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Tuesday, May 09, 2017

John Martignoni explains why Catholics believe and worship as we do. (Part 1)

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     This will be the first in an on-going series of newsletters that will begin with the question: Why Do Catholics...? The series is intended to answer questions that non-Catholics often have about the Catholic Faith.  So, it will be addressed to non-Catholics, but it will not be in the usual format of these newsletters which is a debate/dialogue format.  These will be just straightforward explanations for why Catholics believe and do what we believe and do.  Why do Catholics worship Mary (as many think we do)?  Why do Catholics not believe in the rapture (at least, not the Left Behindversion of it)?  Why do Catholics believe in Purgatory?  Why do Catholics make the sign of the Cross?  Why do Catholics believe works make a difference in one's salvation?  And so on.

     And the first of the series will be: Why do catholics confess their sins to a priest, instead of going straight to God?  This isn't the question most often asked of Catholics, but it is a very common question, nonetheless; so it's as good a place to start as any.

     I hope you enjoy the series and I hope you will send these around to your friends who are not Catholic.  And ask them what questions they have in regard to Why Do Catholics...?and pass those questions along to me and I'll see if I can't fit them into a future newsletter.


Q:     Why do Catholics confess their sins to a priest, instead of going straight to God?

A:     The easiest, and most direct, way of answering that question is to simply say, "Because that's the way we believe Jesus wants us to do it."  Alright, fine.  "But," you may ask, "why do we believe that Jesus wants us to confess our sins to a priest?"  After all, the priest is just a man, right?  He can't forgive our sins.

       Well, the first thing to consider in all of this is the Word of God.  What does the Bible say?  I like to start in the Old Testament when talking about confessing sins to a priest.  There's a passage in Leviticus, chapter 5, that I think applies to this question.  In the first few verses of Leviticus 5, it lists a series of sins.  Then, in verse 5, it says, “When a man is guilty in any of these, he shall confess the sin he has committed, and he shall bring his guilt offering to the Lord for the sin which he has committed...and the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.”  And this is repeated in verse 11, "...and the priest shall make antonement for him for the sin which he has committed, and he shall be forgiven."  And it is repeated in verse 13 and verse 16 and in verse 7 of chapter 6. 

       So what do we see happening here?  First, we see that to be forgiven of sin, the Israelites had to confess their sins.  No problem there, right?  Everyone knows that you have to repent and confess your sins in order to be forgiven - 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

       Second, it looks as if there was a penance to be performed after their sins are confessed - a “guilt offering” was brought to the Lord.  Third, we need to notice that a person could not go straight to God to have his sins forgiven.  God Himself set things up so His people had to go to a priest to have their sins forgiven.  Why did God do that? 

       Now, when I bring up this passage from Leviticus, I usually hear an objection along these lines: "Wait a minute, that's the Old Testament.  The Old Testament law has been done away with and we are no longer obliged to confess our sins in the same way.  After all, do you take a lamb or a goat or pigeons to be sacrificed when you go and confess your sins?"  Fair question. 

       No, we’re not bound by the Old Testament law any more.  However, I would like you to consider two New Testament passages that are relevant here.  The first is 2 Tim 3:16, which says, “All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” All Scripture!  So, keep in mind, that the Old Testament is 1) Inspired by God, 2) Profitable for teaching, and 3) Profitable for training in righteousness. 

       The 2nd relevant passage is Hebrews 10:1, “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities...”  The law - the Old Testament practices - were a “shadow” of the “true form” of the good things to come.  Which means the Old Testament practices should give us an outline - some hint or clue -  as to the equivalent New Testament practices, since they are a “shadow” of the things to come.  God, in the Old Covenant, was in effect, teaching us...training us... giving us clues...for what was to come under the New Covenant.

       For example, the Old Testament teaches us that the forgiveness of sin involves sacrifice and the shedding of blood.  In the New Testament, Jesus is sacrificed and sheds His blood for the forgiveness of sin.  In the Old Testament, one entered into covenant with God through the circumcision of the foreskin (Genesis 17:9-14).  In the New Testament, one enters into covenant with God through the circumcision of the flesh that is made without hands (Colossians 2:11-12).  In the Old Testament, forgiveness of sins involved the office of the priest.  So, in the New Testament, the forgiveness of sins should involve...what?

       If Leviticus 5 is "a shadow of the good things to come," and it teaches us and trains us in righteousness, then what conclusions can we draw from it?  Again, in the Old Covenant, for sins to be forgiven, we see: 1) confession of sin, 2) penance, 3) the involvement of the priest, and 4) the shedding of blood. In the New Covenant, for sins to be forgiven, we also see: 1) the confession of sin, and 2) the shedding of blood - the blood of Jesus - so is it entirely unreasonable to believe that it also involves a priest and penance, as the Old Testament apparently was teaching us?

       You might say, "Well, after the death of Jesus and the tearing of the veil in the Temple, we now have direct access to God so there is no longer any need for a priest."  I've heard that argument and I understand where that argument is coming from, but I would ask you to consider the following two questions:

       1) Does the Bible somewhere say that the priesthood is no longer needed?  No, it doesn't. 

       2) When 1 John 1:9 tells us that we are to confess our sins so that God will forgive them, does it - or any passage of Scripture - say that we are to confess our sins only to God alone, and not to man?  Again, no, it doesn’t. 

       In fact, in James 5:16, the Bible commandsus to confess our sins to “one another”.  So we see that the Bible telling us to confess our sins to our fellow man, and not just to God alone.  And, here in James 5, what do we see?  Right before we are commanded to confess our sins to one another, we are told, in verse 14, to "call for the elders of the church."  It seems God wants certain men - the elders of the church - to be involved in the process of the confession and forgiveness of sin.  Sounds a lot like Leviticus, chapter 5, where God commanded the Israelites to go to a priest.  Remember, the Old Testament contains the "shadow of the good things to come". 

       Okay, let me get to the final point which needs to be addressed in regard to this particular topic: This Catholic belief that a priest - a mere man - can forgive sins.  Let me begin to address this by asking a question: Can God use one human being to physically heal another human being?  I think you will agree with me that the answer is, "Yes."  We have numerous biblical accounts - Old and New Testament - of people being healed by others.  Well, was that healing power and authority of human or divine origin? Again, I think you will agree with me that it was of divine origin.  It is God's power.  But, God exercised His power and authority to heal, through men.  I wonder why He didn't just heal them directly, instead of using other men to do so? 

       The thing is, if God can use one human being to physically heal another, could He not also use one human being to spiritually heal another?  Catholics believe He can.  We believe all things are possible with God.  But, understand this, please!  It is God’s power, but He chooses to exercise that power through men.  Is there anything in the Bible that would back us up on this?  Yes, actually, there is.  The first passage I would point to is one already mentioned, James 5:14-16, about how we are to call the elders before we are told to confess our sins to one another.  Why call the elders?  The next passages are from Mark and Matthew.  Mark 2, verse 7 - this is the story of Jesus healing a paralytic.  Mark 2:7 says, “Why does this man speak thus?  It is blasphemy!  Who can forgive sins but God alone?”  Many people in our day and age agree with the scribes here.  Jesus, though, goes on to show us something a little bit different. 

       In Matthew 9, we see the same story of the healing of the paralytic that occurs in Mark chapter 2.  In verse 3 it has the scribes saying, “This man is blaspheming.”  Again, they say that because they believe God alone can forgive sins.  And what happens?  In verse 6 Jesus tells them, “But that you may know that the Son of man has authority on earth to forgive sins...”  Jesus then tells the paralytic to rise up and go home, and he does.  And what does Scripture tell us in verse 8?  “When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to a man.”  To a man?  No!  To “men”.  Plural!  Scripture tells us that God gave this authority to “men”, not just to “a man” - Jesus Christ - but to men!  And exactly what authority did God give to men?  Verse 6 - the authority on earthto forgive sins!  Scripture very plainly tells us that God gave “men” the authority on earth to forgive sins.  And, in context, this is not the authority of, say, me forgiving you for saying something bad about me or stealing something from me.  No, this is the same authority to forgive sins that the Son of man has (verse 6). 

       And what Scripture says here is reiterated in the Gospel of John.  John 20:21-23 - “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you.  As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.’  And when He had said this, He breathed on them, and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’”

       Verse 21: “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you.”  How did the Father send Jesus?  We just saw in Matthew 9:6 that “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins”.  So, the Father sent Jesus with the authority on earth to forgive sins.  Now, Jesus is sending out the Apostles as the Father sent Him.  So, what authority do the Apostles have?  The authority on earth to forgive sins.  And in verse 23 He can’t get much clearer on this: “If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven, if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.”  

       Why would Jesus give the Apostles the power to forgive or retain sins, unless He expected people to confess their sins to them?  After all, how can you forgive or retain someone’s sins unless you first know what their sins are?  And how can you know what they are, except by them confessing their sins to you?  This fits very well with what we saw in James 5 - we are supposed to confess our sins to men, not just to God alone.  And not just any men, but the elders - the leaders - of the church.  Yes, we confess our sins to God, but the system Catholics believe God Himself has set up for us to receive His forgiveness, involves confessing our sins to men.  The Bible - Old and New Testament - seems to us to be very clear on this.  The priest is an integral part of how God set up the system for receiving forgiveness of sin.  That needs to be emphasized, this is how God set things up, not man. 

       I am not going to say that all of this definitively "proves" the Catholic belief in regard to the Sacrament of Confession - confessing our sins to God, and receiving forgiveness of sins from God, through the office of the priest.  Jesus working in and through the priest to heal our souls.  I would not want, in any way, to try and force my beliefs on you.  But I hope this at least gives you a better understanding of what we believe and why we believe it.  And I would simply ask that you ponder the Scripture verses mentioned here.  Soak in them for awhile.  And, if you end up disagreeing with the "Catholic" interpretation of these verses, then I would issue a friendly challenge to you: Come up with an alternative interpretation that fits all of the above-mentioned verses together in a manner that makes better sense.  The Word of God directly says that "men" were given the authority on earth to forgive sins - we are simply doing our best to follow what we believe God has given us in His Word.

Closing Comments

I hope everyone has a very happy and restful weekend, and a productive week ahead.  God bless!


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TheChurchMilitant: Sometimes anti-social, but always anti-fascist since 2005.

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First of all, the word is SEX, not GENDER. If you are ever tempted to use the word GENDER, don't. The word is SEX! SEX! SEX! SEX! For example: "My sex is male." is correct. "My gender is male." means nothing. Look it up. What kind of sick neo-Puritan nonsense is this? Idiot left-fascists, get your blood-soaked paws off the English language. Hence I am choosing "male" under protest.


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