Two friends recently returned from a
Catholic Apologetics Conference where they learned how to defend and
explain the Catholic faith. Upon their return they were invited to an
evangelical Bible Study but declined, saying that only the Magisterium
of the Catholic Church can interpret the Bible accurately. Wow! What a
way to maintain control over Catholics! Tell them no one else has the
authority to interpret Scripture except their own Bishops.
This brings to mind a Catholic named Rose who heard the
Gospel through our ministry and trusted Jesus as her all-sufficient
Savior. Convinced she had to leave her church, she asked me to go with
her to tell her priest. I welcomed the opportunity, not wanting to give
the adversary an opportunity to pluck the imperishable seed from her
heart. So, I asked her priest to explain to Rose what she had to do to
enter heaven. He responded that she must be baptized, receive the
sacraments, attend Mass every week, do good works, obey the
commandments, and die without any "mortal" sins. I then asked him to
open his Bible to the book of Romans and to read several key verses out
loud. When he finished reading, I asked him to reconcile what Godís word
said with what he told Rose. Now the priest knew why I was there. He
became defensive and appeared irritated. Each time he tried to reconcile
the Bible with Catholic teaching, I gently confronted him with another
verse that exposed his error. Finally he threw up his hands and said in
frustration, "Look, I donít have the authority to interpret the Bible.
We rely on the Magisterium to interpret it for us."
After Rose and I left his office, I opened my Bible to
what the apostle Paul wrote: "by setting forth the truth plainly we
commend ourselves to every manís conscience in the sight of God" (2 Cor.
4:2). Rose then understood that Paul was presenting the Scriptures to
everyone for their own interpretation and accountability to God. She
knew Paul did not write to a Magisterium or grant anyone sole authority
to interpret the Bible. Rose knew she had made the right decision to
leave the Roman Catholic Church, which had deceived her on the critical
issue of her salvation.
Since we will all be held accountable for knowing
Godís word, we must be sure we use good principles of interpretation
(hermeneutics). This is because, historically, men have twisted and
distorted Godís word for selfish ambition and power (Micah 3:9, Ps.
55:4-5; Gal. 1:7; 2 Pet. 3:16). Paul said man-imposed religions may have
an appearance of wisdom but their commandments and teachings only keep
people in legalistic bondage and have no value (Col. 2:20-23). He
exhorted us not to base our faith on the persuasive words of human
wisdom but on the power of God manifested in His word (1 Cor. 2:5; Rom.
1:16). Only by abiding in Godís word and knowing the truth can captives
be set free from religion (John 8:31-32).
We have biblical examples of how religious leaders
became corrupt and led people away from the truth. Jesus condemned the
leaders of Godís chosen people with seven woes in the 23rd chapter of
Matthew. They were soundly rebuked for shutting off the kingdom of
heaven from men who were entering, for making their converts sons of
hell and for hiding their self-indulgence and uncleanness with external
righteousness. Jesus called them serpents and a brood of vipers and
questioned how they thought they would escape the sentence of hell. This
is why the psalmist says, "It is better to take refuge in the Lord than
to trust in man." (Psalm 118:8).
The things that condemned the Jewish leaders are
similar to the practices that have brought condemnation to the Roman
Catholic religion today. The Catholic clergy stands condemned because
they shut off the kingdom of heaven with a gospel other than the one
Paul preached (Gal. 1:6-9). Accordingly, "the wrath of God is revealed
from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who
suppress the truth in unrighteousness" (Rom. 1:18). Because they
exchanged the truth of God for a lie, God has given them over to
degrading passions and depraved minds to perform indecent acts as the
due penalty for their error (Rom. 1:25-28). The number of reported
pedophiles, homosexuals and rapists within the Roman Catholic clergy has
grown to epidemic proportions. For centuries many Cardinals, bishops and
priests hid their sexual sins, cover-ups and crimes under robes of
self-righteousness. Only recently have their atrocities been exposed.
To paraphrase the words of the Apostle John, "They say
they have fellowship with Jesus, yet walk in the darkness, thus they lie
and do not practice the truth" (1 John 1:6). It is indeed incredulous
how Catholics continue to blindly trust their Bishops for spiritual
truth after observing their depraved judgment in reassigning pedophiles
to prey on more vulnerable children. These clergymen are incapable of
making accurate spiritual judgments. Paul said we are to avoid such men
who have a form of godliness but are unholy, arrogant, brutal and
without self-control (2 Tim. 3:2-5).
Roman Catholics must be persuaded to study the Bible
for themselves and not to rely exclusively on what their priests and
bishops teach them. To blindly trust fallible men for their eternal
destiny is utterly foolish. To replace Jesus Christ with any other
mediator leaves people open to deception. The Bible warns its readers
over and over again that man cannot be trusted. "Let God be true, and
every man a liar" (Rom. 3:4). Scripture must be our final court of
appeal for correcting and reproving those who misinterpret, twist or
distort the word of God (2 Tim. 3:15-16). The Bible is what God says.
Religion is what man says God says.
Another example of how the actions and influence of
fallible men can divert people from the truth is the Apostle Peter. In a
public confrontation, Paul opposed Peter to his face because he was "not
straightforward about the truth of the Gospel" (Gal. 2:11-14). Peterís
actions were causing Barnabas and the Jews to join him in his hypocrisy.
Paul used the authority of Godís word to correct Peter. Once again we
see that if an apostle can err in matters of faith, we must test every
teaching with the infallible word of God. We also see from this example
that Peter was not infallible, as the Roman Catholic Church would have
The Lord said, "Cursed is the man who trusts in
mankindÖfor he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when
prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a
land of salt without inhabitant" (Jeremiah 15:5-6). What a vivid picture
of those who trust what man says God says instead of what God says. The
Lord Jesus said, "Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell
you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:24). We must
strive by searching the Scriptures to test every teaching. Why? Because
many wolves, [false teachers] dressed up in sheepís clothing, are
pointing people to the wide road that leads to destruction. The only way
we can know who is telling the truth is by challenging every teaching
with Godís word.
Many Catholics point to the early church fathers in an
attempt to give credence to unbiblical, post apostolic traditions such
as the sacrifice of the Mass, purgatory and indulgences. But some of
these church fathers may be the very men Paul warned us about when he
wrote, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among
you, not sparing the flock, and from among your own selves men will
arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period
of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears" (Acts
20:29-31). The church fathers must be tested using the plumb line of
Scripture just as Paul, himself, was tested in Berea.
Paul commended the Bereans for using Scripture to
verify the veracity of his teaching. "They received the message with
great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what
Paul said was true" (Acts 17:11). Here is an apostle, who wrote over
half the New Testament, being held accountable to Scripture. This should
be an exhortation for all of us to carefully challenge the teachings of
every teacher! Every preacher, teacher, pastor, pope and priest should
come under the same type of scrutiny. Donít miss the fact that it was
the lay people of the church who were individually responsible to
interpret and test Paulís teaching in the light of Godís word. We must
all be good Bereans and reject any teaching not in harmony with
In conclusion, it is clear that the Scriptures were
written for individuals, not to a Magisterium or a group of clergymen.
Many of the epistles were written to all the saints (Christians) at
different churches. John wrote his gospel to all people, persuading them
to believe in the person and finished work of Jesus Christ (John 20:31).
His first epistle was written to all believers in Christ to give them
assurance of eternal life (1 John 5:13). The Bible never directs us to
another man, another book or another authority to interpret the
Scriptures for us. For Catholics to rely on the Magisterium to interpret
Godís message of love would be like relying on a stranger to interpret a
personal letter from a loved one. Godís message of love, mercy and grace
is not too difficult to understand. He does not try to confuse anyone
who seeks Him through His word. The Gospel is so simple that children
can understand it, yet so profound that theologians spend an entire
lifetime trying to grasp the infinite riches of Godís amazing grace.
All are called to obey Christís first command, "repent
and believe the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). Jesus proclaimed His Gospel with
profound clarity, "He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he
who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God
abides on him" (John 3:36). Those who believe the Magisterium have not
believed Jesus. They are disobeying Christ by going through other
mediators (John 14:6; 1 Tim. 2:5). In fact, until one turns to Jesus
Christ, there is a veil that blinds them from the truth of the Gospel (2
Cor. 4:3). Only by turning from the teachings and traditions of men to
Christ and His word will the veil be taken away (2 Cor. 3:16).