Today, I went to mass. My wife’s parents are Romans Catholic, and oftentimes when we come to visit we go with them to church. No doubt, some of you may disagree with that, and that’s fine, you’re welcome to be wrong;-)
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I love the Catholic church, but I will say that I have great appreciation for it. In the grand scheme of history I see how God has used it to protect and preserve his truth. Of course I have vehement disagreements with their teachings at certain areas (one of which I will name today), but my personal experience with the RC church has been very good. I’ve heard many good messages, been convicted, encouraged and motivated toward greater christian service at times, but not today. Today, I was frustrated and angry. Today, I heard teaching that was (I’ll probably get in trouble for this) wicked, condemning, and anti-gospel. Now I will take time to explain each of those phrases. First though, I should say that most of what I heard today that made me so angry was not “Roman Catholic” specific. I’ve heard many of the same types of evil messages come from baptist pastors as well.
At mass, they always have an Old and New Testament reading (something my church does as well) along with a reading from one of the four gospels. I’ve been told, though I don’t know for sure, that by doing this, they actually read through the whole bible in about three years, which is something I love! Today, the readings were from Genesis 2, Romans 5 and Matthew 4. The Genesis passage was recounting the story of the fall, Romans was chapter 5:12-19 and Matthew recounted the story of Jesus’ temptation. That’s something else that the RC church does very well. They work all of their readings in such a way that they follow a theme or topic, and again I love that they do that. Today, the obvious topic was the test of Adam, and his subsequent failure, and the test of Jesus, and his triumph…or at least I thought that was the obvious theme. Instead though, today I heard a much different message. Today, as the speaker got up to give his message, he explained that the theme of today’s readings had to do with “resisting temptation.” He went on to give a 10 minute talk on how we, as good catholics, need to resist the temptation to not follow the rules that God (well he actually said the church) requires of us.
I was appalled.
Now I don’t want to go into any type of deep theological diatribe about why this is so wrong, but I do want to be able to explain this clearly. The problem with the message I heard today was twofold. 1) It completely abused the true meaning of those passages, especially when used in conjunction with each other and 2) it preached salvation by works.
Here is that passage from Romans:
12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— 13 for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. 14 Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.
15 But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. 16 The gift is not like that which came through the one who sinned; for on the one hand the judgment arose from one transgression resulting in condemnation, but on the other hand the free gift arose from many transgressions resulting in justification. 17 For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.1
8 So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. 19 For as through the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.
“the free gift arose…resulting in justification.”
“through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men…”
How can you look at a passage like this and then preach a message about how we need to resist temptation? This passage isn’t talking about what we need to do, but instead it’s about what’s been done for us!
I sat there today, and listened to someone preach the law, from passages that show us the gospel! I sat there today and listened to a man abuse scripture. Here’s what he did wrong. He looked at the passage where Adam fell and saw a bad example, and then he looked at the passage where Jesus succeeded and saw a good example, and then, just like out of one of Aesop’s fables, he told us we ought to follow the good example. The problem though is that he missed the connecting passage from here in Romans. The passage here EXPLAINS the true meaning of the other two passages! Jesus wasn’t simply obedient so that we would have a good example. To say that’s what these passages were teaching is wicked! Jesus was obedient because there is absolutely no way we could ever be obedient. Jesus was righteous, not primarily as an example to us (yes, he is our perfect example), but because WE NEEDED TO BE RIGHTEOUS AND COULDN’T! Today I sat under preaching that was so abusive to the message of the passages the he was using, that I was simply shocked.
It goes further though…
This man didn’t just stop at preaching a condemning law message from passages that talk about Jesus living the perfect life we never could, but he went on to preach that somehow, we are going to be capable of doing all that God (er, the church) requires of us!
He went on to list all that we must do. He spoke of all that the RC church requires of us. Requires for what? Requires in order to be in right standing with God (er, the church). But this is wicked also, and here I know that if you are Catholic, you will greatly disagree with me. It is wicked though, to say that all that is required of us to be in right standing with God is to go to mass once a week and take communion, and then just try hard to live a good life. That is wicked, and it’s blasphemy. Do you want to know what God requires of us? Then all you have to do is simply read his word, and obey EVERYTHING in it! Jesus even said in Matthew chapter 4 (which they read today) that “man MUST not live on bread alone, but [MUST LIVE] by EVERY word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Perfection. That is what God requires of us, and to say that all that is required of us is to “do our best” and then to follow a couple rites on a regular basis is a completely false teaching. Again, look at the passage in Romans. It says that all it took to bring condemnation on all men was ONE sin. Have you sinned at least once? Then you are under condemnation, and no matter how many good things you’ve done, that one sin is still keeping you under condemnation. Notice the passage doesn’t say that with one of YOUR righteous acts, that condemnation can be undone. No, it says that one of CHRIST’S righteous acts undid our condemnation.
Oh, to preach the way that man did today is to undermine the work of Christ, and to preach a false gospel! It’s actually to preach no gospel at all! There was no good news held out today, there was no good news that “There is NO condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” There was no good news that, having been justified, “we have peace with God.” No, we were only told what is required of us in order that we might “obtain peace” and justification with God. That’s my biggest beef with the RC church. See, Paul says “having been justified” and the catholic church says “working to be justified.”
If you are in Christ today, then it doesn’t matter what any preacher from any denomination tells you, you are in right standing with God. You are justified, and God will not require any good works from you to put you into right standing with him. Yes, works are important, even vitally so, but not to be “right with God.” And that’s where the preacher went wrong today. He robbed scripture of its true meaning, by saying that those passages were an example of “what to do” instead the news about “what’s been done”, and then he preached all that is required of us. He showed how Christ succeeded, and then had the audacity to say that we are required to follow in his footsteps. And it is wrong. Christ succeeded so that we, who CANNOT follow in his footsteps, might be looked at by God as if we always had. Christ succeeded, so that even though we are like Adam, we could be treated like Jesus. Christ succeeded, so that we who were once “enemies of God” might “obtain reconciliation” and have peace with him.
Now, at the end of this long post, I should say again that what I heard today isn’t a problem only in the RC church. I’ve heard baptist preachers teach salvation by works unwittingly. I’ve seen baptist preachers take passages in scripture about the good news that’s been done for us, and turn it into Aesop’s Fables with good morals for how we ought to live…and it doesn’t matter who is doing it, it’s still evil. It’s preaching a false gospel that’s actually no gospel at all, but instead it’s confusing the gospel with the law. It robs God of his work on our behalf, and instead elevates us to the level of God by suggesting that we can be as good as he is.
Today I saw Jesus belittled, and scripture abused, and it grieved me. I know that the preacher wasn’t doing it intentionally, but he did it nonetheless, and it was wrong. Don’t fall into the same trap as he did. Don’t look at the good news of scripture as simply “good morals.” The gospel is what’s most important in scripture…the good news that Jesus lived and died, not as an example to us, but as a substitute FOR us. That’s what Genesis 2, and Romans 5, and Matthew 4 are all about. Praise God for the gospel! Praise God that even if we’ve been the ones who’ve abused scripture, and confused the law with the gospel, that God won’t hold those things against us if we are in Christ! There is no condemnation, and there are no requirements, for those who are in Christ Jesus!