Practical Evangelization Tip #17
Be Faithful to the Teachings of the Church
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“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me.'” John 14:6 RSV-CE
“So then, brethren, stand firm and hold to the traditions which you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by letter.” 2 Thessalonians 2:15 RSV-CE
“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of man, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1:20-21 RSV-CE
“If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain…O Timothy, guard the deposit.” 1 Timothy 6:3-5,20
Why it Works:
Here are a few short reasons we need to be faithful to Church teaching.
- It is reasonable to believe that God exists. We cannot only come to know that he exists, we can know him personally because he has revealed himself to us in the person and teachings of Jesus Christ.
- If Jesus Christ is God, then he reveals the fullness of truth about what it means to be human. We can only know and do what is right by forming our conscience according to his divine law and the natural law which the world he created reflects.
- The Deposit of Faith is what we call the teachings of Jesus revealed to us through Scripture and Tradition. Jesus founded the Catholic Church and gave the authority to teach and guard the deposit of faith to the apostles and their successors, the bishops. This teaching office, which we call the Magisterium, ensures fidelity to what God has revealed.
- Jesus promised that he would send his Holy Spirit to be with and guide the Church, so that ‘the gates of Hell would never prevail’ against her. The Holy Spirit protects all truths which the Church teaches, and guards her from teaching error.
- The teaching authority of the Church is infallible so that we can measure truth from error. We can be certain that whatever the Church proposes for belief is a gift from Christ, and that if we cling to his Church’s teachings, we will not be led astray. We are faithful to Jesus by receiving that gift and making our hearts docile to the teachings of the Church.
Jesus prayed for unity for Christian believers (John 17:20-23) and this is most clearly visible in the Catholic Church, which he founded. When we reject the teachings of the Catholic Church we damage the unity of the Church. Even as a Baptist teenager I saw how unchristian it was to have denominations – Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Non-denominational denominations, Evangelical, Reformed, Anglican, and so on (Yes, the Orthodox are a special situation, but we don’t have time to discuss that here). Every church taught different doctrines that conflicted with each other. There is no reason to trust the Christian faith if we cannot know, with certainty, what God revealed for us to believe. The nuances of scriptural interpretation require an authority that can judge if a truth or belief is right or wrong. That is only possible through the one, universal Church that Jesus founded. The teachings of the Catholic Church have never changed and the Church itself traces its roots to Jesus Christ & St. Peter as the first head of the Church.
The Catholic Church has extensively dealt with how to understand the truths revealed by God throughout its history. While most Christians take the divine and human natures of Jesus Christ for granted, that wasn’t so in the early Church. Early Christians turned to the Magisterium to interpret what God revealed about himself for the sake of their salvation. The Nicene & Apostles Creeds are a result of that work.
Some Catholics accept the foundational truths of the faith about Jesus but they reject the moral law of the Church. Especially “hot button” or contraversial topics.
St. John Paul II talks about this problem in relation to the New Evangelization:
“Evangelization is the most powerful and stirring challenge which the Church has been called to face from her very beginning. Indeed, this challenge is posed not so much by the social and cultural milieux which she encounters in the course of history, as by the mandate of the Risen Christ, who defines the very reason for the Church’s existence: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to the whole creation” (Mk 16:15).
At least for many peoples, however, the present time is instead marked by a formidable challenge to undertake a “new evangelization”, a proclamation of the Gospel which is always new and always the bearer of new things, an evangelization which must be “new in its ardour, methods and expression”. Dechristianization, which weighs heavily upon entire peoples and communities once rich in faith and Christian life, involves not only the loss of faith or in any event its becoming irrelevant for everyday life, but also, and of necessity, a decline or obscuring of the moral sense. This comes about both as a result of a loss of awareness of the originality of Gospel morality and as a result of an eclipse of fundamental principles and ethical values themselves. Today’s widespread tendencies towards subjectivism, utilitarianism and relativism appear not merely as pragmatic attitudes or patterns of behaviour, but rather as approaches having a basis in theory and claiming full cultural and social legitimacy.
Evangelization — and therefore the “new evangelization” — also involves the proclamation and presentation of morality. Jesus himself, even as he preached the Kingdom of God and its saving love, called people to faith and conversion (cf. Mk 1:15). And when Peter, with the other Apostles, proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead, he held out a new life to be lived, a “way” to be followed, for those who would be disciples of the Risen One (cf. Acts 2:37-41; 3:17-20).” Veritatis Splendor, 106-107
At St. Paul Street Evangelization we have emphasized this need for “new ardour, methods and expression” through our work as street evangelists. In order to be convincing though, we have to fully embrace and accept all that God has revealed through his holy Catholic Church. If we reject it, then we are aligning ourselves with the truth of the world and its “subjectivism, utilitarianism, and relativism.” Today many Catholics reject the beautiful teachings of the Church on the human body for something that is counterfeit and will ultimately never satisfy. Studies show that we base decisions regarding truth on emotional experiences. Others first need to see the beauty of the Catholic faith and have a positive association with the truth of the faith. In order to do that, they need to see you living it out. If you do not believe it, neither will they have any reason to embrace Jesus. If you can show people how the fuller expression of the truth of God is better than the counterfeit expression of the world (pick any moral topic) by being a living example they are more likely to listen.
Tips for Success:
- Take the Oath of Fidelity. We ask all participants in our live training to take it with us. We have not heard of a good reason for a Catholic to refuse to do so yet.
- Every time you say “Amen” before you receive the Eucharist you are giving an assent to all that the Church believes and teaches. The Hebrew connotation here is one of faith.
- If you can identify areas where your beliefs are at odds with Church teachings, seek out a trusted Catholic friend to help you with your questions. There are various national organizations dedicated to answering your questions such as St. Paul Street Evangelization, Catholic Answers, Renewal Ministries, and Catholics United for the Faith.
- Even while you are struggling to understand areas of Church doctrine it is still good to give intellectual assent to those teachings. “Lord, I do not understand your teaching on abortion, but I believe it is wrong because your holy Church proposes it for belief.”
From the Catechism:
889 In order to preserve the Church in the purity of the faith handed on by the apostles, Christ who is the Truth willed to confer on her a share in his own infallibility. By a “supernatural sense of faith” the People of God, under the guidance of the Church’s living Magisterium, “unfailingly adheres to this faith.”
892 Divine assistance is also given to the successors of the apostles, teaching in communion with the successor of Peter, and, in a particular way, to the bishop of Rome, pastor of the whole Church, when, without arriving at an infallible definition and without pronouncing in a “definitive manner,” they propose in the exercise of the ordinary Magisterium a teaching that leads to better understanding of Revelation in matters of faith and morals. To this ordinary teaching the faithful “are to adhere to it with religious assent” which, though distinct from the assent of faith, is nonetheless an extension of it.
2089 Incredulity is the neglect of revealed truth or the willful refusal to assent to it. “Heresy is the obstinate post-baptismal denial of some truth which must be believed with divine and catholic faith, or it is likewise an obstinate doubt concerning the same; apostasy is the total repudiation of the Christian faith; schism is the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him.”
From the Spiritual Masters:
“For already on this matter two councils have sent to the Apostolic See, whence also rescripts have come back from there. The case is ended; would that the error may end likewise!” – St. Augustine, Sermon 131
“When, therefore, we have such proofs, it is not necessary to seek among others the truth which is easily obtained from the Church. For the Apostles, like a rich man in a bank, deposited with her most copiously everything which pertains to the truth; and everyone whosoever wishes draws from her the drink of life. For she is the entrance to life, while all the rest are thieves and robbers. That is why it is surely necessary to avoid them, while cherishing with the utmost diligence the things pertaining to the Church, and to lay hold of the traditions of truth. What then? If there should be a dispute over some kind of question, ought we not have recourse to the most ancient Churches in which the Apostles were familiar, and draw from them what is clear and certain in regard to that question? What if the Apostles had not in fact left writings to us? Would it not then be necessary to follow the order of tradition, which was handed down to those to whom they entrusted the Churches?” St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies
From the Church:
“The Splendor of Truth shines forth in the works of the Creator and, in a special way, in man, created in the image and likeness of God. Truth enlightens man’s intelligence and shapes his freedom, leading him to know and love the Lord.” St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor
“A comparison between the Church’s teaching and today’s social and cultural situation immediately makes clear the urgent need for the Church herself to develop an intense pastoral effort precisely with regard to this fundamental question. “This essential bond between Truth, the Good and Freedom has been largely lost sight of by present-day culture. As a result, helping man to rediscover it represents nowadays one of the specific requirements of the Church’s mission, for the salvation of the world. Pilate’s question: “What is truth” reflects the distressing perplexity of a man who often no longer knows who he is, whence he comes and where he is going. Hence we not infrequently witness the fearful plunging of the human person into situations of gradual self-destruction. According to some, it appears that one no longer need acknowledge the enduring absoluteness of any moral value. All around us we encounter contempt for human life after conception and before birth; the ongoing violation of basic rights of the person; the unjust destruction of goods minimally necessary for a human life. Indeed, something more serious has happened: man is no longer convinced that only in the truth can he find salvation. The saving power of the truth is contested, and freedom alone, uprooted from any objectivity, is left to decide by itself what is good and what is evil. This relativism becomes, in the field of theology, a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, who guides man with the moral law. Concrete situations are unfavourably contrasted with the precepts of the moral law, nor is it any longer maintained that, when all is said and done, the law of God is always the one true good of man.” St. John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor
“Bishops, teaching in communion with the Roman Pontiff, are to be respected by all as witnesses to divine and Catholic truth. In matters of faith and morals, the bishops speak in the name of Christ and the faithful are to accept their teaching and adhere to it with a religious assent. This religious submission of mind and will must be shown in a special way to the authentic magisterium of the Roman Pontiff, even when he is not speaking ex cathedra; that is, it must be shown in such a way that his supreme magisterium is acknowledged with reverence, the judgments made by him are sincerely adhered to, according to his manifest mind and will. His mind and will in the matter may be known either from the character of the documents, from his frequent repetition of the same doctrine, or from his manner of speaking.
And this infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer willed His Church to be endowed in defining doctrine of faith and morals, extends as far as the deposit of Revelation extends, which must be religiously guarded and faithfully expounded. And this is the infallibility which the Roman Pontiff, the head of the college of bishops, enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith, by a definitive act he proclaims a doctrine of faith or morals. And therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly styled irreformable, since they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, promised to him in blessed Peter, and therefore they need no approval of others, nor do they allow an appeal to any other judgment. For then the Roman Pontiff is not pronouncing judgment as a private person, but as the supreme teacher of the universal Church, in whom the charism of infallibility of the Church itself is individually present, he is expounding or defending a doctrine of Catholic faith. The infallibility promised to the Church resides also in the body of Bishops, when that body exercises the supreme magisterium with the successor of Peter. To these definitions the assent of the Church can never be wanting, on account of the activity of that same Holy Spirit, by which the whole flock of Christ is preserved and progresses in unity of faith.” Lumen Gentium 25
For Discussion Groups & Teams:
- Do I struggle to accept some of the teachings of the Church? Have I taken the time to research that I understand what those teachings really are and why the Church teaches what she does?
- How does the Church exercise infallibility? What is the difference between infallibility and being sinless?
- How can the infallibility of the Church on matters of faith & morals bring peace to Catholics who trust in the Church?
- Why is fidelity to Church teaching absolutely necessary to the work of evangelization?
© 2014 St. Paul Street Evangelization. Written by Adam Janke, Program Director.