At the heart of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox theology we find what may
be called the "sacramental" view of salvation. In this view, true
salvation from sin and the judgment of God can only come through certain
rites and rituals of the church – the "sacraments". These rites and
rituals are seens as channels through which the saving grace of God must flow.
According to this view, the rite of baptism, for example, confirms upon the
recipient the status of being "born again", while partaking of the
Eucharist (i.e. the bread and wine) is seen as eating the very flesh and blood
of Jesus Christ, without which one "has no life in him" (John 6:53).
Confession to the priest and the performance of penance is also seen as a necessary
condition for acceptance with God. Other rituals such as "extreme unction",
which is generally administered to those on their deathbeds, are also seen as
extremely important rites.
There are seven sacraments in the Roman Catholic system – Baptism, Confirmation,
Penance, Holy Eucharist, Marriage, Anointing the sick (formerly extreme
unction) and Holy Orders. Each is considered to impart special grace. The
Orthodox system also recognises seven sacraments or "mysteries" ("taine")
as the Romanian Orthodox priests call them.
Roman Catholics and "Orthodox" believers are taught that only specially
ordained priests are considered to have the power to administer the sacraments
(which are considered essential for salvation). It is believed that through
the sacrament of "Holy Orders" certain men become priests. At this
time they are supposed to receive a special grace which no ordinary Christian
has. With this grace they can perform the rites and rituals of the church which
are necessary, but not sufficient, for salvation.
Of course, if this is true, then no one outside this sacramental system can
possibly be accepted by God! Baptists, Pentecostals, evangelical Christians
of all descriptions must all be lost! There is therefore a lot at stake in this
issue. It is dishonest to pretend that it simply does not matter. We can’t just
gloss over it if we wish to have any intellectual integrity.But what does
the Bible teach about priesthood in the New Testament?
The apostle Peter writing to all genuine Christians ("pilgrimsof the
Dispersion") in modern Turkey said, "But you area chosen generation,
a royal priesthood, a holy nation."(1 Peter 2:9). The apostle John
writing "to the seven churches which are in Asia" (Revelation 1:4)
declares that Jesus "has made us kings and priests to His
God and Father" (Revelation 1:6). No mention is made of an elite class
of priests in the way these letters were addressed! Peter and John saw all these
believers as priests. This truth is underscored when we consider the teachings
of the New Testament in the light of what the priveleges and functions
of priests are.
The section below may be worth reading and re-reading in order to gain the
full force of the argument.
The Priveleges of Priests
In the Old Testament very few people had direct access to God. From all the
nations of the earth, God chose the descendants of Jacob "Israel"
to be the chosen people near to Him. But only the tribe of Levi could serve
in the practical affairs relating to temple worship. And only certain Levites,
descendants of Aaron could serve as priests. From all the priests, only one,
the "high priest" had access to the innermost sanctuary known as the
"Holy of Holies" – and that only once ayear. The Holy of Holies was
a place of meeting with God Himself. The high priest was the representative
of the people of Israel before God, and was God’s representative to the people.
It was therefore a very special privelege to have access to the Holy ofHolies.
This was the Old Covenant system.
However, with the death of Jesus Christ something revolutionary happened. "Then
the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple was torn in two" (Luke
24:45). "The veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and
the earth quaked, and the rocks were split." (Matthew 27:51).This was an
action performed by God Himself, in which the thick veil separating the Holy
of Holies from the rest of the temple was torn in two. What did this mean? It
meant that the system of limited access to God through special priests was finished.
Now, through the blood of Jesus, and the breaking of Jesus’ body, EVERYONE
who believed in the sacrifice of Jesus could have true access to God Himself.
This is why the writer of Hebrews could say: "Therefore, brethren,
having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus,
by a new and living way which He consecrated forus, through the veil, that is,
His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw
near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts
sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water".
(Hebrews 10:19-22). What was previously the exclusive domain of a select group
of priests is open to all brethren, who have the privelege of access before
God as much as any priest ever did!
For this reason it is now the brethren, those adopted into God’s family
through the new birth, who have the privelege of priestly access to God. We
can intercede as priests for others. The effective fervent prayer of a righteous
man "avails much".(James 5:16). We are now "called into the fellowship
of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. (1 Corinthians 1:9). "He who hears My
word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall
not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (John 5:24).
"And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true
God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent." (John 17:3).
This means that you and I do not have to go to God through an intermediary,
because we already have the privelege of priesthood before God. There is no
need for another mediator between God and man apart from Jesus Christ. Indeed,
according to the Scriptures, there is no other mediator.
"For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the
Man Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 2:5)
In the light of all this, it would be foolish to go back to something like
the Old Covenant system, where only certain ones of God’s people had access
to God. This is the probably the most serious error in the Roman Catholic and
Orthodox belief systems. This issue is at the heart of the matter. Church leaders
never had any authority at any time in history to change the
rules regarding access to God. Either these traditions are wrong or the Bible
is. They cannot both be correct, except by a kind of doublethink which refuses
to face the issue honestly. They way to personal relationship and access to
the presence of God was forever opened to all believers by the once-for-all
sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
It is worth noting that even though the way is opened, you still have to walk
on that way if you want to experience the reality of access to God. This means,
in practical terms, exercising real faith, humility and courage in your relationship
with God. Unless wilful sin is repented of, you can’t enter into the experience
of the reality of this privelege of access to God.
The Functions of Priests
Priests are called to offer sacrifices and to represent God to people. Not
only did the Old Testament priests have the privelegeof access to God. They
also had responsibilities. The most important of these was to offer acceptable
sacrifices to God. The book of Leviticus is full of rules regarding the Old
Hebrew sacrificial system. All these sacrifices were just precursors tothe really
valid sacrifice, which happened when Jesus the Messiah died on the Cross.
Nevertheless there are sacrifices which we as New testament priests have the
responsibility to offer up. These are the spiritual sacrifices of praise, thanksgiving
and sharing (Hebrews13:15,16). The kind of dedication God is looking for from
you and I is indicated by Scriptures such as Hebrews 13:15
"Therefore by Him let us continually offer thesacrifice of praise
to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name."
Churches that are in tune with the Holy Spirit put a lot of emphasis on the
ministry of praising God, especially through song.
Representing God – Operating in His Name.
Catholic and Orthodox priests claim that in a special sense they are sent by
God. But God does not send anyone to teach error. The Biblical truth is that
all believers are called to be "ambassadors for Christ" (2 Cor 5:20),
and that "whatever we do in word or deed", to "do all in the
name of our Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him" (Colossians
All believers are called to operate in Jesus’ name and authority (Colossians
3:17; Mark 16:17-18). All true believers are called to offer up spiritual sacrifices
of praise and thanksgiving to God (Hebrews 13:15).
The biblical definition of a Christian is to be a disciple of Jesus (Acts 11:26).
Jesus instructed his apostles to make disciples and to teach them to obey all
things which He commanded them. If we are in the Kingdom of God we are called
to grow up spiritually and learn to do all the things those sent by God should
do. This is a radical teaching, I know, but it is nonetheless the truth.
It can be seen therefore that all believers have both the priveleges and functions
of priests. There is no special class of paid professionals ordained by God
to handle these things for us.We are either in or we are out. Either we respond
to the call to draw near to God and take up our responsibilities or we reject
it. In rejecting the call, we reject the Word of God and the One who inspired
The Roman Catholic and Orthodox systems, however, put huge emphasis on a system
of priesthood which has evolved down through the centuries. It is based completely
on church tradition and noton the Scriptures at all. You will not find this
special class of priests in the New Testament. Yet if we are to believe Orthodox
and Catholic dogma, such priests are vital to our salvation. It should become
clear that we are dealing with a religious system whose authority is rooted
in itself, and not in the Scriptures at all.
To be a good Roman Catholic you must believe that priests have the amazing
power to turn their special bread and wine into the literal body and blood of
Jesus Christ. A priest is accordingly a "god-maker" because he can
turn bread into God!
Roman Catholics are taught to worship this special wafer (or host), and consider
it to be fully God. In the Roman Catholic council of Trent in the 16th
century, it was decreed that anyone denying that the host was fully God was
cursed (anathema) and was heading for damnation. Thousands of Bible believing
Christians who rejected this doctrine were tortured and burned at the stake
because they took a stand against this particular doctrine.
This teaching has never been renounced by the Roman Catholic church. It is
absolutely foundational to their whole religious system.
Is Christ constantly re-sacrificed?
In the sacrifice of the mass it is believed that the priest literally re-sacrifices
Christ for our sins. This is incontradiction with the teaching of the book of
Hebrews chapter 10:11-13,14,18
"And every priest [old testament priest] stands ministering daily and
offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But
this man, after He had offered one sacrifice
for sins forever, sat down at the right hand
of God now where there is a remission of these [i.e. sins], there
is no longer an offeringfor sin." (italics mine, explanations in square
The death of Jesus Christ was the ultimate sacrifice. Jesus offered his blood
as a payment for the sins of the world, and His body for the healing of the
world (see Isaiah 53:4-5). The Bible teaches that this sacrifice cannot be repeated.
"For by one offering He has perfected forever
those who are being sanctified." (Hebrews 10:14). The Holy Spirit knew
that there would soon come spiritual leaders who would seek to pervert this
truth, which is why again and again the writer of Hebrews
was inspired to emphasize the uniqueness and eternal nature of this sacrifice.
"NOT that He should offer Himself often,
as the high priest enters the Most High Place every year with blood of another
– He would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now,
once at the end of ages, He has appeared to put away sin by
the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after
this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear this
sins of many." (Hebrews 9:25-28)
Question: How could the writer have said this if the Roman
Catholic doctrine of the continual literal re-sacrificing of Christ at the mass
had been part of the inspired by unwritten traditions and practices of the Church
which Christ founded? God does not inspire such blatant contradictions. It seems
to be that the Roman Catholic church must either deny their traditions relating
to the mass, or they must deny the book of Hebrews (which is part of the Canon
they do currently recognise!) Seethe later section on "Tradition
vs the Scriptures".
The literal blood and body of Christ?
Texts such as John 6:53-55 have been quoted to support the doctrine of the
transubstantiation and the importance of the mass:
Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you
eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.
Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise
him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed."
Just before Jesus’ betrayal, death and resurrection the following is recorded
in Matthew 26:26-28.
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it
to his disciples and said, "Take, eat; this is my body." Then
He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, "Drink
from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed
for many for the remission of sins."
These verses from different passages have been interpreted together to be saying
that the bread and wine as instituted by Christ were literally his flesh and
blood, and that without eating them with this understanding you could not have
What Did Jesus Mean?
I am not here to attack the practice of remembering the sacrifice of Christ
by partaking of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper with bread and wine. Indeed
we are supposed to do this, and it is to be a special time of enjoying the Lord’s
It is Jesus Himself who is essential to salvation. He was saying that you must
have His life in you to be saved. But how does the life of Jesus come to us?
That is the issue here.
Jesus further interprets this teaching about his body and blood in John 6:63
"It is the Spirit who gives life. The flesh profits nothing. The words
that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life."
This suggests that Jesus is wanting to point us not to some outward, fleshly
experience of eating his literal flesh, but rather to a spiritual relationship
where God’s Spirit comes into us and changes us from the inside – so that we
are renewed from within by receiving the work of his Word, His Spirit and His
eternal sacrifice in our lives.
If we are willing to consider, just for a moment, the possibility that Jesus
may have been speaking metaphorically of eating his flesh, we can then
come to understand that Jesus wanted these things to point to Himself and to
the reality of knowing Him personally. He was not trying to point the people
toan all-important ritual, necessary for personal salvation. He was pointing
people to Himself and using a very strong metaphor to make His point.
There is no chemical miracle associated with the blessing of the bread and
the cup. It does not turn into meat or blood physically – much less the actual
flesh of Christ. These things are indeed symbols of the body and blood of Christ.
The bread is broken symbolising the way Christ’s body was broken for us on the
cross. It also represents a participation in the ministry of Christ through
his present-day body, the Church (see Ephesians 1:22,23). The bread is no more
Christ’s literal flesh than Christ himself was a literal lamb (John 1:29) or
a literal door (John 10:9). The Roman Catholic church has burned people alive
for believing that Jesus spoke only metaphorically concerning the bread and
the wine.But it is participation through faith in the ACTUAL blood andbody of
Christ which is essential to salvation. This happens when we truly repent of
our sins and trust in Christ alone for our spiritual needs. It involves asking
Christ to come into our hearts and lives as Lord and Savior. He does this by
We come into true contact with God only through faith. Faith means trusting
in God and acting as if what He says is true. It is by grace we are saved, through
faith, and that not of ourselves – it is the gift of God, not of works, lest
any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8,9).
Jesus was saying in John 6 that His life must be in us for us to have eternal
life. Paul said, "Christ lives in me" (Galatians2:20), and in 2 Corinthians
13:5 "Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves.
Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? – unless indeed you
The apostle John wrote these penetrating words: "He who has the Son has
life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life". (1 John
5:12). What is essential to salvation is to have the life of Jesus in your spirit.
It is also essential to accept and apply the blood of Christ to your own life
for the forgiveness of your sins. This is done by trusting that Jesus’ sacrifice
paid for your sins, confessing your sins and turning from them, placing your
life in God’s hands and confessing with your mouth Jesus Christ as your Lord
and Master (seeRomans 10:9,10). No ritual, however often repeated, will ever
substitute for this heartfelt trust and devotion to Christ. When the ritual
points to itself and not to the reality of the thing, it becomes dangerous –
a kind of innoculation against the real Jesus life. This is of course what we
see in so many nominal Catholic and Orthodox practitioners today.
Jesus Christ was baptised because "thus it was fitting to fulfil all righteousness"
(Matthew 3:15), and commanded hisdisciples to make disciples and baptise them
(Matthew 28:18-20). Baptism in the Bible always signified at the very
least repentance of sins and a washing away of sins. John the Baptist refused
to baptise the religious authorities of his day because they had not truly
repented of their sins (Matthew 3:7-9). In the NewTestament, it is consistently
emphasized that baptism (the greek word baptizo simply means to cause
to be dipped) has no value unless it reflects what has already happened in the
heart.There are no new Testament examples of anyone being baptised who did not
know at least something of what it meant. It would be like getting married without
knowing anything about what marriage is. Because baptism is a commandment and
an ordinance given by Christ himself to initiate new disciples into the church,
it came historically to be regarded as essential to salvation. A confusion arose
between the act of baptism itself and what it signified – the new birth, death
to self and the world, and a dedication to live for God.
It was this confusion which opened the door for the departure of the church
from apostolic practice in this matter. Believing there was no salvation apart
from baptism, people began to baptise their babies as soon as it was practical,
that they should be Christians and accepted by God into heaven should they die
Incidentally, it is my own conviction and the conviction ofthe majority of
protestant believers that we need not fear for young children who die before
they know the difference between right and wrong (see Matthew 18:3,4,10,14).
"Of such is theKingdom of Heaven" (Matthew 19:14).
In any case, it was considered that the Spirit of God changed the nature of
these children through the act of baptism. Of course the baby children themselves
had no idea of what was happening. The babies obviously had not repented and
believed anything yet. The Orthodox church dips babies under water, while the
Roman Catholic church sprinkles them with water (perhaps so as not to endanger
Thus arose the concept of the sacrament of baptism, as it exists in the Roman
Catholic and Orthodox churches. This sacrament is supposed to cleanse from original
sin, to removeother sin and its punishment, to provide spiritual rebirth or
regeneration (John 3:3), and begin the process of justification.(In the Roman
Catholic church, the understanding of the meaning of justification is quite different
to what evangelicals understand by this word, but that is another subject). Baptism
is regarded as the first sacrament necessary for salvation.
Problems with this View of Baptism
The meaning of the Greek word has been ignored by the Roman Catholic tradition.
Any Greek scholar can tell you that to baptize means "to cause to be dipped,
to wholly immerse, tosubmerge, put under". How can sprinkling fit the meaning
of this word? At least the Orthodox with their love for the old greek texts
have got this point right.
If it is true that baptism by an authorised representative ofChrist is what
makes a person a Christian, then why did Paul write to the Corinthians: "For
Christ did not sendme to baptise, but to preach the gospel." (1Corinthians
1:17)? Did Paul or did Paul not have the responsibilities of today’s Roman Catholic
Why did the New Testament give not even one example of the baptising of infants,
if God intended this practise to be the rule in His Church?
How could Christ promise the unbaptised thief on the cross immediate entry
to the eternal Kingdom of God? (Luke 23:43)
In what sense can a baby born into a Roman Catholic family besaid to be "buried
with Him through baptism into death" (Romans 6:4) through the act of sprinkling?
The main source of support for the Roman Catholic and Orthodox views is not
Biblical at all, but rather historical. In the Roman Catholic and Orthodox systems,
"holy" tradition carries at least equal weight with the Bible
as a source of religious authority. These traditions are seen as things that
were passed down orally from Jesus and the apostles, though they were not written
down and canonised as part of the New Testament.There is a lot of disagreement
between Eastern and Roman church leaders and theologians about which traditions
are actually the right ones. Each group makes claims to authority based on various
considerations. Those who follow them have made up their minds to trust these
religious experts. Yet for all their scholarship they disagree amongst themselves
concerningwhich traditions are really holy and right.
A study of church history reveals that traditional churches have been changing
their doctrines and adding new ones over the centuries. The Bible has remained
constant however. It continues to provide an accurate standard whereby one may
examine the teachings of any particular religious organisation. There is no
security in following a crowd of people into error. True security and peace
with God can be found only when we truly surrender our hearts and lives to Christ
and trust in His Sacrifice, His Word and His Spirit to make us what we ought
to be for time and eternity.
The true way of salvation is very simple, but it is still a narrow way. The
payment for sin was done by Christ when He suffered and died for us on the cross.
We can never add to that payment through penance, neither can we take away from
it saying that it is not enough. To be saved you must believe in Christ’s sacrifice
for you, and with your heart you must believe that Christ rose from the dead.
This you can only do when you are conscious of His presence and He reveals Himself
to you personally. Christ stands at the door and knocks. If we open the door
of our lives He will come in (Revelation 3:20). When He comes in, He comes in
as Lord and Master. We must bow the knee to Him in recognition of His authority.
If this is not done, sin and not grace will continue to dominate our lives.
Jesus does not call us to rites and rituals, but to a free but loyal and committed
relationship of intimacy with Himself, the Father and the Holy Spirit who are
all One. The responsibilities and privileges of this relationship are awesome.
The primary way He speaks to us is through the Bible, the Word of God. It is
important to go to a church where the Bible itself is preached and honored above
church traditions. Every church has traditions, but these traditions should
never be the primary accent of the church. The true church is found wherever
Jesus truly lives in people. He commanded us to love one another (John 13:34,35)
and not to get caught up in hypocrisy and dead religion "the leaven of
the Scribes and Pharisees" (Luke 12:1).
I encourage you to read the Bible for yourself and also someof the free
teaching on salvation which I have made available to people on the net.
I’d really also like to encourage you to read some of the amazing testimonies
I have collected of how Jesus has been changing the lives of people.