So, getting back to my background in legalistic Christianity…
All of this stuff from my past makes me highly suspicious of anything that smacks of man-made tradition. I spent so long trying to earn God’s favor, trying to live up to standards that humans, not God, imposed on me and the thought of ever getting bogged down in something like that again gives me a sinking, hopeless feeling if I allow myself to go there in my mind. And this is my dilemma as I consider the claims of the Catholic Church.
As I study the teachings of the Catholic Church, I run into this problem time and again because of the Catholic teaching on the authority of Sacred Tradition. There are dozens of things that a person must do or assent to if they are to be considered a truly Catholic Christian that have little to no support in Scripture. Some of these beliefs include:
The Assumption of Mary
The Immaculate Conception
Missing mass or any Holy Day of Obligation being a possible mortal sin
Not fasting an hour before communion making one unable to receive the Eucharist. (see this thread for an example of what I mean.)
Issues surrounding the use of contraception such as a wife using the pill for medical reasons unrelated to pregnancy and this meaning the couple cannot have sex or a spouse with a communicable disease (AIDS, hepatits) and not being able to use condom to allow them to have sex without infecting the other.
In general, it’s the Catholic Church’s pattern of binding the believer’s conscience on matters that Scripture either doesn’t talk about or doesn’t give enough detail to warrant such definitive rulings. I realize there are orthodox Christian doctrines that Scripture doesn’t go into a ton of detail about such as the Trinity, but there is enough in Scripture to toss aside the Oneness theology fairly easily if you use some basic logic. But the Catholic Church has elevated some pretty obscure beliefs to the level of official dogma that just doesn’t make sense to me. Where is the Assumption of Mary mentioned? And how do you build a case for the Immaculate Conception out of a vague “full of grace” reference? And while I do understand that Scripture teaches us not to “forsake the assembling of (our)selves together”, how does that translate into missing Mass or a Holy Day of Obligation being a mortal sin unless you were too sick or some other serious reason?
It just smacks of the same sort of building of doctrine on oblique Scripture references and man-made taboos and no-nos that I dealt with in the Assemblies of God. It seems to run completely counter to admonitions in the New Testament such as this from the Apostle Paul:
Colossians 2:8, 16-218 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ… 16 Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath.
20 If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— 21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (emphasis mine)
If you bind someone’s conscience regarding Sunday Mass or various non-Sabbath Holy Days for instance, how is that not passing judgment on someone with regard to festivals and Sabbaths? And while fasting an hour before receiving the Eucharist might be a good practice, should we be making it a requirement to the point of telling someone not to receive the Body and Blood of our Lord if they forgot and ate something within that time frame?
If I’m being honest, this sort of thing scares me. I’ve been in the rut of adding to God’s requirements and it only ends with frustration. The commands He does give are hard enough to live up to without piling on a few extras just because I think they are good things. On the one hand, Catholics don’t seem to be all hung up on certain externals like drinking alcohol in the way that so many conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists seem to be. But then there’s this whole host of other things that you never hear a peep about in Protestant churches that they do get hung up on. It just seems like a journey to Rome just trades one set of man-made legalisms for another. And that worries me as I weigh the merits and claims of the Catholic Church.