by Mark Bonocore
passionate Evangelical Protestant writes to me, saying...
<< Wrong again. God forgives me DIRECTLY when I repent. I don't need to go to any church to get forgivness. >>
Fine. Then you apparently don't believe that the Church is truly the Body of Christ. Nor do you do what Scripture commands you to do. For example, in James 5:16, we are commanded to confess our sins to one another. And this is said in the context of the healing and forgiving ministry of the presbyters (priests) of the Church: James 5:14-15, a ministry rooted in Jesus' commission to the Apostles in John 20:21-23 ("...As the Father has sent me, even so I send you...If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained").
Yet, do you Fundamentalist Protestants ever do this? Do you listen to the command of James 5:16? Not at all. Thus, you deny the Scriptures and pick-and-choose what to believe and follow and what to reject. You are, therefore, not truly a "Bible Christian."
As for you not having to go to the Church for forgiveness, tell me: Can one Baptize oneself? Or, rather, do you need someone else, someone who is already a believer, to Baptize you?
Indeed, according to the Bible, it is THE CHURCH that received the Holy Spirit (John 14-16; 20:22; 1 Cor 12), and it is THE CHURCH that is commissioned to Baptize all nations for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; Matt 28:19; Mark 16:16). So, if you cannot be Baptized without the Church, how can you return to God in repentance without the Church?
Once again, you apparently do not believe that the Church is the Body of Christ. In this, you assume that your sins only affect you and God. Yet, that's not the case at all. When I sin, I not only sin against God and myself, but against the entire Body of Christ -- the Church. And this is clear in Scripture: 1 Cor 12:26. Thus, if I sin against God, I also sin against His Church. And, since the Church is holy, spotless, and without blemish (Ephesians 5:27), when I sin (mortally) I cut myself off from the Church. I, therefore, need to be reconciled to God WITHIN HIS CHURCH, or I am not reconciled to God at all. The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:
But, my Evangelical friend goes on to say...
<< But of course, this is again opposite of what the head of the Roman church says. Remember "...no forgivness directly from God." >>
We never said that there is no forgiveness directly from God. Yet, one can never be sure that God forgives you unless that forgiveness is given to you INCARNATIONALLY by the Church. If you sin against the Body, you must be reconciled to the Body. Yet, since you fail to appreciate the significance of Christ's Incarnation (and how the Church is an extension of that Incarnation), you do not recognize the truth of this; and you reduce your relationship with God to a strictly spiritual level -- that is, to the level of a relationship which any Jew could have had with God before Christ's Incarnation. Thus, you do not appreciate the gift of Emmanuel (God with us who became flesh, Matt 1:23; John 1:14).
So again, is the Church the Body of Christ or isn't it?
As for forgiveness coming directly from God, let me give you yet another example:
In Luke 7:36-50, we are told of the sinful woman who came into the house of Simon the Pharisee and wept at Jesus' feet. In v. 48, Jesus tells her: "Your sins are forgiven," and thereafter dismisses her in peace.
Now, this woman had obviously heard about Jesus and listened to Him speak to the crowds. She knew that He was the Messiah, and she knew that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and that she was called to repentance. Now, given all this, she could have gone to the Temple or to some lonely mountain side and prayed to God the Father, and He would have forgiven her because of the sincerity in her heart. Yet, instead, she bursts into the Pharisee's house and repents at the feet of Jesus. Why? What is this meant to show us? It shows us that Jesus came in the flesh -- that He intended this woman FEEL His hands and to HEAR the words: "Your sins are forgiven." That He intended this woman to experience inter-personal contact; and to KNOW that her sins were forgiven. For, He Who was manifested in the flesh (1 Tim 3:16; Col 2:9) told her this directly.
Now, would Jesus offer this gift to the woman and not to the rest of us today? Is our relationship with Jesus somehow less than this woman's? The woman experienced forgiveness IN THE FLESH. She HEARD someone tell her "Your sins are forgiven," and FELT someone offer that mercy to her. And Jesus wills us to have the same. This is why He gave His Church the authority to forgive sins -- so that we may HEAR the words, FEEL the touch of human compassion (as an extension of the Lord's own humanity); and KNOW for certain that we are forgiven. Further,
These ministers, who have been given the "ministry of reconciliation" (cf. 2 Cor 5:18f) have always been the Bishops and Priests of the Catholic Church, as seen in the writings of the early Christian Fathers and ecclesiastical writers:
ORIGEN (c. 244 AD)
CYPRIAN OF CARTHAGE (c. 250 AD)
JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (c. 387 AD)
AUGUSTINE (c. 395 AD)
Yet, contrary to our Lord's desire (John 20:21-23; cf. James 5:14-16; 1 John 1:9) and the unanimous teaching and practice of the early Church, Fundamentalist or Evangelical Protestants have reduced Christianity to a purely "spiritual" religion. In this, they deny the significance of the Incarnation. They unwittingly deny that the Church is the Body of Christ, an extension of His very Incarnation based on the "one flesh" relationship between Christ and His Bride (Ephesians 5:25-32).