Monday, July 1, 2013

Understanding Catholics and their Critics

I will dive a little deeper into the Catholic rationale behind their contentious practices and highlight a few of the prevalent contentious practices of the non-Catholics that negate their seemingly superior theological advantage.

Catholic theologians, I believe, didn’t innovate random practices contrary to the Bible, but have read the Bible and subsequently implemented and supported these practices according to their interpretations. The essence of many of these contentious practices is to draw closer to Christ. The ‘means’ may be faulty but not the ‘end.’ The same applies to the contentious practices of the non-Catholic churches.

For example, the Catholic and the non-Catholic understanding of ‘grace’ is quite different. A non-Catholic would define ‘grace’ as God’s goodness towards those who deserve punishment. In other words, grace is “unmerited favor” that is freely given, never obligated, and cannot be earned. The only human attitude that is appropriate to receiving such a grace is ‘faith.’ 1

Now examine ‘grace’ within the Catholic comprehension. “The meaning of the word grace is primarily favor: but it is used especially of that act of favor by which God finally salvages his creation from man’s mismanagement and salvages it through men” (emphasis mine).2 The phrase ‘God finally salvages his creation from man’s mismanagement,’ emphasizes God’s act, but in the next few words it emphasizes man’s role while stating ‘and salvages it through men.’

Moreover, please read these words, “…there occurs a distinction between two so-called effects of grace: it works in us to justify or vindicate or redeem, and it works with us to reward our cooperation. For grace is a gift to our cooperation so to speak…” (emphasis mine).3 The emphasis that God’s grace works ‘in us’ implies God’s act, whereas ‘with us’ implies man’s role in appropriating God’s grace. So grace is not merely a gift from God, it is a gift to our cooperation. This emphasizes man’s role. Thus the Catholic hermeneutics of the Bible causes ‘salvation by works’ theology. However the Catholic theologians do emphasize grace as a free gift as well. Please read the footnote for relevant quotations.

Therefore, it is my belief that the Catholic theology should not be ridiculed at the applicational realm of its contentious practices; instead it should be debated at the exegetical realm of its Biblical hermeneutics.

On a different note, one could argue that the theology of the ‘Christian Universalists’ are a similar outcome of a faulty biblical interpretation. On the contrary, I believe that the christian universalists are a product of an eisegetical interpretation of the Bible. ‘Eisegesis’ or ‘to eisegete’ is to express the interpreter’s own ideas – thoughts that are not present in the text.4 Therefore, it would be even (un)fair to term the christian universalists as a cult, but the Catholics cannot be grouped as a cult. If you ask me whether christian universalists would go to heaven despite their false understanding, I would respond in the affirmative. (By the way, the Catholic leaders are guilty of universalistic teaching as well).

When non-Catholic christians slam their Catholic brothers and sisters, it is the case of “pot calling kettle black.” There are contentious practices within the non-Catholic church, and one should acknowledge that. Moreover, when we denounce or throw mud at another, we not only get our hands dirty but are losing ground from beneath our feet.5

Here is an introductory bird’s-eye view of a few similarities in the contentious practices existing in both the Catholic and the non-Catholic churches.

Contentious Catholic Practice / Teaching
Scriptural Violation
Equivalent Contentious Non-Catholic Practice / Teaching
Salvation – Baptismal and Sacramental
Ephesians 2: 8-10; Titus 3: 5
Baptismal salvation & Gift based (Tongues, Prophecy etc)
Baptism mandated
Romans 10: 13
Baptism mandated
Worshiping Mary & Saints
Exodus 20: 3; John 14: 6
Worshiping gifted people – divine healers, preachers, pastors etc.
Praying through some “supposedly-righteous” people
Idol Worship
Exodus 20: 4-6
Idols worship: Building, Images of cross, Bible

Priesthood – distinction
Ephesians 2: 8-10; John 1: 12; Romans 3: 20

John 13: 14; 1 Peter 2:9
Speaking in tongues, prophesying, school for “signs and wonders”  etc.
Similar practice exists

If the Catholic church teaches only a baptized believer will be saved, then some non-Catholic denominations are guilty of the same practice. If baptism is mandatory for salvation, then let us not scream about being saved by grace alone. If we are only saved by grace through faith, then baptism isn’t a factor in our salvation.

If the Catholic church teaches that Mary and the saints ought to be worshipped, then the non-Catholics worship gifted people in Christendom. These gifted people may be divine healers, powerful preachers, pastors etc.

There is a distinction between respect and worship. To respect is to esteem or honor. To worship is to respect, honor and, more importantly, to submit - all our faculties to the object of worship. It is admirable to respect people, but we ought to be diligent while integrating everything that is poured into our domain. The thoughts, words and deeds of man should be examined in the light of God’s Word. We ought to submit to God and worship HIM alone. When we agree with man’s perspective, our conscious submission or worship is only to God, and not man, who is merely the channel of God. From this perspective, no human being is infallible, neither the Pastor nor the Pope!

If Catholics are guilty of idolatry, the non-Catholics are also equally guilty. Buildings, images of cross and bible verses, and even the Bible are idolized. The Bible by our side will not heal us (nor would the image of cross). These objects do not make one a disciple of the Lord. The Bible does no magic by its mere presence. The word of God when believed, read, integrated and spoken, keeps evil out and brings healing (cf. Matthew 4: 4, 7, 10).

If a Catholic is to practice his Sacraments (sacred signs), then there are innovative ‘Sacraments’ from the non-Catholic church. Some non-Catholic churches insist on speaking in tongues or the ability to prophecy or heal. There are schools that apparently impart these gifts. To the best of my knowledge, these are gifts of the Holy Spirit, given by God as HE pleases and chooses. I am unsure how man can supersede God in imparting these gifts. (A counter argument would be that God gifted that man the gift of gift-impartation, but anything taken to the realm of subjective will suffer the lack of objective verification, hence disputable.)

The reformation rebelled against the contentious practices of the Catholic church and empowered the ordinary christian to discern and apply the right and discard the wrong. Unfortunately, it is the “reformed church” (used generically, not denominationally) that is guilty of propagating the same contentious practice, even in a diluted form. I do see an application of this verse in the lives of the non-Catholic churches, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more” (Luke 12: 47-48, NASB).

If christians from the catholic church are going to hell based on their contentious practices, then the christians from the much-knowing non-Catholic churches should also go to hell for practicing similar contentious practices. In a nutshell, the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith crumbles into dust.

It is not about which denomination is better or worse, it is all about sincerely loving Christ our Lord and obeying God’s Word. May the good Lord bless us with the much needed enlightenment of HIS Word to drive out the imperfection that plagues us, and lead us towards HIS perfect presence. Amen.

Notes and References:

1 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p 200-201.

2 Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Law & Grace, p 278. (Quote from ‘Introductory Comment’ of the editor, Timothy McDermott).

3Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, Law & Grace, p 279. (Quote from ‘Introductory Comment’ of the editor, Timothy McDermott).


5 Ravi Zacharias’ statement

Quotes of Thomas Aquinas from Summa Theologiae:

Thomas Aquinas on Grace as a free & earned gift of God:

(ST: Summa Theologiae)

“Grace then is a disposition presupposed to instilled virtues as their origin and root. And since by grace we are reborn as sons of God, grace must modify our very nature in some way: it is presupposed to virtues, so affects what is presupposed to every ability of the soul, namely its nature.” ST, Law & Grace, 110.3

“Grace does five things: first it heals our soul, so that secondly we will to do good, thirdly actually do the good we will, fourthly persevere in doing good, and finally come to glory.” ST, Law & Grace, 111.3

“Only God can give grace, since it surpasses the abilities of any created nature, and shares in the nature of God.” ST, Law & Grace, 112.1.

“Grace is given to every man in the measure Christ gives it, for perfecting the saints and building up Christ’s body.” ST, Law & Grace, 111.4.

 “The end that grace moves towards is eternal life, and the movement develops by growth in charity and grace. So growth in grace can also be earned commensurately…So perseverance in glory (which is the end in question) can be earned. But perseverarance in grace throughout life cannot be earned, since it depends only on God’s movement, the source of all earning.” ST, Law & Grace, 114.8,9.

Thomas Aquinas on Sacraments with its focus in Christ:

“The Sacraments are signs of all three: commemorating Christ’s past sufferings, demonstrating the grace those sufferings are presently producing in us, and foretelling the future glory. Because a sacrament is a sign of the sanctifying cause as sanctifying, it must be a sign of the effect produced.” ST, Living in Christ, 60.3.

“The patriarchs were saved through faith in a Christ to come; we are saved through faith in a Christ who has already been born and suffered. Sacraments are signs expressing the faith by which we are saved, and it is right to have different signs for what is future, past or present.” ST, Living in Christ, 61.4

Thomas Aquinas on the need for Sacraments:

“You cant unite men in a religion unless they share visible symbols or sacraments keeping them together.” (Aquinas quoting St. Augustine, ST, Living in Christ, 61.1)

The fact that God after Christ’s coming instituted different Sacraments doesn’t show change in God; the earlier were suitable for prefiguring grace, the later showed grace present.” ST, Living in Christ, 61.4

Thomas Aquinas on Transubstantiation:

The conversion of bread into the body of Christ is similar in some ways both to creation and to natural change yet different in others. Common to all three is a certain order: after this, that. In creation after non-existence existence, in this sacrament after the substance of bread the body of Christ, in natural change after black white, or after air fire. (Aquinas’ Aristotelian basis for transubstantiation. ST, Living in Christ, 75:8)

“Whatever is true of natural change because of the shared subject must be denied of transubstantiation: we can say that what is white could be black but we cant say that what is non-existent could be existent or that what is bread could be the body of Christ. Nor can we properly say that existence is made out of non-existence of the body of Christ out of bread, nor that the bread will be the body or becomes the body, though because the properties do remain we use some of these ways of speaking in a sort of analogous way, not meaning by bread the substance of bread, but using it as a general term for what underlies the properties of bread , though that is at first bread could be the body of Christ because of the possibility of its conversion is not founded on some potentiality to become in the bread, but on a power to convert in the Creator.”  ST, Living in Christ, 75.8.


Rani Richard said...

Thank you for this. Very much a balanced notion and a good teaching.

Raj Richard said...

Thanks Rani...feeling sad that not many see it tho'...anyway, I have done my part by sharing what I believe to be truth :D