Thursday, May 16, 2019

IS A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS DANGEROUS?


Jorge Mario Bergoglio (Pope Francis) is at it again.  He is known to be controversial, even among faithful Catholics.  For example, his comments on divorce, LGBT “rights,” and his reluctance to deal with the Catholic Church’s sex scandals, etc., have caused quite a stir.  Another example is some controversial things he said about the “failure” of the cross that we recently addressed here:


But this time he said that having a personal relationship with Jesus is “dangerous.”  Do we take this at face value, or is there more to it?  Let’s look at the context.

Pope Francis gave a speech in Rome at St. Peter’s Square on June 25, 2014, in front of an audience of 33,000 Catholics.  In his speech he complains about people who say, “I believe in God, I believe in Jesus, but I don’t care about the Church...”  And he described as “dangerous” and “harmful” the temptation to believe that one can have “a personal, direct and immediate relationship with Jesus Christ outside of the communion with, and mediation of, the church.”

The official Vatican text of the speech is here:


A condensed version of the message in video form can be found here:


We just want to address a couple of points here. 

First of all, we don’t know of any true Christians who “don’t care about the church.”  This is not a Christian mentality and it is certainly not scriptural.  The New Testament church is a creation of Jesus Christ, therefore, all believers need to have an active part in a local church body.  We agree that there should be no “Lone Ranger” Christians (or, as he called them, “freelancers,” or “do-it-yourself” Christians).  We agree that Christians need each other (1 Corinthians 12:14-18, 21-22).  The author of Hebrews tells us of the right attitude – “Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25).  So, the pope’s complaint about people “not caring about the church” doesn’t even apply to true Christians.

Secondly, concerning the idea of having a relationship with Jesus Christ “outside” the church is just nonsense.  Because if you have a real and personal relationship with Jesus, by definition, you already belong to the church, you are already part of the universal body of believers.  Having that personal relationship means you are saved, that is, you have been added to the church (Acts 2:41, 47; 5:14).

The problem is that so many times the word “church,” when used by Catholics, is equated only with the institution we know today as the Catholic Church – rather than using the term biblically, which is used either as: 

1) the local assembly of true believers (e.g., 1 Corinthians 1:2; Galatians 1:2; Revelation chapters 1 through 3), or 

2) the universal body of true believers worldwide (Galatians 1:13; Colossians 1:18).

What the pope really means is that having a personal relationship with Jesus is dangerous unless you are part of, and in communion with, his church, and that we need the Catholic Church’s “mediation” in order to be spiritually healthy.  We must (according to him) be dependent on its sacraments, rituals, and hierarchy to be spiritually safe. 
  
Maybe he is afraid that if you use that relationship to discover the truth of Scripture on your own, that you will not want to be in his Church, since so many of its teachings will be found to be false and unbiblical.  But he wants you to be subject to the Catholic Church, whether you actually have a relationship with Jesus or not.  For the pope, it’s ok to have this relationship… as long as it is controlled and influenced by his church.

The pope’s concern is more about your submission to his church than it is about your relationship with the Savior.  Thus, the pope treats your relationship with Jesus as secondary.   Is a personal relationship with Christ all that important?  We would say that it is absolutely critical, in fact, more important than the local church you join.  That relationship should be what properly guides you to a biblical church in the first place!  The reason that a relationship is so important is because it is the very cause of your salvation, when you surrender to God’s will.
  
Having a relationship means knowing the person.  On Judgment Day Jesus will say to those who aren’t true followers, “Depart from Me: I never knew you…” (Matthew 7:21-23).  Does “I never knew you” mean that Jesus doesn’t actually know certain people, or that He is unaware of them?  Is there anything at all about their thoughts or actions that surprises Him?  Of course not.  He knows everything about everybody.  The word “knew” in this context denotes intimacy, i.e., having a close, personal, robust and meaningful relationship with Him.  This is what those in Matthew 7 did not have. 

Salvation and sanctification depend upon our knowing Him (John 17:3; Philippians 3:8, 10)!  Christianity has always been about a relationship with Jesus.  In Acts 4:13, the Jewish leaders recognized that Peter and John “had been with Jesus.” The Jews observed that the apostles’ lives were greatly affected by this relationship with their Lord.  So why does the pope downplay this concept?  

We’re not saying that the pope doesn’t believe in a personal relationship with Jesus and we’re not saying that he’s telling his audience never to have one, but, once again, he seems far more concerned with your submission to his Church than he is with you having a personal relationship with Jesus. 

Sometimes the issue is not just what the pope says, but what he doesn’t say, or what he should have said.  He had ample opportunity in this case to encourage the members of his audience to have a strong and fulfilling relationship with Christ and His word, but he neglected that opportunity.  Instead, he is implying that it is more important to be devoted to the Catholic Church than it is to have that right relationship with Christ!  But a true relationship with Christ will steer you away from the works-based Catholic gospel.

Any religious group or cult that claims to be Christian can say that having a personal relationship with Jesus is “dangerous” apart from being associated with that particular group.  So how can anyone know that they have the real Jesus?  It is an authority issue and this blog has dealt with that topic over and over.  It is the Word of God, Scripture, that is the true and ultimate authority to determine what is actually dangerous and what is not (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

The bottom line is that Pope Francis is saying that you don’t know Jesus unless you are in the Catholic Church.  But there are millions upon millions of believers today and throughout history who have enjoyed a vibrant personal relationship with Jesus Christ without ever being part of the Catholic Church.  And to all those who have this true relationship, He promises that He will never leave them, nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5).

The danger, my friends, is not in a fervent relationship with Jesus Christ, but in the false teachings of Pope Francis’ church.


Monday, April 29, 2019

LIGUORI’S IDOLATRY AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH’S ACCEPTANCE OF IT


Alphonsus Mary Antony John Cosmas Damian Michael Gaspard de’Liguori (shortened to Alphonsus Liguori) was an 18th century Italian Catholic bishop, theologian and mystic who was also made a “doctor” of the Catholic Church and eventually a “saint.”  Liguori wrote a number of books, but one of special note is called The Glories of Mary.  This book is a collection of quotes, devotions, discourses and prayers of certain fathers concerning Mary.  It is said that The Glories of Mary is widely regarded as his “finest masterpiece,” and it is still around today.  As you can tell by the title, this book exalts and glorifies Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.  It can be read online here:


This particular edition claims to be the “first complete translation of the work ever made into the English language.” 

While the book does acknowledge God and the work of His Son, Jesus Christ, there are some serious issues with it.  But lest anyone try to say that we are denying that anything in his book is scriptural, we will start off on a positive note.

The Positve


  • In the book, Liguori admits that Mary’s “…divine Son offered and paid the superabundant ransom of His precious blood, in which alone is our salvation, life and resurrection” (p. 14 - Emphasis added). 

  • He also admits that “The fulness of grace was in Christ as the head from which it flows…” (p. 14).

  • He admits “…for we know that Jesus is our only Saviour, and that by his merits alone he has obtained and does obtain for us salvation.” (p. 150 – Emphasis added)

  • He admits that God has “…supreme dominion, even over Mary.” (p. 200)

Contradictions

These are all true and biblical statements.  But contradictions in the book abound.  On the one hand, he says some truly biblical things like:


  • “Distrustful sinners, say, why do you fear?  If you fear because you have offended God, remember that Jesus with his own lacerated hands has nailed your sins to the cross, and having satisfied the divine justice for them by his death, he has removed them from your soul.” (p. 227-228) 

Sounds great, doesn’t it?  But then he immediately turns around and says:


  • “But if ever… you fear to have recourse to Jesus Christ because his divine majesty alarms you… if you ever wish for another advocate with this mediator, invoke Mary, for she will intercede for you with the Son, who will graciously listen to her, and the Son will intercede with the Father, who can refuse nothing to this Son… this divine mother… is the ladder of sinners, by which they ascend anew to the height of divine grace.  This is my greatest confidence – this is the whole ground of my hope.” (emphasis added - p. 228)

Mary’s intercession is his greatest confidence?  If you fear Jesus, are you supposed to go to the “kinder, gentler” Mary?  Apparently (according to this book) Mary’s intercession is better than Jesus’ intercession.

Furthermore, he says things like this:


  • “And to increase our confidence… when we have recourse to this divine mother, we may not only be sure of her protection, but that sometimes we shall be sooner heard and saved by invoking her holy name than that of Jesus our Saviour… Because it belongs to Christ, as our judge, to punish, but to Mary, as our advocate, to pity.” (emphasis added – p. 149)

Ok, first of all, the Bible says that Jesus Christ, the Son of Almighty God, is our advocate (1 John 2:1-2).  Not Jesus and Mary.

Secondly, Liguori is making a false distinction between Mary and Jesus.  He is pitting one against the other.  He is implying that pity is not a strong characteristic of Jesus, but it is for Mary.  He seems to be saying that Jesus’ job is to punish, not to pity.  But our Savior is not someone who cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities (Hebrews 4:15).  He is certainly able to feel empathy toward, and relate to, His people, in fact, more than any other human.  His voluntary suffering on the cross is proof of that (John 10:11, 15, 18).

Let’s go on:


  • “… I pray you to consider them [the ideas in this book] as meant and spoken by me according to the sense of true and sound theology, and of the holy Roman Catholic Church, whose obedient son I profess myself” (p. 13).

And shortly after this, he says: 


  • “God has ordained that all graces should come to us through the hands of Mary.... Nor should this appear to any one inconsistent with sound theology…” (p. 13).

True, consistent and sound theology?  Where is there any recognizable biblical evidence to believe that “all graces should come to us through the hands of Mary”?  This “sound theology” is foreign to Scripture. 


  • “… the blessed virgin is so great and sublime, that the more we praise her, the more there is to praise.  So that St. Augustine says: All the tongues of men, even if all their members were changed to tongues, would not be sufficient to praise her as she deserves” (p. 16).

This is something that can only be said of God, Himself, or of Jesus.  No mere human should be praised at that level.


  • “Oh woman, blessed among all women, thou art the honor of the human race, the salvation of our people.  Thou hast a merit that has no limits, and an entire power over all creatures.  Thou art the mother of God, the mistress of the world, the queen of heaven.  Thou art the dispenser of all graces, the glory of the holy Church.  Thou art the example of the just, the consolation of the saints, and the source of our salvation.  Thou art the joy of Paradise, the gate of heaven, the glory of God.” (p. 673)

Wow!  It’s hard to know where to start on this one.  Mary is certainly blessed among all women to have been privileged to bear, raise and live with the Savior of the world.  But as far as the “honor of the human race,” the “salvation of our people,” having unlimited merit and power over all creatures, being the glory of the church, the dispenser of all graces, the source of salvation and the glory of God… If only Jesus Christ could get that level of worship and adoration from His people!  Remember, God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5; 34:14).  These titles can belong to no human other than Jesus, Himself.  It is blasphemous to claim otherwise.  Concerning Mary being the “gate of heaven,” did not Christ tell us that He is “the door,” (John 10:7, 9)?  That is, the door / gate to Heaven?  Wasn’t it Jesus that said, “I am the way, and the truth and the life… (John 14:6)?  Jesus did not say, “…no one comes to the Father but by Me and My mother.”


  • “It is not possible, Oh Lady, that thou shouldst abandon him who places his hope in thee… If thou dost only wish for our salvation, it will be impossible that we should not be saved.” (p. 784-785)

Do they really believe this stuff?  That it is impossible to perish if one places his hope in Mary?  No, the truth is, Jesus Christ is our hope (Colossians 1:27; 1 Timothy 1:1).


  • “Oh, blessed is he who clings with love and confidence to those two anchors of salvation, Jesus and Mary!” (p. 21)


Does this mean that if Jesus fails to save us that Mary is the back-up?


  • “Keep far from me my infernal enemies, and come thyself to take my soul and present it to my eternal Judge.” (emphasis added – p. 22)

So, she can leave Heaven and personally come to receive your soul?  On what basis can anyone say this?


  • “… all graces are dispensed by the hand of Mary alone, and that all those who are saved, are saved solely by means of this divine mother; it may be said, as a necessary consequence, that the salvation of all depends upon preaching Mary, and confidence in her intercession.” (p. 19-20 – Emphasis added) 

Concerning Mary as “dispenser,” on what biblical basis can Mary dispense anything at all? 
 
Saved solely by Mary?  Doesn’t this contradict what Liguori stated earlier, that “Jesus is our only Saviour, and that by his merits alone he has obtained and does obtain for us salvation”?  Yes, it does.  Check the first set of quotes above and see.  Jesus needs no help from Mary (or anyone else) to “dispense graces.”

So, does salvation depend upon “preaching Mary,” as Liguori suggests?  Then why don’t we see this concept in the Bible?  No one went about preaching Mary.  According to Acts 5:42, the apostles went about “teaching and preaching Jesus.”  In Acts 8:5, Philip was “proclaiming Christ.”  Saul kept “increasing in strength and confounding the Jews… by proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22).  Apollos “powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:28).  And there are many others like this.  But no one “preached Mary.”  Yes, she was a humble and godly servant of the Lord (Luke 1:48), but it’s all about Jesus Christ, folks, not His mother. 


  • She is called “the ladder of paradise,” the “gate of heaven,” the most true mediatrix between God and man.” (p. 170)

Again, Liguori is causing her to usurp the role of Jesus with these grand titles.  These are true of Jesus alone.


  • “But the point that we here propose to prove is, that the intercession of Mary is even necessary for our salvation: necessary, to speak properly, not indeed absolutely, but morally.” (p. 170)    

What is this supposed to mean, “morally” necessary?  Says who?  We have no biblical proof that she does, or even can, intercede for people from Heaven.  See the links at the end of this article.


  • “But of Mary alone can it be said, that not only was it her lot to be subject to the will of God, but that God was also subject to her will.” (p. 201)


This particular statement seems absolutely blasphemous at first, but the context is that Jesus, as a child, was subject to his mother.  So, not only was Mary subject to God (the Father), but it was also true that God (Jesus) was subject to Mary (His mother).  But Jesus is certainly not now subject to Mary, but rather, vice-versa. 
 
Furthermore, why only mention Mary concerning Jesus’ submission during His childhood?  Wasn’t Jesus also subject to Joseph (His father) at that time?  Why not say that God was also subject to Joseph’s will?  Joseph is purposely left out, while only Mary gets full mention.  Liguori, and those he quotes, seemed to be stacking the deck in favor of Mary’s “authority” to make sure it lines up with Catholic teaching.

These are just a few of the many unbelieveable (and unbiblical) statements found in this volume.  These examples of idolatrous statements are multiplied many times over in Liguori’s book. 

Catholic Response to Protestant Objections

It is a fact that some of these statements are hard for even some Catholics to swallow!  But wanting to defend their church, they will try to explain away the elephant in the room. 

It is interesting to see Catholics scramble to defend these teachings.  They have to work real hard to explain away such excessive devotion.  Some Catholics will say things like, “Just ignore them, since this is not ‘mainstream Catholicism.’”  Or, “These are just Liguori’s private writings.

Some will say, “It’s just one person’s work.  Liguori was not speaking ex-cathedra and therefore, it is not authoritative.  After all, we Catholics, have a certain amount of liberty in our devotion to Mary.

They may say, “You Protestants complain that we are ignoring God’s authority when we pray this way to Mary.  But we’re not excluding God at all, we’re just magnifying one of His people.  You can find people being magnified in the Bible!”

Or they may say, “It’s no big deal.  With all the other solid teachings that Catholicism has to offer, there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Some will condescendingly say that the Marian doctrines are on a “higher” spiritual or theological level – it supposedly requires much study or research.  It is too complex or advanced for certain people (read “Protestants” here).  They will say that Protestants are too biased or incapable of being “objective” on this topic, since some have a strong resistance to Mary.

Some of these responses downplay the book and some make excuses for it.  Either way, these are very weak and vague responses to those who question the book.  These are not valid answers to our serious objections, nor are they biblical answers.

Approved by the Church?

But does the Catholic Church really approve of such statements?  To our knowledge, the Catholic Church has never rejected or even corrected any part of this book, but rather, it seems to endorse it, as evidenced by the book’s popularity in Catholic circles and its availability in so many places.  We certainly don’t expect to ever see this book in the Catholic “Index of Forbidden Books.”

Furthermore, on the copyright page of Liguori’s book, we have the guarantee that the Catholic Church approves of it:


  • “This new and improved translation of ‘The Glories of Mary’ having been duly examined is hereby approved of.”

 
And it is signed by “John,” archbishop of New York, January 21, 1852 (apparently refering to John J. Hughes, New York’s first archbishop of its archdiocese).  And, as far as we can tell, most, if not all, of the newer editions of this book bear the official Catholic seals of approval, i.e., the “nihil obstat” (nothing hinders) and the “imprimatur” (let it be printed).

But what if a Catholic doesn’t agree with the book?  Can he claim that the writings of “official saints” (like Liguori) are wrong?  Did Liguori get to be a “doctor” of the Church by writing things that contradict its teachings?  We wouldn’t think so.  They must have considered his teachings orthodox (i.e., traditionally accepted as true).  Anyway, it seems that all the evidence points to the Catholic Church’s embracing and complete acceptance of “The Glories of Mary.”

Conclusion

Scripture nowhere tells us that those who have died and gone to Heaven can in any way intercede for us on earth.  Catholics only assume Mary’s intercession. 

The problem with this sort of thing is that the distinction between the Savior and mankind (including Mary) is blurred by such exalted language.  Whenever a person is given the attributes that only God has in Scripture, then he / she is given too much “devotion.”  The highest levels of intimacy and exalted compliments should be reserved for Jesus alone.

Therefore, this book is blasphemous and the “Mary” that Liguori glorifies is not the humble handmaid called Mary in the Bible.  Instead of “The Glories of Mary,” this book’s title could have rightly been “The Idolatries of Liguori and Other Catholics.”

See also these articles on praying to Mary and the saints:



Sunday, March 31, 2019

FASTING LIKE THE HYPOCRITES


We are again approaching the Easter season and many will be participating in what is known as Lent.  Lent lasts for about forty days and is supposed to be a time of self-denial, moderation, fasting and the forsaking of sinful habits.  It is a special day of preparation for each person, getting them spiritually ready for the celebration of Easter.  Lent is celebrated by the Orthodox Churches, a few Protestant groups, and especially by Catholics. 
 
One of the main aspects of Lent for Catholics is Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, and on this day, ashes are applied on the forehead of the participating Catholic, referencing, to some extent, the Old Testament concept of using ashes during fasting or mourning (for example, 2 Samuel 13:19; Esther 4:1; Job 2:8; Daniel 9:3).  To make these special ashes, the Church uses palm leaves that are “blessed” by the priest and sprinkled with “holy water.”

But interestingly, this special day of preparation named Ash Wednesday comes right after a day called Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras, which is French for “Fat Tuesday.”  Mardi Gras is generally a day of decorative parades and festivities, and often a time of drunkenness, lust, revelry and wild parties, especially in cities like New Orleans.  Not only is it celebrated in many cities in the U.S., like Mobile, Galveston, St. Louis, Orlando, and San Diego, but also in other countries, including Brazil, Italy, France, Colombia, India and Canada.

But the proud revelry of Fat Tuesday certainly tends to negate the intended purity and significance of Ash Wednesday in many cases.  We know of many Catholics who see Mardi Gras as “one last wild party” before getting “serious” with God.  It is a mockery of God and of the person’s supposed new life ahead.  The participant is a lustful glutton and carouser on Tuesday, but on Wednesday, he suddenly becomes a holy vessel of God because he is wearing ashes in the shape of a cross on his forehead.  God is not fooled by this, and neither are many observers.

Ash Wednesday does indeed intend to convey the idea of public fasting, but for many people, fasting has seemed to have lost its meaning.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of a true fast, one coming from the heart and not through external appearances (Isaiah 58:3-7).

But Jesus, in the gospel of Matthew, clarified even farther the proper way to fast...  

Matthew 6:

v. 16 - And whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance in order to be seen fasting by men.  Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.  

v. 17 - But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face, 

v. 18 - so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you.” (NASV)

So why the ashes in public?  Why does anyone else have to know when you’re fasting?  Is it a true fast, or is it all just for show, like with the hypocrites?  Jesus said that fasting should be a private matter.  Why would any church (Catholic or otherwise) that claims to follow Jesus Christ purposely disobey His specific commands about the manner of fasting by placing ashes on the foreheads of its members for display?  It is true that no one is forced to do this, but they are certainly encouraged by the Catholic Church to do this public (and unbiblical) ritual.

Notice in the context of Matthew 6:1-6 that Jesus said that those who practice their holiness publicly (to be seen of men) already have their reward… and that reward is the attention and admiration of those who notice them.  But that’s it.  It is the reward of the hypocrite.  This is his only reward.  He doesn’t get a reward from God.  His “pious” works were wasted and his religion is a sham.

The truth is, those participating in Ash Wednesday are acting more like Pharisees than they are Christians.  Jesus strongly condemned all forms of hypocrisy, especially the religious pretension of the Pharisees (Matthew 23).

But to be fair, the Catholic Church is not the only group to be infected with hypocrisy.  It can be found in Orthodox and Protestant churches, as well.  Nevertheless, to encourage your members to openly disregard the teaching of Jesus so that they can be noticed of men is to put them in a dangerous position… it is indeed fasting like the hypocrites.  Jesus said of the Pharisees and scribes:

“You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you, saying, ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me.’” (Matthew 15:7-8 - NASV)