Daily Devotional for Wednesday April 16, 2008
Pope Benedict XVI Comes to the United States
(John 17:21; 2 Timothy 3:16; Ephesians 2:8,9; 1 Corinthians 1:10)
Pope Benedict XVI comes to the United States! As someone who for nearly 2 decades now has rebuked and rejected those extremists who call the Roman Catholic Church a cult, the "whore of Babylon," the anti-Christ," I have also rebuked and rejected the extremists on the other side who made the claim that the Roman Catholic Church is the only true church and that you are not even saved unless you are part of that church. Both sides are equally wrong! In a document released last July, Pope Benedict XVI, the head of 1.1 billion Catholics worldwide, stated that, "other Christian communities are either defective or not true churches and Catholicism provides the only true path to salvation." This is not true and I pray that during his visit, the Pope will correct this Biblically false statement.
This is a perfect example why I share with you so often that our final authority in all matters is the BIBLE, not whatever some man, even the Pope, says. Liveprayer mounted a major prayer effort as this new Pope was being elected and asked God to bless his time of leadership. The Pope is a man, no more special than any other man or woman God calls to serve Him. He is flesh and bone, fallible and a sinner like all men are. I remember specifically praying that he would have a heart and passion to see the lost won for Christ. Sola scriptura, "by Scripture alone," was a foundational doctrinal principle of Martin Luther's reformation. There is no other authority outside of God's Word, and any teachings in contradiction to the Bible are heresy!
The Bible teaches that the church (ekklesia) is a body of Believers. The true church according to Scriptures is made up of those who have accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and hold the Bible to be God's inspired, inerrant Word, representing Absolute Truth and our final authority in all matters. We read in the Book of Acts about the first church birthed in Jerusalem, and churches began to spring up all over the known world as the Gospel of Jesus Christ was being preached. It was nearly 400 years AD before what we know of today as the Roman Catholic Church emerged. By that time, there were already thousands of Christian churches established throughout the world. What makes a true Christian church is faith in Jesus Christ and adherence to the Bible as God's Word. So for Pope Benedict to state that all non-Roman Catholic churches are not true churches is a lie and not what the Bible teaches.
Most troubling, however, is the Pope's claim that salvation is only achieved through the Roman Catholic Church. I hate to give the Pope a Theology 101 lesson, but there is only one way to be saved and that is through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Period! NO CHURCH CAN SAVE YOU! NO AMOUNT OF GOOD WORKS CAN SAVE YOU! Sola fides, "by faith alone." The only way a person can be saved is by giving their heart and life to Jesus by faith working in conjunction with God's grace (Ephesians 2:8,9). This notion that being part of a church can save you is not only anti-Biblical, it is pure blasphemy! In essence, what Pope Benedict is saying is that anyone outside of the Roman Catholic Church is not saved! That is NOT what the Bible teaches and is the type of statement I would expect out of a cult leader, not the head of the world's 1.1 billion Catholics!
As a side note, just last year Pope Benedict correctly stated that Islam was spread by violence and this false religions founder, Mohammed, was "evil." Sadly, he later apologized and even went to visit a Mosque in a peace making effort to those who are following the lies of Islam to hell. I chastised the Pope at the time for being a coward and apologizing for simply telling the truth, and further chastised him for visiting a Mosque for any other reason except to tell those following the lies of Islam how to be saved. It appears now that the Pope doesn't even know how to be saved and I wonder if he is trusting Jesus by faith or his church for his own salvation? I find it very troubling that the Pope would seek to placate those who are following the false religion of Islam to the depths of hell, yet has no problem telling Bible-believing Christians who have put their faith in Jesus Christ that unless they are part of the Roman Catholic Church they are not saved!
With over 200,000 of the apx 2.4 million subscribers to the Daily Devotional being part of the Roman Catholic Church, I am already prepared for the onslaught of hatred that will be heading my way in the coming days. That saddens me since one of the things I am most grateful for is how God has used Liveprayer to bring unity to the badly divided Body of Christ. Over 1/3 of those who receive the Daily Devotional each day are not Christians. Of the 2/3 who are, they are equally divided among those who go to Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Pentecostal, Independent, and Catholic Churches. Ever since I started my public ministry in 1992, one of my greatest "big picture" goals was to help bring the Body of Christ together as one as our Lord prayed in John 17 just hours before going to the cross. Dividing the Body is something satan has been doing since the first church in the Book of Acts, what Paul warned about quite often in his letters to the churches, and what makes Christ's church so weak and ineffective today.
You see, my message then and my message now has really never changed. It is a universal message that plays to people in and out of the church. "If you don't know Jesus by faith you need to make the decision for Him today. If you do know the Lord, you need to fully surrender your life and allow Him to use you. No matter what problems you may be facing in your life today, Jesus is the answer!" As I have shared with you often, when you die, there will be only two lines in Heaven, There won't be a line for Whites and one for Blacks. There won't be a line for Catholics and one for Protestants. There will be one line for those who know Jesus Christ as their Savior by faith, and one for those who do not! Trust me, when you take your last breath and stand before God, He is not going to ask you the name of the church you went to, only if you know Jesus as your Savior by faith!
In dealing with a worldwide audience of over 2.4 million people every day, I am VERY well aware of the incredible divisions there are in Christ's Body. Perhaps no division is as great as the one between Catholics and non-Catholics. The fact is, the Roman Catholic Church has a long and well-documented history. However, the reality is, it is simply a denomination or group of churches, no different than a group of Southern Baptist, United Methodist, or Assemblies of God Churches. Each group of churches or denominations has their own rich heritage, traditions, and leaders. The critical point is that while each group of churches or denominations have their own unique differences in regard to different doctrinal issues, what makes them CHRISTIAN churches are the foundational element of the Christian faith. Who Jesus Christ is, that salvation is through faith in Christ alone, and the Bible is God's inspired, inerrant Word and our final authority in all matters.
THE ONE TRUE CHURCH OF JESUS CHRIST IS NOT A GROUP OF CHURCHES OR A DENOMINATION OR A BUILDING, IT IS MADE UP OF EVERY PERSON WHO HAS ACCEPTED JESUS CHRIST INTO THEIR HEARTS AND LIVES BY FAITH!!!
Now, let me address some of the issues about the Roman Catholic Church that have led many who know the Lord to leave that church and has caused much of the division with non-Catholics. Three of the 700+ retired ministers who serve the Lord by helping me each day respond to the over 40,000 emails that we receive are Roman Catholic Priests. Over my years of ministry, I have personally preached in over 1/2 dozen Catholic Churches (and I can assure you that I shared the unadulterated truth of the Gospel and gave an altar call as I do whenever I preach in public), and the best we can tell, approx. 200,000 of the 2.4 million plus subscribers to the Daily Devotional are Catholics. I have read and studied the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church and as a student of church history am very well aware of what the Catholic Church teaches.
The problem most non-Catholics have with the Catholic Church is what I call their non-Biblical traditions, which by the way, ALL groups of churches or denominations have. I don't have the time to go through a complete list but the main ones are how they deal with the mother of Jesus, Mary. She was a virgin when she was immaculately conceived by the Holy Spirit, however, she was a person of flesh and blood like you and I and was born with sin just like you and I were. She also had other children as we know from the Scriptures. There is nothing wrong with honoring her for the incredible role God chose her to play in her life, but she is NOT a deity and praying to her is as meaningless as it is to pray to any other person who is dead (including those the Catholic Church has deemed to be "saints") or alive. There is only ONE person we pray to and that is Jesus.
Another big issue in the Catholic Church is Communion. The tradition of the Catholic Church is that the wafer representing the body of our Lord and the wine representing His blood literally becomes the body and blood of Christ. That is a very real theological argument that Scripture does not support, but I don't see that as an area for major contention. The Bible exhorts us to take Communion often in remembrance of the sacrifice of our Lord and there are those who believe based on certain verses it becomes the literal body and blood of Christ. Another issue that I don't think is that important is confessing your sins to a Priest. The Bible tells us to confess our sins one to another, so there is nothing wrong if it is your Priest you choose to do that with. However, please understand that NO MAN, only Jesus can forgive you of your sins since it was only Jesus who died for your sins.
Another issue that is critical to talk about is salvation. There are some who teach in error (just like some non-Catholic churches do) that you can do enough good works to earn your way into Heaven which is clearly refuted by Ephesians 2:8-9. Those who teach this point to the passage in James that "Faith without works is dead." The fact is that passage was written to people who were already saved. The Bible clearly teaches that a person who is truly saved will have "fruit" or good works follow them. These good works do not save them but flow from their salvation.
Lastly is the Bible. The Catholic Bible has 6 historical books known as the Apocrypha that deal with those 400 years from the end of Malachi, the end of the Old Testament, to the start of the New Testament. These books were never found to be inspired or inerrant and thus are not part of the 66 books we call the Bible. The Bible is God's inspired, inerrant Word, representing Absolute Truth and our final authority in all matters. It, and it alone is our authority and overrides any teachings or traditions of man.
Since the 1970's, there has been a very active and growing Charismatic group within the Roman Catholic Church that is as Pentecostal as any Pentecostal Church you will ever attend. Also, in the past 10 years, there is a growing and strong evangelical movement within the Catholic Church. They are working within the Church to bring back a greater emphasis on the Word of God and on the message of salvation and less emphasis on the traditions of the Catholic Church. Many people who know Christ as their Savior by faith have chosen to stay in the Catholic Church. They are just as saved, love the Lord, and honor His Word as much as anyone who attends a non-Catholic Church.
Are there people in the Catholic Church who aren't saved? Of course! Just like there are people in any church who are not saved. My friend, your Catholic church can't save you, your Methodist Church can't save you, your Baptist Church can't save you, your Pentecostal Church can't save you, only faith in Jesus Christ can save you! Being baptized can't save you, the faith of your parents can't save you, no amount of good works can save you, ONLY FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST CAN SAVE YOU!!!
I love you and care about you so much. I watch daily as satan works to divide the Body of Christ, and perhaps there is no division as great as the one between Catholics and non-Catholics. Pope Benedict greatly contributed to that division last summer by stating that all non-Catholic churches are not true churches and you can only be saved through the Roman Catholic Church. If the Pope really believes this, he is in complete rebellion to what the Bible teaches! Catholics around the world who have a real relationship with Christ MUST SPEAK OUT! You cannot let the heresy of one man, even the Pope, turn your great church which is based on God's Word into a cult. That is why God gave us His Word, so that we don't have to rely on what men say, but on what He says!
My greatest prayer of all is that during his visit, as tens of thousands of people gather to hear the Pope, tens of millions more watching by television, that he would clearly lay out the fact that we are saved by our faith in Christ alone and challenge all who hear him to surrender their hearts and lives by faith to Jesus. It could be the greatest altar call ever given if he would let the Holy Spirit guide him and use him to bring the greatest truth of all to those who will be listening to him speak.
Martin Luther's break with the Catholic Church took place at a time when the Catholic Church was more of a political entity than a spiritual one. Luther wanted to get back to the foundation of the faith, that being salvation is through God's grace and our faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), or sola fides, and the final authority of God's Word, or sola scriptura. What makes us Christians is that we are bonded by the shed blood of Jesus Christ and God's Word, not the teachings of men or the name on the building we choose to worship in, but the Truth of the Bible and our faith in Jesus Christ!!!