Today’s post is about the difference between the Catholic Church and what we do today at Rock Brook Church. Before we begin, we want to be clear that we are not protesting anything. This post is not to cause division, to force anyone to change or to make anyone angry. We just want to help bring clarity to your Christian life.
“I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me… May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me.” John 17:20, 23 NLT
God’s love for you is amazing. It’s long enough to last forever, wide enough to be everywhere, high enough to cover your mistakes and deep enough to handle anything. Jesus prayed that we would experience that love.
If you have ever experienced how much God loves you, it changes everything.
Jesus prays here that we would be unified. So before we talk about differences, let’s start with the similarities.
The Apostles Creed is a way for us all to be unified. We all unite around the Apostles Creed and have for almost two thousand years. This is a statement the early church leaders wrote to help people remember and state what they believe.
I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again. He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic Church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.
We believe this creed and Catholics believe this creed. Everything centers on Jesus Christ. When it says, catholic it doesn’t mean Roman Catholic. When the word “catholic,” is not capitalized, it means universal. The word “Church” means all believers, the body of Christ. Another way to translate that is to say, one holy Church.
Five Differences Between the Roman Catholic Church and Rock Brook
Now let’s look at Five Differences Between the Roman Catholic Church and Rock Brook. There are many, but these are probably the most helpful for today.
1. The Bible is our sole source of authority.
It is not that way for the Roman Catholic church. It’s one source of authority and is greatly respected, but you can see, from their faith statements, their doctrine in the Vatican II document says,
“In order to keep the Gospel forever whole and alive within the Church, the Apostles left bishops as their successors, “handing over” to them “the authority to teach in their own place.”
Pope Francis is the 266th Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. It’s a line that goes all the way back to Peter who the Catholics refer to as Pope Number one. They reference him as Pope number one even though Peter never claimed that title.
One day, Jesus asked the disciples, who do you say that I am?
“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:16, 18
Catholics believe that Jesus was building His church on the rock of Peter. Non-catholics believe He was building the church on the rock of Peter’s answer, that Jesus was the Messiah.
There is a big difference on how you interpret this particular line. Jesus calls Peter the rock because he gave this answer as Jesus being the Messiah. Peter became the first leader of the church in Jerusalem.
So in the Roman Catholic church, the Pope can change things. They can add rules or remove rules and change things as they feel led. We, as Rock Brook Church, do not go to tradition or opinion or committee on truths that are clear in scripture. This is God’s word, Catholics trace the Papal line back to Peter whether Peter wanted it or not.
As we read about Peter and what God used Peter to say in scripture, it doesn’t seem like Peter would be comfortable with what the Catholic church has done to him and for him. We know from scripture that Peter was the leader of the first church, but infallibility, you don’t find that in scripture.
Catholics have the pope, the papal office and sacred tradition and decide to do things differently. Having a priest isn’t even in the Bible. Here’s a big reason for the difference in the Vatican II document.
“Consequently it is not from Sacred Scripture alone that the Church draws her certainty about everything which has been revealed. Therefore both sacred tradition and Sacred Scripture are to be accepted and venerated with the same sense of loyalty and reverence.”
Catholics follow rules that aren’t in the Bible and every good Catholic would admit that. It’s the result of their view of the church’s authority in the daily life of the believer.
Things like Ash Wednesday, Lent and not eating meat at certain times, priests not getting married, the doctrine of purgatory, infant baptism, eternal virginity of Mary, infallibility of the Pope are not in the Bible. All of these examples occur because they take tradition, the church office as well as the Bible as an authorty.
Our authority comes from God’s Word alone.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17
2. We believe in the priesthood of all believers.
Catholics still lean toward an Old Testament system of worship. There is still a railing between the altar and the congregation in most Catholic churches. Only the priest has access to give you the sacraments and do the things of the priestly office.
In the Old Testament, the priest was the one who spoke for people on behalf of people on their way to God, there was a special place in the tabernacle and the temple where only the priest could go and offer sacrifices for the people.
The moment Jesus died, the veil that separated that holy place in the temple from everyone else was ripped in two from top to bottom. In other words, God was ripping it in half. Through that action, God was telling us that we don’t need anyone to speak for us any longer.
We can know that it now means there is no special cast or group of people who are called clergy and elevated to a higher position than the lowly people in the pew. Catholics believe there is a priestly office and only they can administer the sacraments.
In the book of Acts, as the church is getting started, it was the disciples who started the church. They’re fishermen and tax collectors and the Bible says unschooled and ordinary men. Even Peter was not theologically trained person. Peter was just a fisherman who spent three years with Jesus. Take a look at Peter’s own words in scripture.
“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9
Nowhere in the Bible do you find the words clergy or laity. That’s why we allow any believer and member at Rock Brook to help baptize, serve communion, pray, visit the sick, share Christ or lead worship. One of our slogans around here is, “Every member, a minister.”
The New Testament gives us a leadership structure for the local church. We’re a spiritual body that’s being led. We’re a spiritual family, and just as in a family there’s leadership, there is leadership here. A pastor means shepherd, but that does not mean that they are to take the place of your own relationship with God. Pastors here are to equip and empower and shepherd people in their own relationship with God and their own acts of ministry and service.
The big problem with the priesthood scenario is that Jesus told us not to put people in the place of our own relationship with God.
“And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.” Matthew 23:9
If you put your faith in a human, they are going to disappoint you. Don’t put any pastor on that pedestal. We’re seeing the disappointment that it causes. The reason the abuse in the Catholic church is so prevalent in the news is because they’ve spent years concealing it and hiding it. Now they’re being forced to address it.
The admittance from the Pope of things we’ve already known, like instances of abusive Nuns or child abuse and sexual abuse, their bringing it to light is important, and the steps they’re taking are important. An Arch Bishop was not too long ago defrocked in the U.S. and that’s never happened before. Accountability and consequences are important.
Just the same, the abusive power of pastors in protestant churches damages the kingdom of God. It’s wrong when anyone does these things. It’s not a Catholic problem. It’s a human heart problem. We all need to fall at the feet of Jesus and His mercy and ask Him to heal our hearts.
The Bible calls us to honor, respect and follow our leaders and pastors. But it also is clear that there is no hierarchy any more. The veil has been torn. We all have equal access and equal responsibility for our faith.
3. We admire Mary, but we don’t pray to her.
Mary is a great example of someone who was fully devoted to God. Maybe the greatest example of faithfulness. In Catholic teaching, she is elevated to a place of special sainthood and called the queen of heaven and the eternal virgin. She is someone who receives our petitions. If you want to get the attention of the Son, some would say go through the mother. So the Hail Mary closes with the words, “Mother of God pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.”
Why does Mary need to pray for us? We can appreciate the respect Catholics give the Saints and Mary, often times, however, it can unintentionally get in the way or distort our attention on Jesus as our central focus.
“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time.” 1 Timothy 2:5-6
Catholics believe this also, but the view they have of Mary puts her in a place that gets in the way of the relationship we can have with Jesus. We don’t need to go through Mary or have her pray for us. She was a great example of a humble servant and a great example of faith, we should honor her greatly but we don’t need to go through her to get to Jesus.
4. We believe those who put their trust in Jesus Christ are immediately in the presence of God after death.
From their church traditions and their reliance on other books they’ve attached to scripture, Catholics have developed the doctrine of purgatory. A place of cleansing in preparation for heaven.
The very idea of Purgatory and the doctrines that are often attached to it (prayer for the dead, indulgences, works on behalf of the dead) fail to recognize that Jesus’ death was sufficient to pay the penalty for ALL of our sins. To limit Jesus’ sacrifice to only paying for sins committed before salvation is to say Jesus’ death was not a perfect, complete, and sufficient sacrifice.
There’s not even a temporary punishment needed, because Jesus’ sacrifice was enough. We believe that God, Jesus and scripture teach us that we are justified by faith in Christ alone and that Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. When we die, we will go straight to heaven to be in the presence of the Lord.
“Jesus answered him, ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:43
There is a certain group of Christians who believe that when you die you just stay in the grave and sleep until Jesus comes back and everybody is raised and goes to heaven. But it’s not in the Bible and Jesus didn’t say to the man next to him on the cross, “You’ll be with me in purgatory.” The word “purgatory” is not in the Bible. That was just tradition. Being in the presence of God is immediate and assured.
“…to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:8 KJV
Because of the perfection, completion, and sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice, we are immediately in the Lord’s presence after death, fully cleansed, free from sin, glorified, perfected, and ultimately sanctified.
5. We trust in God’s grace alone for salvation.
A major reason why the protestant reformation happened in 1517 was the growing conviction between some key Catholic scholars that other things needed to be added on to keep you saved. They’d read scriptures like this…
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Romans 3:20
That’s saying you can’t be good enough. All the law does is show me I need a Savior.
“…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” Titus 3:4-5
Catholics also believe this, but it can be confusing, because of the sacramental system, confession and all the things that salvation is maintained through the sacrificial system.
Some people think it got emphasized to the point that there was nothing left except the perpetual sense of unworthiness and having not done enough stuff and you try to get rid of it by going to confession, Hail Marys and prayers of absolution. The other side is full of people who would say they have been to enough masses to last for awhile. The big difference for us is that we trust in God’s grace alone for salvation.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:4-5, 8-9
You can’t possibly absolve your own sins. They’re too great. The wages of sin is death, you can’t solve the death problem. If we were grading on the curve, we’re probably getting in. But there is no curve between death and life.
God sent His Son so that whoever believes would not die, but have everlasting life. It’s a free gift to everyone who needs it. That’s what grace is.
Can you imagine how God feels, as our heavenly Father, when he sees us running around hoping that we’re doing enough to be loved and chosen and accepted by Him when He’s already created you, bought you and adopted you? Those adoption papers were filled out on a cross so we could be in a relationship with him.
Check back on your discussion from last week. Any more thoughts or conclusions on “Living For Eternity?” What will you remember most from the series, “What Time Is It?”
Hear the Word
Read: Matthew 16
There are many different church backgrounds represented at Rock Brook, including Catholicism. This weekend we talked about what unites us with and what distinguishes us from the Catholic Church.
There are many things we have in common with catholics. For instance, our fundamental belief in Jesus Christ expressed through the Apostles Creed.
There are also real differences. In this message we discussed five five differences between the Roman Catholic Church and Rock Brook. One, the Bible is our sole source of authority. Two, we believe in the priesthood of all believers. Three, we admire Mary but we don’t pray to her. Four, we believe those who put their trust in Jesus Christ are immediately in the presence of God after death. Five, we trust in God’s grace alone for salvation.
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:16, 18
- What has been your experience, if any, with the Catholic Church?
- Were there any believers close to you when you were growing up?
- What stood out to you in this message?
- In John 17, Jesus prays that his followers will be one. How can we better experience unity with other Christians even though we may disagree on some areas of the faith?
- When did you realize you needed God’s grace to be saved?
- What’s you favorite verse about God’s grace and salvation? (John 3:16, Romans 6:23, Romans 3:24, Titus 3:4-5, Ephesians 2:8-9) There are so many to choose from. Which one could you memorize to have ready to quote back to the enemy when he causes you to doubt your salvation?
Tell Someone Else
How can you share the life-giving message of Jesus Christ with others this week? Is there a catholic in your life you can better relate to and celebrate your common ground together? Has this message better equipped you to share God’s grace with that person?