Five Big Differences

five01In an article entitled “5 differences between Catholic theology and the Gospel,” Jesse Johnson writes:

With Reformation Day this week, it is a good time to remind ourselves of what exactly the differences are between the Roman Catholic Church and Protestants. Certainly on just about every single area of theology there are differences, but here are what I think are the five most glaring and significant issues that separate the Catholic Church from the gospel of grace:

1) Justification

Evangelicals teach that sinners are justified on the basis of faith alone, and that ones’ faith is placed in the finished substitutionary work of Jesus on the cross, confirmed by his glorious resurrection, and that this is a gift based entirely on his grace. Finally, that justification is complete and total at the moment of our conversion, and that believers never grow more justified.

In contrast the Catholic church teaches that justification is a process that includes works (with those works “infusing” one’s faith), and that those works are the cause of the justification process. Beyond that, the Catholic Church teaches:

“If anyone says, that by faith alone the impious is justified; let him be anathema” (Council of Trent #9)

Or:

“If anyone says that the justice [or justification] received is not preserved and also not increased before God through good works but that those works are merely the fruits and signs of justification obtained, but not the cause of the increase, let him be anathema” (Council of Trent, 24).

2. The Pope as head of the church

For evangelicals, the church is made up of all of those who have been justified by God through faith. Local churches are led by elders, and each church is generally autonomous. Jesus Christ is the head of the church, and there is no authority over any local church on earth apart from Scripture. Elders and pastors are fallible in how they lead the church.

In the Roman Catholic teaching, the church is composed of laity and is led by those who have received the sacrament of Holy Orders (deacons, priests and bishops). The head of the church is the Pope, who when speaking authoritatively on matters relating to the church, is protected from the possibility of error concerning doctrine and morals of the church. Also, for anyone to be saved, they must be under the Pope’s authority:

“We declare, say, define, and pronounce that it is absolutely necessary for the salvation of every human creature to be subject to the Roman Pontiff” (Unam Sanctam, 1302).

3. Mass vs. communion

For evangelicals, communion is commemorative, and acts as a remembrance of the substitutionary atoning work of Jesus. The bread is symbolic of the body, and wine symbolic of the blood. There is nothing mystical or meritorious about it, but it is a means of grace and of provoking growth in godliness.

The Catholic Church teaches transubstantiation, that the bread and wine are transformed literally into the body and blood of Jesus. Thus in the mass, the priest calls Jesus down from heaven, and in the breaking of the bread Jesus is re-sacrificed. The mass is meritorious, as one of the seven sacraments, and it is a “true and proper sacrifice.” Here again is the council of Trent:

If any one saith that in the Mass a true and proper sacrifice is not offered to God; or, that to be offered is nothing else but that Christ is given us to eat; let him be anathema.”

As a side note, many of the Protestants and puritans made martyrs by the RCC went to their deaths over this issue. They considered participation in the Mass to be idolatry, and refused, and often were put to death for their refusal.

4. Mary

For evangelicals, Mary was Jesus’ mother, a sinner, and one who was saved from her sins by her faith in Jesus. We recognize a period of her life where she did not believe in Jesus (see, for example, Mark 3:30-33), but that by the time of Jesus’ death she had placed her faith in him as her Messiah. She had other children after Jesus, and died a physical death. She is to be admired as a woman of faith.

In the Catholic Church, Mary is an object of devotion—and in much of the world, she is an object of outright worship. It is normative to pray to her (consider, for example, the Hail Mary), and it is taught that she was sinless. In fact, the Immaculate Conception is the Catholic doctrine that Mary was conceived without a sin nature, thus she was not a recipient of Jesus’ redemption, but instead was a participant in that redemption. She was a perpetual virgin, and did not die a physical death, but was rather assumed into heaven, where she reigns now as the Queen of heaven and is herself Ineffabilis Deus (“ineffable God,” or “inexplicably divine”)

5. Purgatory

Evangelicals believe that there is no such place as purgatory, but that hell is real and heaven is obtainable only as a gift from God, through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, and this is all of grace. For those who place their faith in Jesus, when they die they are immediately ushered into glory, where they will be in the presence of the Lord.

In Catholic theology, purgatory is where Catholics go when they die. Only those who are in a state of grace may go there, and once you have suffered for your non-mortal sins, you are made ready to see heaven. Thus purgatory is not eternal—but it is like hell in another way: purgatory involves both flames and suffering, and serves to make atonement for sins that you did not confess before you die. In many ways, Purgatory is the glue that holds the system together. Because it is a system where eternal judgment is based on works, and because sins are frequent and it is impossible to know and confess all of ones’ sins, purgatory is an essential piece of Catholic theology.

I give this list here simply because it always surprises me to find those that say “Catholics and Christians believe the same thing on the important issues, it is just in details where they differ.” Well, I suppose it matters what the “important issues are” but these five certainly touch on areas that are essential to the gospel.

What About Ghosts?

Rick Barry has been involved in full-time Christian ministry to Russia and Eastern Europe for more than 20 years and is currently the director of church planting ministries with Baptist International Evangelistic Ministries. Rick has written over 200 articles and stories for a variety of Christian and secular publications. Here he writes a short article concerning what the bible teaches about ghosts.

My Anchor Holds

anchor1My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

His oath, His covenant, and blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When every earthly prop gives way,
He then is all my Hope and Stay.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found,
Clothed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne!
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand.

“My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote, 1797-1874

Continuist v. Cessationist Debate

I believe that in the continuist vs. cessationist debate in the Christian world, if the two sides ever sat down to talk and actually defined their terms and listened to what was being said (and not said), they would find that what they held in common would vastly outweigh what might divide.

In spite of how simple it would make things to do so, not all charismatics/continuationists can be painted with the same broad brush stroke. There is a wide spectrum of belief and practice, from the wild and crazy all the way to the responsible thinking Bible exegete. That is news to many people, but it is true, nonetheless. The “barking like dogs” manifestations of “the Toronto blessing” would never be tolerated by a Dr. D.A. Carson or a Dr. Wayne Grudem. Those who cannot see the distinctions are willingly ignorant. For sure, there are the extreme, hyper charismatics and their doctrines and practices are alarming to me. Some of it is just plain silly. Some of it borders on the demonic.

On the other side there are the hyper cessationists who in practical terms might be said to believe in “Father, Son and Holy Bible” who would not even allow for ongoing discernment and the leading and guiding of the Holy Spirit in our own day. But again, not all cessationists are the same.

Douglas-Wilson-2Doug Wilson wrote this today (below). I believe he nails the issue very well:

I need to say something about the Strange Fire conference, and the reactions to it, but because I am not particularly well-informed about that particular controversy, let me content myself with saying a few general things about the topic, which others may inject into the controversy as it suits them. I suspect, although I do not know, that in what I say there will be something encouraging for both sides, and perhaps something discouraging for both as well.

I am a cessationist, and I am not a continuationist. The sign gifts in the New Testament were revelatory, and if they are still operational, this means that the canon of Scripture is not closed. I don’t have a category in my head for quasi-revelatory. “Thus saith the Lord” is either true or false. If true, the words that follow that formula should be treated as though God spoke them, and I only have one way to treat the Word of God. I treat it like it is the Bible.

In short, I believe that cessationists usually understand the Bible better than do continuationists, not to mention the logic of the thing.

But there is an additional, and very weighty, concern, pushing from the other direction, and this has to do with the nature of the world. Too many cessationists are functional materialists when it comes to the operations of the world, and their supernaturalism is limited to the ink on the page.

In short, I believe the continuationists often understand the personal nature of the world better than do cessationists.

Continuationists are vulnerable to the sins of the gullible. Completely independent of the question of spiritual gifts, I am more likely to be able to get a charismatic to believe that there are fairies in the garden than I would be able to get a cessationist to believe it. Cessationists are correspondingly susceptible to the sins of the debunker. I am much less likely to get a cessationist to believe in a remarkable response to prayer than I would be able to get a charismatic to believe it.

Ferinstance. A number of years ago a good friend of ours was dying. When she finally passed away, Nancy and I were on the road (in Philadelphia). It was the middle of the night and we both woke up. Are you awake? Yeah, are you awake? How come? Beats me. A few minutes later the phone rang, and it was the news that our friend had gone to be with the Lord. Back home, our grandson Knox had been praying regularly for her, and he was two or thereabouts. But that night while praying for her, he stopped, and said, “She died. She is in Heaven.” They found out later that she had in fact died that night. Continue reading

Miscellaneous Quotes (93)

quotes“The world is filled with God’s glory. You can’t turn without bumping into it.” – R.C. Sproul

“This avoidance of the difficult things of Scripture — of sinfulness and hell and God’s notable severity — is idolatrous and cowardly. If a man or a woman who teaches the Scriptures is afraid to explain to you the severity of God, they have betrayed you, and they love their ego more than they love you.” – Matt Chandler

“Heterosexuals did a very good job of undermining marriage before same-sex couples arrived with their demands. The marriage crisis is a moral crisis and it did not start with same-sex marriage, nor will it end there. Once marriage can mean anything other than a heterosexual union, it can and must mean everything. It is just a matter of time.” – Al Mohler

“Marriage is ordained and instituted by God—that is to say, marriage did not just spring up arbitrarily out of social conventions or human taboos. Marriage was not invented by men but by God. …marriage is the most precious of all human institutions. It’s also the most dangerous. Into our marriages we pour our greatest and deepest expectations. We put our emotions on the line. There we can achieve the greatest happiness, but we also can experience the greatest disappointment, the most frustration, and the most pain. With that much at stake, we need something more solemn than a casual promise.” – R.C. Sproul

“It is not the strength of your faith that saves you, but the strength of Him upon whom you rely! Christ is able to save you if you come to Him—be your faith weak or be it strong.” – C. H. Spurgeon

“Error is truth perverted, truth distorted, truth out of proportion.”- Arthur Pink, “Studies in the Scriptures-1932”

“Nearness to God brings likeness to God. The more you see God the more of God will be seen in you.” – C. H. Spurgeon

“God often uses our deepest pain as the launching pad of our greatest calling.” – unknown

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of conscience by His holiness, nourishment of mind by His truth, purifying of imagination by His beauty, opening of the heart to His love, and submission of will to His purpose. And all this gathered up in adoration is the greatest of human expressions of which we are capable.” – William Temple

“The cross which is the object of faith, is also, by the power of the Holy Spirit, the cause of it. Sit down and watch the dying Saviour till faith springs up spontaneously in your heart. There is no place like Calvary for creating confidence. The air of that sacred hill brings health to trembling faith.” – Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace

“Do not think Christians are made by education; they are made by creation… The vital spark must come from above! Regeneration is not of the will of man, nor of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, but by the power and energy of the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of God alone!” – C. H. Spurgeon

“When we come to terms with the fact that before God, because of what Jesus has done, we are forever loved, forever approved, forever accepted, [and that] meaning, worth, value, security, all of those things have been secured for us by Jesus and given to us for free, that sets us free on the ground of life, to live without needing to get from people. So now you’re free to give to people.” Tullian Tchividjian

“When we reach the outer limit of what Scripture says, it is time to stop arguing and start worshipping.” – J.I. Packer

“I would rather be nobody at Christ’s feet than everybody anywhere else!” – C. H. Spurgeon

“Our treasure is what we fear losing, and I fear that we fear losing our treasure. We are lovers of money.” – R.C. Sproul Jr.

“Thus there will be three effects of nearness to Jesus—humility, happiness, and holiness.” – C. H. Spurgeon Continue reading

Reformation Sunday

Luther-nailing-theses-560x538THIS COMING SUNDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2013

11:00 A.M.

In many Churches, both historically and even in our own day, the last Sunday in October has been known as Reformation Sunday. It is tied to October 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg, Germany, sparking the Protestant Reformation. As the Bible was studied in its original languages, the Gospel of justification by Grace alone, through Faith alone in Christ alone was soon re-discovered and then proclaimed, and the rest, as they say, is history.

One of the slogans that emerged during this time was “Sola Scriptura,” the Latin phrase for “Scripture alone.” While the opinions and writings of the gifted leaders in the Church, and even the Confessions of the Churches are to be given their due respect, the Bible alone is the word of God, and therefore is the sole infallible rule of faith for the people of God. It alone has the authority to bind the conscience.

This year, at King’s Church, we will build our faith together as we study this vital theme of “Why we trust the Bible.” We will enjoy six short teaching sessions (each 23 minutes in length) with Dr. Stephen Nichols, who is a very gifted communicator:

WHY12DC_200x1000(1) Revelation: Where Would We Be Without It?
(2) The Authority of Scripture, Part 1: The Doctrine of Inspiration
(3) The Authority of Scripture, Part 2: The Doctrine of Inerrancy
(4) Why Sixty-Six Books? The Development of the Canon
(5) Why So Many Interpretations? The Clarity of Scripture& Interpretation
(6) Scripture for Life: The Sufficiency of Scripture

Our Reformation Sunday service will start at the normal time of 11:00 a.m. and we will seek to finish our time together around 3:30 p.m. We will share a pot luck meal and enjoy a rich time of fellowship.

I hope you will plan to join us for this special day.

– Pastor John

When God Multiplies

multiplicationA little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time. (Isaiah 60:22)

Works for the Lord often begin on a small scale, and they are none the worse for this. Feebleness educates faith, brings God near, and wins glory for His name. Prize promises of increase! Mustard seed is the smallest among seeds, and yet it becomes a treelike plant, with branches which lodge the birds of heaven. We may begin with one, and that “a little one,” and yet it will “become a thousand.” The Lord is great at the multiplication table. How often did He say to His lone servant, “I will multiply thee!” Trust in the Lord, ye ones and twos; for He will be in the midst of you if you are gathered in His name.

“A small one.” What can be more despicable in the eyes of those who count heads and weigh forces! Yet this is the nucleus of a great nation. Only one star shines out at first in the evening, but soon the sky is crowded with countless lights.

Nor need we think the prospect of increase to be remote, for the promise is, “I Jehovah will hasten it in his time.” There will be no premature haste, like that which we see at excited meetings; it will be all in due time, but yet there will be no delay. When the Lord hastens, His speed is glorious.

– C. H. Spurgeon

Mohler at BYU

On Monday, October 21, Dr. Al Mohler spoke to the faculty of Brigham Young University. The theme was “A Clear and Present Danger: Religious Liberty, Marriage, and the Family in the Late Modern Age.”

Outstanding!

Here’s one quote from the talk: “I do not believe that we are going to heaven together, but I do believe we may go to jail together. I do not mean to exaggerate, but we are living in the shadow of a great moral revolution that we commonly believe will have grave and devastating human consequences.”

Here is the complete transcript.

Preferences vs. Convictions

KINGSJSv3Next week, both here at King’s Church and in many Protestant Churches around the world, we will celebrate Reformation Sunday as a day on the calendar when we remember what was undoubtedly, the greatest move of God outside the pages of the Scripture. Entire countries in Europe were brought under the sound of the true biblical Gospel.

The formal principle of the Reformation: Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)

The material principle of the Reformation: Sola Fide (Justification by Faith Alone)

Many “Protestant” Churches today have forgotten what it is they were protesting, and this has led to a very current need to re-evangelize the Church as to some of the very basics of the Christian faith.

In our day, many people choose the Church they go to based on preferences rather than convictions. Much is made of styles of music and worship, what kind of youth and toddler ministry is available, the length of the service, the likeability of the pastor, and adequate parking. Of course, none of these things are mentioned in Scripture, and yet they are things very important to us in a consumer driven society where the customer is king and choices mean everything.

I have much sympathy with the need to listen to people and address concerns, but I would like us to climb a little higher in our thinking to move from preference to conviction. In that regard, I would like to identify two convictions that should be at play in our thinking:

Defining terms: a preference is something that given a choice, we find to be more pleasing or practical than another. One could prefer vanilla to chocolate; jazz to opera, the color red rather than blue, etc.

A conviction is a fixed or firm belief based on knowing the rightness of a position. Convictions are often seen as a new kind of heresy in modern American culture, and yet, the Bible is given to us to convince us of God’s thoughts on an issue, and our role as recipients of this revelation is to be renewed in our mind so that we align our thinking with His.

Convictions are good if they are based on God’s revelation; if not, they can be mere tradition. The traditionalist’s anthem is always “don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve already made up my mind.”

In contrast, the Christian should always be prepared to hold up their beliefs to the light of Scripture to see if the position is based on a true interpretation. This leads us to the first conviction I would like us to consider this morning: Continue reading