Sunday, July 22, 2012

Roman Catholicism vs the Bible: The saints, the church

Romans 1:7 to all who are in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Today we again want to explore another major area that one hears about in Roman Catholic circles - namely the issue of saints and the church.  What does the Bible present on this subject in comparison to Roman Catholicism?  Lets discover.

1. The idea of "saints' in the Bible
Some 117 times do we find mention of "saints" in the Bible.  In the Old Testament I find at least three of those references pointing to the angelic hosts surrounding the throne of God, with the remainder referring to believers in the Old Testament (called "qadosh" in the Hebrew) and believers in the New Testament (called "hagioy" in the Greek). 

The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:2 gives us a clear example and definition of what a saint is in the New Testament.  By seeing Paul's definition working from the Corinthian's post-conversion state back to the point of their conversion, we can reassemble the sequence by which one becomes a saint of God:

a. They were first called by God in Grace unto salvation
b. They confessed Christ as Savior and Lord by faith
c. They from saving faith began progressing in growth of faith or sanctification
d. They became members of the local church, presumably after  having received believer's baptism. (compare Acts 2:38-41)

2. Alive Saints as well as dead saints in the Bible
In the over 110 passages referring to believer's as saints in the Old and New Testaments, about ten references refer to those who have went on before us, whereas the overwhelming remainder deal with those who are here and alive.  Hebrews 12:1 indicates to us that we as Christians are surrounded by a "Great Cloud of Witnesses", pointing mainly to the listing of saints in the famous faith chapter of Hebrews 11, as well as those believer's who are now in the presence of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:1-6)

3. The Biblical understanding of saints and the church
In building off the biblical survey of "sainthood", we discover that everyone in the Bible who is converted by grace through faith is deemed as saint.  Undoubtedly the Bible describes what Bible teachers refer to as the "church triumphant", or those saints who have went on before us in death; and the "church militant", or the remaining Christians who are here on earth, contending for the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. (Jude 1-4) Some important things need to be noted in the light of these truths:

a. Never once do we see evidence of the saints now in Heaven communicating with Saints here on earth.
b. Although it is likely that the saints now in Heaven can act as spectators of things here on earth, they do not function in any way in terms of offering prayers or interceding for the saints here on earth.
c. When reading in the Bible about prayers and saints, ask yourself whether those prayers came from saints here on earth or saints who are now in heaven.  In all instances, the prayers stored in heaven came from saints here on earth.
d. One does not have to die before coming a saint.

3. The Roman Catholic teaching on saints
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states the following about its view of saints: "We believe in the communion of all the faithful of Christ, those who are pilgrims on earth, the dead who are being purified, and the blessed in heaven, all together forming one Church; and we believe that in this communion, the merciful love of God and his saints is always [attentive] to our prayers" 1

This summary occurs in chapter three of the Catechism on the teaching about the Holy Spirit and the phrase "communion of saints".  In reading this section, one can note the following characteristics about saints in Roman Catholic Theology:

a. Believer's here on earth are termed "the faithful" or "pilgrims", while those who die become "saints" eventually
b. The Church is composed of three groups (not just two): Those who are here on earth, those who are being purified in purgatory2, those who have finally went onto heaven
c. The Saints in heaven are able to receive and intercede in prayer for the faithful here on earth 
d. In the wider belief system of Roman Catholicism, a specific 3 step sequence is followed for one who died a Catholic to be deemed a "saint": Venerability, Beatification and then Sainthood 3

Now when you compare the four point summary of "sainthood" and "the Church" in Roman Catholic teaching to that of the scripture above, both are clearly different from one another.  Everything from the definition of saints to the church itself is totally redefined in contrast to the clear teaching of scripture. 

Drawing together what the Bible teaches on saints and the church in comparison to the Roman Catholic Church
Having seen what the Bible teaches versus what the Roman Catholic Church teaches on saints and the church, there are definite differences.  I want to close today's blog with the Biblically based summary from The 2000 Baptist Faith & Message on it's two-fold summary of the saints and the church:4

The Church as a local body of saints
" A New Testament church of the Lord Jesus Christ is an autonomous local congregation of baptized believers, associated by covenant in the faith and fellowship of the gospel"

The Church entails the redeemed of all the ages
Then later on we read: "The New Testament speaks also of the church as the Body of Christ which includes all of the redeemed of all the ages, believers from every tribe, and tongue, and people, and nation."

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church
2 In Roman Catholicism, purgatory is an "intermediate" place that Catholic believer's go after they die. Since the Roman Catholics teach that a person cannot be finally declared righteous by God until they are actually righteous and pure in His sight, additional purification or "purgation" must occur after death.  Once the person has been "purified" from the last remaining remnants of sin, they are then deemed worthy to enter into heaven.  The problem with this teaching is that it is nowhere taught in the 66 inspired books of the Bible. 
3 I got the following quote from the reliable Catholic website
a. "Often, the process starts many years after death in order give perspective on the candidate. The local bishop investigates the candidate's life and writings for heroic virtue (or martyrdom) and orthodoxy of doctrine. Then a panel of theologians at the Vatican evaluates the candidate. After approval by the panel and cardinals of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the pope proclaims the candidate "venerable."
b. The next step, beatification, requires evidence of one miracle (except in the case of martyrs). Since miracles are considered proof that the person is in heaven and can intercede for us, the miracle must take place after the candidate's death and as a result of a specific petition to the candidate. When the pope proclaims the candidate beatified or "blessed," the person can be venerated by a particular region or group of people with whom the person holds special importance.
c. Only after one more miracle will the pope canonize the saint (this includes martyrs as well). The title of saint tells us that the person lived a holy life, is in heaven, and is to be honored by the universal Church. Canonization does not "make" a person a saint; it recognizes what God has already done."

4. The entire text of the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message is available onthe website: