Part 1: The Big Stuff
Section One - The Logical Questions No Protestant Could Answer
I will get straight to the heart of the matter that was the most important for me:
Can priests forgive sins?
This was at the heart of the “terror” I felt. Because if there are normal people in the history of mankind that had their sins forgiven by another mortal man, even just one person, that would mean that there are two paths to salvation. Only Jesus can forgive sins! How could there be two ways that mans sins are forgiven?
How is it that for the first 4,000 years of biblical history God used a priesthood, the Levitical priesthood, to forgive sins before God the Father. How is it for the first 1,500 years of Christian history the Catholic church, basically the only church in existence, uses a priesthood to forgive sins in the name of Christ? And how is it in the last 500 years since the protestant reformation the idea of a priesthood is now unconscionable, and that no man can forgive sins?
The Tribe of Levi was “set apart” by God to serve him and formulate blessings (Deu 10:8) throughout the old testament. The only point of bringing up the Levitical Priesthood and the Catholic church history is to establish the formula that God used MEN to minister, be priests and forgive sins for the first 5,500 years of biblical history.
This got me thinking of more questions. Has God ever used MEN to communicate forgiveness of sins in the past? Absolutely YES.
Leviticus 5:13 - In this way the priest will make atonement for them for any of these sins they have committed, and they will be forgiven.
The Levitical priest was instrumental in communication with God, for the other tribes to have a process for forgiving sins. God used a MAN to communicate with other MEN. (yes, this will be a theme).
Ok great, that’s the old testament though. That is old news and doesn’t apply now, right? Actually no. Mortal men in the New Testament were given the authority to forgive sins.
Matt 16:18-20 - 18 And I tell you that you are Peter,[b] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[c] will not overcome it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be[d] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[e] loosed in heaven.”
Ok, so Peter could forgive sins (binding and loosing are not controversial, both protestants and Catholics agree this is in reference to forgiving sins and/or represent communion with God).
Anyone else forgiving sins? Yes, all twelve apostles. Matthew 18 depicts Jesus saying the following to the twelve:
Matt 18:18 - 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be[e] bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be[f] loosed in heaven.
Ok, maybe you are not convinced about this whole binding and loosing thing, or he was talking to the twelve, or some other objection. John 20 removes all doubt.
John 20:21-23 - 21 Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” 22 And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
Let’s take this one step at a time. There are interpretations that contradict the plain words in John 20. I wont go into more of those here, we will leave that for google research, but regardless of the gymnastics needed to get around this, why is the forgiveness of sins by man mentioned THREE times in the gospels if they didn't mean just that? Why bring it up at all? Seems like an odd power to just mention three times and not mean it.
Also, some will point out that the translation says something to the effect of “whatever you bind will already have been bound in heaven (and the same for loosing)”. Ok, great. We can easily rephrase the question to “can a priest declare my sins forgiven”? Either way, it is an undeniable power given to men.
So let's loop back to the original question. Can priests forgive sins?
What about the guy in 43 AD, whose sins were forgiven by Peter? Surely some man during his last days traveled to be forgiven by Peter, and died shortly thereafter. Surely he is not going to hell right? What about the guy whose sins were forgiven by another Apostle? I would assume that at least one of the twelve took John 20 seriously and started forgiving sins. Are those they forgave going to hell? No? Well now we have two paths for the forgiveness of sins. My (former) way of asking for forgiveness directly to God through Jesus, or the other way in which a man declared another man’s sins forgiven. We now had a splintering of paths to salvation.
Let's take the questions one step further. What about the guy in the year 289, who was preached the gospel by a priest and that priest forgave his sins and then he died? Is he in hell? Surely not I would think. 90+% of the world at that time was illiterate. Most wouldn't know what to do with a collection of books (the bible as it would be known at a future date), to figure out how to achieve salvation. The Catholic priest was the only path. The same for mankind in the year 789, 1133, and 1318 (we will ignore the history of the Great Schism for the purposes of this essay). All forgiven by priests. Are the only REAL Christians the ones that were enlightened by Luther after the Reformation? How is it that God sent his Son to die for our sins and establish the church, but mislead all of mankind on so many levels of utmost importance for the first 1,500 years?
One other point is that the duty of baptism is conferred on MEN. Baptism is an integral part of salvation that is of the highest importance. There is no doubt about John the Baptist. Us protestants never bat an eye at a mortal human baptizing us! “I now baptize you in the name of the father, son and the holy spirit”. It plainly states for the apostles to create disciples of all nations, baptizing.
And the same goes for circumcision. We wont go that far, but MEN have been responsible for creating the old covenant with God since the Abrahamic times.
The parallels with forgiving sins, circumcision and baptism are very close.
A truly honest and logical person must at least explore the possibilities at this point. This is the first step to truly taking a step out of one’s bubble, do a biblical reset, accept things as they come, and re-examine the paradigm.