|Los Angeles, California|
Shane Idleman is the founder and lead pastor of Westside Christian Fellowship in Lancaster, California, just North of Los Angeles. It's a medium size Evangelical church, very typical of what one might expect of the Evangelical Protestant belief system. Today one of Shane's articles came across my Facebook news feed, and I had to comment it on here. It was published in Charisma News and can be viewed here.
Pastor Shane's misunderstanding of Catholicism is typical of many Evangelicals. There are basically two hotbeds of Evangelical anti-Catholicism in the United States today. The first is the Bible Belt, where I live, and the second is California. I know this may shock many but it's true. When I lived there I found that anti-Catholicism was really quite common. Catholicism is the dominant form of Christianity in California, but unfortunately, most of California's Catholic bishops have become so liberal, for so incredibly long, that the majority of Catholic Californians are so terribly uncatechised that they don't even know what they're supposed to believe, let alone are they able to defend it. This makes them very easy targets for Evangelicals seeking to pull them out of the Church. I remember when I was an Evangelical, living in Southern California, I would frequently ask Catholics why they worship Mary. Do you know what the most common answer I got was? It went something like this: "None of your damn business!" or "I don't want to talk about religion" or "You wouldn't understand." That's pretty pathetic if you ask me, and as a result, California is a hotbed of Catholics who have left the Church to join Evangelical sects, and spend the rest of their lives preaching against the Catholic Church. In fact, many anti-Catholic Evangelical pastors in California are themselves former Catholics. Pastor Shane apparently did attend a Catholic school, and served as an altar boy, according to his own testimony. (So I presume he was once a Catholic.) If his experience was anything close to mine, then it's no wonder why he grossly misunderstands both the Catholic Church and Christianity in general.
(Bishops of California, take note! You're losing your flock and you have nobody to blame for this but yourselves. Stop focusing on all this social justice nonsense and get back to the basics, or California may one day end up like Holland. Warning! It can happen very quickly -- in just one generation. See here.)
Now when I say anti-Catholicism please don't misunderstand. I'm not talking about a hatred of Catholics. I lived in Southern California for the first 23 years of my life, and now in the Bible Belt for the remaining 23 years of my life, and I don't think I have ever met somebody who just hates Catholics. However, during my 46 years I have met literally thousands of people who hate the Roman Catholic Church and what they mistakenly believe it represents. Most anti-Catholics will tell you they love Catholics but hate Catholicism, and for the most part, that is true. They really don't hate anybody. They're just horribly confused about what the Catholic Church teaches, as well as what Christianity is all about in the first place. I think Pastor Shane fits into this category nicely. Though I don't believe I've ever met him, I'm sure he's a very nice man who is sincere about his faith. He just happens to be sincerely wrong. I've decided to comment on his article today because he very succinctly outlines the issues that most Evangelicals have with Catholicism.
From his article, Pastor Shane insists that there cannot be two authorities in the Church. He writes: "In the same way that we cannot believe both the Bible and the Book of Mormon or the Bible, we cannot believe the Bible and many traditions that are not grounded in Scripture but actually contradict it." Okay, first of all, there is no single Catholic tradition that contradicts Scripture. Rather, there are many Catholic traditions that contradict the classical Protestant interpretation of Scripture, but none that contradict Scripture itself. Second, placing Catholic tradition on par with the Book of Mormon reflects a typical Evangelical arrogance in their approach to any religion that is different than their own. The Book of Mormon was written by Joseph Smith Jr. in the early 19th century, and Mormonism contradicts 1,900 years of Christian teaching (both Catholic and Protestant). While Catholic tradition comes from Apostolic Tradition, which has been around longer than the Bible. Third, the Bible itself is a product of Apostolic and Catholic Tradition.
It is on this third point where Pastor Shane really gets it wrong, but he's not alone. A whole lot of other Protestants have gotten it wrong for centuries on this one. Without Apostolic/Catholic Tradition, you can't even have a Bible. This is because the Bible was formed, in its current cannon, as a result of Apostolic/Catholic Tradition in response to the Arian heresy during the 4th century. A rogue (Anti-Trinitarian) priest, named Arius, opposed the Apostolic/Catholic teaching that Jesus Christ is divine. So he made his own canon of Scripture (The Arian Bible) to back his teaching. In response, the CATHOLIC CHURCH held an ecumenical council in the City of Nicea (Asia Minor) to combat this heresy. During this council Arius was put down and two major decisions were made. The first was that henceforth all Christians would recite a creed outlining their faith at every liturgical gathering (mass or church service), and this was called the Nicean Creed. The second was that the Catholic Church would compile its own canon of Scripture to counter Arius' false Bible. That canon of Scripture, approved by various synods and papal decrees in the late 4th and early 5th centuries, is the Bible we use today. That's where the Bible comes from. It was compiled from ancient Hebrew Scriptures, and Apostolic correspondence, using the TRADITION of the Catholic Church in the late 4th century. If you eliminate Catholic tradition, you eliminate the Bible, because the canon of Scripture we have today is 100% dependent on Catholic tradition. Open your Bible and see for yourself. Look at the front of the book. There you will see a list of books called the Table of Contents. Pay particular attention to the New Testament list. That is a CATHOLIC list, invented solely by the Catholic Church in the late 4th century.
You see, Evangelicals really blow it on this one, because the Bible alludes to this within its own text. It is the Church which is the "pillar and foundation of truth" not the Bible, and oddly enough, Pastor Shane cites this very Scripture next: "The church is the 'pillar and foundation of the truth' (1 Tim. 3:15)—it comes under the truth; it's not equal to it." I have no idea what he's trying to say here. It doesn't make sense when you really think about it. The Bible just said the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth. Then Pastor Shane says that means it comes under the truth. Does he not know basic rules of construction? Foundations and pillars support things. Without them a structure will collapse. This is what the apostle is saying. Truth comes into this world by the teaching of the "pillar and foundation," which means were it not for the "pillar and foundation" of the Catholic Church, we wouldn't have any truth in the world today. This is because Jesus established the Catholic Church (Matthew 16:16-19). Jesus gave us the Catholic Church, and the Catholic Church gave us the Bible. It's pretty simple and straight forward. I find that Evangelicals have to do a whole lot of reinterpreting and mental gymnastics to get around this.
From his article, Pastor Shane insists that Catholics adore (worship) Mary. This is a canard that's been repeated ad nauseam among Protestants for centuries. It's also repeated among Muslims too. (Protestants and Muslims make strange bedfellows.) The assertion that Catholics worship Mary is the result of a profound lack of understanding about Catholic doctrine and Christianity itself. Muslims can be excused for this, but Protestants should know better. Most traditional Protestants have finally figured it out, but there remains these stubborn Evangelicals who insist on taking the Muslim side of the argument. Here Pastor Shane attacks the perpetual virginity of Mary but gives no Scripture to back his argument. Perhaps it's because he knows that those Scriptures commonly used actually fall flat when examined closely. Instead he goes directly into the early Christian claim that Mary was immaculately conceived and serves as Mediatrix to the faithful. He even cites the writings of an early Christian to support his claim. In his attack on the Immaculate Conception, Pastor Shane states that "the Bible teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (cf. Rom. 3:23)." His citation of Scripture is correct, but once again, his interpretation is massively oversimplified. Does the word "all" really mean "each and every human being." If that is the case, than the word "all" must include Jesus Christ himself because he was fully human, as well as fully divine. If "all" have sinned, then that must mean Jesus sinned too. Otherwise "all" can't mean each and every human being. Obviously Pastor Shane and Evangelicals don't believe this. So they have to admit, if they're honest, that "all" can't really mean each and every human being. They must make at least one exception -- Jesus of Nazareth. Yet if they make one exception, then they can't deny the possibility of two. It would be logically inconsistent to do so. If Jesus can be conceived without sin, then so can Mary, which is exactly what the Scriptures tell us in Luke 1:28 wherein St. Luke uses the Greek word kecharitomene to describe Mary, which is often translated as "full of grace." The translation of "highly favoured one," used in most Protestant Bibles, seriously fails to capture the meaning of that word. The word kecharitomene is in the perfect tense, which means it is past, present and future. The word states that Mary is "full of grace" which is to say "grace filled" or "without sin" as in the state every Christian finds himself in after baptism, and the state Adam and Eve were created in before the fall. But the tense of the word implies that Mary had always been this way, from her very conception, all the way to her death/assumption. It's a constant state. Pastor Shane is using the typical Protestant mistranslation of kecharitomene to support his insinuation that Mary was not immaculately conceived.
He then goes on to to state that: "Historical Christianity teaches that Mary was highly favored, but she does not play a role in redemption." So does this mean that bearing the Son of God and Saviour of the world plays no role in redemption? No role at all? Come on! Even a dyed in the wool Atheist can see through this. If she bore in her womb, and gave birth to, the Saviour of the world, then she must play a role in salvation.
Pastor Shane immediately goes on: "nor should we pray to her. We believe that Jesus is the only way, the only truth and the only life. No one comes to the Father except through Him (cf. John 14:6)." Well, he's right about the "no one comes to the father" part. Jesus Christ is the ONE AND ONLY way to salvation, and the Catholic Church very specifically teaches that in no uncertain terms. In fact, it is reiterated ever time the mass is celebrated, as it is clearly states in the liturgy of the Church which Catholics hear and recite every Sunday. However, what Pastor Shane seems to be asserting is that prayer to somebody is the same as trusting in that person for your salvation. So does that mean that if I ask somebody to pray for me, I'm trusting in that person for my salvation? No. Obviously not. In fact, I would venture to say that Evangelicals ask others to pray for them all the time. How is that any different? We Catholics ask Mary, the Saints and the angels to pray for us, because the Bible tells us they do (Revelation 5:8, Revelation 8:4). The title Mediatrix simply means that Mary prays for us. It does not mean she replaces Jesus as mankind's one and only Mediator to God the Father. Every knowledgeable Catholic knows that. The only people who don't know that are Muslims, stubborn Evangelicals and ignorant Catholics who aren't adequately taught their own religion. (Bishops take note.)
From his article, Pastor Shane wrote: ''Catholicism promotes submission to the teachings of the Pope, bishops and traditions that often contradict Scripture." Once again, he states that the Church follows traditions that contradict Scripture. As I said above, this is not the case, however the Church does follow traditions that often contradict the flawed Protestant interpretation of Scripture. However, one thing he gets right is that Catholics are encouraged to follow the pope, bishops and priests. This is supported by the Bible of course. Like many Evangelicals, Pastor Shane is quick to point out Scriptures that back his point, but generally ignores Scriptures that counter it. For example; Jesus delegated his own authority to Peter (the first pope) and his apostles (Matthew 16:18-19; Luke 10:16; John 16:13; John 20:22-23). Christians are required to follow them and keep their traditions (Matthew 18:17-18; Luke 10:16; 1 Corinthians 11:2; 2 Thessalonians 2:15; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 1 Timothy 3:15). The apostles appointed successors to replace them (Acts 1:13-26; Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5; 1 Timothy 4:14). As I pointed out above, the Bible comes from the Church, and the Church comes from Jesus and the apostles. The bishops of the Catholic Church today are the successors of the apostles. Pastor Shane points out that all believers are priests in his citation of 1 Peter 2:5. He's right about that. But the Old Testament tells us that all the Old Testament Hebrews were priests too (Exodus 19:6), but in spite of that, God called specific men to serve as ministerial priests exclusively (Exodus 19:22). The same is true in the New Testament, as Pastor Shane rightly points out all Christians are priests (1 Peter 2:5), but fails to acknowledge that in spite of that, God still calls certain men to act as ministerial priests (Romans 15:15–16; 2 Timothy 1:6–7; 1 Timothy 4:14; Titus 1:5-9).
Pastor Shane then goes into a typical Evangelical refutation of the real presence in holy communion. Transubstantiation, he says, is not Biblical, and then ironically he cites the very passages of Scripture that points to the transubstantiation more than any other (John 6). But to do this, he must reinterpret these passages outside of their most plain sense, forcing a symbolic interpretation on what is obviously supposed to be interpreted literally. If Pastor Shane is correct, than Jesus was a cruel teacher, because he allowed his own disciples to leave him over a misunderstanding he could have easily corrected. In spite of that, the Scriptures not only teach the transubstantiation in John 6, but also the other three gospels (Matthew 26:26; Mark 14:22; Luke 22:17) where Jesus said: "Take, eat; this is My body." The last time I checked the dictionary, the word "is" still means is. It does not mean "symbolically represents." Then we have St. Paul's testimony that those who fail to recognise the Eucharist as the body and blood of Christ are guilty of sinning against his body and blood of Christ (1 Corinthians 11:23-32).
From his article, Pastor Shane wrote: "The priests in the Old Testament were encouraged to marry, but Catholicism encourages celibacy. 1 Timothy 4:1-3 says that in latter times some will depart from the faith by forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from certain foods." Only somebody completely ignorant of the Scriptures would easily fall for this one. Unfortunately a lot of people do. First and foremost, the Catholic Church does not require celibacy of all priests. Some married men are admitted to the priesthood. That is a fact. Second, the Bible does indeed encourage celibacy among Christian ministers. It does not require it (and neither does the Catholic Church in all cases) but it most certainly does encourage it (Jeremiah 16:1-4; Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7:8; 1 Corinthians 7:22-35; 1 Timothy 5:9-12; 2 Timothy 2:3-4). As for forbidding certain foods, the Catholic Church does not forbid anyone from eating certain foods. Yes, certain days of fast and abstinence are part of Catholic discipline, but these are rare, and such foods can still be eaten of course, just on the days outside of fast and abstinence. Jesus himself said his Church would do this (Matthew 9:15), and Jesus himself gave regulations as to how this should be done (Matthew 6:16-18). What St. Paul is doing here is warning Christians about those who will try to enforce kosher dietary laws in the last days. The Catholic Church doesn't do that. Also, by using this passage in reference to the Catholic Church, Pastor Shane is specifically citing the Catholic Church as: "giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their own conscience seared with a hot iron." Now that's not very charitable words toward his Christian brethren in the Catholic Church.
From his article, Pastor Shane wrote: "Suggesting we need purging after death contradicts Christ's finished work on the cross (cf. Heb. 10:14)." This reflects the typical Protestant attack on Purgatory. However, he fails to cite that Jesus himself said that some sins must be forgiven in the next world (the afterlife) in addition to sins forgiven in this life (Matthew 12:32). St. Paul explained to us how Purgatory works (1 Corinthians 3:10-15), and even prayed for the soul of his dead friend (2 Timothy 1:16-18). Belief in Purgatory comes to us from ancient Jewish tradition, recorded in the Second Book of Maccabees (2 Maccabees 12:44-46), which Protestants jettisoned from their Bibles in the 16th - 19th centuries.
From his article, Pastor Shane wrote: "Catholicism teaches that good works help to maintain our righteousness before God. But the Bible says that we are justified because of Christ's work on the cross. There is nothing additional to work for. We "work out" our salvation with fear and trembling (cf. Phil. 2:12b), but we don't "work for" it, nor do we maintain it." This is an extremely common Protestant assumption which is built on Martin Luther's assertion of Sola Fide or salvation by faith alone. The only time the Scriptures use the phrase "faith alone" is in James 2:24, which specifically says: "You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." The Catholic Church specifically does not teach that we EARN our salvation through our own merit. Rather, it teaches that salvation is a free gift, merited through the life and death of Jesus Christ, and that we may participate in this salvation by being united with Christ, and being transformed into his image. News Flash: that takes work. Giving up sin and becoming a follower of Jesus is often a process that lasts a lifetime. Nobody is instantaneously made perfect into the likeness of Christ. Christians spend a lifetime working at it. That's what it means to be a Christian, and that's what it means to "work out our salvation" (Philippians 2:12), and that is EXACTLY what the Catholic Church teaches.
From his article, Pastor Shane wrote that his Catholic mother used to suffer from nightmares as a little girl after she lost her father in a car accident. This was because she dreamt that she was trying to pull his soul out of hell because she was worried that he might not have made it to the Sacrament of Confession before he died. This is tragic, and both Pastor Shane and his mother have my deepest sympathies for this. However, we must not blame the Church for a misbelief. The Church doesn't teach that one is automatically damned for failing to make it to the confessional, especially if one already has true contrition for mortal sin but just failed to make it to the confessional due to lack of availability, time or some other reason. The confessional is there to help Catholics receive closure for repented sins. Those who don't make it to confession, through no intentional avoidance, might have to receive that closure in the afterlife instead, but it doesn't mean they go directly to hell for failing to perform a particular sacrament in a timely manner. The world is an imperfect place, and sometimes we just can't do things in a perfect way. That doesn't mean God automatically punishes us for it. The sacrament of confession was given as a gift, not a ball and chain. In this particular case of a 12-year-old girl having nightmares for the soul of her diseased father, what we have here is a failure of catechises. Somebody failed to instruct that girl properly about how things really work, and this falls back to her pastoral guidance (bishops take note), not the doctrines of the Catholic Church.
I do hope that Pastor Shane will take some time to do a little more research about Catholic teaching before writing about it, and I do hope that a good number of his readers will take into consideration that just because he used to be a Catholic, doesn't mean he's an expert on Catholicism. In fact, by his own admission, he needed to interview a Catholic priest to learn what the Church taught on certain doctrines.
Shane Schaetzel is an author of Catholic books, and columnist for Christian print magazines and online publications. He is a freelance writer and the creator of 'CatholicInTheOzarks.com -- Apologetics and random musings from a Catholic in the Bible Belt.'
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