When I speak with my Protestant brethren, all our differences boil down to a single issue – authority. Who has the authority to interpret scripture? Who has the authority to bind and loose? And many of my Protestant friends will admit, eventually, that the Catholic Church does have some reason, from a scriptural viewpoint, to claim that authority.
So why aren’t they becoming Catholic? It’s too hard. One told me in so many words:
The reason? It carries too much added baggage. Rituals, images, co-redeemers, practices, requirements, and on and on. There is no end there to what was so simply required by Christ. “Follow Me”.
If it is as you say, the “true and only church”, then I want no part of it nor anyone whom would would put that kind of burden on sinful people. That’s just not the reason “He” came.
And he makes a good point. How do we get from “my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:30) to Gaudium et Spes? From “repent and be Baptized” (Acts 2:38) to Munificentissimus Deus? I have two things to say about this.
First off, simple principles often lead to complexity in practice.
For instance, I can say “drive a safe speed.” Very simple, obvious and direct. But what exactly is a safe speed? So we wind up with highways of varying speeds (and at one point a federal 55 MPH override), towns slowing down traffic as roads pass through them, rules like “25 MPH on school days 7-8 AM and 3-4 PM” “Traffic fines doubled in construction zone”… I think you get the idea.
There is no end there to what was so simply required “drive a safe speed.” What a burden to place on drivers!
But as we all know, not every speeding law is designed purely for safety’s sake. Sometimes local governments can go too far, making speed limits slow in order to get revenue from speeders. It’s inevitable that in any organization containing sinful people that abuses will happen. It’s not harmful to you to have to slow down, maybe even beneficial, but it’s not strictly necessary. We obey these laws because we recognize that even though we think they are unnecessary, we need to follow lawful authority.
Similarly, is everything the Church requires of us strictly necessary for salvation? Is avoiding meat on Fridays inherently good? No, but it’s not harmful. In fact, it is spiritually beneficial, if we do it as an act of mortification to unite us more with Christ. But ultimately we obey not because “Jesus said so” but because we recognize the need to obey the lawful authority to bind and loose promised by Jesus to His Church.
Secondly, let’s turn to scripture, specifically 1 Kings 12.
Rehoboam has become king, and Jeroboam challenges him to lighten the yoke that Solomon put on the people. Solomon had been taxing the population heavily to finance his construction projects and his opulent lifestyle. Rehoboam takes counsel and replies “My father made your yoke heavy, but I will add to your yoke; my father chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.”
Jeroboam takes the ten northern tribes of Israel and secedes, leaving Rehoboam with just two tribes, Judah and Benjamin. But without the temple and the true presence of God, the ten tribes fall away from the faith and wind up worshipping idols. They eventually will become the Samaritans. The people of Judah, who put up with the harsh rule of Rehoboam are the true kingdom.
Would you have said “it’s too much of a burden on the people” and left? To be honest I might have. But in doing so we’d have been walking away from the temple, the priesthood, and God’s chosen people.
There are so many places in the Bible where this kind of thing occurs it’s astonishing. For instance, in the New Testament, Acts 15:28-29 says:
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.
You could focus on the Apostles lightening the burden on the Gentiles, but in fact the Gentiles have had no rules imposed on them before, so this is an added burden for them. And note that they speak not just in their own name, but in the name of the Holy Spirit.
And let’s not forget Jesus in Matthew 23:1-4 (emphasis mine):
Then said Jesus to the crowds and to his disciples, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; so practice and observe whatever they tell you, but not what they do; for they preach, but do not practice. They bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with their finger.
My point is that just because the Catholic Church has rules, some of which we may not like, doesn’t mean that it’s any less the Church that Jesus founded, and doesn’t mean that it has lost the power to “bind and loose.”
Indeed, what need is there of binding and loosing if the followers only have to do what they want to do? We need to stay with the true presence of God and obey the authority He gave to His Church, even if (or maybe especially if) we find it difficult.
Copyright 2015, Michael Lindner
“Tissot Solomon Dedicates the Temple at Jerusalem” by James Tissot – http://www.thejewishmuseum.org/onlinecollection/object_collection.php?objectid=26550&artistlist=1&an=James Jacques Joseph Tissot. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.