1. Believe that Mary the mother of Jesus was sinless, equating her to that of Jesus. They pray directly to her. 2. They believe in another mediator other than Jesus, that a person’s sins are forgiven when a priest forgives them.
3. They worship a man (the pope).
1) Are such teachings sinful (against any rules)?
2) Does the grace of God forgive them nonetheless?
(assuming they believe they are pleasing to God).
3) How do you know for sure?
Hank, This site is not about proving the errors of other denominations. We have enough errors within the Restoration Movement to keep us all busy for quite some time. But I’m going to answer your questions this one time just to demonstrate how I think the scriptures deal with questions such as these.
1. I do think it’s wrong to teach that Mary was sinless. Only Jesus was.
I also think it’s wrong to pray to Mary, to saints, or others who are dead, because the practice tends to create a separation between the Christian and God that the scriptures do not intend.
However, the Catholics point out that James wrote,
(James 5:16) Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.
As the saints were particularly righteous, their prayers on our behalf would be particularly powerful and effective. It’s not a stupid argument.
I mean, we go forward at church to invoke the prayers of the congregation on our behalf. The question is whether dead Christians can be prevailed on in this way the same as living Christians, and I think not (and it would take a while to cover that ground).
I think the practice is error, but not nearly as indefensible as some wish to claim. (More on this topic below.)
2. They do not believe that a priest forgives anyone. They believe that God forgives when the priests says so – rather as we believe God forgives when we administer baptism. They consider the confessional a sacrament in this sense. And they are wrong. God forgave when Jesus died on the cross and we received that forgiveness once for all when we were baptized.
Of course, the idea that we are damned post-baptism until we confess, repent, ask for forgiveness is also error.
3. They do not worship the Pope, and it’s not a fair criticism at all.
Now, with regard to your follow up questions —
1) Are such teachings sinful? Yes, it’s sinful to teach that sins damns until specifically repented of, confessed, and forgiveness requested. And, yes, it’s sin to teach that the Catholics worship the Pope. And, yes, it’s sin to teach that Catholic priests forgive sin.
Oh, you mean the Catholics’ errors? Yes, their errors are sinful, too.
Of course, it’s kind of harsh to say that it’s “sin” to teach that Catholics worship the Pope. It is, after all, likely an honest mistake. But then, shouldn’t a minister of the gospel be held to a high standard of research before he makes such a public accusation? But then maybe he was relying on information from a trusted source. And it’s nearly certain that his mistake was unintentional.
And if we grant to each other the benefit of the doubt regarding how hard hearted someone is when he makes an honest mistake, we must do the same for others — so long as we’re speaking of believers who are trying submit to Jesus as Lord so far as we can tell.
2) Does grace cover these particular errors?
Well, of all of these, the toughest one is the doctrine that sins damn until specifically confessed, repented of, and forgiveness is prayed for – because this leads to legalism and even the idea that faith and penitence are not enough to keep one saved. This doctrine gives birth to justification by works – because sin is not covered until no longer committed!
So it doesn’t so much damn as lead to a legalism that can be a false gospel and damn. It’s very wrong and deadly dangerous.
Oh, but regarding Catholics, well, the test is first whether, despite these particular errors (I’m not considering every single doctrine I might disagree with), they have faith in Jesus – and they unquestionably do.
And whether they submit to Jesus as Lord – and they do.
But does praying to Mary or the saints constitute idolatry, which would violate faith in Jesus? No, not necessarily. But I know of cases where the veneration of Mary – or even a saint – has perverted into idolatry. It happens. And that can certainly jeopardize one’s soul.
And that’s another problem with praying to God via a “saint.” There’s a natural human tendency to believe that it’s the saint who grants prayers and who loves us even more than God. That’s not the official doctrine, but it’s the belief of some. And idolatry contradicts faith.
3) How do I know for sure? Well, let’s be clear on the question being asked. I’ve not been asked whether the entire membership of the Catholic Church is damned. Nor have I been asked whether a particular Catholic person is damned. I’ve been asked whether certain erroneous views necessarily damn.
And I find my guidance in the Holy Bible. And I know for sure that God doesn’t damn for every sin or every error, because the scriptures plainly teach so.
But I never know for sure the state of someone else’s heart. Not for sure. I mean, claiming Catholics worship the Pope may be an honest mistake that results from placing too much trust on an unreliable source. Or it may indicate a deliberate effort to slander a believer in Jesus in conscious rebellion against God. But I very seriously doubt it. But even with a polygraph, I could never know for sure when the test is one of hard-heartedness, as Hebrews plainly teaches. Some doctrines some people teach inherently damn, but most doctrines are about the state of one’s heart and not subject to “for sure” conclusions.
Now, notice a few things —
1. We cannot presume malicious intent on the part of others for the sake of winning an argument. Yes, if the Catholics are all intentionally violating God’s will just to have their traditions, they are in serious jeopardy for their souls. But we’d be idiots to believe such a claim.
2. God judges individuals, not denominations. God draws the line between the church and the world by faith in Jesus and submission to him as Lord. We try to draw lines based on Yellow Pages listings and doctrinal error – all the while tolerating equally great error in our own camp.
3. I’ve not been asked to decide the eternal fate of any person or any denomination – only to opine as to whether certain errors necessarily take someone out of grace. And that’s all I’ve done.
4. There’s a considerable variety of belief under the Catholic tent. Not all Catholics pray to Mary. Not all Catholics even honor the Pope (yes, really).
The whole enterprise of finding “marks” of the church in order to damn entire denominations is quite sinful – indeed, violates the book of Galatians – the whole book. Therefore, I’m not interested in using the comments section here to work through every perceived error of every denomination. It won’t happen.
Besides, there’s a natural human tendency to feel superior to the other denomination when we talk about their errors – and that would violate lots of scriptures. Therefore, any conversation along these lines will include confession of our own errors as we go.
And so, while we’re on the subject, we progressives do have a tendency to look down our noses a bit at the conservatives. As vital as it is to escape legalism, it’s not enough. We have a host of other problems to sort through – such as how to live this better theology – because, you see, the progressive theology is actually a harder one to put into effect.