A Prodigal Son Returns Home
My Return to the Catholic Church
This is the story of my return to the Catholic Church. I will attempt to explain how my walk with the Lord these past years has led me to this important and difficult decision, yet one that I make in peace and joy. It is addressed to my Evangelical Christian and Messianic Jewish friends in Israel, and particularly to those who do not believe that one can be a "true believer" and a Catholic at the same time. It is also written as a personal testimony for the many good and faithful friends I have made over the years around the world who may be interested in my walk of faith. To them I dedicate this essay and pray that it will help us to grow in unity in loving and worshipping the King of Kings.
First, a definition of terms: I will use the term "Evangelical" to describe non-Catholic Christians who believe in the inerrancy of the Bible as the only and final authority for truth. This definition will generally include "Bible-believing" and "Born-again Christians," Pentecostals and Messianic believers, both Jews and gentiles. I will use the term "Protestant" sparingly since it also includes liberal denominations that sometimes question or even reject the basic tenets of the Christian faith. For those unacquainted with Messianic Judaism, Yeshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus and the Tanakh is the Old Testament.
At the outset, I wish to clear any potential misunderstandings by stating what this conversion story is not. First, I hesitated to entitle this essay my "return" to the Catholic Church, because I am of course not "returning" to where I was several years ago. My way from the nominal Catholicism of my youth, through Evangelical Christianity, through Messianic Judaism and back to (a now better understood) Catholicism was not a confused, circular path, but a logical, gradual, and fascinating growth towards finding the fullness of Christ, of Yeshua the Jewish Messiah, within the Catholic Church.
Secondly, my return to the Catholic Church does not mean that I am now turning my back on Evangelical Christianity or Messianic Judaism. My debt to these two traditions is considerable, and I thank God that I have had the privilege to be a part of them. I make this decision in a spirit of unity and not of division, remaining committed to continue to serve the whole Body of Messiah - Catholic and non-Catholic - in Israel and in the nations
Thirdly, this decision is not based on emotional or family-related reasons. Although I have faced much opposition and many difficulties from some Messianic believers as they heard of my growing interest for Catholicism, my return to the Catholic Church is not a reaction of escapism back to the familiar and safer environment of my youth. On the contrary, coming to terms with Catholicism has probably been the greatest trial of my life as a believer. It was much more unsettling than my entering the Evangelical "world" six years ago - at the cost of much strife and division within my family - or of going through an anti-missionary course in the summer of 1999 to fully comprehend the position of those who oppose the Messiahship of Yeshua. My return to the Catholic Church is the result of an uncompromising search for truth motivated by my love for God. Even though it has even threatened the safety of my precarious situation as a foreigner involved in ministry within the Body of Messiah in Israel, I had no other choice but to go forward - whatever the cost - for the sake of truth.
This essay is not intended to be a full-fledged apologetics work covering and defending every point of contention that some Evangelicals and Messianic believers have against the Catholic Church. I will hardly succeed in summarizing the hundreds of hours I spent reading, thinking, and praying about this decision. My goal is to clear some common misunderstandings about Catholicism and demonstrate that it is not only a valid way of following Christ, but actually the most biblical and Jewish expression of faith in Yeshua. Although I look forward to many interesting conversations about this "conversion", I hope this written testimony will help you see the fuller picture with more clarity than by relying solely on my potentially confusing verbal explanations.
My return to the Catholic Church has honestly been a difficult, obstacle-ridden, painful, and often lonely path. I can easily join my voice to Scott Hahn's, a convert to Catholicism from Evangelical Protestantism, who writes in the foreword of the book Surprised by Truth: "I've considered my own journey to Rome as a mystery story, a horror story, and a love story. Sometimes being surprised by truth is initially being horrified by truth. Does the Catholic Church have the truth? The fullness of the truth? Confronting this fact is a gut-wrenching agony for staunch, Bible-based Evangelical Protestants who've thought and taught, largely because of misunderstandings and prejudice, that Catholics are not even Christians." Like Hahn and many others, I have come to realize that what seemed like the most "unbiblical" church is really the Church of the Bible. Follow me now for my story.
My Youth as a Nominal Catholic
I grew up in a suburb of Ottawa, Canada. My parents did their best to teach me the basics of the Catholic faith – their heritage as French and Italian-Canadians. I remember that my faith in God during my teen years was sincere. But it was not an easy thing to uphold Christian values growing up in a secularized world largely estranged from God. I occasionally read the Gospels and was impressed by the life and teachings of Jesus. I don't think I ever really questioned their authenticity, although I had no real understanding of Jesus' work of redemption. I remember praying often and sincerely. It seemed obvious to me that God was there and heard me when I spoke to Him.
My relation with the Church, however, was more difficult. Whereas God was a needed friend that I could trust, I had a much harder time understanding what going to church had to do with real life. I liked the atmosphere of the Christmas Masses and Easter Vigils, singing hymns and celebrating the coming of the Savior and His resurrection. But the rest of the time the Mass seemed like a tedious, outdated ritual that was detached from reality. Most of the people who attended were elderly, and the few young people that attended seemed as bored as I was.
On the moral level I was even more confused. While my parents had inculcated in me a clear sense of right and wrong, it was obvious that the world was living on a totally different track, and enjoying it at that. Slowly I developed the austere concept that I had to choose between two options: either enjoy life and pay for it in hell afterwards, or forsake everything enjoyable and live a monotonous, dull religious life in order to get to heaven. Neither option seemed particularly attractive. I longed for a fulfilled life but with upheld moral standards; sadly, I thought that these two concepts were incompatible with each other. The result was that I was often guilt ridden in the awareness of my sin, knowing that fully going the way of the world was wrong, yet uninspired and unwilling to lead a boring, "religious" life. Still, I am grateful for this fragmentary contact I had with the gospel which generally kept me out of trouble in my teen years while my peers discovered the world of "sex, drugs and rock & roll" of the 80s.
Things began to change when I turned 20. I started to date a girl who was staunchly anti-religious and, especially, anti-Catholic. In the year and a half that I dated her she challenged me to think about my faith in a critical way. She told me that my beliefs were based on what I had been taught as a child and not on objective truth or facts. She pointed out many dark moments in the history of the Church and advocated the Marxist notion that religion is the "opium of the people." To her, Catholics were blind sheep who didn't know what they believed and hung on to their religion as a crutch of elusive and imaginary hope.
In good faith, I began to challenge my own beliefs and to seek explanations from my parents. I asked questions such as: "Who made up this religion? How do we know it's true and not the invention of man? There are so many religions in the world, why would this one be the truth?" I challenged notions such as purgatory, the rosary, venial and mortal sins, confession and penance, but never really received satisfying explanations. Most of these questions centered more around Catholic doctrines and practices rather than on the existence of God and the redemptive work of Jesus. Yet doubt had been sown in my mind and heart. I began to perceive Catholicism as a religion lacking in rational foundations that only imposed limitations on my freedom and burdened me with guilt. It no longer drew me to God, but pushed me away from Him. As a result, my dislike for the Catholic Church and its "legalistic system" gradually grew, while my relationship with God declined.
In retrospect, I wonder if the loss of the Christianity of my youth could have been avoided. It certainly would have been helpful to have someone answer my questions and explain to me the premises of my faith. But I believe the main problem was that I perceived Catholicism as a system of "dos and don'ts", rather than a way of knowing the unconditional love of Jesus. Without the experience of a living relationship with Him and the vivifying power of the Holy Spirit, it was almost inevitable that I would eventually reject this religious system imposed on me.
But certainly it is the classic and most ancient reason known to man that led me away from the Lord in my youth. Allured by the deception of sin, "pleasant to the eyes and...desirable to make one wise" and the tempter's lies that "your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3:5-6), I succumbed to the temptation to run away from the God who loves us. As my soul fled from the refuge of His love, seeking freedom in the vain pursuits of life, it began to build its own prison, whose only escape would be to return under the shadow of His wings several years later.
Exile to Europe
In 1993, I moved to Graz, Austria to study music. I decided to "hit the reset button" of my religious beliefs and give myself a few years to free myself from my biased childhood influences and think on my own. I occasionally went to Mass, as to "give the Church one more chance," but was left unmoved. I experienced what seemed to be the same lifeless ritual and lukewarm people I had seen in church where I grew up and I was generally not attracted to come back.
Humanism had by then become my "religion." Unsure of God's existence and will, I decided that my purpose in life was not to subscribe to a certain set of beliefs or follow a religious routine, but rather to contribute to the good of mankind. Although I lived a good life, I was aware of the void in my heart caused by the absence of God. I knew my shortcomings and felt I should counterbalance my sins with good works - just in case there was one day a final judgment.
Out of this motivation, I decided to volunteer with a Christian humanitarian organization in Croatia and Bosnia during the Yugoslavian civil war. I went there regularly for short periods of time during the school holidays, from 1993 to 1995. The experience of helping refugees of war became a turning point in my life. As I saw the extent of their suffering, I realized the insignificance of my help to them. No matter how good my intentions were, material humanitarian help could never replace what they had lost, restore their dignity, or give them lasting hope. I felt like I had nothing to offer them. In addition, far from filling the void in my heart, this experience enlarged it. My conscience could never find rest by doing good works, because the more I did, the more I realized there was to do.
I saw, however, that the Christian people with whom I worked had solutions to these problems. They were not helping refugees in order to offset their bad deeds and quiet their conscience. They already had peace with God, and their work flowed out of their relationship with Christ. In addition, far more than providing mere humanitarian help, they had the love of Christ to give to the refugees. They had a message that could restore the whole person, heal the broken hearts, and offer them the real and tangible hope they needed.
Returning to Austria after this traumatic experience left me in a state of utter confusion. I had been confronted with so much suffering that I could hardly continue living "normally" and selfishly as a music student. I needed God, and so did these refugees. But I didn't see how a cold and impersonal church could make any difference in either my life or theirs. The churchgoers I had seen all my life didn't seem any happier than the atheistic friends I knew.
My Journey with Evangelical Protestantism
All of this changed in the fall of 1995, when I began to attend a small Evangelical church in Graz. At first it didn't even occur to me that this wasn't a Catholic church. But I liked what I saw. The people worshipped freely and sang modern songs that I could relate to. There was a joyous, informal atmosphere contrasting with the stiffness and drabness of the churches I was used to. In addition, everyone brought their Bibles to the service, and even read them! We were encouraged and challenged to apply the Word of God to our lives, a new experience for me that soon bore tangible results.
A short time after I began attending this church, one sermon revolutionized my concept of God. The pastor taught that Jesus loved me so much that He died for me, in order to redeem me of my sins. This was not some abstract religious formula, but something personal that could make a true difference in my life. A man, he said, is saved by faith in Christ's redemption work at the cross, and not by works. These words from Galatians struck deep in my heart. So that was why I could never find the peace with God that I longed for. I was trying to do it on my own, rather than trusting in Christ's finished work at the cross! I had to be "born again" said the preacher, by "accepting Jesus-Christ as my personal Lord and Savior" to have the assurance of forgiveness and salvation. I knew that this was what I needed. When the pastor made the altar call, I went to the front to "receive the Lord" and begin a new life in dedication to Him.
When my parents heard about my newly found zeal for God, I was disconcerted to see that rather than expressing joy, they accused me of "having become a Protestant". Although I now understand that they were technically correct, I never in practice felt it that way. In my eyes, I had not converted from Catholicism to Protestantism, but from agnosticism to living Christianity.
This new faith in Christ within Evangelicalism was to radically transform my life in the next three years within this small church in Austria. I learned spiritual principles that were to form the foundation of my faith to this day, and for this my debt to Evangelical Christianity is enormous. It is there that I experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ who loved me and died for me, so that I could now live for Him. I learned to love and treasure the Holy Scriptures, to receive them as the Word of God and to study them diligently. Within Evangelical Christianity I began to "walk by faith, not by sight", and to trust in the goodness and sovereignty of God in all situations. I was awakened to the urgency of Jesus' Great Commission to make disciples of all nations, in a world that was lost and craving for the love of God. I learned about the power of prayer, the joy and freedom experienced in praise and worship, the reality of spiritual warfare against the powers of evil, spiritual gifts, and prophecy. I read just about everything I could get my hands on, especially books on apologetics. Evangelism was my first passion, and I wanted to make sure to be "ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you" (1 Pet 3:15).
My conversion to Christ through Evangelical Christianity, however, had an inevitable side effect. I began to wonder why I had failed to find the living Christ despite going to church every Sunday for over 20 years. What was this religious system I had known where a loving relationship with the Father had been tragically absent? There was something wrong with this picture, and through reading and studying Scripture, I began to believe that there was something terribly wrong with Catholicism.
Questions arose: Why had no one ever told me that I needed to be "born again" to receive eternal life? Why was there so much attention on Mary and the saints in the Catholic Church when the Bible says that Jesus is the only mediator between God and man? Why did people seem to pray to statues when this was clearly forbidden by the second commandment? Where did the idea of purgatory come from when the Bible seemed to say no word about it? What was the purpose of all these rules, regulations and sacraments that I had to keep and perform and receive, when the Bible claimed that I was saved by faith in the redemptive work of Christ and not by works? Why was there a need for a Pope if Christ was the leader of His church? Why were infants baptized while yet unable to make a decision to believe? How could the Mass be considered a sacrifice, when the Bible says that Christ's sacrifice on the cross 2000 years ago was final and complete?
No Catholic I knew could provide serious answers to these questions. Consequently, my Evangelical friends and the books I read soon convinced me that Catholicism had long ago departed from the biblical faith and had become an apostate religion based on traditions of men rather than on the Word of God. This conclusion was supported by my personal experience with Catholics all my life. Most of them had shown either a lukewarm, liberal faith, or an ultra-conservative, inflexible legalistic system. I did not quite understand how the Church could produce these two conflicting extremes, but in either case both were devoid of the life of Christ. I became convinced that to be a good Christian, I not only had to preach the good news but also warn the poor Catholics who were deceived by such an erroneous religious system.
Israel and Messianic Judaism
In 1998 I completed my music studies in Austria and moved to Israel to begin theological studies at the Israel College of the Bible in Jerusalem. Studying in Israel and discovering Judaism opened to me an entirely new world. Until now, my faith had been mostly based on the gospels and the New Testament. Although I had read the Old Testament extensively, I perceived it as a thing of the past that had now been abolished and replaced by the superior New Covenant. Living in Jerusalem among the Jewish people made me see and experience that the Torah and the Tanakh (Old Testament) are alive and well still today.
I saw how God's Word was being fulfilled before my very eyes with the return of the Jewish people to the land of Israel after 2,000 years of exile. Better yet, I could also experience the spiritual restoration of Israel: the growth of the modern Messianic Body, Jews who had recognized their Messiah Yeshua, yet who wished to retain, affirm and live out their Jewishness. I began to understand the continuity of Judaism and Christianity and how Jewish Christianity really is. I realized how gentile Christians such as myself should not adopt an attitude of spiritual arrogance towards the Jewish People, but rather be conscious of how much we can, and should, learn from them. As I saw that the most Jewish thing one can do is to believe in Yeshua, I also realized how much a true Christian should study Judaism and learn to love the Jewish People.
This first contact with Judaism and Messianic Judaism, however, did not win points for the Catholic Church in my eyes. On the contrary, I was confronted with its dark past towards the Jewish People. I was shocked to discover that the crusades, the inquisition, the pogroms and the Holocaust were still haunting nightmares in the memory of the Jewish Nation. Worse, these horrific acts were all associated in some way with Christianity and Jesus Christ Himself.
I soon understood that anti-Semitism had often found its roots in the error of "replacement theology", the idea that the Church has now replaced Israel as God's chosen people. Consequently, I became an ardent Christian Zionist, convinced that God's covenant and promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were still valid. It seemed obvious to me - and still is - that the Jews are still God's chosen people, and that His promise of the land of Israel to their descendants as an everlasting possession still stands as a testimony of His great faithfulness to them.
After my year of studies and having arrived at a new understanding of Israel, I was fortunate enough to join the International Christian Embassy, a Christian Zionist organization in Jerusalem committed to supporting Israel and educating Christians about it. This lasted until March 2001, when I decided to leave Jerusalem and move to Tel Aviv to work with a Messianic congregation and outreach center.
Why Search Further?
By this time, it seemed that my theological position was well established and reached a point of relative stability. I had found a living relationship with the Messiah, had come to love His People as my own, and had the immense privilege to live among them and share with them about Yeshua. My position towards Catholicism had also appeared to reach an irreversible low point. Not only was it unbiblical and had completely severed its connection with the roots of Judaism, so I thought, it had seemingly become more pagan than Christian, culminating in the persecution of God's own people in the name of their Messiah!
Having found such riches in Evangelicalism and Messianic Judaism and such evil in the Catholic Church, what then caused such a dramatic change of heart and mind in a matter of months? I have described at length the evolution of my opinions to show that nothing short of a miracle has brought me back to Catholicism. In addition, the environment I was living in could not have been less conducive to my return to the Church. Ironically, it was while living and working in a very anti-Catholic environment in Tel Aviv that I was to return to the Catholic Church. God is not without a sense of humor. At any rate, I hoped at this point to finally and permanently close the door on Catholicism, but my integrity demanded that I settle every point before I drove the last nail into the coffin. Yet there were a few nagging issues that remained unresolved.
First, I had met some true Catholic believers. I had encountered some Catholic charismatics who had shown that they had a genuine relationship with the Lord. I remember giving them a hard time about the Mass and Mary, and though their explanations were not the clearest, they showed through their lives humility, love and true faith in Christ. I had also met true Catholic believers in Israel. Of course, there was also the sincere faith of my parents. This was annoying, because the very fact that the Catholic Church could produce such good fruit robbed me of my right to declare it outright a demonic system!
Second, I was impressed by the sound orthodoxy of the fundamentals of the Christian Faith (best expressed in the Nicene Creed) taught by the Catholic Church. There was no denying that the Church had guarded and defended for 2,000 years the key doctrines of the Christian faith, such as belief in the triune God, the Virgin Birth, Christ's atoning death, his resurrection, and his expected return in glory. It seemed odd that a Church in error could also firmly and consistently teach so much truth. Parallel to this, the Church's moral teachings were unequalled. No other church had ever upheld such high standards of morality and human dignity. Only the Catholic Church had always persistently refused to waver on controversial issues such as homosexuality, abortion, extra-marital sex, euthanasia, divorce and contraception. Accordingly, no other church has ever produced such a hall of fame of remarkable saints, holy men and women who gave their lives to love Christ and their neighbor.
Third, the sort of anti-Catholicism that I encountered baffled me. It was often expressed in an emotional and judgmental way. Although I could understand this hostility, stemming from a painful history, I found it to be seldom based on a solid, rational knowledge of Catholic theology. I certainly cannot judge such an attitude since I had been a victim of it myself in my zeal for the Gospel and misunderstanding of the Church's teachings. Still, it sometimes seemed that to attack the Catholic Church was more important than to live out the love of Yeshua. This certainly could not be the Holy Spirit at work. Furthermore, it bothered me that on one hand there were Catholic believers who lived an exemplary life and sincerely believed that the Catholic Church was the true church founded by Christ - but on the other hand, equally sincere Evangelicals or Messianic Jews claimed with similar vehemence that surely the Catholic Church was the work of the devil and that the Pope was no other than the antichrist. How could sincere believers come to such contradictory conclusions? Who was right? Could there be a middle ground?
Fourth, I began to feel uncomfortable with many Scriptures that were difficult to explain from a "Protestant" perspective. Why did Jesus emphasize so strongly in John 6 that one must "eat his flesh and drink His blood to have eternal life"? Where was Jesus when He went to preach to the spirits in prison? (1 Pet 3:19) Why did He seemingly give His disciples the authority to forgive sins: "If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained" (John 20:23)?
This uneasiness only increased when I took a course on early church history. To my surprise, I discovered that the earliest Christian writings indicated that the first believers held beliefs and practices strangely similar to Catholic beliefs and practices today. In fact, our professor, although not trying in any way to defend or support the Catholic Church, openly admitted this similarity between early Christianity and modern day Catholicism. I wrote a paper on the development of the doctrine of the Eucharist and apprehensively discovered that the first Christians unanimously held the bread and wine to be truly the body and blood of the Lord, offered as a sacrifice to God, just as taught in the Catholic Church today.
In addition to this theological questioning, I began to wonder if something was not missing from the Evangelical and Messianic services I went to. Although carried out by dedicated and sincere ministers, the "success" of a meeting seemed dependent on so much human effort: whether the worship was "powerful" enough, or whether the preacher was sufficiently "anointed". It sometimes felt as if the congregation was responsible to go up to heaven and pull God down into the room. Everything seemed so dependent on our emotions and efforts that sometimes the services were more exhausting than fulfilling. I also began to seriously ask myself why there was so much theological disagreement and division in the Body of Messiah. Everyone took the Bible as the Word of God and claimed to have the Holy Spirit to guide him, yet there was perpetual and substantial disagreement about countless doctrinal issues among Protestants, and even more so among the Messianic Congregations.
Such were the thoughts that were hindering me from declaring all-out war on Catholicism at the beginning of 2001, and that were beginning to erode my confidence in Evangelicalism and Messianic Judaism.
A Shock: "Born-Again" Believers Convert to Catholicism
While visiting my parents in Canada in June 2001, my father bought me two books that left me in a state of shock. The first was the previously mentioned Surprised by Truth, a compilation of testimonies of 11 converts from Evangelicalism to Catholicism. I could simply not believe what I read. These people were "born-again", Bible-believing Christians who had come to accept the Catholic Church as the truth on the basis of Scripture. The second book was even more stunning. It had the repulsive title of "Rome Sweet Home" and was the conversion story of Scott and Kimberly Hahn. Scott Hahn had been a committed Evangelical minister and a fierce opponent of the Catholic Church - the kind that believed that the Pope is the antichrist. As I read, I saw that he was a brilliant man, a top-notch Bible scholar, but above all someone who loved the Lord and was after the truth, no matter what the cost. And he found it in the Catholic Church.
After reading these two books, I returned to Israel determined to settle this "Catholic issue" once and for all. Before I left my parents' home, I grabbed the thick Catechism of the Catholic Church, and a book on church history, both of which I devoured in just a few weeks. I continued my research on the Internet, finding more writings from Dr. Hahn that completely shattered my prejudices against the Catholic Church. I downloaded more reading material and ordered several books from Catholic Answers, a California-based Catholic apologetics organization. I had read earlier some popular anti-Catholic books, such as Dave Hunt's A Woman Rides the Beast and Ralph Woodrow's Babylon Mystery Religion. Now I had found their match. Karl Keating, in particular, in his book Catholicism and Fundamentalism systematically addressed all of the typical anti-Catholic arguments and tore them to shreds.
A Gross Caricature of Catholicism
One of the first things I realized when I embarked in this extensive study of Catholicism is that what I had come to despise about the Catholic Church was in fact a caricature of what I thought the Catholic Church to be, and not the real thing. I believe the majority of opponents of Catholicism are in a same situation and attack in good faith something of which they really have little understanding.
I was relieved, for instance, to learn that papal infallibility does not mean that everything the Pope says or does is infallible, that Mary is not to be worshipped as one worships God, and that her title of "Mother of God" does not imply that she is divine or existed before God. I was surprised to learn that the Church never taught things like salvation by works, or that Christ is re-sacrificed at every Mass, or that people can be saved by other religions.
Another surprise was to discover that the Catechism affirmed God's eternal and irrevocable covenant with the Jewish People. I thought in amazement: "What? The Catholic Church does not teach replacement theology?" I realized that replacement theology and anti-Semitism had been the product of ignorance in the Church - admittedly sometimes on a very large scale - but not of true adherence to the Catholic Faith.
Many non-Catholics often have a poor impression of Catholicism because of a real discrepancy between the official teachings of the Church and the popular practice of the people. Sadly, Catholics are too often ignorant of their own faith. Little do they realize how they discredit their religion in the eyes of others, and help to create this caricature of the Catholic that so many protestants rightly dislike: the one who worships Mary and prays to the saints more than he does to Jesus, kisses statues but does not read the Bible, and believes that he can gain his salvation by his good works. This is not a description of a good Catholic, but of someone who understands little of what Catholicism is about.
Yet it is undeniable that many issues, in theology and in practice, still divide Catholics from Evangelicals, and Messianic Jews. Let us look at some of them.
The Believer's Authority: the Bible Alone?
The central issue that has influenced my return to the Catholic Church is the question of the authority of our faith. Since my conversion to Christ, I had been a firm believer in sola scriptura, one of the two theological pillars of the reformation. Sola scriptura is the notion originally advanced by Martin Luther that the Bible is to be our only and final source of authority in matters relating to faith and religious truth. Generally, Evangelicals and Messianic believers unilaterally accept this notion, with few ever examining or challenging the source and foundation of this belief.
Sola scriptura seemed to make much sense to me. I saw it as the only way to preserve the integrity of the original biblical message from transformation and distortion through the ages. After all, I thought, this was exactly what the Catholic Church had done: in flagrant violation of Jesus' warnings against the traditions of men replacing the Word of God, the Church had added tradition upon tradition to the original Gospel until it had become buried under a mountain of Catholic doctrines, papal decrees and pagan practices.
I was in for a surprise, however, once I seriously started to examine this issue. To my astonishment - and horror - I saw the premise of sola scriptura completely break apart in the light of Scripture, history, and simple logic.
The first shock came when I realized that the Bible does not teach sola scriptura. We believers took for granted the idea that the Bible is our only source of authority, yet did Scripture support this idea? Where did the Bible say that it was to be our only authority? I had to admit that I could not answer this question. Although 2 Tim 3:16 says that "all Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable", nowhere is it written that Scripture is to be the only source of authority for our faith. How could this be, I wondered, that this foundational principle for our faith is not taught anywhere in the Bible?
Second, I discovered passages in the New Testament that seemed to support the idea of tradition as a form of authority. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians to "stand fast and hold to the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thess 2:15). This clearly means oral traditions. He also praised the Corinthians for "keeping the traditions" which he had taught them (1 Cor 11:2). Jesus also endorsed oral tradition. He told his disciples that "the Scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat", and therefore they should observe and do what they said (although not imitate their hypocrisy) (Mt 23:1-3). What the Scribes and the Pharisees taught at the time of Jesus was already much more than just the written Torah. It included a large volume of oral traditions, which Jesus was apparently endorsing.
We see more evidence for the validity of extra-biblical tradition when the writers of the New Testament casually refer to events that are not found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In 2 Timothy 3:8, for example, Paul refers to Jannes and Jambres resisting Moses. Jude 9 refers to Michael the archangel contending with the devil about the body of Moses. These events are not recorded in the Tanakh, and belong to Jewish tradition. Yet the New Testament writers accept them as authoritative. Yeshua kept the traditional Feast of Hanukkah (John 10:22), a Feast neither commanded by God nor found in the Hebrew Scriptures. We see then that although Yeshua warned against the traditions of men that opposed the Word of God, both He and the New Testament writers also assumed that oral tradition could complement and help interpret (though never contradict) the Scriptures. A little reflection on the practical and historical application of this idea made it even more obvious.
The Early Church's Authority
How did the early Christians learn about their faith? They did not go around with their Bibles under their arms like we do today. They learned the Old Testament Scriptures in the synagogues, and heard the Gospel through the teaching of the apostles. In fact, the early church did not even have a New Testament. Many believers do not realize that it took nearly 20 years after the resurrection for any of the New Testament writings to come into circulation, and nearly 60 years for all of our New Testament to be put down in writing.
Even then, many other Christian writings existed. This created another problem: How did believers in the early Church know which books were inspired and which weren't? For several centuries there was intense debate as to what to include in the New Testament. Many churches believed that books such as the Shepherd of Hermas, the Didache, the Acts of Paul or the Apocalypse of Peter should be part of the canon. Others believed that books that are now part of our New Testament should be rejected. The historian Eusebius, writing in the year 324, lists only 22 books as accepted; 2 Peter, 2-3 John, James and Jude were still considered "disputed writings". Other important books, such as the Epistle to the Hebrews and Revelation, were also regularly excluded. These were finally admitted into the canon after several centuries of debate, but not unanimously or without suspicion. It is only at the Council of Carthage in 397 CE that the present content of our New Testament was closed. For almost four centuries the Church lived and flourished with a slightly different New Testament than ours!
Historian Henry Chadwick notes about the authority of the early church: "In the first century the Christian Bible had simply been the Old Testament...Authority resided in this scripture and in the words of the Lord, which long circulated in oral tradition...The authoritative standing of this oral tradition continued to be high even after the sayings and doings of the Lord had been written down in the ‘gospel' according to Mark, Luke, Matthew, or John. Even as late as the time of Irenaeus (c. 185-90) this oral tradition of the words of the Lord was regarded as an authority that had not yet been wholly merged with the written gospels."
It is evident then, that the Church preceded the New Testament and not the other way around. Yet how could we, as Evangelicals, be sure that this early church - the Catholic Church - had made the right decision in compiling our New Testament almost four centuries after Christ? Why did we blindly trust in the decision of the same Catholic bishops who also believed in the veneration of saints, devotion to the Virgin Mary, purgatory, and sacraments? How could we have confidence in the infallibility of Scripture if we didn't believe at the same time that the Church had to make an infallible decision on which books to include and which not to include in the canon? (In fact, the same argument goes for the compilation of the Old Testament by the Jews)
These conclusions were very disturbing. The early believers did not rely on the Bible alone. Their main authority was the oral teachings of the apostles and their successors - in other words, the Church. Could such an idea be biblical? Yes, says Paul. He wrote to Timothy that the "pillar and foundation of truth" was not the Bible, but "the Church of the living God" (1 Tim 3:15), against which, Jesus promised, "the gates of Hell would not prevail".
The Logical Consequence of Sola Scriptura.
These thoughts gradually led me to believe that the very notion of sola scriptura was flawed - a tradition of men not taught anywhere in Scripture. This does not undermine the authority of Scripture, but does mean that the Bible is not enough. We only need to look at the fruits of the reformation to understand this: Sola scriptura has produced in five centuries thousands of Christian denominations, sects and cults who keep multiplying ever rapidly, all of them claiming to have the Bible as their authority, but perpetually disagreeing on all possible doctrinal issues. Is this what Jesus had in mind when he prayed for the unity of His Church?
In addition to being unbiblical and unhistorical, the refusal of Evangelicals to attribute any authority to tradition also began to appear inconsistent. Though it declares itself opposed to authoritative tradition, Evangelical Christianity in fact accepts many traditional Christian doctrines that are not taught explicitly in Scripture. Some examples are the Trinity, the divinity of the Holy Spirit, monogamy as the only acceptable form of marital union, and the position against abortion. None of these ideas are clearly taught in the Bible. Yet Evangelicals usually accept them without reservation - and rightly so - even though they are Catholic traditions unanimously accepted as part of the deposit of Christian faith by the first believers.
Some streams of Messianic Judaism and "Christian" cults are more consistent than Evangelicals and reject all Christian tradition. The inevitable outcome is that these groups frequently undermine and reject the very foundations of the Christian faith, such as the Trinity or the divinity of Yeshua. The result is heresy, but it is really a logical consequence of the rejection of all tradition and of relying on the Bible alone as a source of authority. Evangelicals, thankfully, retain much early Christian tradition (albeit often unconsciously) and thereby stay within the realms of "orthodox" Christianity.
Sacred Tradition: Perversion or Preservation of the Gospel?
But isn't the idea of a "sacred tradition" dangerous? After all, what guarantees that the Church could stay on the right track for 2000 years? Is this not merely a license for the Church authorities to "invent" new, unbiblical doctrines as it pleases them? Does it not threaten the very integrity of the original Gospel and place the believers at the mercy of a fallible and often corrupt clergy? Although the concept of a "sacred tradition" may indeed sound threatening at first, several reasons have led me to believe that it is in fact a biblical, sound, and even vital element for the preservation of the original Gospel.
Karl Keating describes what the Church means by Tradition: "The term does not mean legends or mythological accounts, nor does it mean transitory customs or practices that come and go as circumstances warrant, such as styles of priestly dress, particular forms of devotion to saints, or even liturgical rubrics. Tradition means the teachings and teaching authority of Jesus and, derivatively, the apostles. These have been handed down and entrusted to the Church (which means to its official teachers, the bishops in union with the Pope)."
The existence of a "sacred tradition" alongside of Scripture does not mean that tradition may contradict Scripture. Both are in harmony with each other. The idea of apostolic tradition exists precisely to preserve the teachings of Jesus and the apostles, not to pervert it. One must here make a distinction between invention and development of doctrine. The Catholic Church has no authority to suddenly "invent" a new doctrine out of the blue. Yet it is undeniable that the Church has developed doctrines over time, in the sense of explaining them more fully. This is a natural and unavoidable process. Every believer constantly seeks to better understand and define the contents of his faith, and this is what the Church has done. It took three centuries, for example, for the Church to formally define the doctrine of the Trinity, even though the belief already existed in the beginning (see Isa 48:16, Mt 28:19, 2 Cor 13:14). Likewise, although the doctrine of transubstantiation (the belief that the bread and wine actually become the body and blood of Jesus) was only formally defined in the year 1215, the belief is already attested to in the earliest Christian writings (and in John chapter 6 for that matter).
Still, how can we be sure that the Church did not make at least some wrong interpretations in the development of their dogmas? We have this assurance because Yeshua gave it to us. He promised the disciples that the Spirit of truth would guide them into all truth (John 16:13). He also said to Peter: "You are Peter (Aramaic: Kephas), and on this rock (Aramaic: Kephas) I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Mt 16:18-19). Numerous interpretations have been given for this verse, yet how much more sense does it make when we give it its simple "Catholic" meaning. What tremendous authority Yeshua is giving here to Peter and the Church, the "pillar and foundation of truth" (1 Tim 3:15). If we insist on believing that the early Church soon perverted the original teachings of Yeshua, we are saying that His prayer for the worldwide Church was completely ineffective.
But does not history blatantly show that the gates of hell have indeed prevailed over the Catholic Church, at least over long periods of time? There is no denying the horrible facts: Catholics have failed and sinned, seriously and repeatedly. Some popes were notorious for their vice and immorality. In addition, many practices of the Church have changed over time. How can we reconcile these facts with Yeshua's promise that the gates of hell would not prevail? To answer this, we need to look at the Church's definition of infallibility.
The Catholic Church claims to be infallible only in matters of faith and morals, not in matters of practice and discipline. Infallibility does not apply to practices such as, for instance, the celibacy of priests or the form of the liturgy, which can change over time. Also, "infallibility" should not be confused with "impeccability". There is no guarantee that the Pope will not sin or neglect to teach the truth. Neither does infallibility apply to a Pope's disciplinary decisions, private theological opinions, or even unofficial comments on faith and morals. A statement of John Paul II, for instance, about Israel or the status of Jerusalem is certainly not considered infallible or binding on all Catholics. Infallibility, then, is a negative protection. It means that the Holy Spirit will prevent the Church from officially teaching error in matters of faith and morals.
The only infallible statements are those that the Pope pronounces ex cathedra, that is from the chair of St. Peter, regarding faith or morals. They are usually made when some already accepted doctrine is called into question. No dogma may be "invented". Such infallible pronouncements are quite rare. For instance, in the entire 20th century, the Pope has pronounced only one infallible statement: the doctrine of the Assumption of Mary into heaven, in 1950 by Pope Pius XII. The Pope did not "invent" the doctrine at that date, but merely confirmed an ancient belief already attested of in the first centuries of the Church.
In short, the Pope is not a quasi-divine man who cannot sin or make mistakes. He is like a pastor - of a very large, international congregation. Catholics owe him respect and obedience, but are not obliged to consider everything he says as coming straight out of God's mouth. This is far from the autocratic system many imagine the Catholic Church to be.
To conclude this section on the authority of our faith, we have seen that sola scriptura is an unbiblical concept. It is unhistorical, illogical and a relatively recent "tradition of men" that creates division within the Church. By contrast, the idea of a Catholic Sacred Tradition, passed down from the apostles to their successors is biblical, historical and logical. Paul wrote to Timothy: "the things that you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (2 Tim 2:2). Sacred Tradition preserves the teachings of Christ and the apostles. Especially in the light of the Church's sins, it shows the greatness of God in how He has preserved the deposit of faith through 2,000 years of often dark Church history. Catholic practices have come and gone. Sinful popes, bishops, priests and laymen also have come and gone. But through my research I have discovered that the Catholic doctrines in matters of faith and morals have existed since apostolic times and have not changed. This is why the Church is the "pillar and foundation of truth" which Yeshua promised to guard from error.
Belief in Sacred Tradition does not undermine in any way the authority of the Bible as the inerrant Word of God. It does not turn me away from the Bible, nor does it cause me to stop searching for more treasures in Scripture. On the contrary, it makes me appreciate the Word of God even more as I come to understand it in the light of the teaching of the apostles passed down to us through the tradition of the Church. Whereas the fruit of sola scriptura has been ever-increasing division and the advent of liberal churches and cults that now question the foundations of our faith, apostolic Catholic tradition has not only preserved the integrity of Yeshua's Gospel, but also the unity of His Church.
Salvation by Faith Alone?
"You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (Jam 2:24). This verse, understandably, does not get much attention in Evangelical circles. Even before I began to question the validity of sola scriptura, James 2:24 was causing me to question the second pillar of Protestantism: sola fide, or salvation by faith alone.
When I accepted Jesus as my personal Lord and Savior in 1995, the idea of salvation by faith alone had appeared supremely attractive. I could be saved by trusting exclusively in Christ's redemptive work at the cross - this had nothing to do with the extent of my sins or my good works. All I had to do was to "receive" the gift of salvation. No matter what I did thereafter, I could not lose it because it was a gift from God independent of my own actions.
As attractive as this idea of salvation was, however, I could not deny that James 2:24 clearly contradicted it. Paul also exhorts us to "work out our salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12), and does not take his salvation for granted: "I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). How could these Scriptures be reconciled with the idea of salvation by faith alone?
To answer this question, I embarked in an extensive study of the concept of salvation in Scripture. This has helped me understand the similarities and differences between the Evangelical and Catholic concepts of salvation, and how other issues, such as the baptism of infants and the notion of purgatory, are intimately related to it.
An Evangelical View of Salvation
According to Evangelical tradition, one is saved by "receiving Jesus as personal Lord and Savior", or becoming "born again". These two expressions are usually viewed as synonyms (although nowhere in Scripture is it written that to be "born again" means to receive Jesus as Lord and Savior). Evangelicals typically use a language such as "I was saved on such and such a date", or "before I was saved...", the implication being that salvation is received as a one-time event in our life. Once we have sincerely repented and made a confession of faith, we are considered part of the "elect", the chosen children of God. Those who have never done this are the "unsaved" or the "lost". Naturally, then, the most emphasized event in Evangelical meetings is the "altar call", where the "unsaved" have to opportunity to "receive the Lord". The process of sanctification is then of course to follow, but it is often treated as an issue that is separate and distinct from the one of salvation.
I do not intend to criticize the concept of the altar call, nor the necessity to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior. These are certainly ways through which God can touch the repentant sinner with His grace. Nonetheless, I believe that this Evangelical concept of salvation does not show the complete biblical picture.
The first problems I had with this concept of salvation were more of a practical than a theological nature. When I accepted Jesus as personal Lord and Savior in 1995, I accepted the notion that I had become one of the "elect", and I was now to dedicate my life entirely to God. I thought that all other born-again believers, having made the same commitment to the Lord, would show the same wonderful fruit of a consecrated and godly life. Most Catholics, on the other hand, had not been born-again or received Jesus as Lord and Savior, therefore they were not to be expected to be like "real believers".
The reality however, was different. In the six years that I have been in Evangelical and Messianic circles, I have seen believers who "have been born-again" and who have subsequently completely backslidden into the world. I have seen strife, selfishness, lack of love, dishonesty, arrogance, pride and betrayal, in just about every "born-again" church that I have been - and often observed some of these unflattering qualities in myself! On the other hand, I have known Catholics who have been a constant example of humility, love, self-sacrifice and faithfulness to God. My point is not to say that one side is better than the other, but rather to question the difference between a "born-again-backslidden-believer" and a "baptized-as-an-infant-Catholic", who has "endured to the end" in his faith in Christ (Mt 10:22). Who is "saved" here according to Evangelical theology? These questions confused me until I began to understand what the Bible really says about salvation.
Salvation: One-Time Event or Continual Process?
Evangelicals sometimes have a rather narrow view of the term "salvation", equating it with the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of going to heaven. The Bible, however, presents a much wider meaning, either in the Hebrew word yeshuah or the Greek sozo. The term refers to the deliverance of the Israelites from the Egyptians (Ex 14:13), victory over the enemy in time of war (1 Sam 11:13), temporary deliverance from death, or even physical healing. When Jairus came to Jesus to plead with Him to heal his daughter, he told him "Come and lay Your hands on her, that she may be saved (Gr. sozo, usually translated be healed), and she will live" (Mk 5:23). In the same chapter, the woman who had an issue of blood said to herself: "If only I may touch [Jesus'] clothes, I shall be saved" (gr. sozo, NKJ translates be made well) (Mk 5:28). After she was healed, Jesus told her "Daughter, your faith has saved you" (sozo, NKJ has made you well). Yet the only issue here is one of physical healing - there is no talk about forgiveness of sins or receiving Jesus as savior.
These examples demonstrate that "salvation" in the Bible implies a complete restoration of man to God's image, in the physical, emotional, and spiritual realms. It is not a "one time event", but a continual process over the course of our lives. Paul sees salvation as a past experience: "For we were saved" (Rom 8:24, Eph 2:5-8), as a present process, conditional upon our faithfulness: we are "among those who are being saved" (2 Cor 2:15) and "you are being saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you" (1 Cor 15:2), and also as a future event: "we have hope that we shall be saved" (Rom 5:9-10, 1 Cor. 3:12-15). Perhaps the scripture that best shows that salvation is a process and not a one-time event is Romans 13:11: "for now our salvation is nearer than when we first believed". Even though the Roman believers were "saved" when they repented and were baptized, Paul makes it clear that their salvation is not yet completed as long as they are alive.
The First Covenant: Circumcision
In order to better understand the concept of salvation in the New Testament it is important to first understand how Israel was justified before God in the Tanakh. A study of the relationship between covenant, circumcision and justification in the Old Testament will shed light upon the relationship between covenant, baptism and salvation in the New Testament. This will show us that salvation in the Bible is not seen merely as an individualistic one-time event that begins only in adulthood through a conscious decision to believe (though this is also very important), but rather is an insertion into God's covenant people, initiated within the faith of the family and community through baptism (which can therefore be received by infants). This gift of salvation is then called to lifelong growth in faitfulness and love, and it can be lost by persistent and unrepented sin, neglect, or rebellion.
In the Old Testament, God's plan of salvation was initiated through the covenant of circumcision with Abraham and his descendants (Gen 12:1-3; 17:1-12). The male child who was not circumcised had broken God's covenant and was to be cut off from his people (v.14). Circumcision was not meant to be only an outward covenant: God also commanded the people of Israel to "circumcise the foreskin of your heart" (Deut. 10:16). Paul wrote that "he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter" (Rom 2:28-29). Both things were important: the outward sign of the covenant, and the inner reality of faith and obedience that manifested the covenant in the Israelite's life.
God's covenant with Israel was both individual and collective. It was individual because each Israelite was responsible for his actions before God. But it was also collective, because God redeemed a people, and not just a bunch of individuals. Children were automatically circumcised on the eighth day and included in the people of God without asking them for permission or a profession of faith. This did not however dispense them with personal responsibility for their actions and lives. Circumcision embraced a child into the covenant, but did not guarantee justification before God. An Israelite who transgressed important commandments was to be "cut off" from his people and put to death. Ezekiel makes it clear that salvation was not dependant on circumcision or on one's good standing with God in the past, but on one's present heart attitude, faith and deeds: "if a wicked man turns from all his sins which he has committed, keeps all My statutes, and does what is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions which he has committed shall be remembered against him; because of the righteousness which he has done, he shall live... But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die." (Ezek 18:21-24).
Salvation in the Tanakh, in the narrow sense of forgiveness of sins and assurance of eternal life, is hidden because the Messiah had not yet come. In the covenant of circumcision, however, we see a type and a shadow of the greater salvation that was to come. Abraham was justified by faith. He "believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Gen 15:6; Gal 3:6). He was also "justified by works when he offered Isaac on the altar." His faith was "working together with his works, and by works his faith was made perfect" (Jam 2:21-22).
The New Covenant: Baptism - the New Birth (and the legitimacy of infant baptism)
With the coming of the Messiah and His establishment of the New Covenant, God's plan of salvation was fully revealed. The New Covenant's equivalent of circumcision is baptism. Paul calls it the "circumcision of Christ": "In [Yeshua] you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith" (Col 2:11-12).
Although there are many parallels between circumcision and baptism, Yeshua has given us a better covenant (Heb 9:22). Unlike circumcision, baptism has true salvation power: "In [Noah's ark] only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also" (1Pet 3:20-21). If we look at the true biblical meaning of the expression "to be born again", in fact, we discover that it is associated with baptism and not with a profession of faith. To Nicodemus' question on how he should be born again, Yeshua answered that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (Jn 3:5). Paul speaks in similar terms: "according to His mercy [God] saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior" (Tit 3:5-6). We see in these passages a direct connection between the washing through water and salvation.
Conscious of this close relationship between circumcision and baptism, we are now in a better position to understand the Catholic view of baptism and salvation. When a child is born into a Catholic family, it receives the sacrament of baptism as the efficacious sign of God's covenant which erases the mark of original sin and restores God's sanctifying grace and divine life into the soul (though the inclination to sin remains). As with circumcision, God makes a covenant not only with individuals but also with a family and a people. In both covenants, infants are received into the household of faith although they are not yet old enough to consciously believe. Baptism opens the door to salvation, but in no way diminishes one's accountability before God, the necessity of personal faith, the importance of one's actions, or the consequences of one's sins. This is why Paul tells us that we should "work out [our] salvation in fear in trembling" (Phil 2:12) and not take our salvation for granted: "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Cor 9:27). We are not immune from the risk of being cut off: "Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off." (Rom 11:22). This is in perfect harmony with Yeshua's words: "Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven (Mt 7:21). Our lives and works are important because they are our response to God's covenant with us.
Many Evangelicals logically oppose the idea of infant baptism because of their notion of salvation as a "one-time event": Since an infant has not yet made a decision to believe, baptism would imply that it could be "saved" without ever coming to faith. But this individualistic view of baptism completely misses the collective aspect of God's covenant. The apostles understood that God receives children into the covenant by grace, even if they are not yet able to make a decision for Christ. Since mainly infants were circumcised, it was natural that the "circumcision of Christ" should also be available to infants. This is why Peter preached at Pentecost: "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children" (Acts 2:38-39).
When one accepts the biblical notion that salvation is a process continuing over time, a covenant with God that needs to be constantly and faithfully renewed, infant baptism makes perfect sense. We may compare it to the covenant of marriage between husband and wife. Although initially sealed at the wedding ceremony, the marriage will only be successful if both parties remain faithful and love each other until death.
Let us then heed the words of Yeshua: "Let the little children come to me and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven" (Mt 19:14, Luke 18:15-16). Infants are welcomed into a family of believers and into the family of God through baptism. The process of salvation has begun. Of course, the parent is then responsible for raising his baptized child in the Christian faith. Ultimately, though, it is the state of our soul at the moment of death that will determine our eternal destiny. If we are alienated from God at that time we will be lost. If we are in a "state of grace", of forgiveness and friendship with God, we will be on our way to heaven.
In Summary: Salvation by Grace through Faith Working in Love
The Bible and the Catholic Church thus teach in unison that we are saved by grace alone through faith (Eph 2:8), but not by faith alone (Jas 2:24). The problem in my youth was that I thought I could be justified by works alone, an idea that has never been taught by the Catholic Church. Receiving Jesus as my Lord and Savior had been a genuine experience of freedom as I responded in faith to God's all-surpassing grace. But I now realize that believing in salvation by faith alone made me imagine that I could get away with some "minor" sins. I believed that my works had nothing to do with my salvation, yet the New Testament clearly and repeatedly states that every man will be judged according to his works (Mt 16:27, Jn 5:29, Ro 2:6, 2 Cor 5:10, Rev 2:23, 20:12). Conscious of this, I now have a healthier fear of God that motivates me all the more to "continue in His goodness" to not "otherwise be cut off" (Rom. 11:22). I am redeemed, and am "working out my salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil. 2:12), with hopeful confidence in the promises of Christ (Rom. 5:2, 2 Tim. 2:11-13) - but not with a false "absolute" assurance about my own ability to persevere (2 Cor. 13:5). No one will be justified by works alone. But neither are we saved by faith alone. The Catholic Church agrees with the Bible in teaching that we are saved by grace through a living faith working in love (Gal. 5:6).
Intimately related to the Catholic concept of salvation is the notion of purgatory. The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory in the following way: "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven." In this discussion about purgatory I will touch upon two points. First, I will show that the Bible clearly points to the existence of an intermediate state between heaven and hell. Second, I will explain why the existence of such a state is in agreement with Yeshua's completed work of redemption at the cross, and why purgatory is the logical and necessary completion of the process of salvation described in the preceding section.
The abode of the dead in the Old Testament is a place called Sheol, usually translated as "grave", "hell", or "pit". It is not a pleasant place: "The sorrows of Sheol surrounded me, the snares of death confronted me." (Ps. 18:5); David often pleads with God to deliver him from it: "Return, O Lord, deliver me! Oh, save me for Your mercies' sake! For in death there is no remembrance of You; In the grave (Sheol) who will give You thanks?" (Ps 6:4-5). He wishes God would send the wicked there: "Let death seize them; let them go down alive into hell (Sheol), for wickedness is in their dwellings and among them." (Ps. 55:15). Prophetically, David also implies that Sheol is not a permanent place of rest: "For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption" (Ps. 16:10)
The equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol in the New Testament is the Greek word Hades. We see this direct association in Acts 2:27, when Peter quotes Psalm 16:10. The Greek reads: "for You will not leave my soul in Hades".
Obviously, Sheol or Hades is not heaven, because it is a place of suffering. But neither is it hell (Greek: gehenna, from the Hebrew gehinnom), the place of eternal punishment of the damned, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mk 9:44). We see a clear distinction between Hades and gehinnom in the book of Revelation, where at the end of times "death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire" (Rev 20:14). In other words, at the end of times, when death will be no more, there will be no more need for Sheol or Hades. It will be cast into hell, the eternal lake of fire.
The account of the rich man and Lazarus tells us more about Hades (Luke 16:19-31). In this story, a rich man dies. The text does not say that he was particularly wicked, merely that he had been rich and lived well. Verse 23 tells us nonetheless that he was "in torments in Hades" (not gehenna or hell). He engages in a dialogue with Abraham, first asking him to relieve his own suffering, and then pleading that his five brothers may be spared coming to "this place of torment" (v.28). When I thought about this, I realized how much of a problem this passage poses to Protestant theology: The rich man is in contact with another place where there is no suffering, called Abraham's bosom (whether this is heaven or not is unclear), and has mercy for his brothers, whom he still remembers. We know that hell is a state of eternal separation from everything good, where there will certainly be no more love or mercy. Yet the "place of torment" where the rich man is suffering is not permanently devoid of mercy or contact with a better place.
Once we are willing to admit the existence of this intermediary state between heaven and hell, it becomes much easier to understand 1 Peter 3:19, where it is written that Christ "went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient". This is likely the same event referred to by Paul when he writes that Yeshua "descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Eph 4:9). Obviously, there would have been no point in going down to hell to preach since from there no escape is possible. This leaves us with the option that he went down to Sheol, Hades, or the place Catholics call "purgatory".
Why a Purgatory?
But why is there a need for purgatory? The very idea seemed to be a complete contradiction of the Messiah's completed work of redemption at the cross. I thought that the precious gift of forgiveness was ours, and that there was now "no condemnation to those who are in the Messiah Yeshua" (Rom 8:1).
As I now see it, purgatory does not contradict these truths. The work of redemption is indeed accomplished and finished. Purgatory is not a "second chance" for those who rejected God during their earthly lives. Only the "saved" will have the "privilege" of entering purgatory. One might compare it to a "waiting room" by the entrance of heaven. In this way purgatory is much closer to heaven than it is to hell.
Neither is purgatory an "alternative" to Christ's work of redemption, implying that it was inadequate or insufficient. Rather, purgatory is the final stage of the application of the redemptive work of Christ by the Holy Spirit. The Bible says that nothing unclean will enter heaven (Rev 21:27). We know that we are purified in this world through our sufferings. Peter writes that "he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin" (1 Pet 4:1). To suffer is to pass through a "holy fire", and every believer can testify how the greatest spiritual growth often comes after the most painful trials. The Catholic Church does not merely teach that we are considered righteous on account of the work of the Messiah. It teaches that we are actually made righteous by His grace and His work in us. Yeshua is the first born of multitudes of sons and daughters of God called to be conformed to his image in His life, sufferings, death and resurrection (Rom 8:16-17, Phil 3:10). Paul compares this spiritual birth process to the labor pains of a woman: "My little children, for whom I labor in birth again until Christ is formed in you" (Gal 4:19). If this process of purification is not completed in our earthly life, God will lovingly finish it in purgatory until Christ is completely reproduced in us, and all trace of selfishness and sin in our hearts will disappear. righteous by His grace and His work in us.
Some have problems with the concept of purgatory because they confuse forgiveness with purification and expiation of sins. When we sincerely repent for a particular sin, by virtue of Yeshua's sacrifice we have instant access to the throne of grace and to God's complete forgiveness. But sin always bears painful consequences that sometimes last up to a lifetime. If I murder someone or commit adultery today, I may be forgiven tomorrow if I sincerely repent, but I will still bear the consequences of spending my life in jail, potentially destroying my family, bearing the resentment of the people I have hurt, and living with the painful memory of what I've done. Does forgiveness always include expiation? The Bible shows that it doesn't. Consider King David's case: After he committed adultery with Bat Sheva and had her husband Uriah killed, he repented before God, and indeed obtained forgiveness (2 Sam 12:13). But he still had to "expiate" his sin. Despite having been forgiven, the child who was to be born to him would die (v.14).
In summary, God does not merely declare us to be holy. He actually makes us holy. We have seen that salvation is not a one-time event but a continuous process, the whole of our walk with God. He loves us just as we are, but too much to leave us the way we are. Nothing unclean will enter heaven, and through the holy fire of suffering, He forms us to His Son's image. If this process is not completed in the process of our earthly life, it will continue in purgatory until we have reached our final glory. On judgment day "each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is" (1 Cor 3:13). This does not undermine my assurance of salvation, "if I hold fast to the Word preached to [me]" (1 Cor 15:2). I rejoice all the more that "He who has begun a good work in [me] will complete it until the day of Yeshua the Messiah" (Phil. 1:6), and am therefore eager to "work out my salvation in fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12) trusting in the infinite grace our Father will provide for this purpose.
Judaism, Catholicism, and Paganism
When I began to seriously consider the claims of Catholicism, one thing that horrified me about the possibility that it might be true was its relationship to Judaism. I knew that one of the Messianic community's goals was to express its faith in Yeshua in a Jewish way and to distance itself as much as possible from anything "too Christian" - especially anything Catholic. "Catholicism is pagan!" is a common cry and sincerely held belief among many believers in Israel today - and I believed it too.
Such an attitude is understandable. Never mind the long and painful history of persecution of the Jews, it does seem at first sight that the practices of the Catholic Church today have strayed far away from Judaism. Mary, the saints, statues, relics, the rosary, what has all of this to do with Adonai Echad, the one, invisible, transcendent God of Israel?
How did this alleged "paganizing" of Christianity occur? The commonly accepted story among Messianic believers goes something like this: Although the first generations of believers were mostly Jewish and retained the jewishness of the Gospel, very soon gentiles started to flood the Church and outnumber the Jewish believers. As their numbers increased, they began to corrupt Yeshua's teachings by bringing in many of their former pagan beliefs and practices. Many of the church fathers were anti-Semites who built a Christian theology based on Greek and pagan philosophical concepts, rather than on biblical Hebrew thought and mentality. The "end" of the pure, true early Church came when emperor Constantine became a Christian and made Christianity a legal and accepted religion of the Roman Empire. This incorporated yet more pagan practices into the faith. Christianity was no longer Jewish, nor based on a personal faith in the Messiah, but an official religion that one had to adopt to keep a good social and political status.
With all respect for this view of early church history, I believe it is somewhat over-simplistic and misses several important points. First, as I have pointed out earlier, it is remarkable to note that the very first Christian writings attest to beliefs and practices strikingly similar to modern day Catholicism: the primacy of Peter and of his successors as leaders of the Church in Rome, the baptism of infants, the real presence of Christ in the bread and wine, the sacrifice of the Mass, the hierarchical system of clergy (bishops, priests and deacons), the perpetual virginity of Mary and her title of "Mother of God", the veneration and intercession of saints, and the existence of purgatory. We can find evidence for all of these in Christian writings going back as far as the early second century, some of them even to the late first century.
"Well", some will say, "this proves nothing. It only shows that the Church became pagan very early." Those who make this claim, however, usually do not see the fatal flaw in this theory of an "early paganized Church". They forget or are ignorant of the fact that the early Church was at war against paganism. We must realize that many of the leaders of the Church in the late first and early second century had known the apostles personally. It is commonly accepted tradition that all of the apostles (except John) died as martyrs for the cause of their faith. Many of the Church Fathers also died as martyrs. Why were they thrown to the lions, beheaded, crucified, or burned alive? Because of their utter refusal to compromise with paganism. Often all they had to do to avoid death was to sacrifice a small quantity of incense to Caesar. Yet countless chose to die rather than to make this token gesture to the roman gods.
The Fathers of the Church are not exactly popular figures in Israel today among the Body of Messiah, largely because their writings often reveal a negative view of Judaism and a certain animosity towards the Jewish people. Even though these may reflect the antagonism between the early Church and the Synagogue and be a reaction to the persecutions of the believers by the Jewish community, we should not be proud of the tone of these anti-Judaic attitudes. The writings of the Fathers are indeed far from being infallible. Yet Messianic believers today are often not aware that the main enemy the Church Fathers fought - to their very deaths - was not Judaism but Roman paganism. How then could they have been so passionate and uncompromising for the Gospel, while simultaneously perverting it with countless pagan beliefs and practices? Such an absurd scenario would not only imply massive and collective schizophrenia on the part of the Early Church, but also the utter failure of Jesus' ministry. It would mean that the eternal and omniscient Son of God who knew the hearts of men and prayed that the gates of hell would not prevail against his Church chose a group of people who, despite being powerfully anointed by the Holy Spirit and sacrificing their lives for the sake of the gospel, were so utterly incompetent, forgetful, and unfaithful that they almost immediately completely distorted their master's teachings - and chose successors who did the same. Worse, Jesus' ministry was such a failure that the "true church" practically disappeared for 15 centuries until Luther came along to finally establish the "correct" doctrines of salvation by faith alone and of authority based on the Bible only.
This does not make much sense to me, nor does it sound like a Church that prevails against the gates of hell. In fact, historical records show that the early church was usually up in arms if anyone tried to change the slightest jot or tittle of doctrine. Why then, if pagan beliefs were really creeping into the Church, do we have no records of Christian writers resisting and opposing this paganism that was threatening the purity of the Gospel? Simply because these beliefs are not pagan at all, but part of the deposit of faith universally accepted by the apostles and the early community of believers.
Worshiping in Spirit and in Truth
Yet we know that the Catholic Church has many practices that do not seem to originate in the Bible or in Judaism. How do we know what are forbidden pagan practices and what are legitimate ways of worshipping the God of Israel "in Spirit and in truth" under the New Covenant? Must all valid ways be explicitly found in the Bible?
God forbade pagan practices in the Tanakh usually for one of two reasons: Either because they involved worship of foreign gods, or because they transgressed the Moral Law (such as the practice of sacrificing children). With the coming of the Messiah, faith in the God of Israel became available to the nations, yet without obligating them to keep the complete Mosaic Law. Paul was the champion of this cause. Even though he remained a faithful Jew all his life, kept the Sabbath and celebrated the Jewish feasts, he wrote that "one person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" (Rom 14:5-6). He kept the kosher laws, yet wrote "there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean" (Rom 14:14). The central issue in religious practice and worship, then, is to give glory to the God of Israel and to His Messiah, and to uphold His Moral Law. "So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or Sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Col 2:16).
Because of their enthusiasm for Judaism, believers in Israel sometimes tend to "forget" that God is also Lord of all the earth. Some seem to think that any religious practice or ritual that does not originate from Judaism is a pagan abomination to God. Yet David wrote "The earth is the Lord's, and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein" (Ps 24:1). Even though God chose the Jewish people to make his plans known to humanity, He remains Master of all creation, of all cultures, knowledge, science and wisdom.
Karl Keating notes: "Fundamentalists forget that even paganism had some truth mixed in with its error. Christianity took those elements of truth, removed erroneous associations so that they ceased to be pagan, and made use of the purified truth the better to express Christian notions. Christianity gave new meanings to old things, and in the process the pagan connections ceased. It was a matter of outright replacement, not compromise." The quality of our worship, then, does not so much depend on the act we do as to the meaning we ascribe to it.
Furthermore, if we take this "paganophobia" to its logical extreme, we will have to reject much more than Catholic practices. Orthodox Jews do not only claim that Mary, the saints, and the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist are pagan, but also the divinity of the Messiah and the concept of a triune God (although these concepts can be found in the Tanakh). We do not even have to stop here. Let us remember that everything was pagan before Judaism. Do Messianic believers who pride themselves in their Judaism realize that "Jewish" practices such as circumcision, harvest feasts, animal sacrifices, priesthood and temple were all pagan practices before Abraham? If we wish to root out of our faith every practice of pagan origin, we will end up with absolutely nothing left! God has always been at work in human history by taking profane, pagan symbols and sanctifying them by giving them a meaning that will reveal His purposes to man and glorify Him. The Catholic Church, by virtue of the authority given to her by Yeshua, did not innovate in this area. She has removed the pagan meanings of old things, and given glory to the God of Israel through them.
Messianic Judaism, Evangelicalism and Catholicism
Even though the New Testament does not impose the Jewish way of life to gentile believers, the idea is not to discard Judaism. I am grateful for having discovered the Jewish feasts, the Shabbat rest, and the treasures of the Torah. I believe Jewish believers have an essential role in keeping, valuing and cherishing their precious biblical heritage. Christianity suffered a great loss when it separated itself from its Jewish roots, and it is encouraging to see that many gentile believers are rediscovering them today. We have every interest in learning about Judaism and celebrating it.
For this reason, I was excited to find congregations where Yeshua could be praised in a Jewish way when I first discovered Messianic Judaism. But was this form of worship really Jewish? As I began to reflect on the "Jewishness" of most Messianic congregations, I was once again faced with a surprise. I realized that the most Jewish form of worship to Yeshua was found elsewhere, where I least expected it.
Let's think for a minute of an average service at a Messianic congregation in Israel today. Typically, we will have 45 minutes of praise and worship, a short teaching on the Torah portion, announcements and prayer, a sermon, a time for more worship, spontaneous prayer and personal ministry. What picture do we see? American Evangelical Christianity. This is a Christian service, sometimes charismatic, with some cosmetic "Jewish touches" added: the "Sh'ma", the Torah portion, a correct "Jewish-friendly" vocabulary avoiding words that sound "too Christian", and perhaps the Aaronic benediction. Apart from these few elements, we may want to ask ourselves whether Messianic services are really based on the Bible and on Judaism, or rather on the traditions of Protestantism and of the Pentecostal movement.
Now let us consider some points of traditional Judaism: We see a liturgical form of worship with readings from the Scriptures, the singing of psalms, prayers for the deceased, and the presence of an oral tradition. When we look at the people of Israel in the Tanakh we also see a human hierarchy ruling the people of God, and the use of physical means - the temple sacrificial system - to express spiritual realities.
Which form of Christian worship corresponded best to this picture? I had to admit that Catholicism did. The practice of asking for God's mercy for the deceased, in particular, not accepted among Protestants because it conflicts with their view of salvation and supposes the existence of purgatory, has been an ancient practice in Judaism even before the time of Yeshua. As for the sacraments, I realized that they were the New Testament way of expressing spiritual realities through physical means. Far from being a distraction from Christ, Christ was truly present in them.
Many believers who come from a religious background experience a sort of "anti-religious" reaction when they come to faith. I belonged to this group, and typically expressed my feelings by saying that I "had left the bondage of religion to find freedom in Christ", or "had found a simple faith in the Messiah" and therefore did not need anymore all these rules and regulations. "Religion" was a bad word once you became a believer.
I now realize that such an attitude is nowhere to be found in Scripture. Yeshua and the prophets before Him often denounced the hypocrisy of a religion devoid of inner contents, yet never attacked the religious system itself. Isaiah, for instance, writes "Bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The new moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies - I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hates..." (Isa. 1:13-14). Although his words are harsh, everybody knows that Isaiah was not criticizing the Jewish religion (established by God), but its hypocritical, outward practice when the participants' hearts were not right with God.
Although I made this distinction while reading Isaiah, I failed to perceive it when I attacked Catholicism. I saw a religious system, knew people who belonged to it and were poor witnesses of the Messiah (including myself in the past), and therefore, I concluded, the entire system must be corrupt. It did not occur to me that the Catholic liturgy could be a good and valid form of worship that could be abused by ungodly people. I imagined that the early Christians had a free, Pentecostal-like service with no real structure. But the testimony of the early Church proved me wrong once again, as I discovered texts revealing an early form of...the Catholic liturgy as the form of worship in the early church, which had developed from the existing worship in the synagogues.
Not only is Catholicism not pagan, I wondered in amazement, it is Jewish! Who would have imagined it? Many Jews, in fact, did discover this startling fact. I found at Catholic Answers several books containing testimonies of Jews who found the Messiah in the Catholic Church. Many of their stories are incredible. Some directly converted to Catholicism from Judaism; others found Messiah through Evangelical Christianity or Messianic Judaism, and later found the fullness of their faith in the Catholic Church.
Eugenio Zolli, for example, was the chief rabbi of Rome during the Second World War. Despite this important title, he is now a forgotten figure in both the orthodox and Messianic Jewish communities, because he became a Catholic. This brilliant spiritual man tells of his own story in the book Before the Dawn, particularly fascinating because of his circumstances as a Jew persecuted by the Nazis. Interestingly, he expresses much gratitude to Pius XII for his involvement in protecting the Jews of Rome from persecution, the very Pope that is now under attack for his alleged inaction and silence during the Holocaust!
Rosalind Moss is an example of an orthodox Jew who found her Messiah through Jews for Jesus and served the Lord as an Evangelical Christian for 18 years. As she explored Christianity from biblical and historical perspectives, she realized that the Catholic Church is in fact the Church Yeshua established 2,000 years ago. She entered the Church in 1995 and is now a staff apologist at Catholic Answers.
Other well-known examples of Hebrew Catholics include the brothers Theodore and Alphonse Ratisbonne, who founded the Fathers and Sisters of Zion in 1852, two congregations dedicated to prayer for and evangelization of the Jewish people; sister Edith Stein, who died in the gas chambers in Auschwitz and offered her life "as a sacrifice for the conversion of the Jews", Jean-Marie Lustiger, the present Cardinal of Paris who, like Zolli, was baptized during World War II; David Moss, brother of the aforementioned Rosalind and president of the Association of Hebrew Catholics; and Martin Barrack, author of the book "Second Exodus", which illuminates the Jewish heritage of the Catholic Church. The book is the centerpiece of Marty's Second Exodus apostolate which helps Catholics serve Jews interested in learning more about the Church.
Return to the Masses
In October 2001, after an absence of six years, I returned to Mass. I discovered a small Hebrew-Catholic congregation in Jerusalem. To attend the Mass in Hebrew for the first time was an awesome experience. I was still wondering at this stage whether Catholicism and Judaism could be compatible. My doubts were soon dissipated as I discovered the beauty of the Catholic liturgy celebrated in Hebrew. Because of my residence in Tel Aviv, however, I rediscovered the riches of the Mass mostly at St. Anthony's church in Jaffa, through the faithful service of Fathers Malachy Brogan and Mose Schroder and their joyful Filipino congregation.
It's incredible how time changes us. Eight years ago I thought the Mass was one of the most boring events on earth. Four years ago I thought it was one of the greatest blasphemies of Christ's work on the cross. Today - finally - I believe the Mass is the peak of our walk of faith as believers, the ultimate worship experience, and the most profound expression of the Messiah's love for His people. It is entirely Christ-centered. It is a foretaste of heaven touching earth and of our participation in the marriage supper of the lamb. It is the most intimate union of the bridegroom with his bride, the Church, and a time where we are united with Him in His eternal sacrifice. The liturgy is not only a safeguard against people's agendas taking over the service; it is a profound way of living and experiencing the Gospel every week - or even daily! I have found freedom in its structure and peace in its order.
The Eucharist: This is My Body
I mentioned earlier that after a few years in the Evangelical/Messianic world, I began to wonder if there was not something missing in the services that I attended. Among other things, I thought I saw in the biblical account of the Lord's Supper much more than the protestant "memorial celebration". I also wondered why we had communion so infrequently - once a month or even less depending on the congregations, when the model in the book of Acts was to break bread daily (Acts 2:46).
I especially wondered about the force of Yeshua's words in John 6: "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (Jn 6:53)..."For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed" (v. 55). He emphasized this point so strongly that it almost sounded as if he were advocating cannibalism. Many of His disciples left Him because they were unable to receive these difficult words. Yet Yeshua did not retract anything or even hint that he was speaking metaphorically. Neither did it seem like imagery when he said plainly at the last supper: "This is my body...this is my blood". Likewise, Paul wrote that "whoever eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord" (1 Cor 11:27) and "eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord's body" (v.29). How could they be guilty of the body and blood of Christ, if He were not Himself present in a more tangible way than spiritually?
It seemed that the real "Bible believers" in this case were the Catholics, who believed what the Bible plainly says! The meaning of these verses now seems so clear that I wonder how I could ever deny the Real Presence of the Messiah in the bread and wine. I realized that my unbelief was not based on Scripture. I was putting myself on the side of the unbelieving disciples who left Him because they could not accept His words.
The early Christian writings are unanimous in supporting the belief of the Real Presence of the body and blood of the Lord in the bread and wine. Ignatius of Antioch, for example, writes around 110 A.D - less than 20 years after the death of the apostle John and two centuries before Constantine - about some heretics who held opinions "contrary to the mind of God": "They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes". With such language, it is not surprising that "cannibalism" and "human sacrifice" were common charges made by pagans against the early Christians because of their belief in the Real Presence.
The Sacrifice of the Mass
For years, the sacrificial nature of the Mass was one of the greatest stumbling blocks I had against the Catholic Church. Not only did Catholics say that the Eucharist was more than a commemorative meal, not only did they claim that the bread and wine were actually the body and blood of the Lord, they went as far as to say that the Mass was a true sacrifice offered to God. This seemed to be a direct contradiction of the recurring theme of the book of Hebrews: that Christ's sacrifice was final and completed at Calvary. "But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself" (Heb 9:26). "And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin" (Heb. 10:18). I thought the sacrifice of the Mass implied that the Son of God was re-sacrificed again and again, that his work had not been sufficient at the cross, and that Catholics were guilty of perpetually re-crucifying Him.
As with the other issues, the problem was that I did not have a correct understanding of the Church's teachings about the Mass. The Church indeed teaches that Christ's sacrifice was final and complete. This has never been put in question. What the Eucharist does is that it re-presents, or makes present the sacrifice of the cross perpetually. Now what exactly does this mean?
We humans are bound in time. When we think of Yeshua's sacrifice on the cross, we think of an event in time that happened in the year 32 CE. God, however, is outside of time. We know that Yeshua is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev.13:8). Peter presents the same idea and writes that "He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you" (1 Pet 1:20). Even John, as he contemplated a vision of eternity, looked at the Lion of the tribe of Judah and saw "a Lamb as though it had been slain" (Rev 5:6).
We see then that the sacrifice of the Son of God is eternal. It was present in the beginning, and will be present for all of eternity. Evangelicals have no problem grasping this concept when they speak of "entering the throne room of God", "coming to the cross" or of "pleading the blood of Yeshua". When we plead the blood in prayer, no one accuses us of re-sacrificing Christ or of diminishing his work at the cross. What we are doing is applying or making the one sacrifice present in our lives, in a spiritual way. The same principle is at work in the Mass. It makes the eternal sacrifice of the Lamb of God present in our midst through the bread and the wine, not only in a spiritual but also in a sacramental way.
Do we find any evidence in Scripture of a sacrifice of bread and wine perpetually re-presented? In fact we do. The book of Hebrews compares the priesthood of Yeshua to the Old Testament priesthood of Melchizedek (Heb 7:15-17, 21-22). What kind of offering did Melchizedek bring? We read in Genesis 14:18 that he offered...bread and wine! The prophet Malachi also spoke of a perpetual offering offered to God among the nations: "For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; in every place incense shall be offered to My name, and a pure offering; for My name shall be great among the nations" (Mal. 1:11). The very first believers directly associated this prophecy with the Eucharist. We see this in the Didache, one of the earliest Christian writings dating back to the end of the first century: "Assemble on the Lord's day, and break bread and offer the Eucharist; but first make confession of your faults, so that your sacrifice may be a pure one. Anyone who has a difference with his fellow is not to take part with you until they have been reconciled, so as to avoid any profanation of your sacrifice. For this is the offering of which the Lord has said, 'everywhere and always bring me a sacrifice that is undefiled, for I am a great king, says the Lord, and my name is the wonder of nations' [Mal 1:11, 14]".
Another way of understanding the Eucharist is to look at it through its predecessor, the Passover sacrifice. Even though the deliverance out of Egypt happened only once in the history of Israel, the sacrifice of the Passover lamb was to be repeated throughout all generations (Ex 12:14). Every Jew, as he celebrates the Passover today, is to remember the deliverance out of Egypt as if God took him personally out of Egypt. The Passover sacrifice - just like the sacrifice of the Lamb of God - is a one-time event that is perpetuated throughout all generations and applied in an individual way to those who celebrate it.
Messianic believers usually delight in pointing out the similarities between the Passover sacrifice and the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, such as the blood shed for atonement or the fact that not one bone was broken. However, they do forget one important detail: the Passover lamb had to be eaten to be effective. How is this fulfilled in the New Covenant? If you're a Catholic, the answer is simple: by eating the bread from heaven, the flesh of the Lamb of God. This is not a pagan idea, but a wholly biblical concept: We see the Jewish origins of the Eucharistic sacrifice in Melchizedek's offering of bread and wine, in the Passover lamb, in the perpetual offering spoken of by Malachi, and in the very words of the Lord in his sermon on the bread of life and at the last supper.
But why do we need this Eucharistic sacrifice, I used to wonder? After all, as believers, we have the indwelling Christ inside of us. We are temples of the Holy Spirit, in fellowship with the Father. Once we had "received" Christ, we had him! Did he "leave us" every week, so that we had to receive Him again the next week in communion?
The answer to this question can be seen in the parallel between the Messiah and his bride, and the love between husband and wife (see Eph 5:25-33). A husband and wife have each other, yet the love between them is not always expressed in the same intensity. They may not always be fully aware of this love as they live their daily lives. But in the marital act, husband and wife fully express their love by making a total gift of themselves to each other. Believers are aware of a similar variation of intensity in our love relationship with God. We go from periods of dryness to intimate and intense worship experiences. The greatest worship experience of all, the greatest act of intimacy between the Bridegroom and His bride, the Church, is His gift of Himself to us in the form of bread and wine. It is truly an exchange between the human and the divine, where we offer Him our lives as a living sacrifice (Rom 12:1), and where we receive Him in return and are made partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet 1:4).
The idea of a wafer containing God is certainly inconceivable for the human mind. But so is the incarnation - the fullness of the Godhead bodily dwelling in the man Yeshua (Col 2:9), or the real presence of God that dwelt in the Holy of Holies under the First Covenant. God's wish has always been to be "Immanuel", God with us; He is with us more than ever in the Eucharist.
The Communion of Saints
In my period of alienation against Catholicism, there were few things I disliked more than devotion to Mary and veneration of the saints. I saw these practices as pure distractions from the centrality of the Messiah and the message of the cross. Quite honestly, although I now accept the Church's teachings about them, I still think that many Catholics go overboard with these practices and live a Christianity that is out of balance with the Word of God.
Still, I do believe that if approached in a balanced way, the communion and intercession of saints is a beautiful and biblical part of our inheritance in Messiah. Protestants generally acknowledge the communion of saints between ourselves here on earth, and the future communion of saints in heaven when we will all be with God. In the meantime, however, they seem to assume an invisible dividing wall between the saints on earth and the saints in heaven. We are to have no communication whatsoever with those who are already with the Lord, and they are certainly not concerned with our earthly existence.
I don't think such a view is biblical. It is commonly defended from Old Testament commandments forbidding us to contact the dead, such as: "There shall not be found among you anyone...who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead" (Deut 18:10-11). One must really force such a passage, however, to use it to condemn asking the saints for their intercession. First, the context is clearly one of witchcraft, sorcery and clairvoyance, with the goal either to conjure some supernatural powers that are not from God, or to get information about the future. Neither of these applies to the Catholic practice of praying to the saints. Second, the commandment forbids to "call up the dead". Asking saints for their intercession to God is not calling them up. Catholics do not, and should not, expect them to appear to provide us with some kind of divine revelation.
Another objection to the practice of praying to the saints is usually based on 1 Timothy 2:5: "For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus". Indeed, Yeshua is the only mediator, and all of our prayers go through Him. But what happens when a friend of mine is in need and asks me to pray for him? Should I rebuke him and tell him: "How dare you bypass Christ's only mediation and come to me for prayer. You can pray to God yourself through Yeshua!". I don't think so. We all know that it is biblical and good to pray for each other. It does not cross anyone's mind that we are violating Christ's role as mediator when we do this. Why should it be different with our family in heaven? I cannot imagine that, if I were to die tomorrow, I would instantly lose all concern and interest for my friends and family on earth. On the contrary, having attained perfect holiness and seeing our Lord face to face, would I not be in an even greater position to uphold those I love in prayer before Him?
In Luke 16, the rich man suffering in Hades remembers his brothers and prays for them. There is triple evidence for Catholic beliefs here: not only is he dead, he is not even in heaven; despite this, he still intercedes for his brothers. In addition, he does not pray directly to God but to Abraham. Can even souls in purgatory pray for us? It could be a plausible hypothesis, judging from this passage. The rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to the rich man's house to warn his five brothers. Interestingly enough, Yeshua did raise a man called Lazarus from the dead (John 11). Coincidence? Maybe, or maybe not. The text does not say that this account is actually a parable. It is in any case odd that Yeshua would use the name of a close friend in this context.
In the book of Revelation we see the 24 elders bringing the prayers of the saints before God (Rev 5:8). An angel does the same a little later (8:3). In chapter 6 we have another example of saints "who had been slain for the word of God" now praying to God for vindication (6:9-11). We also read in the book of Hebrews that we are constantly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses - the saints of the past (Heb 12:1). A witness is by definition someone who sees. If such a cloud of witnesses surrounds us, it must mean that we are not cut off from them, but that they who preceded us on the way to heaven are cheering us on as we run towards the finishing line! The Bible is clear: By coming to "Mount Zion and to the city of the living God", we have also come to "an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven", and to "the spirits of just men made perfect". (Heb 12:22-23)
Catholicism and Idolatry
The Catholic use of images and statues is a great stumbling block for Protestants and Jews. Catholics are commonly accused of engaging in idolatry and violating the second commandment: "You shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image...you shall not bow down to them nor serve them" (Ex. 20:4-5). This is a serious and legitimate charge that needs to be addressed.
It should first be said that the Catholic Church has always condemned idolatry. Consider this passage from the Catechism: "The first commandment condemns polytheism. It requires man neither to believe in, nor to venerate, other divinities than the one true God. Scripture constantly recalls this rejection of ‘idols of silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths, but do not speak, eyes, but do not see.' These empty idols make their worshippers empty: ‘Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.'...Idolatry consists in divinizing what is not God. Man commits idolatry whenever he honors and reveres a creature in place of God, whether this be gods or demons, power, pleasure, race, ancestors, the state, money, etc. Idolatry is a perversion of man's innate religious sense."
Since the Church clearly condemns idolatry, how then can the use of statues and images be justified? From the Bible, says the Catechism: "Nevertheless, already in the Old Testament, God ordained or permitted the making of images that pointed symbolically toward salvation by the incarnate Word: so it was with the bronze serpent, the Ark of the Covenant, and the cherubim."
The reason for the prohibition of every representation of God by the hand of man is explained in Deuteronomy: "Since you saw no form on the day that the Lord spoke to you at Horeb...beware lest you act corruptly by making a graven image for yourselves, in the form of any figure..." God could not be represented physically in the Old Covenant because He revealed Himself to Israel in an absolutely transcendent form. In the Incarnation of Christ his Son, however, God showed mankind an icon of himself. Paul said, "He is the image (Greek: ikon) of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation (Col 1:15)." Christ himself is the tangible divine "icon" of the unseen, infinite God of the universe, who has made himself visible in the flesh and has lived with men. Therefore it has now become possible to make an image of what we have seen of God.
"Christian iconography expresses in images the same Gospel message that Scripture communicates by words". Pictures and statues are merely aids that help us to recall the great characters of the Gospel story, just as we would keep a picture of a loved one in our wallet to recall him or her. It is therefore a fallacy to put the Catholic use of images in the same category as the worship of the golden calf at Sinai. No Catholic worships statues, considers them to be God, or even thinks that they have special powers. Therefore, I have no problem with the representation of Christ, Mary or the saints as a way of recalling their lives and examples. They came in the flesh and can be artistically represented. In all honesty, however, my dislike for the veneration and kissing of statues remains. Although not acts of worship or even of honor to the statue itself, these gestures are so easily misunderstood that I believe Catholics would be better witnesses of their faith by refraining from them.
Mary: Behold Your Mother
The sincere Marian devotion of many Catholics usually has Evangelicals and Messianic believers run for their spiritual battle dress. I have probably heard the complete array of the most vicious attacks against her, from theories that the woman Catholics "worship" is actually a reincarnation of a Greek goddess, or even Satan himself disguised as an angel of light. Mary was also the main focus of my personal anti-Catholic attacks a few years ago, and I still believe many Catholics put too much emphasis on Mary at the expense of knowing Yeshua.
In her right role, however, Mary does not take the place of Yeshua; rather, she leads us to Him. She is not divine, but fully human. She is not greater or equal to Him, and should not be worshipped. As she told the servant at the wedding at Cana, she tells us "Do whatever He says to you" (Jn 2:5). Yet when she visited her cousin Elizabeth while pregnant, this humble Jewish girl broke out in a song of praise, saying: "For behold, henceforth all generations will call me blessed" (Luke 1:48). The question is, how often do Evangelicals and Messianic believers obey this Scripture and call her blessed, rather than depreciate her biblical role at every opportunity?
In the book of Revelation, we read that "now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth... She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron." (Rev 12:1-2, 5). Frankly, I don't know why anyone would have any difficulty in identifying this highly exalted woman as Mary, unless preconceived theology prevents us from accepting the simple meaning of the text.
Mary's title of "Mother of God" is one that sounds highly offensive to Jewish and Protestant ears - making it sound as if Mary existed before God. It also did to mine, until I understood what the term really means. The expression "Mother of God" comes from the Greek Theotokos. A more accurate translation would be "Bearer of God". Theotokos was already used to describe Mary near the end of the second century, and it was declared a dogma in the year 431 as a response to a heresy that was threatening the divinity of Yeshua. This heresy, called Nestorianism, claimed that Mary was mother of Christ but not mother of God. The implication was that it divided the human nature from the divine nature of Christ and created two separate persons. Calling Mary "Mother of God" does not make her divine, but makes clear that Yeshua was fully God and fully man united in one person.
The Immaculate Conception, the belief that Mary was preserved from the stain of original sin, is another doctrine that is deemed unacceptable among Evangelicals (even though Martin Luther believed in it). The doctrine is said to contradict passages such as "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23) and Mary's own words: "my spirit has rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:47). The fact that Mary admitted that she needed a Savior does not contradict the Immaculate Conception. Indeed, she needed Yeshua's salvation as much as anyone else. The difference is that He saved her from sin even before she was born. A common analogy is that we have all fallen into a deep pit, and God came and pulled us out of it. With Mary however, God kept her from even falling into the pit. In this way, His work of grace and salvation is even greater in Mary's life than in ours.
As for Romans 3:23, Paul's statement does not mean that there can be no exceptions. Adam and Eve were an exception to this rule and were not born with original sin. Yeshua was an exception. Babies who die in the womb are also exceptions, having not sinned. The angel's greeting to Mary "Rejoice, highly favored one" is traditionally more accurately translated "Hail, full of grace". The Greek for "full of grace", kecharitomene, conveys a perfection of grace that is at once permanent and of a unique kind, and strongly hints at the absence of sin for the whole of Mary's life. Through her holiness, Mary is the perfect model and type of the Church, presented before God without spot or wrinkle.
Probably the most alarming issue for Protestants concerning Mary is her said role of being "co-redemptrix" with Christ. Unlike the term "Mother of God", the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption, however, the role of Mary as co-redemptrix is not a declared Catholic dogma, but merely a controversial issue within the Church today. Furthermore, this idea must not be conceived in the sense of equating the role of Mary with the redemptive activity of Christ - who remains and will always remain in Catholic doctrine the sole Redeemer of Humanity. So what does the idea of Mary as co-redemptrix mean? In a certain sense, all believers participate in Christ's work of redemption. Paul expresses this in the epistle to the Colossians: "Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church" (Col 1:24). It's not that Christ's work on the cross was not enough, but for some reason, He chose to include us, weak human beings, in his work of redeeming humanity, through our prayers, labors, and love. And Mary, in her close identification with the suffering of her Son, also played a very particular role in sharing in Christ's redemption.
As the perfect model of faith, servanthood and obedience, Mary is also the perfect model of a human being's participation in Christ's work of redemption. All of this merit derives from Yeshua, and we are called to the same glorious task. Still, I am personally not in favor of Mary's title of co-redemptrix ever becoming a dogma, not because I am concerned that this would be a heresy putting Mary at an equal level with the Messiah, but simply because the doctrine would be so easily misunderstood in this way.
In short, Mary is not divine or put on par with her son. She is not the savior but needed to be saved like us. Yet, as prophesied by her own words and seen in the book of Revelation, she does have an exalted role in heaven. When Yeshua on the cross entrusted John to Mary with the words "Woman, behold your son!" and said to the disciple, "behold your mother" (Jn 19:27), He was doing much more than a private family arrangement. (This would have been a strange thing to do for someone under the agonizing pains of crucifixion, especially considering the protestant belief that Yeshua already had brothers who could have taken care of Mary). By these words, Yeshua established Mary as the mother of mankind, the new Eve prophesied in Genesis whose seed would bruise the head of the serpent (Gen 3:15).
The Prodigal Son's Return Home
Confronted with such formidable biblical and historical evidence supporting the Catholic Church's claims to Truth, there was but one thing left for me to do: I could no longer have a clear conscience before the Lord while living at the same time in a state of rebellion against the One Church that He founded. I had often prayed for the unity of the Body of Believers; now I realized that I was contributing to the very disunity I had prayed against by remaining separated from the Catholic Church.
At this point, however, my motivation to return to Catholicism had become much more than this conviction of rebellion or the removal of theological and historical obstacles that had previously made my communion with the Church unthinkable. While it was a relief to find doctrinal certainty in contrast to the theological confusion frequently reigning in Evangelical and Messianic churches, this in itself was devoid of life-giving power. Yet while searching for truth, I found love. The reluctant return I had dreaded became a most joyful homecoming into the house of the Father. By now I longed to meet the Lord in the Eucharist, and to share in His life, death and resurrection in a more profound way than ever. The Scriptures had become more alive than ever and I found the grace of God revealed in its fullest within the Catholic Church. First apprehensive, I had become curious and then eager to experience the precious fellowship with Mary and the saints that would enable me to know and love Jesus more and more. Finally, on January 27, 2002, my travail came to an end as I received the Eucharist and returned to full communion with the Church at St. Anthony's in Jaffa. Since then, I have been in a sort of second honeymoon with the Lord, rediscovering His sanctifying power in a new and very real way through the Sacraments and experiencing His peace and joy like never before. How much of the Truth had I missed as a sincere but misinformed non-Catholic Christian! May His great Name be praised forever for the unending riches He has given us!
A Challenge to Catholics
The Body of Messiah faces tremendous challenges as we enter the 21st century. The Gospel is under fierce attack by the forces of liberalism, secular humanism, materialism, globalization, and Islamic fundamentalism, to name but a few; never before have we held such great responsibility in carrying high the torch of Messiah. More than ever do we need to stand in unity as we carry out this formidable task.
Catholics bear perhaps the greatest responsibility of all. To whom much is given, much will be required. Our faith is much more precious than gold, and it is in the Catholic Church that I have discovered the greatest riches of the Messiah. Yet many Catholics spiritually live like beggars, dressed in rags and unaware that they have a million dollars in the bank. Acutely aware of the weaknesses and problems of the Catholic Church today, my return has not been without reservations, despite the riches that I have found in Her. Evangelical and Messianic believers often do so much more with so much less, and Catholics have much to learn from their faith and dedication.
The reform that initiated the splintering of Christianity into now thousands of divided factions happened for a reason. It was a reaction to the cumulated abuses and failures of the Catholic Church over centuries. Catholics must wake up to the reality that there are also legitimate reasons why millions of people hungry for God have left the Catholic Church in the past decades to find Christ in Evangelical, "Born-again" churches. Catholics cannot afford to ignore this fact or, worse, adopt a self-righteous attitude towards them. Jesus has told us to first look at the plank in our own eye before we look at the speck in our brother's eye. I believe the time has come for Catholics to humbly turn to their Evangelical brothers in appreciation and gratitude for their faithful service for the kingdom of God. They are to be commended and praised for their tremendous response to the Lord's calling. May we acknowledge our own shortcomings and be inspired by their sacrificial lives, vibrant faith, diligence in the study of Scripture, and enthusiasm and passion for the gospel.
People in a lost world need a warm, loving relationship with their heavenly Father. They need the Spirit of God to touch and heal them. They need the Word of God as the foundation for their lives that will withstand the storms or skepticism, rationalism and liberalism. A religious ritual barren of these elements will never do. Catholics must first and foremost find the essence of their religion in the living God who loves them so much that He sent His only Son to die for them. Every Catholic should seek the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in genuine, passionate prayer from the heart and never be content with the mere mechanical reciting of written words. Catholics must read, study and know the Bible, and apply it to their daily lives in order to experience the hope of God's calling, the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and the exceeding greatness of His power towards us who believe.
Many Evangelicals are concerned that the Catholic Church will be a part of the one-world religion where every spiritual path is acceptable except "biblical Christianity". This concern is fueled by appearances of the Pope with other religious leaders, rampant New-Age trends among Catholics who believe that people can be saved by other religions, and the reluctance of many Catholics to evangelize. Of course, doctrinally, these fears are totally without substance. No church has been as consistently uncompromising in preserving the Truth of the Gospel as the Catholic Church, and she will never agree to be part of a New Age religious mish-mash. Catholics must therefore more than ever affirm that Jesus is "the way the truth and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through Him" (Jn 14:6). This is confirmed by the Catechism: "Believing in Jesus Christ and in the One who sent him for our salvation is necessary for obtaining that salvation. Since ‘without faith it is impossible to please God', therefore without faith no one has ever attained justification, nor will anyone obtain eternal life ‘but he who endures to the end'" For this reason, Catholics must take seriously Jesus' call to go and make disciples of all nations (Mt 28:19). Evangelism is not a Protestant invention!
As for relations with the Jewish people, Catholics must continue on the positive path of repentance initiated by John Paul II and be fully aware of the Church's shameful history towards the Jews. There is still much work to be done in this area. Any trace of anti-Semitism or replacement theology in the Church must be repented of and eradicated, and God's irrevocable election of Israel affirmed. More, a deeper study and understanding of Judaism would be extremely beneficial to all Catholics. In this area also may we be inspired by many of our Evangelical brothers. My hope is that the Catholic Church will eventually follow their bold example and affirm God's promise of the land of Israel to the Jewish people. In the meantime, we can rejoice that Jews are recognizing their Messiah in ever-increasing numbers and that the Messianic community is growing in Israel. However, if the current trend is to continue then the Jewish Body of Messiah will be Protestant by the time Yeshua returns. Catholics must realize that they will not win the Jewish people by kissing statues or worshipping Mary, but by a solid knowledge of Scripture, fervent prayer and true love for their older brothers in the faith.
If Catholics are willing to change, to humble themselves, to discover the riches of Scripture, and to seek God with all their heart, I believe they will not only enjoy unimaginable personal benefits, but also immensely contribute in restoring the broken unity of the Body of Messiah. Protestants will see that all the good things they have - and much more - are also available in the Catholic Church.
While of a different nature, the challenges to non-Catholic believers are equally great. Evangelicals and Messianic believers, with all their good qualities, must guard themselves from the presumption that they are the only ones in the world who take a stand for Yeshua. I challenge them to seriously look into the issues that I have raised in this essay, and to pray that the Lord may reveal attitudes that have contributed to disunity within the Body of Messiah. More, I earnestly urge and encourage my Evangelical and Messianic brothers not only to lay down unfounded prejudices received from well-meaning but misguided anti-Catholics, but to (re-) discover the unfathomable riches of historical Christianity, received from our Jewish Messiah himself and His Jewish apostles. Tragically, many of these riches have been lost in the more modern forms of Christianity and in Messianic Judaism, despite the common wish of these movements to "return to the original, Jewish Gospel". For those genuinely interested in finding the complete, mature fulfillment of Judaism (but also willing to pay the price), try this unexpected address: Rome. As Rosalind Moss succinctly states: "You cannot be more Jewish than to be Catholic". Furthermore, Yeshua wants us to meet Him not only in Word and in Spirit, but also in Sacrament. There will always be something absolutely central missing to our faith if the Eucharist, the true bread of life and flesh of our Passover Lamb, is absent, or merely replaced by a "memorial meal". Lastly, I wish and encourage every believer to become acquainted with our Blessed Mother and divine family in heaven. Far from offending our Father or competing for our love, as I once thought, they are but the fullest expression of the community of love of God's great family. By knowing the family, you will only learn to love your Father, your Redeemer and your Sanctifier even more.
My prayer is that we would be willing to lay down preconceived ideas and beliefs, and to learn from each other. May we have the courage and humility to admit that our understanding of God is always imperfect and sometimes even wrong. Let us seek His Face and love Him with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength. Yeshua prayed for His Body on earth: "that they may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me...and have loved them as You have loved Me. (John 17:21, 23). May we continue to seek truth and unity together so that the world may see and know Him in us, His one Body on earth.
 Patrick Madrid, Surprised by Truth (San Diego: Basilica Press, 1994), 10.
 Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) 839
 Henry Chadwick, The Early Church (London: Penguin Books, 1993), 44.
 Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 3.25.
 Chadwick, The Early Church, 42-43.
 Karl Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988), 137.
 CCC 1030.
 Keating, Catholicism and Fundamentalism, 150.
 2 Macc 12:46.
 Justin Martyr (ca. 150 AD) and Hippolytus (ca. 200-220 AD), as quoted in Chadwick, The Early Church, 261-263.
 Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2-7:1 [A.D. 110]).
 Didache 14 [A.D. 70].
 CCC 2112-2114; Ps. 115:4-5.
 CCC 2130; Num 21:4-9; Ex. 25:18-20.
 CCC 2129; Deut 4:15-16.
 Do Catholics Worship Statues? (Catholic Answers tract)
 CCC 1160.
 CCC 161; Heb 11:6; Mt 10:22.
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Chervin, Ronda. Bread from Heaven: Stories of Jews Who Found the Messiah. New Hope, KY: Remnant of Israel, 1994.
Hahn, Scott and Kimberly. Rome Sweet Home. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1993.
Hahn, Scott. The Lamb's Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth. New York: Doubleday, 1999.
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Keating, Karl. Catholicism and Fundamentalism. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988.
Madrid, Patrick. Surprised by Truth. San Diego: Basilica Press, 1994.
Matteo, Father. Refuting the Attack on Mary. San Diego: Catholic Answers, 1999.
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Newman, John Henry. An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine.
Newman, John Henry. Mary, the Second Eve. Rockford, Illinois: Tan Books, 1982.
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Zolli, Eugenio. Before the Dawn. New York: Sheed and Ward, 1954.