jesus is saying it in the sense that only one is good. The Vulgate does not make this clear; it says "unus est bonus, Deus" which means exactly the same thing. You have to go back to the Greek. Now, here there is also a controversy, because the Nestle Greek, which is the one used in the Vulgate, does not clarify the situation, either, but the Nestle text is considered less authoritative. The Greek interlinear New Testament I use is derived from the Stephens text of 1550, which was put together after much deep study, using many more manuscripts. It is considered the Textus Receptus, or received text, which is what the Apostles got from God. Unfortunately, Nestle did not have access to nearly the materials we have. I will give you what the Stephens text says, and then explain it.
You see the problem we are faced with, here. It is a problem I have run into before. Some of the Catholic dogma is based upon the Nestle Greek text, which is not as accurate. Regardless, the point still stands. Jesus was not willing to even allow the man to call Him good [unless the man admitted Jesus is God], because only God is good. Certainly by the same token, one would not call Mary good (that is, without sin). The rich man may well have intended the word "good" in one sense, but Jesus obviously used it in another sense, to mean "righteous, without sin". So, if on the one hand, Mary can be called good, then Jesus can also be called good, but if Jesus would not allow Himself to be called good, then neither can Mary.
"For all have sinned, and do need the glory of God." Romans 3:23.
"If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." I John 1:10.
The point I am trying to make here is that if one human being, specifically Mary, were without sin, these passages would have said so. They did not say, "there is none that doth good, except Mary," or "For all have sinned, except Mary," or "If we say that we have not sinned, except Mary." Mary was born of sinful parents, and inherited the sin nature. If God had intervened, that would have been a miracle, and important enough to report, particularly if God wanted us to exalt Mary the way the Catholic Church has done. Certainly He would not have omitted such an important fact!
Then take a look at the words of Mary: "And Mary said: My soul doth magnify the Lord. And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour. Because he hath regarded the humility of his handmaid; for behold from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed." Luke 1:46-48. (Read to verse 55 for the entire quotation.) Nowhere does Mary say she will be called "holy". God blesses all of us. Mary says she will be called "blessed". She also says that she has humility. If she had been without sin, she would have had glory, not humility. Jesus had to put aside His glory to come here. Mary, being a creature, had no glory to put aside.
Please note that Mary acknowledges God as her Saviour. If Mary had been without sin, she would have been in no need of a Saviour. This passage strongly indicates that God is her Saviour, and that being the case, Mary either was born with a sin nature or committed sins or both. Now, let's assume for the moment that Mary was conceived without sin. This leaves only one possibility: that she sinned at some point in her life. Now, if she had been conceived without sin, this would make her the most despicable person on the planet, because she freely chose to sin. So we should not honor her at all! So simple logic tells me that Mary was conceived with a sin nature just like the rest of us. God chose her because she was a weak vessel, not because she had been conceived without sin.
You comment, that the position that the Pope speaks infallibly only when speaking Ex Cathedra or in conjunction with the Magisterium is supported by Jesus' promise to Peter, needs to be discussed. There are two considerations. The first is the verse you quoted in support of this contention: that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church, and that what he bound on earth will be bound in heaven, and what he loosed on earth will be loosed in heaven. Saying that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church is very different from saying that the Pope can speak infallibly. And saying that what one binds or looses will be bound in heaven is also very different. The plain meaning of the comment that the gates of hell will not prevail is simply that whenever the church storms the gates of hell, for whatever reason, they will yield to it. An example of this kind of storming are the Rescues. As long as people are willing to put their bodies on the line for the unborn babies, they cannot lose. If they are allowed to continue, they will save babies directly. If they are stopped, they become martyrs and rally people's sympathies. They are willing to stick their necks out, and if done in the name of Jesus, they are storming the gates of hell. They are literally snatching babies from the devil. An example of the latter (binding and loosing) has to do with forgiving or not forgiving sins, and of binding the devil's work on earth. It has nothing to do with doctrine. You may find it enlightening to read a similar verse: "Amen I say to you, whatsoever you shall bind upon earth, shall be bound also in heaven; and whatsoever you shall loose upon earth, shall be loosed also in heaven." Matthew 18:18. Read the context. Here, Jesus is talking to all of the disciples. On the one hand, He spoke only to Peter; on the other, to all the disciples. This was not an exclusive privilege of Peter. It applied to all persons operating in Jesus' name. There are again two ways of looking at it: either this was reserved for the Apostles alone, in which case it died with them, or it applies to everyone, certainly at the very least, to all ordained ministers. You have no succession to the other Apostles! As I recall, one of the big controversies in the Catholic Church at one time was exactly who should be in charge; and the result was at least one two-way split, with the headquarters of the eastern group being in Constantinople, and giving rise to the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which never adopted the dogmas about Mary to which I object.
The second consideration is that very verse that you quoted, where Jesus was talking directly to Peter. He says, "And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church..." Matthew 16:19. Note that here Jesus uses the singular, "thou." This is important because it reflects the original text and demonstrates that the other verse, which was in the plural, was addressed to the Apostles at large. In order to understand this business of Peter and the rock, you have to go back to the original Latin and Greek, again. In the Vulgate, it says (verse 18; it is offset by one verse), "Et ego dico tibi, quia tu es Petrus, et super hanc petram aedificabo ecclesiam meam..." Note that "Petrus" is in the masculine, while "petram" is feminine. The same thing holds true in the Greek, where it says, "Kagw de soi legw, oti su ei PetroV, kai epi tauth th petra oikodomhsw mou thn ekklhsian..." "PetroV" is in the masculine, while "petra" is in the feminine. The generally held interpretation of this is that the word "petra" or "petram" refers to Peter's confession of faith, not to Peter's person. If indeed, Jesus had meant to build the church on the person of Peter, then "Upon this rock" would have been in the masculine, as his name was.
Peter had just told Jesus that He was the Christ, the son of the living God. That confession is of eternal importance, while, again, Peter was a mere man, and as such, had much less importance in the scheme of salvation.
Now, you may argue that I am mistaken. But it is a fairly debatable point. It is self-serving for a Pope to claim that he has authority from God based upon this single verse, to ever speak infallibly. There is no way he can prove his case, in a way, because he has evidently arrogated unto himself some authority that may not, in fact, belong to him. It is self-serving, and anybody can make a pretense to having authority he does not have. Authority comes from the pronouncement of someone with authority to confer, not from the person given the authority.
Certainly, there is profit to be made in promoting the notion of infallibility. The Pope lives in very comfortable conditions. His claim would be much more believable if he abided by that vow of poverty he took upon becoming a priest. It is not that I begrudge him his station. That isn't the point. I am merely pointing out that there is a motive for making that claim, even if the Pope knew it to be invalid. How do you prove that the claim is real? There is no external evidence, other than that single verse. I have often said that sects and cults get formed by misinterpreting a single verse of the Bible. In order to establish a valid doctrine, there must be much, much more than a single verse. I believe no doctrine that does not have widespread biblical support. If you can prove to me by quoting many verses that the Pope has that kind of authority (and note that no verse you have quoted me so far is talking about any such matter), that would be different. But no one can. That is my point. The verses don't exist.
I would like to talk a bit about the idea the Catholic Church teaches that I would like to make note of is that in order to have a perfect set of Christian doctrines, we must take cognizance of the Bible plus tradition. I touched on this briefly earlier. There are several places where the Bible is explicit against these practices: "For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book" Revelation 22:18. "Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." Colossians 2:8. I believe these two verses clearly condemn the idea that one can have truth if one relies on the Bible plus tradition. If the traditions modify the plain words of Scripture, the traditions are false. If they do not modify the plain words of Scripture, they are unnecessary. If a person does not accept this premise, there are all kinds of traditions from many other sources, and other scriptures, that are regarded as necessary for a full understanding of the truth. The Book of Mormon is but one example.
A related idea is that it is dangerous for an individual to interpret the Bible for himself, because he might interpret it wrongly and be led astray. However, what of the person who is to interpret the Bible for that individual? What if he is subject to the same tendency to be led astray? What makes one individual more reliable in presenting the correct interpretation than another? Nothing. If, on the other hand, God speaks through the Pope on occasion, and therefore the Pope's words are infallible at those times, then one can perhaps rely directly on someone who obeys the Pope's words. But if the Pope has spoken infallibly, it is necessary that what he has said must not contradict the plain words of Scripture.
Consider this: you can know your own heart, and know of your own relationship to God. You cannot know the heart of another; the Bible tells us plainly that only God can see into the heart. How can we know that the Pope is a sincere follower of Christ and not an imposter? The truth is, we cannot. But who experiences your eternal destiny? Is it the Pope? No, you experience your own. Your relationship with God is a personal one; it is not a relationship with the Pope and through the Pope, with God. For these reasons, trusting the Pope when he says something that is clearly contradictory to the plain words of the Bible is a grave spiritual error. It is one that can cost you eternal life.
Another idea is that the Catholic Church is the direct successor to the Apostles, the very first Christian church, and the only Christian church that has existed continuously since that time, and therefore the church of which Jesus spoke when He said the gates of hell will not prevail against it. This is claimed partly on the basis that Jesus gave the keys to heaven and hell to Peter, based upon his confession in Matthew 16: "And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." v. 16. "And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Barjona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." vv. 17-19.
This passage is the sole basis for the Papacy. And I have already discussed why this passage has nothing to do with papal infallibility. It also has nothing to do with whether or not a particular denomination is the one and only Christian denomination!
The final piece of evidence I offer is that the Catholic church was not the only church to exist since the time of the apostles, continuously. There is at least one more. See Acts 8:26-39. In this passage, Philip encounters an Ethiopian eunuch who is reading a portion of the Old Testament. Philip proceeds to teach him the Gospel, and before they part company, he baptizes him. This man went back to Ethiopia and founded a Christian church, which has existed continuously to this day: the Coptic Christian Church. Until recently, it was not affiliated with Rome. The people of Ethiopia who are being subjected to starvation are the Christians; the starvation is a result of political action, and the political action is designed as persecution of the Christians. (But we also know that the Eastern Orthodox church arose from the same roots as the Roman church, and who is to say that its doctrines are less correct than those of Rome? And there have always been "protestants". The Waldensians and the Albigenses come to mind. What has Rome done about these groups? It has consistently persecuted them. It was only with the invention of the printing press, and thus the ability of a person to make the world aware of his thoughts, that the Reformation succeeded. But persecution of those who spoke out against Roman error has always silenced them, and there have always been those who spoke out, at the cost of their lives.
Next, I will consider the issue of asking for Mary and the saints to intercede for us. A person who intercedes is a mediator. In fact, I believe Mary is called a Mediatrix. Thus, I Timothy 2:5 applies: "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus". The Bible makes it plain that we are not to seek the services of any other human being for this purpose. Now, we do sometimes ask fellow Christians to intercede for us. It is reasoned from this premise that all we are doing when we asked the saints to pray for us or to intercede for us to God, that we are merely doing the same thing. It is, however, not the same. These people are now dead. Our fellow Christians whom we ask are living. God specifically forbids trying to contact the dead. In fact, when King Saul tried to contact the dead prophet Samuel, he paid for this with his life. God was not amused. See I Samuel 28-31. See also Exodus 22:18 and Deuteronomy 18:10-12. We know from Bible study and many other sources that sometimes people go to seances to try to contact dead relatives. As far as we can determine, the actual entities thus roused are not the relatives at all, but demons impersonating those relatives. Therein lies another problem with requesting the intercession of people who have died. We don't know and cannot determine whether these people are the ones responding to our prayers, or whether it is demons. If it is wrong to contact the dead, then demons would want to perpetuate that practice, and they would try to fulfill the requests in ways that can be verified. In that way, they can entrap people into a false practice. We have no way of knowing who hears our prayers to the saints, because they are not present and we cannot observe them hearing our words and acting upon them. God does not ask us to depend on actions taking place in secret; in fact, He condemns it. The Christian faith is completely open and aboveboard. It is on the table clearly revealed for our examination. Being asked to do something that we cannot verify as to whether its results are good or evil, or whether they are enacted by God or demons, is to require us to buy a pig in a poke. God does not require this. As long as when I pray, I cannot know who has received and acted upon my prayer, I am open to deception. God condemns deception. God structured the Christian faith so that deception cannot occur. It is the reason why prayer to the saints is not acceptable. In any case, God is the only one Who knows who has actually been saved. We cannot know. Only God sees the heart. The Pope cannot determine who has been saved, so he does not know who to canonize. We have no way of knowing who most of the saints are for sure, and we run the risk of praying to someone who was not actually saved. God does not ask us to guess who has been saved, and He does not grant that the Pope knows who the saints are. The whole thing is fraught with problems, doctrinal and otherwise. Yet, the Catholic Church teaches this, and it is a very large part of what it means to be a Catholic. Once again, we have a practice that is clearly condemned in the Bible, but which the Catholic church teaches as necessary and desirable.
It is my firm belief that it is precisely because the Catholic Church teaches doctrinal error that she is so prone to develop people, such as Matthew Fox, who teach outright heresies, and to develop situations, such as congregations that have clowns involved in the Mass. These things are a mockery of God, as you well know. You have to see the seeds of this kind of thing in something incorrect that has been going on all along. The Pope has said very little about many of these things; there has not been the clearcut condemnation of these things that should have taken place. He is allowing people to be misled and confused by these things. These people who are responsible for this should have been excommunicated long ago. Instead, people who return to the Bible are excommunicated, such as Martin Luther and Charles Chiniquy. While, as I said before, no church is free of error or has the whole truth, I have always found that to the extent that a church insists on doctrinal purity and strong doctrinal teaching, to that same extent it preserves its doctrinal integrity in cases of dissent. The Lutheran Church--Missouri Synod is the only denomination of which I am aware that the liberals left and the conservatives remained behind. There are other church bodies that I think stick closely to doctrinal correctness, some of which have not had the trouble with heresy, such as the Wisconsin Synod of the Lutheran Church, and there are groups that have always pulled out over doctrinal error in order to preserve the truth (such as the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, though there is a problem with Calvinism, but that is another discussion). The Bible says that the way to heaven is narrow and few will find it. I suppose the sheer number of Catholics and the tendency of that Church to permit its missionaries to engage in syncretistic activities are in themselves a warning. But the whole point is that it seems evident to me that the worst abuses these days are in the Roman Church, and I consider it no accident.
I have saved the most important point for last. The critical thing I hope to leave you with, no matter what else you may accept of what I said earlier, is that there is a fundamental difference between Christianity and Roman Catholicism on the most important point of all: what is the mechanism of salvation. The Roman Catholic church presents the idea that in order to be saved, a person must believe in Jesus and must engage in certain actions while on earth. In addition, other people can help someone get to heaven by praying for them or doing other things to spring them from purgatory. Purgatory is a doctrine peculiar to Roman Catholicism, among Christian denominations. No reference to it is made anywhere in the Bible, and it is my understanding that the idea is derived from a single passage in the Apocrypha. Nor is it clearly defined just what a person must do to complete his salvation. There are a number of Christian cults that talk about things that one must do to be saved. For example, Seventh-day Adventism says a person must keep the Sabbath. Their prophetess, Ellen G. White (discussed elsewhere on this web site), also said that a person who dies with meat in his stomach cannot be saved, which is why many Adventists are vegetarians. One of the characteristics of a Christian cult is that they teach that a person must do something other than merely believe, in order to be saved. Thus, Roman Catholicism is really not a whole lot different from many Christian cults; in fact, I am struck by the similarities between it and Seventh-day Adventism for this very reason. At times, White has been called the "female pope" because she is held in such high regard, and her pronouncements are viewed as coming directly from God.
But what about that passage in James that says, "Faith without works is dead, being alone"? Well, what about it? Is it not the case that our works are a demonstration of our faith? But Who causes faith in the first place? Do you cause your own faith? Of course not! The Holy Spirit is the author and finisher of your faith! Then Who does the good works? Is it not the Holy Spirit Who does them through you? Why are you taking credit for the Holy Spirit's work?
The other problem with the Roman Catholic approach is that a person can never know whether he has truly done enough to assure himself of salvation. This was a troublesome issue for Martin Luther. Here is a man who became a monk out of fear, induced by being caught in a lightning storm. He mortified his body by whipping himself with lashes. His search for peace of heart was the reason for his search of Scripture, and his search led him to the conclusion that we are saved by grace alone. This is based on such Bible passages as, "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Ephesians 2:8-9. Nothing could be more explicit! Paul talks about boasting of Christ alone. When Jesus died on the cross, He said, "It is finished." What was finished? Our salvation was complete! There was nothing, absolutely nothing that any of us could ever add to make it more complete. I have shown in this letter that the Roman Catholic church has erred in some allegedly infallible doctrines. This means that the Pope, when speaking Ex Cathedra, is a false prophet. I realize this comes as a harsh pronouncement to some, but I must tell you the truth. Since the Roman Catholic church has been shown to be in error, whom will you trust when it comes to the means by which we are saved: a church in error, or the Bible, which is without error, given by God Himself? I know what I will choose. Think of it this way: God wants to save us. God is all-powerful. God came to earth as a human baby and grew up and died on the cross for us. God is without sin; perfect and absolutely holy. One tiny sin, committed by Adam and Eve, alienated them from God. One tiny sin by any one of us can alienate us from God as well. What makes anyone think that they can somehow make up for having committed that one tiny sin? But praise God, our salvation is complete! Now if you want to stand in front of God on judgment day and tell Him to His face that you have completed your salvation, that He didn't manage to complete, do you really think you can do that? To tell God that He cannot or did not, or refused to, complete our salvation, and that we can do a better job, that we have finished it, and Jesus, on that cross is a liar, why what an insult to God!!! Do you want to do that? I sincerely hope not! Your salvation is free. It is a free gift!
Think about it. Your eternal future is at stake. You cannot afford to make a mistake with this one!
'Till next time.
Love in Christ,
For further reading: