BIBLICAL TRUTHS BEYOND THE PROTESTANTS’ VANITY; WHY CATHOLICS SHOULD REJOICE IN THEIR FAITH
The beatification of Sr. Irine Stephan in Kenya was a beautiful thing. Apart from the celebration of life of one who is believed to have lived an exemplary life, the beatification drew out protestant outrage and tongue wagging. We thank God for such an opportunity to dialogue. It is sad that instead of dialogue, Protestants stupefied in self-righteousness sought to condemn without first seeking understanding. I was born and raised as a Catholic; although my personal thoughts on religion are not permissible among staunch Catholics, I cherish the church of my mum and trust that it is a positive vehicle for social transformation and spiritual edification. In this write up, I wish to address some of the issues my protestant friends raised.
Before we dialogue on anything religious, it is always good to first ascertain what genre of knowledge we are dealing with. Religious knowledge is not philosophical knowledge because while the former is arrived at through revelation, the latter is arrived at through rigorous reasoning that anticipated indisputable truths. Religious knowledge is not scientific knowledge because science is empirical while religion is more of speculative. Among philosophers of religion, there is consensus that religious knowledge is about the beyond physical (metaphysical). Metaphysical truths are speculative truths; we do not have physical evidence against which to measure the truths; all we can rely on is coherence in the story and if we are convinced that what we imagine is the most likely scenario, by a leap of faith we believe.
Religious truths would have been more acceptable if we had only one claim to revelation. Unfortunately, we have Hinduism, Islam, Christianity and even Traditional African Religions. All these religions seem irreconcilable or incompatible because they all claim God by revelation gave them instructions contained in the Bible, Quran, Vedas, Oral tradition etc. Considering the different religions we can either agree that there are many Gods or some of the purported revealed word of God is mere human conjecture. If we assume that there is only one God, given it is not possible to objectively determine, which among the different books is a true account of God’s instruction, then either God played us or these things are not worth our while considering them. There is nothing objective to be established about religious knowledge. Consequently, all we have to do is accommodate others as long as what they do is not life denying. In studying religions, I prefer the interpretive tradition established by Max Weber who advocates for Verstehen (empathetic interpretation): you have to try and see things as the other really sees them lest you jump to conclusions. When the African would face the mountain and incant prayers, the Whiteman concluded that the African was worshipping the mountain. If he had gotten into the Africans’ world view, he would have realized the African worships the God of wonders that created the magnificent mountain and seats on high above the mountains.
It is sad that the most ignorant people are the ones who assume great understanding of the bible. People should exercise a lot of humility and patience before declaring anything unbiblical. The bible is a collection of books and some writings even seem contradictory of others. Christendom is widely divided because of ambivalence in the bible that allows for different interpretations. The bible as we know it today did not come into being until 325AD. Before then, there were numerous writings all purporting to relay the word of God. The council of Nicaea had the onerous task of deciding which books were scripture and which ones were not. The compilation of the bible depended on the interpretation of men as to what was revealed word of God and which ones were not. The Catholic bible has more books than others because later on, some protestant leaders rejected the originally approved books. What does this mean for people of my generation? Why are there four gospels in the bible? It is because the compilers of the bible could not agree on one as a complete account of Jesus’ life on earth. The four were permitted because it is assumed they complement each other.
It is interesting because, the declaration of the trinity was made by in 360AD at the council of Constantinople. Before then, people were crippling with the divinity of Jesus; whether Jesus was God or human. It is imperative to note that an interpretation of Genesis 1.1, John 14:26, Genesis 1:26, John 1:18, Mathew 28:19 became the founding grounds for declaration that Jesus was fully divine just as he was human. If the divinity of Jesus was a matter of consensus among the early Christians, how dare anyone take a hard-line stance in interpretation of the bible?
If you are a Christian, and you follow Jesus of Nazareth, you should remember his call to “It is written but….” (Mathew 5: 38-48). If there is anything you have to learn from Jesus is to appreciate that it is written, scripture exists but reality and by extension humanity is more crucial than what may or may not have been written. Additionally, before you claim anything is un-biblical consider Jesus himself advising that after he is gone, the Spirit would teach and reveal more while reminding us of what Jesus had taught (John 14:26). Clearly therefore, something may not be directly quoted in the bible but inferred by implication. Some things that are inferred as having been implied include Trinity, Worship of Sunday and for Catholics Beatification, praying through saints and the Virgin Mary.
The Ten Commandments
Protestants accuse Catholics of not following the Ten Commandments as listed in Exodus 20. This is a misconception based on hearsay because Catholics follow the Ten Commandments especially, No 2 that clearly warns against making idols. I have followed up even on the Vatican website, and the commandments are listed as found in Deuteronomy 5 or Exodus 20. Tradition has it that Jews group the commandments as Catholics and Lutherans group them. So maybe to settle issue about numbering of the commandments, considering that there are 14 imperatives in the verses in exodus 20, one should go back to how the Jews actually do or did it.
If Catholics adhere to the commandments then why do they have carvings and statues? This is a pagan practice that came with Roman practices being Christianized. Instead of pagan symbols, Christian symbols were introduced. However, Catholics believe in God the father almighty and in his son Jesus Christ. All church paraphernalia in the Catholic Church should be seen merely as symbols. Those who watch Christian movies, do they believe that the man they see in the movie is Jesus Himself? In the presence of church paraphernalia, Catholics show honor just like any protestant shows honor in the presence of the head of state or when a flag is being hoisted or national anthem is being sang. Does such honor constitute worshiping those things or individuals? Finally, Catholics have never created any stature of God or gods. To understand that what Catholics do is not in itself idolatry consider Gods commands in Exodus 25:18-20, 1 Chronicles 28: 18-19, Numbers 21: 8-9, For depictions of God read Daniel 7:9 and for depictions of the holy Spirit read Matt 3:16, Mark 1:10, Acts 2:1). These verses show that God is not opposed to carvings and images after all. The problem is worshiping those images, which is not how Catholics use the images and icons. When you see a Catholic wearing a cross, it is the same thing as the roman collar which many Protestants don to show that they are ministers; it identifies them. When they look upon the cross and the images of the saints, they are reminded of their faith.
You may want to go ballistic on Catholics and wonder why they are not following the law as it is written. That would be a valid consideration. However, what does it mean to break a commandment? The third commandment clearly stipulates that we should honor the Sabbath (Exodus 20, Leviticus 23:3). There are many Christian Sects that bemoan the breaking of the third commandment. But who breaks the Sabbath rule with impunity? Of course, Jesus himself; read Mathew 12:1, Mark 3: 1-6, John 5: 18. Is there one sin that is greater than another? James 2:10-11 indicates that there are no small sins. But there is a greater lesson in Jesus’ purported breaking of the commandments. This has to be understood in light of Isaiah 1:11-17 and Hosea 6:6. Just like we rationalize the Sabbath commandment, why do we want to be stringent on the second commandment by ruling out possibility of images being used to facilitate understanding of Gospel mysteries?
The Pope and Papal Infallibility
Dr. Martin Luther Snr wrote the 95 theses and they all addressed the excesses of the Papacy. The church acknowledged most of the excesses and there have been numerous reformations in the Catholic Church. The excesses and indulgences notwithstanding, there is no harm in respecting the Pope as an individual and a leader of billions of believers. If you trust that God plans all and for all intends anoints a Pope who is the supreme leader of the church, they you can understand the thinking that his teaching is probably the will of God. However, such thinking has been challenged and there are many bishops and priests who challenge the position taken by the pope. However, for any protestant who respects his or her pastor, 1Chronicles 16:22 should apply when making pronunciations against the Pope. A pope is a minister like any other.
Life after Death
At the heart of Christian believe is Resurrection (1st Corinthians 15:14).
Resurrection of the Body
All Christians, Catholics included believe in resurrection. Catholics believe in the resurrection of the body. The foundations can be found in 1 Corinthians 15:35, 1 John 3:2, Romans 2: 6-11, 1Cor 15: 42-44, Philippians 7:1-2. Better grounds for believe in resurrection of the Body is what happened to Jesus himself (read John 20:24-29). Jesus resurrects in body and he asks Thomas to put his hand in his side; if this is not evidence enough of what resurrection means then what is? Will you choose to believe in duality or will you believe what Jesus demonstrated?
What happens after Death?
There are some Protestants who prefer to think that once people die, it is over for them and nothing more. They quote Ecclesiastes 9:5 and other such verses. Is that anti-the spirit of resurrection where dying is just a transition? Which of these shall we believe? Is it Luke 23: 43 where Jesus tells the repentant thief “Today you will be with me in Paradise” or should we believe John 5:27-29 "And he has given Him (Jesus) authority to execute judgment, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment". We would rather go with Jesus word, given the John is giving us his own interpretation. Jesus says, today when you die, I will be with you in paradise. Did he lie considering he stayed in the grave and only rose on the third day?
Is there a link between the living and the Dead?
The bible has clear indications that the living can relate to the dead. In 1 Samuel 28:7-20, Saul summons Samuel through a median. This definitely is shown as a bad way of summoning the dead (Deuteronomy 18:11). Jesus shows as a better way of communing with the dead in prayer. In Mathew 17: 1-9 Jesus in a spiritual state is seen talking to Elijah and Moses. Why is Jesus talking to the dead when such verses as Numbers 16:48 forbids such? Interprets such an incident as you may but it clearly shows that it is possible to spiritually commune with the dead that are in heaven or hell.
Do the Dead Pray for us and Can we pray through the Dead?
Some Protestants argue that Jesus is our only link to the father and we should ask all we want in Jesus’ name (1 Timothy 2:5). This is awesome, he promises that whatsoever we ask God in his name, he shall deliver (John 15:16). While the same bible says Jesus is our direct Link to God, it urges us to intercede for each other (1 Timothy 2: 1-4, Romans 15:30-32, Ephesians 5:25). This is interesting because the same bible that urges us to intercede for each other tells us that Jesus is the sole mediator between man and God. It is clear in the bible that asking our friends to pray for us is in no way contradictory to Jesus being our ultimate link to God. If fellow man here on earth can pray for us, can our loved ones already in the presence of God not pray for us? Have they not assumed the nature of God; are one with God just as Jesus was one with God (John 15)? It is logical that those in heaven pray for us and enjoin themselves to our worship or prayers as all in earth and heaven worship one God. Therefore, praying to the saints in heaven or not is a matter of faith… If you believe our loved ones are in heaven in the presence of God and they Care for us then truly we can commune with them in prayer just as Jesus communes with Elijah and Moses during prayer. Jesus gives us a parable that indicates clearly that even our loved ones in hell regret and out of love intercede and beg on our behalf (Luke 16: 19-31). The Psalmist urges us to commune as one in praising the Lord (Psalms 103: 20-21, 148:1-2). Are the saints in heaven praying? Yes read Revelations 8:3-4 and they offer to God the prayers of those of us on earth (Revelations 5:8, Job 5:1).
Beatification and Canonization
Beatification and Canonization are best on the above described beliefs about the dead. The belief is that the good men and women enter heaven directly upon death (today you will be with me in Paradise). Catholics believe that the dead (saints in heaven) pray for them and present their supplications before God as shown in Revelations 5:8. The question then was, how do we identify those in heaven and those probably not in heaven? Thus standards (canon) were established to inform the process of determining those in heaven. While all those who believe, by the grace of God should be in heaven, we cannot be judge about holiness and be sure. Therefore, the church identifies people deemed to have led exemplary lives and 5 years after their death, they begin a process of investigating their lives. After ascertaining that the person in question was exemplary, recognition of Servant of God is given such a person. Christians interested in praying through such an individual are allowed and beatification is done once a miracle arising from praying through the given dead person is registered. Beatification and canonization is a recognition process that aims to identify and establish the possibility of given individual being in heaven. Whether the miracles happen or are assumed to happen is not a question Protestants can ask, they are more notorious with the miracle crap than anyone else. At a personal level, a lot of religious practices even mere Sunday worship acts of lunacy are weird and queer to me. However, judging and labeling people because they believe in such a process is mere stupidity and lack of spiritual humility.
The Virgin Mary
I have also been wondering, how could a mother of someone be a virgin? The answer to that depends on whether you believe in Immaculate Conception or not? Was Mary a virgin when she conceived Jesus? In Luke 1: 28, we get the angels salutation of Mary. The angel says Mary was full of Grace, is the Grace of God temporal or is it eternal? Was Mary a sinner? Romans 3:23 indicates that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Does that apply to all humans even Abraham, Jacob, Esau, Jesus? This brings into focus the issue of Original Sin; did Mary have the original sin? How about Jesus his son, did he have the original sin? Is Mary a Saint? Definitely she is a saint, if you consider what Roman 8:17. While there are many arguments to the effect that Mary had children, Mary was a sinner like all of us; the indisputable fact is that she among all humans was chosen as a worthy vehicle to carry Jesus; the so believed to be Son of God or God (very confusing). If you believe Jesus is God (Trinity) then Mary was the Mother of God, at least God the Son. Such is a privileged position and we can see her special relation with Jesus at the wedding at Cana (John 2: 1-12). At the cross (John 19:26-27) Jesus offers Mary as a mother to his beloved disciple and he offers the beloved disciple as a son to his mother. Was this just a worldly act or does it have any spiritual implications? Catholics interpret that as Jesus putting his church under the motherly care of his mother. Revelations 12 is interpreted by Catholics to be indicative of the role of Mary in the Salvation story. Clearly, those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus are the Children of the Woman who by all interpretations should be Mary kept safe from sin by the heavens she remained immaculate. Catholics thus revere and honor Mary more that the saints; she is the first among the saints for all the Saints belong to her.
Jesus was baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist. Some Protestants argue that sprinkling water over the head is not baptism. Scriptures like john 3:5 talk of baptism by water and spirit. Acts 1:5, 11:16 diminishes the role of water by emphasizing that Christians are baptized by Spirit. Is it the amount of water that determines whether sins are washed away or not? Baptism in Spirit implies that act of pouring or immersing in Water only being symbolic of spiritual process already completed by the Holy Ghost. It is such interpretation that has led to some Christian sects leaving out water completely and opting for other acts like standing under a flag or laying on of hands by the elders.
There are Protestants (quoting verses like Acts 8:12, Acts 18:8) who believe children cannot be baptized because they are incapable of making commitment. However, like I have always wondered, is that Paul’s opinion or the final position ordained by God? The role of parents in their children’s life is stated in Ephesians 6:1. Galatians 3:17-29 reminds us of being descendants of Abraham in faith. Remember Abraham’s covenant? Read Genesis28: 10-15, Genesis 15:6, and Genesis 17: 9-14. While circumcision was the seal of faith in the Old Testament, the seal of faith in the New Testament is baptism (Romans 4:11). Why were 8 year old circumcised? Do you belief in crap called original sin? (Galatians 3:8-9, Acts 8:12). If you do then you would not have problems with infant baptism. By parents’ commitment, their children are baptized as an act of offering them to God and a commitment to mentor them in matters of faith. When they are of age, they receive formal Christian education and are confirmed. Let the children go to Jesus (Mark 10:13-16) as for parents, salvation is for the household (Acts 16: 30-34, Acts 2:39).
The bulk of this discussion was to show that Catholic Faith is anchored on clear biblical foundations and considerable principles as long as you believe in the teachings of the bible. I love the Roman Catholic World View because it fits perfectly in the African world view. The African world view accounts for the living, the dead, the deities and God. What some Christians want to do is believe in resurrection but completely choose to obliterate those in heaven a role in life. They advance an individualistic world view where it is I and my God. They forget that I die and I as they hope will continue to serve God more proximately in heaven. It is important to note that Catholics do not pray to saints but ask saints to pray with them or for them.
Dependable as the Catholic Faith maybe, it does not disqualify other Faiths and religions. I know too well that the others also have a very articulate explanation for what their beliefs. I shudder to imagine that it might all be vanity. I read Isaiah 64:4 or 1 Corinthians 2:9 and John 1:18 and I am convinced that no one has ever seen God; by Faith we hope that what those Jews who were friends of Jesus believed about him is true. If Jesus is the only way, then all other religions are wrong but how do we ascertain this? Such consideration make me humble rather than grandiose in stupefying self-righteousness.