Interpretation of Scripture
|A growing number of
former Protestants are joining the Roman Catholic Church because of the
way key verses of the Bible are being interpreted. The doctrinal line
dividing evangelicals and Roman Catholicism, which was once very clear,
has now become blurred. This is due in part to a redefining of evangelical
terms to make them more ambiguous. Part of the blame must also go to
highly visible and influential evangelicals who have signed accords of
unity with Roman Catholics. They have been targeted and seduced by the
Roman Catholic Church as part of its ecumenical strategy. As they continue
to seek common ground and values for unity, there will remain two key
dogmas that the Vatican will not compromise—the Eucharist and the supreme
authority of the Roman Catholic Church.
There may not be any dogma more entrenched in the Roman Catholic religion than the nature and role of the Eucharist in the life of the Church. The Roman Catholic Catechism teaches the work of redemption is accomplished in the divine sacrifice of the Eucharist (para. 1608). It also states that "the Eucharist is the source and summit of the Christian life. In the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself" (Para. 1324). How does the Vatican arrive at such a conclusion?
The basis for this doctrine is the interpretation of the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John. Although Jesus referred to the words He had spoken as "spirit and life," Roman Catholics take them literally as did the unbelieving Jews in the crowd (John 6:52, 63). A natural man does not accept words of the Spirit; "for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised" (1 Cor. 2:14).
We know that Jesus often used figurative language to teach spiritual truths (John 16:25). When speaking to a mixed crowd of believers and unbelievers, Jesus used parables (figurative language) so that unbelievers could not hear or understand the mysteries of heaven which were not granted to them (Mat. 13:10-17). According to Jesus those who departed from Him were unbelievers (6:36) who had followed Him to Capernaum for more physical food (6:26). When Jesus offered Himself as "spiritual" food they were not interested (6:63). Those who ate of the spiritual food for eternal life were believers and remained with Jesus (6:40). Peter said that Jesus had the words [not the flesh] of eternal life (6:68). For Catholics to use this passage as justification for their doctrine of transubstantiation is absurd. For Catholics to take this passage literally and believe, by consuming the Eucharist, they are eating Jesus, is cannibalistic.
Yet, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially" contained in the Eucharist. It is "a substantial presence by which Christ, God and man, makes himself wholly and entirely present" (para. 1367).
Jesus continued using figurative language at the Last Supper where He asked believers to remember His death until He comes again. "The Lord Jesus…took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, ‘This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’ In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me. For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes’" (1 Cor. 11:23-26). Jesus never asked His sacrifice to be continued or re-presented but to remember the one sacrifice He offered once for sin for all time.
However, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, "the sacrifice of Jesus and the sacrifice of the Eucharist are one single sacrifice." The same Christ who offered Himself once in a bloody manner on the cross is contained and offered in an unbloody manner on church altars. The Eucharist is thus a sacrifice because it re-presents (makes present) the sacrifice of the cross and is actually the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ (CCC, para.1366-67; 1374). Catholics express their faith in the real presence of Christ by worshipping and adoring the wafer as if it were God (para.1378). The Vatican teaches that every time the Mass is celebrated the work of redemption is carried on (para.1405). Christ ‘in the Eucharist’ is offered repeatedly in reparation for the sins of the living and the dead (para.1414).
What do the Scriptures reveal about the sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary? "He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God...by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy...and where these [sins] have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin" (Hebrews 10:12,14,18). For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He should offer Himself often (Heb. 9:24-25).
The Eucharist and the sacrifice of the Mass are non-negotiable issues because of the authority vested in the Bishops of the Catholic Church. "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" (CCC, 100). Roman Catholics also believe their Tradition is equal in authority to the Scriptures (CCC, 95). A study of Scripture, however, shows most of the references to tradition appear as warnings. They are not to be used to nullify the word of God or to hold people captive (Mark 7:7-13; Col. 2:8-9). Only the traditions previously taught by the apostles are to be followed. Note that apostolic traditions are always given in the past tense, i.e., the tradition which you were taught, (2 Thes. 2:15); which you have heard (2 Tim. 2:2); and, as I [Paul] delivered them to you (1 Cor. 11:2) Man’s traditions, which crept into the church after the apostles, are what we are to earnestly contend against (Jude 3). Followers of Jesus Christ are exhorted to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. "The faith" is made up of the Word of God and the traditions which "were taught" by the apostles. We must contend against other traditions because religious leaders and institutions can become corrupt (Mat. 23). The only assurance to genuine faith is from the objective, infallible Word of God (John 17:17).
With the Holy Spirit’s coming at Pentecost, and with the aid of the apostles’ teaching, Jewish Christians understood their own Scriptures as authoritative. Their common conviction was that the Old Testament, properly understood, was a revelation of Christ. There they found a prophetic record of the nature, teaching, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Old Testament Scriptures served as the standard of truth for the infant church. Within a short time, the New Testament Scriptures were combined with those of the Old Testament. Consequently, the early church was never without the written Word of God. We know that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Clearly, the New Testament does not contain a record of everything that Jesus did. "Many other signs therefore Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name" (John 20:30-31). From this statement, John has included in his Gospel all the essential teachings of Christ that are necessary for salvation. Significantly, he makes no reference to seven sacraments, the Sacrifice of the Mass, penance, indulgences, purgatory, or the Roman Catholic Church—all necessary for Roman Catholic salvation.
There are hundreds of verses in the Bible establishing the Word of God as the church’s sufficient and supreme rule of faith. Psalm 119 alone dedicates 176 verses to the unparalleled and supreme importance of God’s Word. The Lord Jesus taught: "Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:4).
Needless to say, there are some very critical questions Catholics must consider. Is the Word of God Scripture alone? Or, is the Word of God both Scripture and tradition? The Roman Catholic Church asserts that its Tradition is the Word of God (CCC, para. 81). But where does Jesus, the prophets, or the apostles teach that Tradition is the Word of God? Or, more precisely: Where does the Bible teach that Scripture and Tradition together, as interpreted by the pope and bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, are to be the church’s rule of faith?
The Bible and Jesus both testify that Scripture (not tradition) is pure, perfect, authoritative, sufficient, indestructible, inerrant and infallible. Unlike tradition (where there is no published record of Catholic Tradition), the Scriptures are accessible and open to all. Ultimately we will all be held accountable for what we did with the Word of God.
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