Doctrine, Dogma and Division
By Jack Kinsella
The other day I received an email taking me to task for a remark I had made in a previous column in which I said that when church dogma and tradition conflict with Scripture, the Catholic Church teaches that dogma and tradition take first place.
My correspondent accused me of Catholic-bashing, which was certainly not my intention. My intention was to make a straight statement of fact regarding what the Catholic Church teaches on that particular topic.
The objection was raised regarding an article entitled “Religion and Salvation” which dealt, not with the Catholic Church specifically, but with the question of when faith gives way to religion.
The ex-cathedra teachings of the Roman Catholic Popes are given equal weight with Scriptures, and in the case of conflict, are considered superior.
The same principle applies to Catholic Church dogma. Catholics are taught that when dogma and the Scriptures conflict, Church teachings and tradition are to be given superior weight.
According to Catholic dogma, there is no salvation outside the Catholic Church and one’s salvation within the Church is dependent on observing Church law on sacraments, mass attendance, holy days of obligation, etc.
But what if that is exactly what the Catholic Church does teach? Would it be Catholic-bashing if it was true?
“Sacred Tradition and Sacred Scripture make up a single sacred deposit of the Word of God” in which, as in a mirror, the pilgrim Church contemplates God, the source of all her riches.”
In order to make this work, the Catholic Church denies believers the right or the authority to read and interpret the Scriptures as the Holy Spirit directs them. That is not my opinion, it is a direct quote from the Catholic catechism.
“The task of interpreting the Word of God authentically has been entrusted solely to the Magisterium of the Church, that is, to the Pope and to the bishops in communion with him.”
So, if the Catholic catechism is to be believed, then no matter what a Catholic might read in the Bible, if the Church Magisterium or the Pope say that it means something entirely opposite, then the Vatican’s interpretation is superior.
For example, according to Church tradition, the Apostle Peter was the first Pope. The Vatican is dogmatic in this regard, despite the Bible’s contention that it was Paul, not Peter, that was executed in Rome.
The Vatican’s solution can be found at Catholic.com where they openly address the question:
“Admittedly, the Bible nowhere explicitly says Peter was in Rome; but, on the other hand, it doesn’t say he wasn’t. Just as the New Testament never says, “Peter then went to Rome,” it never says, “Peter did not go to Rome.”
As evidence goes, this is more than a little thin. The Bible doesn’t say “Peter never owned a Cadillac Escalade”, either, but that hardly qualifies as evidence that he did.
The website also addresses the charge that the Bible doesn’t even hint that Peter was in Rome, using 1 Peter 5:13 to make the case that he was.
When one considers the absolute fury with which most Catholics react when it is suggested that the Whore of Babylon of Revelation 17 is a coded description of the Vatican in the last days, the Vatican’s chosen evidence for Peter’s bishoprick being located in Rome is absolutely astonishing.
Under the heading, “What the Bible Says” the Vatican offers this stunning explanation:
“Babylon is a code-word for Rome. It is used that way multiple times in works like the Sibylline Oracles (5:159f), the Apocalypse of Baruch (2:1), and 4 Esdras (3:1). Eusebius Pamphilius, in The Chronicle, composed about A.D. 303, noted that “It is said that Peter’s first epistle, in which he makes mention of Mark, was composed at Rome itself; and that he himself indicates this, referring to the city figuratively as Babylon.”
Wow! If the Vatican itself acknowledges that the New Testament uses Babylon as a code word for Rome, then on what basis can it object to interpreting the Whore of Babylon of Revelation 17 as symbolic of the Vatican?
Particularly given that Revelation 17:5 is offered as evidence of Peter’s bishoprick? The following is pasted verbatim from Catholic.com’s argument linking Babylon to Peter and the mother of harlots to Rome.
“And on her forehead was written a name of mystery: ‘Babylon the great, mother of harlots and of earth’s abominations’” (Rev. 17:5).
Again, none of this is my opinion regarding what the Catholic Church teaches. It is the Catholic Church’s opinion of what the Catholic Church teaches, and so if it is Catholic-bashing, the wounds are self-inflicted.
So there is zero evidence that Peter was ever in Rome, other than a reference to the Church at Babylon, which according to the Vatican’s own teaching, is Bible code for Rome. My, that seems awkward!
The entire Vatican case justifying the Apostle Peter as the first Pope rests on one single verse of Scripture taken out of context.
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
Upon what rock? Catholicism teaches that the Pope is the only one who can interpret that Scripture, and the interpretation is that the Rock is Peter. The Vatican’s ENTIRE case rests on that one verse, located only in the Gospel of Matthew. Let’s look at it in context.
Matthew 16:13 says that Jesus and the Apostles came to the coasts of Caesarea Phillipi, when Jesus asked His disciples “Whom do men say that I am?” His disciples answered saying that ‘some say You are John the Baptist, others say Elias, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’
Then Jesus asked them the $64,000.00 question — the question that actually lays out the actual context of the conversation; ‘but Who do you guys think I am?’
Note that well. The question is, Who do YOU think I am? The answer to that question is the foundational truth of Christianity upon which all of our eternal destinies depend.
“And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:17)
It is this truth — that Jesus is not a lesser prophet or a wise man or a great teacher, but that Jesus Christ is the Son of the Living God, which is the bedrock foundation of the Christian faith. Do you see it?
Indeed, on the face of that statement, given what you know about Christianity, is it even POSSIBLE to understand it any other way? Let me ask the question another way. Is it POSSIBLE that the truth of Jesus Christ’s Divinity is NOT the bedrock truth upon which Christianity is based?
Could it be that instead of founding Christianity on the bedrock truth that Jesus is the Son of God, the bedrock upon which Christianity is founded is that Peter got the answer right? Is Christianity founded, as the Vatican contends, on Peter?
“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”
In this passage, the Lord uses Peter’s proper name, “petros” which when used as a proper name was spelled Petrus and means “a piece of rock.” Where the verse says “upon this rock” the Greek word translated “rock” is from the Greek petra which means “a mass of rock.”
Now one can quibble all day long about whether this was simply a play on words or if the two words could be used interchangeably, but in context, the massive rock is the truth of Christ’s Divinity, not Peter’s discernment skills.
Peter’s discernment was put to the test in the House of Caiaphas — and he failed the test three times, even after the Lord warned him it was coming.
“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” (Matthew 16:19)
This authority was given to ALL the Apostles, not just Peter, and was exercised by ALL the Apostles, and not just Peter. That authority constituted their credentials to speak in the Name of the Lord, and it passed when they did.
“For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.” (1 Corinthians 13:9-10)
According to the Bible, there is but one thing which is perfect available to man in this existence and that is the Bible itself, not a church organization.
According to the Bible, salvation is a free gift available to all men. One is saved first by the extension of the grace of God, without which we would have no hope. In his epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul explains,
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: and not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
So we are saved by the gift of grace, which we accept through faith, which also comes from God, lest any man should boast of his own righteousness.
But according to the Vatican, salvation comes through Church membership. “Extra Ecclesiam nulla salus.” “Outside the [Catholic] Church there is no salvation.” The Vatican recently softened that position to mollify its critics, but only slightly.
“Baptism and unity with the Catholic Church provide the only assurance of salvation, but not the only means. “God has bound salvation to the Sacrament of Baptism, but He Himself is not bound by His sacraments” (Catechism, no. 1257, original emphasis).
“He [God] gave us the Sacrament of Baptism and unity with the Church as the ordinary means of salvation. By Baptism we are made sharers in the life of Christ. When we participate in the fullness of life within the Church, we remain obedient children of God with the Church as our Mother. To provide assurance for the salvation of all men, we must fulfill the command of Christ to evangelize the world and bring all into His body, the Church.”
When Phillip met the Ethiopian eunuch on the road to Gaza, the eunuch was reading the ‘Suffering Messiah’ passages in Isaiah 53. He asked Phillip;
“I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.” (Acts 8:34-35)
The Bible lists the mechanism of salvation in the Church Age; the ‘formula’, so to speak, from God’s perspective. We are drawn by the Father (John 6:44) to the Son (John 14:6) and born of the Spirit. (John 3:6)
The Ethiopian eunuch was drawn by Scripture, Phillip preached to him Jesus, and upon accepting Christ as Savior, the eunuch was born again and indwelt by the Holy Spirit.
“And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?”
Note Phillip’s answer — and the eunuch’s reply — carefully.
“And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” (Acts 8:36-37)
But it wasn’t until both those conditions were satisfied that Phillip;
“commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:38)
An infant cannot, as Phillip asked, ‘believe with all its heart’ and an infant cannot, as the Ethiopian did, confess Jesus as the Son of God. So baptizing an infant cannot save him. But until recently, the Vatican taught that unbaptized babies can never go to heaven, but instead, they go to a place called “Limbo.”
The Vatican is rethinking this doctrine as well, which is pretty impressive considering that the Vatican also says that its interpretation of Scripture is infallible.
“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can NEVER TAKE AWAY SINS.” (Hebrews 10:11)
One becomes saved when one trusts the shed Blood of Christ as an all-sufficient sacrifice to cover their sins and make them acceptable to God.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins FOR EVER, sat down on the right Hand of God.” (Hebrews 10:12)
Salvation is not granted by a Church, neither can it be rescinded or withheld by a Church.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
“So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” (Romans 9:16)
“And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work.” (Romans 11:6)
I know many Christians that argue that because of these contradictions, one cannot be saved and still be a Catholic. I am trying hard to understand that line of thinking, since it mirrors the Vatican’s premise that one cannot be saved unless one is a Catholic.
In either view, the Church replaces Christ as the mechanism of salvation. In one case, Church membership is a requirement of salvation, in the other, it is a disqualification.
If salvation is by grace, and grace is granted by God alone, then doing the works mandated by a Church as a condition of salvation is precluded. Being disqualified for salvation because of Church membership is equally precluded.
Salvation is unconditional, and is between the sinner and God. No third party need be involved. A person’s salvation is SUSTAINED by Jesus, not by church membership or an individual’s good works or bad works.
“If anyone says that men are justified either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ or by the sole remission of sins, excluding grace and charity which is poured into their hearts by the Holy Spirit and inheres in them, or also that the grace which justifies us is only the favour of God, let him be anathema.” (The Catholic Council of Trent – Canon 11)
“If anyone says that justifying faith is nothing else than confidence in divine mercy, which remits sins for Christ’s sake, or that it is this confidence alone that justifies us, let him be anathema.” (ibid Canon 12)
“If anyone says that after the reception of the grace of justification the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out to every repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be discharged either in this world or in purgatory before the gates of heaven can be opened, let him be anathema.” (Canon 30)
The dictionary defines ‘anathema’ as, “a formal ecclesiastical ban, curse, or excommunication.” But the Bible teaches that our salvation is;
“Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;” (Titus 3:5)
The Bible teaches that the grace of God would be ‘frustrated’ (defeated) if righteousness was dependent on keeping the law and that the sacrifice on the Cross would have been pointless.
“I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.” (Galatians 2:21)
“Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.” (Romans 3:28)
“Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath BEGUN a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:” (Philippians 1:6)
It is Jesus Who BEGINS a ‘good work in you’ at salvation, and it is He that ‘performs it’. Not a Church. Not a priest. Not even ourselves. It is Jesus. Of that, Paul says we can be ‘confident’.
There can be only one source for truth. “A man who only has one watch always knows what time it is. A man with two watches is never quite sure.”
God doesn’t need to be defined by a Church or by a religion. Religion is man’s way of making HIMSELF acceptable to God on man’s terms.
Christianity is God’s way of making us acceptable to Him on God’s terms. There is a vast difference, and things that are different cannot be the same.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (2nd Timothy 3:16)
If religious leaders know something that isn’t in the Bible, or something that contradicts the Bible, where did they learn it from? The Scriptures say that they are complete and nothing more is to be added.
So if a doctrine contradicts Scripture, then it cannot be Divine Revelation, because that requires assuming that the Scriptures are wrong.
And if the Bible isn’t true, then we would all be operating on guesswork anyway, so why would it even matter?