Concerned Sis and Tracing Church History - 05/04/2003
My sister has been raised in a Christian family since birth, and professed her salvation at a young age, around 8 years old. Since she met a boy in high school, she and this boy have grown very close over the last few years. He is Catholic. Since she met him, she has been spending a lot of time questioning her religion and his. Unfortunately, she is leaning toward Catholicism. I realize that Catholic believers can have a strong influence on those who love them, as I saw this exact thing happen to a close friend. She chose love of a human over God, and what she knows is right, in my opinion.
My question for you is this. She seems to be leaning toward Catholicism largely based on her belief that you can trace the Catholic church back through time whereas she can not find supportive facts that allow her to trace the true new testament church back through time to the time of Jesus on earth. I think she is looking for historical data that supports each church through time and for it to be connected to the church she currently attends as proof that her religion is true and that Catholicism is false. Based on the fact that she can't seem to do that for her church, but can for Catholicism, she feels that Catholicism must the true church. Forgive me if this line of thought seems sketchy, because I would have to agree. But, what do you say to her that would convince her otherwise?
On a side note, the devil is very smart, convincing and deceptive. That is proved to me through the fact that hHe is smart enough to decieve someone as intelligent and educated in the bible as my sister.
CONTENDER MINISTRIES RESPONSE:
Hi Concerned Sis! Thanks for writing to us at Contender Ministries. You have a right to be concerned about your sister, and it's obvious that you love and care for her.
Your sister is falling into the trap of believing that God's church is a structured organization, as opposed to the body of believers worldwide who call Christ "King". The facts don't support what she is being told, unfortunately. It is true that for centuries, the Catholic Church represented the vast majority of Christendom. It wasn't until the reformation that a return to the gospel of the Bible and a church modeled after that of the first century was able to gain footholds once again.
If she wants to trace the Roman Catholic Church back through time, she's going to come to a dwindling end at the third or fourth century. Past that, vestiges of Catholic belief fall away quickly. It's better to start with Christ and the first century church we find in the Bible, and compare that to what exists today.
Much of the current doctrines of the Roman Catholic church were not developed for several centuries after Christ. That's why you'll find no mention of purgatory in the Bible outside of the apocryphal books (which have been discounted as scripture not only by Protestants, but also by Jewish scribes, due to their numerous factual and historical errors). You'll also find no evidence in the Bible that Mary was the object of prayers, or acted in any way as a supernatural mediatrix between man and God. You'll find no mention in the New Testament of praying to the saints for intercession, or confessing sins to a priest for absolution. You'll find no position of "pope" in the New Testament church, nor any mention of genuflection. These beliefs were not merged into Christianity to form Catholicism until more than three hundred years after the church we read about in the Bible. Some of the practices actually pre-date Christianity, though. Babylonian pagans paid homage to a "Queen of Heaven" (one of the titles of Mary within Catholicism), they genuflected in worship of a pagan god, and they had a supreme pontiff. These are some of the things you WON'T find in the church in the first century. Now let's look at what the Bible tells us DID exist at that time.
In Matthew 23:9, Jesus said, "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven." In context, Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees. Earlier in the passage, He said of them, "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;" (Matthew 23:5-6). As you know, Catholic priests are called "Father", and the Catholic heierarchy routinely wear ornate gowns and are seated on throne-like seats in the cathedrals.
The Catholic Church has priests, which act as mediators between God and man, to hear the confessions of men and provide for the penance that will lead to their justification. Paul said of Jesus, "Such a high priest meets our need -- one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered Himself. For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever." - Hebrews 7:26-28. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, "For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus..." These verses tell us that the role of priests is unnecessary, as Jesus is our only priest and mediator.
The church of the New Testament had deacons and elders, but no position of "pope" or "archbishop."
The differences between the Roman Catholic Church and that of the New Testament are numerous. Your sister needs to realize that while she is searching for "religion", what she really needs is God. We've received emails from ex-Catholics, who said that they never really experienced a relationship with Jesus Christ during their time as practicing Catholics. That is because the religious rules, rituals, and idolatry obscure the view of our Savior, who wants our love and service, not our liturgy.
Inform your sister of these things. Encourage her to read the New Testment, and ask her if she sees the practices of the Catholic church mentioned. Direct her to the Catholicism section of Contender Ministries. Most of all though, pray for her. Pray that the Holy Spirit would minister to her. Pray that she would covet the experience of a personal relationship with our Lord, rather than simply a religious experience. We will pray for her as well. May God richly bless you as you contend for the faith.
Ben and Jennifer Rast