Mass-understanding

WierdAl invoked my name ;-) in a blog post.

Like Gervase Markham, I am a Christian, and pretty serious about it.

However I’m afraid that, much as I love the guy (and I really mean that), I’m going to have to put a bit of distance between me and him on this one. He says:

Now, when I was in the U.S. Navy, there were times when we weren’t able to celebrate Mass for a month. In fact, it was the Navy that (inadvertently, but nonetheless) came between me and God, and that drove me absolutely batty.

This gets to the heart of one of the massive differences between Christianity and Catholicism.

As I understand it, Catholics believe (and Al will have to jump in here if I’m misrepresenting his particular view) that it’s vital to go to Mass regularly, because that’s where the priest pronounces that your sins have been forgiven. That, it seems, is why Al felt that the Navy came between him and God when it prevented him going to Mass.

But I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation [including the US Navy], will be able to separate [me] from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. That’s from Romans 8, verses 38-39. The Bible clearly teaches that you can have a ongoing relationship with God without the need for any intermediary apart from Jesus, and that it’s not conditioned on attendance at any ceremony.

At Mass, Catholics believe, the bread and wine actually change into the body and blood of Christ, as he is sacrificed again for the forgiveness of sins of those present. Catholics are required to attend Mass every week, as the sacrifice is made again and again on their behalf.

But the Bible teaches that Jesus made one single sacrifice upon the cross, and his work is now finished. Hebrews Chapter 10 explains this. Discussing the old, Jewish system it says:

Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [that is, Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God. Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

By his one sacrifice he has (past tense) made Christians perfect forever. He sat down at the right hand of God, his work done and completed. He is now waiting “for his enemies to be made his footstool”, which will happen at the Last Day. So there is no need for further sacrifice, and no need for priests to perform it. (This is why many Christian churches avoid using the word ‘priest’ about their leaders, to prevent confusion.)

So is this just some esoteric religious quibble? No, it’s absolutely key. If forgiveness from God is conditioned on something that is done (attending Mass) then we can’t be sure that we are saved. If Jesus’s saving work needs to be perpetuated, repeated or “made effective” by ceremonies, then it’s power is limited and we can’t rely on it.

But, wonderfully, on the cross Jesus cried “It is finished!”. And it is. So I would encourage Al and anyone else to study the scriptures again, particularly the book of Hebrews (where a key theme is the magnificence and finality of Jesus’ work on the Cross), to see if what I’m saying is true. Because it’s of vital importance.

[I’ve just about cleared the backlog; hopefully this post marks the resumption of normal blog service. Thank you for your patience.]

45 thoughts on “Mass-understanding

  1. Catholics are Christians as much as Protestants. I am not a Roman Catholic, but it drives me batty when someone says Christian vs. Catholic, especially since Protestantism was only invented less than 500 years ago! Christianity came into practice before Protestantism by over 1,500 years!!!

    But, for the catholic answers to thes charges made above I would suggest visiting http://www.catholic.com where they have defended themselves quite well I think.

  2. I am a Protestant, but I would have to agree with Nikolai. It’s not that I think the issues are unimportant, but (Roman) Catholic doctine falls within what it generally means to be Christian, and many of the reasons behind our brothers beliefs are better than us Protestant think.

    For those who have read Mere Christianity. My thoughts on the topic are the same as Lewis’s.

  3. My friend, you have misunderstood the catholic faith! We do not attend mass to have our sins forgiven; we attend mass to receive the body and blood of Christ, as he commanded. Our Lord said, “if you do not eat my body and drink my blood, you have no life in you.” He commissioned his apostles to repeat the Last Supper, directing them to “do this in remembrance of me.” The mass has nothing to do with re-sacrificing Jesus. The bishops and priests are the successors of the apostles in a never-ending chain. Please don’t criticize what you don’t understand!

  4. Crazy religious zealots :)

    Thank [insert name of non-extistant ‘god’ here] that I couldn’t give a shit about all of this…

  5. @ Anon: well then don’t fucking read the blog. Ass.

    @ everyone else: There’s no need to bring all these unnecessary divisions. So yes, after all, we’re Christians anyway and that’s what matters. ;)

  6. All Christians are we? I like jokes, can I hear another one?

    Seriously, a criticism often levelled at Christians in general (and I include Catholics in that) by my fellow Pagans is that they don’t have a direct relationship with the Divine as we do; they rely on intermediaries (the clergy) to conduct it for them, which leads quite easily on to the accusations that Christianity exists to give power to the clergy, not to the congregation.

    It is always good to read the writing of someone who is a Christian but who that point clearly doesn’t apply to. We may disagree on many things, but on one thing I think you’re saying similar things to what I would say. Anybody’s relationship with God(s) is a personal thing, direct between themselves and whatever divine being or beings they are praying to. Arguments about which ones are real or true or good or evil aside, that’s a fundamental part of all the genuine religious belief I’ve ever seen.

  7. Matt, could you provide evidence for your assertion that pagans have a direct relationship with the divine, and that christians do not?

  8. The reason protestants broke away from catholics is because they didnt agree with how the catholic church was going. no one man is any more important than another, meaning the pope is not more important to God than i am. and no where does it say you have to have a priest make a prayer to God for you. also, mary is no longer a virgin, so no need to continue to call her a virgin, and she has no special powers and shouldn’t be prayed to. she was just a God-fearing woman that was chosen to give birth to The Lord. He is the one to pray to.

  9. While Gerv’s interpretation of Catholicism may be flawed (Not based on my knowlege, but only previous comments) I think his description of salvation is right on. If a Christian is seperated from God, only themselves can be blamed. We have full control over our souls, its up to us to surrender that control to someone who knows what the heck they are doing.

  10. The simple fact that protestants say, “in Jesus name, amen” and many catholics don’t is why I’m protestant. I agree with you Dean on that.

  11. As an “atheistic and agnostic” deist (only part tongue in cheek) I’ve wondered for quite some time why a lot of christians cite the bible as if it were some sort of infallible ressource that gives you all the answers you ever could come across. I’ve read it and for me it doesn’t sound different than other lore written down by humans for humans. Do you take it in literal sense? Do you actually believe in the creation of earth a few thousand years ago? And why is or isn’t that?

    Merilon

  12. Ok, I wasn’t intending this to get as long as it did, but I’m hoping it may help clarify the Catholic understanding a bit.

    As was mentioned, Mass (the Sacrament of the Eucharist) isn’t primarily the time when the priest pronounces the forgiveness of sins. That would be the Sacrament of Reconciliation (a.k.a. Confession). That’s not to say God doesn’t work in people’s hearts and forgive sins during Mass, but it’s not really the primary focus.

    I would disagree with mozeoff somewhat too. We don’t attend Mass just to receive the body and blood of Christ. We join in a celebration that includes, among other things, coming together as a community to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord, being formed by the Word of God proclaimed (in the readings from the Old Testament, New Testament epistles, and Gospels), have a period of teaching and reflection to help this message take root in our hearts, pray for various needs, join in the sacrifice of Christ through the “remembrance” of his passion, receive Communion (in which we believe Jesus is truly present) — a time of communion both with Jesus, drawing us into the life of the Trinity, and with the whole Church, the body of Christ — from which we are then sent out to share Christ with the world. Receiving communion, though in many ways the high point of the celebration, is not the sole purpose.

    The notion of “remembrance” is drawn from a Jewish notion that the event remembered is somehow also present. In this way, the Mass is not the re-sacrifice of Jesus, but somehow we are participating in that same sacrifice, once and for all. When the priest offers Jesus present in the form of bread and wine to the Father, he is not presenting a new sacrifice (as though Jesus’ sacrifice wasn’t enough the first time) but seen as re-presenting the one sacrifice of Christ, joining in that one event.

    Gerv, you’re totally right in saying that inability to attend Mass should not interfere with one’s relationship with God. However, at the same time, it is the main communal time of worship we have as Catholics. It presupposes that we do have a prayer life apart from our Sunday gatherings, but it is the primary time that we are used to gathering together to celebrate our faith. Having such a thing “removed” from one’s life would leave a gap that is not easily filled, especially since we believe that we are really and truly receiving Christ when we receive communion.

    The importance Catholics place on celebrating the Mass together every week comes from the earliest Christian times when the Christian community would gather on the first day of the week for prayers to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus (one example would be in Acts 20:7). Because his death and resurrection is the central point of our faith, we continue to place this emphasis.

    The book of Hebrews (and the chapter you mention) has been very influential in Catholic theology, particularly with regards the Eucharist and the celebration of the Mass.

  13. Not to change the subject too much, but I have a question for you, Gerv: how do you feel about the secular use of the term “evangelism”, e.g. Mozilla Technical Evangelism? I have heard it described as “having unfortunate connotations” recently by Jewish people new to Mozilla, and I was wondering about the other side of the coin: how does an Evangelical Christian react to the use of this word in a totally secular context?

  14. mozeoff said (and Andy seems to say something similar in his third paragraph):

    The mass has nothing to do with re-sacrificing Jesus

    The Catechism of the Catholic Church, published in 1994, says:

    In this divine sacrifice which is celebrated in the Mass, the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.

    This seems to make it clear that it is about re-sacrificing. It calls Mass a “divine sacrifice” and it says “is offered” (in contrast with offering himself) so someone is doing the sacrificing. And the “once… is” language shows that it’s viewed as a repetition.

    Several people have said things along the lines of “we’re all Christians anyway”, and “Catholic belief is close enough, so let’s not argue”. I am sure that there are some saved people who attend Catholic churches, but if you are trusting in the sacrifice of the Mass rather than (or even in addition to) the one, finished, perfect sacrifice of Jesus, then I would be deeply concerned for your salvation – and so should you be. Christians are saved by the grace (undeserved favour) of God – not through any merit of their own, or because of any action or work they do (Ephesians 2:8-9).

    The book of Hebrews (and the chapter you mention) has been very influential in Catholic theology, particularly with regards the Eucharist and the celebration of the Mass.

    I honestly would be interested in more detail on that. It seems to me that the Hebrews passage I quoted (and, in fact, the whole of the chapter) says something very different to the Catechism above.

    I’ve wondered for quite some time why a lot of christians cite the bible as if it were some sort of infallible ressource that gives you all the answers you ever could come across.

    Merilon: that’s a perfectly reasonable question – but perhaps one for another day. Or if you drop me an email, I’d be glad to discuss it with you.

  15. Simon: it may interest you to know that the “Mozilla Tech(nical) Evangelism” project is called that because some people were uncomfortable with it just being called “Mozilla Evangelism”. I argued for the latter name, as it happens.

    The original roots of the word come from the Greek word “Evangel” which means “Good News” – i.e. the same as “Gospel”. So evangelism does mean telling people the good news about Jesus Christ. Recently, it has indeed been co-opted for some secular purposes, but I don’t get stressed about that.

    I’m saddened (but perhaps not surprised) that your Jewish friends react negatively to the word. After all, it’s good news for them just as much as anyone else, if not more. The Messiah has come, and brings salvation – God is faithful to his promises! I’ve been re-reading through the Old Testament this year, and it’s been quite an eye-opener. When you know how a story ends, you can never read the beginning the same way…

  16. Tsk, tsk, catholics are the original Christians!

    Until the Reformation in the 1500s, all Christians were catholic. Without catholics to PROTEST against, there would be no PROTESTANT churches. CAtholics are the ones who preserved Christ’s message for 1500 years. They still preach pretty much the same message (as does the Orthodox church, which also has a claim to apostolic descent) that they did back then. The Church has hardly changed at all.

    Protestants have changed a lot of things in Christianity. I’m not saying that is a bad thing. I rather wish the catholic church would follow your lead and follow the times. But the catholic church is traditional and it follows only Christ. It ignores the times.

    As for your quotation about the “bloody sacrifice”, that was from the Council of Trent (1534?), a quotation within another quotation which in turn was quoted to illustrate THIS precept from the Catechism:

    1366 The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross, because it is its memorial and because it applies its fruit” (original emphases)

    The Eucharist is another word for the Mass.

    You said,
    “By his one sacrifice he has (past tense) made Christians perfect forever. ”

    Um…so you’re perfect? If you’re resorting to metaphor or imagery there, don’t forget that catholics do that a lot too.

    In essence, the catholic sacrifice of the mass is a continuation of the Jewish sacrifices at the Temple (which of course, Jesus would have attended). The words we use to bless the bread and wine are almost word for word the same blessings that Jews use today to bless bread and wine. CAtholicism is a continuation of the tradition begun by the Apostles. Protestantism is a rejection of many parts of that tradition (including some that had become corrupt).

    The only way anyone can really claim to be Christian Gerv is by following Christ and loving one’s neighbour. Who is your neighbour? The catholic. The Jew. The Muslim. The ones who are UNlike yourself, if the parable is to be believed.

    :)

  17. Gerv. I totally appreciate you have your own views on religion. Please do not post this when it gets published on mozillazine though, it’s almost as bad as political postings on mozilla sites.

    Put it this way, if I was in your position I could state that cheese was the cure for all disease, and enough people would probably believe.

    I don’t believe in religion. You don’t believe in cheese cures. Get my point?

  18. And whilst you were all arguing this, Jesus was round here with Mohammed… and they both started touching each other up! I had to leave the room! How do I know this? Because I was here, and none of you were. Heathens. You’ll all burn!

  19. Cheese cures? No I think we would tell Gerv to go visit the doctor if something like that happened. Also it doesn’t appear Gerv did this solely as an evangelical maneuver. It is addressed to Roman Catholics and so I don’t think unbelievers should be offended by it (if you don’t like it you don’t have to read it).

    Giving a fair portrait of the Roman Catholic Church and the Refomation would take a lot of historical knowledge becuase the issue is quite complex. I would like to say that the catholic Church and the Church of Rome (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church) are not the same thing. I believe the Church of Rome belongs as part of the caltholic Church, but it is not the whole thing.

  20. Talmida: I wouldn’t say that prior to the Reformation all Christians were Catholics. There have long been divisions within the Church, probably the most notable of these being the “Great Schism” between Rome and Constantinople that led to the distinction between the Catholic and Orthodox churches (often dated to 1054).

    Gerv:

    This seems to make it clear that it is about re-sacrificing.

    I would disagree. The quote from the Catechism you mention does not talk about sacrificing again, but of re-offering the one sacrifice of Christ. I think I’m accurately presenting Catholic teaching when I say that it’s the distinction between doing something new (another sacrifice) and joining in what’s already done/happening (Jesus’ sacrifice, once for all). The priest, acting in the person of Christ by virtue of his sacramental ordination, (or, to put it another way, “Jesus, acting through the priest…”) offers Christ’s sacrifice to the Father. It is a way of joining in with Christ’s offering of himself to the Father on the cross. But it is not seen as a “new” or “another” sacrifice at all.

    For the Hebrews/theology link I mentioned: sorry I don’t have time to get more into it now, but I’m heading out of town right away for a couple days. If I remember I’ll try to find some more information about that when I return.

  21. Andy, I bow to your superior education on the subject. Particularly since it appears that my donations have helped to pay for that education at NTC. Small world. :)

  22. I rather wish the catholic church would follow your lead and follow the times.

    I’m not sure you’ve been reading what I’ve been writing. How is an argument from the book of Hebrews, written in the first century, an argument for “following the times”? :-)

    Um…so you’re perfect? If you’re resorting to metaphor or imagery there, don’t forget that catholics do that a lot too.

    In a very real sense, yes I am. When God looks at my record, because of what happened at the Cross, he sees Jesus’s perfect record. Paul says something similar in Romans 8:4 – that the “righteous requirements of the law [are] fully met in us”. In another sense, of course, I’m not yet perfect – I continue to sin, and will until I am fully made perfect when I die.

    In essence, the catholic sacrifice of the mass is a continuation of the Jewish sacrifices at the Temple

    Absolutely! I totally agree. And the entire point of the book of Hebrews is that such sacrifices are no longer necessary. That’s what the Hebrews quotation in the original post is saying. Day after day the priests sacrifice, but this can never take away sins. But Jesus sacrificed himself once for all.

    The priest, acting in the person of Christ by virtue of his sacramental ordination, (or, to put it another way, “Jesus, acting through the priest…”) offers Christ’s sacrifice to the Father. It is a way of joining in with Christ’s offering of himself to the Father on the cross.

    But there is no need for the priest to “offer Christ’s sacrifice to the Father” – it was offered once for all two thousand years ago. And there is no need (and it’s presumptuous at the very least) to “join in with Christ’s offering of himself”. There’s nothing we can add to his perfect sacrifice. He was punished instead of us, not with us (Isaiah 53:5). It doesn’t say “by his wounds we are also wounded”, it says “by his wounds we are healed”.

    The key point in all of this is that Christ’s work is finished, there is nothing more to be done, and trust in it is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for salvation. This is a wonderful and vital truth, and I’d urge you all to grasp it with both hands. If you don’t believe this, please take some time to sit down and read through Hebrews from beginning to end, following the author’s argument. It’s a fantastic book.

  23. “Christ’s work is finished, there is nothing more to be done”

    So you feel no obligation as a Christian to behave as Christ did? To preach the Gospel by living a good life? How odd. What is the purpose of your life then? Why were you created, if not to do Christ’s work?

    AS for the sacrificial nature of the mass, I’m not an expert on apologetics. I can only assert that the catholic church (along with the orthodox) can rightly claim the apostolic succession. What catholic christians do in the mass, Gerv, is what they’ve always done: what they learned from the Apostles to do.

  24. ‘But there is no need for the priest to “offer Christ’s sacrifice to the Father” – it was offered once for all two thousand years ago. And there is no need (and it’s presumptuous at the very least) to “join in with Christ’s offering of himself”. There’s nothing we can add to his perfect sacrifice.’ – Gerv

    I thought that Mass was a reenactment, if you will, of Christ’s sacrifice in rememberance of what he did (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24,24). For example, war reenactors don’t do what they do because they fell that a certain piece of land need to be reconqueded every couple of years. I think that is what is meant by “join in in with Christ’s offering of himself”. Not that we can save ourselves but that Christ has set the example and now we are to follow Him. That is what is meant by “we share in His sufferings” (Romans 8:17) and being “crucified with Christ” (Galatians 2:20).

    Also,(to Talmida) why is Apostolic Succession limited to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches? Luther was ordained? And it would be naive to assume that church practices and even doctrines have not changed between now and the first century.

  25. Alan…

    Isn’t the Pope the successor of Peter in an unbroken line? As Andy mentioned, the Roman and Orthodox churches had Schism, and both claim apostolic succession. I thought that the Reformation was a conscious break from Rome and the appointed successor of Peter.

    Feel free to enlighten me … I’m looking it up as I go along. :)

    No question that church practices and doctrines have changed, but I’m always surprised at how little. Think about it: Until 50 years ago the mass was in Latin, which is still the official language of the Vatican, because Latin was the language of the Roman Empire. Priests still dress in robes, like early Romans. Also, every change that I’ve ever heard of or read of has been documented — with the relevant scripture cited and the reasons for “re-interpreting” them.

    I’m really not a great apologist for the catholic church. I hate a lot of things about it. But I’m still a member, and the reason I am is that the catholic church is still, and always has been Christian. And for better or worse, it is the descendent of the Christian church that Peter established.

  26. It’s a shame the way you phrased it: Christianity and Catholicism, as if they were two disjoint sets. What about Protestants who are greedy, cruel, pay lip-service to giving Jesus control over their life. Because they’re Protestant and don’t do this nasty Mass nonsense they’re OK?

    You may have a point, but it was an unfortunate choice of language – unnecessarily divisive.

    I don’t claim the following quote from Solzhenitsyn is as infallible as Scripture, but it made me stop and attempt humility (and, of course, fail):

    The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts.

    Sometimes God scrambles our pre-conceived ideas. When Jesus saw the paralysed man being let down through the roof, it was his _friends’_ faith that touched him, not the man’s. That doesn’t fit in our nice boxes of normal Christian theology.

  27. Bob: fair point about the phrasing; I puzzled over it for a bit but couldn’t think of better words to use if I wanted to compare Catholic belief with (not to put too fine a point on it) Biblical truth.

    It’s past midnight – I hope you’ll all excuse me if I comment further tomorrow :-)

  28. Thanks for the historical background, Gerv. That’s very helpful.

    The connotation which Jews object to is not so much that Jesus is the Messiah — that is either true or it isn’t and this is not the place to discuss it. What upsets them is the tragic historical fact that “evangelizing the Jews” has been used through the centuries as a cover title for horrific tortures and massacres. I understand that Jesus described himself as the shepherd of the lost sheep of Israel. All too often Christians have played the part of the wolf instead.

  29. What touched off this whole “Are Catholics Christians?” debate is the old faith vs. good works dilemma. It is true that the Catholic church once focused heavily on good works and essentially buying one’s way into heaven; that’s what the Reformation was primarily rebelling against. Luther reminded all Christians of the importance of faith. However, this debate goes back to the New Testament itself. The Gospel of Matthew strongly emphasizes the importance of good works and even of obeying the Mosaic law, which no Christian does today (see Mt. 5:17-20–“Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets…”). Also note the emphasis on “righteousness” in 5:20. Mt. 7:21 states, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Compare that to Paul in Romans 10:9: “…if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

    Rather than saying Matthew was not a real Christian or Paul wasn’t a real Christian, perhaps we should think of them as real people who had a tendency to overemphasize good works or faith from time to time, just like some Christians today. Maybe the New Testament sets up the limits of acceptable diversity in Christian belief along with revealing divine truth. Arguing over whether faith or good works is more important is like arguing over which half of a pair of scissors is more important, as C.S. Lewis said.

  30. So you feel no obligation as a Christian to behave as Christ did? To preach the Gospel by living a good life?

    I apologise if I was unclear. When I said “there is nothing more to be done”, I meant that “there is nothing more to be done to secure our salvation”. But no, I don’t think I feel any obligation to behave as Christ did, in the strict sense of the word – I (try and) do it because it’s what he commands, and because it’s the right thing to do given what he did for me.

    I thought that Mass was a reenactment, if you will, of Christ’s sacrifice in rememberance of what he did (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:24,24).

    If only that were true! But Catholic doctrine is clear that it’s a re-sacrifice – Christ is really present in the bread as the priest breaks it. Romans 8:17, which you mention, is actually talking about Christian persecution. This is clear from the following verse, which says:

    I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

    One can assume that the Roman Christians were not taking communion at the moment the letter was read to them! :-)

    Quite a few people have mentioned apostolic succession. I know Jesus said of Peter “on this rock I will build my church”, and he did – Peter was a key figure in the early church, as Acts demonstrates. But it must be wrong to argue (in the abstract) that no matter what heresies a person may preach, if they are blessed by the guy before him and he’s blessed by the guy before him and so on then he’s OK. IMO, apostolic succession is just Old Testament priestly succession in disguise.

    If a guy is marooned on a desert island, finds a Bible washed up on the shore, reads it and comes to faith in Jesus, then dies without ever meeting anyone else again, will he be saved?

    Keith: you have your understanding of Matthew 5 backwards ;-) When Jesus says:

    For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

    he’s making the point that you can’t enter the kingdom of heaven on your own righteousness – he’s not urging us to be perfectly righteous! As he says, that’s impossible. Trust in him is what’s wanted.

    Good works are indeed important as a response to salvation, but they are nothing without faith. Faith is also dead if it doesn’t lead to works (James 2). But faith and works are not the blades on a pair of scissors. What good works did the thief on the cross next to Jesus do? But Jesus said to him “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

  31. Gervase,

    I want to thank you for a wonderful treatise on the difference between Christianity and Catholicism.

    It is important to remember that the reason these differences are highlighted is not just for the sake of discussion. It is with the hope and prayer that readers will come to the only relationship with Christ that matters, the one clearly described in His Word. Grace alone by which we can have faith alone in Christ alone.

    Gervase keep up the great work and stay encouraged.

  32. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

    The thief did not merely have faith, he expressed that faith by defending Jesus.

    To believe that humans are saved by faith alone is to deny heaven to all the good people of history who didn’t know or don’t know Christ. To deny those raised in a different culture, to shut the doors of heaven to those who walk in God’s ways just because they call them by another name – morality, goodness, whatever. That is ascribing to God a human characteristic that i would describe as pettiness.

    God created us all, He wants us all to come home to Himself. Is He so injust that He creates me and gives me to a Roman Catholic family and then demands that I find YOUR version of Christianity to be saved? What about Simon? God appears to have sent him to a Jewish family (God’s favorite kind, if the Bible is to be believed). Will he not be saved because God created him a Jew? God created Mohandas Gandhi. Will Gandhi be denied heaven because God saw fit to create him a Hindu?

    The Gospels are the closest we have to Jesus words – but they are also propaganda documents written in a hurry by men who were not scholars. Their goal was to spread the word quickly. That’s why there’s a good deal of “copy and paste” in the synoptic Gospels. These are not eyewitness accounts.

    The rest of the New Testament tends to be letters written to specific populations to solve particular problems. They are very valuable, but they tend to be more situational than the Gospels.

    I think it very dangerous to presume to know God’s will based on single texts. The Scriptures need to be read as a whole – Old and New together. Add to that the wisdom of people who knew the people who knew the apostles, add the words of saints who have studied the Scriptures and lived the life – the history of Christianity, in fact, and you have what is called Church Tradition.

    Catholics recognize that the Holy Spirit has guided the church. Can you name any other institution that is 2000 years old and has survived scandal after scandal after scandal and recovered from each? The church is made up of humans, and therefore full of errors, but it is guided by the Holy Spirit, and thus stays on the right track, despite us mortals.

    I don’t deny that your faith will save you, Gerv. But I challenge your right to judge the method God has chosen for MY salvation (and Simon’s and Mr. Gandhi’s).

  33. Sorry, I didn’t mean to imply that Matthew cares nothing for faith or is heretical, but I still think it emphasizes good works to an extent that is jarring to modern evangelicals. Matthew talks about faith in many places–“you of little faith” is a favorite Matthean expression for Peter and the bumbling disciples, such as when Peter tries to follow Jesus and walk on water (Mt. 14 28-33).

    In Mark 7:18-23 Jesus talks about the words that come out of a person’s mouth are what defile, not the food that goes in and says “thus he declared all foods clean.” Mt. 15:17-20 follows Mark’s meaning, except that “thus he declared all foods clean” is gone and verse 20 says “…to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.” Hand-washing was part of the Pharisaic oral law and is not found in the Torah, but the food laws are in the Torah. So Matthew thinks one should obey the Mosaic law, but not the Pharisee’s additions to it.

    Despite all this talk of the Mosaic law, the early church fathers who put the New Testament together decided that Matthew was not heretical and conveyed important truths, despite his interest in the law and good works. I think Protestants should consider their Catholic brothers in a similar way.

  34. Is He so injust that He creates me and gives me to a Roman Catholic family and then demands that I find YOUR version of Christianity to be saved? What about Simon? …

    If God were merely just, we would all be condemned to hell. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But in his mercy, he chooses to save some.

    But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:21-24)

    Certainly, though, when you are standing before God on the Last Day, you certainly won’t be able to say either that you weren’t told, or that it’s “not fair”. And Gandhi certainly knew the message of Christianity.

    I don’t deny that your faith will save you, Gerv. But I challenge your right to judge the method God has chosen for MY salvation (and Simon’s and Mr. Gandhi’s).

    Then I’m afraid you also have to challenge the right of the church of which you are a member to make that same determination.

    The Second Vatican Council’s Decree on Ecumenism explains: ‘For it is through Christ’s Catholic Church alone, which is the universal help towards salvation, that the fullness of the means of salvation can be obtained.’

    (Quote from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1994; emphasis mine.) Catholic doctrine not only says that Simon and Gandhi are not saved, but also that I am not.

  35. So Matthew thinks one should obey the Mosaic law, but not the Pharisee’s additions to it.

    So why, nine verses earlier, does he quote Jesus as saying:

    What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ´┐Żunclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him ´┐Żunclean.’

    How is this Matthew supporting obedience to the food laws?

  36. Actually, the catholic church has recently (the past 5 years or so?) admitted that God’s first covenant with the Jews has not been extinguished, therefore, Simon’s in the clear.

    ;-)

    As for you? Gerv, I disagree with numerous doctrines of the catholic church, and that is one of them. I also disagree with the church about the roles of women, and about the hierarchy’s unhealthy obsession with sexual sin at the expense of other evils of the modern world.

    I am always suspicious of men who presume to predict God’s actions, be they catholic or protestant.

  37. I think you Christians (Gerv specially), take bible so much in literal sense which in my opinon is not accurate. When you say that for us Catholics neither you nor Ghandi nor Simon are saved you are missing the whole thing altogheter. Catholic church change (little by little but it do change) and the doctrine now is more open and respectful to other doctrines than you would think. Your assumptions with respect to the Catholics are at times somewhat distrusted, this is the way new born sects act in order to bring division and gain some poor souls, and that is a shame.

    Please understand that we as Catholics embrace your ideas too, believe in them and respect them, but so you have to take into account that it’s not pleasant to see someone who really doesn’t understand nor care about Catholics starts making some outdated criticisms about our faith.

    Regards.

  38. I disagree with numerous doctrines of the catholic church, and that is one of them.

    Great :-) I encourage you to take the same questioning approach to some of the other doctrines I’ve highlighted, comparing Catholic teaching with what the Bible says.

    But surely your disagreement poses a problem for you? The Catholic church’s big claim is that it’s the one, true, correct church and the only keeper of the Christian faith. If you don’t believe that’s true (and if you disagree with them on even one single point, then you logically can’t believe it) then doesn’t that leave you in rather a tricky position with regard to being a Catholic?

    Your assumptions with respect to the Catholics are at times somewhat distrusted

    daf: all of the Catholic beliefs which I’ve quoted have been from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, published only ten years ago, which is an official document describing what all Catholics should believe. These are not my ideas about Catholicism, they are Catholic ideas about Catholicism.

    It may be that some, like Talmida, don’t agree with some of the doctrines I’ve highlighted – which is fantastic. But that then puts them on a collision course with their church, which insists that its teaching is unchanging and correct, and its leaders are infallible.

    And please don’t think that I don’t care about Catholics. I hope that nothing I’ve said gives that impression – if it does, I apologise.

  39. If you don’t believe that’s true (and if you disagree with them on even one single point, then you logically can’t believe it) then doesn’t that leave you in rather a tricky position with regard to being a Catholic?

    Are you serious? If you disagree with your church do they kick you out? If you disagree with your family, do they disown you?

    I disagree with a lot, but I obey what I can in good conscience, and hand the rest over to God. The church is HIS church, and He’ll change it in His own good time. But I’ll help it along by letting the hierarchy know where I think the changes ought to be.

    Don’t confuse the catechism or the rules with the church, Gerv. The church has always been the people of God.

    I could hardly abandon the church! This is the church established by Peter, Jesus’ friend. It’s the original, and much as I admire the newer models (and wish mine ran as efficiently!!), I find I like the historical connection. It has meaning for me. I know that God is present in my church, just as I know He is present wherever people of goodwill gather in His name or do His will.

    which insists that its teaching is unchanging and correct, and its leaders are infallible.

    y’know, Gerv, Jesus wasn’t very keen on leaders, and neither am I. John Paul II is a nice old man, and a holy one too. He has a very odd idea of women, but that’s only to be expected from a celibate priest. I pray that his successor may be more attentive to the voice of the Holy Spirit. An adult needs to analyse her faith in the light of her reason and find peace between them. I have done so, and do not fear to call myself a catholic. I do not fear death and trust in salvation.

    I wish you’d let this go, Gerv.

  40. Talmida: I wish you’d let this go, Gerv.

    I do too. Unfortunately, I think that the blind spot of the kind of theological position that Gerv holds is unwillingness to see anything wrong with itself (if you can follow my syntax). Being sure in the infallibility of scripture, in your interpretation of it, and in your translation of that interpretation of it into theology makes for a lot of certainty, but makes it hard to change. I think we’ll have to agree to disagree.

    (A blindspot of my, more liberal, position is wooliness, arbitrariness and so on. No-one’s perfect, apart from the Lord I think at least some of the posters to this thread hold in common, despite our denominational labels.)

  41. I stopped when Talmida asked, but I will respond to Bob. I am sure of the infallibility of scripture, but I am not (in the same way) sure of my interpretation of it or of the translation of it into theology, and would gladly welcome any debate on those grounds.

  42. The best way to understand the Bible and Early Christianity is to read what those early Christians did. What they believed and what their services were like. To read the Early Church Fathers.

    Here is a couple books I can reccomend showing that as well as a Bible that includes footnotes of commentary of those Fathers from the first 300 years of the Church.

    Lives of the Early Saints
    The Lives of the Three Holy Heirarchs
    The Lives of the Holy Apostles
    The Lives of the Saints of the Holy Land and the Sinai Desert
    The Life of the Virgin Mary
    The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy

    Orthodox New Testament
    The Holy Gospels
    Acts, Epistles, and Revelation

  43. Talmida: It’s a very small world indeed. :-)

    (Since it looks like we’re trying to avoid a flame war, that’s all I’m going to add.)

  44. While it may be true that the similarities between christianity and catholicism are miniscule,as well as the differences,

    “A small drop of the deadliest poison, if clear, in a clear glass of water, will kill you just the same”