Category Archives: Jehovah’s Witness

“At Home with the Lord”: 2 Corinthians 5:8 & Purgatory

THE PROTESTANT CHALLENGE: How can the Catholic Church teach that there is an intermediate state after death, like purgatory, when the Bible says that the only place for a Christian to be (besides this life) is heaven?

Referring to a soul’s “entrance into the blessedness of heaven,” the Catechism teaches that it will enter either “through a purification or immediately” (1022). This presupposes that it’s possible for a soul to die in God’s friendship but yet not be present with the Lord in heaven.  Some Protestants view Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 as contradicting this belief. Paul writes:

“So we are always of good courage; we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord…and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”

Since the Bible says that for a Christian to be “away from the body” is to be “at home with the Lord,” there can’t be any intermediate state in the afterlife.

MEETING THE CHALLENGE

1. Paul doesn’t say what the challenge assumes he says.

Protestants who appeal to this passage often fail to realize that Paul doesn’t say that “to be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord.” Paul simply says, “While we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord” and that “we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” Protestants may reply that although Paul doesn’t exactly say what the challenge claims, that’s what he means. Are they right? Does the logic follow? Does the statement, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord” mean the same as, “To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord”?

Suppose I’m at work, and I’m wishing that I could instead be away from work, and at home. Can we conclude from this that if I’m away from work, I must automatically be at home? Doesn’t seem like it. I could be away from work, eating lunch at McDonald’s. I could be away from work, on my way home, but sitting in traffic. So, it’s fallacious to conclude from this verse that, once away from the body, a Christian must immediately be present with the Lord.

2. Even if we concede the interpretation of 2 Corinthians 5:8 that the challenge asserts, it still doesn’t rule out purgatory.

But let’s assume for argument’s sake that the interpretation this challenge offers of 2 Corinthians 5:8 is true, and that to be away from the body is to be immediately present with the Lord. That still wouldn’t pose a threat to purgatory.

First, because the challenge assumes that purgatory involves a period of time (during which we are “away from the body” but not “with the Lord”). But as we’ve seen, the Catholic Church has never defined the precise nature of the duration of purgatory. We simply don’t know what the experience of time is beyond this life. If purgatory did not involve a duration of time as we know it, it would be perfectly compatible with the challenge’s interpretation of this verse.

A second reason is that the challenge assumes purgatory is a state of existence away from the Lord. But, as we have also seen, purgatory could very well be that encounter with the Lord that we experience in our particular judgment, as we “appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor. 5:10). This makes sense because Paul describes the soul’s judgment as being one of a purifying fire (1 Cor. 3:11-15). It makes sense for God’s presence, not his absence, to be part of our soul’s purification.

COUNTER-CHALLENGE: Shouldn’t you make sure that the Bible passage you use to challenge a Catholic belief actually says what you think it says?

AFTERTHOUGHT: The early Christian writer Tertullian (c. A.D. 160-220) affirms the existence of a state after death before entering heaven when he writes, “Inasmuch as we understand the prison pointed out in the Gospel to be Hades [Matt. 5:25], and as we also interpret the uttermost farthing to mean the very smallest offense which has to be recompensed there before the resurrection, no one will hesitate to believe that the soul undergoes in Hades some compensatory discipline, without prejudice to the full process of the resurrection.”

Love,
Matthew

Jehovah’s Witnesses – strategies

Jehovah witnesses are showing bible behind door. View from peephole.

“Each month Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) distribute millions of books, magazines, and pamphlets, in dozens of languages. Many of these are intended for non-Witnesses to try to convert them, but others are intended for Witnesses themselves.

One of the handbooks used by missionaries in the field is entitled Reasoning from the Scriptures. The book clearly centers around WTS (Watch Tower Society) theology, and this point is evident in part from the fact that some of the specific subjects treated in the book are identified as “Not a Bible teaching.”

The publication is intended to enable the average Witness going door-to-door to accomplish two purposes. First, it provides many Scripture references which seemingly support the WTS’s belief system. Second, it “arms” the JW with a variety of responses to statements and questions that are likely to surface in nearly any typical encounter with a non-Witness.

Some topics clearly have been selected because they concern beliefs peculiar to Witnesses. Others have been included because they are held by those of other faiths. This is especially true of Catholic doctrines. (A side note here: The Witnesses believe that all Christian denominations are demonic in origin, and they maintain Christianity as a whole went apostate—entirely abandoned the true faith—starting all the way back in the latter portion of the first century A.D. From their perspective, this alleged apostasy fulfills predictions in the New Testament. The main problem with this is that while the New Testament does speak of an apostasy, it refers to the falling away of large number of believers near the end times, not to the defection of the Church as an institution.)

Catholic doctrines discussed include apostolic succession; baptism as a sacrament bestowing grace; confession; holidays and holy days, such as Christmas, Easter, and St. Valentine’s Day; the use of images; Marian doctrines; the Mass; and purgatory. These alone constitute more than a tenth of the book and give an indication that the Witnesses see the Catholic Church as a main target.

Reasoning from the Scriptures begins with two how-to chapters, “Introductions for Use in the Field Ministry” and “How You Might Respond to Potential Conversation Stoppers.” The first gives suggested opening lines. “If the introductions you are now using seldom open the way for conversations, try some of these suggestions. When you do so, you will no doubt want to put them in your own words.”

Sample Openings

Five openings are given under the heading “Bible/ God.” The first reads this way: “Hello. I’m making just a brief call to share an important message with you. Please note what it says here in the Bible. (Read Scripture, such as Revelation 21:3-4.) What do you think about that?”

Notice the hook: “an important message.” It works for the advertising industry; why not in this context? Then come the Bible verses, followed by questions. The missionaries don’t tell their listener what to think—at least not at this point. Instead, they elicit his views. Once he gives them, it’s awkward for him to back out of the conversation.

Notice also in this example and in many of the ones that follow, JWs typically ask prospective converts for their own opinion or feeling on a theological matter. The advantage this approach has for JWs is that virtually everyone has some kind of opinion on the subject matter presented, so this approach practically guarantees that JWs can successfully engage a person in a dialogue. Once the dialogue has been established, the JW is then on his way to potentially making a convert. Fortunately for the JW, the average person fails to realize that theological or religious truth does not depend on one’s mere opinion or feeling.

Another opening line under this section is this one: “We’re encouraging folks to read their Bible. The answers that it gives to important questions often surprise people. For example: . . . (Ps. 104:5; or Dan. 2:44; or some other).” Again, here the listener is told he’ll be let in on a secret. He reads the passages, is asked his opinion, and then the Witnesses steer the conversation their way.

The leads given under the heading “Employment/ Housing” are more down-to-earth: “We’ve been talking with your neighbors about what can be done to assure that there will be employment and housing for everyone. Do you believe that it is reasonable to expect that human governments will accomplish this? . . . But there is someone who knows how to solve these problems; that is mankind’s Creator (Is. 65:21-23).”

This example shows another typical approach for Witnesses: they often target universal concerns. Who, for instance, is not worried about the future? Or living in a world free from pollution, poverty, and crime? So the “opening” for Witnesses often begins by focusing on these universal concerns, then continues by establishing a certain rapport, and finally turns to conversation that is more specifically theological in nature.

When many people in the area say, “I have my own religion,” it is recommended the missionaries use this opening: “Good morning. We are visiting all the families on your block (or, in this area), and we find that most of them have their own religion. No doubt you do too. . . . But, regardless of our religion, we are affected by many of the same problems—high cost of living, crime, illness—is that not so? . . . Do you feel that there is any real solution to these things? . . . (2 Pet. 3:13; etc.).”

Taking Cues

When many people say, “I’m busy,” this opening is used: “Hello. We’re visiting everyone in this neighborhood with an important message. No doubt you are a busy person, so I’ll be brief.” If the missionaries find themselves in a territory that is often worked by other JWs, they begin this way: “We’re making our weekly visit in the neighborhood, and we have something more to share with you about the wonderful things that God’s Kingdom will do for mankind.”

The second chapter of the Reasoning book instructs missionaries in how to “respond to potential conversation stoppers.” The reader is told that “not everyone is willing to listen, and we do not try to force them. But with discernment it is often possible to turn potential conversation stoppers into opportunities for further discussion.”

Missionaries are told not to memorize these lines, but to master them and put them in their own words. The key is sincerity. If the person who answers the door says, “I’m not interested,” the JW is to follow up with this: “May I ask, Do you mean that you are not interested in the Bible, or is it religion in general that does not interest you? I ask that because we have met many who at one time were religious but no longer go to church because they see much hypocrisy in the churches (or, they feel that religion is just another money-making business; or, they do not approve of religion’s involvement in politics; etc.). The Bible does not approve of such practices either and it provides the only basis on which we can look to the future with confidence.” Six other responses to the “I’m not interested” line are given.

Keep in mind that the JW has been well-trained and is well-versed in the “prepackaged” responses he has been taught. This fact adds to the appearance of the JW’s credibility and even his biblical “knowledge.” The reality, however, is that a given Witness has merely become adept at repeating select Bible verses and responses which he uses time and time again.

“Not Interested in Witnesses”

If the person is more specific still and says, “I’m not interested in the Jehovah’s Witnesses,” the missionaries give this kind of response: “Many folks tell us that. Have you ever wondered why people like me volunteer to make these calls even though we know that the majority of householders may not welcome us? (Give the gist of Matt. 25:31-33, explaining that a separating of people of all nations is taking place and that their response to the Kingdom message is an important factor in this. Or state the gist of Ezekiel 9:1-11, explaining that, on the basis of people’s reaction to the Kingdom message, everyone is being ‘marked’ either for preservation through the great tribulation or for destruction by God.)”

Here you see peeping out one of the Witnesses’ peculiar doctrines—they don’t believe in hell. They think the unsaved are annihilated and simply cease to exist. Only the saved will live eternally. If the person at the door says, “I have my own religion,” he should be asked, “Would you mind telling me, Does your religion teach that the time will come when people who love what is right will live on earth forever? … That is an appealing thought, isn’t it? … It is right here in the Bible (Ps. 37:29; Matt. 5:5; Rev. 21:4).”

Notice again the approach: the Witness ultimately gets to a theological matter by means of an attraction to the emotions or one’s opinions (“That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?”) and not to revealed religious truth.

Also, this belief that the majority of believers will reside on a paradise Earth is another doctrine peculiar to the Witnesses. They think the saved will live forever on a regenerated Earth sometime in the future, after the wicked have been destroyed by Jehovah God at the Battle of Armageddon. But the “hook” they use is not peculiar to them.

Like Fundamentalists

Fundamentalists, though their theology is vastly better than that of the JWs, use a similar technique. On one hand, JWs argue to the truth of their position by asking, “That is an appealing thought, isn’t it?” Many people will conclude, “Yes, it is, and therefore it must be true”—illogical, perhaps, but that’s how many people think.

On the other hand, Fundamentalists will ask, “Wouldn’t you like an absolute assurance of salvation?” “Who wouldn’t?” is the reply, and, having given that reply, many people will find themselves accepting the Fundamentalists’ notion that one can have an absolute assurance of salvation (a doctrine that arises from their belief that all one needs to do to be saved is to “accept” Jesus as one’s “personal Lord and Savior”).

If the person answering the door says, “I am already well acquainted with your work” (a polite way of saying, “Get lost”), the missionaries should say: “I am very glad to hear that. Do you have a close relative or friend that is a Witness? . . . May I ask, Do you believe what we teach from the Bible, namely, that we are living in ‘the last days,’ that soon God is going to destroy the wicked, and that this earth will become a paradise in which people can live forever in perfect health among neighbors who really love one another?” Notice that once again the Witness has managed to turn around the conversation with this response and thus at least “plant seeds” in the mind of the person at the door.

The above examples show how JWs typically work when they come knocking at your door. It is evident from the Reasoning book that they are prepared for virtually every kind of response they may face. But while their “gospel” is false and their presentation is carefully prepackaged, Catholics should at least take note of the JWs’ willingness to promote what they believe. This is perhaps one lesson we can learn from them.”

NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials
presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors.
Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004

IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827
permission to publish this work is hereby granted.
+Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004

Love & truth,
Matthew

Sola Scriptura is unbiblical


-by Tim Staples, Tim was raised a Southern Baptist. Although he fell away from the faith of his childhood, Tim came back to faith in Christ during his late teen years through the witness of Christian televangelists. Soon after, Tim joined the Marine Corps.

During his four-year tour, he became involved in ministry with various Assemblies of God communities. Immediately after his tour of duty, Tim enrolled in Jimmy Swaggart Bible College and became a youth minister in an Assembly of God community. During his final year in the Marines, however, Tim met a Marine who really knew his faith and challenged Tim to study Catholicism from Catholic and historical sources. That encounter sparked a two-year search for the truth. Tim was determined to prove Catholicism wrong, but he ended up studying his way to the last place he thought he would ever end up: the Catholic Church!

He converted to Catholicism in 1988 and spent the following six years in formation for the priesthood, earning a degree in philosophy from St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Overbrook, Pennsylvania. He then studied theology on a graduate level at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for two years. Realizing that his calling was not to the priesthood, Tim left the seminary in 1994 and has been working in Catholic apologetics and evangelization ever since.

“Sola Scriptura was the central doctrine and foundation for all I believed when I was Protestant. On a popular level, it simply meant, “If a teaching isn’t explicit in the Bible, then we don’t accept it as doctrine!” And it seemed so simple. Unassailable. And yet, I do not recall ever hearing a detailed teaching explicating it. It was always a given. Unchallenged. Diving deeper into its meaning, especially when I was challenged to defend my Protestant faith against Catholicism, I found there to be no book specifically on the topic and no uniform understanding of this teaching among Protestant pastors.

Once I got past the superficial, I had to try to answer real questions like, what role does tradition play? How explicit does a doctrine have to be in Scripture before it can be called doctrine? How many times does it have to be mentioned in Scripture before it would be dogmatic? Where does Scripture tell us what is absolutely essential for us to believe as Christians? How do we know what the canon of Scripture is using the principle of sola scriptura? Who is authorized to write Scripture in the first place? When was the canon closed? Or, the best question of all: where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible? These questions and more were left virtually unanswered or left to the varying opinions of various Bible teachers.

The Protestant Response

In answer to this last question, “Where is sola scriptura taught in the Bible?” most Protestants will immediately respond as I did, by simply citing II Tm. 3:16:

“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

“How can it get any plainer than that? Doesn’t that say the Bible is all we need?” Question answered.

The fact is: II Timothy 3—or any other text of Scripture—does not even hint at sola scriptura. It says Scripture is inspired and necessary to equip “the man of God,” but never does it say Scripture alone is all anyone needs. We’ll come back to this text in particular later. But in my experience as a Protestant, it was my attempt to defend this bedrock teaching of Protestantism that led me to conclude: sola scriptura is 1) unreasonable 2) unbiblical and 3) unworkable.

Sola Scriptura is Unreasonable

When defending sola scriptura, the Protestant will predictably appeal to his sole authority—Scripture. This is a textbook example of the logical fallacy of circular reasoning which betrays an essential problem with the doctrine itself. One cannot prove the inspiration of a text from the text itself. The Book of Mormon, the Hindu Vedas, writings of Mary Baker Eddy, the Koran, and other books claim inspiration. This does not make them inspired. One must prove the point outside of the text itself to avoid the fallacy of circular reasoning.

Thus, the question remains: how do we know the various books of the Bible are inspired and therefore canonical? And remember: the Protestant must use the principle of sola scriptura in the process.

II Tim. 3:16 is not a valid response to the question. The problems are manifold. Beyond the fact of circular reasoning, for example, I would point out the fact that this verse says all Scripture is inspired tells us nothing of what the canon consists. Just recently, I was speaking with a Protestant inquirer about this issue and he saw my point. He then said words to the effect of, “I believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth as Jesus said in Jn. 16:13. The Holy Spirit guided the early Christians and helped them to gather the canon of Scripture and declare it to be the inspired word of God. God would not leave us without his word to guide us.”

That answer is much more Catholic than Protestant! Yes, Jn. 16:13 does say the Spirit will lead the apostles—and by allusion, the Church—into all truth. But this verse has nothing to say about sola scriptura. Nor does it say a word about the nature or number of books in the canon. Catholics certainly agree that the Holy Spirit guided the early Christians to canonize the Scriptures because the Catholic Church teaches that there is an authoritative Church guided by the Holy Spirit. The obvious problem is my Protestant friend did not use sola scriptura as his guiding principle to arrive at his conclusion. How does, for example, Jn. 16:13 tell us that Hebrews was written by an apostolic writer and that it is inspired of God? We would ultimately have to rely on the infallibility of whoever “the Holy Spirit” is guiding to canonize the Bible so that they could not mishear what the Spirit was saying about which books of the Bible are truly inspired.

In order to put this argument of my friend into perspective, can you imagine if a Catholic made a similar claim to demonstrate, say, Mary to be the Mother of God? “We believe the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth and guided the early Christians to declare this truth.” I can almost hear the response. “Show me in the Bible where Mary is the Mother of God! I don’t want to hear about God guiding the Church!” Wouldn’t the same question remain for the Protestant concerning the canon? “Show me in the Bible where the canon of Scripture is, what the criterion for the canon is, who can and cannot write Scripture, etc.”

Will the Circle be Unbroken?

The Protestant response at this point is often an attempt to use the same argument against the Catholic. “How do you know the Scriptures are inspired? Your reasoning is just as circular because you say the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so and then say the Scriptures are inspired and infallible because the Church says so!”

The Catholic Church’s position on inspiration is not circular. We do not say “the Church is infallible because the inspired Scriptures say so, and the Scriptures are inspired because the infallible Church says so.” That would be a kind of circular reasoning. The Church was established historically and functioned as the infallible spokesperson for the Lord decades before the New Testament was written. The Church is infallible because Jesus said so.

Having said that, it is true that we know the Scriptures to be inspired because the Church has told us so. That is also an historical fact. However, this is not circular reasoning. When the Catholic approaches Scripture, he or she begins with the Bible as an historical document, not as inspired. As any reputable historian will tell you, the New Testament is the most accurate and verifiable historical document in all of ancient history. To deny the substance of the historical documents recorded therein would be absurd. However, one cannot deduce from this that they are inspired. There are many accurate historical documents that are not inspired. However, the Scriptures do give us accurate historical information whether one holds to their inspiration or not. Further, this testimony of the Bible is backed up by hundreds of works by early Christians and non-Christian writers like Suetonius, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus, and more. It is on this basis that we can say it is an historical fact that Jesus lived, died, and was reported to be resurrected from the dead by over 500 eyewitnesses. Many of these eyewitnesses went to their deaths testifying to the veracity of the Christ-event (see Lk. 1:1-4, Jn. 21:18-19, 24-25, Acts 1:1-11, I Cr. 15:1-8).

Now, what do we find when we examine the historical record? Jesus Christ—as a matter of history–established a Church, not a book, to be the foundation of the Christian Faith (see Mt. 16:15-18; 18:15-18. Cf. Eph. 2:20; 3:10,20-21; 4:11-15; I Tm. 3:15; Hb. 13:7,17, etc.). He said of his Church, “He who hears you hears me and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (Lk. 10:16). The many books that comprise what we call the Bible never tell us crucial truths such as the fact that they are inspired, who can and cannot be the human authors of them, who authored them at all, or, as I said before, what the canon of Scripture is in the first place. And this is just to name a few examples. What is very clear historically is that Jesus established a kingdom with a hierarchy and authority to speak for him (see Lk. 20:29-32, Mt. 10:40, 28:18-20). It was members of this Kingdom—the Church—that would write the Scripture, preserve its many texts and eventually canonize it. The Scriptures cannot write or canonize themselves. To put it simply, reason clearly rejects sola scriptura as a self-refuting principle because one cannot determine what the “scriptura” is using the principle of sola scriptura.

Sola Scriptura is Unbiblical

Let us now consider the most common text used by Protestants to “prove” sola scriptura, II Tm. 3:16, which I quoted above:

All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The problem with using this text as such is threefold: 1. Strictly speaking, it does not speak of the New Testament at all. 2. It does not claim Scripture to be the sole rule of faith for Christians. 3. The Bible teaches oral Tradition to be on a par with and just as necessary as the written Tradition, or Scripture.

1. What’s Old is Not New

Let us examine the context of the passage by reading the two preceding verses:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood (italics added) you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.

In context, this passage does not refer to the New Testament at all. None of the New Testament books had been written when St. Timothy was a child! To claim this verse in order to authenticate a book, say, the book of Revelation, when it had most likely not even been written yet, is more than a stretch. That is going far beyond what the text actually claims.

2. The Trouble With Sola

As a Protestant, I was guilty of seeing more than one sola in Scripture that simply did not exist. The Bible clearly teaches justification by faith. And we Catholics believe it. However, we do not believe in justification by faith alone because, among many other reasons, the Bible says, we are “justified by works and not by faith alone” (James 2:24, emphasis added). Analogously, when the Bible says Scripture is inspired and profitable for “the man of God,” to be “equipped for every good work,” we Catholics believe it. However, the text of II Tim. 3:16 never says Scripture alone. There is no sola to be found here either! Even if we granted II Tm. 3:16 was talking about all of Scripture, it never claims Scripture to be the sole rule of faith. A rule of faith, to be sure! But not the sole rule of faith.

James 1:4 illustrates clearly the problem with Protestant exegesis of II Tim. 3:16:

And let steadfastness (patience) have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

If we apply the same principle of exegesis to this text that the Protestant does to II Tm. 3:16 we would have to say that all we need is patience to be perfected. We don’t need faith, hope, charity, the Church, baptism, etc.

Of course, any Christian would immediately say this is absurd. And of course it is. But James’s emphasis on the central importance of patience is even stronger than St. Paul’s emphasis on Scripture. The key is to see that there is not a sola to be found in either text. Sola patientia would be just as much an error as is sola scriptura.

3. The Tradition of God is the Word of God

Not only is the Bible silent when it comes to sola scriptura, but Scripture is remarkably plain in teaching oral Tradition to be just as much the word of God as is Scripture. In what most scholars believe was the first book written in the New Testament, St. Paul said:

And we also thank God… that when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God… (I Thess. 2:13)

II Thess. 2:15 adds:

So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions you have been taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.

According to St. Paul, the spoken word from the apostles was just as much the word of God as was the later written word.

Sola Scriptura is Unworkable

When it comes to the tradition of Protestantism—sola scriptura—the silence of the text of Scripture is deafening. When it comes to the true authority of Scripture and Tradition, the Scriptures are clear. And when it comes to the teaching and governing authority of the Church, the biblical text is equally as clear:

If your brother sins against you go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone … But if he does not listen, take one or two others with you … If he refuses to listen … tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Mt. 18:15-17)

According to Scripture, the Church—not the Bible alone—is the final court of appeal for the people of God in matters of faith and discipline. But isn’t it also telling that since the Reformation of just ca. 480 years ago—a reformation claiming sola scriptura as its formal principle—there are now over 33,000 denominations that have derived from it?

For 1,500 years, Christianity saw just a few enduring schisms (the Monophysites, Nestorians, the Orthodox, and a very few others). Now in just 480 years we have this? I hardly think that when Jesus prophesied there would be “one shepherd and one fold” in Jn. 10:16, this is what he had in mind. It seems quite clear to me that not only is sola scriptura unreasonable and unbiblical, but it is unworkable. The proof is in the puddin’!”

Love & truth,
Matthew

The Protestant Challenge

Oral Torah


-by Karlo Broussard

Q. What is the Protestant challenge that you meet in your new book?

Karlo: In Mark 7:9-13, Jesus chastises the Pharisees for holding to traditions that entail a rejection of God’s commandment and make void God’s Word. Many Protestants claim several Catholic beliefs fall under this condemnation, because they think such beliefs contradict the Bible.

The challenge usually takes the form, “How can the Catholic Church teach X, when the Bible says Y?” For example, how can the Catholic Church teach that Mary remained a virgin after Jesus’ birth when the Bible says that Jesus had brothers (Matt. 13:55)? Or how can the Catholic Church teach that works have a role to play in our salvation when the Bible says in Romans 3:28 that “we are justified by faith and not by works of the law?”

It’s this sort of challenge that I meet in the book, covering fifty of the most common challenges that Protestants make.

Q. Is this challenge the only Protestant challenge? Or, are there other kinds of challenges? If so, how do they differ from this one?

Karlo: The challenge that I meet in my book is not the only challenge. Any Catholic who talks religion with Protestants has at some time been challenged with the question, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

Much of Catholic apologetics, especially since its revival in the late eighties, has centered on answering that question, offering positive arguments for the biblical basis of Catholic doctrine. But, since Catholics don’t operate on the principle of sola scriptura, we don’t believe that every Christian truth has to be explicitly found in Scripture. We also appeal to truths revealed by God and preserved outside of the Bible in Sacred Tradition.

For example, Protestants may ask, “Where is Mary’s bodily assumption in the Bible?” But a Catholic can simply reply, “I don’t need to justify it with Scripture, since I can accept it on the basis that it’s a part of Sacred Tradition as infallibly defined by Pope Pius XII” (Munificentissimus Deus, 1950).

Of course, a Protestant is not going to find the above response persuasive (and it would open up other debates about Christian teaching authority). But at least he can’t charge a Catholic with incoherence in his belief.

The kind of Protestant challenge that I address, however, does charge a Catholic with incoherence. And this is the kind of challenge that a Catholic must meet, because whatever the Church teaches, even if derived principally from Sacred Tradition and not the Bible, can’t contradict the Bible. Scripture and Tradition are two streams of revelation that flow from the same source, God.

Our task as Catholics, therefore, is to show that Catholic teaching doesn’t contradict those Bible passages that some Protestants think pose a threat to it. The purpose of this book is to help the reader fulfill this task.

Q. What are some of the main Catholic beliefs that our Protestant friends challenge us on that you show don’t contradict the Bible?

Karlo: I examine fifty challenges that cover a variety of beliefs concerning Church authority, Scripture and Tradition, salvation, the sacraments, Mary and the saints, eschatology (study of the last things), and Catholic life and practice.

So, for example, with regard to Church authority, I defend the Catholic belief that Jesus established his Church with a hierarchy with Peter at the head. With regard to Scripture and Tradition, I defend the Catholic belief that a Christian must accept and honor “both Scripture and Tradition” (CCC 82), because the Church “does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone” (82).

On the topic of salvation, I meet challenges to the Catholic belief that salvation and justification are not one-time events of the past but have different stages, and that good works play an essential role when it comes to the ongoing and final stages.

The sacraments that I defend include Baptism, the Eucharist, Confession, the Priesthood, and Marriage.

The challenged beliefs about Mary are the familiar ones: her perpetual virginity, her sinlessness, and her Queenship. The main belief about the saints that I deal with is the intercession of the saints.

With regard to eschatology, I tackle challenges that deal with Purgatory and the Catholic view of the end times in relation to Protestant views on the Rapture and the millennium in Revelation.

Finally, I meet challenges made against the Catholic practices of clerical celibacy, abstinence from meat on Fridays during Lent, calling priests father, praying the rosary, moderate use of wine, and Catholic statues.

Q. Can you explain a little bit about what the reader should expect when they read each chapter?

Karlo: Each chapter begins with a brief statement of the Catholic belief, usually derived from the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Then, the Protestant challenge to the belief is explained.

The section where I meet the challenge usually consists of two to three ways in which one can show the Catholic belief doesn’t contradict the Bible. Also, some of the responses require that I give positive biblical evidence for the belief. And this, of course, equips the reader with what’s needed to answer the other Protestant challenge, “Where’s that in the Bible?”

After learning how to meet the challenge, the reader is given a “Catholic Counter,” which is a brief question that a Catholic can ask a Protestant as a sort of counter challenge. We can’t always be on the defensive. We have to learn to challenge our Protestant friends’ beliefs as well.

Q. What is the ultimate goal for this book? In other words, what do you hope it will accomplish for the person who reads it?

Karlo: My hope is that the reader will become more efficient in their conversations with Protestants. Also, I hope the book will strengthen the reader’s own faith, helping him or her know that in embracing Catholic teaching he or she is not “making void the word of God through [his or her] tradition” (Mark 7:13).

Love,
Matthew

Revelation 22:18-19

“Catholic Bibles are bigger than Protestant ones. The Catechism teaches that the canon of Scripture includes “forty-six books for the Old Testament (forty-five if we count Jeremiah and Lamentations as one) and twenty-seven for the New” (120). Although Protestants agree with Catholics on the books that make up the New Testament, there are seven books in the Catholic Old Testament canon that they reject: Tobit, Judith, Wisdom, Sirach, Baruch, and 1 and 2 Maccabees. They also reject portions of the books of Daniel and Esther. Catholics refer to these seven books as the deuterocanonical (second-canon) books and Protestants call them the Apocrypha.

You may run across a Protestant who rejects the deuterocanonical books because he thinks the Catholic Church added these books, in violation of John’s prohibition to add to the Bible:

“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Rev. 22:18-19).

John says not to add to Scripture, yet the Catholic Church literally added seven whole books and more!

Reply:

1. If we granted for argument’s sake that John here is referring to the entire canon of Scripture, then Protestants would be guilty for removing the deuterocanonicals.

If we suppose that John is talking about the biblical canon (the list of all the books that make up the Bible) in Revelation 22:18-19, then the challenge becomes a two-edged sword. A Protestant may argue that the Catholic Church added books to the Bible, but a Catholic can just as easily argue that the Protestant community took some books away.

The seven books found in the Catholic Old Testament that are not found in the Protestant Old Testament were widely held as Scripture all throughout Christian history, and it was not until the Protestant Reformation that their canonicity was called into question and rejected on a major scale.

Prior to the Reformation, some individuals did question the canonicity of these books, but for the most part Christians as a whole accepted them. Numerous fourth and fifth-century Church councils authoritatively declared them to be inspired: the Synod of Rome (A.D. 382), Council of Hippo (393), Third Council of Carthage (397), and Sixth Council of Carthage (419). Protestant scholar J.N.D. Kelly affirms the major consensus on these books in the early Church: “For the great majority, however, the deuterocanonical writings ranked as Scripture in the fullest sense.”

Such historical evidence makes this challenge difficult for a Protestant. If Revelation 22:18-19 refers to the canon, then the prohibition of “taking away” from it is just as strong as the prohibition of adding to it. So how can Protestants reject seven books from the Bible when Revelation 22:18-19 forbids it?
2. This passage is not even discussing the canon of Scripture but merely the book of Revelation.

These verses, however, don’t even refer to the entire Bible. The Greek word use here for book, biblion, can mean “small book” or “scroll.” In the ancient world, it was impossible to fit the entire Bible on a single scroll. The books of the Bible were originally individual compositions, such as an individual scroll, and the biblical canon as we know it was a collection of individual scrolls, a library of books. That’s why they’re called the “books” (plural) of the Bible. These books would not be put into a single volume until centuries later.

Therefore, it makes most sense to read the phrase “book of this prophecy” as referring to the scroll in which John is recording his prophecy, namely, the book of Revelation. As such, John’s instruction not to add or remove anything refers to the book he was writing—Revelation—and not the future canon of Scripture (which wouldn’t be authoritatively settled for centuries after).

A similar instruction is given is Deuteronomy 4:2, where Moses says, “You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” Moses wasn’t referring to the whole Old Testament canon; otherwise we would have to side with the Sadducees and reject every Old Testament book outside the Pentateuch. He was merely prohibiting adding or taking away from the “statutes and the ordinances” that constitute the Mosaic Law.

Since we now know that John was not giving instructions concerning the biblical canon, but instructions governing the book of Revelation (don’t add to the prophetic text of Revelation and don’t take away from it), it becomes clear that Revelation 22:18-19 doesn’t undermine the Catholic canon, regardless of whether the Catholic Church added books to the biblical canon or Protestants subtracted from it. Of course, we must not add to or subtract from the canon of Scripture. But that is not what John is talking about in this passage.

Reply: How could John be referring to the entire biblical canon in Revelation 22:18-19 when the canon wouldn’t be settled for another several hundred years?

Consider: Your Protestant friend might argue that because the New Testament doesn’t quote any of the deuterocanonical books we have good reason to exclude them from the canon of Scripture. This is common among some Protestants. But this logic would demand that we also exclude from the canon Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Judges, 1 Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Lamentations, Nahum, Joshua, Obadiah, and Zephaniah, since the New Testament doesn’t quote any of these. I don’t think your Protestant friend wants to make his biblical canon any smaller!”

Love,
Matthew

Asking the Right Questions: Jehovah’s Witnesses

Catholic Answers

“The sect known as Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) began with Charles Taze Russell in the 1870’s. Russell was raised a Presbyterian, then joined the Congregational church, and was finally influenced by Adventist teachings. By his own admission, he had a hard time accepting the existence of hell. He sought out the Bible, and as his “studies” continued, he systematically began to reject the major doctrines of historic Christianity. In 1879 he started publishing a magazine to promote his beliefs. This magazine was the precursor to today’s Watchtower (WT) magazine.

In this section we will examine ten topics relating to Russell, the JWs, and their parent organization, the Watchtower Society (WTS). We will show that the beliefs of JWs are unscriptural, and that both Russell and the WTS are completely unreliable as spiritual guides.

Is the Watch Tower Society Reliable?

In 1910 Russell wrote, “If anyone lays the Scripture Studies [short for a seven-volume WTS publication entitled Studies in the Scriptures, hereafter abbreviated as Studies] aside, even after he has used them, after he has become familiar with them, after he has read them for ten years—if he lays them aside and ignores them and goes to the Bible alone, though he has understood the Bible for ten years, our experience shows that within two years he goes into darkness. On the other hand, if he had merely read the Scripture Studies with their references and had not read a page of the Bible, as such, he will be in the light at the end of two years.” (WT Reprints, 9-15-1910, 4685). The WTS claims to be God’s inspired prophet (WT, 4-1-1972, 197)—and yet its prophecies have repeatedly proven to be false.

Among other things, the WTS falsely predicted the following:

1889: “The ‘battle of the great day of God almighty’ (Rev. 16:14) which will end in AD 1914 . . . ” (Studies, Vol. 2, 1908 edition, 101).

1891: “With the end of AD 1914, what God calls Babylon, and what men call Christendom, will have passed away, as already shown from prophecy” (Studies, Vol. 3, 153).

1894: “The end of 1914 is not the date for the beginning, but for the end of the time of trouble” (WT Reprints, 1-1-1894, 1605 and 1677).

1916: “The six great 1000 year days beginning with Adam are ended, and that the great 7th day, the 1000 years of Christ’s reign began in 1873” (Studies, Vol. 2, p. 2 of foreword).

1918: “Therefore, we may confidently expect that 1925 will mark the return of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the faithful prophets of old” (Millions Now Living Will Never Die, 89).

1923: “1925 is definitely settled by the scriptures. As to Noah, the Christian now has much more upon which to base his faith than Noah had upon which to base his faith in a coming deluge” (WT, 4-1-1923, 106).

1925: “The year of 1925 is here. . . . Christians should not be so deeply concerned about what may transpire this year” (WT, 1-1-1925, 3).

1939: “The disaster of Armageddon is just ahead” (Salvation, 361).

1941: “Armageddon is surely near . . . soon . . . within a few years” (Children, 10).

1946: “Armageddon . . . should come sometime before 1972” (They Have Found a Faith, 44).

1968: “The end of the six thousand years of man’s history in the fall of 1975 is not tentative, but is accepted as a certain date” (WT, 1-1-1968, 271).

Besides false prophecies, the WTS has misled its members through countless changes in doctrine and practice:

The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT, 7-1879, 7-8). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT, 6-1-1952, 338). The men of Sodom will be resurrected (WT 8-1-1965, 479). The men of Sodom will not be resurrected (WT 6-1-1988, 31).

“There could be nothing against our consciences in going into the army” (WT, 4-15-1903, 120). Due to conscience, Jehovah’s Witnesses must refuse military service (WT, 2-1-1951, 73).

“We may as well join in with the civilized world in celebrating the grand event [Christmas] . . . ” (WT Reprints, 12-1-1904, 3468). “Christmas and its music are not from Jehovah . . . What is their source? . . . Satan the devil” (WT, 12-15-1983, 7).

“Everyone in America should take pleasure in displaying the American flag” (WT Reprints, 5-15-1917, 6068). The flag is “an idolatrous symbol” (Awake!, 9-8-71, 14).
A much longer list of such contradictions and doctrinal twists by the WTS could be formed, but this suffices to remove any reason one might have to believe that “It is through the columns of The Watchtower that Jehovah provides direction and constant scriptural counsel to his people” (WT, 5-1-1964, 277).

Can You Trust the New World Translation?

The New World Translation (NWT), the JWs’ own Bible version, was created between 1950 and 1961 in several parts, beginning with New Testament (NT). The translation was made by an “anonymous” committee, which transliterated and altered passages that were problematic for earlier JWs. The text of the NWT is more of a transliteration to fit theological presumptions than it is a true translation. This can be seen in key verses that the WTS changed in order to fit its doctrines.

To undermine the divinity of Christ in John 1:1, the NWT reads “the word was a god.” Non-JW Greek scholars call this “a shocking mistranslation” and “evidence of abysmal ignorance of the basic tenets of Greek grammar.” Furthermore, Col. 1:15-17 has been changed to “by means of him all [other] things were created.” If the text were left as the original Greek reads, it would clearly state that Jesus created all things. However, the WTS cannot afford to say that anyone but Jehovah created all things, so it inserted the word “other” four times into the text.

The 1950, 1961, and 1970 editions of the NWT said that Jesus was to be worshipped (Heb. 1:6), but the WTS changed the NWT so that later editions would support its doctrines. The translators now decided to render the Greek word for “worship” (proskuneo) as “do obeisance” every time it is applied to Jesus, but as “worship” when modifying Jehovah. If the translators were consistent, then Jesus would be given the worship due to God in Matthew 14:33, 28:9, 28:17; Luke 24:52; John 9:38; and Hebrews 1:6.

At the time of the Last Supper, there were over three dozen Aramaic words to say “this means,” “represents,” or “signifies,” but Jesus used none of them in his statement, “This is my body.” Since the WTS denies the Catholic teaching on the Eucharist, they have taken the liberty to change our Lord’s words to “This means my body” in Matthew 26:26.

The NWT also translates the Greek word kurios (“Lord”) as “Jehovah” dozens of times in the NT, despite the fact that the word “Jehovah” is never used by any NT author. It should also be asked why the NWT does not translate kurios as “Jehovah” in Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 12:3, Philippians 2:11, 2 Thessalonians 2:1, and Revelation 22:21. If it did translate kurios consistently, then Jesus would be Jehovah!

Is “Jehovah” God’s Name?

In Reasoning from the Scriptures the WTS teaches that “Jehovah” is the proper pronunciation of God’s name, and so “Everyone who calls on the name of [Jehovah] will be saved” (Rom. 10:13). They continue, “Many scholars favor the spelling ‘Yahweh,’ but it is uncertain and there is not agreement among them. On the other hand, ‘Jehovah’ is the form of the name that is most readily recognized, because it has been used in English for centuries” (p. 195).

However, the JWs’ own Aid to Bible Understanding says, “The first recorded use of this form [Jehovah] dates from the 13th century C.E. [after Christ]. . . . Hebrew scholars generally favor ‘Yahweh’ as the most likely pronunciation” (pp. 884-885).

New Testament Greek always uses the word “Lord,” and never “Jehovah,” even in quotes from the Old Testament (OT). Encyclopedia Judaica, Webster’s Encyclopedia, Jewish Encyclopedia,Encyclopedia Britannica, Universal Jewish Encyclopedia and countless others agree that the title “Jehovah” is erroneous and was never used by the Jews.

Do Humans Possess an Immortal Soul?

Another mistake made by JWs is their denial of the immortality of the soul. The Bible mentions the soul approximately 200 times, and it can be seen to have very different meanings according to the context of each passage. This tract will simply demonstrate that the soul is immortal according to Scripture.

Perhaps the strongest contradiction of the WTS doctrine is seen in Christ’s descent to Hades. In 1 Peter 3:19, the apostle tells his audience how Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison.” If the dead were aware of nothing, then his preaching would have been futile. In the OT, the prophet Isaiah speaks of the condition of the dead, “Sheol underneath has become agitated at you in order to meet you on coming in . . . all of them speak up and say. . . . Those seeing you will gaze even at you, saying . . . ” (Isa. 14:9-11). These verses indicate clearly that the dead are conscious, and the NT tells the same story. To be absent from the body is not to be unconscious, but rather it enables one to be home with the Lord, according to Paul (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). The body is just a tent, or tabernacle that does not last (2 Cor. 5:1-4; 2 Pet. 1:13), while man cannot kill the soul (Matt. 10:28). In fact, the souls live past the death of the bodies, since John “saw . . . the souls of those slaughtered . . . and they cried with a loud voice, saying . . . and they were told . . . ” (Rev. 6:9-11). Because the soul does not die with the flesh, those in heaven are able to offer our prayers to God (Rev. 5:8), and live in happiness (Rev. 14:13).

Is Hell Real or Not?

The WTS also maintains that everlasting punishment is a myth and a lie invented by Satan. Hell is merely mankind’s common grave, and is definitely not a fiery torture, according to them.

According to Scripture, if one is in hell, “he shall be tormented with fire and sulfur . . . the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and day and night they have no rest” (Rev. 14:11). This is an “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Jesus tells his listeners of Lazarus and the rich man, where the rich man dies, and is “existing in torment . . . he sees . . . calls out . . . ‘I am in anguish in this blazing fire’” (Luke 16:19-31). As a further illustration, Jesus stated that hell is likened to Gehenna. This “Valley of Hinnom” was located southeast of Jerusalem, and was used as a garbage dump where trash and waste were continuously burned day and night in a large fire. Jesus informs the listeners that hell is like this, “where the maggot does not die, and fire is not put out” (Mark 9:42-48). It is the place where the wicked are sent, and from this “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8) will come “weeping and the gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12). Now if hell were “a place of rest in hope” as the WTS teaches, then it is odd that Jesus would choose such contradictory illustrations to convey this.

Some core beliefs of the Jehovah’s Witnesses (JWs) were examined in our tract entitled Five Questions for Jehovah’s Witnesses. In this “sequel” tract, we will examine some additional beliefs and teachings of the Watchtower Society (WTS), the parent organization of the JWs.

Are Jesus and Michael the Archangel Really the Same Person?

One of the most peculiar of the WTS’s teachings is their assertion that Jesus is actually Michael the Archangel. If the JW has difficulty explaining any particular doctrine, it will be this one. Even JWs will admit that if one were to have walked up to any of the apostles or disciples of Christ and asked them who Jesus was, they would not have said, “Well, he’s Michael the Archangel!” Not only was the very idea unheard of before Charles Taze Russell (the founder of the WTS), but the Bible explicitly rejects the possibility of it.

For example, the author of Hebrews states, “To which of the angels did God ever say, ‘You are my son? . . . Let all the angels of God worship him. . . . to which of the angels has he ever said ‘Sit at my right hand . . . ’” (Heb. 1). Here, the author of Hebrews separates Jesus from angels, and commands the angels to worship him (cf. Rev. 5:13-14,14:6-7). The obvious problem is this: archangels are creatures, but the Bible forbids any creature to worship another creature. Thus, either the Bible is in error by commanding the angels to worship an archangel, or Jesus is uncreated and cannot be an archangel. Since this gave the JWs a tremendous problem, they even had to change their own Bible translation, called the New World Translation (NWT), to eliminate the references to worshipping Christ.

Jesus: Creature or Creator?

The doctrine that most clearly sets the WTS apart from Christianity is its denial of the divinity of Christ. JWs maintain that Jesus is actually a creature—a highly exalted one—but not God himself. Scripturally, the evidence is not in their favor.

John 1:1 states unequivocally, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This verse gave the JWs tremendous difficulty, and so in their own NWT they render the end of this verse as, “And the word was a god.” One great difficulty with this translation is how it contradicts passages such as Deuteronomy 32:39, which says, “I alone, am God and there are no gods together with me.” Further contradictions can be seen in Exodus 20:3, “Have no other gods besides me,” and Isaiah 43:10, “Before me no god was formed nor shall there be any after me.”

In John 20:28 Thomas says to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” In the original Greek it literally reads, “The Lord of me and the God of me.” It would be nothing short of blasphemy for Jesus not to rebuke Thomas if he was wrong. Jesus instead accepts Thomas’s profession of his identity as God.

The Bible indicates that God alone created the universe (Is. 44:24), and “he that constructed all things is God” (Heb. 3:4). However, Jesus created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10). This passage by itself proves that Jesus is God, since an Old Testament reference to God (Ps. 102:26-28) is now given to him.

In John 8:58, Jesus takes the name of God, “I AM” (Ex. 3:15-18), and applies it to himself. Only God may use this title without blaspheming (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11), and the punishment for someone other than God to use the sacred “I AM” is stoning (Lev. 24:16). Thus, in verse 59, Jesus’ audience picked up stones to kill him, because they correctly understood his use of “I AM” as his claim to being God and hence thought he was guilty of blasphemy. This verse also proved to be difficult for the JWs to combat, and so they changed “I AM” to “I have been.” The Greek here is ego eimi, which any first-semester Greek student can tell you means “I am.”

JWs maintain that only Jehovah God may be prayed to. But Stephen prayed to Jesus in Acts 7:59, and so one must conclude that Jesus is God. Otherwise, Stephen blasphemed while filled with the Holy Spirit (7:55).

The WTS would have their followers believe that Jehovah and Jesus are necessarily different beings, though the Bible tells another story. Jesus is called Mighty God in Isaiah 9:6, and in the very next chapter the same title is given to Jehovah in verse 21. Other shared titles include: King of Kings (compare with Rev. 17:14), Lord of Lords (Deut. 10:17; Rev. 17:14), the only Savior (Is. 43:10-11; Acts 4:12), the First and the Last (Isa. 44:6; Rev. 22:13), the Alpha and the Omega (Rev. 1:8; 22:13-16), Rock (Isa. 8:14; 1 Pet. 2:7-8), and Shepherd (Ps. 23:1; Heb. 13:20-21).

Jesus and Jehovah have much more in common than titles, though. They are both worshipped by angels (Heb. 1:6, Neh. 9:6). They are both unchanging (Heb. 13:8, Mal. 3:6). They both created the heavens and the earth (Heb. 1:10, Neh. 9:6) and are all-knowing (John 21:17, 1 John 3:20). Both give eternal life (John 10:28, 1 John 5:11), and judge the world (John 5:22, Ps. 96:13). To them every knee will bend and every tongue confess (Phil. 2:9-11, Is. 45:23).

Is the Holy Spirit a Force or God?

Since the WTS insists that the Trinity is unbiblical and false, they relegate the Holy Spirit to the role of God’s impersonal active force which compels believers to do his will. In fact, they compare the Holy Spirit (which they render as “holy spirit”) to electricity.

The Bible begs to differ, though. There are numerous verses in the New Testament which clearly demonstrate both the personality and divinity of the Holy Spirit. For example, in Acts 13:2, the Holy Spirit says, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” In Acts 10:19-20, this “impersonal force” considers himself to be a person. John 16 supports this idea by referring to the Holy Spirit as a “he” 10 times in the same chapter. First Corinthians 12:11 states that the Holy Spirit “wills,” which is an irrefutable attribute of personhood, as is the capacity to love we see demonstrated by the Spirit in Romans 15:30. Scripture also states that the Holy Spirit can: be lied to (Acts 5:3), speak (Acts 10:19-20), hear (John 16:13-15), know the future (Acts 21:11), testify (John 15:26), teach (John 14:26), reprove (John 16:8-11), pray and intercede (Rom. 8:26), guide (John 16:13), call (Acts 13:2), be grieved (Eph. 4:30), feel hurt (Isa. 63:10), be outraged (Heb. 10:29), desire (Gal. 5:17) and be blasphemed (Mark 3:29). Only a person is capable of these.

These examples demonstrate sufficiently that the Holy Spirit is a personal being, and so now one must demonstrate that he is God. Acts 5:1-4 teaches that a lie to the Holy Spirit is a lie to God himself. Isaiah 44:24 insists that God alone created the heavens and the earth, but Job 33:4 and Psalms 104:30 explains that the Holy Spirit created them. Only God is everlasting, and this is likewise an attribute Scripture gives the Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14). There is but one Lord (Eph. 4:5), and one Creator (Mal. 2:10), yet both the Father and the Spirit claim they are him (Matt. 11:25 and 2 Cor. 3:17; 1 Cor. 8:6 and Ps. 104:30). Only the Catholic understanding of the Trinity reconciles these passages.

Is There a Bodily Resurrection of Christ?

According to the WTS, “The man Jesus is dead, forever dead” (Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 5, 454). “We deny that he was raised in the flesh, and challenge any statement to that effect as being unscriptural” (Studies, Vol. 7, 57). Jesus’ fleshly body “was disposed of by Jehovah God, dissolved into its constitutive elements or atoms” (The Watchtower, 9-1-1953, 518). “In order to convince Thomas of who he was, he used a body with wound holes” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, 145). He was raised as an invisible spirit creature, with no physical body (Reasoning from the Scriptures, 214-215).

However, according to Scripture, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is in vain, and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Jesus makes clear, even before death, that it is his body that will be raised up. He promises to raise up the temple once it is destroyed. “He was speaking about the temple of his body” (John 2:21). After he had risen, he gives the same testimony, “See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; feel me and see, because a spirit does not have flesh and bones just as you behold that I have” (Luke 24:39, 41). Jesus insists that Thomas place his finger into his wounded side, so as to prove that he had indeed risen from the dead (John 20:27). Ask the JW to show you a Scripture verse which backs up the WTS’s assertion about God disposing of Jesus’ body. He can’t, because there isn’t one.

Is Heaven Just for the “Anointed Class”?

The WTS teaches that only the anointed 144,000 seen in Revelation 7 will enter heaven (the “anointed class”), while the remainder that are not annihilated (the “other sheep”) will live forever on earth in paradise. However, the Bible poses some irreconcilable difficulties with this idea.

If Revelation 7 is to be taken literally, there would only be 144,000 Jewish male virgins taken from a square-shaped earth that are now in heaven worshipping a sheep. This would mean that Peter (not a virgin), the Blessed Mother (not a male), and Charles Taze Russell (not a Jew) could not be in heaven. Reading one number literally while taking the rest of a book symbolically is not sound exegesis. Beyond this, we see in Revelation 14 that the 144,000 stand before the 24 elders from Revelation 4:4.

This at least brings the grand total to 144,024 people. But the Scriptures indicate that there are still more to come. Revelation 7:9 speaks of a countless multitude before the throne, which is in heaven (Rev. 14:2-3). Still in the book of Revelation, we read that all those with their name in the book of life are in heaven (Rev. 21:27), while all whose names are not in the book of life are thrown into the pool of fire (Rev. 20:15). There is no third “earthly” class. Jesus reiterates this, and never speaks of two flocks.

The WTS maintains that no one that lived before Christ will ever enter heaven. “The apostle Paul in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews names a long list of faithful men who died before the crucifixion of the Lord. . . . These can never be a part of the heavenly class” (Millions Now Living, p. 89).

Matthew 8:11-12 provides severe difficulties for this idea, since Jesus proclaims, “many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside.” No verse could be clearer in declaring that the patriarchs are in heaven. The following verses all demonstrate that Christians go to heaven: 2 Corinthians 5:1; Hebrews 3:1; Ephesians 2:6; Colossians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:4.”

Love,
Matthew

Counterfeit Christ: Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Heresy of Arianism

Jehovah’s Greatest Creation

The doorbell rings, and you peer through the peephole. Standing on your doorstep is a man in a suit and a woman in a tasteful dress. They don’t look like your average salespeople, so you open the door.

It turns out they are here today to see if you “hope for a better world” or if you “wonder if the Bible is still relevant.” They offer you some free magazines and let you know they’re willing to study the Bible with you at your convenience. You soon learn that the guests on your doorstep are Jehovah’s Witnesses, part of a religious group founded in the 1870’s that has nearly eight million members worldwide.

And they have their own counterfeit version of Jesus.

The central belief of Jehovah’s Witnesses is that there is one God and his name is Jehovah. According to them, Jehovah created a “Son” and it was through this Son that he created the rest of the world (Arianism). This Son, whom we now call Jesus, has the same “spirit nature” as his Father, which makes him “a god” or “a mighty god.” However, the Son is still a creation of the Father, and so he is not the “true God” and should not be worshiped. As their Awake! magazine says, “[T]rue Christians do well to direct their worship only to Jehovah God, the Almighty.”

Since the Witnesses believe that Jesus is the highest or most glorious of God’s creatures, and they consider archangels to be the highest of the angels, it follows for them that Jesus must be an archangel. And since Michael is called “the archangel,” that means there is only one archangel and so Michael and Jesus must be the same.

They further claim:

The only other verse in which an archangel is mentioned is at 1 Thessalonians 4:16, where Paul describes the resurrected Jesus, saying: ‘The Lord [Jesus] himself will descend from heaven with a commanding call, with an archangel’s voice and with God’s trumpet.’ So Jesus Christ himself is here identified as the archangel, or chief angel.

But how can that be true if . . .

The Bible Says that Jesus is Not an Angel

Calling Michael the archangel in Jude 1:9 doesn’t prove that Michael is the only archangel any more than calling Sonic the Hedgehog proves he is the only hedgehog. Neither does describing Jesus as descending “with an archangel’s voice” require us to conclude that He is an archangel. (The same verse also says that Jesus will descend with God’s trumpet, but that doesn’t mean Jesus is a trumpet.) It only means that Jesus’ voice will have the quality of an archangel’s voice, or that He will be accompanied by angels who will shout for Him.

Besides, the Bible explicitly teaches that Jesus is superior to all the angels, including the archangels. Hebrews 1:4–6 says Jesus has:

“become as much superior to angels as the name he has obtained is more excellent than theirs. For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”? And again, when he brings the first-born into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship Him.”

Angels don’t worship other angels; they worship only God. Since Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that Jesus is Michael the archangel, their New World Translation of the Bible (NWT) avoids the situation of angels worshipping another angel by rendering this passage, “Let all of God’s angels do obeisance to him.”

Obeisance means to bow down in respect for another person. In Exodus 18:7, Moses made obeisance to his father-in-law, Jethro; and in 1 Kings 1:16, Bathsheba bowed before King David. These instances of obeisance merely describe paying solemn respect to someone. They do not describe the kind of worship one would give to God.

The Greek word in Hebrews 1:6 that Jehovah’s Witnesses translate “obeisance” is προσκυνέω, proskynéō, pron: pros-koo-neh’-o. This word can indeed refer to simple bowing or showing a sign of respect to someone in authority. But, it can also refer to the kind of worship given to God alone. Interestingly, elsewhere the NWT renders proskuneo as “worship” when the verb has God the Father as its direct object (e.g., John 4:20-23). It even translates it as “worship” when it is used to describe the worship of a false god, such as the Beast in Revelation 13. But when proskuneo is used of Jesus, the NWT always translates it as “obeisance” and never as “worship.”

This may be appropriate in verses that describe people paying respect to Jesus, such as when the mother of James and John kneel before Jesus before requesting that he give her sons special authority (Matt. 20:20). But there are other verses where context makes it clear that worship is the most appropriate word to use. This includes Luke 24:52 and Matthew 28:9, both of which refer to the apostles worshipping Jesus after his resurrection.

After Jesus’ calmed the storm on the Sea of Galilee, Matthew 14:33 tells us, “Those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” In the Old Testament, only God possessed power over the weather and the sea. Biblical scholar Moran Hooker points out that even though the disciples ask, “Who then is this, that even wind and sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41), to the reader of the Gospel “the answer to their question is obvious. It is God who made the sea, and God alone who controls it (Ps. 89:8). The authority with which Jesus acts is that of God Himself.”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 3 of 3


-St Nicholas, yes, THE Santa Claus, smacks Arius at the Council of Nicea, 325 AD. Unable to restrain his dispute with Arius, Nicholas approached Arius and slapped – or punched – him in the face. The bishop’s loss of cool shocked his contemporaries.  For more detail, please click on the image.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“I was influenced by C.S. Lewis and Mere Christianity as a young Christian and always wished I could go to the closest church to where I lived, as he recommended. As I was researching the matter, I realized that, as for many others, a Catholic parish was actually the closest church to me.

This Catholic business was all very hard on my wife, Linda. Like me, she was the offspring of an elder/pastor in the Bible Students movement, and she had been an elder’s wife for over 20 years. We went to the Antiochian Orthodox church a few times, but Linda got migraines from all the incense and had difficulty with the focus on Mary. Their doctrine of communion with the saints in the Church Triumphant is hard for Protestants to accept. Protestants understand communion with the Church Militant, but not with the Church Triumphant.

I was praying in a Catholic church each morning, longing to be with Christ the way those who communed could. However, I knew that I couldn’t receive Communion in the Orthodox Church or the Catholic Church unless I converted. I found that hard. Looking back, I can see the sin of pride in myself. Since I had studied, I thought I should be an exception; I knew more than many who were participating in Communion. But now, I see the wisdom of the Church in her unwillingness to compromise on important principles.

As a substitute, I found an Anglican church (Anglican Church in North America, a “continuing Anglican” denomination) to attend on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings, because they let me partake of their communion, which is the “thing” that originally got me going down this path. But what was the Eucharist there? The opinion varied even between their priests.

The canon at the church where I attended had Saturday morning prayer with the Eucharist and Sunday evening prayer with the Eucharist. After the Saturday morning Eucharist, he led a men’s Bible study, while his wife led a women’s group. I explained to him that I was an ex-Arian (non-Trinitarian) pastor on a journey, and he welcomed me. So, there was a period of time while I was still pastoring at my old church and also participating in the Anglican worship and communion on Saturday mornings and Sunday evenings.

In December of 2014, I resigned as elder/pastor of my church. Leaving my life, friends, theology, and just about everything else, was hard. At least I had a job. I marvel at those who leave a pastorate that then have to figure out how to put food on the table and a roof overhead!

My wife eventually came to the Anglican Sunday evening service with me. After we left the Bible Students, we attended there on Sunday mornings as well. She really loved the modern worship they blend into their liturgy. She has come to appreciate liturgy, the belief in the Real Presence, and other Catholic teachings there, but has not become Catholic. Still, she has been supportive and continues to grow in her faith. It pains both of us not to worship together, so I, as a Catholic, accompany her to the Sunday evening prayer at her Anglican church.

How could an Anglican canon help me over my prejudice against Catholicism? I learned much at his Saturday morning men’s Bible study. He was always quoting the Church Fathers and treated Catholic teaching kindly. He would point out those Catholic doctrines that he didn’t hold, but knew the Catholic Catechism and Church teachings better than most of the Catholics I’ve met. He is still a friend, and I do enjoy his sermons on Sunday night. What I like about his sermons is that he keeps to the readings for the day. He does not preach whatever he wants, but what his church has given in the readings.

I studied my way into the Church. I told one of the other pastors at my old church, “Whatever you do, don’t read Ignatius’ letters to the churches. They will ruin you.” Ignatius of Antioch laid waste my former view of Church history. Here is a man discipled by the Apostle John. He was the third bishop of that important see of Antioch, where there are bishops, priests, deacons, Eucharist, the importance of being obedient to your bishop, and so forth!

Additionally, reading Athanasius of Alexandria and his simple point on the Father and the Son being eternal (one can’t be the unchanging, everlasting Father without a Son!) helped me overcome my Arian beliefs. As I read the works of people who knew the Apostles and the first disciples, I realized there was no Great Apostasy in the early Church, except amongst those sects that kept popping up, trying to change what had been handed down.

I realized there were only two places I could truly have the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus Christ (the divinity part being a big deal for an ex-Arian): the Orthodox and Catholic Churches. But through all my studies and experiences, I had to admit there could only be one universal Church, one I could find everywhere, one still united with a Tradition that, though a mighty oak tree today, still retains the image of the acorn of the early Church.

While attending an Anglican church, I found some online recordings of an RCIA (Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults) class. Going to the Catholic parish to pray had grown into a daily habit. I couldn’t stay for the whole Mass, but I could do so at least through the Liturgy of the Word. I wished that I could go up for Communion on my days off, when I could stay for the entire liturgy; what was there before me was the real thing. So close, yet so far.

I started listening to these recordings of RCIA sessions. My wife was puzzled by my listening to “Catholic stuff.” It was interesting, though, because the person teaching it had gone to Wheaton College (home of Billy Graham) and had converted to Catholicism when he started looking into Church history. He even spent time at the same Anglican church in Wheaton where we were. Linda and I went through RCIA together under him. Linda kept asking, “Where does the Bible say that?” and other, tougher questions about what was taught. RCIA could use some work in this area. Perhaps we could go back to Cyril of Jerusalem and his Catechetical LecturesOf course, in our age, this is probably easier said than done.

On tough days at school, I would also stop by the church after work to pray. There was a side chapel where you could see the Tabernacle and get into the church when the main entrance was closed. One time, I noticed a man praying there, Craig, whom I had seen at morning Mass. He always seemed serene — which I wasn’t. I now know that what I did was breaking protocol, but I turned to him and started asking him questions about the statues, etc. He answered patiently. The next week, while at morning prayer, he came to me with a Daily Roman Missal and a copy of Introduction to Catholicism for Adults by the Rev. James Socias. Craig told me, “You have some studying to do.” We developed a relationship. I was always off to the races, and he was always telling me to take some time and develop a “Catholic mind.” After becoming Catholic, I’m starting to see what he meant. Craig was my sponsor when I entered the Church.

I have dealt with Peter and Popes, Mary, and all the usual Protestant issues, and am still adjusting. Stephen Ray, Scott Hahn, Brant Pitre, Mike Aquilina, and Fr. Simon of Father Simon Says on Relevant Radio have been part of my tutelage. I still try to listen to Fr. Simon’s podcasts daily. I also go to his Patristic Palooza on the early Church each October. Another author very important to me is G.K. Chesterton. (Where were you all my life G.K.?) His wit, joy and formidable intelligence are amazing. I tell people about him all the time, saying he’s the most important author of the 20th century that you’ve never heard of.

One of the scariest realizations I came to in this journey was that if the Church doesn’t exist (as, for instance, in the Catholic Church), then Jesus failed, because He wanted us to be one, not 30,000 or 40,000 flavors (John 17). I know Jesus can’t fail. That means there has to be a Church that still is one, despite all its various languages and cultures. No other body comes close to the Catholic Church in this. In fact, I am frequently amazed at the different people who make up a congregation. In my Protestant life, they would have divided into different churches. Sadly, some of the practices being proposed by leaders within the Catholic Church today have already been tried and discarded by Protestants. As the man told King Arthur and his knights in Monty Python’s Search for the Holy Grail, “Look at the bones!”

Some new acquaintances recommended the Coming Home NetworkI contacted them, and Jim Anderson has been checking in on me throughout the process of my entering the Church in March of 2017 and following up since then. Just knowing there was someone who cared about me helped a lot. It was also good to read other people’s stories and realize that I was not alone in my quest. It was comforting to realize how many people who were leaders in their Protestant churches were willing to come over to the Catholic Church. With the challenges facing the Church these days, I have found that those of us who have made this journey of faith have little patience for the protestantization of the Church. Interesting timing on God’s part!

Being Catholic has meant a much more personal relationship with God. When I was confirmed (I was baptized as a child), I took the name of Elijah, my favorite prophet. We need Elijah and all the saints to help us in these times. As I wandered through those years of searching, I stumbled on the Liturgy of the Hours and daily use the Universalis app (which provides the daily texts of the Liturgy of the Hours and the Mass). I am ashamed to admit that I pray more now than when I was a pastor. Where I pray does matter. How I worship does matter. What matters is not what I want in prayer or worship, but what God wants. I think of Him constantly now. The Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Christians became a saving grace early in this transformation and is still a regular prayer throughout my days. I’m learning the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, and other distinctively Catholic prayers. I feel blessed to have ancient aspects of my faith from East and West, as well as a deep love of Scripture from my Bible Student formation. I am blessed to be able to physically be with our Lord daily.

I am blessed, too, with having Catholic parishes in abundance around me. I have spent a day in prayer at St. John Cantius in Chicago, one of the most beautiful churches in the states. Last season, I was able to attend there for the entire Triduum (Thursday, Friday and Saturday of the week that precedes Easter Sunday); it was amazing, as are the parishioners there in their devotion. On Sundays, I am blessed with a parish nearby that celebrates an Extraordinary Form Mass (the old Latin Mass) as one of its five Sunday Masses.

I’m also part of a band of men who meet Saturday mornings at 7 AM to go over the Sunday Mass readings together. In addition, I’m a part of a smaller group of men who meet twice a month to study papal encyclical letters. We have just finished Casti Connubii (On Christian Marriage, by Pope Pius XI) and are now learning Humanae Vitae (On Human Life, by Pope Paul VI). After that we will tackle Pascendi Dominici Gregis (On the Doctrines of the Modernists, by Pope Pius X). Each of these encyclical letters deals with key issues of our contemporary society and culture. We also study spiritual disciplines and the Sacraments.

Our hope is to be a help to others as we deal with the ongoing dismantling of Western culture and belief in the sacred and supernatural. The fight is not between liberal and conservative, but between those who believe in God and those who don’t. The collapse of civilization is always quite inconvenient. The Church was there when it happened before, a couple of times. Here’s to her success once again!”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 2 of 3


-ceiling mosaic of the Arian Baptistery, built in Ravenna by the Ostrogothic King Theodoric the Great (454-526 AD), please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“Following the lead of others, I encouraged our congregation’s move away from simple worship of some hymns and readings before the sermon to a more Evangelical-style worship with a band. We developed various themes and programs to try to keep people interested and coming. It was a total flop. As many Protestant churches have discovered, if you try to keep people entertained or emotionally tied, it quickly reaches the point of diminishing returns.

Now, as a Catholic, being in Jesus’ presence daily as I pray before the Tabernacle is the most important part of my day. In contrast, the way I lived out my Christianity through my Bible Student upbringing was a “head experience.” Being a science teacher as well as a pastor supported keeping everything in my head. But my real need was to live Christ in body, soul, and spirit. Getting the right program or manner of worshiping was not the main thing.

As I started studying early Church history, I encountered the early Christians and Church Fathers. These were people who lived out Jesus’ teaching and promises. I didn’t need New Age magical thinking. I didn’t need a program, a new form of worship. I needed to submit to God, worshiping the way He wanted, not the way I wanted. That is the main thing: full submission to Him, to His will. But I only realized that later.

On the other hand, I started to stop by a Catholic parish in my town on my way to work. It is the only Christian church that is open at 5:45 AM weekdays for people to pray; they have a daily 6:30 AM Mass. I was beginning to appreciate sacred spaces and places.

However, I had a hard time dealing with Catholic doctrine. I had been well-trained to dissect Catholic thought and practice — at least the caricature of it that we were taught. Catholics were (and sadly, still are) pretty easy targets to “evangelize” away from their faith. Very few Catholics I met knew their Bible, their history, or how to defend any of their practices.

So, since I “knew” that what I was looking for couldn’t be the Catholic Church, I first looked at Orthodox writers and thinkers. It is funny how our prejudices work. I couldn’t bring myself to look into the Catholic Church, but I was OK with looking into the Eastern Orthodox — all the while praying each morning in a Catholic church. People thought the Orthodox faith strange, but I didn’t get the strong reactions I did later as a Catholic.

I was blessed during my time studying Orthodoxy. The Orthodox schism of 1054 fit in with my Protestant idea of the Church “going off the rails,” but I had to move to much later the date of the “Great Apostasy.” Among Orthodox writers and saints, I could see the promises of Christ being lived out. Reading of the monks of Mt. Athos, the Eastern Fathers, the rich liturgy, and abundance of miracles, I thought that I was on the right track. I began to challenge people to look into the Orthodox faith, pointing out the wonders and beauties I had discovered.

A lot was going on at that time. I was taking classes at the Antiochian Orthodox seminary and knew my future was taking me where my brethren were unwilling to go. I had been trying to re-create the early Church, as many Protestants have, within the confines of my own church. That was not fair to them.

It didn’t take a full semester to realize that I was running into many of the same issues in the Orthodox Church that I saw in Protestant churches. The nationalism of the various sects of the Orthodox was troubling. Attending various Divine Liturgies was enlightening as well. In the Antiochian church nearby, the people were very devout. In my sampling of other Orthodox parishes, not so much. Still, the Orthodox Churches have apostolic succession and the true Presence of Christ in their Divine Liturgy. 

On the other hand, I also learned that the Catholic Church does include several Eastern forms of liturgy.”

Love,
Matthew

Arian Evangelical discovers the Catholic Church: Part 1 of 3


-Great Champions of the Catholic Faith, fierce combatants against the heresy of Arianism, the Cappodocian Fathers: St Basil and St Gregory of Nazianzus, along with Basil’s brother St Gregory of Nyssa and St John Chrysostom, fought against Arianism. For greater detail, please click on the image.


-by Mike Knapp (Mike Knapp was born in Chicago and raised on a farm in Garden Prairie, IL. He went to National Louis University to collect all their degrees finishing a doctorate in “Science and Spirituality in Public Education.” A National Board Certified middle school science teacher, he’s ending 35 years of teaching at the end of the 2018/2019 school year to start a new chapter with his wife — yet to be determined, as becoming a Catholic has really changed everything. An “elder/pastor” for over 20 years with the Bible Students he was received into the Universal Church in 2017. He’s serving as an altar boy at the Latin Mass, runs, reads, teaches graduate courses in environmental science for SCARCE and a course in particle physics for teachers at Fermilab, and goes to Feed My Starving Children regularly.)

“My family left the Catholic Church when I was in first grade. I had only one year of Catholic education. Being the oldest of seven, none of my younger siblings had any at all — and not one of them has anything to do with the Church today. My parents joined the Bible Students, a small non-denominational group, descendants of Pastor Charles Taze Russell. They are not the Jehovah’s Witnesses, as is commonly reported. The JWs really came from one of Pastor Russell’s board members, Judge Rutherford. That is a story for another day.

Sundays meant long drives to “Meeting.” Except for one faction of the movement, known as Bereans, we didn’t call it “church”; instead, we met as ecclesias. Bible Students like to use Greek, since that’s what Pastor Russell did. The groups were small (their peak was just before World War I), and they often met in homes, Masonic temples, or the local YMCA. Very few congregations owned a building.

Most Meetings were spent studying Russell’s Studies in the Scriptures, his topical Bible studies. Some “liberal” Bible Student groups, such as the Bereans, actually studied the Bible. I was blessed to be involved with all three flavors of the Bible Students at different times. I do not regret the strong love of Scripture they gave me.

Growing up in a group that is considered a cult by other Christians does tend to make you pay more attention to what is being taught. I can remember being told that I was going to hell by many a Christian as I tracted neighborhoods or worked a booth at the county fair. On the other hand, being part of a small group that is, to some extent, persecuted also gives you a sense of being special in the Lord’s eyes. I think that is a very important part of many of the smaller denominations within Christianity.

Bible Student theology is very neat and tidy. Here is the elevator version: God has a plan. As Paul tells Timothy, God wants all men to come to Christ; therefore, logically, most will. The plan is based solely on Scripture. Russell goes out of his way in the first of the six volumes of his Studies to say that he won’t look to Church Fathers or any other documents, since those are only human opinions. Jesus was a man — only a man; we did not believe in the Trinity — because He was the “ransom price” for Adam. Since Adam was a perfect man, Jesus, to be the ransom, also had to be a perfect man. Christ’s Kingdom is a literal thousand-year kingdom, where all will be raised from the dead and know God. At the end of the thousand years, all would choose either life or destruction. There is no eternal torment or any other of what we called “pagan and medieval” notions, since death and hell are tossed into the “second death.”

I grew up going to the seminars, conventions and other ways the small ecclesias would work to build up the Body of Christ. I was blessed with being around people who were very bright and knew history, the Bible, and how to think for themselves. I loved going to these Meetings and developed close Christian friendships.

In the Bible Student movement, nobody in leadership is paid. Everyone who serves the ecclesia needs an outside job. To pay the bills, I was and am a science teacher. One of the other elder/pastors I worked with was the math chair at the local high school. Another was in charge of internal sales for industry.

There are different types of Bible Students. The Dawn group was the group that formed after Judge Rutherford kicked everyone out of the Watchtower. They set up their own printing press and started The Dawn magazine. The Divine Plan faction was formed in the 1960s and 70s as a reaction to the practices of the Dawn Meetings, who had stopped using some of the volumes of the Scripture Studies. Another group, known as Free, or Berean, Bible Students, developed in the 1930s and 40s. I eventually became a deacon and then an elder in a Berean congregation. The Bereans were considered to be “out of the truth” by many in the other groups. Bereans only study the Bible, and many Bereans today have no knowledge of the Studies in the Scriptures.

When my parents entered the Bible Student world, they met with a Divine Plan group first, then with some people from that group who started a home church. As a teenager, I got to know brethren in the Dawn faction; in fact, I married a girl from there. In short, within our own denomination, we experienced the fractures of Protestantism in spades.

What does it mean to be an elder in the Bible Student movement? It means being a pastor who does the preaching, teaching, counseling, marrying, burying, and other duties of a typical Evangelical pastor — plus working full time on the outside. That is why they usually have several elders. At the time I was active in the denomination, my congregation of 100–120 had five elder/pastors.

So, how did I become Catholic? A lot of things happened all at once. I joke that things really went “wrong” for me when I led a series of sermons and studies on having Communion more than once a year at our church (Berean Bible Students would use the word “church”). It is Bible Student practice to have communion only on the 14th of the Hebrew month Nisan, the actual night of Jesus’ Last Supper. This was our “tradition.” (Yes, even non-denominational churches have traditions; they just don’t admit it.)

I could tell from Scripture that the early Church had Communion more often than our once-a-year practice, although apparently some in the early Church had an annual practice.

Then I made another mistake: I started to study Church history. It turns out that Church history, in Protestant churches and cultures, leaves out a lot of information and is quite comfortable sharing historical information that isn’t really history. One very helpful book to disabuse me of this error was Rodney Stark’s Bearing False Witness. Stark was a Protestant historian fed up with the false narrative about the Catholic Church passed off as history.

As I learned, I shared. Communion started to happen a bit more often in our church. But when your theology says it is only a symbol, Communion does not have much importance or urgency. I can remember sharing from the platform during sermons that I envied the Catholics’ ability to have Christ daily in such a literal way. Nobody agreed with that. I was the one out of step, because I had come to realize that it wasn’t just a symbol. Jesus meant what He said, and His listeners took it the same way, as is clear from John 6.

By the year 2010, I had been looking over Catholic doctrines for several years. The congregation probably wasn’t sure where I was coming from at times. Why was I looking outside our own denomination? Well, I teach science in a very challenging environment, one with extreme poverty and social and behavioral issues. I could see the disconnect between what Jesus said we should do and what I was doing.”

Love,
Matthew