Thursday, March 23, 2017

Is There A New Testament Priesthood?

Question: You said that there are no priests in the church distinct from the laity. It is not true because the apostle Paul wrote to Titus: "This is why I left you in Crete, that you might amend what was defective and appoint Presbyters (Greek for Priests) in every town as I have directed you" (Titus 1:5). Then Paul gives the qualifications a man needs to be a priest.
Answer: No, there are no Catholic priests in the New Testament. The Roman priesthood was not instituted by Christ; it is a human invention that evolved in the post-apostolic period.
It is simply not true that "presbyter" means "priest". The Greek terms used in the New Testament to describe the ministers of the church are: 1. presbuteros (presbyters, elders); 2. episkopos (bishops, overseers); and 3. poimen (pastors, shepherds). They are never called hiereus, which is the Greek word for priest.
The change in the title of the ministers in the Catholic church corresponds to the change in their role. The Council of Trent defines the specific functions of the Catholic priest: "If any one saith, that there is not in the New Testament a visible and external priesthood; or that there is not any power of consecrating and offering the true body and blood of the Lord, and of forgiving and retaining sins; but only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel… let him be anathema" (Council of Trent, Session 23, Canon I). Thus the two main functions of the priest are:
  1. The offering of the propitiatory sacrifice of the Mass;
  2. The forgiveness sins by the sacrament of penance.
How does this compare to the teaching of the New Testament? In the apostolic church, the Eucharist was considered a "remembrance" and a "proclamation" of the Lord and His sacrifice, and not a carrying on, perpetuation, renewal and re-presentation of the sacrifice of Christ, as the modern Catholic Church teaches. There is no place for a "visible and external priesthood" in the church since Christ, our Priest, offered one perfect sacrifice, and He ever lives to intercede for His own. "He, because He continues forever, has an unchangeable priesthood" (Hebrew 7:24). The Greek word (aparabatos) translated "unchangeable" means "not passing away, untransferable, perpetual." Unlike the Levitical priests, who had to pass on their ministry from generation to the next because of death, Jesus Christ lives forever and therefore His priesthood is not transferred to anyone.
The other key aspect of the Catholic priesthood, auricular confession, was not practiced in the Western church until after the seventh century. The apostles and elders in the early church did not hear confession, give absolution or prescribe penance for the remission of sins. Rather they were involved primarily in the preaching and teaching of the Gospel; they insisted that forgiveness was through faith in Christ. "And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins" (Acts 10:42,43). The Council of Trent derogates this work as "only an office and bare ministry of preaching the Gospel" -- the Bible exalts it as the divine mandate to reach out the world with the grace and forgiveness of God.
Today, Christian pastors continue to lead people to Christ by the preaching of the Word that they may receive life and forgiveness through faith in Him. We thank God for their faithful and invaluable service to us.
The Roman priest stand in the way between the sinner and Christ. We cannot benefit from the sacrifice of the cross, or so we are told, unless the Catholic priest offers the sacrifice of the Mass. Nor can we receive God’s forgiveness apart from priestly absolution. That is not true! The Catholic priest is a stumbling block to the soul who is seeking God. The way is wide open to all who come by faith Jesus Christ. "Through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins."

Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi
Used by permission

 Thank you for your partnership in the proclamation of the gospel!
 Joseph Mizzi, 2000 - 2014

On Assurance Of Salvation...

  • Can We Have Assurance Of Salvation?:
          -Since we are able to humbly approach God with absolute trust in His divine promises (2 Corinthians 1:20; Hebrews 10:22), we are therefore able to have great assurance of our salvation (John 5:24; John 6:32-63; 1 John 5:11-15). Salvation is promised to those who are faithful to God's will (1 John 2:25). All who call upon His name shall be saved (Romans 10:13). God's character is unchangeable (Malachi 3:6), never deceptive (Numbers 23:19; Hebrews 6:17-18), and reveals no partiality in judgment (Acts 10:34; Romans 2:6-7). So yes, we can indeed have great assurance of our salvation. But we must choose to accept the free gift of salvation that God has given us.

  • A Major Evidence Against A Works-Based Salvation:
        -Having assurance of eternal life is proof of being saved by faith apart from meritorious works because if our works contributed at all to our salvation, then we could not have any real assurance of salvation. If any kind of works contribute to salvation, then how many must perform to be justified in the sight of God? How many sins will God tolerate? How could one know that he or she is saved? No answer has ever been provided to these loaded questions and thus undermines any possible certitude of salvation or trust in the Lord for eternal salvation. The futuristic sight of our eternal destinies would simply be too cloudy because there would be no grounds to make any sort of determination with certainty. Nobody is capable of coming close to measuring up to God's perfect standard of morality, the Mosaic Law. Since the Scriptures clearly attest in favor of having great assurance of everlasting life with God in heaven, we know that works have no bearing on justification before God.
        -If salvation was determined on the basis of works, then we would expect Scripture to describe salvation as being a merited reward. But Scripture describes eternal life as being an unmerited gift that nobody can earn. We should also take note of the fact that the concept of a works-based salvation inevitably leads to sins such as pride, lust, and arrogance. We have the inherent tendency to sin. The mere fact that we are able to have great assurance of salvation demonstrates the ultimate futility of one trusting in his or her own works to get saved.

  • On Losing Salvation:
          -One sin will not necessarily send a person directly to hell (this does not in any way mean that sin is permissible or justifiable). Salvation, technically speaking, is not easy to lose. Habitual sinning is generally the spiritual symptom of a spiritually unhealthy journey. This process may continue until a person completely falls away from God because of a hardened heart or he or she truly repents so that he or she may continue to build his or her relationship with God. People practice sins such as murder, theft, and greed because their hearts are dedicated to those specific sins. They are the EVIDENCE of what is in our hearts. We fall into a state of sin, especially during our times of spiritual weakness. One can indeed "walk away" from salvation, which means that he or she can choose to open the door leading to eternal condemnation and thus choose to close the door to eternal life. We can indeed reject the gifts and callings of God (but doing such is morally wrong). We escape the wrath of God by repenting from our hearts through faith in Him. God ultimately looks at a person's state of heart (i.e. Matthew 5:21-28; 2 Corinthians 5:6-10).

Are All Sins Equal In Severity?

  • Many professing Christian groups advocate the belief that all sins are equally severe in nature. In other words, people wrongly believe that all sins have the same negative weight on our souls. But if you go by the Bible alone for spiritual discernment, and not by the mere opinions of fallible and uninspired men, then you will readily come to the conclusion that the "sin is sin" theory is unequivocally repudiated  by scriptural instruction (2 Timothy 3:15-17). In short, there are no statements, either implicitly or explicitly, in Scripture which provide any substance for the justification of the belief that all sins are equally severe in nature.
  •  Sins Are Not Equally Severe:
          -While it is true that all sins can lead up to spiritual condemnation by the gradual hardening of our hearts to the point that we begin to outrightly reject the blessings and gifts of God (Romans 6:23),  some sins do have a much worse impact on our souls than others (John 19:11; 1 John 5:15-17). Some sins can cause more spiritual harm than others, or even terminate our relationship with God. 
          -While it is true that all other types of blasphemy are forgivable, God will never forgive blasphemy committed against the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29).
          -Grave sins such as homosexuality, murder, and idolatry reveal a fatal state of heart, if not repented of and forgiven by God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; Ephesians 5:5-7; Revelation 21:8). We can deduce that sins such as worry and unthankfulness are not as bad or severe as others such as the ones listed in the above scriptural references because they are not included in the comprehensive lists of sins that are more severe on the "spectrum" of sins.    
         -Just as sins have differing degrees of severity (Ezekiel 8), some Commandments are greater in importance than others (Matthew 22:36-39).  
  • What About James 2:10-11? Does It Teach That All Sins Are Equal In Severity?:
        -No, the passage says absolutely nothing about all sins being equally severe in nature. The inspired writer James was not placing murder in the same category of severity as adultery (or visa versa). In fact, the context of James 2:10-11 is not about differing degrees of sin, but rather, a Christian demonstrating the reality of his or her salvation through good deeds. All the passage is saying is that if you commit sins such as adultery and murder, then you have violated the God's moral Law. In other words, the text is simply stating that there are multiple ways to break the Commandments of God. There is more than one way to break His Moral Law, just as there are multiple ways of violating the traffic law. Would it be rational to conclude that all violations of the traffic law are of the same severity if we were to examine the scenarios of a driver speeding eighty miles over the permitted speed limit on a road, accidentally running past a stop sign, or simply forgetting to wear a seat belt?