A Case For Catholicism – 1. Authority To Teach

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A few months ago I made an announcement of my desire to join the Catholic Church. This 2-year desire will reach its ultimate fulfillment this Holy Saturday, as I receive my Lord and my God, Jesus Christ—His body, blood, soul and divinity—in the Eucharist at my local Catholic Church. If one understands what the Catholic Church teaches about the Eucharist, then they may begin to appreciate the excitement I feel for this momentous occasion!

Initially, when I announced that I was planning to become a Catholic, I had a fair number of people understandably ask why. It was my heart, however, not to go into too many specific details for the sake of unity—how often do we concentrate on what separates us rather than what unites us? And having been raised an evangelical Christian as well as working in full-time ministry for a number of years, this unity is dear to my heart. I have been greatly influenced by various evangelical leaders, some of whom I know personally, others I have known briefly, and yet many more I know of from afar. These are soldiers in Christ. And we desperately need each other as the mind of our culture increasingly becomes close-minded to, or ignorant of, God’s ways.

With that in consideration, I nonetheless feel it is appropriate at this time for me to provide my inquisitive friends—and most importantly—fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, a reasonable explanation for why I’m becoming a Catholic. My reasons may or may not persuade you—‘que sera sera’! My only motive is to present my journey to those interested with a clear and honest approach, and I dearly hope my conviction is not misinterpreted as putting anyone down.

Hence, in a heart of humility and love, I intend over the course of several blogs to provide a few reasons as to why I am becoming a Catholic. So, without further ado, let’s begin with reason 1:

1.    The Catholic Church has a valid claim to authority

As I have aforementioned, I was raised an evangelical Christian for which I am deeply thankful. Moreover, I was nurtured to love Scripture from an early age. It was my late night habitual reading of the Bible when I was 11 years old that prompted me to question whether I was interpreting Scripture properly. Reading Bible commentaries I soon realised that they did not always agree with one another—in fact there was hardly what you would call consensus on even essential Christian truths. As I expressed this concern to others I was recommended by some to ensure that I read Scripture ‘with the Holy Spirit’. This certainly sounded intriguing at the time, although later on I realised that this technique simply did not cut it when it came to teaching Christian truth. Furthermore, this over-reliance on subjective feelings seemed to skirt dangerously with the warning in James 3:1 that Christian teachers are judged more strictly by God—I thus concluded that this doctrinal confusion was a serious problem. This issue can be illustrated by the fact that two protestant pastors reading St. Paul’s letters, both filled with the Holy Spirit, can come to opposite conclusions in regards to the nature of Christian baptism. One would teach baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, the other that it is merely a symbol of faith that has no power to save and therefore not strictly necessary; two Holy Spirit-filled Christian leaders, two sincere hearts, one Bible, and disturbingly opposite opinions on a very important technicality regarding salvation. Even the earliest protestant leaders such as Martin Luther, John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli, etc. would often vehemently disagree with one another on core Christian teachings such as the nature of Jesus Christ, salvation, grace, baptism & infant baptism, communion, free will & predestination, etc.—this isn’t beauty in diversity; this is doctrinal chaos!

Martin Luther

Martin Luther, the monk who—according to legend—nailed his ‘Ninety-five Theses’ to the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg in protest against the sale of indulgences.

It became clear to me that there needed to be an authority outside the Bible to correctly interpret Scripture on these essential points of truth. But also an authority more grounded than the subjectivity of people who claimed the Holy Spirit guided their Biblical interpretations. It seemed to me quite unacceptable that God could guide His Church so remarkably in the 1st Century only to let it veer off-course until Martin Luther arrived on the scene in the 16th Century as a vessel used by God to steer it back on track. I also found it unacceptable that God could seemingly drop a book down from Heaven called the Bible and leave His devoted followers scrambling, arguing and debating with one another on what it teaches regarding the most essential doctrines that relate to salvation itself—it is the Bible after all that admits to being occasionally difficult to understand1 while simultaneously dishing out grave warnings about false teaching2. Furthermore, Hebrews 6:1-2 added insult to injury by calling some of these key disputed doctrines within different denominations ‘elementary doctrines’; 2000 years on and we still couldn’t agree on the simplest teachings of the Christian faith! For sometime I gave up on trying to rationalise elements of my faith and simply yielded to the possibility I would never be given logically satisfactory answers this side of heaven, at least as it pertained to some of the issues I have mentioned.

Years later, however, due to my reading of Church history, common sense struck me a blow when I suddenly perceived that the Bible had not magically appeared from Heaven—as if God had let it fall from the sky bound and complete in King James English! Quite the contrary! I was intrigued to discover that the Bible in fact came from the Catholic Church itself, and that through this Church God has lovingly provided us with everything we need to have the utmost confidence in our Christian faith & salvation. Have I lost you? Let me justify that last statement.

For the first 1000 years of Christian history there was one Church, and the first documented case of it being called the ‘catholic Church’ comes a mere 70 years or so after Jesus in the writings of a Catholic bishop called St. Ignatius of Antioch3. It is basic math that informs us that the inception of protestant denominations from the 16th Century onwards such as Lutheran, Reformed, Episcopalian, Methodist, Baptist, etc. means that, at most, each denomination is only 500 years old. Before this time, mainline Christians were either Catholic or Orthodox. As well as, I found that history clearly showed that the present day Catholic Church is the historical continuation of the Church you see in the pages of the New Testament and of history. Now that is not to say there was no just reason to ‘protest’ over the few hypocritical and dishonest clergymen in the Catholic Church during the 16th Century, but I simply question the decision of these early protestant leaders in leaving the Catholic Church and forming their own denominations4.

I qualify this by pointing out that it was Jesus in Matthew 16:18 who decided to form and build His Church on his most preeminent disciple, St. Peter:

And I tell you, you are Peter [which means rock], and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it”.

Elsewhere Jesus promises to send His Spirit to lead this Church into all truth5. Once more, St. Paul affirms this reality in 1 Timothy 3:15 when he calls the Church the ‘pillar of the truth’.

Blog 1b

A painting by Pietro Perugino (1482) illustrating Matthew 16:19 where Jesus gives St. Peter the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, i.e. the authority to teach.

History reveals that it was this Holy Spirit-led Church—the Catholic Church—that decided which books were to be put in the Bible. Moreover it was the Catholic Church that definitively declared the Bible to be the inspired word of God. Hence to deny the authority of the Catholic Church makes our reason for trusting the inspiration of Scripture weaker…in fact our main argument would become circular. Without believing in the authority of Christ’s Church we are forced to mainly argue that the Bible is inspired because the Bible itself says so…although anything can claim special status by it’s own authority. The holy book of Muslims—the Quran—claims to be inspired, and so we must see that the more effective arguments for the Bible’s inspiration are those arguments that extend beyond it’s very own pages.

For that reason, since Jesus Christ promised to lead His Church into all truth, when this Church—back in the earliest years of Christianity—declared the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we are reasonably able to trust that declaration because God does not break His promises! And the Catholic Church has consistently reaffirmed this truth from generation to generation. It is this Church that, according to Jesus, cannot fall into doctrinal error6 and additionally was blessed with Jesus’ High Priestly prayer that it would remain one and whole7.

On the other hand, this is not to say that Catholics are discouraged from reading the Bible ‘with the Holy Spirit’. Personal reading of Scripture is encouraged (ever heard of ‘Lectio Divina’?!) and there is still lots up for grabs in regards to interpreting other portions of Scripture (e.g. how literal one should interpret parts of Genesis). But at least within the Catholic Church the essentials of the Christian faith are safeguarded and the Christian truth is preserved from error, from generation to generation, because the Holy Spirit is leading His Church into all truth.

And where is the proof in the pudding? One such proof is that the early Christians—the disciples of Jesus, the disciples of the disciples of Jesus, and the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of Jesus, and the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of the disciples of Jesus, and so on—committed to writing their interpretations of Scripture which testify to the validity of Catholic interpretation & teaching up to the present day. All these early Christian writings outside the Bible, some as early as the 1st Century, sound extraordinarily—and suspiciously—Catholic!

Interested? Read them yourself: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/churchfathers.html

Another proof I was astonished to discover, from a careful study of history, was that the Catholic Church has never changed it’s teachings in regards to doctrine or morality8. Some modern day controversial examples, which the Catholic Church has not budged on, include its doctrine regarding the impossibility of ordaining women priests9, or it’s moral teaching on abortion or contraception10. The Catholic Church will not—and indeed cannot—change or contradict its doctrine or moral teachings. Teachings may indeed develop over time and disciplinarily, liturgical or governmental practices may change, and superficial changes may seem evident as the Church relates to the modern day, but in spite of that, the Catholic Church cannot change the substance of it’s teaching since that would contradict the promise of Jesus to lead His Church into all truth. During those rare moments11 where it solemnly defines doctrine, it is not just teaching the opinions of intelligent men, but has Jesus’ promised inspiration to be the very truth of God.

Conclusion

Therefore, on a personal note, I am only able to conclude that joining the Catholic Church makes a lot of sense due to the fact that it has a God-given authority to teach and safeguard the truths of the Christian faith. Although I would point out that good has come from the 9000 protestant denominations and counting (some quote 33,00012), I for one do not see a similar strong claim to authority in safeguarding and teaching the Christian faith contained within it, evidenced in the fact that new denominations seem to appear on quite a frequent basis. I have even noticed that some non-Catholic Christians try to resolve this problem by aiming to devalue the importance of doctrine, despite many Bible verses13 that appear to emphasise the importance of correct teaching working alongside acts of charity, humility and love. If you’ve ever heard someone insist that “Christianity is a relationship and not a religion”, used in a way that appears to undermine the relevance or importance of theology, then I would suggest that there is a good chance you have subtly encountered this attitude yourself! Of course, bearing spiritual fruit in love of God & neighbour is what matters more, however, as paragraph 89 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church states so beautifully, doctrines are: the lights along the path of faith; they illuminate it and make it secure’. In other words, doctrine helps us draw closer in our relationship to Jesus. Hence, we shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bath water just as much as we shouldn’t seek quick fixes that skirt the issue.

And so there you have it. I appreciate this reason may not be convincing for everyone—and I have not even begun to address the controversial and misunderstood aspects of a few specific Catholic teachings—but this point was nonetheless significant in my journey towards Catholicism.

Lots of love,
Chris

Disagree? Need clarification? Think I’m speaking out of line?
Do not hesitate to message me on Facebook or at: chrisjohnnewton@gmail.com

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Footnotes

1. 2 Peter 3:16

2. Romans 16:17, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 John 4:1, 2 Timothy 4:3, 1 Timothy 6:20-21, Galatians 1:8, etc.

3. “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.” St. Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Smyrnaeans (107AD).

4. Whether the protestant leaders were forced out of the Catholic Church by the Church itself, or whether they forced themselves out of the Catholic Church is a matter of perspective.

5. John 16:12-13, John 14:26, John 14:17.

6. Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) paragraphs 888–892 and 85–90, Matthew 16:18, 1 Timothy 3:15, John 16:12-13.

7. John 17:20-23

8. Read: https://www.catholic.com/qa/can-the-church-change-its-doctrines

9. Read Ordinatio Sacerdotalis by Pope John Paul II (particularly his closing remarks)

10. I was alarmed to discover that up until 1930 all protestant denominations, alongside the Catholic Church, were against the use of contraception. Today only the Catholic Church has retained it’s original moral teaching on this matter. (Sources: Humanae Vitae; Lambeth Conference 1930)

11. The Catholic Church only rarely uses its gift of infallibility—most of these infallible teachings come from infrequent Church councils (such as the first Church council which can be read in Acts 15). As well as, the Pope’s last infallible statement on the teaching chair of Peter was back in 1950.

12. “World Chris­tian­ity con­sists of 6 major ecclesiastico-cultural blocs, divided into 300 major eccle­si­as­ti­cal tra­di­tions, com­posed [sic] of over 33,000 dis­tinct denom­i­na­tions in 238 coun­tries” (Vol. I, p. 16 of the World Chris­t­ian Ency­clo­pe­dia).

13. 1 Timothy 4:16, Titus 1:9, Titus 2:1, Jude 1:3, 2 Timothy 4:2-4, 1 Timothy 6:3, 2 Peter 1:20, 2 Timothy 2:15, 2 Timothy 1:13, Romans 16:17, 1 Timothy 6:20, 1 Corinthians 11:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:14-15, Galatians 1:8, Proverbs 18:15, Proverbs 15:14, Proverbs 2:3-5…and so on.

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Who Is Mary? A Case For Her Perpetual Virginity

blessed-mother-mary-jesus

Who is Mary? 

Well…she’s a biblical character, specifically the mother of Jesus, the pregnant virgin, and the woman visited by the angel Gabriel.

If you’re in any sense familiar with Scripture there is little doubt you will be ignorant of this little synopsis of Mary. But who exactly is Mary? And why should we care?

For many Mary is simply the vessel used by God to bring forth the Christ, the anointed one of Israel; whatever significance anyone may attribute to her outside of this sphere is, by their estimations, to miss the point of Mary! After all, doesn’t attention to Mary take away attention due Jesus?

For others Mary is the new Eve, the Ark of the New Covenant, and the mother of God. After all–they would say–God has honoured her, and for us to honour her in return is to fulfil Luke 1:48: ‘For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed’. A Scripture which comes from the very mouth of Mary.

Why the disparity? Why the extremity of opinion?

Writing as an charismatic evangelical I do feel some justification is needed to explain why I’ve chosen this topic to write on. After all, the protestant ‘knee jerk’ reaction toward anything supposedly Catholic is a common occurrence. It is thus with a spirit of sensitivity and an appeal to intellectual honesty that I would like to simply reveal what I have discovered about Mary from the Bible. I don’t really have any big agenda.

For many raised like myself, Mary was a character you only heard about each Christmas. I remember the feeling of unease knotting in my stomach whenever I saw catholics, or indeed traditional protestants, hold her up to be something more than a mere girl chosen arbitrarily by God to birth God in human form. Given my background the uneasy question of whether or not this could be considered idolatry was always in the back of my mind.

However, I stand surprised by what a careful reading of the Bible suggests about Mary. It would appear to me that catholics and traditional protestants do have Biblical basis for their claims about Mary. There is one claim today I wish to address: her perpetual virginity [the belief Mary remained a virgin her whole life] and I can–at least–present an argument for her immaculate conception [the belief that God preserved Mary from the taint of original sin from the moment she was conceived].

I am not here today to present anything new–actually this has been taught for a very long time! If you choose to agree with me or not, that, of course, is completely up to you. I merely want discuss the case for Mary’s perpetual virginity from Scripture.

To do so, I must first state that Martin Luther and Huldrych Zwingli–fathers of protestantism–believed in Mary’s perpetual virginity. Furthermore John Calvin undoubtedly favoured it, and 200 years later John Wesley, founder of Methodism, taught it. Moreover, it must be honestly taken into account that it was believed almost unanimously for 2000 years! So why do so many evangelicals today disbelieve it?

But let us move on as to why, from Scripture itself, one could have logical reasons to believe in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

The Old Testament: let’s be honest, we sometimes can have a prickly relationship with it; we love the Psalms but can feel bored to tears by Leviticus. Yes, I admit, I would benefit from reading it more. But isn’t that only logical? After all it’s just as much the Word of God as the New Testament. It is just as valuable. It’s common knowledge that if you don’t know the Old Testament you’ll have a difficult time understanding the New Testament. They go hand-in-hand. Why is this? Because the Old Testament consistently points to the New Testament, and in turn the New Testament finds it’s fulfilment in the context of the Old.

Now speaking from the Old Testament, I am sure many readers are familiar with the Ark of the Covenant, first mentioned in Exodus, and which plays a vital role throughout the Bible.

The Ark of the Covenant was the dwelling place of the very presence of God. Literally, God’s presence overshadowed the Ark. It was holy and it was made with the purest of gold because it would contain the most sacred artefacts owned by the Israelites.

Sadly the Ark of the Covenant has been missing since the Babylonian Captivity of the Jews 2600 years ago…and only one man has seen it since.

Who is this man? John, the disciple whom Jesus loved. In the book of Revelation John, while in a vision, begins to describe the Ark but then–bizarrely–suddenly stops in order to describe a woman.

“Then God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant.” (Revelation 11:19)
…and then the next verse reads:
“A great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars on her head.” 
This is Revelation 12:1, though we ought to remember that the original Greek manuscripts did not have chapter divisions, and so this is connected to the previous verse.

Why does John go from talking about the Ark of the Covenant in one breath to then immediately begin describing a woman? A mere 4 verses later in Revelation 12:5 it says that this woman gave birth to a son who ‘will rule all the nations’. This can only refer to Jesus…So who does the woman refer to?

But let’s take a step backwards and ask: what did the old Ark of the Covenant contain inside it? According to Hebrews 9:4 it contained the word of God in stone, the manna bread from heaven, and the rod of Aaron the high priest.

Well, there is a woman who, in her womb, contained the word of God in flesh, the true bread from heaven (John 6:58), and the eternal high priest, Jesus.

So why does John the disciple, after seeing the Ark of the Covenant in Revelation chapter 11 suddenly begin describing a woman? Could it be that the very reason the old Ark of the Covenant has been missing for 2600 years is because it is no longer needed? Since ‘the old has passed away, and the new has come’? (2 Corinthians 5:16-18).

Is there a new Ark of the Covenant…and could it be a woman? Could it be Mary?

In the Gospel of Luke I was surprised to find that Mary is often compared to the Ark of the Covenant.
Let me show you: let’s compare the Old Testament to the Gospel of Luke. Since, as I said earlier, the Old Testament and the New Testament go hand-in-hand.

1) The presence of God overshadowing the Ark/Mary

  • The presence of God overshadowed the Ark (Exodus 40:34)
  • “And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

 

2) A sense of unworthiness to be in the Ark’s/Mary’s presence

  • David was afraid of the LORD that day, and he said, “How can the ark of the LORD come to me?” (2 Samuel 6:9)
  • “She [Elizabeth] exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb! And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42-43)


3) Leaping before the Ark/Mary

  • It happened when the ark of the covenant of the LORD came to the city of David, that Michal the daughter of Saul looked out of the window and saw King David leaping and celebrating; and she despised him in her heart. (1 Chronicles 15:29)
  • “For behold, when the sound of your [Mary’s] greeting came to my ears, the baby [John the Baptist] in my womb leaped for joy.” (Luke 1:44)


4) The movement of the Ark/Mary

  • “And the ark of the LORD remained in the house of Obed-edom the Gittite three months” (2 Samuel 6:11)
  • “Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home” (Luke 1:56)

 

And this is by no means an exhaustive list comparing the Ark of the Old Testament and Mary of the New Testament.

Furthermore, in Luke 1:28 the Angel Gabriel addresses Mary as follows: “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”

Nowhere throughout the Bible does an angel address a human being with such honour. You simply won’t find it anywhere else. In fact the original word used here for ‘O favoured one’ is the Greek word ‘χαριτόω’ which means to be given a highly special honour–this is quite a title for an angel to address a woman.

I mean, seriously, the Angel Gabriel doesn’t even address Mary by her actual name but by the title ‘O favoured one’. Sounds rather significant, doesn’t it?

In fact some translations translate ‘O favoured one’ as ‘Full of grace’.

Could it be possible that this provides support to the doctrine of the immaculate conception of Mary? Since one could potentially argue that it is illogical to be ‘full of sin’ and yet ‘full of grace’ simultaneously. The two are polar opposite states of being.

[And on that note, the Ark of the Covenant was made with the purest of gold, could it be argued that it would be appropriate for Mary to also be made of the ‘purest gold’ metaphorically? I.e. without sin.]

But let’s return again to the Ark of the Covenant: any honour given by the Israelites to the Ark of the Covenant was never seen as taking away honour from God; in fact the opposite was true, any irreverence towards the Ark of the Covenant was considered as an insult to God. Do you remember Uzzah who was struck dead by God for daring to think he could touch the Ark of the Covenant with his hands? (2 Samuel 6:7)

So…how does all this pertain to the claim that Mary was a perpetual virgin? I would imagine the links are quite obvious.
1) If the Ark of the Covenant was set aside for a special purpose, wholly devoted to God, it is not unreasonable to suggest Mary also was set aside for a special purpose, wholly devoted to God in a vow of perpetual virginity.
2) If Uzzah died by inappropriately touching the Ark of the Covenant, why shouldn’t God also protect the uniqueness of the new Ark, Mary?

I am positive more links could be made…but I would also remind my readers that vows of virginity were not wholly uncommon in Jesus’ day even for Jews, e.g. the Essenes, a famous Jewish sect of that time, practised celibacy.

But then surely someone will be thinking: “but doesn’t the Bible mention Jesus’ brothers and sisters?”

Good point. But we must also consider that the Greek word for brother, ‘adelphos’ has a broader meaning than uterine brothers. It can mean a biological brother, but it can also mean an extended relative, or even a spiritual brother.

Take Genesis 13:8 for example. Here the word brother is being used to describe the relationship between Abraham and Lot, who were not biological brothers but uncle and nephew:

So Abram said to Lot, “Let’s not have any quarreling between you and me, or between your herdsmen and mine, for we are brothers” (Gen 13:8, see also Gen 14:12).

Furthermore, these “brothers” are never once called the children of Mary, although Jesus himself is (John 2:1; Acts 1:14).

Finally, the early Christian writers from as early as 150AD wrote about Mary’s perpetual virginity and explain away the usage of the word ‘brother’ in the Gospels in a similar vein.

 

But what about Matthew 1:25?

He had no relations with her until she bore a son, and he named him Jesus (Matthew 1:25).

Some argue this passage suggests that there is a change of state after Mary gives birth to Jesus, i.e. that she has ‘relations’ with Joseph after giving birth to Jesus. But nowhere in the original Greek does the word ‘until’ carry that sense.

In the Bible, ‘until’ means only that some action did not happen up to a certain point; it does not imply that the action did happen later, which is only the modern sense of the term.

In fact, if the modern sense of the term is forced on Scripture, some ridiculous meanings result.

Consider this line: “Michal the daughter of Saul had no children until the day of her death” (2 Sam 6:23). Are we to assume Michal gave birth to children after she had died?

There is also the burial of Moses. The book of Deuteronomy says that no one knew the location of his grave “until this present day” (Deuteronomy 34:6). But we know that no one has known since that day either.

The examples could be multiplied, but you get the idea–nothing can be proved from the use of the word “until” in Matthew 1:25.

 

Conclusion

And so, in conclusion, I find myself personally convinced and in agreement with, among others, Martin Luther, Huldrych Zwingli and John Wesley, as well as the almost unanimous belief of 2000 years of Christianity.

Could it be that Mary is simply more than we’ve made her out to be? Shouldn’t it be time we fulfil Luke 1:48: ‘For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed’?

I, for one, feel we have unfairly taken the ‘blessed’ and ‘virgin’ out of her title: ‘the Blessed Virgin Mary’. Catholic or protestant aside, I feel we ought to give credit where it is due, especially to the mother of our Lord (Luke 1:43).

 

Chris.