A new Pope is a somewhat rare event. It has been 8 years since the last election. By comparison I blog very regularly.
Today a new Pope was elected and interestingly I saw some rather painful posts on Facebook. Yes, there are many making fun for various reason but those are not the ones that were painful to me. It is the “Evangelical Christians” I see making comments about how Catholics are idolators and deify the Pope and just how sad all of that is.
I’d like to take a moment to thank my RCC friends for taking time to remedy my own ignorance on these issues. See, there was a time that I would have probably joined in, but I’ve learned some interesting things by taking time to ask people who I respect.
I do not have hundreds of Catholic friends. Maybe half a dozen would consider me a friend. They have been very good at answering my questions though. See, I believe that the cure for ignorance is a question. When I was born I knew nothing, then I began to learn by observation until I was able to ask my first question. I do not know what that question was but through school I tended to impress my teachers, not by the answers I had but by my questions.
Eventually I developed this saying, “The only stupid question is the question not asked.”
It seems that some people would rather say things in ignorance on the hope that they are right based on their perceptions. That is fine, but maybe I can help you a bit by asking some of the questions you may be wondering.
To my Catholic friends, please chime in with a comment if I get any of this wrong. I have to defer to your authority on your own beliefs.
Do Catholics worship the Pope and the Saints?
That is a really good question. I was actually taught that they do, but one day I was having lunch with a good Catholic brother and flat out asked him about this. It turns out they do no.
The term most Catholics will use (providing that it is translated into English because most Catholics are not English speaking) is “Venerate.” Now you might think this is splitting hairs, but it is a very important distinction, and to be honest it is one we tend to automatically apply when it comes to our own practices.
It turns out that we elevate certain Christians in a somewhat similar way. For some people it is their local pastor, or that elderly saint who can pray down fire (almost literally). Huge crowds of Christians will venerate someone like Tim Tebow or Billy Graham. They can literally fill a stadium.
We instinctively recognize that our relationship with those people is not worship. We do not believe them to be divine, though we are often shocked when we see they are human. A good example would be Jimmy Swaggart. When he fell from grace it was huge.
So that is the difference between worshiping the pope and venerating the pope.
Ok, but don’t they pray to the pope and saints? We don’t pray to Tim Tebow
See, you guys have some great questions. To be honest I had to ask this as a follow up to my first question too. I mean think about it, if you pray to someone you are clearly one breath away from worshiping them aren’t you?
My friend took time to explain the concept to me though. See, when I pray to God I am asking Him to move in a situation. If I have a sick kid I ask Him to heal the kid or at least let us all get some rest, right?
When a Catholic person prays to Mary or some other saint, it isn’t really to get that person to meet the need. Weird right?
Well, maybe not. See if I have a sick kid I might call my pastor (actually I’d end up talking to his wife) and ask them to agree with me in prayer. In short I’m asking them to take my need before God. That is what a Catholic is doing, they are asking the saint to ask God to move in a specific situation.
Now, I’m not arguing that this is something that is exactly required or even helpful. For me the jury is still out, but I have to admit, it is not exactly the same as what I thought it was.
I’d like to post some more on this issue. What other questions might you have? I’ve asked quite a few things but I’m over 700 words already so I’ll get to them later. Let me know in the comments and I’ll either answer from what I learned by asking or I’ll pester my Catholic friends about the question if I haven’t already asked.
Matt Orley says
Grew up Catholic, now an evangelical wordpress guy… ha ha…
The hard part is the ‘prayer link’ to the saints….
but, it is not something to HATE.
I wish the new Pope the best in moving all Catholics young and old to understand the Good News !
Eric Hamm says
Regarding your well wishing of the Pope in his “moving all Catholics young and old to understand the Good News”, I’d be interested to know if you still feel that the Pope in fact has the “Good News” after reading my reply to Nick HERE.
I’m not trying to undermine your statement, but feel it’s important to point out to a fellow Christian that, as I mentioned to Nick, we’re either FOR Christ or AGAINST Christ. There is no middle ground here. So we are either spreading the true gospel message or a false gospel message. And I would argue, as I did in my comment to Nick, that the RCC does not have the true gospel message that is taught by the Bible and therefore the Pope, assuming he follows the teachings of the RCC, does not have the “Good News” to move people toward.
I do believe that we should pray for the Pope and Roman Catholics in general, but not as a general “well wishing sentiment”, but for their salvation. Because if they do not have the “Good News” in their possession then they are in desperate need of the true gospel message and the grace of God. In other words, if I see someone walking toward the edge of a cliff I’m not going to “hope him the best on his journey”, but instead cry out to him saying, “HEY!! You’re about to go over a cliff!! STOP!!”
Eric Hamm says
You can ask countless questions and go down many rabbit holes while trying to determine what the RCC actually believes in light of what the Bible actually teaches, but I think you can cut straight to the heart of the matter by comparing the Christian gospel with that of the RCC.
As Christians we believe that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Those “alones” are crucial since the perversion of the gospel message all throughout history has hinged upon whether they are at their rightful place after each of those three declarations.
Now, before we get to the gospel message proclaimed by the RCC let’s look at an example of this sometimes subtle perversion of the gospel found in the Bible. Let’s take a look at Galatians 5:1-4 where Paul wrote:
“1 For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
2 Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. 3 I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. 4 You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.”
Here we see Paul denouncing the false gospel being proclaimed by the Judaizers (These were Jewish “Christians” who insisted that Gentiles not only had to have faith in Christ but be circumcised and become Jews in order to be saved.) He was stating the fact that those who even add a single work to the true gospel of grace were “obligated to keep the whole law”, “severed from Christ” and “have fallen away from grace”.
Now, let’s look at the gospel message of the RCC. First, let me just point out that when you tell a knowledgeable Catholic (i.e.. not just someone who says they’re Catholic, but one who actually knows what their church teaches) that their religion proclaims salvation by works they will deny it. They will do exactly what the Mormons will do which is point out that they believe that no one can be saved apart from God’s grace. But this is just a red herring since that’s not truly addressing the accusation.
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, stated in The Book of Mormon that “for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” This is an example of removing the “alones” from the true Christian Gospel message. And in the same way you will find that the RCC says that indeed we are saved by God’s grace, BUT (and this is a HUGE BUT), without many different kinds of WORKS and essentially hoops to jump through to maintain this grace (notice that after that initial grace given to us by God we are now “taking it from here” in terms of “grace maintenance”) we will not be saved, but indeed fall out of grace and go to hell.
Here is a summation of what a Catholic must do to be saved:
“…the process of salvation for the Catholic means a Catholic must have faith in Christ and the Roman Catholic Church, participate in the sacraments, take the Eucharist, keep the commandments, perform penance, and do indulgences in order to attain, maintain, and regain salvation as well as reduce the punishment due to him for the sins of which he has already been forgiven.” (This reference can be found HERE)
So we can nit-pic all day long about who the RCC worships, who they pray to, etc… but I believe the real question is “what gospel message do they proclaim?” If it is not salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone then as Paul stated regarding those who add even ONE single work to this gracious gift of God, they are “obligated to keep the whole law”, “severed from Christ” and “have fallen away from grace”.
Now what a Christian says about the RCC or their new Pope on Facebook is a whole other discussion, but I think the core of your questions were alluding to whether or not the RCC is truly a Christian religion and if their new Pope should be celebrated by Evangelical Christians or even just politely accepted as a positive addition to a potentially Christian denomination. But I would argue that the Bible is clear when it comes to what the gospel is and is not and the RCC not only proclaims a different message than the Bible, but does so under the guise of “the one true church” (which, ironically, is the claim of the Mormon Church as well).
So to sum up my point and what I think is so important for any Christian to embrace, is the fact that as Christ said in Matthew 12:30:
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.”
There is no fence riding in Christianity, no neutrality. Christ is either honored or dishonored. So I guess the question I would ask you is, based on what I’ve laid out above, does this “gospel” proclaimed by the RCC honor our Lord?