1 December 2017

The Immaculate Conception

The modern Catholic Church teaches dogmatically that Mary was conceived without sin. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (paragraph 491) states:

Through the centuries the Church has become ever more aware that Mary, 'full of grace' through God (Luke 1:28) was redeemed from the moment of her conception. That is what the dogma of the Immaculate Conception confesses, as Pope Pius IX proclaimed in 1854: The most Blessed Virgin Mary was, from the first moment of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege of almighty God and by virtue of the merits of Jesus Christ, Savior of the human race, preserved immune from all stain of original sin.


How was the idea of Mary's immaculate conception introduced in the catholic church? The doctrine was not a tradition in the early centuries of the church. Some Church Fathers taught that Mary led a sinless life, but they did not teach that she was conceived without original sin. On the contrary the Fathers opposed the heresy of Pelagius who insisted that Adam's sin was not imputed to the human race. For instance, Augustine writes: "He [Christ], therefore, alone having become man, but still continuing to be God, never had any sin, nor did he assume a flesh of sin, though born of a maternal flesh of sin" (De Peccatorum Meritis, Bk II, Ch 38). Christ alone never had any sin.

A feast of Mary's conception was celebrated in the Eastern church as early as the seventh century (and later in the West), but that does not imply a belief in "immaculate" conception. In fact, to this day the Orthodox Church does not accept the doctrine.

In the 13th-century, John Duns Scotus promoted the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception. The Franciscan monks continued to preach and defend the doctrine, but it was opposed in the 12th-century by St. Bernard of Clairvaux, by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th-century and subsequently by the Dominican friars.

In the 15th-century the Franciscan Pope Sixtus IV established a feast of the Immaculate Conception to be celebrated on December 8.

Finally in 1854 Pope Pius IX issued a solemn decree, Ineffabilis Deus, declaring the Immaculate Conception an essential dogma for all the church.

The Holy Scriptures

Catholic scholars acknowledge that this doctrine is not explicitly revealed in Scripture. The Catholic Encyclopaedia admits, "No direct or categorical and stringent proof of the dogma can be brought forward from Scripture."

The Catechism refers to Luke 1:28 for scriptural support. But "full of grace" could not possibly mean conceived without sin, for the very same word is used in Ephesians 1:6 referring to ALL believers. Certainly no-one would argue that all Christians are conceived without sin!

Contrary to the Roman Catholic teaching, the Scripture plainly teaches that all Adam's descendents share his sinful nature: "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Romans 5:12). Therefore all Adam's children need to be saved. Mary herself, a natural descendant of Adam, calls God "my savior" (Luke 1:47). Evidently she did not know the Roman Catholic doctrine of the Immaculate Conception!

Of Christ alone, the eternal Son who was supernaturally conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin woman, it is ever expressly stated that He was "without sin" (Hebrews 4:15). Christ alone is immaculate from conception; therefore He alone is qualified to die in the place of sinners. Christ, who knew no sin, "bore our sins in His own body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24).

In Ineffabilis Deus, Pope Pius IX also appealed to Genesis 3:15 as "unmistakable evidence that she has crushed the poisonous head of the serpent." He also states that with and through Christ, Mary was "eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot."

But the Bible does not say that Mary crushed the serpent's head. Speaking to the serpent, the Lord says: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel” (Genesis 3:15). The woman's Seed, the Messiah, not the woman, bruised the serpent's head.

The paintings of the Immaculate crushing the serpent's head were inspired from a incorrect translation of Genesis 3:15 based on the Latin Vulgate: "I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel" (Douay-Rheims Bible). Modern Catholic Bibles, such as the New American Bible, correct the mistake: "I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel."

Yet Mary is still portrayed crushing Satan's head. Let us not be misled by false images and false doctrine. Nobody but Jesus fulfilled the great prophecy and overcame our deceptive enemy. "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil" (1 John 3:8). Through His death, Jesus destroyed "him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release[ed] those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Hebrews 2:14,15). Let us therefore trust in Him alone to give us victory over Satan, sin and death.


The implications of the Catholic dogma are very serious. Pope Pius IX solemnly warned: "Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he thinks in his heart" (Ineffabilis Deus).

The Roman Catholic magisterium would have us believe a novel doctrine (that is neither taught in the Scriptures nor in the writings of the Church Fathers) as an essential article of the Christian faith. But we are convinced that the Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15). We don't need any extra-biblical doctrines for our salvation. In fact, it is the Roman Church that has suffered "shipwreck in the faith" by embracing a doctrine that is contrary to the Bible; and "separated from the unity of the Church" which for centuries knew nothing of the theological inventions of Rome.

(Gospel e-Letter - December 2017)

1 November 2017

Be Merciful to Me

In whom are you trusting for your salvation?

Jesus tells a story about two Jewish men – a Pharisee and a tax-collector (Luke 18:9-14). Both believed in God; one was a religious and moral person; the other had a bad reputation.

Both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee did not ask God for anything; he stood there bragging about his virtues. The other, painfully gripped by a sense of guilt and unworthiness, begged God for mercy.

Both returned home. The Pharisee remained unchanged, guilty before God and confirmed in his fatal delusion. The publican was now justified, forgiven, free and at peace with God. For, as the Teacher concludes, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.

The Pharisee was blinded by pride to his own sinfulness. He considered himself a righteous person. He saw no need for mercy. He did not get any. On the other hand, the tax collector humbled himself before God. He asked God to spare him the punishment he deserved. He asked for mercy. And he was not disappointed.

Friend, which one of these two men are you? Do you consider yourself righteous or a sinner? For salvation are you trusting in yourself or in God? Did you every ask him sincerely, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”?

(Gospel e-Letter - November 2017)

28 September 2017

The Treasure of the Church

500 years ago Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, nailed a document, known as ‘The 95 Theses’, to the church door at Wittenberg in Germany. It was an invitation to a discussion on the teaching and practice of the church on the subject of indulgences.

At that time another monk, Johann Tetzel, was in the area preaching about indulgences. The church, he taught, could grant a remission of the punishment for your sins, because it has the authority to apply to your benefit the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints. The people eagerly bought ‘letters of indulgences’ from the pope, confident that by them they would escape the torment of the fire of purgatory.

Luther was worried about this practice. The 95 Theses was a call to the church to come back to the teaching of the Scriptures. One thesis read thus: ‘The right and true treasure of the Church is the most Holy Gospel of the glory and grace of God.’

The church possesses something of unique value. But it is not material riches – the cathedrals and beautiful churches, the gold and works of art. (Tetzel was selling indulgences to finance the building of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome.)

The treasure of the church is the gospel of God! For by the word of the gospel the Holy Spirit gives life and the gift of faith, by which the sinner reaches out to Christ for salvation. By the gospel the lost is found, the guilty is forgiven, darkness becomes light, fear is replaced by joy, and despair gives way to the hope of eternal life.

The church ought to cherish the deposit of faith entrusted to her by God. She is duty bound to defend the gospel from corruption and to preach the message faithfully to all the world. The church lives by the gospel. If the church loses the gospel, she loses everything.

The same applies to every individual. What is the treasure that my heart yearns for? Do I know the true gospel taught in the Holy Scriptures? Have I learned about Christ, his death and resurrection? Have I turned from my sins in repentance? Do I believe on Christ alone for salvation? Am I following him in the way of righteousness?

We should answer these questions honestly before God. For he who ignores the gospel is poor and wretched even though he may possess the whole world. After death he will take nothing with him but a burden of sin to his eternal damnation. On the other hand, he is abundantly rich in grace who hears the good news of salvation and embraces Christ by faith.

Friend, what have you done with he gospel of Christ? Is the gospel your treasure?

(Gospel e-Letter - October 2017)

1 September 2017

God Justifies the Ungodly

Divine justice demands that the righteous person should be justified whereas the wicked should be condemned. It is a miscarriage of justice when lawbreakers are set free and when innocent people are condemned. "He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD" (Proverbs 17:15). We can be sure that God will deal justly with us. Therefore He declares: "I will not justify the wicked" (Exodus 23:7). Since God is absolutely just, He cannot let the sinner go free.

Now that is a fearful thought! For we are all sinners; we have broken God's holy Law. In this sense we are all wicked and therefore we do not stand a chance of escape from Divine justice. God will not justify the wicked!

That is why, if we had to rely on our obedience to the Law, we can never be justified before God. "Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin" (Romans 3:20). With tears of sorrow, even the holiest Christian admits his sins ever day. As long as we remain on earth it is a sad reality that we continue to sin. Though there is nothing on earth that I hate more than sin, yet I continue to sin and offend the God who loves me so much!

If we were honest with ourselves, we would not ask whether we have obeyed the Law enough to be justified. We know we haven't! Rather, every one of us should ask: What can free me, a guilty sinner, from my sin? Who can save me from God's righteous anger and punishment? Is there hope for me?
Thank God for His Son. There is hope in the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

The apostle Paul makes this incredible statement in the epistle to the Romans: "To him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness" (Romans 4:5). God justifies the ungodly! He does not say, "God justifies the righteous." That would have been perfectly understandable and just - and it would have spelled despair to all of us sinners. He does not even say, "God justifies the ungodly when he converts and starts doing good works." Paul insists that it is to him "who does not work" but "believes" that God accounts as righteous. God justifies the ungodly by faith alone.

Now that is the good news that we need to hear! Somehow God is able to justify me when I believe in Christ even though I am a sinner.

We realize that this is pure grace - something that we do not deserve. Yet a distressing question immediately springs to mind. How can a just God, who has declared that He will not justify the wicked, justify the believer even though the believer is a lawbreaker? Is God ignoring the Law to show us mercy? The apostle Paul is anxious to answer this problem:

"But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed, to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus" (Romans 3:21-26).

God demonstrated His righteousness and uprightness in His gracious dealing with sinners by the sacrifice of His Son on the cross. God set forth His Son as propitiation by His blood.

The word "propitiation" basically means to placate, to pacify, to appease. God is offended and angered by sin. "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). Jesus turned aside God's wrath against us who believe when He shed His blood on the cross as a sacrifice for sin. God is appeased because Christ fulfilled the demands of the Law.

Justice and mercy met on Calvary's tree. That is why God could be both "just" and "the justifier" of those who believe in Jesus. God justifies the ungodly who believes because his sins were taken away by Jesus Christ.

(Gospel e-Letter - September 2017).

1 August 2017

Christ Preserves His Church

The Roman Catholic Church is old - it can trace its evolution all the way back to the times of the apostles. However, age by itself is not the criterion to identify the true churches of Christ. A church can start well but then it can degenerate and become apostate over the years. The acid test of any individual or community is the faithfulness to the teaching of Christ:

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31,32).

Of central importance is TRUTH. Of lesser importance is the ANTIQUITY of an institution. Indeed, from the Roman Catholic perspective, the problem with Protestants is not so much that they branched off the Catholic Church in the sixteenth century (after all the branch is still organically connected to the roots). The principal allegation against the Protestants is that they have excluded certain apostolic beliefs and included novel non-apostolic ones.

From the Protestant perspective, the reformation was a process of removing certain human traditions that had been introduced in the post-apostolic church, and restoring to prominence those truths that had been ignored, such as the centrality of Scripture and salvation by grace through faith.

On the other hand, Rome cannot justify her position by an appeal to its antiquity. Like the Protestants, Rome must prove that her doctrines are apostolic. There is always a tendency for decadence in any church or organization. The fact that it is older means that there was more time and opportunity for deterioration and the introduction of human traditions.

The Roman church is old, but older still is Judaism. Yet Judaism is a false religion. There was a time when the Jews were God's people, but since they twisted the message of the Scriptures by their traditions, and rejected the promised Messiah, they have been set aside. However God always had a remnant according to the election of grace among the apostate nation. They believe. They are part of the true Israel of God. It must be the same among professing Christians in the New Testament era.

I open the history books to search for the virgin bride of Christ. I am dismayed when I read how many professing Christians denied the Deity of the Lord Jesus during the Arian controversy. I am amazed to find the seeds of damnable heresies already present in the apostolic and early church. As early as the second century some Christians had departed from the Gospel and embraced false doctrines such as purgatory. Later on others approved of the making and bowing down before graven images, contrary to the commandment of God. I am troubled when I read about the Donatists in North Africa who were persecuted by the Catholics, not because of some heresy but simply because they upheld a different standard about church government. The church was given the Word, the Sword of the Spirit, to extend Christ's kingdom on earth. Yet the church laid aside her spiritual weapons, and took up the sword to kill and slaughter the Muslims in a series of bloody crusades to regain the holy land. I weep when I read about the deep ignorance of the Word of God among God's people and the superstition that enslaved them. I look for holiness in the lives of the leaders but instead there is often filth, corruption and shame. I look for the church preaching the Gospel and persuading man, but instead I read about the tortures of the Spanish and Roman Inquisition.

Yet even in those darkest moments, God sent precious rays of light - godly people like Waldo, Savonarola, Wycliffe and Huss. In the driest deserts there are oasis of fresh water and life. There were always true, genuine Christians, both within the Catholic churches of the East and the West, and outside, such as the Waldenses. For Christ promised that he would build his Church and the gates of hell will never prevail against it.

God has not cast away His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, “LORD, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life”? But what does the divine response say to him? “I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” Even so then, at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace (Romans 11:2-5).

There are genuine Christians and genuine churches today as well. They are recognized by their obedience to the truth of the Gospel.

(Gospel e-Letter - August 2017).