Should I Leave My Church?

AN ANSWER FROM GOD’S WORD TO A PRACTICAL QUESTION
By Tony Pezzotta

Rev. Tony Pezzotta, a former Roman Catholic priest, is a career-missionary with the Conservative Baptist Foreign Missions Society (CBFMS). At present he is teaching at Asian Theological Seminary in Quezon City.

Question:

I am a Roman Catholic, but recently in a home Bible study I accepted Christ as my Saviour and Lord, and I know now that I am a born-again person, a child of God; I know that I have eternal life. Soon I hope to follow Jesus in the witness of baptism. Do you think I can stay in the Roman Catholic Church, or do you advise me to leave it? Is it necessary or important for me to join an Evangelical church?

Answer:

Your question is a very relevant one. All Catholics who by the Grace of God trust Christ as their Saviour and Lord sooner or later face this problem. I have often heard people say that it does not matter what church one joins. In part they are right, for it really does not matter what church one attends IF ONE IS NOT A TRUE CHRISTIAN, that is A BORN-AGAIN PERSON. BUT FOR ONE WHO IS A GENUINE BELIEVER IT DOES MATTER VERY MUCH.

Let me give my straight answer, which I will try to prove from God’s Word and from a Catholic viewpoint. In my mind there is no doubt that a true Christian WILL eventually LEAVE THE CATHOLIC CHURCH. So it is not a question of WHETHER one should leave, but rather of WHEN.

A. A CATHOLIC WHO RECEIVES CHRIST AS SAVIOUR AND LORD WILL LEAVE HIS CHURCH BECAUSE ….

1. As a believer he has Christ as Lord, which means he does what Christ says in His Word. If his church happens to have doctrines and laws against God’s Word, the believer cannot abide by them; he must obey the Word of his Lord and Master. Now we know that the church of Rome has several major doctrines and laws which are unbiblical, yet they are binding in conscience (under pain of sin, and if dogmas, even of excommunication) according to the teachings of that church.

2. The Word of God teaches that believers have one or more spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:7-13; 1 Cor, 12:1-31) and that these gifts as such do not make us better Christians, but rather their purpose is to equip us for the building up of the body of Christ. They are for service. The context in these passages demands, from the very nature of such gifts, that the Apostle Paul is dealing with the visible manifestation of Christ’s body that is the local church.

Now, which church is the believer supposed to serve? In which church is he supposed to exercise his gift? If I work in and for a church that mixes error with truth, I am directly responsible for the spreading of error too. Even if I do not preach what is against God’s Word, but do it in and for an institution which does so, I am upholding the institution as a whole.

Let me give you an example. We all know that Communism as such is atheistic materialism. Yet Communism has some good social aspects that are in keeping with gospel truth. Do you think a Christian could be an active communist in view of such good social aspects? Absolutely not. If he votes for Communism and actively works for it, he contributes to the spreading of Communism for what it is: “atheistic materialism,” and not only for its partly acceptable social program.

In the same way a true believer who Works in and for the Roman Catholic Church, directly contributes to the growth and spreading of an institution which preaches not only the Triune God, Jesus Christ, heaven, hell, love, prayer, social justice, etc., but also:

a. the Pope as the infallible successor of Peter and Vicar of Christ on earth, temporal sovereign of a state and visible head of the church. (Eph. 5:23)

b. faith as mere intellectual assent rather than trust in the person of Christ. (Ju. 1:12; Col. 2:6 …)

c. salvation as communicated through sacraments and kept through good works rather than the gift of God through faith in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:8-9)

d. priesthood as the privilege of a few men endowed with the supernatural power of offering sacrifice and forgiving sins, rather than the priesthood of Christ in which all believers, men as well as women, have an equal share. (Heb. 10:10-18; 1 Pet. 2:5,9; Rev. 1:5-6)

e. a church that allows and encourages praying to Mary and saints and making images and statues. (Ex. 20:4-5; Jn. 4:23-24)

f. a church, in conclusion, which openly defies the clear teaching of Scripture in many areas (Tradition, Sacerdotalism, Vatican or a political entity, Sacramentalism, Institutionalism, etc.)

A believer who stays and works in the Catholic Church contributes to the building up of that church for what it stands, including all the above.

3. The Catholic who becomes a true believer can find local churches which accept the Lordship of Christ and the authority of His Word. Such churches surely fall short of perfection in the lives of believers, as also Roman Catholics do (on a much greater way), but will not justify open disobedience to God’s Word on the basis of the authority of the church. These Christian churches, or Evangelical churches as they are frequently called, abide by God’s Word in principle, and try their best to do so in practice too, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit.

B. A CATHOLIC WHO RECEIVES CHRIST AS SAVIOUR AND LORD WILL LEAVE HIS CHURCH BECAUSE HE IS NO LONGER A ROMAN CATHOLIC.

1. If you believe that you are saved because of your faith in Christ, and accept His Word as final authority, you are not a Roman Catholic but a Protestant, even if you do not like the word Protestant. Salvation by faith and the sole authority of Scripture are the very foundation of Protestantism, as against salvation by works and sacraments, and the authority of tradition of Catholicism.

2. Many Catholics wrongly think that they can reject official teachings of dogmas of their church and yet be Catholics. Their church declares them ipso facto excommunicated (that is automatically cut off from the Catholic Church and the Body of Christ). This makes them heretics in the eyes of their church. So, for instance, if you do not believe in your heart that the Pope is infallible, that Mary was sinless from conception, that the Mass is a true sacrifice, that there is a purgatory, or if you reject any of the seven sacraments as taught by the church, etc., you are no longer a Roman Catholic in the eyes of your church. The text of official definitions of the Pope always ends with the expression: “And if any one dare to believe the contrary, let him be anathema (damned and excommunicated).”

3. If finally you obey the command of Jesus of being baptized after you truly believe in Him, as you rightly say in your question, then you automatically incur another excommunication, for the church of Rome dogmatically teaches that you become a child of God at your infant baptism, and that baptism can never be repeated.

In conclusion I would like to share with you how many Catholics simply have a sentimental attachment to their church, which they were trained to call “Our Mother the Church.” This common expression and feeling points to the fact that they believe they owe their spiritual life to the church, which made them Christians through baptism, and keeps them spiritually alive through the other sacraments. Biblically it is not the church that makes us, but we believers make up the church. And since it is by grace through faith that we become living stones of his church, Christ is the true builder.

I believe I gave you several objective reasons from both the biblical and the Catholic viewpoint, which show that you no longer belong to the Roman Catholic Church. For this reason I started by saying that for a believer it is not a question of WHETHER but of WHEN he or she should leave the Catholic Church. There may be legitimate reasons at times to delay for a while, as in the case of baptism too. But it should never be for a long time, for you need a local Christian fellowship for your growth in Christ, in the knowledge of His Word, and for the exercise of your spiritual gifts.

For further information write to:

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Manila, Philippines