His Truth Will Set You Free

Listen to what Jesus says; “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:32)


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Non-Catholic denominations are not “true” churches. Really?

The Catholic Church is the one and only “true” church, or so some believe. According to a July 10, 2007 article I stumbled across (see it here), “Pope Benedict XVI has reasserted the universal primacy of the Roman Catholic Church, approving a document released Tuesday that says Orthodox churches were defective and that other Christian denominations were not true churches.”

The Vatican document said. “The other communities cannot be called ‘churches’ in the proper sense because they do not have apostolic succession — the ability to trace their bishops back to Christ’s original apostles.” Specifically, if a church cannot trace the succession of its leadership back to the apostle Peter, then it cannot be called a true church of Jesus Christ. Since the Catholics claim Peter as their first Pope, then that makes the Catholic Church the one and only “true” church.

You see, when Jesus stated that Peter was the rock on which He would build His church (Matthew 16:18), the Catholic Church took that to mean that Peter was the starting point, the true cornerstone of the foundation of Jesus’ church. Was Jesus’ intention to have Peter as the one foundation from which He would build His united church? What else does the bible say?

At one time, Jesus sent out His 12 apostles to, “preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” (Luke 9:1-9) Another time, He sent out 72 others to, “heal the sick and tell them the kingdom of God is near you.” (Luke 10:1-20) Does this sound like the act of someone who would place the responsibility for His church on the shoulders of just one man? It appears to me like Jesus intended to spread the responsibility around.

There was another time when the 12 apostles got rather ticked off when they discovered there was someone outside their inner circle who was doing their job. So they went to Jesus and blew the whistle on this guy… “‘Teacher,’ said John, ‘we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.’ ‘Do not stop him,’ Jesus said. ‘No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.’ (Mark 9:38-40) Does this sound as if Jesus is trying to establish some kind of exclusive club? It sounds to me like Jesus doesn’t care who is doing the work, as long as they are doing it “in His name.”

And what about Paul, who was not one of the original apostles? The Catholic Church appears to ignore him. So the churches he started were “defective”, I suppose. I’m sure that would come as a surprise to Paul, especially since Jesus himself gave Paul the assignment. As evidenced by the calling of Paul, Jesus was not exclusive. Why would He be? Such an approach would limit the growth of “His” church. Why send the church off in one direction, with Peter as the lead runner, when you can start off in multiple directions?

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Yet, the Catholic Church originally had worthy intentions. For a time, the Catholic Church was indeed the one true church, assuring and enabling the unity that Jesus prayed for (John 17:20-23). Their motives were noble. Jesus wanted unity, and the Catholic Church provided a way. Then, in the early 1500’s, the reformation happened and the church split into pieces; no more unity.

However, maybe having all believers belonging to the same organization is not what Jesus had in mind when He prayed for unity. Maybe he meant united in beliefs, rather than united in affiliation. Maybe it wasn’t that He wanted us all to belong to the same religious establishment, with the same human leader, but that we all look to Him and Him alone as our leader.

Jesus wasn’t praying for all believers to be united by man-made things, such as religious bureaucracies, ceremonies, traditions, and “holy” relics. Jesus was talking about being united by spiritual things, such as love for God and faith in the saving power and love of His Son Jesus Christ. Jesus asked His Father God, “…that they may be one as we are one.” (John 17:22). The unity that Jesus prayed for is modeled by His relationship with God.

Were God & Jesus unified by a common membership in some kind of organization? No, their unity was much higher than some human standard. The Catholic Church has set a human standard for unity; membership in their organization. But Jesus’ standard is a heavenly standard – a shared communion with the Holy Spirit of God. We are to be united as Jesus and God are united. How can a man-made religious establishment bring such a thing about?

I do not believe that Jesus intended for a man-made institution to bring about such spiritual unity, for I think that would be impossible. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, His presence in each of our lives, to manifest the spiritual unity of love and faith. By our mutual connection to the Holy Spirit, we are all connected to each other. We may all be one by our common bond to the Holy Spirit. We are all branches, and we are unified by our common bond to the vine, which is Jesus Christ, by the Holy Spirit (John 15:1-17).

By the way, Jesus never even mentioned a human-made and run organization as the foundation for our unity. In fact, setting the Catholic Church as the standard for unity is a distraction from our true foundation, our true cornerstone – Jesus Christ.

And another thing: Jesus was the origin of His church, not Peter. Jesus is the vine, not Peter. Jesus is the cornerstone, not Peter. Jesus is the one true church, not the Catholics.


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Distractions from the truth: more thoughts on the “Catholics Come Home” ad campaign

Yesterday I wrote about the newest Catholic advertising campaign, “Catholics Come Home” (find it here). Since writing that post, I keep wondering why the church has selected Madison Avenue as their ad agency, instead of Jesus Christ.

In pursuit of an answer, I want to look at what the Catholic Church thinks is the root problem. As mentioned in the newspaper article I referred to in yesterday’s post, one of the key people behind the ad campaign said, “There is no doubt that the glitter and glamour of pop culture has distracted people from God and his church and family.” Okay, so dwindling attendance is the fault of our culture. Interesting.

I know of a non-denominational church that is growing, even in the midst of the “glitter and glamour of pop culture.” I’ve visited them, and there is no pretense, no traditions, no catechism that is larger than the bible itself. There is only the untarnished truth of Jesus Christ. From one Sunday to the next, the pastor preaches the pure gospel of Jesus Christ. And the people keep coming, and the empty chairs seem to be fewer and fewer each week. So much for the effects of culture.

The article also described one of the TV commercials that has people watching scenes from their past with “examples of their own poor or embarrassing behavior.” This sounded odd to me, so I went to the “Catholics Come Home” web site (find it here), where I found the video (click on the “Movie” TV ad and see for yourself). I was sadly astonished at the nature of the ad; the focus is on the flaws of the individual. The church is trying to put the blame on those who have drifted away.

Another commercial, called “Testimonials,” has people apologizing for having drifted away from the church. Again, the fault is apparently with them, not the church.

So, the church is blaming society and those individuals who are no longer sitting in the pews. Blaming others, that’s easy. That must be why they are going with the TV ads. Yet, this is nothing but a distraction, though perhaps non-intentional.

As I mentioned in yesterdays post, the root cause of their attendance problem is inside the Catholic Church, not outside. The TV commercials put the focus on the outside, on those who have left the church. Yet in doing so, the church is hiding from the real problem. Why? Why not make internal changes that would address the real issues? Because doing so would be to admit fault, and egos have a difficult time admitting fault (I speak from personal experience here).

It’s beginning to look to me like the Catholic Church is more motivated by full pews, than the spiritual well-being of those sitting in the pews. Someone once said something like, “We have found the enemy, and they are us.” The Catholic Church needs to find the humility to admit their faults. Blessed are the humble.

So why am I so critical toward the Catholic Church? After all, who am I to judge? But I care. I care about those who have been deceived by the doctrine of the Catholic Church. I know too many “wounded” former Catholics, and several of these have totally lost their faith.

I know that nothing is impossible with God, but it’s still hard for me to envision real change in the Catholic Church. There’s just too much baggage and history and “rules taught by men.” So for now, my prayers are more focused on the people, rather than the organization. May God help them all.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)


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“Catholics Come Home” – another ill-advised ad campaign

The Catholic Church has joined the Methodists in their belief that you can bring people to God with Madison Avenue advertising techniques, with an ad campaign called “Catholics Come Home.” (to see my post about the Methodist ad campaign – click here). According to an LA Times article that was recently reprinted in my local newspaper: “Using a strategy straight from the secular playbook… the (church) is preparing to air several thousand prime-time TV commercials.” You can preview the commercials here: http://www.catholicscomehome.org/

The article opened with: “Catholic church leaders using TV ads in attempt to lure back lapsed followers.” The target audiences are those who call themselves “Catholic” yet do not attend church, and those who call themselves former Catholics.

According to the article, some of the reasons people are no longer attending the Catholic Church include:

  • Many Catholics don’t have “a sense of belonging,”
  • Many believe they can be “good members of their faith without attending Mass regularly,”
  • Many do not believe missing Mass is a sin, (Missing mass is a sin? Really?)
  • Others are too busy with family or work; “as analysts point out, (people) are more interested in material happiness than spiritual fulfillment.”
  • “About 1 in 4 former Catholics cited the church’s priest-abuse scandal as a factor.”
  • “People oftentimes lose sight of what is most important in their lives,” says a Sacramento Bishop.

I wonder how TV ads are going to address these issues. You typically cannot resolve circumstances like these with advertising, though maybe they can try to “guilt” people into going back to church by reminding them that missing mass is a sin.

My sincere concern is that the Catholic Church has been deluded into believing that advertising will fix the root cause of their attendance problems. How will advertising get people more interested in spiritual fulfillment rather than material happiness? How will advertising heal wounds caused by the priest-abuse scandal? How will advertising give people a clear vision of what should be most important in their lives (this sounds like a job for the pulpit, not the TV)?

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If advertising is not the fix, what is, and what is the root cause of the “lapsed followers?” I’ve watched some of the commercials, and they say nothing about what has contributed to runaway members. Based on what’s in the newspaper article, along with some of my own personal experiences, here are some guesses for why people leave the Catholic Church:

  • Lost trust: How can you trust a system that harbors abusive priests?
  • Lack of knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ: Knowledge of the truth will help grow a hunger for spiritual fulfillment, rather than material happiness.
  • Lack of knowledge of the love of Jesus Christ: With a true understanding of the magnitude of the love of Jesus Christ, comes a hunger and thirst for more. This is what brings people to church, and keeps them coming back.
  • Lack of knowledge of what truly should be the most important thing in our lives, which is: a one-on-one, personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I wonder; does the Catholic Church promote such a relationship between each member and Jesus?

Maybe I’m simple-minded, but the solution seems straightforward to me: instead of investing in TV commercials, the Catholic Church needs to get back to it’s roots, which is the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Catholic Church seems like a branch that has broken off from the vine. As Jesus said,

“No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches.” (John 15:4-5)

I’m hesitant to be harsh, but it seems to me that the Catholic Church has replaced the reality of Jesus Christ with traditions, man-made Catechisms, man-made rules, and man-made advertising. My recommendation would be to drop the TV commercials and preach the truth of the gospel.

Instead of advertising, the Catholic Church needs to introduce people to the Holy Spirit of God. Instead of relying on Madison Avenue to spread the word, how about relying on word of mouth, carried forward by the Holy Spirit himself? It was good enough for Jesus. Remember how 3000 people joined the fledgling church in a single day (Acts 2:41)? Such is the power of the Holy Spirit.

“And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 John 3:23-24 NIV)

Evangelism via TV commercials, or as D.L. Moody once said, “There is no better evangelist in the world than the Holy Spirit.” I’ll put my faith in the Holy Spirit.

A final message for wounded Catholics:

Though I pray for the Catholic Church, my limited imagination is not able to truly believe that it can change. Yet I know that with God, all things are possible. Maybe one way for the church to change is for the people to change. Maybe if enough “wounded” Catholics follow their heart by leaving the Catholic Church and then finding true fulfillment and purpose in another church, maybe this will open the eyes of the Catholic Church. If you are a wounded Catholic, my prayer is for you. Please do not give up. My hope is for you, that you find another church that lives by the true gospel of Jesus Christ, the life-giving gospel; that you come to know Jesus and His Holy Spirit, and grow into an intimate relationship with them, so intimate that you are never apart. And that you come to feel more alive than ever before, by the grace and love of Jesus Christ. Amen.