A Tale of Three Churches

A Tale of Three Churches

Bible-believing Christians maintain that the Scriptures are the authority in matters of faith and the promulgation of doctrine. The Roman Catholic Church maintains that the Scriptures are but one authoritative source for matters of faith and doctrine. The Roman Church holds that her Sacred Tradition and her Magesterium are equal to the very word of God when it comes to the faith and promulgation of doctrine.

Christians and Catholics alike would agree that the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are communities built on religiosity. Their foundational doctrines, though differing in significant ways, are not scriptural. Mormons believe it possible for members to become gods, that Jesus and Satan are spiritual brothers and that there is no literal hell. Jehovah's Witnesses believe that their Watchtower Society is the authoritative prophet of God, that the 144,000 mentioned in the book of Revelation are JW's (despite the fact that they are plainly stated to be Jews) and that Jesus is actually the archangel Michael. Flawed to be sure, these doctrines are nowhere to be found in the Word of God (unless it is altered).

These are not the only religious communities that hold to beliefs that are cannot be found in the Scriptures. There is a multitude of error-filled churches and cults that call themselves Christian.

How do we know their beliefs are wrong? Because the Bible either teaches otherwise or their teachings, while not explicitly found in the Scriptures, contradict the word of God. The Roman Church can claim that she knows such beliefs to be wrong because she is infallible in matters of faith. Yet the Roman Church herself teaches beliefs that are outside the Bible. And she requires her faithful to accept and believe such doctrines.

The Roman Catholic Church claims she is the true Church of Christ. She claims that her Tradition and Magisterium are equal to the Bible in authority. She states that her Pope is the Vicar of Christ, "sweet Christ on earth" and other titles of near or actual deification. The Roman Church teaches that she possesses apostolic succession and authority. The Roman Church claims to hold the full and sacred deposit of faith. Now, to some folks these claims sound as vainglorious as those of the "bad" religious communities that hold wrongful doctrines. Yet the Roman Church maintains that she is all she claims to be. And how does she verify her claims? In two ways, though one way makes her defenders uncomfortable. She claims the majority of her doctrines are based, at least to some degree, in the Bible. Yes, that is to say that while the existence of her Tradition and Magisterium are true because they can be found in Scripture, they are equal in authority to Scripture. Take that Scripture basis away and what do you have? Therefore it seems that Tradition and the Magisterium are reliant upon Scripture, which would make them less than equal.

Catholic apologists also defend the validity of Rome's claims by telling us that they have been handed down from the apostles, which cannot always be proved from Scripture. Catholics at times seem uncomfortable with this, perhaps because it puts Catholicism in the same class as Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons. It should make them uncomfortable because if Catholic Tradition is founded in the authority of the Bible then the claim that Tradition not founded in the Scriptures can also generate doctrine cannot be supported. Do you see the flawed logic at work? If the authority of Tradition is dependent upon biblical proof then Tradition cannot stand apart from Scripture in forming doctrine or else it loses the authority it claims to possess. And that does make the Roman Church much like the the Jehovah's Witnesses or the Mormons. Just as the Mormons have books that they claim are equal to the Bible, and the JW's have their Watchtower Society which is equal to the Word of God, so too does the Roman Church have her Traditon.

In theological language, which in many circumstances has become current, there is still greater precision and this in countless directions. At first there was question only of traditions claiming a Divine origin, but subsequently there arose questions of oral as distinct from written tradition, in the sense that a given doctrine or institution is not directly dependent on Holy Scripture as its source but only on the oral teaching of Christ or the Apostles. Finally with regard to the organ of tradition it must be an official organ, a magisterium, or teaching authority.--Jean Bainvel, Tradition and the Living Magisterium, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XV. Published 1912. New York: Robert Appleton Company. has Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur. electronic version © 2006 by Kevin Knight

According to this source, there are doctrines of oral distinction that are not dependant on Scripture as their source. These orally distinctive doctrines from the teachings of Christ or the apostles would not be found in Scripture, since such doctrines are supported without dependence on Scripture ("...is not directly dependent on Holy Scripture as its source but only on the oral teaching of Christ or the Apostles", [emphasis mine]). These would be the traditions that the Roman Church claims have always been taught by the Christ, the apostles, the early fathers and so on up to the present age. How can the Roman Church claim that some doctrines are not scriptural but rely solely on the oral teachings of Christ and the apostles? This would be Tradition, and Tradition cannot stand without scriptural support. And how are we to know that these teachings actually did come from Christ and the apostles? The Bible doesn't teach them and Tradition cannot stand outside the Bible.

Now, truths formally and explicitly revealed by God are certainly dogmas in the strict sense when they are proposed or defined by the Church. Such are the articles of the Apostles' Creed. Similarly, truths revealed by God formally, but only implicitly, are dogmas in the strict sense when proposed or defined by the Church. Such, for example, are the doctrines of Transubstantiation, papal infallibility, the Immaculate Conception, some of the Church's teaching about the Saviour, the sacraments, etc. All doctrines defined by the Church as being contained in revelation are understood to be formally revealed, explicitly or implicitly. It is a dogma of faith that the Church is infallible in defining these two classes of revealed truths; and the deliberate denial of one of these dogmas certainly involves the sin of heresy. [my emphasis]--Daniel Coghlan, Dogma, The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume V. Published 1909. New York: Robert Appleton Company. has Nihil Obstat & Imprimatur. electyronic version © 2006 by Kevin Knight

One might confront the doctrines of Transubstantiation, papal infallibility and the Roman sacraments (among others) by arguing that they are not found in Scripture. This argument, while valid, is of little use when one addresses the Catholic doctrine of the Assumption of Mary, which Romish apologists will stipulate is not found in Scripture.

While some Catholic apologists would argue with me, I submit that the Immaculate Conception of Mary also is not found in the Bible (and those who argue it is can only point to supposed prefigurations and allegories as their proof). The Assumption and Immaculate Conception of Mary are major dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, and they must be accepted and believed by the Roman faithful as matters of faith.

Can. 212 §1 Christ's faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound to show Christian obedience to what the sacred Pastors, who represent Christ, declare as teachers of the faith and prescribe as rulers of the Church.--Code of Canon Law, English translation (c) 1983 The Canon Law Society Trust

Thus we have a sort of Unam Sanctum at work here, in that the Code of Canon Law states that Christ's faithful (read "Catholic") must be subject to the Pope and Magisterium. Therefore, dogmas and doctrines need not be promulgated ex cathedra to be binding upon the Catholic faithful.

The point is that in the cases of the dogmas of the Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary we find two beliefs that are outside of Scripture. These dogmas were promulgated by a process that relies on Scripture for its authority, but as the dogmas in question are outside of Scripture then they cannot be authoritative. However, as cited above, they are required to be accepted and believed by the Roman faithful. What happens to Catholics who do not march in acceptance and belief of "Mother Church"? Why, they are not in good communion with Rome, that's what. And if you are not in good communion with "Mother Church", as a Roman Catholic, will you receive salvation? What a spider's web this is! And the whole quagmire is so easily avoided and the problem so easily solved by simply visiting the word of God:

19 Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.
20 "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,
21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
22 "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
23 "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'
25 "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.
26 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'
27 "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--
28 for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
--Luke 16:19-28, KJV

First things first, the one who is speaking here is our Lord, Jesus Christ. Thus we can assert that this teaching is infallible. It seems a noble thing that the rich man, now in hell, wishes to warn his brothers so that they will not also end up in hell. He asks Abraham (and being “in Abraham's bosom” was a distinctively Jewish way of saying that one was in heaven) to send Lazarus to warn his brothers. How does Abraham answer the rich man?

29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
--Luke 16:29-31, KJV

Abraham told the rich man that his brothers had “Moses and the Prophets”, which meant Scripture (only the Old Testament at that time). But the rich man must have known that his brothers would not rely upon the Scriptures, as he had not, and begged Abraham to send one from the dead (Lazarus) to warn them. Abraham's response was that if the rich man's brothers would not listen to the Scriptures, neither would they listen to one who comes back from the dead.

The above teaching of Christ reminds me of Roman Catholicism. The Roman Church refuses to listen to the Scriptures, and she does not listen to One who has come back from the dead (Jesus). God wrote the Scriptures! They are the inspired word of God! And the Roman Church has the Old and New Testaments from which to learn (and is further condemned by her prideful claim that she gave the world the Scriptures). If Christ taught that one could be saved through what is found in the Scriptures then the Scriptures contain all that is needed to be saved. Surely Jesus would not teach falsely! Add to this the words that Paul was inspired to write:

14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
--2 Timothy 3:14-15, KJV

Paul was not only inspired by God to write those words but they also were part of his teaching to Timothy. He charged Timothy to, “continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them”. The Apostle reminded him that from childhood he has, “known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.” Notice that Paul mentioned the sacred writings, not oral tradition. Notice that Paul said the sacred writings would give one the wisdom that leads to salvation. Notice that Paul said that this wisdom was faith in Jesus Christ. Finally, notice that the Roman Church teaches that her faith, which she claims must be accepted and believed, includes dogmas outside the sacred writings. Need I remind the Catholic reader that the words of “Mother Church” herself are:

"It is a dogma of faith that the Church is infallible in defining these two classes of revealed truths”

I have shown that the Scriptures alone contain that which is necessary for salvation. Actually, I did not show it, Jesus Christ did. Secondly, I have demonstrated that the Roman Church requires her faithful to accept and believe dogmas that are not found in Scripture if they are to remain in right standing with the Church. The position of the Roman Church is contradicted by Scripture and God (who gave us the Scriptures, despite the boastful claims of the Roman Church). If Tradition apart from the Scriptures has no authority, and Catholics are required to accept and believe in dogmas that are not scriptural, just how exactly does the Catholic Church differ from others, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Mormon Church? Can one trust that such a Church possesses the fullness of salvation? Hordes of Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons say, "Yes!" Only one question remains unanswered: who will you trust in order to be saved?

Salvation comes to man *only* through Jesus Christ.

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