This post is a reply to a woman named Kerri who has expressed several concerns about Catholics. I'm putting it here because it's far too large for her blog's comment-box to handle. (Luckily for me, I saved the text.)
Kerri, I'd like to answer your claims here, orderly, one at a time. I would ask that, while I am doing so, if you choose to respond, you deal with ONE topic at a time, and do not introduce NEW topics until the ones present in this entry are reasonably handled.
Now, you're concerned that the Catholic Church focuses on death a lot. Well, death IS a part of life, and if we were to ignore it, we would not be ministering to the WHOLE person. And, to be honest, I hear an awful lot of evangelical Christians starting conversations by asking "if you DIED tonight, would you go to heaven?" That's a bit morbid, and I don't remember Jesus or any of his disciples starting a conversation that way. ;)
FIRST: Crucifixes, crosses with the crucified body of Jesus on them. (Technically, a crucifix is ONLY a crucifix if it has the body on it; otherwise, it's just a cross.) Many of these go so far as to include many wounds and signs of torture, and bleeding, etc. Why do Catholics do this? Don't we know that Christ is raised from the dead, to die no more?
Of course we do. However, lest we forget HOW it was that Jesus atoned for our sins, we keep his cross ever in our sight. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen said: "Keep your eyes on the crucifix, for Jesus without the cross is a man without a mission, and the cross without Jesus is a burden without a reliever." We also call to mind the words of St. Paul: "WE PREACH CHRIST CRUCIFIED, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles" (1 Cor 1:23). Now, just because we have crucifixes does not mean we neglect the Resurrection! In any given church, there's really only supposed to be one crucifix; other images and icons of Jesus show him in his glorified body after the Resurrection (whether on earth or in heaven), or before his death, even as a child or infant. This is simply to remind us of the WHOLE of Jesus's life, not just one part of it.
Finally, on the topic of the crucifix, might I remind you of the vision that St. John had, of "a Lamb standing, AS THOUGH IT HAD BEEN SLAIN" (Rev. 5:6).
SECOND: Saints, and prayers to them. [For a fuller defense of this Catholic belief, see this post.] Now, I don't know what you think about saints in general, but I know a Baptist church nearby that's named "St. Mary", so clearly THEY think Mary is a saint too. Praying to a saint is not worshiping him; the verb "to pray" means "to ask, to entreat". When we pray to a saint, we are really asking him to pray for us to the Father; sometimes, we ask that God would grant us a favor or miracle through that saint's intercession, which means we merely want the saint to pray for our intention. Asking a saint to pray for us is no different in substance from asking a fellow Christian to pray for us; we are told to intercede for one another (1 Tim. 2:1).
Why do we pray to saints? Well, they may be dead to those on earth, but death has not separated them from Christ! On the contrary, I am sure that death will not "be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 8:38-39), and that to "be away from the body" is to be "at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). We are "surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses" (Heb. 12:1). I know that "the prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (James 5:16). St. John mentions the "prayers of the saints" THREE times in the book of Revelation (5:8 and 8:3-4) as being like incense rising before the altar of God in heaven.
Therefore I am confident that those Christians who the Church has recognized as saints can hear us, and that they present these prayers to our Father in heaven!
THIRD: The "wafer", the Eucharist. I think I'll leave this one for later since it is really the BIGGEST issue, and I'd rather get these "peripheral" issues out of the way first. Trust me, though, when I say that the Church's teaching on the Eucharist being the ACTUAL BODY, BLOOD, SOUL, AND DIVINITY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST is scriptural and supported by historical accounts of the early Church over and over again.
FOURTH: Prayers FOR the dead in Purgatory. Purgatory, though not named in the Bible (which puts it in company with "the Baptist church" and "the trinity") is nevertheless supported by Scripture. I will refrain from quoting from those books of Scripture that you do not accept (and would mistakenly claim that the Church added to the Bible after the Reformation, at the Council of Trent). We know that, as sinners, we are not perfect, right? This means we're unclean; if we were perfect, we would be clean, we would be holy as God is holy. But we are unclean. Now, St. John tells us that "nothing unclean shall enter it", referring to the New Jerusalem (in Rev. 21). Well, if we're unclean NOW, but we end up in heaven LATER, when do we stop being unclean? The Bible clearly tells us that WE will be judged (and not Jesus in our place). So then, at some point in our existence (life and death), we must be made completely clean; do you admit this?
The Catholic Church calls this "cleansing" Purgatory, because all remnants of sin are finally and utterly purged from our souls; it is traditionally thought to be an experience similar to passing through flame. St. Paul alludes to this trial by fire, as it were, in 1 Cor. 3:10-15: "each man's work will become manifest; for THE DAY WILL DISCLOSE IT, BECAUSE IT WILL BE REVEALED WITH FIRE, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. ... If any man's work is burned up, HE WILL SUFFER LOSS, THOUGH HE HIMSELF WILL BE SAVED, but only as through fire." The word "saved" there does not merely mean "preserved" (as in, not destroyed by the flames), but "saved" as in "saved to eternal life".
There is also the testimony of Jesus himself, when he says that "whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will NOT BE FORGIVEN, either in this age or IN THE AGE TO COME" (Matt. 12:32). We can infer that SOME sins are capable of being forgiven in the age to come, but we know that no one in Hell is forgiven, and no one in Heaven is in need of forgiveness anymore, so that leaves a "tertium quid" (a third thing): Purgatory.
FIFTH: The sacrament of "Last Rites", as you called it. This is a misnomer; it is "extreme unction" or "the anointing of the sick". "Unction" means "anointing": it is an act of prayer of anoiting with oil when a person is very ill or near death; it is also appropriate before someone undergoes surgery or the like. This sacrament is based on James 5:14-15.
SIXTH: Preoccupation with Jesus's suffering, crucifixion, and death (collectively referred to as his Passion). To this, I would respond, why was JESUS so preoccupied with it? Why did he prophesy about his Passion several times to his disciples (who were clueless about it)? Why did the writers of the Gospel mention his humiliation and suffering (sweating drops of blood, being blindfolded and beaten, spat upon, scourged, whipped, and finally crucified... no, crucified and then run through with a spear)? Since that's all in the past, should we just remove it from the Bible so it doesn't occupy our minds anymore?
Seriously, though, Catholics are concerned with suffering because the Bible tells us that suffering is going to be a part of our lives (whether or not we believe in God). St. Paul is pleased to suffer for the name of Jesus Christ: "Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church" (Col 1:24). The epistles are full of references to suffering; here's a list of occurrences which I URGE you to check out and read (in context, of course) on your own: Rom. 5:3, 8:17-18; 1 Cor. 6:7, 12:26; 2 Cor. 1:5-7; Eph. 3:13; Phil. 1:29, 3:8-10; Col. 1:24; 1 Thess. 3:4; 2 Thess. 1:5; 2 Tim. 1:8-12, 2:3, 4:5; Heb. 2:9-10,18, 5:8, 10:32, 11:26; James 5:10; 1 Pet. 1:6, 2:19-23, 3:14-17, 4:1,13-19, 5:9-10. WHEW.
I'd point out too that Hebrews goes so far as to say that God made "the pioneer of their salvation [Jesus Christ] perfect THROUGH SUFFERING" (Heb. 2:10) and again: "Although he was a Son, HE LEARNED OBEDIENCE THROUGH WHAT HE SUFFERED; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him" (Heb. 5:8-9). THAT is why Catholics remember the Passion of Christ so vividly.
SEVENTH: You say "We are NOT saved by being baptized." I disagree. The clearest contrary position in Scripture is 1 Pet. 3:21: "BAPTISM, which corresponds to this" -- by which means Noah and his family being saved from corruption through waters of the flood -- "NOW SAVES YOU, not as a removal of dirt from the body but AS AN APPEAL TO GOD FOR A CLEAR CONSCIENCE, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ". St. Paul says that "you were BURIED WITH HIM IN BAPTISM, in which you were ALSO RAISED WITH HIM THROUGH FAITH in the working of God" (Col. 2:12). And again, "as many of you as were BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE PUT ON CHRIST" (Gal. 3:27). And again, "For by one Spirit we were all BAPTIZED INTO ONE BODY" (1 Cor. 12:13), and that "body" he refers to is, of course, the Body of Christ which is the Church. And again, he writes that we "were buried therefore with him by BAPTISM into death, SO THAT as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, WE TOO MIGHT WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE" (Rom. 6:4)... he said it, not me: we are baptized into Christ so that we might walk in newness of life.
Now, through the book of Acts, people are being exhorted to baptism. Peter told the crowd on Pentecost to "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF YOUR SINS" (Acts 2:38), which makes the forgiveness of sins DEPENDENT on repenting and being baptized. You don't mean to say that we are saved without repenting and being forgiven, do you? And the Lord sent Philip to the Ethiopian eunuch for TWO purposes: to open the Scripture to the man (teaching him the Good News) AND TO BAPTIZE HIM (Acts 8:35-39). No sooner was the man baptized did the Lord take Philip away again. Why was baptism so important!? And once more, near the end of the book, is recorded this message: "Rise and BE BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS, calling on his name" (Acts 22:16), which directly links the "washing away" of sins with the waters of baptism.
Finally, it should come as no surprise to you that the Catholic Church teaches that John 3:3-6 which speaks of being "born of water and the Spirit" means baptism. And "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). That is how the Church has interpreted that verse throughout history, which is why there was incredible emphasis on baptism in the book of Acts and throughout the rest of the history of the Church.
The Nicene creed (which I suppose Baptists don't consider themselves bound to) professes a belief in "ONE BAPTISM FOR THE FORGIVENESS OF SINS".
EIGHTH: You said "We are NOT saved by eatting a wafer and drinking wine." But Jesus said that there is "food which endures to eternal life" (John 6:27), and calls himself that "bread of life" (John 6:35). He said: "I am the living bread which came down from heaven; if any one eats of this bread, he will live for ever; and the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. ... Truly, truly, I say to you, UNLESS YOU EAT THE FLESH OF THE SON OF MAN AND DRINK HIS BLOOD, YOU HAVE NO LIFE in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood HAS ETERNAL LIFE, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is FOOD INDEED, and my blood is DRINK INDEED. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood ABIDES IN ME, and I in him. ... he who eats me WILL LIVE BECAUSE OF ME" (John 6:51-57).
As I said, I'm not going to defend the Church's teaching on the Eucharist in this reply (I'll do that later) but I want to make it clear that Jesus himself said that eating his flesh and drinking his blood gives us eternal life, and NOT doing so means we have NO life within us. Now, the standard Protestant response is John 6:63, "It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." But this verse is twisted by people to make Jesus out to be a liar in the preceding verses! First, notice that when Jesus taught this the first time, the people didn't understand him and grumbled. Then he explained himself again, USING EVEN STRONGER LANGUAGE, not changing his speech so that they would realize he was being figurative (as if "eat my flesh and drink my blood" simply meant "believe in me"). The Greek text here uses the verb which means "to gnaw on", which is not a figurative verb at all. And after Jesus taught this a THIRD TIME in the SAME EXPLICIT LANGUAGE, most of his followers LEFT HIM! Why wouldn't Jesus have called after them saying "no, no, it was a metaphor, it was just a figure of speech!"?
Let's look at what Jesus said again:
"It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail." This sounds familiar to what he said to Peter in Matt. 16, when Peter declared that Jesus was the Christ. It was not revealed to him by flesh and blood, but by the Father in heaven, who is spirit. The flesh is of no avail, because WE cannot grasp this great mystery of faith, that what looks like bread and wine is in reality the Body and Blood of our Savior. It is a matter of faith, and the Spirit gives life to us in that regard, so that we can believe what flesh cannot.
"The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life." Jesus is saying that he has spoken the truth this whole time, not that simply his WORDS (in general) are "spirit and life", but specifically that what he has taught about his Body and Blood IS truth, it is "spirit and life".
In addition, mere bread and wine -- or mere flesh and blood, for that matter -- does not bring us everlasting life. It requires the Spirit, the Holy Spirit, by which the bread and wine are consecrated into the Body and Blood of our Lord. THEN, and ONLY THEN, is consuming the Eucharist efficacious for our souls!
Before I go on, I'd like to add that, OF COURSE baptism and the Eucharist and prayers from/to Mary, works, etc. won't save us, if there is no faith with them. However, faith without works is dead, and he who has faith in Jesus Christ will obey his commandments. So on to number nine.
NINTH: You said, "We are NOT saved through the prayers of Mary." I'd say we're not saved BY the prayers of Mary, but we can certainly be saved through them, just like someone else can be saved through your prayers. Those prayers can result in that person receiving the grace they need to repent, or to accept Christ for the first time, or to persevere in the face of hardship. I mean, if we can't be saved through (not BY, but THROUGH) the prayers of others, then why on earth did God tell Abimelech that Abraham would pray for him and he would live? (Gen. 20:7) Why did the people ask Samuel to pray for them that they may not die? (1 Sam. 12:19) Why did Rehoboam ask the prophetto pray for his hand to be healed? (1 Kings 13:6) Why did God tell the friends of Job that they would not be treated harshly because of Job's prayer for them? (Job 42:1) Remember too that Job offered sacrifices and prayers for his children, lest they had happened to offend the Lord during the course of the day. (Job 1:5) King Zedekiah asked Jeremiah to "pray for us to the Lord our God" (Jer. 37:3).
We see this in the New Testament also: Jesus tells us to "pray for those who persecute [us]" (Matt. 5:44)... if that prayer leads to them being saved, can we not say that they were saved THROUGH our prayer? St. Paul urges "that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men" (1 Tim. 2:1); that makes us co-mediators and co-intercessors (co- meaning "with", not "equal") with Jesus, the "one mediator between God and men" (1 Tim. 2:5).
TENTH: You say, "We are not saved nor kept by good works." Of course we are not saved by works: "for by grace you have been saved, through faith" (Eph. 2:8). I'm not entirely sure what you mean by "kept"... do you mean that, once "saved", we must do good works to REMAIN saved? I would argue that we do, because that is God's plan for each of our lives, as St. Paul writes: "For we are his workmanship, CREATED in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand, THAT WE SHOULD WALK IN THEM." (Eph. 2:10) Far be it from me to say that I can be saved without submitting to the will of Almighty God!
But I do know that we will be judged for our deeds: "For he will render to every man according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life" (Rom. 2:6-7) But you were talking about being "saved … by good works". The Catholic Church does not teach that.
ELEVENTH: You say that Jesus "keeps us for eternity". Does that mean that once we are saved, we are always saved? If that is the case, why does Scripture exhort us to remain steadfast, to endure, to persevere? Why are endurance and perseverance necessary if, at the MOMENT we are "saved", we are saved for eternity? Isn't enduring a "work"? Isn't persevering a "work"? (Maybe you will come to realize that all "works" are not "works of the law", and that "good deeds" and "works of the law" are two separate categories!)
If we are kept for eternity from the moment of our salvation, please tell me when St. Paul was saved. He was worried for his own salvation: "I pommel my body and subdue it, LEST AFTER PREACHING TO OTHERS I MYSELF SHOULD BE DISQUALIFIED." (1 Cor. 9:27) Tell me, how could a man like St. Paul, who received a revelation from Christ in a most extraordinary way and proceeded to go about the land preaching the Gospel… how could HE be disqualified?
And in the book of Revelation we get further evidence that "saved" Christians can lose their salvation. Jesus tells Christians in Ephesus, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, and Laodicea to "repent" (Rev. 2:5,16,22, 3:3,19)… why would a Christian need to repent again if they're already saved? Jesus's language to these churches was one of conditional salvation: "Remember then FROM WHAT YOU HAVE FALLEN, repent and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and REMOVE YOUR LAMPSTAND from its place, UNLESS YOU REPENT." (Rev. 2:5) Added to this is the fact that Jesus promises not to "BLOUT [a] name OUT of the book of life" (Rev. 3:5) which means that those whose names are in the book can be in danger of having their names blotted out from it!
TWELFTH: You say, "Only by receiving the IMPUTED righteousness of Christ can we be saved." The Catholic Church uses the term "infused" rather than "imputed". It is not that we are filthy beings who are merely covered with something pure; rather, we are MADE pure by being INFUSED with the righteousness of Christ. The righteousness of Christ is not a "token" we carry around with us as a "get out of sin free" card; rather, it is a very mark on our character that binds us to Christ.
Consider the parable Jesus told of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-12). Notice how one of the men who came to the feast was not dressed properly, and was thrown out. (Matt. 22:11-13) Responding to the invitation to the kingdom is not enough: we must be "dressed" properly. That means we must co-operate with (respond positively to) the graces which God bestows on us.
Although we are never worthy to receive this gift of righteousness (it is through grace, not works) the Lord does expect us to grow into it, to BECOME worthy after the fact. Three times in his letters, Paul prays for the people of a Church "to lead a life worthy of the Lord". For Scriptural support of this claim, see: Matt. 10:37-38, 25:30 (if the UNWORTHY servant is thrown out, that means the OTHER two were worthy); Luke 20:35; 1 Cor. 4:2, 1 Cor. 11:27; Eph. 4:11; Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10; 1 Thess. 2:12; 2 Thess. 1:5,11; Rev. 3:4.
I agree with you when you say "It isn't in the saying of words, it is the faith of the heart." Sometimes, with Baptists, it doesn't seem that way, though, since they provide this quaint little formula (just say this Sinner's Prayer – not found in the Bible anywhere – and accept the Lord Jesus into your heart). But I agree, the Lord knows our hearts, and he knows if what we are doing is done with faith or not. See, that is why the Bible says in Acts 2:21 and Romans 10:13 that "EVERY ONE who calls upon the name of the Lord WILL BE SAVED" and yet Jesus himself says "NOT EVERY ONE who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' SHALL ENTER the kingdom of heaven, BUT HE WHO DOES THE WILL OF MY FATHER who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21) Thus, to "be saved" and to "enter the kingdom of heaven" are not the same, since you can lose your salvation, but you cannot leave the kingdom of heaven once you are in it (after you have died). And because Jesus knows if we are calling on his name in faith or not.
That about wraps it up for your main post, except for the Eucharist which, I think to save my fingers, I will only get into if you genuinely want to hear the Catholic defense of this great mystery of faith. I don't want to waste my time or yours talking about the Eucharist if you don't want to give the Catholic Church a chance to prove itself to you. I might end up responding to a couple of statements you made in your replies to Pamela, though.