Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Is Catholicism Biblical?

John MacArthur's Sermon [1]:
Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?

A Response by Catholic Apologist, Scott Windsor

JM: In today's spirit of ecumenism, many evangelicals have called for the Protestant Church to lay aside its differences with Rome and pursue unity with the Catholic Church. Is that possible?

SW: Of course it is possible! Lay aside the innovations of the 16th century and forward and we will ecumenically welcome you back into the fold your forefathers left.

JM: Is Roman Catholicism simply another facet of the body of Christ that should be brought into union with its Protestant counterpart? Is Roman Catholicism simply another Christian denomination?

SW: No, and no! Catholicism IS the body of Christ which He founded upon the foundations of the Apostles. It is, as it always has been, in direct and valid succession from the Apostles by which the Catholic Church receives her authority from Christ Himself. The Catholic Church is neither a denomination nor denominated.

JM: While there are many errors in the teaching of the Catholic Church (for example its belief in the transubstantiation of the communion wafer and its view of Mary),

SW: Let us handle these separately.
1) The belief in transubstantiation. Quite simply, when Jesus said, "This IS my body," we believe Him! Certainly it takes faith to accept that while the substance has changed the appearance (accidents) remain, but isn't faith what Christianity is all about? Have faith in Him and His Word, and believe!
2) The Catholic view of Mary. Entire books can be written about this, but let it suffice for this response, we see her as her cousin Elizabeth did, as the Mother of our Lord! One need only look to MacArthur's The Gospel According to Jesus, chapter 1, to see that he equates "Lord" to "God" so therein he should have no problem calling Mary, "Mother of God." I could spend much more time on this, but the purpose of this article is to respond to MacArthur's sermon asking "Is Roman Catholicism Biblical?" I would be more than happy to engage him further if he so desires it.

JM: …two rise to the forefront and call for special attention: its denial of the doctrine of sola Scriptura and its denial of the biblical teaching on justification. To put it simply, because the Roman Catholic Church has refused to submit itself to the authority of God's Word and to embrace the gospel of justification taught in Scripture, it has set itself apart from the true body of Christ. It is a false and deceptive form of Christianity.

SW: Ouch! MacArthur shows his fangs! Seriously though, and please take that as a humorous comment, there are issues with sola scriptura, namely the doctrine itself is not taught in Scripture! More in a bit, as I address the section on sola scriptura. I'll also deal with justification under his fuller comments about that.

The Doctrine of Sola Scriptura

JM: In the words of reformer Martin Luther, the doctrine of sola Scriptura means that "what is asserted without the Scriptures or proven revelation may be held as an opinion, but need not be believed." Roman Catholicism flatly rejects this principle, adding a host of traditions and Church teachings and declaring them binding on all true believers--with the threat of eternal damnation to those who hold contradictory opinions.

SW: Let's look at this now. Scripture tells us that "whatsoever you shall bind on Earth is also bound in Heaven; whatsoever you shall loose on Earth is loosed in Heaven." This direction was given directly to St. Peter, alone and then later to the Apostles as a group (Matt. 16:18-19 and 18:18). So Jesus gave men this authority. We also know, from Acts 1:28, that the Apostles each held an "office" called a "bishopric" and from that same reference that this bishopric had to have a successor. Matthias became our first successor to a bishop's office. To the point… if the Church has so bound something then it has become a matter of the Faith and cannot be rejected by anyone faithful to the Christian Church. The authority of the Church is actually supported by Scripture – whereas the doctrine of sola scriptura itself is not!

JM: In Roman Catholicism, "the Word of God" encompasses not only the Bible, but also the Apocrypha, the Magisterium (the Church's authority to teach and interpret divine truth), the Pope's ex cathedra pronouncements, and an indefinite body of church tradition, some formalized in canon law and some not yet committed to writing. Whereas evangelical Protestants believe the Bible is the ultimate test of all truth, Roman Catholics believe the Church determines what is true and what is not. In effect, this makes the Church a higher authority than Scripture.

SW: Well, no, the Catholic Church does not consider the Magisterium or a pope's ex cathedra (from the chair), tradition or Canon Law to be the Word of God. Only Scripture has that distinction. What MacArthur calls the "Apocrypha" (hidden) Catholics do consider to be part of the Old Testament Scriptures, just as they are included in the Septuagint (LXX). These books were never "hidden" as the name implies, and the less polemical terminology would be to refer to them as the deuteron-canonicals. Since MacArthur brings up what is canonical and what he feels is not – the fact that he has a Bible with the exact canon of the New Testament which the Catholic Church finalized in several councils toward the end of the 4th century AD, speaks volumes (no pun intended). Ironically, virtually all of Protestantdom accepts the New Testament Canon as established by those 4th century councils – but where those exact same councils ruled the fuller Old Testament Canon, Protestants align themselves with post-Christian era Jews – the same Jews who reject that the Messiah has already come! The fact that MacArthur has the Bible he has today, in the form he has today, he owes to the authority of the Catholic Church.

JM: Creeds and doctrinal statements are certainly important. However, creeds, decisions of church councils, all doctrine, and even the church itself must be judged by Scripture--not vice versa.

SW: I would gladly submit every single dogmatic decision of the Church to the scrutiny of Scripture and I posit that you will not find one dogmatic teaching which is contrary to Scripture. Where Scripture is silent, the normative is "qui tacet consentit" – silence implies consent.

JM: Scripture is to be accurately interpreted in its context by comparing it to Scripture--certainly not according to anyone's personal whims.

SW: MacArthur posits that Scripture interprets itself. Again I would challenge him to document from Scripture where this doctrine of it self-interpreting is found. I can tell you now – it's not there.

JM: Scripture itself is thus the sole binding rule of faith and practice for all Christians.

SW: That's a broader paintbrush than I've seen other Protestant apologists use. Some will concede that the Church does indeed have binding authority, but they will not give the Church infallible binding authority. Using almost the same structure I've heard it stated, "Scripture itself is the sole infallible rule of faith (regula fide) for all Christians." MacArthur goes beyond that, Scripture is the sola regula fide – sole rule of faith – not only for things which bind Christians, but also in the disciplines which Christians practice. Either way you look at it – this teaching on the sola regula fide, or sole rule of faith, is nowhere found in Scripture itself! Thus, by its own standard, sola scriptura is not a binding teaching since it is not taught by Scripture! So those of you who have accepted this teaching in the past, feel free to reject it, it fails its own test.

JM: Protestant creeds and doctrinal statements simply express the churches' collective understanding of the proper interpretation of Scripture. In no sense could the creeds and pronouncements of the churches ever constitute an authority equal to or higher than Scripture. Scripture always takes priority over the church in the rank of authority.

SW: Catholics do not put the Church "higher" than Scripture. We too believe that Scripture is the Word of God – and nothing is "higher" than that unless God Himself were to appear in person. That being said, Jesus didn't leave His Church rudderless! He promised to send the Paraclete, the Holy Ghost, to be with and guide His Church to all truth until He Himself returns in glory. The fact is, Scripture is part of the traditions of the Church! Much of Scripture is the record of the beginnings of the Early Church. Whereas we apply the commands given by the writers of Scripture to the Church throughout the ages, those writers are members of the Catholic Church to begin with.

JM: Roman Catholics, on the other hand, believe the infallible touchstone of truth is the Church itself. The Church not only infallibly determines the proper interpretation of Scripture, but also supplements Scripture with additional traditions and teaching. That combination of Church tradition plus the Church's interpretation of Scripture is what constitutes the binding rule of faith and practice for Catholics. The fact is, the Church sets itself above Holy Scripture in rank of authority.

SW: Actually, the fact is no rule of the Church supersedes Scripture. This never has happened and never will. Yes, infallibility is a charism of the Catholic Church – and that is explicitly granted by Jesus and recorded in Scripture (Matt. 16:18-19 and 18:18). If one will pause for a moment and objectively consider – if something which can be bound on Earth is also bound in Heaven; unless you believe error can be bound in Heaven, then it is infallibly bound.

SW: As for binding practices – or disciplines – yes, the Church has the authority to bind such. For example, abstinence from meat on Fridays, all Fridays throughout the year. Many, perhaps even most, Catholics may not be aware that this rule is still in effect, but it is. The rule has changed a little. It can still be abstinence from meat, but the 1983 CIC (Code of Canon Law) states that according to one's Episcopal Conference it CAN be something equivalent [CIC 1251: "Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday."] This, I must reiterate, is a discipline of the Church, not a dogma, it could be changed or even altogether dropped. Where a Catholic would get in trouble over this is if they knowingly and willingly decided to thumb their nose to the due and proper authority of the Church and choose not to observe Canon 1251.

The Doctrine of Justification

JM: According to Roman Catholicism, justification is a process in which God's grace is poured forth into the sinner's heart, making that person progressively more righteous. During this process, it is the sinner's responsibility to preserve and increase that grace by various good works.

SW: MacArthur is close here, but he misses the main thrust of the teaching on justification. Justification, in short, is "getting right with God." It is the reception of sanctifying (saving) grace and then persevering in that state of grace. I will continue after MacArthur's next comments:

JM: The means by which justification is initially obtained is not faith, but the sacrament of baptism.

SW: Baptism is a means of grace. Grace is "God's life in us." At baptism, ("which doth now save us" 1 Pet. 3:21) God's grace washes us, not merely "the removal of dirt from the flesh, but the appeal to God for a good conscience." I found MacArthur's "answer" to this very passage, and I was a bit bothered by, what I see as absolute dishonesty in diverting of this passage from 1 Peter 3:21, where he is clearly talking about baptism, to Titus 3:5, which is not about Baptism at all, and declares "It is that washing of the heart."[2] Baptism DOES now save us! Why do so many "Bible-Believing Christians" try to explain away the clear words of Scripture here?

JM: Furthermore, justification is forfeited whenever the believer commits a mortal sin, such as hatred or adultery. In the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, then, works are necessary both to begin and to continue the process of justification.

SW: In the Catholic Faith we accept that there are sins which are venial, which do not lead to death and can be forgiven through a public confession and the reception of the Eucharist, but then there are sins which are unto death (1 John 5:16), and such sin – being unto death – separates us from life in Christ, or the state of sanctifying (saving) grace. Once separated like this, we must go to one whom Jesus has empowered to forgive sins, (John 20:23). The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a means of Grace – just as each Sacrament is. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a gift from Jesus to His People, the Church, to avail themselves to when they have separated themselves from the state of Grace through the commission of a sin which is unto death. This teaching/belief/practice is well rooted in Scripture.

JM: The error in the Catholic Church's position on justification may be summed up in four biblical arguments. First, Scripture presents justification as instantaneous, not gradual. Contrasting the proud Pharisee with the broken, repentant tax-gatherer who smote his breast and prayed humbly for divine mercy, Jesus said that the tax-gatherer "went down to his house justified" (Luke 18:14). His justification was instantaneous, complete before he performed any work, based solely on his repentant faith.

SW: The error MacArthur makes here is assuming the tax-gatherer was just then justified for the first time, ever. Scripture does not tell us that. Rather, it could be just like the Catholic, who goes to Mass every week, and regularly participates in the Sacrament of Reconciliation, who on his knees prays, "Oh my God, I am whole-heartedly sorry for having offended Thee because of Thy just punishments, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who is deserving of all my love! I firmly resolve, through the help of Thy Grace, to amend my life, do the penance and sin no more." [3] When the Catholic humbly prays that prayer, he is like the tax-gatherer from Luke 18, and the justification is instantaneous! At the absolution we are told, "Go in peace; your sins ARE forgiven." They are not forgiven later, or after the penance, but immediately – right then and there! No work is performed beyond the sincere repentance. You may ask, "but what of the penance?" Well, if one were to deliberately avoid doing the penance, that would constitute a different sin – not one which was already forgiven. The penance shows your sincerity in begging forgiveness and helps you not to sin again.

JM: Jesus also said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life" (John 5:24). Eternal life is the present possession of all who believe--and by definition eternal life cannot be lost. The one who believes immediately passes from spiritual death to eternal life, because that person is instantaneously justified (see Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1).

SW: MacArthur is a bit inconsistent on this point. In his book, The Gospel According to Jesus, he repeatedly preaches against what he calls "easy-believism," and yet here we see that all you have to do is believe, and you are saved – not only at that moment, but there's no worry about persevering (as St. Paul repeatedly commands us to do), according to MacArthur's interpretation, it’s a "once saved, always saved" gift from God, and this salvation cannot be lost. That sure sounds like what I would call "easy-believism." Scripture, quite often tells us to "hold fast," and "persevere," and "run to win." [4]

JM: Second, justification means the sinner is declared righteous, not actually made righteous. This goes hand in hand with the fact that justification is instantaneous.

SW: Again, absolution (forgiveness) is immediate too.

JM: There is no process to be performed--justification is purely a forensic reality, a declaration God makes about the sinner. Justification takes place in the court of God, not in the soul of the sinner.

SW: This would disagree with James 2 – we are justified through works, just as Abraham was justified by his obedience which proved his faith. And faith, if it has no works is a dead faith – and a dead faith cannot save.

JM: It is an objective fact, not a subjective phenomenon, and it changes the sinner's status, not his nature. Justification is an immediate decree, a divine "not guilty" verdict on behalf of the believing sinner in which God declares him to be righteous in His sight.

SW: And again, that is precisely what happens in Confession.

JM: Third, the Bible teaches that justification means righteousness is imputed, not infused. Righteousness is "reckoned," or credited to the account of those who believe (Rom. 4:3-25). They stand justified before God not because of their own righteousness (Rom. 3:10), but because of a perfect righteousness outside themselves that is reckoned to them by faith (Phil. 3:9). Where does that perfect righteousness come from? It is God's own righteousness (Rom 10:3), and it is the believer's in the person of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:30). Christ's own perfect righteousness is credited to the believer's personal account (Rom. 5:17, 19), just as the full guilt of the believer's sin was imputed to Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). The only merit God accepts for salvation is that of Jesus Christ; nothing man can ever do could earn God's favor or add anything to the merit of Christ.

SW: None of this is against Catholic teaching, with the possible exception of the last sentence. When man does good works in the state of Grace, it does indeed earn favor or merit. Scripture speaks of the rewards we shall receive based upon our works, if those works are not burned up. If those works are burned up, then we shall suffer loss. Clearly this is a reward/consequence view from God based on mans works. [5]

JM: Fourth and finally, Scripture clearly teaches that man is justified by faith alone, not by faith plus works.

SW: This is a misleading and false statement. The prohibitions against works are related to "works of the law" whereby no man can work their way to salvation outside of faith. Scripture, in the absolutely only place where the words "faith" and "alone" are used together, clearly states that faith alone is not salvific. Faith without works is a dead faith, and a dead faith cannot save. Yes, there are a few places where faith is mentioned and works are not, but if there is even one place where Scripture says works are necessary, then they are. James 2 clearly makes works part of "saving faith." So we cannot assume that in passages which do not mention works that suddenly works are not a necessity to "saving faith."

JM: According to the Apostle Paul, "If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, otherwise grace is no longer grace" (Rom. 11:6).

SW: The context of this statement includes Romans 9:31 through Romans 11. In there we clearly see St. Paul speaking in opposition to works of the law, as if man could follow the law and save himself outside of faith in Jesus Christ. We cannot pick and choose verses which seem to support our cause when the context of the verses negates what we are saying. The Catholic will stand against a works/salvation system – just as the Protestant preaches against and falsely accuses the Catholic of.

JM: Elsewhere Paul testifies, "By grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast" (Eph. 2:8-9, emphasis added; see Acts 16:31 and Rom. 4:3-6).

SW: Ephesians 2, in context, is speaking of the law of circumcision, again, works of the law are not salvific. Acts 16 speaks of believing in Jesus Christ and not only would the head of the house be saved, but all the house. Believing is also something we do, either one believes, or they do not. If they "do" then they are "doing" something. Acts 16 does not really seem to support one side or the other here. Like Ephesians 2, the context of Romans 4 is talking about circumcision again – a work of the law.

JM: In fact, it is clearly taught throughout Scripture that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law" (Rom. 3:28; see Gal. 2:16; Rom. 9:31-32; 10:3).

SW: And again, I reiterate the point – Catholics do not uphold "works of the law" as works which are part of "saving faith." Good deeds done in the state of Grace are meritorious. Grace precedes good deeds/works and such deeds are only "good" if done in faith. In other words, works alone are no more meritorious than faith alone is. Faith alone is dead (James 2) and likewise, works alone (outside of faith) is dead.

JM: In contrast, Roman Catholicism places an undue stress on human works.

SW: And of course, I deny this. (see following)

JM: Catholic doctrine denies that God "justifies the ungodly" (Rom. 4:5) without first making them godly.

SW: No, Catholic doctrine does not, and MacArthur does not document which doctrine he's speaking about so this is merely an unsupported allegation.

JM: Good works therefore become the ground of justification.

SW: Again, no support for this allegation! The fact is, the "ground" is GRACE. Grace comes first, then comes faith. Is that faith a "saving faith" or a "dead faith?" James 2 lets us know how to tell the difference.

JM: As thousands of former Catholics will testify, Roman Catholic doctrine and liturgy obscure the essential truth that the believer is saved by grace through faith and not by his own works (Eph. 2:8-9). In a simple sense, Catholics genuinely believe they are saved by doing good, confessing sin, and observing ceremonies.

SW: The Catholic liturgy, the Mass, is centered on Grace! The Eucharist, which is the central and focal point of the Mass is the ultimate expression of Grace as it IS the Sacrifice of Christ being made present for us (in the Jewish sense of "remembrance" [6]). What I am certain of is there are likely thousands of "former Catholics" who really did not understand what the Catholic Faith was all about before they left it. No Catholic who knows their Faith believes we are saved by our own works! We are saved by the Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross – in other words, by GRACE. "Doing good" is what FOLLOWS Grace, and it is ONLY "good" if done in the state of Grace. Doing good deeds while in the state of mortal sin avails us nothing. Confessing sin IS a "good deed" and brings us back into the state of Grace.

JM: Adding works to faith as the grounds of justification is precisely the teaching that Paul condemned as "a different gospel" (see 2 Cor. 11:4; Gal. 1:6).

SW: The context of 2 Corinthians 11 speaks of false apostles preaching false gospels which are not found in Scripture. False gospels like sola scriptura and sola fide, the former not even mentioned in Scripture and the latter flatly denied by Scripture the only time it is mentioned by name! [7]
Galatians 1, in context, is the same as 2 Corinthians 11 – it speaks against false preachers. Neither passage even mentions "saving faith" which is a faith which as works with it, however, James 2 mentions this! So, either James 2 is a flat out lie – or MacArthur is imputing his presuppositions about Catholicism into 2 Corinthians 11 and Galatians 1. I, for one, do not believe James 2 is a lie and MacArthur cannot have it both ways.

JM: It nullifies the grace of God, for if meritorious righteousness can be earned through the sacraments, "then Christ died needlessly" (Gal. 2:21).

SW: MacArthur again confuses "works" with "works of the law" as we clearly see if we look at the passage instead of just throwing the reference at you:

21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (KJV)

Notice, "if righteousness come by the LAW" (emphasis mine).

JM: Any system that mingles works with grace, then, is "a different gospel" (Gal. 1:6),

SW: Again, whereas Galations 1:6 does mention "a different gospel" it is not speaking about "works" at all! MacArthur does a very dishonest deed to impute his agenda into that verse – and I stand here to call him on that!

JM: …a distorted message that is anathematized (Gal. 1:9), not by a council of medieval bishops, but by the very Word of God that cannot be broken.

SW: Since MacArthur is repeating this error, I have to repeat the answer. Galations 1 is speaking of false apostles – and makes no direct mention of what that "distorted message" might be. The one "distorting" Scripture here is MacArthur who is imputing an anti-Catholic bias into a passage which makes no mention of what he is attacking the Church for.

JM: In fact, it does not overstate the case to say that the Roman Catholic view on justification sets it apart as a wholly different religion than the true Christian faith, for it is antithetical to the simple gospel of grace.

SW: But as we have just seen, it is MacArthur who is overstating the case left and right here by imputing his presuppositional anti-Catholic position into passages which do not even speak to what he is saying.

JM: As long as the Roman Catholic Church continues to assert its own authority and bind its people to "another gospel," it is the spiritual duty of all true Christians to oppose Roman Catholic doctrine with biblical truth and to call all Catholics to true salvation.

SW: The authority which is in the Catholic Church was put there by Jesus Christ Himself [8]. It is the spiritual duty of all who seek the truth to not just take my word for it, nor MacArthur's word for it – but to diligently and objectively seek the TRUTH. To settle for an emotive hate-speech is subjective and not an honest way to approach the Scriptures nor the truth. True salvation is to follow Jesus Christ in ALL He taught. When He taught that we must eat His body and drink His blood – then we MUST do this! We do not do this simply as a memorial, but as a "remembrance" in the Jewish and Catholic sense of the word [6 – and I strongly urge all to read that link]. It is this "remembrance" which is central to the Liturgy/Mass of the Catholic Church.

JM: Meanwhile, evangelicals must not capitulate to the pressures for artificial unity. They cannot allow the gospel to be obscured, and they cannot make friends with false religion, lest they become partakers in their evil deeds (2 John 11).

SW: And on that note, I agree with MacArthur! There should be NO capitulation of the TRUTH. Ecumenism is coming together in TRUTH, not a false unity for the sake of unity. I urge all readers of this article to try and find the doctrine of sola scriptura IN Scripture. It's not there. Sure, there are passages which speak to "sufficiency" and the "ability to teach, discipline, etc." but you will not find a single verse which supports the teaching that Scripture is the sola regula fide of the Christian Church, not one. I would also urge the readers to find even ONE other place in Scripture where the words "faith" and "alone" are used together (sola fide) outside of James 2:24 – which is in flat out denial of the concept of sola fide.

I would love to hear your comments. Feel free to leave them here in this blog, or join myself and several other very competent apologists in the Catholic Debate Forum:

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Scott Windsor<<<

[3] Act of Contrition
[4] 1 Thes. 3; 2 Thes. 2:15; Heb. 10:36; 2 Tim. 4:7; 1 Cor. 9:24 (and more).
[5] 1 Cor. 3:15
[7] James 2:24
[8] Matthew 16:18-19 and 18:18

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