The Roman Catholic Church makes great claims of itself. By these, it distinguishes itself from any other Christian denomination in the world. As a matter of fact, many of these denominations consider these claims nothing short of audacious and a direct attack on orthodoxy. While some denominations may not be this aggressive in their denunciation of Rome, there is unanimous consent among Protestants and Evangelicals that the Catholic Church could not possibly be all that she claims to be.
I am thoroughly convinced that the reason for much of this dissent is ignorance, rather than a true understanding of what the Catholic Church actually teaches.
I speak with experience in this matter. Even though I was raised in a Roman Catholic home, I didn’t see religion as anything other than Sunday attendance at Mass. My neighborhood was predominantly Catholic, and yet I don’t remember meeting anyone that seemed to be enthusiastic about the faith. As sad as it may sound, I don’t recall hearing any Catholic outside the clergy even speak of God. Not only this, but they seemed rather uncomfortable to speak about their faith at all, as though it was a subject better left within the confines of church walls. Later in life, after having left the Catholic Church to become an Evangelical, I would often lament how terribly sad it was to see so many people apparently just going through the motions of Catholicism, without having a living, vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.
Now before I get a nasty phone call from one of my sisters, who will be upset with me because they don’t understand how I can say this, let me qualify my comments. Yes, my family did pray before dinner and ask God to bless our home, relatives and friends. We were also encouraged to say our prayers at night before going to bed, at least when I was very young. My mother also had a Crucifix on her bedroom wall. Beyond this I don’t remember any other religious discussion or influence in my home or among my Catholic friends. In a nut shell, every Catholic I knew seemed to be ignorant of his or her faith and indifferent toward the Church.
Now some of you may think I am being a bit harsh and unfair, but I can tell you that I have spoken with literally hundreds of Catholics who have had a very similar experience as mine. Many of them, unfortunately, have either abandoned Christianity altogether, or have joined other denominations and sects whose theology and philosophy are in direct opposition to the Catholic Church. Still others remain Catholic and are practicing the ever popular “cafeteria” style Catholicism—a faith where they pick and choose the doctrines they wish to believe and submit to, while others are discarded as being irrelevant, out of touch, and impossible to live up to; a faith not in communion with The Roman Catholic Church. This is a tragic situation that demands our attention.
I was a spiritually precocious child. Later on, when I entered high school, even though I was a lousy student, I had great interests in philosophy, psychology, and spirituality. I instinctively knew there was more to the meaning of life than what my experience as a Catholic had been. These were the only classes in school that I excelled in. By the time I had gotten into my senior year in high school, I fancied myself a “free thinker” and loved to get into philosophical discussions of any kind. Without any strong Christian foundation it was easy to divorce myself from organized religion of any kind and instead pursue “what was right in my own eyes”.
In the mid to late seventies drugs were easily accessible, and I soon fell in love with all of them. Most of my time was spent getting high and playing my guitar, preparing myself for what I thought would surely be my destiny; rock-n-roll stardom. Eventually, drug abuse started taking it’s toll and soon I was having a difficult time concentrating on anything. I became paranoid, and felt hopelessly alone. Even though I was only 16 years old I had already burned myself out on dope. It was at this time that I recall becoming aware that someone, or something was trying to communicate with me. Somehow, I knew it was God. I soon started to hear the name Jesus in my head on a regular basis. This was very disturbing. I had stopped attending Mass a long time prior and had distanced myself from any Christian influence. But, deep in my heart, I felt Him calling me, and I knew He wouldn’t stop. I can’t explain the feeling very well, but I knew I belonged with Him. Sometimes I would cry, feeling like I was just incapable of responding. Instead, I kept avoiding Him, plunging myself headlong into a hedonistic lifestyle that wound up leaving me both morally and spiritually bankrupt. Yet, the void in my soul longed to be filled.
After graduating from High School I joined the Marine Corps. While in the Marines I ran into a good number of Christians. They seemed so peaceful and confident. I was jealous. I knew they were with the One who wanted me, and yet I still would not heed His call. Many of these people challenged me to rethink Christianity, and I started reading tracts and books on Bible prophesy that I found laying around the barracks. As I became more exposed to the Bible, the louder the voice in my head became, pleading with my heart to embrace Christ. The modernist and pop psychology arguments that I had once appealed to in forming my world view were beginning to appear more and more like feeble, vindictive attempts to discredit religion and morality altogether, and I could no longer find solace in them. But the temporal pleasures in life to which I had become captive seemed way too much at the time to give up, so I proceeded on without Christ even as the voice kept calling.
After getting out of the Marine Corps, I joined a rock-n-roll band and soon found myself back in the same burned out condition. Knowing that much of my behavior was way out of sync with how God wanted me to live, I daily wrestled with my conscience, but the tugging in my heart only became stronger. I finally felt that I could not fight anymore, and at the age of 25, decided to surrender my life to Christ.
I began attending an Evangelical fellowship where I met people who were excited about their faith. They loved God and wanted to please him in all areas of their life. They were moral and upright, encouraging me to seek and serve God with all my heart. Their example of holiness and piety prodded me into wanting that same kind of relationship with God in my own life. For this I am forever grateful.
I remained an Evangelical for 10 years and was enrolled in seminary, pursuing my dream of becoming a pastor, when I met an old high school friend of mine. Mark, a lifelong Catholic who I hadn’t seen in years, had gone through a tremendous renewal experience. I, the Evangelical, was impressed with Mark’s knowledge of the Bible, but could not understand how anyone who had a “born again” experience could remain in the Catholic Church. I had never met a Catholic who knew much about the Bible, let alone defend what I and the rest of Protestantism considered to be an un-Biblical, and indefensible theology.
I am forever indebted to Mark, who patiently listened to my arguments against Catholicism. His approach and attitude in refuting my arguments was gentle and thoughtful. I could tell that he was genuinely sincere about serving God with his whole heart, and that he loved God. He was not out to win an argument; he was instead concerned with my very soul. I was impressed that not only did he have strong Biblical arguments to defend Catholicism, but that he loved God’s Word, and was a true student of it. He didn’t pretend to have all the answers to my questions, but pointed me in the direction of people who did, eager to help in any way he could.
Through many long nights of study and prayer I returned home to the Catholic Church in March, 1997. Upon reentering, I made a commitment to forever defend the Catholic Faith, to do what ever I could to help others understand the glory of the Church, and to encourage others to do the same. It is in this spirit that I wish to present an explanation of what to me is the most convincing proof that the Catholic Church is everything she claims to be.
How Firm A Foundation
The Protestant Reformers, in the 16th Century, staked their claims on what they called the two foundations upon which the Reformation would stand or fall. These are “Sola Scriptura”, the Latin term for Scripture alone, and “Sola Fide”, another Latin term for faith alone.
In this article we will be primarily concerned with the idea of “Scripture alone” theology.
This “doctrine”, if you will, has some slightly different definitions depending on who you’re talking with, but all definitions will share it’s primary premise, that the Bible alone is to be authoritative. In other words the Bible alone is to be the sole rule of faith and practice for Christians and that no one person or institution has the authority to bind the conscience of the believer.
As an Evangelical I never really questioned the validity of this doctrine. I had not spent much effort examining the far-reaching implications of the idea. It was taught to me as a matter of fact, and without any air of controversy about it. Therefore I had no reason or need to defend it. The thought of even entertaining Catholic thinking on this was so far from my mind that I never saw it as a viable option. The Evangelical view of history, the way I understood it, was that the true Church of Christ had always held to this principle and that it was not until the Catholic Church had become corrupt and apostate that we see anything different. I was told the Protestant Reformers recognized this and restored the lost truths of the faith, rescuing humanity from hundreds of years of censorship and darkness.
This is not to say that I didn’t struggle in looking for answers to the division among Bible believing Christians. As a matter of fact, this was the one thing I was most perplexed by when first becoming an Evangelical. My enthusiasm for wanting to know everything I could about Christ and the Bible was all consuming. At the time, I was single and my social life revolved around the singles ministry at the church I attended. Here I met a great number of people who attended other churches but were coming to socialize. I can remember asking some of those people why they chose to attend other churches and not ours. I wondered what the differences were. How, I thought, could the Bible place such a premium on unity within the Body of Christ (Rom 12:4-5, Eph 4:4-6, 1Cor 1:10, 12:12-13), and at the same time allow for so many differing interpretations of Scripture. I was told that the appeals the Bible makes for unity were not meant to be taken as though all Christians had to agree on all points of doctrine, but that they share a basic understanding of the Christian faith. Often the person giving the answer would agree that the division among Bible believing Christians was certainly a black mark upon the Church. However this was easily explained away as a by product of man’s fallen nature. Sometimes this diversity was expressed as a strength, rather than a weakness, because this kept man from being puffed up with knowledge. These matters were seen as “non-essentials”, and allowed for freedom of conscience.
Over time I grew to accept this line of thinking, feeling like Peter when he said to Jesus, “Where else can we go, you have the words of eternal life.” (Jn 6:68). Even though I was never completely comfortable with this answer, I tried to shrug off the question as one of God’s ways that my finite mind was incapable of understanding.
This question was reintroduced in my discussions with Mark. He asked me to explain how the Scriptures could claim the Church to be the pillar and foundation of the truth and yet have so many opposing positions on a wide variety of doctrinal issues. Remember, the dominant Protestant position is that the Body of Christ is made up of the true believers in Christ who are scattered throughout the world in various denominations. His argument was a strong one: how could Paul claim the Church to be “the very foundation of truth” and yet have within it so many different interpretations of the what is true?
As an Evangelical I was taught that sincerity does not equal truth, that a person could be very sincere and devout in their beliefs and still miss the boat because they were sincerely wrong. Yet all of a sudden this seemed to be the very thing I was to accept if I was to continue in Evangelicalism. No post-reformation denomination claims infallibility. Instead they believe that the dissension and division so prevalent within their ranks somehow forms a homogeneous gathering called the Church. This just didn’t square with 1Tim 3:15.
This led me to a study on the issue of authority: who had the authority to proclaim what the Bible taught and upon what foundation is this authority based? How could I know that the Gospel I had received was the same Gospel of the Apostles? (Gal 1:8). The Reformer’s opinion was that the Catholic Church was wrong in its interpretation of the Bible. The battle cry was “Scripture alone”, but as was evident from the outset and glaring in their posterity, no consensus was to be found. As I looked at the Reformer’s claims, it seemed the height of hypocrisy for any one Reformer to tell people that all they needed was the Bible alone to give them understanding, and yet proclaim from his pulpit how terribly mistaken others were when disagreeing with his interpretation. The numerous splits that occurred among the Reformers themselves, continuing to this day, suddenly made it clear to me that the single mindedness the scriptures speak of is impossible to maintain without a proper mechanism in place to provide the correct interpretation. (1 Cor 1:10, Phil 1:27-30)
I started again to look at all the verses of Scripture that had troubled me on this issue. In Matthew 18, Jesus tells the disciples that if someone won’t listen to the Church after repeated attempts to reconcile the matter, treat him as an outsider. My experience as an Evangelical was quite different than this. Often I would hear of people “church hopping” because they had had a dispute with the leadership where they used to attend. I also knew of people who left churches over squabbles with fellow parishioners. Instead of following the suggestions in Matthew 18, they would just go off and find another place to fellowship until the next controversy occurred. This problem frustrates many pastors, but those who attempt to abide by the scriptural mandate to execute Church discipline are often accused of being dictatorial and harsh. They also risk incurring the wrath of other leaders within their congregation who might disagree and cause a greater split. I have seen this occur many times. Many of my friends who are pastors have related how impotent they feel in solving major disturbances authoritatively.
Jesus also told the Apostles in Matthew 18, “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matt 18:18). I studied this phrase in great detail and realized that the Apostles had been commissioned with authority to legislate and regulate activity within the Church. This is literally what binding and loosing refers to in Matthew 18 (also Matt 16:19). Jesus also told them that “he who hears you, hears me, and he who rejects you, rejects me” (Matt 10:40, Lk 10:16). Jesus made it perfectly clear that their word is final, because their word is His word. The Kingdom of God is everlasting. In these passages Jesus is commissioning the Apostles to administer the government of the kingdom. It only makes sense that since the kingdom is everlasting, than the governing of that kingdom is also everlasting. The Evangelical and Protestant model of the Kingdom of God cannot stand, because no kingdom divided against itself can (Matt 12:25)!
The mandate Jesus gave to His Apostles to govern the kingdom is without a doubt the most awesome responsibility given to the Church. And since it is a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb 12:28), it came with a promise. In Matt 16:18, Christ tells the Apostles that “the gates of hell will not prevail against the Church”. Hell could only prevail if it was successful in convincing the Church to implement and teach untruth, in effect taking a wrecking ball to the pillar and foundation of truth. Also Jesus promises that when the Holy Spirit comes He will guide them into “all the truth” (Jn 16:12-15), and that He would never leave them desolate (Jn 14:15-18). The Bible and the Catholic Church both teach that it is not the integrity of men that keeps the Church from error, but the promise of Christ.
The Apostle Paul demonstrates, in very practical ways, the understanding of the early church in relation to this. One place he does this is in what I had considered the best proof text for the doctrine of Sola Scriptura. In 2 Tim 3:15-16, Paul tells Timothy that, “all Scripture is inspired 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”. Evangelical theologians, and friends of mine will point to this and say “see Doug, it’s all right here, this passage shows that we can rely on nothing but the Bible for our faith”. The Bible often can say things we want it to say when we come to it with pre-conceived notions. Nowhere in this passage does it say that the Scriptures alone are authoritative. Looking at the text again this time reading the two verses prior to 16-17, in context of what Paul is saying, we can see the fallacy in thinking this a proof text for Sola Scriptura. Verse 14 begins, “But as for you continue in what you have learned, knowing from whom you learned it”. Paul goes on in verse 15 to remind Timothy of his familiarity with the Old Testament Scriptures, (at the time of course, the New Testament does not exist) and their ability to corroborate his teaching. Yes, that’s right, corroborate the Apostolic message of salvation in Christ. For it is clear in the New Testament that the message of salvation was hidden until the Apostles were charged to reveal it (Matt 28:20,Col 1:25-28, Gal 2:7-8). The New Testament teaches that indeed the message of salvation is taught in the Old Testament, but hidden, and never revealed without the authority of Christ and the Apostles (Matt 11:27, Col 1:26, Eph 2:20-21, 3:5, Acts 10:34-43, 1Pet 1:10-12, 1Cor 2:6-12). Look again at 2 Timothy 3:14. It is not an appeal for Timothy to look to the scriptures alone for instruction, but to regard them in light of his instructor, namely, Paul himself (cf. 2Tim 2:1-2). The Jews were using the Scriptures to try and refute Christianity. If the Apostles could not appeal to their God given authority in proclaiming the Gospel then their teachings are nothing more than opinions, and we would be free to disagree with them today. This of course is ridiculous.
In the same way it would have been ridiculous to regard Timothy’s teachings as mere opinion, as well as that of those he was charged by the Apostle Paul to appoint as leaders after him.
Other passages that speak of authority are impossible to reconcile with Sola Scriptura. Heb 13:17 says to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls as men who will have to give account, let them do this joyfully and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you”. In the passage one can see the writer being sympathetic to those struggling to submit. He’s letting them know that if they have trouble agreeing with leadership, that these leaders will be held accountable, as if to say, don’t worry, do your part, submit. But at what point in the history of the Church did this command become optional?
The emphasis inherent in Protestant thinking is that individual fellowships and churches, even within many denominations, still maintain a great degree of autonomy from one another, and therefore have the right to govern themselves. The concept of a familial authoritative hierarchy is one that is impossible to reconcile with Bible only theology, and for this reason is carelessly overlooked. What is important to realize is that individual Churches were never meant to be autonomous from one another, nor were they to govern themselves on their own. Again this is clearly seen in the New Testament. When Paul appoints leaders in the Churches he established, he didn’t divorce himself from responsibility to lead them. On the contrary, he writes to them, telling them to hold fast to the things he taught, he visits them and appoints others to lead in his absence (2 Thess 2:15, 2 Tim 2:1-2, Titus 1:5-9). Not only this but Paul himself submits to leadership (Gal 2:1-3). The pattern for hierarchical authority is clearly established in the New Testament.
This pattern is also clearly seen in the Old Testament as well. In spite of the fact that at times God’s appointed leaders were way off the mark both morally and spiritually, God never ordains anyone to start a reformed Judaism under the banner of Sola Torah. (for example see 1 Sam chapters 1,2,19-31)
Jude also drives this point home. In Jude 11, Jude warns the reader not to error in the same way that Korah and his band of rebellious followers did. Jude is referring to Numbers, the 16th Chapter. If you read the story you’ll find that Korah said nothing that would suggest his disapproval of Moses in regards to orthodoxy. Korah’s beef was that he wanted to know who put Moses in charge, and why Moses thought he was so much better than everybody else, bossing them around the desert and so on. Hadn’t God already made it clear that all the Israelites were a “kingdom of priests, a holy nation”? (Ex. 19:6). Who did Moses think he was to impose his will upon them. It didn’t turn out well for Korah and his followers. Jude is giving a stern warning to New Covenant believers: Don’t rebel against leadership.
Of course, all of these new insights were not very well received by my Evangelical friends.
Even in the face of the Biblical evidence, they would tell me that the idea of a church hierarchy was contrived by the Catholic Church in order to maintain their political status, somewhere in the fourth or fifth century. They told me that the early church knew nothing of a Pope, or a Magisterium. Again, this is clearly not the case.
The patristic evidence supporting the Churches teachings on this is simply overwhelming.
I was amazed to find throughout the writings of the early church fathers, their recognition of the Bishop of Rome as the supreme Bishop of the Church. Ignatius, the first Bishop of Antioch, ordained by John the Apostle, says that this Church holds the presidency over all the Churches. (Letter to the Romans, A.D. 110). Many such statements are written throughout the first centuries of the Church. (A good source to look these up in is, The Faith of the Early Fathers, 3 volume set, by William A. Jurgens.)
As I studied the early writings of the Fathers, it also became clear that other doctrines like the Eucharist, Communion of Saints, Purgatory, Mary, and so on were not things invented by the Catholic Church in latter centuries, but were evident from the beginning. Part of the Deposit of Faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 3)
I am secure in my Fathers house. I am daily filled with joy in knowing that the promise of Christ to lead his people into all the truth is being fulfilled in the Roman Catholic Church.
I will close with one of my favorite quotes from the great G.K. Chesterton, writing of the Catholic faith. “He has come too near to the truth, and has forgotten that truth is a magnet, with the powers of attraction and repulsion…. The moment men cease to pull against it [The Catholic Church] they feel a tug towards it. The moment they cease to shout it down they begin to listen to it with pleasure. The moment they try to be fair to it they begin to be fond of it. But when that affection has passed a certain point it begins to take on the tragic and menacing grandeur of a great love affair…. When he has entered the Church, he finds that the Church is much larger inside than it is outside”.
My journey home to the Catholic Church reflects the sentiments expressed by Chesterton. Coming home to the Catholic faith has not been easy. My wife still remains Evangelical and vigorously opposes my being Catholic. It has put a great strain on our marriage and our future is unclear. Truth has been my desire from the time I first committed my life to the teachings of Christianity. As terrible as my circumstances may be, nothing can take away the gift I have received by the incredible grace of Jesus, the gift of the Church, made available to all who hunger for truth.