Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Knowing whose in charge: Catholicism vs the Bible

Romans 15:4 "For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope."

Why the Bible Alone must be asserted as uniquely authoritative
It is obvious that the system of the Roman Catholic Church is complex, involved and not as straightforward as claimed by its proponents. Again when we advocate the Bible Alone as the believer's authority, we are not ignoring things like tradition or church history. However, the scriptures, in their 66 books of the Old and New Testament, are the most stable authority available.  Theology, Church History and Bible teachers, no doubt representing the working of God the Holy Spirit through response to the scriptures, nonetheless must acknowledge the superiority of the Bible to all other authorities.

The aim of today's blog
In light of the above statement, we want to see why the Bible alone must be declared the final authority on all matters, and why things like tradition, though important, cannot be equated with the scriptures.  As will be seen, Roman Catholic Church Tradition is not fixed, and represents a source of authority that has departed from the true Gospel. Today I want to outline how the Roman Catholic system developed in its view of authority, with some closing tips on how to share the Gospel in light of such observations.

What makes Roman Catholicism the system that it is?
Knowing how a particular movement developed and knowing its underlying assumptions for understanding the world or its "worldview" is key to effectively sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. 
It must be remembered that words such as "faith", "Christ" and "authority" will have different meanings for Roman Catholics from those of Bible believing Christianity. 

The Three-fold Source of Divine Truth in Roman Catholic thought.  Three equal sources of authority or Divinely revealed truth Teaching Authority of the Papal Heirarchy (Majesterium); Church Tradition and the Scriptures.1 Paragraph #95 of Catechism.  How did the system come to view these three as equals?

a. How Roman Catholicism came to view the scripture. 
In terms of the authority of scripture, the Roman Catholic Church affirms the Bible to be Divinely inspired and without error, much in line with Bible believing Christianity.  However it also has added other books called the Apocrypha to the collection of Bible books or the "Canon", a decision that came about in 1546 A.D at the Roman Catholic Church's Council of Trent, and which is still retained in the current version of the Catholic Catechism. 1

b. How Roman Catholicism came to its view of Teaching Authority as Equal with the Bible
The tradition of the Catholic Church finds its central embodiment and communication in the Pope and the teaching heirarchy of the Roman Catholic system called "The Majesterium".  This component of Roman Catholicism has its root in their doctrine called "Apostolic Succession".  It began with a right motive of identifying which churches taught true doctrine, since there were heresies masquerading as Christianity.  Early Christians such a Iranaeus in 180 A.D wrote that a true church taught the traditions handed down by the apostles through a succession of Bishops.2

Since the Apostles Peter and Paul both influenced Christianity and died in Rome, and since the Roman Church (by and large) had avoided the corruptions of heresy in the first three centuries, the Roman Bishop came to be viewed as the rightful heir of apostolic authority in Roman Catholic thinking.  After Christianity became legalized in 313 A.D, the ceasing of persecution gradually led Institutional Christianity to allign with the Roman empire.  In 440 A.D the Roman Bishop, Leo I, declared the Roman Bishop to be "papas" or Uniter of the secular and spiritual powers of the empire and the church. 3

From Leo I in 440 A.D to a man named Gregory 1 in 590 A.D we see what would be the pattern for the remaining development of the position of Pope, the majesterium or teaching authority of the Catholic Church and thus the belief that such authority was binding upon the consciences of men.  In 800 A.D a man by the name of Charlemane, of ancient French and German descent, was crowned "Holy Roman Emperor" by Pope Boniface on Christmas day 800 A.D.  Through the period of the Middle Ages, the Pope's power continue to increase, with the declaration of his ability to speak infallible truth in the Vatican I council of 1871.

c. How Roman Catholicism came to view Church Tradition as equal with the Bible
With the development of the Heirarchy system of the Roman Catholic Church, it led logically to the Church viewing itself as having equal authority to the Bible.  Again through the centuries, the church had to battle heresies that denied Biblical doctrines such as the Deity of Christ, the Trinity and Salvation by Grace through Faith.  Through the convening of meetings called Church Councils, Godly pastors and theologians did right in making declarations that communicated the Gospel clearly.4

However many of those who alligned themselves with the system that would become the Roman Catholic Church, came to view the church as equally authoritative due to the Pope's allignment with the Roman Empire and then later on other prevailing secular authorities.  Like a snowball going down a hill, the Roman Catholic Church picked up a combination of Biblical and non-biblical assumptions.  From roughly 200-800 A.D it picked up the remnants of left over Greek and Roman beliefs.  In what is called the Middle Ages (900-1500 A.D), it came to interpret the Bible through the Ancient Greek Philosopher Aristotle. 

Right down through today, the Roman Catholic system views itself as a living tradition, meaning that the Holy Spirit speaks not only through the scriptures, but equally through the growing understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as led by the Pope and accompanying Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops. 6

Practical tips to remember when sharing the Gospel with Roman Catholic Friends and Family
When sharing the Gospel with Roman Catholic Friends and Family, these differences must be acknowledged.  If your friend still insists on hanging onto the equal authority of the Pope and Church Tradition, you will find it very difficult to continue sharing the Gospel.  However pray the Holy Spirit would open their eyes to the truth of the Unique and Binding authority of the scriptures, and how Christ through the Bible, works through His Spirit to uniquely bring about conversion and spiritual transformation. (Psalm 19:7; Romans 10:17) In understanding these differences, we will have a better idea of how to proceed as we aim to share the Gospel with our Roman Catholic friends, families and neighbors. 

End Notes_________________
1 Catechism of the Catholic Church. Section 1, Chapter 2 Article 2, Chapter 3, Section 4

2 Quoting Iranaeus' book against heresies in Henry Bettenson's: "Documents of the Christian" Church pg 97 

3 Earle E. Cairnes:  Christianity Throught the Centuries. ppgs 154-155. 

4 Early Christians would convene church councils to decide, clarify or defend important truths already outlinedin scripture.  The earliest of these was the Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, which defined how the Jewish Christians were to proclaim the Gospel to an increasing converted Gentile Church.  In Church History the four main church councils to which many Christians to one degree or another appeal to are the following: Council of Nicea which affirmed Christ's Deity against the Arians who denied such in 325 A.D; Council of Constantinople of 381 A.D which affirmed the Deity of the Holy Spirit; Council of Ephesus in 431 A.D which reaffirmed the conclusions of Nicea and finally, perhaps the most significant of them all, the Council of Chalcedon in 451 A.D which affirmed the dual natures of Jesus Christ

5 A Theologian in the Middle Ages by the name of Thomas Aquinas took much of Aristotle's thought and shaped biblical interpretation around it. 

When we think about it, the system known as the Roman Catholic Church did not become formalized, at least in a reconizeable way, until after the fifth century.  This would mean then that the Roman Catholic system is at least five centuries removed from the original biblical Christianity that, running parallel, has remained unbroken since the days of Christ and the Apostles.  Thankfully God in His providence has seen fit to use Revivals, Reformations, Godly Men, and at of course preservation of the biblical text to ensure that the Gospel would never be finally lost.

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