The Catholic faith in light of the Bible
There are many questions about Catholicism, which can only be answered by the Bible. What does God’s Word say about the faith and the rituals practised by the 1.2 billion Roman Catholic followers around the world? Here is a personal testimony from the editor for Teaching Humble Hearts, Jennifer Sum.
I was born into a Catholic family and followed the family faith right up to my teens. For years, I followed many of the faith’s practices without much understanding, except that I always did so with a sense of awe and worship for a Holy God.
A family affair
My family went to Catholic schools where they were educated by selfless, loving nuns and priests, whose devotion I deeply admired.
Sundays were about attending service in beautiful and ornamented cathedrals wearing our best attire. I enjoyed the pomp and grandeur of it all. Before sitting down to worship in the pews, my family would dip their fingers in the holy water from a large common basin to make the sign of the cross on our heads and shoulders, before bowing facing the crucifix and reverently moving across to our seats. Holy Communion was about eating the actual body of Christ from some bread or wafer and drinking His blood from a common cup the priest served. During service, we would recite responses from church books.
At home, we had pictures of a (rather European looking) Jesus Christ, while my aunts prayed to their own patron saints. As a family, we would set time aside to repeatedly chant “Hail Mary” using rosary beads. We also recited the Lord’s Prayer often. As a child, I learnt to piously follow these practices, loving the religious ceremonies without really growing closer to God in my heart.
Eventually, over time, I felt more and more distant from a God for whom I had to jump through hoops in order to reach. In my heart, I knew I would never become holy enough for God, no matter how many prayers I said or how many trips I made to the Holy Land. I had no conviction that my sins were fully forgiven if I didn’t “do more”. (Having said this, I have Catholic relatives and friends who sincerely love God and I praise God we are able to love and pray for each other.)
Searching for the truth
Things didn’t change for me until I started to read the Bible for myself. Then I began to find that the God in the Catholic faith didn’t look exactly like the God I was reading about in the Bible. I became increasingly alarmed that many of the things my family had been practising for decades are not found in the Bible. Some of them were in fact prohibited.
I share some of these verses here and my personal reflections.
1. No one except Jesus
One day, I asked grandma why she prayed to Mother Mary. Grandma explained that Mary would ask Jesus to answer her prayers. She felt more comfortable turning to another lady figure, who had great influence in heaven. After all, Mother Mary was “queen of heaven”.
According to Wikipedia, “queen of heaven is a title given to the Virgin Mary by Christians mainly of the Roman Catholic Church, and also, to some extent, in Eastern Orthodoxy and Anglicanism. The title is a consequence of the First Council of Ephesus in the fifth century, in which the Virgin Mary was proclaimed “theotokos”, a title rendered in Latin as Mater Dei, in English “Mother of God”.”
Despite my best efforts to cross-reference this core Catholic practice of praying to Mother Mary in the Bible, I could not find any mention of praying to Mary or a “queen of heaven”. All prayers are to be offered solely to God. The only reference in the Bible to a “queen of heaven” is in the book of Jeremiah, where the prophet Jeremiah reprimands God’s people for worshipping an idol of the same name. Scholars say that this idol was likely to be the wife of the false god Baal, also known as Molech. Jeremiah told them that it is this practice that had brought a curse to them. I found this deeply troubling.
Jeremiah 7:18 ESV The children gather wood, the fathers kindle fire, and the women knead dough, to make cakes for the queen of heaven. And they pour out drink offerings to other gods, to provoke me to anger.
Jeremiah 44:22 ESV The Lord could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day.
When I asked grandma for the part in the Bible which told her she should pray to Mother May, she was not able to answer except to say that this is what she had learnt from the church since young. She also added that we didn’t need to read the Bible because the father (priest) would teach us everything we needed to know.
Grandma was evidently not familiar with John 14:6 where Jesus stated that no one goes to the Father except through Him. Was the family displeasing Father God by trying to pray through other people rather than Jesus Christ, Son of God Himself? At that point, I started to ponder the fact that many Catholics not only pray to Mother Mary, and also pray to various dead saints.
John 14:6 ESV Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
2. Praying to the dead
I had always known that consulting evil spirits through mediums in temples was displeasing to God, and was very surprised to find “consulting the dead” in a category of things that God finds detestable. God’s Laws place “consulting the dead” right next to mediums, witchcraft, spiritualism, fortune telling, sorcery and child sacrifice in Deuteronomy 18:11. Such practices bring curses
Deuteronomy 18:10-12 NIV Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD…
As Catholics, my family prayed to the saints to ask them to offer their prayers to God for them. I was grieved that we had paid so much homage to the saints and diluted our devotion to Jesus Christ, the Son of God who died for us.
God’s Word is clear that we are all to appear before Jesus Christ for judgement for what we have done on earth. No human being, saint, apostle or otherwise, is exempt nor more privileged or honoured than another. The apostle Paul asked us to imitate his life, but he never asked us to pray to him or show respect to his relics or image (quoting “Honoring the Saints, Relics, and Images” in a Catholic City webpage). All the apostles died in their effort to point people to Jesus, never asking or expecting that people would one day pay homage to them.
2 Corinthians 5:10 ESV For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
When my aunt passed away, my family participated in a special service to pray for her soul. Because the Bible states that our souls are judged for what we do on earth, it grieved me that my family would pray for her dead soul when it was already too late. The service was a great comfort to the family but was biblically out of place.
John 5:28-29 ESV …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.
3. Graven images
Many people enjoy going to cathedrals to admire their history as well as stained glass artwork, ornate carvings, paintings and statues – and say that they feel the awe of God in the midst of such beauty. It took me by surprise to read that the second of the Ten Commandments strictly forbids such images. Worshipping such imagery even brings generational curses. Is God not happy with such sincere efforts to depict His marvels? The Muslim faith forbids the depiction of Allah in any form and considers any effort to do so to be idolatry. Could we as Catholics be missing a relevant point?
Exodus 20:4-6 ESV “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
All the nuns and priests we knew had sworn to a life of celibacy on their own accord, something which we deemed highly honourable and devout.
According to Wikipedia, “Within the Roman Catholic Church, clerical celibacy is mandated for all clergy in the Latin Church except deacons who do not intend to become priests. Exceptions are sometimes admitted for ordination to transitional diaconate and priesthood on a case-by-case basis for married clergymen of other churches or communities who become Catholics, but ordination of married men to the episcopacy is excluded.”
However, I could not help but wonder how unmarried priests and nuns could effectively minister to people in their care with family, spouse and children issues, or what they thought about God’s commandment to multiply and fill the earth. That was before I became more cautious as I read 1 Timothy 4 for the first time. In this book, the apostle Paul warns against forbidding people to marry. It is, therefore, encouraging to see that some married priests are allowed if they were married before being ordained. Otherwise, it appears celibacy is mandatory for anyone who wishes to join the Catholic priesthood.
Genesis 1:27 ESV So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…
1 Timothy 4:1-3 ESV Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.
The Bible as the standard
The fundamental lesson I have learnt is to test everything according to the Bible – no matter which church denomination we come from; Catholic, Anglican, Baptist, Evangelical, Pentecostal or Methodist etc. Here, I share my personal experiences from my Catholic family background.
We should be careful not to embellish what God has commanded or try to add more to His word. It is still possible to love God sincerely, while avoiding any practice that goes against God’s Word, in whichever denomination one worships in.
Deuteronomy 4:2 ESV You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you.
I encourage anyone reading this blog post to not take everything written here at face value but to study the Bible for yourselves. Only when we meditate on the Word and be careful to follow everything that is written it will we be prosperous in all that we do. May you be blessed and prosper in the Lord.
Joshua 1:8 ESV This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.
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