Truth or consequences
This is No. 16 in the series. Please read my introduction and explanation here.
Well, I’m halfway through this series on why I am no longer in the Catholic Church, and all along I’ve been considering if it was the right thing to do. I’m definitely ruffling some feathers and stirring up the proverbial pot. Not that I didn’t expect that. One might ask, if I expected that my posts would likely cause distress to people close to me, why would I write them? It’s a fair question, and I’d like to take this post to try and answer it.
Truth matters, and no truth matters more than truth about God. Believing what is false about God may affect our eternal destiny, as well as our earthly existence. As it says in the book of Hebrews, “For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”1 God’s holiness, righteousness, and justice require him to judge that which does not line up with the truth that he has given us. Jesus, who is Truth2 said, “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”3
False doctrine leads to false worship. Worship is derived from “worth-ship” and can be broadly defined as anything we do that has as its end ascribing worth to its object. Our prayers are worship, our religious services are worship, even our lives are worship as they should reflect and demonstrate how we view God. So if our worship conveys inaccuracies and falsehoods about God, we are not worshiping “in spirit and truth.”
So truth is vitally important; we should be able to agree on that. Can we also agree that it is selfish, irresponsible, and unloving to fail to correct false doctrine, if we are able, when we know that believing it might result in serious and unpleasant consequences in this life as well as the life to come? And since it is an affront to the God we love when he is being misrepresented and his glory diminished, are we “hallowing his name” if we say nothing?
The big question is, of course, what is the truth? Not “What is truth?”4 as Pilate said to Jesus before turning back to the crowd without waiting for an answer. But what is THE truth that Jesus came to bear witness to?5
This will shock some of you…I know I could be wrong about it. I do. I feel very strongly that what I believe is true, or else I wouldn’t believe it. But I’m far from perfect and I don’t claim a unique, unhindered, dedicated hotline to the Holy Spirit. So it’s possible that I am mistaken about some or all of what I assert to be true. I pray my Catholic readers are willing to admit the same thing.
Some have suggested that since we all believe in Jesus, can’t we just celebrate what we have in common and leave it at that? I concur with the ecumenical spirit behind this approach, and for most of my life as a Christ-follower I have had that attitude, and have left it at that. I focused on my love for my Catholic family and friends, noticed and affirmed their good works for God, and rejoiced that we share a real love for him and a desire to serve and submit to him. But always I longed for them to see the truth – yes, what I believe to be true – because the truth really does set us free.6
John 8:31-32 says, “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” When I finally started reading God’s word, I was in one sense captured by the truth that I saw in it, and in another freed of the false legalism that had bound me with a chain of rules that I was seeing for myself was not Scriptural.
To the charge that will surely come that I was simply looking for an escape from a faith that was harder than I was willing to bear, I say, read the Bible. Read Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders.”7 Read his invitation to those who “labor and are heavy-laden” to come to him because, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”8 And Paul’s admonition to the Galatians, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”9
I experienced that freedom as soon as I made my break with the Catholic Church. No person or institution should stand in the place of God. I am accountable to him and him alone, and he is able by his indwelling Spirit to convict and counsel me. I am now a slave to Christ, and to nothing and no one else.
<Insert heavy sigh> I hate that this series has engendered hurt, anger, and other bad feelings among Catholics, especially those I know and love. I’m sorry. My words may not always have been well-guided by love and humility, so I do apologize for what could and should have been expressed more kindly. I pray you will forgive me for that.
And I pray that you can maybe understand my heart a little better, and recognize that if what we have in common is a sincere desire for truth, we can seek agreement based on that without being personally offended by challenges to what we believe. Because truth is objective. It’s irrespective of who we are, how we were raised, how it was conveyed to us, and whether or not we believe it.
May God guide and bless us all as we seek him, love him, and love each other.
1 Hebrews 2:2-3a 2 John 14:6 3 John 4:24 4 John 18:38 5 John 18:37 6 John 8:32 7 Matthew 23:4 8 Matthew 11:28-29 9 Galatians 5:1