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I don't mean to intrude where I may not be welcome, but I could hardly miss the conversation you were having earlier about your new church. It was very interesting to hear your thoughts about why you left the church you were raised in to begin attending another. Every person is morally responsible for her own final decision on such a matter; that ultimately is between you and God. But I would not be a very faithful Christian if I did not say something in response to what you have told me.
M, I think very highly of you and do not wish to harm our friendship. But friendship and my concern for you as another Christian prompt me to write this note for your consideration. If I may, let me raise a few points...
It is an unhappy fact that some people do not feel welcome in their present church -Catholic or otherwise. That is a defect whenever it is found in any church. I can appreciate looking for another congregation. But another church altogether? Since Christianity is a religion based on Truth -divine Truth- certainly one should choose one's church with a careful regard for this Truth. If a church makes its members feel comfortable but does not teach the truth that Jesus delivered to His apostles, then the very souls of its members are at risk.
Jesus founded one Church. Is the church you are attending the same Church founded by Christ? If you have left the Roman Catholic Church for another, then I must claim that it clearly is not. Why? There are many reasons. First, if your church is the true Church, then it must teach the truth -the same truth that Jesus delivered to the Apostles. By looking at the teachings of the Apostles and their successors, one can clearly see that it is the Roman Catholic Church that teaches these very same things. For example: The early Church clearly believed that the Body and Blood of our Savior, Jesus Christ, are truly present in the Eucharist. The words of Jesus in the Gospels, the teachings of the Apostles and Church Fathers, the belief of the whole Church in the early centuries, and the teachings of the Church councils all agree in this. This was held practically unanimously until the sixteenth century, when most of the Protestant reformers denied this truth. Where does your new church stand on this? With the constant belief of the Church since the first century, or with the new and dissenting theory of the reformers?
Most Protestants insist that the Bible alone is our sole guide for doctrine. This theory of "sola scriptura" ("by Scripture alone") also was given birth with the Protestant reformation. Let me ask this... How did Jesus teach His Apostles the truths that He wanted preserved for mankind? By His spoken words and the example of His life. How did the Apostles preserve and propagate these teachings? By preaching and example. From the time of Jesus' Ascension until the first book of the New Testament was written there was a span of years. How was the Gospel preserved during this time? By oral tradition and the direct teaching of the Apostles and those men ordained by the Apostles to share in that ministry. Notice that these people came to a saving belief in Christ based on apostolic preaching, apart from any written New Testament. No, the Bible is not the sole means of knowing the teachings of Christ. We learn these from the true Church, in which the Scriptures and Sacred Tradition together form the channel in which the message of Christ is preserved and proclaimed. There are many, many Scripture passages which demonstrate this: just ask me for some!
In the Old and New Testaments we truly have the divinely inspired, inerrant, Word of God. But before the first word of the New Testament was ever written down, thousands heard the preaching of the Apostles and believed in Christ based on that apostolic preaching.
Throughout much of the New Testament we see Paul and other Apostles write letters directed to specific churches to address particular problems or issues. And often we see the authors teach authoritatively and apply the Scriptures to specific problems. The Apostles had true teaching authority given them by Christ, and they used it to impose binding interpretations on congregations that had gotten mixed up in their faith. This apostolic ministry is every bit necessary today as it was in the first years after Jesus ascended. And this ministry is very much alive in the legitimate bishops and Pope of the Roman Catholic Church. This authority was recognized in the early Church, and has been so ever since.
The book of Acts records the ordination of the first successor in the apostolic ministry. The Apostles elected Matthias to replace Judas. Matthias received the same teaching and preaching authority that the first Apostles received directly from Christ. In subsequent years, the Apostles appointed other men to this role, and these successors did the same, appointing further "overseers", as they were called. These men were the bishops of the early Church, and their apostolic ministry has continued unbroken ever since. Now, as then, it includes the ministry of rightly interpreting Scripture.
Protestants tend to claim that Scripture interprets Scripture. This just begs the question: Who decides when Protestants disagree on their interpretation? Lutherans believe in the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Other Protestants reject this. Who is right? This is hardly a trivial question!
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes now, as it always has, that Jesus founded a teaching Church, and that while the Scriptures are inerrant and precious, there is still the need for a competent and qualified teacher to interpret them properly. Jesus gave this authority to Peter, the other Apostles, and their successors. Protestants, not recognizing this authority, are left with an inerrant Scriptures which they cannot agree on how to interpret. Can every believer truly interpret the Scriptures under the guidance of the Holy Spirit? Not without adhering to the teachings of the Apostles, evidently, for there are tens of thousands of Protestant denominations, all in doctrinal disagreement.
Finally, what Bible does your church recognize as the true Scriptures? Most likely it has the same collection of books that most Protestant Bibles contain, which is lacking seven books that Catholic books contain. Many Protestants believe that the reason for this is that the Catholic Church "added" these "extra" books at the Council of Trent. Did you know that, actually, these books were not "added" at Trent, but have been recognized as inspired by the Roman Catholic Church ever since the early centuries? Many Popes and Councils since the fourth century have explicitly included the exact same list of books in the Bible as every Catholic Bible has today. How does your new church know which books belong in the Bible? The truth is that the books it does accept are only those which early Roman Catholic Church Councils have accepted. Protestant churches reject the binding authority of Church councils, yet have no alternative but to pick and choose among the teachings of these councils when it comes to the question of what the Bible contains.
All this is just scratching the surface. This being lunch break, I can't go into more detail now. But there are many, many solid reasons for you -and for every Christian- to look at the Roman Catholic Church and to see in her the Bride of Christ, the sure teacher of the Gospel, the Ark of Salvation, the Mystical Body of Christ, and the sanctuary of the true Sacraments of Christ.
I beg you to consider this. Will you let the unwelcoming manners of one Catholic parish cause you to reject the entire Church of Christ? Or to renounce the infinite blessings which are available to you in the Sacraments? Or to separate you from the authentic teachings of the Apostles and substitute instead the 'comfortable' but untrustworthy doctrines of those who hold up the Bible but have not the authority to rightly interpret it? Could you, a cradle Catholic, ever really be "comfortable" walking away from the Eucharistic table, perhaps never again to receive the precious Body and Blood of Jesus?
If I've not offended you by intruding where I'm not welcomed, and if you have interest in discussing any of these things in more depth, I'd love the opportunity.