Because you are among several folks who are worried that we have fallen off the Christian cliff, I thought that this record of an interchange with Internet friends who had similar concerns might ease your anxiety about our salvation prospects. It is important to understand that we are not writing this to try to convert you, but to hopefully neutralize your prejudices so if any other friend converts, you can say “Gee Whiz, that is wonderful” as opposed to “You poor lost soul.” Here is the interchange:
Friend: How can you join the Roman Catholic Church when the Pope has all that authority over you and what right has he to lead the Church anyhow?
Response: A marvelous question that many Evangelicals have and a critical question for the validity of the Catholic Church as the Church of Jesus Christ. To begin with, at Caesarea/Philippi at the rock above the source of the Jordan River and on which there was a statue of one of the Pagan Gods, Jesus Christ told Peter that, he, Peter was the rock, and on this rock, Jesus would build his Church as recorded in Mt:16, 18. Furthermore, Jesus gave him the Keys to the Kingdom, (vs.19), which is a reference back to Isaiah 22 referring to the office of Prime Minister. This essentially made Peter the first Vicar of Christ. In other words when the King gave the Keys to the Kingdom to the Prime Minister, it was meant to be for the office and to be handed on to the successors. Since then 262 Popes have succeeded Peter to this day. One more reference is helpful: at the end of the Book of John 21:17, Jesus, after asking Peter three times if he loved him, then told him to “feed my sheep”.
Friend: Interesting, but where in the Bible is there evidence that Peter assumed his position as Prime Minister?
Response: Good question since we need to verify these claims either in the Bible or in the Church traditions. In the Book of Acts of the Apostles, Peter showed us that he was the Chief Apostle in several places: (1) In Ch. 1, Peter was in charge of filling the Office vacated by Judas; (2) after Pentecost in Ch. 2, it was Peter who explained the meaning of Pentecost to the people; (3) in Ch. 3 Peter healed the crippled beggar, then gave a long speech explaining the need to repent and believe; (4) in Ch. 4 Peter made the presentation to the Sanhedrin standing firm against their threats; (5) in Ch. 15 Peter led the first Jerusalem Council to settle a controversy when certain Jewish Christians demanded that the Gentiles be circumcised; and (6) in Ch. 10 Peter was given the vision by God to go to Cornelius and baptize him and his family. Peter went to Rome and with the help of Paul built the Christian body. It would take too long here for all of the references, but the first, second, third, fourth and later century fathers, in their writings, refer to Peter as the first Pope: i.e. Iraneous, Polycarp, Ignatius, Martyr, Origin, Augustine and others. Their letters are available for reading. (A good summary of these important references can be found in “Jesus, Peter and the Keys” (Queenship) by Butler, Dahlgren and Hess)
Friend: You exhausted me with that answer, and let’s suppose I reluctantly agree, but I plan to read the Church Fathers to verify your assertions because I have not been told about such proofs by my local pastor. But we still have problems: you people are not allowed to read the Bible.
Response: We hear that all the time and it persists from the old days when a) there were no Bibles to read, b) illiteracy prevailed, c) many printed Bibles contained both accidental and intentional misprints, and d) there was a fear that the same results would prevail as occurred in Protestantism. There are now estimated to be over 25,000 Christian denominations and groups in the world because of so many interpretations of the Bible. The Catholic Catechism, Article 3, clearly states that Catholics are encouraged to read and study the Bible. In fact, we had six different adult Bible Classes on the Acts of the Apostles at my Parish this fall and they will resume in the Spring.
Friend: I guess my sources have been incorrect or biased, certainly uninformed. But there is more. I understand that you Catholics have to try to work your way to heaven, and that is not Biblical according to my Bible. Also, you add tradition to your bag of tricks where we Evangelicals believe in salvation by Faith Alone and Bible Alone without the traditions of men.
Response: The cry of the Reformation was Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide. Yet the Bible states nowhere that we are saved by faith alone or that the only source of Christianity is the Bible alone. So neither of these solas are in the Bible. In fact James 2:24 clearly states that we are NOT saved by faith alone but by faith and works. This is confirmed in many places including Galatians 5:6 “faith working by charity.” Second Timothy 3:16 is the verse most often quoted by Evangelicals to prove Bible Alone, but the letters to Timothy had not even been written until near the end of Paul’s tenure, so his reference was to the Old Testament. Paul did not say that the Old Testament scriptures were the only source, only that they were inspired and profitable. As to tradition, Catholics do not believe in traditions of men but in Sacred Tradition. An example is the Trinity which is not in the Bible per se. In the early centuries there was no final collection of letters called the New Testament so Christian Truth had to be passed on by Tradition. It was by word of mouth as Paul says in II Thessalonians 2:15, “follow the TRADITIONS I have taught you.” We learn a great deal about the Traditions of the Church from the early Fathers. You will discover this when you read their writings. And it is interesting to read the last Chapter, verse 25 of the Book of John, where he talks about the many things that are not written. If you believe what he says you might conclude that the Bible is not the only source of truth. There is one caution, though, about reading the writings of the early Church Fathers (some of whom were witnesses of the disciples, i.e. Polycarp was a friend of John). The great Anglican convert, Cardinal John Newman, warned that you cannot remain Protestant if you read and study the history of the Church.
Friend: Frankly I don’t like the idea of a central Church and Pope telling me what to do.
Response: In this day and age no one seems to like to yield to authority; they would rather do their own thing, or whatever feels good. But remember that the Church is the body of Christ. And as the Vicar of Christ, the Pope is speaking for him. The interpretations as reproduced in the Catechism and in Encyclicals that are presented to the faithful serve to provide a proper understanding of doctrine. The encyclicals usually are written and the councils called as a result of heretic challenges as a means of clarification of the Biblical, Traditional, and Church view. For example, the Council of Jerusalem followed the circumcision question and the Council of Trent followed the Reformation heresies.
Friend: You seem to have an answer for everything and frankly I am startled to learn of your responses. There are many more problems, however. You have all of these so-called Sacraments whereas we don’t have to be bothered with them. Why don’t you tell me why they are necessary?
Response: All right, let’s explore them one at a time starting with Baptism—including Infant Baptism, which is always good for a debate. You will note in the Book of Acts that early Christians were Baptized after they repented and received Jesus. In Ch 16 Paul baptized the jailer and his entire family, as did Peter with the household of Cornelius who was the first Gentile Christian. We can assume that there were children in the family, thus infants were undoubtedly baptized. John 3:5 says that a man (pardon the male chauvinism) must be born again of the water and the spirit to enter the kingdom of heaven. The Catholic belief, based on Bible exegesis and Tradition is that water baptism removes original sin through the mystical combination of the water and the spirit.
Friend: I’ve got you on that one, as even Catholics believe that they are sinners. How could they be considered sinners if original sin was removed at Baptism?
Response: The Catholic Church teaches that God leaves us with concupiscence, which is the ability to sin as we go through life, otherwise we would all be robots. The challenge for mankind is to fight diligently to overcome the sinful desires and temptations in order to gain our place in God’s kingdom. He gives us a free will to accept or reject his grace, and it is only through God’s grace that we have the power to resist. If we lead a sinful life, God punishes us by letting us go, and in so doing we become addicted to whatever sin we choose and can lose our salvation. He will always allow us back into his flock, but only if we repent and sin no more, e.g. the Prodigal Son.
Friend: You are a difficult person to back into a corner, but let’s explore some more of your Sacraments. I understand marriage and am upset that many of the Evangelicals do not consider it a sacred vow, or covenant, with God. In that respect I am Catholic already. And Confirmation makes sense to me also. But there is this problem with the Eucharist. I am convinced that it is symbolic and I cannot go along with the idea of eating flesh and drinking blood. At our Church, we have communion once a month or so, which should suffice for a symbolic gesture. I am sure you agree with that, right?
Response: Wrong….the Eucharist seems to be difficult for you Evangelicals probably because you do not study your Bible in all the key places where it is explained. It started back when Abraham went to the High Priest Melchizedek who gave him bread and wine. And it is present in the Passover feast, and certainly it is very clear at the Last Supper as described in the Gospels. You will note as you read the early Church Fathers that not only was infant baptism followed, but the Eucharist was also celebrated with a belief in the real presence of Jesus Christ. To understand this you must read John 6, the entire chapter, very slowly and prayerfully. You will note in vs 50 that Jesus refers to the bread that comes down from heaven after the ascension. This is to calm their fears of cannibalism. So it is heavenly bread and blood that he is referring to. Six times in the chapter he tells them to eat his flesh and drink his blood and note that all but the twelve walk away. He did not say, “Hey fellows I did not mean it literally, come on back.” No, he let them go. Don’t you think if it were meant to be a symbolic gesture he would have stopped them? The Eucharist is the heart of the Mass and we believe that Jesus Christ is present with us in the consecrated bread and wine. Even Martin Luther believed in the presence of Christ in the Eucharist.
Friend: I guess I’ll have to read and study John 6 to verify your assertions. Evangelicalism is a lot simpler: all I have to do is say the Sinner’s prayer and I’m given a non-revocable ticket to heaven; have faith and I will automatically do good works, but whether or not I do good works, it doesn’t matter, as my salvation is imputed, as RC Sproul claims. Now for another point that you brought up. You brought it up, so don’t blame me. I have been told that the Mass is a pagan ritual and certainly not Biblical.
Response: I would certainly like to know who you have been talking to, for they certainly were not talking about the Roman Catholic Church. I hate to burst your bubble but according to the Bible your sense of security is a false one. The Bible is very clear about justification and sanctification being a journey that can lead us to salvation but it is also clear that we must work hard through God’s grace in obedience to His will throughout our life. Can you imagine the God of the Bible accepting a dedicated sinner, although claiming to be Born Again, who is unrepentant, into his kingdom? Even Paul talks about how he struggles to do good and fails and has to keep trying. Why would he bother if he already had his ticket? Regarding the Mass, it is what makes Catholicism so beautiful. Nearly every word in the Mass is from the Bible, except the Homily. Not only do we read from the Old and New Testaments but we sing the Psalms, the Lord’s Prayer and we repeat the Nicene Creed. And as an aside, have you ever noticed near the end of the Creed “one (not 25,000) Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church? As stated above, there is a continuous apostolic succession of 262 Popes up to our present John Paul II. And have you ever encountered such a Holy Man, and with the courage of a Lion? He even has the courage to fight off the militant feminists.
Friend: I must say that I am exhausted and bewildered as I have not been told any of what you have stated above; in fact, quite the opposite. But you will have to admit that you worship Mary. (Got you on that one I bet.) And why do you have all those statues?
Response: Again, you have a misconception of what Catholics believe. You must tell me who taught you all of these terrible untruths; I don’t blame you for thinking I fell off the cliff. The Catholic Church believes that Mary was ever virgin and the Mother of Jesus. As a Mother, she nurtured Jesus as a boy and was faithfully with him to the end. It is difficult for Catholics to understand why Protestant mothers would be troubled in honoring Mary, the greatest mother of them all who, as the second Eve, was obedient to the Lord, whereas Eve disobeyed God. As a loving Mother, she is asked to intercede for us when praying to Jesus. We know, as do you, that we must go to the Father through the Son per John 6 (vs. 30f). And Catholics certainly can pray to Jesus directly. But we do not hesitate to ask those who are close to Jesus to put in a good word. I would guess that this happens in every family when the children suspect that the father will say no, they go to the mother first. In fact, you, yourself will ask friends to pray for you or someone you know. How much greater is it to ask Mary, the Mother of Jesus, to intercede for us? We believe that the Catholic Church is a Covenant Family with God the Father, Jesus the Son, Mary our Mother and we His children. Regarding the statues, you will agree, I am certain, that they are beautiful reminders of our Lord and the Saints. I bet that you have family pictures in your house as a reminder of family and friends. (And what was that nativity scene I saw in front of your church last Christmas?)
Friend: You have given me food for thought/ After digesting this I’ll be back to ask more questions, as it is evident that I may have been misled. But I am not going to give in without a struggle and an in-depth study—right?
Response: Right—you must find out for yourself and not rely on the words of mere men like me. I urge you to read, study, and pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit. You will find the Catholic faith to be a rich and deeply holy faith. And it has taken many hours of study of Catholic writings, early history, and the Bible, plus listening to the teachings on EWTN of people like Fr. Benedict Groeschel and other brilliant and well educated men, in addition to discussions with Catholic friends, to gather the meager understanding I’ve secured so far. May our Lord richly bless you in your struggles and study!
Robert, and his wife Sylvia are both converts to the Catholic Church.