Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Q&A: On Mary, the Saints, and Statues

Question: I struggle with the Catholic religion because of the Saints, Mary, and the carved images that Catholics pray to for guidance. Is this not a form of idol worship? I thought if you were going to pray you should pray directly to God or to Jesus who is said to be the Way, the Truth, and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Him. I am honestly perplexed by this and I would love to hear the true Catholic perspective on this topic.

Answer:
Catholics worship God alone. It is important that we make this clarification at the outset. Any homage or honor shown to saintly men and women who have died before us is not the same as the worship and adoration given to the Father, Son, and Spirit – the Trinitarian God in whom all Christians believe.

The technical Latin terms used to express this difference are:

latria - which is the adoration or worship given only to God, in Whom we place our whole being as He is our Creator, our Redeemer, and our Sanctifier)

dulia - which is the honor and respect we show to the Saints, fellow humans who have achieved their Heavenly reward and are now in the presence of God.

All Christians including Catholics give latria/worship to God. But most Protestants/non-Catholics do not engage in dulia/honor shown to the Saints. The reasons for this are many, but from a Protestant perspective the answer seems simple: the Catholic practice is unbiblical and therefore either un-necessary or even blasphemous or idolatrous.

To answer this charge, we may find it simpler if we divide the issue into parts and answer each individually. As suggested by the wording of the question above, we can look at three aspects of the Catholic practice: 1) saints in general, 2) the uniqueness of Mary, and 3) the use of statues, carved images and iconography. In the end, we will see that the Catholic practice of praying to saints and Mary and the use of images is not only acceptable but has a biblical basis.

1) The Catholic practice of ‘praying’ to Saints

Since Catholics are not “worshipping” saints, then what exactly are they doing when they “pray” to those who have died? Can the dead hear us, and do they even take an interest in what is happening here on earth?

We know that the dead can hear us, and that they are engaged in what is happening in our lives, because the Bible gives us examples of this. In Jesus’ own life we see Him converse with the dead during the transfiguration:


“And while he was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. Suddenly they saw two men, Moses and Elijah, talking to him. They appeared in glory and were speaking of his departure, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem.” (Luke 9:29-31)

Now, Catholics do not expect a miraculous apparition, a vision, or a verbal response to our prayers when we pray to the saints. What we do expect and hope for is that the saints in Heaven will go to God on our behalf and speak to Him, as Moses and Elijah spoke to Jesus, and that they will pray with us for whatever intention we wish to lay before God.

In Scripture we read that “the prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16) Those who have died and are in Heaven are certainly “righteous.” When we “pray to” Saints, what we mean is that we “send our prayers up to them” and ask that they make our prayers their own. Just as we would ask our friends and neighbors here on earth to pray for us, so too, we ask our Christian family and friends in Heaven to join us in prayer.

Even so, we know that our prayers will only be answered if God allows it. The saints do nothing apart from God. In the transfiguration, Moses and Elijah appeared only because the Father allowed them to appear. The Apostles who witnessed this event were granted that vision as a part of God’s plan, not the plan of Moses and Elijah. God can allow or deny such intercession from the dead as He sees fit. (The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 might be an interesting passage to reflect upon in this regard. But in contrast we might read Matthew27:53, immediately after the Resurrection, where we see the dead participating in God’s glory: “They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.”)

Since the Bible tells us of these miraculous happenings, we can be certain that the dead are alive in God, since He is “the God of the living” (Matthew 22:32), and that the Saints do participate actively in God’s plan. Most assuredly they bring our prayers
before God’s throne. In Revelation John tells us that our prayers are brought before God by those in His “Heavenly Court”:


“…the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8)

In fact, Revelation is filled with scenes of Heavenly worship, in which those who have died together with the Angels offer praise, worship and petitions before God. Since we know this to be true, then it only makes sense that we should offer our prayers to the Saints and Angels so that they can add their voices to our own.

2) The uniqueness of Mary

To explain the role of Mary in Catholicism would take more space than what I have here, so I will be brief…

If Catholics offer honor and respect to the Saints in the form of dulia, then we offer a heightened form of honor to Mary which is called hyperdulia. This is because Mary played such a unique role in salvation history. If the Saints are honored because they participate in God’s plan and they show forth His grace and love in their lives, then Mary does so beyond compare. She is the Mother of God, the Theotokos (God-bearer), the New Eve (to Jesus’ New Adam), she is the woman of Revelation with twelve stars on her head, clothed in the sun, and the moon at her feet. This woman was taken to a special place prepared by God and protected from the dragon (Revelation 12:6). Mary thus holds a special place for Catholics, because we see it reflected in Scripture.

No other woman bore God in her womb and raised God as her own child. If Jesus is our spiritual brother, then Mary is our spiritual mother. She is not equal to God; we do not worship her. But she points the way to God: “Do whatever he tells you.” (John 2:5) Her “yes” to God won us a Savior. We love her as any good son would love his mother, and we do this in imitation of Christ: “Behold your mother.” (Luke 19:27) We fulfill the words she spoke of herself: “all generations will call me blessed” (Luke 1:48)

(Any further questions about Mary ought to be dealt with individually…)

3) The use of statues and other images

Now the charge of idolatry can be discounted rather easily. As I already clarified, latria and dulia are distinct. Catholics are not worshiping the saints – we are not expecting the saints to save us or to pour out graces or blessings of their own. They are people just like us and are subordinate to God.

Then why the statues, paintings, and stained glass?

As I said before, we honor the Saints as we would any great hero of the past. We erect statues and monuments for our secular leaders (Presidents, war heroes, the Founding Fathers) and we make trips to these monuments so that we can pay our respects, remember their accomplishments, and revel in history. Our children learn from these physical reminders of our past.

We even erect memorials to lesser figures, such as the tombstones we place at the gravesites of our loved ones. We adorn these sites with flowers and mementos; we engraved images on them and messages of hope and love. We spend time at these monuments silently pondering the meaning of their life and death.

No one worships a tombstone. No one worships George Washington. But we place these physical reminders in special places to remind us of what came before us. And we spend time at these places to collect our thoughts and focus our attention at that one moment in time. This is what Catholics do when we place statues and other artistic objects in our churches depicting the Saints and Christ.

(The use of art and imagery in worship is not foreign to the Bible. There are references to artistic expression in the Old Testament, for instance the angelic images that surrounded the Ark of the Covenant as ordered to be constructed by God in Exodus 25. As long as these images are not worshipped as gods then it is not idolatrous.)

The Saints are our family…

When someone says, “My mother died when I was very young, but I know that she still looks over me from Heaven,” or “My grandfather passed away years ago, but I still feel his presence, and find comfort in knowing that he is with me,” that is the way Catholics feel about all the Saints. The Saints are our family because we are all God’s children. The Bible tells us that those who died in Christ are alive in Christ and they intercede on our behalf; they offer our prayers as incense before God. Catholics recognize this Biblical truth and put it into practice.

15 comments:

  1. The answer I present here is only a starting point. It barely scratches the surface of these important issues. Any comments or further questions are welcome.

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  2. If you start with a faulty presumption you reach a faulty conclusion.
    Moses and Elijah are not dead. Elijah never WAS dead. Moses was dead but was resurrected and then translated. Elijah was translated directly without ever seeing death. Same with Enoch.

    And as to worshipping figurines and images. Whether or not you worship them or not, you may debate but it makes no difference because the bible says in Exodus 20:4 "You shall not MAKE FOR YOURSELF an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

    I am sure that Mary even from your perspective would qualify as being in heaven above. Same with your saints.

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  3. 1) “Moses and Elijah are not dead. Elijah never WAS dead. Moses was dead but was resurrected and then translated. Elijah was translated directly without ever seeing death. Same with Enoch.”

    I’ll agree to that clarification for the sake of argument, and I’ll add more…
    According to Jesus NONE of the patriarchs are “dead” – God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. (Mat 12:27; Luke 20:38) So whether Moses was assumed into Heaven after natural death or whether Elijah was “translated” into Heaven is simply a matter of how they passed into the next life. If we take Jesus at His word, then no matter how a person passes over to new life (whether through natural death or through some other, miraculous means) they are all ALIVE in Christ. Jesus included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob among those who are “alive.” None of these men were “translated” into Heaven, and yet they are alive just as Moses and Elijah are alive...
    Perhaps you are getting too caught up in the technicalities of what “death” is. I used the term “dead” less as a technical term but more generally to mean anyone who is no longer in THIS life. I apologize for that. Anyway, I will amend my response... Catholics do not pray to the “dead.” We pray to those who are alive in Christ in Heaven. That would certainly include Moses and Elijah (no matter how they arrived there) and also Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and it includes any Saint who died a natural death and now awaits the final Resurrection.

    2) “And as to worshipping figurines and images. Whether or not you worship them or not, you may debate but it makes no difference because the bible says in Exodus 20:4 ‘You shall not MAKE FOR YOURSELF an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.’”

    Yet God commanded that angelic figures should be carved as decoration for the Ark of the Covenant. The Cherubim with wings outstretched certainly fit your loose definition of “idol”– but apparently not GOD’s definition, otherwise He would not have ordered the Jews to carve an idol as you describe it. Something else must be going on, or else God would not have broken His own command.
    The Catholic understanding is that we are not supposed to raise an image up to the level of God and worship created things above the Creator. Using artistic expression in our places of worship is not forbidden. God ordered the Jews to make images of things in Heaven (the Cherubim) but without worshipping them, so I feel perfectly comfortable following God’s example.

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  4. As I said above, I will accept for the sake of argument that Moses was taken (body and soul) into Heaven after his death, and that Elijah never died but rather was “translated” or “assumed” while he yet lived. These are certainly acceptable interpretations of the texts.

    These two examples are a good jumping off point for a discussion on Mary…

    Catholics believe that Mary was assumed into Heaven, but there is some debate over whether she died first (like Moses) or whether she was assumed while alive (like Elijah). The Church does not make an official pronouncement on this matter, and Catholics are free to hold either opinion.

    Now I am sure, in either case, you reject completely the notion that Mary was assumed (“translated”). But passages such as Revelation 12:6 (where the woman who gave birth to a son had a place prepared for her by God) and Revelation 12:14 and 16 (where miraculous happenings save the woman from the dragon) could be interpreted that Mary was given this and other special privilege for her role as Mother of God.

    Now, you might argue that the Book of Revelation is filled with strange happenings that are interpreted many different ways depending on who you talk to…But I would reply that the passage concerning a chariot of fire with flaming horses that takes Elijah up to heaven in a whirlwind is also a strange happening that is open to interpretation. Many questions present themselves: What did Elijah experience after he left Elisha’s sight? How was his earthly body changed so that he could experience God’s presence in Heaven? Was this change in his body anything like physical death? We simply do not know…the passage is too vague.

    On the issue of Moses’ assumption, scripture is likewise unclear. The most direct reference is in Jude where Michael the Archangel disputes Satan over Moses’ body. But to get the full story we have to read “The Assumption of Moses” which is not a Biblical book. Now I don’t mind using non-Biblical books to prove a theological point, and I certainly don’t mind if you do likewise. But if you are accusing Catholics of going outside of Scripture on matters of faith, well then…that cuts both ways.

    Also, I might add that an Archangel who takes a keen interest in human affairs (to the point of debating Satan on what to do with a body) seems to support my notion that those in Heaven DO care about us, and they DO petition God on our behalf…

    At any rate, I would just suggest to you that questions like: What is death? What does it mean to be “assumed” or “translated” into Heaven? What happens to our bodies when we are in Heaven? and other such inquiries are separate issues to the one at hand. The main point is that Catholics pray to/with those in Heaven. How they got there or whether they were bodily assumed is a separate theological matter.

    Now if you are one of those Christians who believe that when we die we cease to exist or that we “sleep” in some way, then you have asked the wrong question to begin with. You need to go figure out the root cause of your issue with Catholicism and start there. Don’t spin your wheels asking about ‘prayer to the dead’ if your real issue is that you and I disagree about ‘death’ itself.

    I hope that gives you some direction in your study of other religions.

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  5. Perhaps the reason God gave the requirement to not make graven images AND the requirement to not worship them was as 2 identifying markers.
    Since you both make graven images AND pray to Mary and the saints, that makes it distinctly significant.
    Cherubim on the ark of the covenant are hardly the same thing. No one ever prayed to them.

    And you do bring up a good point. It is your assumption that EVERYONE goes to heaven when they die. That makes up a part of your theology.
    You also assume that "aunt Beatrice" is looking down on you and also advocating for you.
    Dont you find it amazing that no one is identified as going straight to hell by the church? Is hell empty? Or does their misunderstanding of who is in heaven and when play into that as well?

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  6. I have tried to answer you point by point and as thoroughly as possible:

    1) “Perhaps the reason God gave the requirement to not make graven images AND the requirement to not worship them was as 2 identifying markers. Since you both make graven images AND pray to Mary and the saints, that makes it distinctly significant.”

    As I said in the original post: “prayer” to saints (dulia) and “worship” of God (latria) are two distinct things. God said to not “worship” graven images, and so Catholics do not. However God does allow (and even commanded) the carving of images for other religious purposes. The Cherubim on the Ark is one example. Another would be the bronze snake from Numbers 21:8-9...

    “The LORD said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

    Without this story, if I were to tell you that people can be miraculously healed by standing in front of a bronze statue you would probably say that I am an idol worshiper. But there it is in black and white – God commanded a statue to be made and used for religious healing. God did not say to “worship” the snake…only that it would be used as a focal point for His miraculous work.

    Now Catholics do not expect our statues to perform miracles like the snake did. We simply use them as a reminder of those who have died in the faith before us. We use them as a focal point for meditation and prayer...not “worship.” This is completely in line with the Biblical use of carved images. God commanded that images be carved for other purposes besides worship.

    2) “Cherubim on the ark of the covenant are hardly the same thing. No one ever prayed to them.”

    Two points: First, there are several instances in the Bible of Angels appearing to humans and conversing with them. Any time a human on earth communicates with a Heavenly being it is very similar to what Catholics do when we pray to saints. So yes they did “pray” to angels. For the record, to “pray” means to entreat, implore, request or plea; to make a request in a humble manner. In Scripture God often uses Angels to communicate with humans. Those humans then make requests, plea or implore to the Angel; and so they “pray.”
    Second: If you mean that the Jews did not pray to the statues of Cherubs on the Ark, then you are correct. And neither do Catholics pray to statues. The statues are not “real” people. They are only artistic images. We do not pray to a statue. The statues are only there as a physical reminder, just as you would keep a photo of you grandmother or a statue of a great President. It is the same thing.

    Continued...

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  7. 3) “It is your assumption that EVERYONE goes to heaven when they die. That makes up a part of your theology.”

    No that is false. Catholics do not believe that everyone goes to Heaven. Nor did I make that claim. I’m not sure where you got that idea.

    4) “Don’t you find it amazing that no one is identified as going straight to hell by the church? Is hell empty?”

    No, I do not find it amazing. It is simply the Church’s way of recognizing that God is merciful and we do not dare assume to judge a person’s soul as though we were God. What WOULD be "amazing" is if someone were to really claim to know who is damned and start pointing fingers and naming names. The Church does not claim that power which is God's alone.

    Catholics believe that Hell is real and that people can certainly go there. We have no way of knowing who goes there or how many and so no pronouncement is made. The reason we know that certain Saints are in Heaven is that miracles can be attributed to their intercession. Those miracles are signs from God that He hears that Saint’s prayer and so we know that that person is with God. Also their lives are studied from every angle and the cause for their sainthood is brought before theologians and prayerfully considered. This is a long process and very rigorous.

    Only those who are officially declared as Saints are then recognized by the whole Church as being in Heaven...This does not mean that others (like my friends and family) are excluded from heaven, and it does not mean that NO ONE goes to Hell, but it simply means that the Church will only declare it to be so when the evidence is there to support it, and God has confirmed it by granting a miraculous request.

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  8. The reason we know that certain Saints are in Heaven is that miracles can be attributed to their intercession. Those miracles are signs from God that He hears that Saint’s prayer and so we know that that person is with God.


    -----------------------------------
    That has to be the thinnest reasoning I have heard.

    The Catholic position throughout the centuries is that one could not go directly to God without an intercessor. Hence the position and power of the priests and Pope.
    Yet here you claim that one knows Saints are in heaven because God grants miracles, evidently because people are praying to Saints.
    You say miracles are attributed to their intercession. The only way you could prove that is if God said, I heard you were praying to so and so and after he begged me to do as you requested, I acquiesced to his request.
    Other than that I would like to hear exactly how one knows that.
    The simplistic, I was praying to Saint so and so for this and that and it came true is hardly proof of any of the claims made.

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  9. Again I have tried to answer point by point...

    1) “You say miracles are attributed to their [the saints’] intercession. The only way you could prove that is if God said, I heard you were praying to so and so and after he begged me to do as you requested, I acquiesced to his request.”

    Yes. And in a sense that is what the Church does. The Church has the authority to determine if a miracle is truly a response from God confirming a person’s sainthood because God speaks through His Church.
    I realize that you reject the authority of the Catholic Church, but Catholics believe that when Jesus promised He would send the Spirit to be with us always to guide us to all truth, He meant what He said. And so the Church has the authority (from the Spirit) to make such pronouncements. The Church proclaims these things because God’s Spirit dwells within the Church and has given the Church the authority to speak the truth.
    So, let’s say that I pray to ‘John Doe’ whom I believe to be a virtuous and pious man and who died as a faithful member of the Church. I ask ‘John Doe’ to go to God and request some miracle. After this prayer I receive the miracle just as I requested. The Church then has the authority to proclaim ‘John Doe’ a Saint...But first there would be much investigation. The “Cause” for his canonization would be formally introduced and evidence for and against would be compiled. It would have to be proven that the miracle I received was not from some natural means, and the life of ‘John Doe’ would be thoroughly examined. But in the end the Church has the authority to determine whether the miracle is a sign from God.
    The same God who granted the miracle in the first place also gave us the Church as the authority to make these decisions about sainthood. It is simply the power of the Spirit at work.

    2) “That has to be the thinnest reasoning I have heard.”

    I disagree.
    As a Christian, I think the power of the Spirit is anything but “thin” – The power of the Spirit is what gives us surety of faith. If the power of the Spirit is “thin reasoning” then we might as well throw away all of Christianity.
    For example, the reason you and I believe that the Bible is a divinely inspired collection of books is that we both believe in the power of God’s Spirit to use an earthly thing (in this case, a book) as an instrument to communicate His divine Will. We trust the Spirit, therefore we trust the Bible. If that’s “thin reasoning” then we might as well chuck the Bible. I am simply arguing that God can also use the Church to accomplish His Will. I believe that God has that power and He promised the Spirit for that purpose.
    If you discredit my belief about the power of the Spirit to use the Church, then by the same argument you must also reject the Bible as divinely inspired, because you are saying that God couldn’t possibly use an earthly thing to accomplish His Will.
    [If you would like to debate ecclesial theology and the power of the Church that would be another topic to tackle, but it is all based on the power of God’s Spirit and I don’t think you should reject it so hastily.]

    Continued...

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  11. 3) “The Catholic position throughout the centuries is that one could not go directly to God without an intercessor. Hence the position and power of the priests and Pope.”

    If you mean that we only come to FAITH because of “other people” then you are correct. Jesus commands us to preach the Gospel, because it is through our preaching that the whole world hears His message of salvation. God relies on us to spread salvation - is that so hard to accept? It is God’s design (not the Catholic Church’s) that “other people” must baptize you, must teach you the faith, and must help you to grow in your walk with Christ. It is God’s design that salvation be brought to others by a people who are willing to go on missionary journey’s and establish churches and teach with the authority given to them by the Spirit. As you said: “Hence the position and power of the priests and Pope.” It is God's design. First the Apostles did it – Peter, Paul, James, John, etc. They passed this mission on to others, such as Paul passing the torch to Timothy. And down through the centuries others took up that role.
    If that is what you mean, then yes, that is the way God ordered His Church. If you mean something else, then please clarify. If you mean that Catholics do not pray directly to God, or that we ONLY pray to Saints, then that is utterly false. Catholics have a rich tradition of praying directly to God as other Christians do.

    4) “...you claim that one knows Saints are in heaven because God grants miracles, evidently because people are praying to Saints. Other than that I would like to hear exactly how one knows that. The simplistic, I was praying to Saint so and so for this and that and it came true is hardly proof of any of the claims made.”

    If you want to know the exact process by which the Church declares someone a saint, then I can give you some websites to visit. Or you can simply search the “canonization process for catholic saints” in any search engine. But honestly, if you reject the power of God to work through His Church, then you will most likely reject any answer I give you.

    By the way, thank you for these honest and straightforward questions, and I hope my answers help.

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  12. I wasn't speaking of the process of faith or evangel.
    I was specifically referring to the history of the church where they not only did not allow, but actively prosecuted people who were making the bible available to people in their own languages. The power of the church came by placing priests and Popes as the gatekeepers of access to God and salvation.

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  13. Well, it seems we’ve gone from prayer to saints, to the role of popes and bishops, and now Biblical translation. Let me see if I can briefly sort these things out…

    1) Intermediaries

    Prayer to the saints does NOT stop a Catholic from praying to God. There is a rich history of Catholic prayers and devotions addressed directly to God (as He is united in the Trinity as well as to each of the persons of the Trinity individually). I just want to re-emphasize that point before I move on.

    You seemed to imply earlier that the Church has set up barriers between God and the people (whether it is through the intercession of the saints or through the clergy), you seem to think that Catholics only seek God through intermediaries. That is not true… Individual Catholics DO pray directly to God.

    2) The priesthood

    God established the Church on earth in such a way that the people who compose that Church each have a different role to play. Some of those people are called to a specific ministry called the “priesthood.” The role of the priesthood is to offer the sacrifice of the Mass and to provide the other sacraments to the rest of the people. The highest level of priesthood is the episcopate (bishop). The bishop is especially charged with maintaining order within his diocese and to ensure sound teaching of doctrine. The pope is the bishop of Rome. He is not only responsible for his own diocese, but also bears a special burden of caring for the Universal Church.

    Now, you can call these ministers “gatekeepers” if you like, or “intermediaries.” But I would imagine that even your church has certain ministers who preach or baptize or conduct Communion services. They perform marriages, and offer counseling; they preach and instruct the congregation. If someone in your church has a question about doctrine or encounters a biblical passage that is difficult to understand, you might ask these ministers to shed some light on the issue. I am sure you have certain people who are charged with settling disputes or reviewing possible changes to the way things operate in the church. Are these men (women?) “gatekeepers”? When you approach your minister to have a family member baptized or to receive communion do you feel that the minister is controlling you or coming between you and Jesus? Why not just baptize yourself or make your own Communion with a loaf of bread at home?

    The fact is, Jesus designed His Church to be a “community,” where we each rely on one another to make Jesus (God) present to each other. Nobody is a “church” unto himself. In that sense, we are all “intermediaries” for one another. The fact that some people in the Church bear different responsibilities does not mean that they are coming between you and God. If the Church had no ministers, no teachers, no leadership, the Church would be in disarray. It would not reflect the reality of God’s unity. (“Let them be one, as you and I are one” Jesus prayed to the Father in John’s Gospel. The specific call to ministry of a few ensures the unity of the whole.)

    Not everyone is called to the same role in the Church – we are many parts, yet all one Body. Just because my priest is able to baptize and I am not, does not make me feel like he is lording it over me. Just because my priest conducts the Mass and preaches and offers Communion does not make me feel like Jesus is being withheld from me…. To the contrary it is BECAUSE of the priesthood, bishops, and pope, and the strong teaching of the Church down through the centuries that Jesus is MORE available to me. I see more clearly that the Church is His Body – with many parts acting together in different ways.

    The ministry of the priesthood makes Jesus present to me. When the priest (or bishop or pope) exercises his authority it is not the priest who acts, but it is Jesus who acts through him – through His Church. The priesthood does not create a barrier between God and the people – it actually opens God up to us.

    Continued...

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  14. 3) Bible translations

    First some history: When Martin Luther set about to translate the Bible into German he wanted to show that his Reformed doctrine was clearly evident in God’s Word. And to do this he was not above ADDING words to Scripture. In Romans 3:28 Luther added the word “alone,” so that the text would read that we are “justified by faith ALONE.” That word – alone – is not found in the original Greek of Romans. In adding it, Luther could make the Bible say what he was already teaching. He was changing God’s Word to fit his own doctrine.

    Truthfully, the only place in the Bible that has the words “faith alone” printed together is in the Letter of James – which says “NOT by faith alone” are we justified. This was particularly troubling to Luther since it conflicted with his teaching. So Luther simply called James “an Epistle of straw” – so weak and insignificant that it could be blown away by a light breeze – and he called for it to be dumped from the Bible altogether. He also wanted the Book of Revelation to be removed.

    Other denominations have done similar things throughout history. Just look at the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They have their own translation of the Bible printed by the Watchtower Society. Subtle word changes and the reworking of certain passages help to lend support to their doctrine. I would imagine if someone walked into your church quoting from a Watchtower Bible and drawing conclusions from it about doctrine that you found to be false, your congregation would suggest to him that he find a different translation. I think you can plainly see the problem…

    And that’s the tricky thing about translations. You have to trust the person doing the translating. Going from modern-day French or German into English is hard enough, but going from an ancient language that is no longer spoken and translating it into English, and working from manuscripts that are sometimes incomplete or that have variations between different copies and that are not even the originals, and a text that contains cultural idioms that are difficult to express in English – all of this adds up to a very complex task. If someone has an agenda and a little bit of knowledge, a lot of spiritual damage can be done to people who receive a bad translation.

    So has the church been protective of the Word of God? Yes. But I don’t think that’s such a bad thing to be accused of. The Church has been given the task of guarding and passing on the faith. To do this we must be careful how we transmit God’s Word to the next generation. The ancient language in which Scripture is written is always the best guide for studying Scripture. Any translation of the Bible will loose some of the original meaning.

    The Church has never been opposed to offering God’s Word to the people in their native language. But the Church is certainly opposed to translations that miss the mark and that teach false doctrine.

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  15. There is much more to be said about each of these topics - I tried to be brief. But as you can see, we have obviously entered into at least three separate conversations on one thread. Do you have any more questions or comments about "prayer to saints"? Or if you would like, I could create a new post on one of these other topics and begin from there...

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