Thursday, April 23, 2009

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Evangelical Catholics II: Mary, the Saints, and Salvation by Organization

I recently received a note from Pastor Allen, who is my "true father in the faith" (as Timothy or Titus might put it). He has added his thoughts on the matter of Catholicism, which are worth quoting extensively:

Miriam rigged me up to your blog and I have been reading some of your articles, especially the one on Evangelical Catholics. I would like to make some comments, just for the record.

As far as praying to anyone besides the Trinity, there is no basis for it in Scripture. There is no evidence that believers prayed to Paul, for example, asking him to intercede on their behalf. Actually, Paul asked that his readers pray to the Lord for him to be successful in his ministry as an apostle. Godly people pray for one another to God for their spiritual success, and that is the pattern in both the Old & New Testaments. Prayer is an aspect of worship, for prayer is an appeal to God the Father as Jesus taught. To pray to anyone else is to render them the worship that belongs only to God.

Furthermore, the Bible is silent about what the intermediate state is, that period between a believer’s death and the final resurrection. When our earthly lives are ended here, we know that we are with Christ in the heavenlies, awaiting his return to earth in glory. But that is all. There have been speculations, but most are rather questionable and unedifying, especially purgatory, but that’s another matter. The Scriptures imply that once we have left this life, we are totally divorced from it. The “cloud of witnesses” are those saints now in glory enjoying the invisible benefits of faithfulness, benefits which far outweigh the trials and sufferings they had to endure. Their lives testify that we are not running this race in vain. The suffering is well worth it. Stay focused! Be faithful!

And this brings us to the matter of saints. In the Old and New Testaments all of God’s people are addressed as holy ones or saints. When Paul wrote to the churches, he addressed them as saints or God’s holy ones, putting them on equal footing with believing Jews. (See Ephesians 2 and of course Romans, where he explains at length how the true spiritual descendants of Abraham are all those who believe, both Jew and Gentile.) The very sad thing the Medieval Church did (among others) was to elevate certain Christians to a rather elite status, something that would shock and appall the apostles. Although it sounds pious, it flies right in the face of Paul’s warnings against “hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ” (
Col. 2:8).

The “principles of this world” would include angelology (worship of angels), asceticism, celibacy, vegetarianism or other dietary customs, and spiritual elitism, which fosters misplaced devotion and advances the notion that there are two types of Christians: the masses (inferior) and the Saints (superior). Fundamentalists (and others) fall into the same error when they take
1 Cor. 3:1-3 to mean that there are two types of Christians: carnal (worldly) and spiritual. Such divisions are abhorrent to Paul because they foster spiritual conceit and pride.

The final point I would make and one you know, I am sure, is that one saint (Mary) has been singled out for special honor. In the most recent Roman Catholic catechism she is described as redemptrix, mediatrix, intermediatrix, etc. The motto seems to be: What can be said of Christ can be said of his mother Mary as well.

By reserving the title “saint” for an elite class of departed saints, the Roman church sets them up as rivals with Christ and confuses the devout. But then again, logic is not a strong point in the Roman Catholic religion, for a number of reasons. Catholics do not appreciate the all-sufficiency of Jesus as our Substitute, the New Adam. Their doctrine of sin and salvation is truly all “mucked up.” Yet adherents are asked to assent to it. In order to remain a good Catholic, they have to assent to (and trust) the errors of the organization, though of course they do so in ignorance. It’s enough that the church “says so.” With a herd-like mentality they
persevere in a false hope (something we also see in political personalities today & post modernism).

Since reading this article and the one on “
God the Experience,” I have thought a lot about what it means to be Reformed, Catholic, & Evangelical. (I think you may see what I am driving at.) These three terms are not mutually exclusive, as some might think. I could add Charismatic as well.

I talked with two young men of the Mormon persuasion last summer. We had three meetings in my home on three separate afternoons. They were cordial and earnest. We listened to each other carefully. Our topics ranged widely. As I explained the doctrine of justification to them, they agreed with it. In fact, they agreed with just about everything. And so I said “If we agree on basic doctrine, why is there a need for the Church of Christ of Latter Day Saints?” They looked at me and one said, “Don’t you want to know what else Jesus said?” referring to the Book of Mormon. I said “No, I am satisfied with what Jesus said in the Old & New
Testaments.” With that they departed amicably.

And then it dawned on me as never before: It is the organization that saves. Belonging to the right organization (or party or club) is what saves. Logic, evidence, reason do not matter. It’s your heart feeling, your gut feeling, your will—not truth, not facts, not sense. The Mormon fellows were convinced that what matters is that you belong to the right religious organization, the one in Salt Lake City. We could believe the “same things” but it was the organization headquarters that really mattered. This was their final authority.

This is scary because when you place your ultimate trust in the capital, the headquarters, the council, the party elite etc. you are surrendering your freedom to think for yourself, to make your own decisions where you should be allowed to, and to know God and his will as he desires, not according to what some competing body says. To other religionists I may be right, I may believe in the same things they claim to believe, but I am in the wrong church. Historical considerations don’t matter, double-think doesn’t matter, Scriptures don’t really matter. It’s the leadership—the Pope, the President & the Council of Apostles, the Eastern Tradition frozen in time, the cult leader, even a General Assembly (PCUSA, although it is not so much the authority for salvation as it is for being politically correct).

[Jailer], thanks for alerting me to these articles—and the others on your blog. You’re doing a good work!
I look forward to hearing more from Rich and others as we continue to build a constructive discussion on this topic.

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