I compiled this short list based on questions I normally receive and some common misconceptions of the Catholic Church. This article is not meant to be all encompassing and I don’t go into great detail on any subject. This isn’t meant to be an antagonistic or hostile article. It’s simply something to get people thinking and I really feel that Protestants will appreciate the Catholic perspective on some of these issues. If you have feedback or questions post them in the comment box below the article.
So without further delay….
#7 Not Every Catholic Practices or Understands Their Faith
Surprise. Some Catholic’s aren’t really Catholic. Some don’t even really know what it means to be Catholic. It’s easy to find a Catholic who doesn’t go to Church on Sundays or who doesn’t really treat others with love and respect. I often encounter people who claim to be Catholic but don’t feel the need to go to Church or pray. One can be Catholic by name and not really Catholic by action. I’ve encountered Protestants on many occasions who are surprised to find that I am so devout and dedicated to God and living Christ’s message… because I’m Catholic. They become even more perplexed when they find out that I read the Bible, know a good deal about Church history, and can adequately defend the Catholic Church’s teachings that many consider to be controversial or difficult to understand. Many Catholics, however, don’t know how to express or explain their beliefs even if they understand them. Getting someone else to understand something is not always an easy thing to do. After years of studying of the faith, engaging in dialogue and debates, writing articles and contemplating the Catholic faith I still have trouble putting some things into the right words. That’s because the Catholic Church has been around for 2000 years so there is 2000 years worth of history to understand and explain. A person can devote his entire life and career to understanding the Catholic Church’s history and have enough material to last the span of their career. However, every Catholic should at least have a basic understanding of all the tenets of the faith.
The Church is continuously trying to improve the current catechetical programs to help people develop a better understanding of the faith through Sunday school and private Catholic schools. Parents, however, have the primary responsibility of ensuring they teach their children about the faith and give them the opportunities they need to grow their understanding by involving them in the Church. Children learn best from the example of their parents. This isn’t always the case. So often people will grow up never really learning anything about the faith until someone asks them why they call themselves Catholic. I was that person. I didn’t know anything about the Catholic faith until I started to have people challenge me and ridicule my faith. I didn’t like losing arguments and looking silly. I also wanted to know the truth so I started investigating and that started my journey toward the faith. Throughout the years I have often given incorrect answers that were based on my improper understanding, guessing, or opinion. I’ve been corrected many times and I know I still don’t understand everything. However, just because a Catholic gives a wrong answer, can’t give an answer, doesn’t know Scripture or doesn’t practice their faith doesn’t mean the Catholic Church’s teachings are wrong. The Catholic Church should be evaluated based on official documents and by speaking to those who have a solid and in-depth understanding of Church teaching that is based on reliable research and not opinion.
#6 Bad Catholics Does Not Equal a Bad Church
The Catholic Church seems to be in the spotlight a lot. It seems like every so often the Catholic Church is in the news over some scandal, tabloid, controversy or misunderstanding. It’s true that there are media outlets and reporters that unfairly misconstrue the Catholic Church and its representatives at times (it should be stated that there are also fair and honest reporters and media outlets out there). However, it is also true that some members of the Church (even important ones) make big mistakes and we can’t blame that on the media. Probably the most common thing I hear about is the cases where Priests have molested children. There have been priests that have made terrible mistakes but the question is not “do people in the Church make mistakes?” I’m well aware that there have been cases of priest molestation, bad handling of those cases by bishops, corrupt leaders and Popes with illegitimate children. The question is – since there are some bad Catholics does that mean that the Catholic Church itself is bad? I pulled up a news site today (September 12, 2013) and found two articles concerning recent incidents. One article was about a child psychiatrist in Utah who was found to have child pornography on his computer (see http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/10/utah-child-psychiatrist-held-on-child-porn-charges/). The other article was about a police chief who raped a child (see http://www.foxnews.com/us/2013/09/10/louisiana-police-chief-indicted-on-child-rape-charges/). Does this mean that the field of child psychiatry is corrupt or that the Louisiana law enforcement is a corrupt system? Not necessarily. It depends. The point is that sin is a human problem. You can find similar cases of rape, child molestation, financial fraud and murder committed by teachers, school officials, CEO’s, military members and every other institution and organization on the planet. Whether an institution is corrupt depends on what the institution teaches.
The Catholic Church has never taught or condoned the behavior that others condemn it for. In fact, the Catholic Church condemns those sins whether they are committed by its own members or those outside the Church. However, even though the Church condemns the sin (or the behavior) it does not condemn people. The Catholic Church invites sinners into the Church because it is like a hospital for sick people and sin is a disease that infects all human people. If we expected the Catholic Church to “clean house” and get rid of all the sinners then all its members would be kicked out – including the Pope. This does not excuse the terrible things done by some of the leaders but bad people don’t equal a bad institution.
#5 Protestants are viewed as Separated Brothers and Sisters
I once heard Scott Hahn, a convert to Catholicism and a popular Catholic scholar, state that Catholics and Protestants have about 90% of Theology in common. That 10% that separates us is important and should not be ignored. However, it is even more important that we not forget that 90% which bonds us together as brothers and sisters of the same mission. We can learn a lot from each other. I also admire many of my Protestant friends’ love for the Bible and zeal for the faith. I never hesitate to have a good dialogue about the differences between Catholics and Protestants but I always make it a point to acknowledge and give recognition to a person who is working hard toward a deeper relationship with Christ.
#4 The Catholic Church Does Not Teach or Advocate Worship of Mary or the Saints
Contrary to what you have always heard the Catholic Church has never taught or condoned the worship of Mary or the Saints. I have been a part of, or visited, various Catholic groups, ministries, organizations, churches, and conferences over the years. I’ve met a ton of Catholics and I’ve never once met a person who believed in worshiping Mary or the Saints. I’ve also never seen an official Church document that teaches or condones the practice. If anyone can produce one please send it to Marcus@ThirstingforTruth.com or paste a link in the comments below. I have, however, heard many Protestants accuse me of this practice without much evidence. I plan on posting an article dedicated to this topic soon but for now I’ll just give a short rebuttal. Most people think Catholic’s worship Mary and the Saints because we pray to Mary and the Saints. This would be true if prayer and worship was the same thing. But they’re not.
Prayer is spiritual communication and while you can worship God through prayer you are not always worshiping when you are praying. For example, “God, why did you let this happen to me?” is a prayer. You are communicating your feelings to God, but you are not worshiping God. “God please don’t let me get in trouble for stealing. I’ll never do it again” is also a prayer and it is certainly not worship. Just because people pray to a Saint doesn’t mean they are worshiping the Saint. Praying to a Saint, or the Saints, is a practice where we ask them to pray for us and offer our prayers to God.
“Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (James 5:16)
To Catholics, the Saints are not dead but alive. They are more alive than we are now. Therefore, they are a help to us. Prayer allows us to communicate with those members of the body of Christ who enjoy the beatific vision.
#3 The Catholic Church Compiled the Canon of the Bible Centuries After Jesus’ Death
Most people are completely unaware that there was no official canon of inspired Scripture (what we call the Bible) for about 300 years after Christ died. The Bible is not one book. It is a collection of many books from many different authors. Today you can go to a book store and say “I need a Bible” (nowadays you probably need to specify that you need a Christian Bible). They will bring one out to you and within a few short minutes you can walk out of the store confident that you have all the 27 inspired books of the New Testament in your hand. Ever wondered why that is? Have you ever questioned why the book of Hebrews, James or Revelations belongs in the Bible? Have you ever wondered if maybe the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene was supposed to be a part of the New Testament but somehow they got lost? Have you heard of the Gospel of Judas or the Gospel of Mary Magdalene? Why not? They were written and floating around in existence since before the canon of the New Testament was established.
The problem is that there is no book in the Bible that says “The following books are inspired by God”. Most people, Protestants and Catholics, just take for granted that all these books are combined together with a cover that says BIBLE and don’t ask any questions about where it came from or why those certain books belong in there. The only reason that we have a Bible today is because the Catholic Church recognized that there was a need to establish an official list of books that the people of God could trust as inspired works. God then guided the Catholic Church who was able to recognize the inspiration of God to establish an official canon. Here is a Protestant website I found that gives a short summary of how the Bible came to be (see http://www.gotquestions.org/canon-Bible.html).
I find it funny that the author attributes the credibility of the established Bible canon to these obscure “Councils” without any mention that they were official Catholic Councils. At the beginning and his article he stresses the fact that “Ultimately, it was God who decided what books belonged in the biblical canon… It was simply a matter of God’s convincing His human followers which books should be included in the Bible.” Then at the end he reiterates his point “Again, it is crucial to remember that the church did not determine the canon. No early church council decided on the canon. It was God, and God alone, who determined which books belonged in the Bible.” Catholic’s have no argument that it was not God who determined the inspired canon. God inspired the authors who wrote the books in Scripture. However, the entire article is pointless if only to say “Here are the councils in which the canon of Scripture was debated and established… but remember no early church council decided on the canon”. Yes they did! With God’s guidance they did decide on the canon of the Bible and it was not “simply a matter of God’s convincing His human followers which books should be included in the Bible”. That is not at all a simple task. Look at the tens of thousands of Protestant denominations who all have differing beliefs. There was great debate at the time about certain books that Church leaders believed should not have been in the Bible – like the book of Revelation. God didn’t compile the books and send a copy down to earth in a little parachute basket. He spoke to his Church and the Church recognized His voice. The interesting thing is that if the Church was prevented from error on the canon of the Bible, how could it then later become corrupt? If it’s possible that the Church who established the canon becomes corrupt, then is it possible that the canon of the Bible that was authoritatively defined by the Church is not the correct canon? That’s what Martin Luther thought. In fact, it was his influence that changed the canon of the Old Testament that Christians accepted for 1500 years (removing what he called “the Apocrypha”). Luckily, Martin Luther didn’t get his way with the New Testament books he wanted removed from the Bible. Otherwise, Protestants would have a different New Testament today and this would be a very different article.
#2 Catholicism is the Original Non-Denominational Church
Most people have no idea what the word Catholicism means. It comes from the Greek Catholicos which is sometimes spelt as Katholicos, or Katholikos, (καθολικός in the ancient Greek). It means “concerning the whole, general, or universal”. Universality means it is a fit for everyone. No one is excluded. So the Catholic Church can be translated as the universal Church, the Church for everyone, or even loosely as the original non-denominational Church (if you consider that non-denominational churches are themselves denominations since they don’t literally accept belief in anything or everything).
#1 Catholics are Christians
Every time I get the “Oh, you’re not a Christian. You’re a Catholic, right?” from a well-meaning Protestant I do a face palm. When I hear a Catholic say “I’m not a Christian. I’m Catholic” I do a double face palm. A Christian is a follower of Christ. There was no such thing as a non-Catholic Christian for the first one thousand years. Even after that Protestant Christianity didn’t come around until the 1500’s. Protestant Christianity normally can be thought of as non-Catholic Christians (Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Non-denomination… etc). Although there are non-Catholic Christians that are not protestant like the Greek Orthodox. Simply put – Catholics are Christians because we are followers of Christ.
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