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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

I wonder as I wonder

Posted by Gary on December 27, 2007

Late Christmas Eve as my children lay on the floor in front of me under our Christmas tree I scanned some news and came across the headline that Pope Benedict XVI had conducted midnight mass and had addressed the Roman Catholic faithful and the world. Before proceeding I would emphasize the world… while Benedict began his statements at this service with the words “brothers and sisters” mankind in general was referenced in his message and there is no question that when the pope speaks, his words travel throughout the world, even gaining top page, headline status at the Drudge Report.

Being a former Catholic and now protestant minister I had more than one reason to be interested in what Benedict would have to say as the world listened. I think that above all, the fact that the pope has the world’s ear made me especially interested to hear what he would say. Think of the opportunity, the ears of perhaps billions of people, what will the world’s religious leader say? I regret to say, nothing.

Here again, hundreds of millions, perhaps billions of people will hear or read what the pope will say this night and did we hear the gospel? No, we did not. Yes, Jesus was mentioned, God was mentioned, man was mentioned but never in all that was said on Christmas Eve or on Christmas Day when Benedict made an appeal to the leaders of the world for peace (here) did Benedict ever lay out plainly the cause of man’s problems or why Christ’s birth was necessary.

Granted the word “cross” appears I think twice and the words “sin” and “sinner” are each used once but never with elaboration, never with an even abbreviated explanation of the gospel message which is God coming to earth to save us from our sin.

One might argue that this homily was offered to the faithful and that the faithful would see in these buzz words a references to the gospel. But again I argue, that one must recognize that whenever the pope speaks it is to the world and his obligation on this night perhaps above all others would be to preach the gospel. Even if it were addressed to the faithful alone do the faithful not need to hear the plain, detailed gospel?

There was a willingness to speak of oppression, the poor and even man’s treatment of the world (environmental concerns). I read and thought, “Ok man, tell us why we are in the predicament we are in, speak plainly about the effects of the fall and sin. Tell us that our greatest problem is that we are on our way to an eternity separated from Christ. Tell us that God’s intention in sending His Son was to send Him to the cross where He would punish Him in our place as our substitute and that our response now is to repent of our sin and turn in faith to Christ but this was not said.

Benedict urged man to make room in his heart for God, he might just as well have urged man to sprout wings and fly. Man doesn’t want to make room in his heart for God. This is what sin has done to us:


Our hearts do not open to God until He first breaks them open and He does this by showing us the truth about ourselves in our lost condition. Benedict wants man to open his heart but then does not preach the heart rending Word of God that will open man’s heart.

I will put it this way, if an unsaved person were to have heard or would later read Benedict’s Christmas message would he come away from it understanding that he is lost in his sin and on his way to stand before the holy God? Would he know the way of salvation? Would he know that Christ’s birth was ultimately about going to the cross to pay the price of sin committed and that simply by looking to Christ he could be saved?

The truth is that the gospel of Rome is not looking to Christ alone for salvation, it is Christ plus my religious works and faithfulness that work together to accomplish salvation. I am ultimately convinced that Benedict’s message Christmas Eve is a revealer of the false gospel of Catholicism. Benedict’s message boiled down was open your heart to God and do the things you are supposed to. But Benedict never told us that we can’t do these things apart from Christ’s substitutionary death and resurrection. What a tragedy, the ears of the world, an opportunity to preach gospel of Christ and nothing.

I fear that many who are Roman Catholic will not see in my thoughts anything more than a mean spirited attack and I suppose this is what is most tragic of all, the bulk of the world’s 1.1 billion Catholics have not been taught the Biblical gospel and therefore are unable to discern when they have not heard it. It is not my intention to be mean. How I would rejoice to write a post that could confirm that the pope preached the gospel on Christmas Eve, but he didn’t and I can’t. An exalted position, vestments, incense, religious talk but no gospel.

May God lead us to His Word which leads us to His Son, then and only then will we have hope.


8 Responses to “I wonder as I wonder”
  1. Anne says:

    I am a Protestant myself but have listened many times to Pope Benedict’s homilies, and I read his excellent books.
    About Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve: if you had been a Catholic,surely you must know that partaking of the Eucharist (and for that matter the whole Liturgy of the Eucharist) has everything to do with the Gospel? The crucified and risen Christ, the Saviour etc.??

    This Pope is not someone who normally shies away from proclaiming the gospel.

  2. Gary says:

    Dear Anne,

    Thanks for your comments, they leave me with a few thoughts. What do you understand the primary difference between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism to be? I would agree that concerning moral issues Benedict has said many good things that we can agree with. I trust that you know that the message of salvation preached through Catholicism is an eternity (literally) apart from the Protestant gospel. This is why the Reformation took place to begin with.

    You mentioned the Eucharist (a word primarily used in Catholic circles that has bound to it the dangerous teaching that Christ is being sacrificed in each mass). But this comes to the heart of my concern, the Lord’s Supper is not in itself the gospel, it must be joined with the preaching of God’s Word which shows us first our need of Christ and then explains what Christ has done which is represented in the bread and wine, where did this happen on Christmas Eve? At what point did Benedict hold before us our lost condition in sin, call us to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus? As a Protestant you know that we do not offer people the bread and wine without first calling them to examine themselves to determine whether they be in the faith, do we not preach the gospel in specifics when observing the Lord’s Supper? This is by design.

    Without the preaching of the gospel what you are left with is sacramentalism, a belief that partaking in the sacrament is what saves (one has been baptized and partakes in the sacraments and therefore is assured heaven). I am afraid that Christmas Eve was nothing more than this.

    I want to say again that the midnight mass is a world event, the pope knows that his statements will be transmitted to the world and in his message he addressed mankind in general and did not present the truth to him.

    Anne, do you believe the teaching of Rome to be the true gospel?

  3. Diana says:

    Hi Gary,

    I was looking through your website while reading about Lauren Richardson. You have some excellent posts, and points.

    You seem to have listened to the Pope’s Christmas message, and to have been disappointed that it was not more Protestant in theme.

    The Holy Father is charged, first of all, to “feed My sheep”, and it surprises you that he speaks first to the sheep entrusted to him. He is doing that which the Lord has charged him–don’t be surprised if he doesn’t do what *you* think he should do. (The shepherd does not serve a tame Lion–and you don’t either.)

    The Eucharist is not a “new” sacrifice each day, rather it brings us, mystically, to the one sacrifice. We partake of the Eucharist at the foot of the Cross. This is possible because of the nature of eternity, and the fact that God is larger than time.

    You might want to revisit your (excellent) post about how God speaks to us, often, through people whom we might be tempted to reject out of pride.

    As for the Reformation–I’ll take the original formation, thanks.

    God bless you!


  4. Bill says:


    Your belief (Catholic) is that “The Eucharist is not a new sacrafice each day, rather it brings us, mystically, to the one sacrafice.”

    “Mystically” is where I have concern with this belief. Its this same “mysticism” that leads catholics to believe that a priest can intervene (confession) for the forgiveness for your sins. Its this same “mysticism” that leads catholics to pray to Mary and Saints, even though Christ clearly taught that we are to pray to The Father and/or God Head. Its this same “mysticism” that leads catholics to foolishly follow traditions such as not eating meat on fridays, lighting candles, praying people out of purgatory, etc.

    I’ll take God’s Word over tradition anyday.

  5. Gary says:

    Dear Diana,

    Thank you for coming by and for your encouraging words concerning the Blog. As you may have noticed in the post, I was raised Roman Catholic and while commitment to God’s Word leads me to oppose Catholicism, I love Catholics.

    Your sincere comments do not change my thoughts about the post I wrote. I understand that the pope was addressing the sheep; I noted that at the outset but added as is true that he was also addressing this lost, fallen world for the eyes and ears of the world are present to hear the pope’s Christmas message.

    I am a pastor and preach regularly and can attest to the importance of speaking both to the children of God and those who are not, both must be done, especially when commemorating the incarnation.

    The gospel is Christ crucified not moralism. I must say that the message again and again as I listen to Rome is moralism. Even the sanctity of human life is not the message, Christ and His sacrificial death for sinners is the message. I saw this in my own life and in the life of many of my catholic family and friends, very few if any would speak of a certainty of going to heaven, they felt to speak of certainty was presumption and pride. What does this reveal? It reveals dependence upon human effort and goodness not Christ and His work for us.

    Your comments might lead us down many vital and interesting roads. I would love to engage over a few of the distinctives that separate Catholics and Protestants. I must say Diana that I fear that most do not understand just how vital our differences are, they are actually eternal differences for they have to do ultimately with how we are made righteous before God.

    I understand (from your comments)the catholic doctrine of “one” or the same sacrifice and here immediately we are brought to a vast difference, the source of truth, is it Scripture alone or does the teaching (tradition)of the church of Rome hold an equal place with the Word of God.

    God’s Word speaks plainly that Christ’s sacrifice was “once for all” and that upon completing it, Christ “sat down” at the Father’s right hand (Hebrews 10″:12). There is no getting up to attend the mass for more of the same sacrifice, no more is needed.

    Even if we were to grant that the mass is the same sacrifice I marvel that with all the masses that have been performed that Christ has still not done enough to bring one to heaven immediately but that there needs be further purging and cleansing in purgatory (a place nowhere spoken of by the Word of God).

    You mentioned keeping the “original” formation. I want you to know that I mean no disrespect at all when I say that Roman Catholicism hardly bears resemblance to the original formation of the New Testament church. The apostles were not dressed finely and carried about on chairs, nor were they knelt before, nor did they extend their hands out to be kissed. The idea of the papacy is nowhere seen in Scripture, apostles yes, popes as held before us through Catholicism, no.

    Diana, you have been kind and an encouragement. I can only hope you know I mean no unkindness toward you but as I said earlier the issues that separate Rome from Biblical Christianity are many and uncompromisible. I think even Rome understands this having insisted for years that it is the only true church. Before Vatican II our state as Protestants was firmly stated, since then the position has been softened and this I must admit confuses me, was the church mistaken before? How could this be?

    I have come into contact with many devout Roman Catholics who have rallied for what is right concerning the organ donation legislation and also concerning Lauren. I am grateful for everyone of them and hold a love in my heart for each one, yet our differences are bigger than we are and remain.

    God’s Word and it alone holds the truth for us.



  6. Diana says:

    Hi Gary, and Bill,

    Blessings and peace,

    Possibly you don’t, either of you, realize that the Bible that you place above all else is actually the earliest teachings of the Church. Jesus did not leave us with a Scripture. He left us with a shepherd.

    And over time the shepherd (and his assistant shepherds) wrote a lot of stuff. Some of it was fully inspired. Probably some was only partially inspired. Possibly some of it was ordinary human communication. (“Say hello to your Mom for me….”)

    A lot of it was repetitive, because he was writing the same information to different groups.

    Eventually, perhaps to save time, he gathered together his writings and published them. Then he didn’t have to write the same stuff over and over again. Also there was less chance that people would think they got different messages. (Hey, you never told the Galations that they had to cover their heads! What’s up with that?!)

    Some centuries later, some readers of the Scripture decided that since they could very well read the Scripture on their own, they didn’t need to listen to the shepherd anymore. Being humans, they thought that anyone trying to exert authority over them must be doing it for personal glorification.

    No authority over me except God, they said. I’ve got God’s word.

    And so they totally neglect the human authority that God actually placed over them.

    Not really obedient to God, that.

    All of the things you dislike in the Catholic Church are spelled out in the Bible, at least tangentially. The reason some of them are not set out more clearly in the Bible is that when the Bible was written, everyone knew these things and no one needed to be told.

    Headcovering, for instance. You can see people online arguing both sides of this issue, taking opposite interpretations of Paul’s words. Some lament that his writing is so ambiguous.

    But of course the Corinthians knew perfectly well whether their women always covered, and were starting to let their hair hang out, or whether headcoverings themselves were a newfangled fad. And Paul told them to keep to their original practice. So they knew what to do.

    It’s only twenty centuries later that we get confused. Unless we reflect that for nineteen and a half of those centuries, women have covered their heads in church. Then we’ll know what to do, too.

    Gary, I was raised as a Lutheran, and oh how I wish that man could have stood somewhere else! (“Here I stand, I can do no other.”) Martin Luther’s inability to listen, pay attention, and do what he was told have led so many away–in these days it is usually through no fault of their own, because they are keeping the faith that their parents taught them. That was my excuse, for many years, for remaining a Lutheran. Bloom where you are planted.

    Fortunately I was taught to read the word of God, and to listen to the Holy Spirit, and so I found my way safely to the Church that He left to guide me.

    I wish both of you well in your own faith journey. Come on home!



  7. James says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your dialogue and welcome the tone set forth from the above contributors.

    I put the link above because it will take you to a website that has a CD that dollars and cents is very inexpensive but with respect to wisdom and apologia, one would be hard pressed to find it equalled. Dr. Scott Hahn’s talk titled “The Fourth Cup” can shed alot of light into the above dialogue on the Catholic perspective of the Eucharist. I pray you find your way to this site and pay the $3.00. If you don’t want to spend the money, I will mail you my copy.

    Peace in Christ Jesus our Savior,

    The Fourth Cup – Dr. Scott Hahn is described below:

    Price: $ 8.00
    Your Price: $ 3.00

    Suggest this item to a friend
    In this incredible presentation, Dr. Scott Hahn explains Christs Paschal Sacrifice on the Cross as the fulfillment of the traditional fourth cup used in the celebration of the Jewish Passover meal. By explaining the significance of the fourth and final cup in the Old Testament Seder ceremony, Dr. Hahn draws a symbolic parallel to the Last Supper and Christs death on Calvary. Its an exciting concept that will help you discover a whole new dimension to the Mass as you meditate on the profound insights of this former anti-Catholic, Protestant minister who is now a leading Catholic apologist, evangelist, and best-selling author. With enthusiasm and excitement, Dr. Hahn provides scholarly insights and important Bible connections that will literally make the Mass come alive as never before!

  8. Carol G says:

    First off, I am a Christian – the bible is the FINAL word for me. I am also in my 60’s. That said I feel I must answer a question you asked after the reading of Acts 2: 42-47, on March 30th.(It was the first time I listened to your sermon on line) You were talking about the early church and you asked wouldn’t it be great if our churches were like that? I have been to your church – spent a year or so there before you came and 3/4 of a year after you. Unfortunately, I didn’t learn much. I too, was a Catholic and when asked what my ‘religion’ is I answer with “I’m a Christian looking for a church.” When I go and see/hear the sermons in many churches they seem to be the same as the homilies I listened to for so many years. No inspiration – no communication no excitement – should we not be excited about the Lord? It just falls flat. Why is that? The worlds churches seem afraid to expound on God’s word – to put life into it, to make it exciting. The pastors stand and they preach and the parishioners nod off – (yes – even at East Gate.:) It seems a chore to go.
    One week I turned on the Christian TV stations – I scrolled from one station to another and listened to a piece here and there – searching for someone to talk to me – to explain what the words in the bible are saying – what they mean – how they came about, and I came upon a few who did. Boy! did they ever. I have learned SO MUCH since I started. The bible comes ALIVE – Jesus comes alive – the biblical stories come alive. I can teach what I have learned to my grandchildren without hemming and hawing. I can discuss chapters and verses with others and not feel dumb. I wish I lived in the states where some of these persons are so I could go and really take part. But, alas, God didn’t put me in those places.
    Some of the ones I listen to weekly are Bayless Connely, Fred Price, James Kennedy (yes I know he is deceased), David Jeramiah, Bill Purvis, Randy Weiss – a Jewish believer, & sometimes T.D. Jakes . I spend from 5AM to past noon in the bible with these guys and am excited to do it because I know I will learn something new. In church I keep looking at my watch. 🙂 Fred Price will take a subject and work on it for weeks and if you don’t know it when he is done – you will never know it, and it does not sound like a homily.
    Anyway – why are our churches – better question – why can’t I find a church that is exciting to go to – ??that takes the chapter/verse and makes it come alive so that people can ‘see’ it?
    Hope I have not offended.
    Carol G

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