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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Why do I need a Church to tell me what to believe?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,     
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Faith is a personal act - the free response of the human person to the initiative of God 
who reveals himself. But faith is not an isolated act. 
No one can believe alone, just as no one can live alone. 
You have not given yourself faith as you have not given yourself life. 
The believer has received faith from others and should hand it on to others. 
Our love for Jesus and for our neighbor impels us to speak to others about our faith. 
Each believer is thus a link in the great chain of believers. 
I cannot believe without being carried by the faith of others, and by my faith I help support others in the faith.
--#166, Catechism of the Catholic Church

Question:   Why do I need a Church to tell me what to believe?  I am an independent thinker and don't need a Church to tell me how to think!

Short answer:  because it's only through the Catholic Church that we can know anything at all about Jesus and what he taught.  

For example, when someone says, "Jesus loves me!" the ONLY way this Christian knows this is because he believes what the Church told him.  He can't know this any other way (unless he is claiming some sort of private revelation), except through deferring to the authority of the Church and believing what the Church said in this instance.

Thus, anyone who is a Christian conforms himself to revealed Truth.  No one gets to re-define and "independently think" up their own truths.  (For example, he doesn't get to say, "I believe that God is a Quadrinity, rather than a Trinity!" or "I think that God only forgives the sins of females, but not of males!")  Rather, he defers to what has been revealed through Scripture (and the Church, whether he acknowledges this or not).

Now, being an "independent thinker" and following the Church's teachings are not mutually exclusive.  Of course we are all called to independently think, critically analyze, and come to a knowledge of the Truth.  We are commanded, in fact, to do this when St. Matthew professes that we are to love God with our entire MIND.  Catholic scholars are some of the greatest independent thinkers in the history of academia!  

And as Catholics we are forbidden to follow blindly anyone (that is called Fideism, and is a heresy in the Church).  We should never be blind automatons who never examine and evaluate that which has been proclaimed to us by the Catholic Church.  Faith and Reason are the two wings upon which we rise to contemplate the Godhead.  

But, as the great Cardinal Henry Newman said, "Ten thousand difficulties do not make one doubt, for a man may be annoyed that he cannot work out a mathematical problem, without doubting that it admits an answer".  In other words, an independent thinker may struggle to come to an understanding of a truth, but he knows that there is a truth that he has to conform to.  He cannot simply re-define truth and declare, "I am an independent thinker and now re-define this to be a circle.  I just think independently like that.  No one can tell me what to believe!"

We don't get to just decide for ourselves what the Truths are.  Rather, we must discern what they are using our Faith and Reason, and then conform ourselves to these Truths.

There are a multitude of Christians who reject the Catholic Church and declare that they don't need any church to tell them what to believe, because all has already been revealed in the Bible.  "I have Jesus and my Bible.  I don't need a church to tell me what to believe!"

This prompts a lot of thoughts:

Namely, without the Catholic Church they wouldn't have the Bible.  It was the Catholic Church that discerned for them which of the over 400 ancient Christian texts belonged in the New Testament, coming to a decision, guided by the Holy Spirit, that 27 books belong in the canon.  Thus, when a Christian believes that the Gospel of Mark is inspired and the Gospel of Barnabas is not, it is because he defers to the authority of the Catholic Church in discerning this for him (even if he doesn't acknowledge this).

Also, following Jesus without the Church is like following a Head without a Body.  The Church is the Body of Christ, and without the Body, the Head is merely a disembodied entity.  

From Apologist John Martignoni:  

"Whenever someone tells me that I should think for myself, be my own man, and not simply believe what the church tells me to believe, I ask them a couple of questions: “Did Jesus found the church?” Most will say that yes, Jesus did indeed found the church.  And, the second question: “Doesn’t the Bible say the church is the Body of Christ?”  To which they generally answer that the Bible does indeed say the church is the Body of Christ.  To which I then reply, “So, you’re telling me that I shouldn’t just accept what the Body of Christ tells me, I should decide for myself, right?  And, if what I decide for myself is contrary to what the Body of Christ is telling me, then you’re saying I should go with my individual decision over the decision of the Body of Christ?”  

Silence.  Or, someone will say, “Well, the Catholic Church isn’t the church of the Bible.”  To which there are two responses: 1) “Oh yea, says who?” and, 2) “So which church is the church of the Bible and do you accept everything it teaches, yes or no?”  Now they have backed themselves into a theological corner.  First of all, before we go on, I want you, the reader, to say out loud, right now, the following sentence - not as an oath or any such thing, but just to hear it said out loud: “I will trust my own individual decisions about doctrines and morals, over and above the decisions about doctrines and morals made by the church of the Bible, the church founded by Jesus Christ, the church that is the Body of Christ.”  Sounds pretty ridiculous, doesn’t it? ...

Anyone who claims they do not necessarily go by what any church says, or that they don’t let any church get between them and Jesus, or that they don't need the church as long as they have their Bible, or who looks down on Catholics for just accepting what the church says and not going by their own private interpretations of Scripture, has done something really terrible.  They have, in essence, using their private fallible opinion of Scripture as the weapon, decapitated Jesus.  Think about it.  Scripture tells us that Jesus is the head of the body and that the body is the church (Ephesians 4:15-16, 5:23; Colossians 1:18, 2:19).  Also, Scripture tells us that Jesus identifies Himself with the church.  We see this in Acts 8:3 where it tells us that Saul (Paul) “laid waste the church.” In other words, Saul was persecuting the church something fierce.  And then, in Acts 9:4, Jesus asks Saul, “Why do you persecute Me?”  Jesus identifies Himself with the church.  The church is His body.  He is its Head.  They are one.
Which means, anyone who tells you that you should decide matters of doctrine and morality on your own, regardless of what the church says; and that you should never let the church come between you and Jesus, is, essentially, decapitating Christ."

There is no reason to have any type of dichotomy between Jesus and the Church. Or the Bible and the Church.  

It's the good old Catholic Both/And principle at work here.  We follow Jesus and the Church. We follow the Bible and the Church.   

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

Faith and Reason by Pope JPII

Catholic Bible online

Catechism of the Catholic Church online

Catholics Come Home 

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15   


  1. “It is an absurd dichotomy to love Christ without the Church; to listen to Christ, but not the Church; to be with Christ at the margins of the Church,” he said. “One cannot do this. It is an absurd dichotomy.” - Pope Francis