Tagged: true church

A survey of Roman Catholicism

Jesus with lambThe Roman Catholic Church traces its beginning to the apostle Peter, claiming he is the rock upon whom Jesus built His church (Matt. 16:18). As the first pope, Peter is followed by an unbroken line of successors stretching to Pope Francis today. Non-Catholics establish the beginning of the Roman Catholic Church at A.D. 590 with Gregory I, who consolidated the power of the bishopric in Rome.

In any case, the Catholic Church is the world’s largest Christian church, with 1.2 billion members. The Catholic hierarchy includes cardinals and bishops and is led by the bishop of Rome, also known as the pope.

The Catholic Church teaches that it is the one true church divinely founded by Jesus Christ. In addition, it teaches that its bishops are the successors of Jesus’ apostles, and that the pope, as the successor to the head of the apostles (Peter), has supreme authority over the church.

Categories of Catholics

While the Catholic Church claims to be the one true church, Catholics worldwide hold to a diversity of beliefs. Researcher Ken Samples has concluded that there are six primary categories of Roman Catholics:

Ultratraditional Catholics defend historical Catholicism and are critical of recent changes such as those coming out of Vatican II in the 1960s.

Traditional Catholics resist liberalism and modernism within the church, yet they generally accept the reforms of Vatican II.

Liberal Catholics celebrate human reason over the authority of the church; they also question the infallibility of the pope, church councils, and the Bible

Charismatic/evangelical Catholics emphasize the gifts of the Holy Spirit, the importance of being baptized in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit-filled life.

Cultural Catholics are “womb-to-tomb” Catholics – born, baptized, married, and buried in the church. However, they essentially go through the motions of their faith without much regard for its meaning.

Popular folk Catholics predominate Central and South America. They combine elements of animistic or nature-culture religion with traditional medieval Catholicism (Christian Research Journal, Winter 1993).

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I heard the number: Revelation 7:1-8

Previously: Another angel … from the east — Rev. 7:1-8

The scripture

Rev. 7:1 – After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, restraining the four winds of the earth so that no wind could blow on the earth or on the sea or on any tree. 2Then I saw another angel rise up from the east, who had the seal of the living God. He cried out in a loud voice to the four angels who were empowered to harm the earth and the sea: 3“Don’t harm the earth or the sea or the trees until we seal the slaves of our God on their foreheads.” 4And I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 sealed from every tribe of the sons of Israel: 512,000 sealed from the tribe of Judah, 12,000 from the tribe of Reuben, 12,000 from the tribe of Gad, 612,000 from the tribe of Asher, 12,000 from the tribe of Naphtali, 12,000 from the tribe of Manasseh, 712,000 from the tribe of Simeon, 12,000 from the tribe of Levi, 12,000 from the tribe of Issachar, 812,000 from the tribe of Zebulun, 12,000 from the tribe of Joseph, 12,000 sealed from the tribe of Benjamin. (HCSB)

I heard the number …

Johns hears a roll call of the sealed servants. Perhaps it is the angel from the east who calls the roll, the same angel who tells the four other angels not to harm the earth until the 144,000 receive the seal of God on their foreheads. John learns that the 144,000 are from “every tribe of the sons of Israel,” and then he listens as 12,000 from each of 12 tribes are called out.

R. Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and D. Brown provide the following perspective of John’s use of numbers: “Twelve is the number of the tribes, and appropriate to the Church: three by four: three, the divine number, multiplied by four, the number for world-wide extension. Twelve by twelve implies fixity and completeness, which is taken a thousandfold in 144,000. A thousand implies the world perfectly pervaded by the divine; for it is ten, the world number, raised to the power of three, the number of God” (A Commentary, Critical and Explanatory, on the Old and New Testaments, Re 7:4).

Some key questions come to mind:

  • Why are the tribes of Dan and Ephraim missing? Many commentators believe it’s because Dan and Ephraim are largely responsible for leading the nation of Israel into idolatry. Some conclude that the Antichrist will come from Dan (see Gen. 49:16-17; Jer. 8:16). Just as there is a Judas among the 12 apostles, there is a traitor among the tribes of Israel. Evidently, the priestly tribe of Levi replaces Dan. Ephraim is not mentioned by name, but rather by his father’s name. Joseph is sometimes substituted for Manasseh or Ephraim when referring to either tribe.
  • Are the 144,000 ethnic Jews, or a symbolic representation of some other group? Many scholars believe these are ethnic Jews because the text plainly says so and lists them by tribe; they also argue that the clear references to “tribe” and “Israel” distinguish the 144,000 from the Gentile multitude in the second half of Revelation 7. Some who hold this view contend that the 144,000, who are mentioned as “firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4), are the first Jews converted in the early days of the church. Other interpreters argue that the 144,000 are God’s faithful people, both Jew and Gentile. Just as Paul declared that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6), the “true Israel” consists of Jews and Gentiles who have trusted in Christ; therefore the 144,000 symbolize the true church.
  • Is the number 144,000 to be taken literally or symbolically? Commentators are divided on this question. Most futurists read this literally and believe that during the coming Tribulation God will anoint 144,000 Jewish evangelists. Others believe that 144,000 Jewish Christians heed the warnings of Jesus and escape the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. But many Bible interpreters insist we must see this number as symbolic. The 144,000 may be seen as 12 x 12 x 1000, which stresses the completeness of the number; this is, after all, apocalyptic language, and reasonable readers should see it as such, they argue.
  • Are the 144,000 in chapter 7 the same 144,000 we encounter in chapter 14? Again, there is no consensus among scholars. Some insist they are the same, since they are sealed by God on their foreheads and are redeemed from the earth. Those who hold this view stress that we see the 144,000 on earth in chapter 7 and in heaven in chapter 14. Other interpreters, however, say that these are two different groups: Jews in chapter 7 and the “redeemed from the human race” in chapter 14 (v. 4).

While these questions leave many of us scratching our heads and wondering whether the “right” answers may ever be known, we should not overlook the clear teachings that believers throughout the church age have embraced:

  • God is not finished with Israel. Whether the 144,000 are ethnic Jews or redeemed of all the earth, Jews are welcome in the kingdom of heaven and have been receiving their King since the Day of Pentecost. Although proponents of “replacement” theology (also known as “completion theology”) contend that the church has taken the place of Israel in this age, no reasonable Christian would deny that ethnic Jews throughout the church age have trusted in Jesus as Messiah as therefore are members of the true church. One other point should be kept in mind: There are many scriptural promises of Israel’s  future glory, including the city of Jerusalem, that are difficult to spiritualize and are better understood in light of a geographic location and ethnic people.
  • God always keeps a faithful remnant. Even though the nation of Israel often has fallen into gross idolatry, the Lord has preserved a number of Jews faithful to Him. And even when Christianity is the particular target of persecutors – whether Roman or Jewish in the early centuries of the church, or communist or radical Muslim today – Christ preserves, strengthens, and expands His church. Clearly, the “forces of Hades will not overpower it” (Matt. 16:18).
  • God will judge the world one day in righteousness. The sealed servants in Revelation 7 and 14 are set apart before the Lord brings His particular judgment of the wicked to bear. While there is no doubt that many believers suffer persecution at the hands of the ungodly, God’s final judgment of the earth will target those who shake their fists at the Son of God as He returns in power and great glory. Whatever price believers have paid for their faithfulness on earth will be vindicated by Christ in His coming and compensated in eternity.

Four major views of the 144,000

So, how do proponents of the four major interpretations of Revelation view the 144,000?

  • Preterists – who see the events of Revelation as fulfilled in the first centuries of the church age – say the 144,000 is a symbolic number representing Jewish Christians who escaped Jerusalem before its destruction in 70 A.D. Because this group is called “the firstfruits for God and the Lamb” (Rev. 14:4), and because the church age has witnessed a continuous harvest of souls, the 144,000 must be early Jewish Christians rather than future ones. “God always has had a remnant in Israel who are faithful despite widespread apostasy,” writes Steve Gregg, explaining the preterist view. “This faithful remnant in the first century was the original core of the entity we now call the church; many Gentile converts have been added to their company since that time” (Revelation: Four Views, p. 130).
  • Historicists – who view the events of Revelation as unfolding throughout the course of history – see the 144,000 as symbolic of the entire church, “the Israel of God.” Some historicists, however, take the 144,000 to be a select number of Jews spared during the destruction of Jerusalem (similar to the preterist view), or symbolic of God’s chosen remnant in the world.
  • Futurists – who argue that the events of Revelation are largely unfulfilled, especially chapters 4-22 – say the 144,000 constitute a godly remnant of Jewish people who are sealed for protection from later plagues. These are physical Israelites, not to be confused with the church, which is never described by tribal divisions. Hal Lindsey, author of The Late, Great Planet Earth, refers to this group as “144,000Jewish Billy Grahams.”
  • Idealists, or spiritualists – who see Revelation setting forth timeless truths concerning the battle between good and evil – argue that this company represents the church as the true and spiritual Israel. The irregular listing of tribes – with Judah named first as Messiah’s own tribe, and the omission of Dan and Ephraim, argue against a literal interpretation. “In any age, it is the church that is preserved from God’s judgments upon nations, though this does not mean the church does not suffer at the hands of sinners,” writes Gregg, summarizing the idealist view (pp. 132-33).

Next: A vast multitude — Revelation 7:9-17

10 Biblical Truths Denied by Jehovah’s Witnesses

Every Christian should reject the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society’s (Jehovah’s Witnesses’) claim to be the only true church because it denies 10 key Biblical truths.

1. The Trinity.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “The clergy’s God is plainly not Jehovah but the ancient deity, hoary with the iniquity of the ages – Baal, the Devil Himself” (Charles Taze Russell, Studies in the Scriptures, Vol. 7, p. 410).
  • “The obvious conclusion is, therefore, that Satan is the originator of the trinity doctrine” (Let God Be True, p. 101).

The Bible says:

  • There is one true and living God who exists as three distinct co-equal, co-eternal persons: the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The divine persons of the Trinity are specifically mentioned in John 14:26, 15:26; 2 Corinthians 13:13; and 1 Peter 1:2). In addition, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit each is referred to as deity in Scripture (John 1:1-3, 10, 14, 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; 2 Cor. 13:13; 1 Peter 1:2).
  • The Father, Son and Holy Spirit are described as deity using similar terms: Omniscient (Matt. 9:4; Rom. 11:33; 1 Cor. 2:10); God (John 10:30; Acts 5:3-4; 1 Peter 1:2); Lord (Luke 2:11; Rom. 10:12; 2 Cor. 3:17); almighty (Gen. 17:1; Rom. 15:19; Rev. 1:8); truth (John 7:28; 1 John 5:6; Rev. 3:7);  eternal (Ps. 90:2; Micah 5:2; Heb. 9:14);  powerful (Jer. 32:17; Matt. 28:18; Luke 1:35; Rom. 15:19; Heb. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:5).

2. The deity of Christ.

The Watch Tower says:

  • Jesus is the first creation of Jehovah; Jesus then made all “other” things (see Col. 1:16 in the New World Translation).
  • “… the Bible plainly states that in his prehuman existence, Jesus was a created spirit being, just as angels were spirit beings created by God…. The fact is that Jesus is not God and never claimed to be” (Should You Believe in the Trinity? pp. 14, 20).
  • “… the true Scriptures speak of God’s Son, the Word, as ‘a god.’  He is a ‘mighty god,’ but not the Almighty God, who is Jehovah”  (The Truth Shall Make You Free, p. 47).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus is the virgin-born Son of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit (Isa. 7:14; Matt. 1:18-23; Luke 1:35). He is eternal God, the Creator, co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and Holy Spirit (John 1:1-3, 10, 14; 10:30; Col. 1:15-20; Phil. 2:5-11; Heb. 1:1-3).

3. The personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “… The holy spirit is the invisible active force of Almighty God that moves his servants to do his will” (Let God Be True, p. 108).
  • “The Scriptures themselves unite to show that God’s holy spirit is not a person but is God’s active force by which he accomplishes his purpose and executes his will” (Aid to Bible Understanding, p. 1543).
  • “As for the ‘Holy Spirit,’ the so-called ‘third Person of the Trinity,’ we have already seen that it is not a person, but God’s active force”  (The Truth That Leads to Eternal Life, p. 24).

The Bible says:

  • The Holy Spirit is the third person of the triune Godhead (Matt. 3:16-17, 28:19-20). He is described, not as a force, but as a person. Jesus never refers to the Holy Spirit as an “it.”  Further, scripture tells us the Spirit is a divine person because He testifies (John 15:26), guides (John 16:13), leads (Acts 8:29), commands (Acts 16:6-7), appoints (Acts 20:28), intercedes (Rom. 8:26) and speaks (Rev. 2:7). He can be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32), lied to (Acts 5:3-4), grieved (Eph. 4:30) and insulted (Heb. 10:29).
  • The Holy Spirit is co-equal and co-eternal with the Father and the Son (Acts 5:3-4).

4. Christ’s sacrificial and substitutionary death on the cross.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “Jesus died as a ‘ransom sacrifice’ to buy back what Adam lost: the right to perfect life on earth” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).
  • Jesus died, not on a cross, but on an “upright pole, stake or post” (www.watchtower.org).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus died on a cross (Matt. 27:32, 40, 42; John 19:19, 25, 31; 1 Cor. 1:17-18; Gal. 6:12, 14; Eph. 2:16; Phil. 2:8; Col. 1:20, 2:14; Heb. 12:2).
  • Christ’s death on the cross paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).

5. Christ’s bodily resurrection.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “This firstborn from the dead was raised from the grave, not a human creature, but a spirit” (Let God Be True, p. 276).
  • “At death, Jesus’ human body was ‘disposed’ of by God’s power, and Michael [Jesus in his pre-earthly state] rose from the dead as the ‘resurrected Jesus Christ.’ Since angels are invisible, Jesus fabricated physical bodies resembling His original body to convince His disciples that He had risen from the dead. Since 1914, when Jesus’ ‘invisible presence’ on earth began, He has been reigning from heaven, awaiting the future battle of Armageddon in which He will rid the earth of human governments and set up ‘Paradise’ under ‘Jehovah’s Kingdom government arrangement’” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 4).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus rose physically from the dead, and our future resurrection depends on it (Matt. 12:38-40; 28:5-10; Luke 24:39-43; John 20:19-29; Rom. 1:4; 1 Cor. 15:4-8, 12-26; 1 Peter 1:18-21).

6. Christ’s physical and visible return.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “Since 1914, when Jesus’ ‘invisible presence’ on earth began, He has been reigning from heaven, awaiting the future battle of Armageddon in which He will rid the earth of human governments and set up ‘Paradise’ under ‘Jehovah’s Kingdom government arrangement’” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 4).
  • “Christ Jesus returns, not again as a human, but as a glorious spirit person” (Let God Be True, p. 196).
  • “Some wrongfully expect a literal fulfillment of the symbolic statements of the Bible. Such hope to see the glorified Jesus coming seated on a white cloud where every human eye will see him … Since no earthly men have ever seen the Father … neither will they see the glorified Son” (Let God Be True, p. 186).

The Bible says:

  • Jesus is coming back physically and visibly one day (Matt. 24:29-31; John 14:3; Acts 1:9-11; Titus 2:13; Rev. 19:11-16).

7. Salvation by grace through faith.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “The four requirements for salvation are: 1) taking in knowledge of Jehovah God and of Jesus Christ; 2) obeying God’s laws and conforming one’s life to the moral requirements set out in the Bible; 3) belonging to and serving with God’s one true channel and organization (that is, the Watchtower Society); and 4) being loyal to God’s organization” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).
  • “Salvation is earned through a combination of faith plus good works. True Christians can have no assurance of eternal life. They must work toward perfection throughout this life, and then throughout Christ’s 1,000-year reign on earth. Next they must pass the final test of Satan (during which Satan is released from the pit to tempt all faithful Witnesses one last time) before God will grant them eternal life. If they fail at any point they are at risk of annihilation (eternal destruction)” (10 Questions & Answers on Jehovah’s Witnesses, p. 7).

The Bible says:

  • Christ’s death at Calvary paid our sin debt and purchased our salvation so that everlasting life is received by grace through faith in Jesus (John 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 4:4-5; 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Eph. 2:8-9; Titus 3:5).
  • Believers are eternally secure based on the finished work of Christ at Calvary and the faithfulness of God (John 5:24; 10:27-30; Rom. 8:28-39; Heb. 7:25; 10:14; 1 Peter 1:1-5).
  • All who receive Christ by faith enter immediately and everlastingly into Christ’s kingdom (John 1:12; 3:16; 5:24; Rom. 10:9-10, 13).

8. Consciousness of the soul after death.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “… the claim of religionists that man has an immortal soul and therefore differs from the beast is not Scriptural” (Let God Be True, p. 68).

The Bible says:

  • There is conscious existence after death (Luke 16:19-31).
  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10). Heaven also is a place of everlasting conscious existence, and the believer’s soul/spirit goes there upon death (2 Cor. 5:8).

9. Everlasting punishment for unbelievers in hell.

The Watch Tower says:

  • “The doctrine of a burning hell where the wicked are tortured eternally after death cannot be true, mainly for four reasons: (1) Because it is wholly unscriptural; (2) it is unreasonable; (3) it is contrary to God’s love; and (4) it is repugnant to justice”  (Let God Be True, p. 99).
  • “Would a loving God really torment people forever? … The wicked, of course, are not literally tormented because, as we have seen, when a person is dead he is completely out of existence…. And it is also a lie, which the Devil spread, that the souls of the wicked are tormented …” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 81, 88-89).

The Bible says:

  • Hell is a place of everlasting conscious existence, where the unbeliever is forever separated from God (Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:9-11; 20:10-15).

10. Heaven as the destination for all believers.

The Watch Tower says:

  • Only 144,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses will be in heaven. “So this ‘congregation of God’ is made up of all Christians on earth who have the hope of heavenly life. In all, only 144,000 persons finally make up the ‘congregation of God.’ Today, only a few of these, a remnant, are still on the earth. Christians who hope to live forever on earth look for spiritual guidance from members of this ‘congregation of the living God’” (You Can Live Forever in Paradise on Earth, pp. 125-26).
  • “Many millions that have lived in centuries past and who were not Jehovah’s Witnesses will come back in a resurrection and have an opportunity for life. Many now living may yet take a stand for truth and righteousness before ‘the great tribulation,’ and they will gain salvation” (www.watchtower.org).

The Bible says:

  • All believers have God’s promise of a home in heaven, will go there instantly upon physical death, and will return with Christ to earth one day (John 14:1-3; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 19:11-16).
  • There is no opportunity for salvation beyond the grave (Luke 16:19-31; Heb. 9:27).

Copyright 2009 by Rob Phillips