Should I leave Catholicism?

Question: I am very concerned as I am a catholic and was wondering if our Lord meant that my church is Babylon and to leave the church, because of all the scandal that it has been going through lately. do you think I have reason to be concerned?pope-francis-2-300

Answer: There have been Protestant interpreters who have identified Babylon with the Catholic Church in the past and probably some who still do, but I find this interpretation very questionable. It is designated as a city, and though it is said to sit on seven hills in some translations (as Rome does), if the word here means mountains instead that would not apply to Rome. If mountains is intended it would be symbolic rather than strictly geographical, mountains representing places of power and authority. Babylon would be in control of seven kingdoms in this interpretation.

I think the best reason to leave the Catholic Church would not be for the scandals of late. Every human organization will have fallen human beings doing bad things that need to be dealt with. That is why Jesus taught a way of dealing with sin in the church in Matthew 18:15-20. The reason you should leave it is if it is in disagreement with the clear teaching of Scripture. Protestants have had problems in this arena with the fact that the Catholic Church, in our opinion, has obscured the gospel and the way of salvation, making it seem too much like it depends on our works to get us to heaven rather than the finished sacrifice of Christ. Martin Luther’s concern was that the Bible teaches justification (being declared righteous before God) by faith alone.

Protestants have also disagreed with vesting authority in one man in the church, and even with the councils of the church, as they can be fallible and it would seem to have indeed failed to preserve the teaching of Scripture. We see Scripture as our final authority, though we value the tradition of the church as a help to correct interpretation of Scripture.

Do you know that you have a saving relationship with Jesus Christ? Are you being taught in your faith to grow in grace and becoming more Christlike in your life? Is the church helping or hindering this process? Can you learn from both sides of the aisle? Do you really give allegiance to the Pope? These are the kinds of questions I believe are most important to answer in this consideration.

What Does It Mean to Be “Called”

Question:  What does it mean to be called?ordination

Answer:  It usually means to be selected by God to do some form of full-time ministry.  The bigger question is how that happens?  Undoubtedly God has put it on the hearts of some individuals that they are to pursue full time pastoring or missions, etc.  But this should always and will always be accompanied by gifts God gives to these individuals that are recognized by faithful members of the Body of Christ.  An example of this is Acts 13:1-3 where Paul and Barnabas are said to be called by God and through prophetic utterance the church is told to set them apart for missions ministry.  But they have already been demonstrating gifting and faithful service for years.  Can someone resist this calling or forfeit it by misconduct?  I think so.  Paul said he labored to maintain faithful ministry lest he be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27).

In one sense every Christian is called.  We are all subject to obey the great commission Jesus gave us before he ascended to heaven (Matthew 28:19,20).  We may also say we have a career calling.  But the call to carry out the great commission is the highest priority.  Nevertheless, God often wants us to use our career calling to help establish our witness and enhance our ability to carry out the great commission.  Some are called to make doing the great commission their entire focus, usually with the idea of helping the rest of the Body become more equipped to do their part in making disciples of all nations (Ephesians 4:11,12).

Do I Really Need to Go to Church?

A Different Church Building

A Different Church Building (Photo credit: justshootingmemories)

Question: I am a “new” Christian and I have a question that concerns me.  I do not have a church home and to be perfectly honest, I have not found one that makes me comfortable.  There seems to be too much politics involved, so to speak.  I pray, I believe that Jesus died for me, I study my Bible and I listen to various services on TV and have received much knowledge by doing so.  My life is dedicated to serving my Lord but I do not want to displease Him.  Is it necessary to have a church home?

Answer:  Yes, I believe it is necessary to have a church home.  I know that there are unpleasant interactions in any body of people gathered for a common purpose.  Politics, the practice or study of the art and science of forming, directing, and administrating states and other political units, is an inevitable part of any collective body.  But the politics of the church should be about implementing the will of our Leader, Jesus Christ.  His apostles, who were his authoritative spokesmen for the faith, planted churces wherever they went.  That is, they called together the believers for the purpose of meeting in unity around the authoritative gospel message and to worship together their Savior.  They appointed leaders to help govern the church.  But of course, from the very beginning there were leaders who did not lead well and plenty of opportunities for church members to get upset with each other.

It is in this kind of situation, however, that we learn that we are just as capable of the very errors we hate and in which we must learn to love and be loved.  Like marriage, which is also a very imperfect reperesentation of the ideal love we want to experience, the institution becomes a laboratory for learning love.  If we submit to the Lord and ask him to help us be shaped by love and be shapers of others by our love, he will certainly work that in us.  We need the accountability of others in our lives and to be those who offer accountability.

This is why it says:

And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24-25, ESV).

For further reading:

Is Jesus Angry If We Do Any Business or Trade at Church?

Question:  The one(?) time that Jesus got angry was when there were merchants selling stuff in the temple. How is that different than the craft fairs or church bazaars where people are selling stuff at the church?

Answer:

There were several times Jesus got angry (check out this article), but the thing that made him angry on this occasion was that as worshipers came to the temple for a proscribed or required festival and had to make sacrifices, it was much easier to buy an animal once you traveled to Jerusalem than to bring one from your town far away.  But the leaders in Jerusalem determined that you could only pay for them with a certain temple coin, so that required making a monetary exchange.  It was not a one-to-one exchange.  I suppose you could say there was a money-changing fee attached, but it ended up being a tax and a hardship on many.  Then, of course, the law of supply and demand caused the prices for animals, etc, there in the temple precinct to be inflated.  Instead of helping people worship God it was making it difficult.

In other words, that is completely different from having a church bazaar or craft fair or a bookstore, for example.  Now if a church were requiring you to buy a craft in order to participate in their worship service, that would make Jesus mad.

Does Someone Have to Lay Hands on Me to Receive the Holy Spirit?

Question:  In Acts, in more than one place, the disciples were speaking to the ones that were called Christians, and asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit?  If the answer was no, they laid hands on them, at which time, they received the Holy Spirit.  The question was raised, Does the Holy Spirit come at the moment you receive Christ, or is there another anointing of the Spirit?

Answer:  There are four instances of the Holy Spirit baptizing believers.  I use this term because this is what John the Baptist foretold that the Messiah would do, baptize believers with the Holy Spirit, and what he told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for.  It happened to all these Jewish believers on the Day of Pentecost and Peter then preached to more Jews assembled in Jerusalem for this festival and 3,000 believed and were told that they would receive the Holy Spirit.

It happened again according to Acts 8 to Samaritan believers who had responded to the preaching of Philip.  However, they could not receive this Spirit baptism until Peter and John laid hands on them.

It happened a third time to Gentiles who were listening to Peter preach and while he was still preaching.  No one laid hands on them and they hadn’t even been water baptized.

It happened one more time to some disciples of John the Baptist who had left Israel before they were introduced to Jesus and when Paul explained Jesus to them they were water baptized and, after he laid hands on them, baptized in the Spirit (Acts 19).

In the first three cases the apostle Peter was present.  I believe this is because Jesus gave him the keys to the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 16:19).  So for each different people group admitted into the church, Peter had to open the door, so to speak.  With the Samaritans and Gentiles his presence guaranteed that there was only one church, all under the leadership of Jesus’ apostles.  The Samaritans could not say they received the Holy Spirit’s baptism without Jewish leadership, nor could the Gentile believers.

When Paul confronted the disciples of John in Acts 19 his question of them tells us that he understood the norm to be receiving the baptism in the Spirit when you believed (verse 2, the correct translation).  They were an oddity in that they had not had the opportunity to know the full gospel.  They had believed God’s prophet, John, but had missed the events of the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

All this is to say, the norm today is to receive the Holy Spirit, be baptized in Him, when you believe.  No one has to lay hands on you.  This is why Paul can say to the Corinthians, “We were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body” (1 Corinthians 12:13).  Today, there is no believer who has not been baptized in the Spirit.  We have all been immersed into His life and His life has begun to manifest itself in us.

This does not mean we have fully surrendered ourselves to all that He has for us.  The Holy Spirit wants to make us like Christ and there are many things He wants to do to move us in that direction.  He also wants to work through us to bless others.  Consequently He gives us many experiences of His presence that we may resist or receive.  If we are open to what He wants to do there are many wonderful ways in which we will see His life exuded through ours.

Randall Johnson

What is the value of water baptism?

Question:  What is the purpose of water baptism? Is it a sign of the believer’s covenant  with the Lord, similar to circumcision? At the very least, it seems valuable to me as a   tangible memory or similar to building an altar of remembrance of one’s new commitment to Christ. However, many today wait a long time to be baptized; this is in contrast to the New Testament times where people seemed to be baptized quickly.

Answer:  There are those who believe that water baptism is essential to salvation.  They will point to such passages as Acts 2:38 in which Peter says “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” and Acts 22:16 where Ananias instructs Paul to “be baptized and wash away your sins.”  But Paul makes it clear in 1 Corinthians 1:13-17 that this is not the case.  He writes:

Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, so no one can say that you were baptized in my name.  (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don’t remember if I baptized anyone else.)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

If baptism was essential to salvation, Paul could not and should not have separated it from preaching the gospel.  Christ, indeed, would have sent him to baptize if it were required.

But if it is not essential for salvation, or doesn’t actually wash away sins, then what does it do?  And I believe it does what you suggested.  It is a symbol that is an aid to faith.  Faith is what saves us, is what washes away our sins, but baptism gives visible and tactile expression to that faith.  Human beings need to give such expression to our inward beliefs to help solidify them in our souls.

In addition, the outward demonstration of faith given in baptism helps others to be more aware of our faith and acts as an encouragement to their own faith.  The Bible does not emphasize this but it is a reality.  And you are correct that normally new believers were almost immediately baptized upon conversion.  This did not always give much opportunity for a crowd to gather.  So the symbol is much more for the believer than for his or her fellow Christians.

However, there is nothing that says we must be baptized immediately.  The early church began a process of teaching new converts to ascertain whether they were genuine followers of Christ before baptizing them.  This seems to go too much counter to the New Testament example.  But for us to make it a part of a community worship opportunity seems a judicious use of the symbol to help everyone rejoice with the new convert.

Randall Johnson

Other articles on baptism:

Is the Mode of Baptism Inconsequential?

What Does Your Church Believe About Baptism?

How Do We Know that What David or Solomon Wrote Was True?

Psalm 1, Verse 1 and 2 in Biblia Hebraica Stut...

Image via Wikipedia

Question:  How do we know that everything David or Solomon wrote is true?  How do we know that one of the Psalms was not written while David was contemplating sleeping with Bathsheba or a Proverb was written after Solomon got in a fight with his 57th wife?

Answer:  There are three issues here in regards to the question of truth.

  1. Does inspiration of Scripture guarantee that what we have is an accurate record of what they wrote?  The answer is yes.  Inspiration guarantees that what is attributed to David and Solomon is accurately so attributed and accurately recorded.  This, however, does not guarantee that what they wrote is true, just that it is accurately recorded.  The words of Satan are accurately recorded, also, but that does not guarantee that what he said is true.
  2. Did David and Solomon express their true feelings when writing?  Yes, absolutely.  When David says in Psalm 139:5 that he feels hemmed in by how much God knows his every motive, that is a true feeling.  But by the end of the psalm he is inviting God to know him in this way.  His feelings have changed in the course of his meditation on God’s knowledge and you can see the change chronicled in the psalm.  This encourages us to express to God our true feelings, even if they are not the best feelings to have and are in need of change.
  3. Did everything David and Solomon wrote have the character of normative truth (true for all people and all times)?  Yes and no.  David wrote, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Psalm 22:1).  Had God actually forsaken him?  No, but that is how it felt.  When Jesus quotes this verse as He is dying on the cross, however, He is stating a truth that David’s experience forshadowed and it is really true for Jesus, because He bore our guilt before God and God forsook Him as penalty for our guilt.  When Solomon wrote, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly” in Proverbs 26:4 and then, in 26:5 wrote, “Answer a fool according to his folly,” he was demonstrating part of the genius of proverbial wisdom.  There are not always normative absolutes for every situation and Proverbs is not trying to give such absolutes, but rather principles that are normally true but not exhaustively true for every situation.

If we keep these considerations in mind we will be more discerning when reading Scripture and not confuse others or ourselves about what authority Scripture has.  It is our authoritative standard for truth.  Everything in it is not therefore true, but only those portions that are intended as normative truth.  Because, for example, the Bible does not purport to give normative truth about all things astronomical, when it says that the sun rises it is not to be understood that Scripture is asserting that the sun revolves around the earth.  But when it tells us that the only way to heaven is Christ and faith in Him, that is definitely within the realm of intended normative truth for us.

Randall Johnson