Catholicism Calmly Considered

A co-worker of mine gave me a copy of Stephen Ray’s Finding the Fullness of Faith, which is an anti-Protestant polemical teaching designed to convert evangelicals to the Catholic Church. This co-worker in turn had been given this CD by a Catholic co-worker. I will examine some of the major statements made in this CD, and reply…

1. “We wouldn’t have the New Testament without the bishops of the Catholic Church” (Track 3, 3:31). Ray makes this argument throughout the CD in several places. Firstly, while evangelicals consider the Bible to be the supreme authority of faith, Catholics consider their church, and particularly the pope and his bishops (the Magisterium), to be the supreme authority of faith. The Bible is a secondary authority to a Catholic. Secondly, the bishops who canonized the New Testament were the ones present at the Synod of Hippo in 393 A.D. under the leadership of Augustine. I think it is a great stretch of the imagination to call Augustine a “Catholic” in the sense we understand that term today: someone who, for all intents, considers the prayers of Mary essential to salvation, the pope to be the supreme authority of faith, Purgatory to be a real place, etc. No such especially Catholic doctrines are found in Augustine’s massive City of God. The explanation is easy. Augustine was a church father, but not a Catholic. For this reason, both Luther and Calvin relied heavily on Augustine in their theology; and so did many of the Puritans. Why would they have done this if Augustine taught Catholic dogmas? They would certainly have condemned him and all of his theology as antichrist! Thirdly, it is arguable that the Roman Catholic Church, with all of its pet doctrines, with its papal infallibility doctrine, etc, did not fully come into being until the 1200s. However, many essential Catholic practices existed before the absolute authority of the pope was taught. As early as 451 A.D., the Council of Ephesus approved of devotion to Mary as the Mother of God; and before that a church father named Methodius was praising Mary in 305 A.D. So, while it could be argued that Marian ideas were present with some of the bishops who canonized the Bible along with Augustine, it was still not an official church doctrine at that time; and neither was papal infallibility. These are two major strikes against the idea that the Catholic Church produced the Bible. Without the absolute authority of the pope and Mary to lean on for salvation, both medieval and modern Catholic faith falls apart; and both of these things were not established dogmas at the time of the Synod of Hippo, which canonized the Bible.

2. “We had gone to a church that had tried to go back to the blueprints of the New Testament, which is impossible by the way” (Track 5, 1:37). Wow. I can’t believe he said that. Don’t you think its possible that God would honor your faith if you were just taking God’s Word on faith and trying to put it into practice? Yet, Ray goes on to say that because the Catholic Church had already been established, there is no need to cut down the corrupted tree and plant a new one. Compromise, in other words.

3. “Martin Luther opened the Pandora’s box” (Track 6, 2:00). By this Ray is saying that Luther and the Reformation opened up the door for all of the cults, heresies, and denominations that exist today. Theological confusion was unleashed. What a blaming game! Heresies existed in the early church (Gnostics, Judaizers), the medieval church (Albigensians, etc), etc. Luther merely opened the door for freedom of thought: and that in turn opened the door to the good, the bad, and the ugly. Luther’s intentions were only for good: to purify the Christian faith: that salvation by faith as preached by the apostles and the book of Romans, might be the staple of Christian spirituality, and that Bible study might become the source of theology.

4. “If a Methodist sins against a Baptist, which church will judge it?” (Track 7, 00:36). This is a “wise guy” almost facetious way of handling Matthew 18. Christ is head of the church invisible! Let Him be the judge! (Col. 1:18).

5. Some Catholic ideas are in the writings of some early church fathers. Ray makes this point many times; and its true, I admit it. But it does not make these things correct, because they contradict the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.” By the word “Scripture,” Paul means the Bible. 66 books. Not the Apostolic Fathers and not the Ante-Nicene Fathers. The Bible. That’s it. So, that’s my authority. Those other writings can help in many ways, just like modern theology books, but they are not Scripture and are not written by the twelve apostles or their cohorts.

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